What I’m Reading – Caro Fraser

Today I have a guest post from Caro Fraser, whose wonderful new novel, The Summer House Party (currently 99p on Kindle, folks!), I’m currently engrossed in. Intriguingly, she’s the daughter of George Macdonald Fraser of “Flashman” fame (I love wee literary facts like that!) Anyway, over to Caro… 

I currently have two books on the go. Three Sisters, Three Queens is my book club’s choice, and it’s about sisters Margaret and Mary Tudor, and their sister-in-law, Katherine of Aragon. It’s the first novel of hers that I’ve read, and so far it’s pretty good, though I’m not sure I much like the narrator, Margaret. I’m also reading Quentin Crisp’s The Naked Civil Servant. Most people have seen the film starring John Hurt, but the book itself is well worth a read – it’s a brilliantly witty, elegantly written gem, and an astonishing insight into what it was like to be gay in the unforgiving era when homosexuality was illegal.

I think the two best books I’ve read in the past few years are, without doubt, Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall and Bring Up The Bodies. Her style is beautiful, the momentum of her story-telling never flags, and she gets under the skin of all her characters and brings them superbly to life. I definitely recommend them to anyone who hasn’t read them. Another recent favourite is The Pier Falls, a collection of short stories by Mark Haddon (who wrote The Curious Incident Of The Dog In The Night-Time, which I confess I haven’t yet read). They’re all very different and are beautifully written, though as they’re rather dark they may not be to everyone’s taste. A book EVERYONE should read is Misery, by Stephen King. He is often dismissed as low-brow and populist, but for my money he’s the best storyteller writing today.
I also have a special soft spot for women’s fiction of the 1930s and 40s, and writers like Dorothy Whipple and Winifred Holtby, who recognised that ordinary and everyday events possess their own drama, and who write about them with elegant understatement and wry humour. For anyone who likes books of that era, I’d recommend The Priory by Dorothy Whipple, and South Riding by Winifred Holtby. The Tortoise And The Hare by Elizabeth Jenkins is also a strange and unexpected treat.
Books I want to read – if writing my own books ever gives me the time – include the last in the Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall trilogy (I wish she’d hurry up and publish it!), and, of course, The Curious Incident Of The Dog In The Night-Time. I’d also quite like to read Ulysses by James Joyce, which I’ve started a few times. Maybe one of these days I’ll finish it….

What I’m Reading, Watching, Listening To – Lesley Thomson

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Lesley Thomson is the author of The Detective’s Daughter series, most of which I purchased as ebooks at fantastic bargain prices before they got reissued in really lovely eye-catching new packaging by Head Of Zeus – one of my favourite imprints. I’m currently reading The Dog Walker, which is the fifth in the series, and I’ll post my review as soon as I’m done. If my concentration levels were normal, I’d have finished it by now, but due to that seizure I had I’m not reading quite as quickly as normal – although I am getting better, thankfully, and my GP tells me I should be 100% in about 3 weeks; 4 tops.

In the meantime, Lesley has generously let us have a peek at what’s on her TBR pile, as well as sharing how else she spends her time – when she’s not writing fantastically original novels! In my opinion, she has great taste – what do you think of her current choices?

Some writers don’t read while writing in case it influences their own stories. If I avoided other people’s novels I’d go nuts. I love stories. I generally have two books on the go. One for research – non-fiction – and a novel. Add in audio books when driving, a TV drama most nights (Broadchurch, The Good Wife, House of Cards, Homeland…) and I’m holding onto a fair few stories at one time.

Right now, I’m deep in Tana French’s The Secret Place, fifth in her Dublin Murder Squad series. She’s gritty, her characters are in the room. A baton is passed, a secondary character in one novel becomes centre stage in the next giving you a different take on them. The stories are rich and compelling.

I’ve just finished The Chalk Pit by Elly Griffiths, the latest Ruth Galloway. I so enjoy this series. I once wanted to be an archeologist. I went on a dig as a child, run by Professor Grimes who discovered the Temple of Mithras in London in 1954. But reading about Ruth, I couldn’t be digging in a muddy trench. Griffiths’ characters are warm and complex, she tempers dark with LOL humour. I’ve said it before, but Cathbad the Druid is something else!

