Wednesday, November 21, 2018

2019 Mount TBR Reading Challenge

Host: Bev @ My Reader's Block
Dates: January 1 - December 31, 2019

My "must read" stack is getting way out of hand. Actually, it really is a little like a mountain of books. So once again, I'm signing up for Bev's Mount TBR Reading Challenge. I'll be going for the Pike's Peak level again (12 books), and hoping to do a little better than that.

During the year, I'll be tracking my progress and keeping all my lists over on my challenge blog.

Tuesday, November 20, 2018

Calendar of Crime Challenge (New for 2019!)

The year has really gotten away from me. All of a sudden it's time for all the new 2019 reading challenge announcements. How is that possible?

I've always loved the mystery-themed challenges that Bev over at My Reader's Block hosts every year, even though I don't always do so well with them. But this year she has a brand new one: the Calendar of Crime Challenge. It calls for reading a minimum of twelve books during the year — one for each month, with the book fulfilling one of several categories listed for that month. You can get a better idea of the challenge workings by reading the guidelines on the announcement page.

I'm thinking this challenge should help me knock a few more books off my ridiculously huge TBR stacks and lists. So even though I'm still working on my challenges for 2018, I'm signing up for this one right away. Besides, I love playing with those category lists! During the year I'll be tracking my progress over on my challenge blog (HERE).

Friday, November 09, 2018

Book Beginnings: A Shadow on the Wall

A Shadow on the Wall, by Jonathan Aycliffe (2000). This is the book's first sentence:
Atherton appeared in my rooms two or three days after my accident.

About the Book:
Edward Atherton, Rector of Thornham St Stephen, should never have meddled with the tomb of the 14th century Abbot of Thornham. From the moment the workmen raise the tomb lid, the horror begins and Atherton is pursued by a malign shadowy presence. After Edward meets an unexplainable death, his brother Matthew calls on Richard Asquith for help. Asquith is a fellow at Cambridge University, and a historian with an interest in psychic phenomena. Together the two men must unravel a series of strange events as they plunge into a dark mystery of ancient evil.

Initial Thoughts:

Well, that's not the most scintillating opening sentence, is it? But I've read other books by Jonathan Aycliffe so I knew even though they may seem slow at first, things get very spooky very quickly. And as I read this one for the RIP Challenge, spooky is definitely what I was looking for.

And speaking of spookiness, here's an alternate cover with a little more of that....

Happy Friday, everyone! And have a lovely weekend.

Rose City Reader hosts Book Beginnings on Friday.  As she says, the idea is to post the first sentence (or so) of the book you're currently reading, along with any first impressions or thoughts you have about the book, the author, etc.  It's a wonderful way of adding new books to your must-read list, and a chance to connect with other readers and bloggers.

Monday, November 05, 2018

Reading Report: Call for the Dead

Written by John le CarrΓ©
First published 1961
George Smiley Series #1
Kindle edition, 2012; 171 pages

Publisher's Description:
After a routine security check by George Smiley, civil servant Samuel Fennan apparently kills himself — even though Smiley's report cleared Fennan of all the allegations. When Smiley finds the head of British Intelligence is trying to blame him for the man's death, he begins his own investigation, meeting with Fennan's widow to find out what could have led him to such desperation. But on the very day that Smiley is ordered off the enquiry he receives an urgent letter from the dead man. Do the East Germans — and their agents — know more about this man's death than MI6 previously imagined? 
Le CarrΓ©'s debut novel introduced the tenacious and retiring George Smiley in a gripping tale of espionage and deceit.

My Thoughts:

This was another of those books I wanted to knock off my TBR list this year. It's been there for quite a while and I've passed it by several times — mainly because I'm not really a huge fan of spy novels, although I did enjoy several of Len Deighton's books back in the '70s. But John Le CarrΓ©'s Call for the Dead is more whodunnit than espionage, with George Smiley investigating what actually happened in the death of civil servant Samuel Fennan. So even though I was a little dubious going in, I ultimately enjoyed this quite a lot.

Le CarrΓ© is rightly famous for his character development, and even the minor characters here are well-drawn, believable and interesting. Of course, George Smiley is his greatest creation — sort of the antithesis of James Bond and all those charismatic action heroes. Smiley is not dashing or handsome (his ex-wife called him "Toad"). But he does what he does very well, with intelligence and efficiency and a great deal of sympathy for his fellow human beings — whether or not they work in the spy trade. This book provides a fine introduction.

Rating: ★★★★


Read in September 2018

Qualifies for the following reading challenges: Cloak and Dagger Challenge, Monthly Key Word Challenge.

Reading Report: The Dead House

Written by Billy O'Callaghan
Arcade Publishing, May 2017
Kindle edition, 224 pages

Publisher's Description:
Maggie is a successful young artist who has had bad luck with men. Her last put her in the hospital and, after she’s healed physically, left her needing to get out of London to heal mentally and find a place of quiet that will restore her creative spirit. On the rugged west coast of Ireland, perched on a wild cliff side, she spies the shell of a cottage that dates back to Great Famine and decides to buy it. When work on the house is done, she invites her dealer to come for the weekend to celebrate along with a couple of women friends, one of whom will become his wife. On the boozy last night, the other friend pulls out a Ouija board. What sinister thing they summon, once invited, will never go.  
Ireland is a country haunted by its past. In Billy O'Callaghan's hands, its terrible beauty becomes a force of inescapable horror that reaches far back in time, before the Famine, before Christianity, to a pagan place where nature and superstition are bound in an endless knot.
My Thoughts:

This is a wonderfully atmospheric and eerie thriller, told in first person by art agent Michael Simmons who befriends Maggie, the young artist at the center of the spooky goings-on. Put in hospital by her latest lover, Maggie turns to Michael for help while she's healing. He provides a spare room and emotional support. And when Maggie is able to get back into the world again, he visits her one weekend to view the remote cottage in Ireland she's chosen as her new home and inspiration. During the visit Maggie and her guests indulge in a little seemingly harmless play with a Ouija board, unknowingly unleashing the ancient evil that inhabits the house.

