Book blurbs – what words will put me OFF?

As a bookblogger/bookreviewer and a retired public library fiction cataloguer, I have read countless ‘blurbs‘ on novels.  Some I read avidly, while others I drop like ‘hot potatoes’!

Why would I dismiss a book so readily you ask?  Well, the blurb probably contained one of the following words:

 

Perhaps I’m missing out on some great reads by letting these words preclude me from reading these novels. Perhaps not. All I know is that there are a LOT of wonderful books out there and a girl just has to be a bit choosy now and then.

I understand that the words that dissuade me are the very same words that entice a lot of readers.  To each his/her own.

For every book there is a reader – For every reader there is a book.

What words put you off?  I’d love to hear from you in the comments.

Posted in Choosing what to read next, Fiction, ramblings & miscellanea | Tagged , | 28 Comments

“The yellow house” by Jeroen Blokhuis

Dutch author, Jeroen Blokhuis tells Vincent van Gogh’s story as the artist would have told it. The novel depicts van Gogh’s life when he lived in his beloved ‘yellow house’ in Arles, France between August 1888 and December 1889.

“it’s a beautiful little house”

Vincent’s own depiction of his house in Arles “The Yellow House” (oil on canvas)

Vincent van Gogh has always been a bit of an enigma.  He seemed to be a man who loved people, yet he always felt himself an outcast, an outsider.  He seemed tormented with the longing to ‘belong’, to be a part of a community of friends.  He felt that in this new place, Arles, he would have more of a chance to be accepted as the people had no preconceptions of him and hopefully they would be more open-minded. He loved companionship, never more so than when he shared his ‘yellow house’ in Arles with fellow artist, Paul Gauguin.

The novel makes mention of van Gogh’s use of the perspective frame.  He always struggled with perspective and proportion in his art, and his use of the perspective frame aided him in his endeavors. This practice is more fully explained in this YouTube video.

Jeroen Blokuis tells the story with an artist’s eye. He used detailed description with myriad references to colour, shape, texture, and the nuances of shadow. Van Gogh had a deep admiration for the beauty of nature.

Of van Gogh’s painting “The sunflowers”, Gauguin says “Those sunflowers of yours, are more real than sunflowers”. Van Gogh put the picture in his guest bedroom in Arles, when Gauguin was a guest.

Sunflowers (oil on canvas)

Looking at the artist today, with our 20/20 vision of the man as a true legend, it is interesting to the reader that at one time van Gogh hung his paintings up in a café hoping to attract buyers.  When he didn’t have any money to pay his café bill, he would pay with a painting (for which he got about 23 francs back in 1888)

Van Gogh and Gauguin lived together in harmony for the most part.  Gauguin cooked the meals. They painted together, drank together and even visited brothels together.

depiction of van Gogh’s bedroom in the yellow house

The overlying theme of “The Yellow House” is van Gogh’s loneliness. He feels misunderstood, that he has no ‘true’ friends.  He had dreamed of founding an artist’s colony in Arles, but the idea never came to fruition.  The novel follows the premise that in a fit of despondency after an argument with Gauguin, van Gogh severed part of his ear off with a razor blade. (Other ideas about this subject can be found here.)

The people of Arles fear his volatility and ‘strangeness’.  He is committed to a mental hospital for a year.  He has fantasized that his artist’s colony and his acquaintances will be there to welcome him on his return. Alas, upon his return there is no one to meet him.

“van Gogh was a tortured genius”

The last third of the novel was difficult to read.  As it is told from van Gogh’s point of view and he was depressed and struggled with madness – his thought processes are disjointed. He ended his life at age thirty-seven…

I recommend this biographical novel to anyone who has an interest in art history, and of the iconic Vincent van Gogh in particular.  

From now until May 3rd, there in an international Goodreads giveaway for this novel. If you are interested in reading it I recommend you enter the contest.

