Top Ten Tuesday: Books I meant to read in 2018 but didn’t get to

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme hosted by That Artsy Reader Girl. It’s perfect for those of us who have both a love of books and a love of lists! This week’s topic is:

Books I Meant to Read In 2018 but Didn’t Get To

~

These four books were on my Autumn 2018 TBR but I didn’t have time to read them:

1. The Green Gauntlet by RF Delderfield
2. Transcription by Kate Atkinson
3. A Ladder to the Sky by John Boyne
4. Confusion by Elizabeth Jane Howard

And here are two unread books from my Spring 2018 TBR list:

5. Munich by Robert Harris
6. Under Heaven by Guy Gavriel Kay

A book that I didn’t get to from my 2018 20 Books of Summer list:

7. The Wardrobe Mistress by Patrick McGrath

And a few that I’d planned to read for last year’s R.I.P. challenge:

8. The Silent Companions by Laura Purcell
9. A Gathering of Ghosts by Karen Maitland
10. The Sussex Downs Murder by John Bude

~

You can expect to see me reading some, if not all, of these books in 2019 instead.

Have you read any of them? Are there any that I really need to read as soon as possible?

An Infamous Army by Georgette Heyer

Georgette Heyer’s 1937 novel, An Infamous Army, is one I was particularly interested in reading because it sounded a bit different from most of her others, being as much a story of the Battle of Waterloo as a Regency romance. It can be read as a standalone novel but it also features characters (or descendants of characters) who appeared in her previous novels These Old Shades, Devil’s Cub and Regency Buck.

Several years have passed since Regency Buck ended and the Earl of Worth is in Brussels with his wife, Judith, and their young son. As the threat of Napoleon draws closer, Brussels has become the centre of fashionable society – a place to entertain oneself with dances, picnics and concerts while the outcome of the Vienna Congress and the arrival of the Duke of Wellington are awaited. Judith is hoping to bring about a match between Worth’s brother Charles Audley and her friend Lucy, but she hasn’t counted on Charles falling passionately in love with Lady Barbara Childe, a beautiful but notorious young widow with a reputation for wildness. Although Barbara – or Bab, as she is known – claims to love Charles too, she shows no sign of changing her ways and Judith is sure her brother-in-law is going to be hurt.

The relationship between Charles and Bab develops throughout the first half of the novel, so that by the time the Battle of Waterloo arrives, we are already emotionally invested in the lives of some of the characters who are going to be affected by the battle in one way or another. Heyer is one of those authors you can always count on to have done her research, but everything in this book feels particularly authentic (she famously claimed that every word she attributes to her fictional Duke of Wellington was either spoken or written by him in real life).

Each stage of the battle is described in an incredible amount of detail, not just the tactics and the military manoeuvres, but also the human cost as lives are lost, men are injured and those on the sidelines wait for news of their loved ones. As I’ve mentioned before, I am not usually a fan of lengthy battle scenes, however well written they are, so although I certainly appreciated the accuracy of Heyer’s account of Waterloo and the quality of her writing, I can’t really say that this has become a favourite Heyer novel. This is just a matter of personal taste though, and I’m sure other people will love this book precisely because it does include long battle scenes (by long, I mean they take up most of the second half of the novel).

As for the Charles and Bab storyline, I enjoyed following the course of their relationship, especially as I thought it was difficult to tell at first how Bab really felt about Charles. She comes across at the beginning as self-centred, reckless and fun-loving, the sort of person who causes a scandal wherever she goes (not that it takes much to cause a scandal in 1815 – painting your toenails gold, for example). It took me a while to warm to her, but when I did I found that she was also kind hearted, compassionate and courageous. Even so, she is not one of my favourite Heyer heroines – although, again, I can see why other readers might love her.

Reading An Infamous Army has inspired me to finally try one of Heyer’s six historical novels (i.e. not the ones that are Regency or Georgian romances). I am currently a few chapters into Beauvallet and enjoying it so far; you can expect to hear more about it soon!

The Moon Sister by Lucinda Riley

This is the fifth book in Lucinda Riley’s Seven Sisters series based loosely on the mythology of the star cluster known as Pleiades or ‘the seven sisters’. Each novel tells the story of one of the adopted daughters of a mysterious millionaire known as Pa Salt.