I recently read To Kill A Mockingbird. I loved Harper Lee’s portrayal of children, how they see, what matters to them, the intricacies of their lives. I’ve written from a child’s point of view – I do in The Dog Walker – but Lee is consummate. Respect!

I grew up with The Archers. Events in Ambridge are as vivid as stuff in my own life. Fact and fiction is definitely blurred for me! Over six decades, the series has developed believable characters who lead believable lives in what amounts to real time. When I lived in Sydney years ago, my mum and dad sent me tapes of the Sunday omnibus. I rarely miss an episode.

I walk my poodle every day. I should say I walk with Alfred – we’re out together – he’s the perfect writer’s companion. He plays Stanley in my novels. While striding over the Downs, I’ve solved knotty plot problems with him by my side. We were out early one dark morning when I got the idea for The Dog Walker.

Next up to read is Alex Marwood’s The Darker Secret. Can’t wait…

Thanks, Lesley! And I’ll be posting my review of The Dog Walker as soon as I finish it – suffice to say I’m loving it so far, and intend to read the rest of the series as soon as I can fit them in. I will be playing catch-up for a bit, though, and I really appreciate the patience of publishers, publicists, and authors in the meantime, as well as the support of my fellow bloggers. All the book people I’ve mentioned have proved, yet again, what a generous and supportive community I have the good fortune to be a part of – thank you all!

The Dog Walker by Lesley Thomson (Head of Zeus) is available now. My review will be posted as soon as possible.

What I’m Reading And Watching – Suellen Dainty

So, post no. 201! And crimeworm is being incredibly nosy today – not that that’s unique! I think all of us like to know what people are reading, from our favourite author, to our fellow bloggers, and even those random people you see on the bus or Underground. So today, as part of the Blog Tour for the fantastic psychological thriller, The Housekeeper, the author Suellen Dainty is telling me what she’s been reading, and what she’s got coming up…some more great titles you may want to put on your TBRs – or maybe they’re already there!

First, though, let’s hear about The Housekeeper – which is – WARNING! – highly addictive! Review to follow.

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BLURB: “I am the housekeeper, the hired help with a messy past who cleans up other people’s messy lives, the one who protects their messy little secrets.”

When Anne Morgan’s successful boyfriend—who also happens to be her boss—leaves her for another woman, Anne finds herself in desperate need of a new job and a quiet place to recover. Meanwhile, her celebrity idol, Emma Helmsley (England’s answer to Martha Stewart), is in need of a housekeeper, an opportunity which seems too good to be true.

Through her books, website, and blog, Emma Helmsley advises her devoted followers on how to live a balanced life in a hectic world. Her husband, Rob, is a high profile academic, and her children, Jake and Lily, are well-adjusted teenagers. On the surface, they are the perfect family. But Anne soon finds herself intimately ensconced in the Helmsley’s dirty laundry, both literally and figuratively. Underneath the dust, grime, and whimsical clutter, everyone has a secret to hide and Anne’s own disturbing past threatens to unhinge everything.

For fans of Notes on a Scandal and The Woman Upstairs, The Housekeeper is a nuanced and psychological drama about the dark recesses of the human mind and the dangerous consequences of long-buried secrets.

Q : What great books (or films/TV) have you read recently?

A: I loved Elaine by Ottessa Moshfegh – beautifully written, immersive atmosphere and a mesmerising, if very unreliable, narrator. I also re-read Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad, because I liked it so much when I was younger. It hasn’t dated at all. Like millions of others, I was fascinated by Hanya Yanagihara’s very hefty novel, A Little Life. Friends cancelled engagements so that they could keep reading this. Half way through, I was setting my alarm clock so I could read for an hour before the day began.
I binge-watched Peter Morgan’s The Queen, on Netflix. The series had a huge budget of 100 million pounds, and it shows – the costumes and locations are breath-taking. Great script and wonderful performances from Claire Foy as Queen Elizabeth and Matt Smith as the Duke of Edinburgh.
Q: What are you reading (or watching) at the moment?