Translated from the Dutch by Asja Novak, the novel did not flow seamlessly, but was very enjoyable despite this.  I received a complimentary digital copy of this novel from the publisher, Holland Park Press in exchange for my honest review.

I did not study art or art history, but I have always been fascinated by van Gogh.  It is for that reason that I love the popular song by Don McLean called “Starry, starry, night“. I urge you to click on the link as the YouTube video contains many of van Gogh’s art works as a backdrop to Don McLean’s haunting melody and lyrics.


Jeroen Blokhuis is a Dutch author and a Communications Advisor.

He has published short stories in literary magazines and he also wrote booklets for educational publishers and professional publications about content strategy.

Posted in biographical fiction, book reviews, Debut novels, Historical fiction, Novels in translation | Tagged , , | 11 Comments

“The killings on Kersivay” by Angus MacVicar

Once more my reading travels have taken me to the Scottish isles.  I LOVE this setting! When I ponder why, I realize that like all settings that are located on islands, the setting makes the story akin to a ‘locked room’ mystery.  A limited number of people, thus setting the scenes where suspicions abound amongst people who probably think they know each other well.

In this case, the island of Kersivay is also experiencing the tail end of a hurricane, so access to the island is limited and it is up to the locals to sort out the crime.

From the publisher: 
Peter Parsons, a radio producer, flies to the Hebridean island of Kersivay to find out how the locals feel about the new prison-hospital for psychopaths. When a sex offender escapes and a woman is found dead, Peter’s trip takes a dark turn and the black-outs he experiences causes him to question his own actions.

The novel was originally published in 1962 and is somewhat dated as a result. I didn’t mind this at all as I was transported even more vividly to the time and place that the author described. A time before Internet, cell phones, and social media.

Peter Parsons is no stranger to Kersivay as his family had lived there for generations . His father was the laird and he grew up in the ‘big house’. Now, back in his line of work as a radio producer, he wants to garner public opinion from the locals about the new prison-hospital which has been built on the island.

Recently, Peter has been experiencing severe headaches which often culminate in blackouts.  He experiences one such episode shortly after his arrival in Kersivay.  When he regains consciousness, he realizes that a murder has been committed and he cannot even be certain of his own innocence!  The locals assume that as one of the inmates from the new prison hospital has escaped, that it is he who has murdered a young local woman.

One of the first people he encounters upon his return to Kersivay is his boyhood friend, ‘Nappy Neil’ who now works for the local hotel as chauffeur, handyman and general dogsbody.  Delighted to meet up with his old friend again, they reminisce and discuss how the people of Kersivay have changed since their boyhood.  They seem more prosperous and the atmosphere has become altered somehow…  The old women of the island declare that “evil has come to Kersivay”.  Superstition or fact???

The CID from Glasgow are called in, but are unable to gain access to the island because of the storm. Then the telephone lines go down. Peter and Nappy Neil attempt to apprehend the murderer along with the local policemen. Friendships are tested and danger lurks. Then, after finding the body of the escaped prisoner, it is clear that there is a second murderer in Kersivay and that he/she remains at large.

“there’s a panic in somebody’s breastie tonight”

I very much enjoyed this mystery, and the characters were well wrought.  I did have a hard time accepting the precipitate ‘love at first sight’ part of the storyline.  Peter meets the hotel owner’s granddaughter, Rona.  Within thirty-six hours they are professing undying love and calling each other ‘darling’.  It seemed far-fetched and didn’t add anything to the novel in my opinion.  Also, though the description and the writing were enjoyable, and the setting sublime, the plot was predictable and the ending expected.

I learned several Scottish words while reading this novel.  Among them were: stravaiging, throughither, cromak, shufti, howff, and shebeen.

I received a complimentary digital copy of this novel from Endeavor Press via NetGalley for review purposes.