The girls come from different cultures and backgrounds, but all grew up together on Pa Salt’s estate in Switzerland. They are each named after one of the stars in the cluster – Maia, Alycone (Ally), Asterope (Star), Celaeno (CeCe), Taygete (Tiggy) and Electra D’Aplièse. You may have noticed that there are only six sisters; for some reason, which we don’t yet know, a seventh was never adopted. This is one of many mysteries running throughout the series.

At the beginning of the first novel, The Seven Sisters, Pa Salt died, leaving each sister some clues to help them trace their biological parents. So far we have heard Maia’s story, Ally’s, Star’s and CeCe’s; now, in The Moon Sister, it’s the turn of Tiggy. All of the books in the series work as standalones and it’s not essential to read them in order, but this book does overlap with one or two of the others and advances some of the storylines begun earlier in the series.

The Moon Sister follows Tiggy as she begins a new job in the Scottish Highlands, where she has been employed by Charlie Kinnaird to establish a colony of wildcats on his estate. With her degree in zoology and her love of nature, Tiggy is perfect for the job and quickly settles in, getting to know the animals on the Kinnaird estate and forming a close friendship with Cal, the man whose cottage she shares. The peace is disturbed, however, when Charlie arrives with his troubled teenage daughter and his spiteful, vindictive wife.

Away from the problems in the Kinnaird household, Tiggy meets Chilly, an elderly gypsy who lives alone on the estate. It seems that fate must have brought them together, because Chilly is the one person who knows the truth of Tiggy’s origins and can point her in the direction of her birth family. From Chilly, Tiggy learns of her ancestor, Lucia Albaycin, a famous Spanish flamenco dancer. But Chilly doesn’t know everything, so to discover the rest of her family’s story, Tiggy must travel to Spain and visit the gypsy community in the caves of Sacromonte.

Like the others in the series, this book is divided between the modern day storyline and the historical one. We spend a decent amount of time with each character before switching to the other, which means we can become absorbed in both stories. Lucia’s story is fascinating – I can’t say that I liked her, as I found her very self-centred and driven by ambition at the expense of everything else – but she is certainly a strong character, whose power and passion as a person is matched by the power and passion of her dancing. It was interesting to watch as she (along with her equally selfish and irresponsible father) start from nothing to build a successful career in flamenco which takes them all over the world. Meanwhile, in Sacromonte near Granada, we follow the sad story of how the lives of the other gitanos (Spanish gypsies) are affected by first the Spanish Civil War and then the onset of the Second World War, leaving their community changed beyond recognition.

It was good to get to know Tiggy better too – and she is much easier to like than Lucia. The other d’Aplieses think of her as the sensitive, spiritual sister…the sort of person who wants to help everyone around her, whether human or animal, and who cares deeply about nature and the environment, trying hard to resist temptation and stick to her vegan diet! Of all her sisters, Tiggy is particularly close to Ally, whom we met in The Storm Sister, and it was lovely to see her again in this book. The one part of Tiggy’s story that didn’t really work for me was the romance. I felt that she and the man concerned hadn’t spent enough time together for their love for each other to develop, so I didn’t become as emotionally invested in their relationship as I would have liked.

The next book is going to tell Electra’s story and I have to admit I’m very apprehensive about that one. From the little we’ve seen and heard of Electra so far, her personality strikes me as very unappealing. However, we are given lots of intriguing clues in The Moon Sister regarding Pa Salt, his death and some strange occurrences at his home, Atlantis, so I’m hoping Electra will fill in some more of the gaps for us. I’m also curious about the rich businessman Zed, who keeps popping up throughout the series, trying to worm his way into the lives of first Maia, then Tiggy and now, it seems, Electra. For those reasons, I will be looking out for the next book, which I’m hoping will be published later this year.

Margery Allingham writing as Maxwell March: Rogues’ Holiday and The Devil and Her Son

A while ago I read an early novel by Margery Allingham published under the pseudonym Maxwell March. It was called The Man of Dangerous Secrets and, although it was undoubtedly silly and over the top, I enjoyed it so much I knew I would be reading her other two Maxwell March books as soon as the time was right. Well, the time was right this month and I have now read both Rogues’ Holiday (1935) and The Devil and Her Son (1936).