A: I’m reading The Past by Tessa Hadley. She’s a firm favourite. I love the way she takes her time with a scene or a section of dialogue and yet always has something fascinating to say. She’s such a brilliant writer.
I like detective novels as well – they are perfect to read in bed at the end of a long day. I’ve finished The Dry, a debut crime novel by an Australian writer, Jane Harper. It’s set in the outback, and it’s a complete page-turner with countless twists and a very likeable hero.
Last week, I saw the film, Manchester by the Sea, with Casey Affleck and Michelle Williams. It was an incredibly moving study of grief and loss. I also liked Lion, with Dev Patel, but for the opposite reasons. It was so uplifting. Imagine finding your mother again after losing her at the age of five? Saroo Brierley’s story of his search for his family in India, after being adopted by a wonderful Australian couple, is amazing.

Q: What are you planning to read or watch next?

A: I missed out on Elena Ferrante’s quartet of novels when everyone else was reading them, so they are next on my list, as I’ve got a bit more spare time now. I also want to read Hot Milk by Deborah Levy and The North Water by Ian McGuire. Emma Clines’ The Girls is on my list as well.
I’d like to see The Man in the High Castle, the Amazon series adapted from the Phillip K Dick novel of 1962. I’ve never actually read the novel, so I’ll read that before I start watching.

Some great books there – I have to get to The Girls; I suspect I’m going to be the last person to read it – ditto the Elena Ferrante novels! My friend is off to Naples soon for two months to polish up her Italian – I’m so jealous. And The Dry was fabulous. I hope you like hearing about what authors are enjoying – I always love to hear your thoughts!

What I’m Reading And Watching – Sherri Smith

This is crimeworm‘s 200th post! Woo-hoo!

Today we’re getting a chance to look over the shoulder of Sherri Smith, author of Follow Me Down, which I’ve just finished…and utterly adored! Here’s the lowdown on the book, then Sherri’s piece on what she’s been reading and watching – when she’s not writing fantastic suspense-filled novels, obviously! My review will follow shortly.

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 Mia has built a life for herself far from the small town where she grew up. But she is forced to return home when her brother goes missing. Once the golden boy of the community, Lucas has disappeared the same day as the body of his student is pulled from the river. Unable to reconcile the media’s portrayal of Lucas as a murderer with her own memories of him, Mia is desperate to find another suspect. But if Lucas is innocent, why did he run?

You know how when you drink wine, you’re supposed to start light and go dark? Well I do the opposite with my reading. I go from dark to light. I just sleep better that way. I read three to four books all at once and they’re sort of scattered about the house because I have small children and like to exploit any opportunity to read by having a book within reach.

Last night, I cracked the spine of The Monogram Murders by Sophie Hannah (a Hercule Poirot mystery seems a safe bet to drift off to sleep to.) I am also reading Little Deaths by Emma Flint (books with dead children are morning reads). The writing is gorgeous and the mystery is really compelling. I also just started The River at Night by Erica Ferencik, and I’m already hooked (it’s a solid afternoon read!)

When it comes to sports, like any decent Winnipegger, it’s hockey and the Jets all the way (even if it’s a bumpy, disappointing ride.) Plus, beer always tastes better when hockey is involved!

As for what I’m watching, I’m really loving Zombie on Netflix right now. It has all of my favorite things in each episode, a murder mystery, a zombie and very witty banter. I don’t know what I’m going to do when I run out of episodes.

A laundry list of other shows I will binge-watch are Black Mirror (when will there be more!?!) Orphan Black, The Killing, Broadchurch, Jessica Jones and Orange is The New Black. I can hardly wait for the new season of House of Cards for obvious reasons, because it’s so good! I also have a few true crime documentaries queued up, which always help get my mind working.