Angus MacVicar (1908 – 2001) was a Scottish author of more than 70 books, several plays, and countless radio and television scripts. . His early writing was interrupted by wartime service with the Royal Scots Fusiliers.  MacVicar, whose father was a Presbyterian minister in the Church of Scotland, lived most of his life in the village of Southend, Argyll. After attending the University of Glasgow he went on to work for the Campbeltown Courier.  MacVicar also presented the BBC television program Songs of Praise.

Angus MacVicar’s obituary

Posted in book reviews, Mystery fiction, NetGalley title | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Cover Love: part 23 – Yellow coats

The covers of novels entice the reader to enter a different world. Covers are, after all, the way the publisher ‘hooks’ the reader into choosing one book over countless others.

In this, my twenty-third installment of ‘Cover Love‘, I’d like to show you books that feature yellow coats and jackets on their covers.

A fitting subject for the showery month of April.  

Some I’ve already read, some are on my ‘to read’ list,
and some I chose only for their covers.

Some, perhaps, will now be on your TBR!

The covers displaying ‘yellow coats’ are,  for the most part, mysteries and thrillers. Interesting…

Just click on the cover to read the book’s synopsis from  Goodreads.

You might just find your next favorite book!

Stay tuned for Cover Love Part 24: “Bicycles”

or… revisit any of the first twenty-two installments of

Cover Love – some of which I’ve updated recently

What is your favorite ‘Cover Love‘ series post so far?

Have you found anything to add to your TBR?

I’d love to hear from you in the comments.

Posted in Cover Love series, Dustjackets | Tagged | 18 Comments

“All things cease to appear” by Elizabeth Brundage

“A novel that combines noir and the gothic in a story about two families entwined in their own unhappiness, with, at its heart, a gruesome and unsolved murder.”

The old farmhouse in upstate New York has seen more than its fair share of tragedy.  Many of the locals think that it is cursed.  Could they be right?

 In the family since 1908, the Hale diary farm now belongs to Calvin, Ella and their three boys.  The farm, like many of their ilk, has fallen upon hard times. Calvin takes his frustrations out on his family and is unkind and abusive.  At the end of his tether, he takes his long-suffering wife with him in a murder-suicide by gassing them in their bedroom which is above the garage.  The three boys are left orphans, and the farm goes into foreclosure. The boys, Eddy, Wade, and Cole are sent into town to live with their uncle.  They live not only with the loss of their home and their parents, but also with the stigma of being a ‘Hale’.

“You had to figure out how to go on. That’s all you could do.”

Then, at a ridiculously cheap price, George Clare buys the old farmhouse and two hundred acres of land. He moves there with his beautiful wife Catherine and their sweet little daughter, Franny. George is an academic and his wife a former art restorer.  Now a full-time mother to Franny, Catherine does not like this rural life, but does her best to settle.

Shockingly, the reader learns that Catherine has been brutally murdered with an axe while lying in her bed!

Then, through flashbacks, we learn about her life in the house.  Although her husband George knew the house’s history, she did not.  They hire three local boys to paint the barns and house.  George knows that these boys used to live in the house, Catherine does not.  Catherine likes these unusual boys.  She thinks they are polite, sincere, and ‘broken’.  She becomes quite fond of the youngest boy, Cole.  The Clare’s hire Cole to babysit Franny on a regular basis.

When we first met George Clare immediately after his wife’s murder, we find him a pitiable widower.  Now, through these flashbacks, we find that he is really not a likable character at all.   The Clare’s have a loveless marriage.  They married only because Catherine fell pregnant with Franny. Now married, Catherine feels trapped – but – “women in Catherine’s family didn’t leave their husbands“.  George is unfaithful and dishonest. Moving here to the country he has procured a position at the local college as a art history professor.  His position would never have been granted to him if he had not forged his qualifications. When discovered in his deception George says, “I wrote the letter I deserved“.

We come to know their friends and neighbors.  The bohemian, childless couple Justine and Bram. Mary, the real estate agent and her policeman husband, Travis.  We also come to know George’s coworkers at the college, and his young and damaged mistress, Willis.