Rogues’ Holiday begins with the death of a young man found dead in a locked room at his London club. Suicide is assumed, but Inspector David Blest of Scotland Yard is not convinced. Having learned that the dead man had been seen arguing with Sir Leo Thyn, an older and highly respected member of the club, shortly before his death, David wonders whether there is a connection. He shares his suspicions with his superior officer, who tells him to keep his opinions to himself and sends him off on his scheduled two-week holiday as planned.

But David has no intention of taking a holiday. Instead, he heads for the Arcadian Hotel in the seaside resort of Westbourne – the same hotel where Sir Leo Thyn is now staying with a friend, a man whom David immediately recognises as a notorious criminal known as The Major. Another guest has also just arrived at the hotel: this is Judy Wellington, a young heiress who claims to be a permanent invalid, but David suspects that she is not in such poor health as she pretends. When another murder takes place, he discovers that he has walked into a whole nest of rogues – but how is Judy mixed up in it all and could she be in danger?

As I’d already read The Man of Dangerous Secrets, I had a good idea of what to expect from this book. I knew it would be more thriller than detective novel, I knew there would be wicked villains, far-fetched plot twists, last-minute escapes and coincidences galore, and I knew there would be a beautiful girl with whom our hero would fall in love at first sight. And yes, Rogues’ Holiday has all of those things. You probably wouldn’t describe it as a fantastic piece of literature and I’m sure it doesn’t represent Margery Allingham at her very best, but accept it for what it is and it’s a lot of fun to read.

I thought The Devil and Her Son (originally published as The Shadow in the House) would be similar and in some ways it is. The ridiculous plot, the coincidences, the villains and the unbelievable plot twists are all here again – but this is a much darker novel than the other two and, I thought, a better written one.

The novel opens with Mary Coleridge feeling very sorry for herself. She has lost her job as a governess, her love interest has left town with no explanation after their first date, and she has no family or friends to turn to. So, when Marie-Elizabeth Mason, another lodger in the boarding house where Mary lives, makes an outlandish suggestion, Mary feels she has nothing to lose. Miss Mason has recently arrived in England from Australia and an elderly aunt whom she has never seen is expecting her to go and visit. Preferring to stay in London to pursue an acting career, Miss Mason’s idea is that she and Mary switch identities and Mary goes to stay with the aunt instead.

This is clearly a ludicrous plan, but somehow it works (and Mary’s lack of Australian accent is not even remarked on). However, she gets more than she’d bargained for when Aunt Eva persuades her to marry her dying son to prevent the house from being lost to the family. Feeling sorry for the old woman, Mary agrees, despite her guilt at marrying under a false name and deceiving everyone. But soon she discovers that she herself is the victim of an even bigger deception and that Eva and her family are not what they appear to be. Can Mary escape from the terrifying situation in which she has placed herself?

Once you’ve accepted the premise of the story, this is a very enjoyable novel. Eva de Liane is a truly chilling and sinister woman and I was genuinely afraid for poor Mary – although I also wanted to scream at Mary for walking blindly into danger over and over again! This is a novel where nobody at all can be trusted, where even a stranger in the street or on a train could be somehow wrapped up in the de Lianes’ nefarious schemes. There’s also a romance which wasn’t quite as obvious as the one in Rogues’ Holiday and rather than being love at first sight, is much more satisfying because it takes longer to develop.

Maxwell March has been a great discovery for me and I’m sorry Margery Allingham only wrote three books under that name!

Top Ten Tuesday: New-to-me authors I read in 2018

This week’s Top Ten Tuesday (hosted by That Artsy Reader Girl) gives us a chance to look back at our 2018 reading and pick out ten authors we read for the first time last year. I have chosen to focus on authors I enjoyed and whose work I’m planning to read more of in the future.

~

1. Dorothy Whipple

I had been curious about Dorothy Whipple for a long time, knowing that she is one of the most popular authors published by Persephone. After reading Someone at a Distance, I understand why and will definitely be reading more of her books.