So these are some things I’m reading and watching right now. Thanks for asking! I am always open to new suggestions, so please message me if you have any because I hate missing out.

So, what do you think of Sherri’s picks? The River At Night is on my must-buy list, and I’ve started Little Deaths. And I like a few books on the go at once… Love to hear what you think!

What I’m Reading, What I’ve Read… – James Oswald

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BLURB: When a body is found in a tree in The Meadows, Edinburgh’s scenic parkland, the forensics suggest the corpse has fallen from a great height.

Detective Inspector Tony McLean wonders whether it was an accident, or a murder designed to send a chilling message?

The dead man had led quite a life: a disgraced ex-cop turned criminal kingpin who reinvented himself as a celebrated philanthropist.

As McLean traces the victim’s journey, it takes him back to Edinburgh’s past, and through its underworld – crossing paths with some of its most dangerous and most vulnerable people.

And waiting at the end of it all, is the truth behind a crime that cuts to the very heart of the city…

With Inspector McLean no. 7 (Seven! Already! Seems incredible!) hitting the shelves late last month, James Oswald agreed to give us the lowdown on what he reads – when he’s not writing an Inspector McLean book, one of his fantasy novels, or running his 350-acre farm in Fife. He’s got to be the hardest working – and one of the most pleasant – men in Scottish crime fiction. That’s not to say they aren’t all pleasant…okay, stop digging…Over to James…

One of the problems of running a farm and writing two or more novels a year, as I have done for the past four years now, is that it leaves very little time for anything else. I can’t remember the last time I watched much on the television, and movies are something of a distant memory these days (although I did make an effort to go and see Star Wars: Rogue One at the cinema).

For a while I even found it hard to read books at all. So wrapped up in my own writing, I’d either feel guilty that I wasn’t working on the next thing, or start to edit whatever I was reading and thus kill all enjoyment of it. This situation was made even more fraught by the sheer number that get sent to me by editors hopeful of a blurb.

You cannot write in a vacuum though, and so I have made a concerted effort to refill the well by reading more. I’m also trying to be a bit more organised and make notes of what I’ve read. That way when I’m asked to name my five favourite novels of 2017, I’ll at least have a list to choose from. Last year I had to go around the bookshelves trying to remember what I’d read and when.

I’ve just finished reading How To Kill Friends And Implicate People, by Jay Stringer. It’s a wonderfully, comically dark tale of professional hitmen, bicycle courier private detectives and Glasgow gang lords and the second book in his Sam Ireland series. Stringer’s writing is always a joy to read, and this book was no exception. Highly recommended.

I am currently reading Elodie Harper’s The Binding Song, a darkly claustrophobic novel set mainly in a high security prison in Norfolk, where several inmates have committed suicide. The word is that a mysterious, ghostly apparition is haunting the prisoners and driving them to kill themselves, but is it really a ghost or some mass hysteria? It’s early days yet, but the characterisation is spot on, the storytelling very compelling for a debut novel. This is one of those books sent to me to read, most of which I give up on after the first few pages. That I’m three quarters finished and look forward to my meagre allocated reading time each day is the highest praise I can give. It’s not out until June 29th, but I suggest you all mark the day in your diaries.

Well, I for one definitely fancy The Binding Song. And James isn’t the only one I’ve heard mention Jay Stringer…so there’s more great recommendations for you! I’m currently reading Written In Bones and will review it as soon as I’m done.

Did I Like It? It Depends… – Owen Mullen

Games People Play by [Mullen, Owen] Old Friends And New Enemies: a gripping crime thriller by [Mullen, Owen]

Above – The first two Charlie Cameron books, available now.

Recently a woman sent me a Facebook DM, saying she’d started reading one of my books and had given up because she couldn’t get into it. Later, she’d returned to it and was at a loss to understand why it hadn’t impressed her the first time. She now likes it so much she’s bought the follow-up, and copies of both books to give to friends. That got me wondering if anybody else has had this experience because I certainly have.