We learn that Catherine felt uneasy in the house.  A house where she felt chilled in some rooms. A house where she felt an oppressive gloom even when the sun is shining.  Franny too seemed aware of the house’s creepiness.  There is one scene where Catherine is doing dishes and looks up to the window and sees another woman’s reflection. Then she finds rings on the windowsill that weren’t there before.  As if the other woman had taken them off to do the dishes…

Catherine develops a kind of relationship with the dead Ella. “They were a morbid pair – one dead, one alive. Both stuck.”

Another vivid scene that I won’t forget is when the three Hale boys learn of Catherine’s murder.  They were all very fond of her and the three climb the ridge overlooking their old house. Eddy plays ‘Taps‘ on his trumpet in her honor.

Exceptional imagery and great characterization are evident in this novel. We come to know and care for the characters – in particular Catherine Clare and Cole Hale.

George Clare? … not so much.  He is handsome, narcissistic, false, and sociopathic.

“Bad things could add up in a life, he thought.
They could slowly, slowly disfigure you.”

The title is referenced by way of connection to a painting: “the moment light and dark and land and sky were perfectly balanced, what Inness would call an ideal composition, a vague and conniving frontier where, as the artist put it, all things cease to appear.”

This literary thriller is a slow burn, but despite its 400 pages, it kept me interested and invested in the outcome throughout. Although the novel contains ghostly references it is not really a ‘ghost story’ per se.  It is a murder mystery with no mystery, only unsettling and uneasy suspicions. The ending was both satisfactory and unsatisfactory. Don’t understand what I mean?  I guess you’ll have to read it for yourself.

My digital copy of this novel was provided to me by Knopf via Edelweiss.

Elizabeth Brundage graduated from Hampshire College, attended the NYU film school, was a screenwriting fellow at the American Film Institute in Los Angeles, and received an MFA as well as a James Michener Award from the University of Iowa Writers’ Workshop. She has taught at a variety of colleges and universities, most recently at Skidmore College, where she was visiting writer-in-residence. She lives near Albany in upstate New York.

Posted in book reviews, Edelweiss title, ghost stories, gothic fiction, Literary fiction, Suspense | Tagged , , , | 16 Comments

“ough” x 9 pronunciations

Early this month I wrote a blog post called “Glorious, complicated, perverse English language“.  It was fun to write and I enjoyed reading the many comments on the post.

One comment though was a challenge!  The comment stated that there are NINE ways to pronounce the letters ‘ough’!  Well, being the nerd I am I had to immediately think and add up the ways in my head.  However… I couldn’t think of nine – only eight!

1.  bough, plough = OW

2.  rough, enough, tough = UFF

3.  trough, cough = OFF

4.  dough, furlough, thorough = OH

5.  sough = OO

6.  hiccough = UP

7.  thought, bought = AW

8.  lough = OCK

What am I missing?  If anyone can provide me with examples for the ninth pronunciation, I’d love to hear it in your comments.

Thanks to everyone who commented on this topic.

The pronunciation that I was missing was…

9.  through = EW

Another comment pointed out an interesting point.  The word thorough in North American English is pronounced with the OH sound

whilst British English pronounces it was a AH sound

The English language never fails to enthrall me!

 

Posted in ramblings & miscellanea | Tagged | 22 Comments

Series to Savour 7 – Elly Griffith’s Ruth Galloway mysteries

This morning, as I peruse my lovely bookshelves I spy one of my all-time favorite series and realize that I have not yet posted about it on my “Series to Savour” blog series. Well, that must be remedied immediately!  I’m referring to the Ruth Galloway mysteries written by Elly Griffiths.  The Ruth novels are a joy!