2. Graham Swift

I hadn’t thought Graham Swift would be my sort of author, but I enjoyed his short novel Mothering Sunday enough to want to read more.

3. Monica Dickens

The Winds of Heaven by Monica Dickens won a place on my favourite books of 2018 list. I want to investigate her other books now, probably starting with Mariana.

4. E.M. Delafield

The Diary of a Provincial Lady proved to be a funny, witty, entertaining read – and a good place to start with E.M. Delafield. I’m hoping to meet the Provincial Lady again in 2019.

5. Tim Leach

Smile of the Wolf, a beautifully written novel set in 10th century Iceland, was my first Tim Leach book. I’m looking forward to reading his previous two, The Last King of Lydia and The King and the Slave.

6. Elizabeth Taylor

Elizabeth Taylor was an author I’d been meaning to try for years and I finally got round to reading A Game of Hide and Seek in 2018. I’m sure I’ll be reading more of her books soon.

7. Pat Barker

I didn’t love The Silence of the Girls as much as I’d hoped to, but I was pleased to have the opportunity to try a Pat Barker book at last.

8. Kate O’Brien

That Lady, a historical novel set in 16th century Spain, was chosen for me by one of last year’s Classics Club Spins. Kate O’Brien’s other books sound very different, but I’m interested in trying another one.

9. Elizabeth Jenkins

Harriet was a dark and disturbing novel but I loved it. Now I want to read The Tortoise and the Hare, which seems to be the only other Elizabeth Jenkins book still in print.

10. Richard Hull

The Murder of My Aunt was another of my books of the year from 2018. I have recently received a review copy of one of his other crime novels, And Death Came Too, so I’m hoping that will be another good one.

~

Have you read anything by any of these authors? Which new-to-you authors did you discover in 2018?

Historical Musings #46: Books to look out for in 2019

I like to use my first Historical Musings post of each new year to look ahead at some of the exciting new historical fiction coming in the next twelve months. The books listed below are just a few that have come to my attention and that I’m planning to read. The publication dates I’ve given are for the UK only and may be subject to change.

If there are any other new historical fiction novels you’re looking forward to in 2019 I’d love to hear what they are!

~

January

Blood and Sugar by Laura Shepherd-Robinson (24 January 2019)
This debut historical crime novel set in the 18th century will be published later this month. I have a NetGalley copy which I should be starting soon.

February

The Glass Woman by Caroline Lea (7 February 2019)
I’m looking forward to this one as it’s set in Iceland, which is always an interesting and atmospheric setting.

The Night Tiger by Yangsze Choo (12 February 2019)
This book sounds like a fascinating mixture of history, mystery and folklore set in 1930s Malaya.

The Silver Collar by Antonia Hodgson (21 February 2019)
Unsure about this one as all I can find is the title and nothing else, so I suspect the February date might be incorrect. A new Thomas Hawkins mystery will definitely be worth waiting for, though!

March

The Island of Sea Women by Lisa See (4 March 2019)
I loved some of Lisa See’s earlier novels. This one is the story of two girls who grow up on a Korean island in the 1930s.

The Woman in the Lake by Nicola Cornick (7 March 2019)
A dual time frame novel set in 1765 and 1996. I enjoyed The Phantom Tree and House of Shadows so am looking forward to this one.

The Missing Sister by Dinah Jefferies (21 March 2019)
Dinah Jefferies’ books all have such interesting settings and this one will take us to 1930s Burma.

April

Sunwise by Helen Steadman (1 April 2019)
The sequel to Widdershins, a novel about witchcraft and witch-finders.

The Confessions of Frannie Langton by Sara Collins (4 April 2019)
This sounds like an intriguing debut novel about a maid on trial for murder in 19th century London.

The King’s Evil by Andrew Taylor (4 April 2019)
Following the wonderful Ashes of London and The Fire Court, this will be the third in the James Marwood and Cat Lovett mystery series.

Things in Jars by Jess Kidd (4 April 2019)
A Victorian detective novel by another new-to-me author.

Wakenhyrst by Michelle Paver (4 April 2019)
I always love the sound of Michelle Paver’s books but have never tried one. This gothic novel set in Edwardian England will be my first.