Understanding the influence my own mood has in the reading/watching equation is a surprise that forces me to re-evaluate my views. How much good stuff have I missed because I’m in the wrong place? Nowadays, because I’m almost always working on a book, I don’t read as much as I once did. Slumped in front of the television is an easy option and one I frequently take. Though the same applies. I watch something, can’t get into it and give up. Months – maybe years later – I try again, only to discover I like it. The Sopranos is an example: I watched the first episode and didn’t get it. Fortunately, I soldiered on otherwise I would’ve dismissed one of the all-time great TV series. Breaking Bad was borderline until the penny dropped. Right now, I’m struggling with Taboo and Apple Tree Yard. Enjoyed the start of both but, somewhere along the way, I’ve begun to lose interest.

I haven’t had quite the same experience with reading, because if it doesn’t grab me I tend to give up. Maybe because reading requires a bigger commitment from me.

When I do get the opportunity to read, I often return to an author – sometimes a particular book – I’ve already read. Maybe because, sub-consciously, I know I’ll enjoy them. Currently have The Last Temptation by Val McDermid on my bedside table.

Two new authors caught my attention. Peter Best impressed me right away – believe he’s about to re-launch – and Donna Maria Mccarthy’s, The Hangman’s Hitch, took me well out of my reading comfort zone. Really liked both.

Ultimately – as I now appreciate – my enjoyment will depend on where I am in my head, which at the moment is full of plotlines for Charlie 4 and some very bad people. A scary place. Don’t mind visiting but wouldn’t want to live there. So better not to ask what I think about anything for a while. Whatever the question is, chalk me up as don’t know.

I’ll get back to you when I’ve taken another look!

My Next Read – Gwen Parrott

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‘Clouds of Witness’ – Dorothy L.Sayers & ‘Dead White’ – Gwen Parrott

When I was around sixteen, an aunt invited me to take some books from a bookcase belonging to the lady whose companion and housekeeper she’d been for nearly fifty years and who had recently died. Even back in the 1970s, that form of employment was archaic. Having been born a bookworm, I gathered a few promising tomes, little knowing that what I had chosen would influence me for the rest of my life.

They were early Gollancz editions of the Lord Peter Wimsey novels of Dorothy L. Sayers. To say that I devoured them doesn’t begin to describe it – I read and re-read them, and during the long summer vacations while I was home from University, I looked forward to starting with the first one ‘Whose Body?’ and working my way through to ‘Busman’s Honeymoon’, before I had to go back to Anglo-Saxon and Ezra Pound.

And I’m still doing it, although not so regularly. Every few years, I catch sight of them on the shelf and find myself drawn into that world again. ‘Clouds of Witness’ is next in line – where Lord Peter’s brother, Gerald, the Duke of Denver, is accused of murdering his sister’s fiancé. I suppose I look at them with different eyes now. When I was young, I was astonished at Dorothy L. Sayers’s wide-ranging scholarship, and thorough research. That’s still striking, but I’m more aware, as I grow older, of what influenced her. I keep hearing P.G. Wodehouse in Peter Wimsey’s voice – he’s really Bertie Wooster with brains, and his imperturbable valet Bunter is, of course, Jeeves.  I’m particularly looking forward in ‘Clouds of Witness’ to the incredible fact that the letter which explains everything at the end is written in French – and is not translated! It appears that in the early editions Dorothy L. Sayers could not be persuaded by her publishers that an English translation was required. How about that for believing in the erudition of your readers?

That’s why she’s always been the author to aim at, for me. She knew that the detective novel could  be more than just pulp fiction. She used all her considerable intellect in her plots and her detailed descriptions of life in the 1920s and 1930s, and never short-changed her audience. When I’m thinking of a new ‘Della Arthur’ novel, I keep her example in mind.

Gwen Parrott is the author of ‘Dead White’ (Kindle), a murder mystery set in snow-bound Pembrokeshire, South Wales in 1947, featuring Della Arthur, a local schoolteacher. The second book in the series ‘Beyond the Pale’ will be published shortly on Kindle. In her other life, Gwen is a Welsh language translator.