About Elly Griffiths (from the author’s website)

Elly Griffiths is the pseudonym for Domenica de Rosa.  She has written four books under her real name.  She was born in London in 1963 and her family moved to Brighton when she was five. She loves Brighton – the town, the surrounding countryside and, most of all, the sea. She went to local state schools and wrote her first book when she was a eleven, a murder mystery set in Rottingdean, near the village where she still lives. At secondary school she used to write episodes of Starsky and Hutch (early fan fiction) and very much enjoyed making her readers cry.

She did all the right things to become a writer: She studied English at King’s College London and, after graduating, worked in a library, for a magazine and then as a publicity assistant at HarperCollins. She loved working in publishing and eventually became Editorial Director for children’s books at HarperCollins. All this completely put her off writing and it wasn’t until she was on maternity leave in 1998 that she wrote what would become her first published novel, The Italian Quarter.

Three other books followed, all about Italy, families and identity. By now she had two children and her husband Andy had just given up his city job to become an archaeologist. They were on holiday in Norfolk, walking across Titchwell Marsh, when Andy mentioned that prehistoric man had thought that marshland was sacred. Because it’s neither land nor sea, but something in-between, they saw it as a kind of bridge to the afterlife. Neither land nor sea, neither life nor death. As he said these words the entire plot of The Crossing Places appeared, full formed, in my head and, walking towards me out of the mist, I saw Dr Ruth Galloway. She didn’t think that this new book was significantly different from her ‘Italy’ books but, when she read it, her agent said, ‘This is crime. You need a crime name.’

And that’s how she became Elly Griffiths.

The Ruth Galloway series is set mostly in a brooding
saltmarsh area of England’s Norfolk coast

Titchwell saltmarsh

Her protagonist, Ruth Galloway, is a forensic archaelogist who lives alone with her two cats in an isolated cottage on Norfolk’s Saltmarsh coast.  Ruth is ascerbic, solitary and strangely loveable. She works as the Head of Forensic Archaeology at the University of North Norfolk. Thirty-something and a bit overweight, she does not have much of a social life, nor does she want one. However, she is drawn to DCI Harry Nelson, the police inspector who was instrumental in solving the mystery in “The Crossing Places“.

Ruth is an intriguing character. Solitary, smart, and strong, (not to mention a cat owner) Ruth is a protagonist that you’ll want to follow avidly as she becomes almost a friend over the course of the series.
With such a powerful protagonist and themes of missing children, historical exhumations, friendship, and just a smattering of romance, the series exhibits everything I truly enjoy in a mystery series. Griffiths descriptions of the barren and beautiful marshlands set the mood for the books excellently.

The fabulous first novel of the series was the Winner of the Mary Higgins Clark Award 2011 and was shortlisted for the Theakstons Old Peculier Crime Novel of the Year!

In further books in the series we come to know Ruth and follow her through several interesting cases whilst encountering some steep challenges, and the joys and sorrows of her personal life.  It is the excellent balance between her personal life and her work life that makes this series so special.

Elly Griffiths loves doing research and it is evident in her novels.  The perfect blend of forensically interesting and atmospheric mysteries.

Listen to Elly Griffiths talk about her character, Ruth Galloway

Elly Griffiths won the CWA Dagger in the Library award in October 2016.  This award is presented to the author of the most enjoyed collection of work in libraries!


The nine novels featuring Ruth Galloway are: (don’t you agree that they all have stunning covers?)

The author has also written a novella featuring Ruth Galloway.  It can be considered 4.5 in the series coming between “A room full of bones” and “Dying fall“.  It is a Christmas novella called 

 

Some of my favorite quotes from Elly Griffith’s novels:

An interview with Elly Griffiths

and another interview

I’d love to hear from you if you’ve read any of the Ruth Galloway series
or if you plan to.

Elly Griffith’s cat, Gus guarding her novel “Dying Fall”

Posted in Authors, award winners, Favorite books, Mystery fiction, Series order, series to savour | Tagged , , , , , , , | 9 Comments