May

Anna of Kleve, Queen of Secrets by Alison Weir (2 May 2019)
The fourth book in the Six Tudor Queens series is the one I’ve been looking forward to the most as I have read so little about Anne of Cleves compared to Henry VIII’s other wives.

The Doll Factory by Elizabeth Macneal (2 May 2019)
Another debut novel set in 19th century London, in the world of the pre-Raphaelite artists.

June

The Devil’s Slave by Tracy Borman (13 June 2019)
This sequel to The King’s Witch will continue the story of Frances Gorges and her family

August

A Tapestry of Treason by Anne O’Brien (22 August 2019)
Anne O’Brien’s new novel will tell the story of a medieval woman I know almost nothing about: Constance of York, Lady Despenser.

September

The Irish Princess by Elizabeth Chadwick (12 September 2019)
Loosely connected to her William Marshal series, this book is about William’s wife’s parents, Richard de Clare and Aoife of Leinster.

~

Will you be reading any of these books? Which other new historical fiction novels do you think will be worth waiting for in 2019?

The Winter of the Witch by Katherine Arden

The Winter of the Witch is a wonderful, magical read and the perfect conclusion to Katherine Arden’s Winternight trilogy which combines Russian fairy tales, history and folklore with an atmospheric and wintry medieval setting. I loved the previous two books, The Bear and the Nightingale and The Girl in the Tower, so I went into this one with high hopes and high expectations – and I’m happy to say that I thought it was the best of the three. You may be wondering whether it’s necessary to read the books in order; my answer would be yes, as I think you will definitely get more out of the story if you start at the beginning.

As the novel opens, Moscow is on fire and blame has fallen on Vasilisa Petrovna. With a furious mob calling for her to be burned as a witch, Vasya manages to escape with the help of the magical beings only she and one or two others can see. However, her freedom comes at a cost and, as part of the bargain, an evil spirit is unleashed into the world once more. This could have serious implications for Vasya’s cousin, Grand Prince Dmitrii Ivanovich, who is already facing the threat of the Tatar commander Mamai and his Golden Horde. As the Tatars advance into the land of Rus’, Vasya must enlist the help of the chyerti – her demon friends and enemies – in a final attempt to save her family, her country and its people.

Like the first two books, The Winter of the Witch is steeped in Russian mythology and fairy tale. In this book we are reacquainted with characters who appeared earlier in the trilogy and we meet another selection of fascinating beings from Russian myths too. These include the upyr (monstrous vampire-like creatures) and the famous Baba Yaga. Of the other new characters, I was particularly fond of Ded Grib – but will leave you to discover more about him for yourself when you read the book! Vasya also follows a magical pathway through the enchanted realm of Midnight, a journey which provides some of the most thrilling moments in the book. My favourite of the novel’s many threads, though, involves Vasya’s romance with a certain frost demon called Morozko…

The reason I find the relationship between Vasya and Morozko so compelling is precisely because it’s completely unconventional. Morozko is not human and doesn’t always react or behave like a human; to him, Vasya’s actions sometimes seem illogical and difficult to understand – yet they love each other for who they are, and each accepts whatever the other is willing and able to give.

Another aspect of the book (of all three books, actually) that I like is the theme of conflict between old and new as the ancient beliefs and traditions are swept aside by the spread of Christianity. We have seen from the beginning of the trilogy how the power of the chyerti is fading as the people forget the old ways, turning away from their household spirits such as the domovoi and turning instead to men like Konstantin, the Christian priest with whom it is safe to say Vasya has never seen eye to eye. Vasya’s task in this novel is to persuade everyone – chyerti and human, Christian and pagan – to work together to defend Rus’. It will all come to a head at Kulikovo on the Don River, as the opposing armies prepare for a battle which will prove whether or not our heroine has been successful…

This really is a great end to the trilogy; the beautiful, powerful writing took me through a whole range of emotions and I had tears in my eyes at the loss of a favourite character early in the book. I also love the fact that, despite all the fantasy elements, so much of the story has its foundations in Russian history. I’m sorry to have to leave Vasya and her friends behind, but I will look forward to whatever Katherine Arden writes next.