Yes, I know that sounds like a pretty standard haunted house tale, and in the hands of a lesser talent it could be trite and even a bit silly. But Billy O'Callaghan does a beautiful job of keeping it fresh and genuinely disturbing. Once I finished reading The Dead House, I actually turned back to the beginning and read parts of it over again! (I never do that.) This was O'Callaghan's debut novel and I'm definitely hoping there'll be more to come.

Rating: ★★★★


(Note: I received my copy of this book from the publisher, free of charge, through the NetGalley website in exchange for an honest review. No other compensation was received, and no one tried to influence my opinion of the book.)


Read in August 2018

Qualifies for the following challenges: European Challenge, Monthly Key Word Challenge .

Reading Report: The Mystery of the Blue Train

Written by Agatha Christie
First published 1928
Kindle edition, 278 pages


After spending most of her life as a paid companion, Miss Katherine Grey is left a small fortune by the lady she's been caring for, and decides to visit some distant relatives at their home on the Riviera. So she boards the famous Blue Train for the trip, and meets both legendary detective Hercule Poirot and millionaire’s daughter, Ruth Kettering. Ruth’s marriage is heading for divorce and she's traveling to meet her lover.

The luxurious train carries its passengers across France to the sunny Riviera. And when it arrives at Nice, a guard attempts to wake Ruth Kettering but finds she's been killed, and a heavy blow has disfigured her features almost beyond recognition. What's more, her precious rubies are missing and her maid seems to have disappeared from the train back in Paris. The French police believe Ruth was most probably murdered by the thief who made off with her jewels. But Hercule Poirot is not convinced, so he asks for Miss Grey's help in staging an eerie reenactment of the journey, complete with the murderer on board.

My Thoughts:

This is the 6th book in Agatha Christie's series of mystery novels featuring Belgian detective Hercule Poirot. I'm very slowly working my way through the series (although not in any particular order), and I enjoyed this one — even though I believe I've read that it was not one of Christie's personal favorites. The book has everything I love in her work — luxurious settings, intriguing characters, great dialogue, lots of unexpected twists and turns. And Poirot exhibiting his amazing abilities, exercising his "little grey cells." How could I possibly not enjoy it? The only thing that might have made it better would have been just a little more time spent on that luxurious Blue Train. (Or maybe if Ariadne Oliver had been on board.)

Rating: ★★★★


Read in July 2018

Qualifies for the following reading challenges: Cloak and Dagger Challenge, Monthly Key Word Challenge, Mount TBR Challenge .

Saturday, November 03, 2018

Six Degrees of Separation: From Vanity Fair to The Sun Also Rises

I've known about the Six Degrees of Separation meme (hosted once a month by Kate at Books Are My Favourite and Best) for a while now, but never tried to put a list together .... until now. The idea is to start with the book Kate gives you, add six books, and see where you end up. Sounds fun and I do love list-making, so here goes my first attempt....

This month the starting point is the classic novel Vanity Fair by William Makepeace Thackeray.

I've read bits of it, but never managed to get all the way through. It's still on my "must read" list, along with another Thackeray novel, written a few years before Vanity Fair

1. The Luck of Barry Lyndon. Also sometimes called The Memoirs of Barry Lyndon. Haven't read all of that one either, but the film by Stanley Kubrick is one of my all-time favorites. And it makes me think of another book turned into a film by Kubrick...

2. Lolita, by Vladimir Nabokov. This one I have read, several times. One of the greatest (and most controversial) modern novels, and one of my favorites. I read the book for the first time when I was just a little older than Lolita herself, and thought it was hilarious. All these years later I recognize that the subject matter is very upsetting, but I still find much to love in the novel. And it abounds in references to other writers, especially...

3. Edgar Allan Poe, whose Murders in the Rue Morgue (although it's actually a short story — not a novel) has been recognized as the first modern detective story. It's influenced many later writers including...

4. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, who wrote some pretty good detective fiction himself. His creation, Sherlock Holmes, first appeared in 1887's A Study in Scarlet. Many of the early Holmes stories were serialized in periodicals like The Strand Magazine. And that brings to mind another book that was first published in parts...

5. Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, serialized in Rolling Stone Magazine in 1971. Its author, Hunter S. Thompson was the originator of the "gonzo" journalism movement and sadly committed suicide in 2005. Thompson died from a self-inflicted gunshot wound, just like another of my favorite authors...

6. Ernest Hemingway, whose 1926 novel The Sun Also Rises is another favorite of mine and also one I've read more than once.

So that's my list. Fun meme, and so interesting to see where my path led. Next month, the starting point will be A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens, and that should bring another interesting string of connections.