Tuesday 12 October 2021

Catching up with fiction

Despite doing two reviews a day or two ago I'm still three books behind so more short reviews to come to try and catch up... fiction this time.

First, a book I've just devoured in two days, A Keeper by Graham Norton... my first book by him.

Elizabeth Keane is an Irish woman who's lived in New York for years. She's divorced with a 17 year old son, her husband having left her for another man, to go and live in San Francisco. Returning to Ireland after the death of her mother she finds the town of Buncarragh completely unchanged, reminding her of why she left in the first place. Sorting out her mother's stuff she finds some letters in the wardrobe (it's always the wardrobe!) They're from the father she never knew and suddenly Elizabeth wants to know who she is and where she comes from. I won't say any more than that about the plot because this is a book full of family secrets, probably more than I've ever come across I think. On the back of the book The Times newspaper describes the books as: Atmospheric, creepy and impossible to put down and I honestly think that sums it up nicely. Parts of it are full of a sort of creeping menace and I honestly wasn't expecting that. What I was expecting and 'got' was the grimness which often seems to come with books set in rural Ireland. Why is that I wonder? The Searcher by Tana French, which I read in July, springs to mind immediately. Anyway, the book. It's in no way the kind of light read I expected from TV personality, Graham Norton, but I could not put the thing down, it was compulsive. It twisted and turned all over the place and grim or no grim, I loved it. 

Next, Opium and Absinthe by Lydia Kang. This in my 9th. book for Marg's Historical Fiction 2021 challenge.

It's 1899 and Bram Stoker's Dracula has just been published. Young Tillie Pembroke, from a very wealthy New York family, has just lost her beloved older sister, Lucy. Lucy was found dead with puncture wounds on her neck but the police seem to be ignoring the crime. A bad fall from a horse has left Tillie incapacitated and addicted to laudanum but she has one advantage, she has a scientific, enquiring mind. By leaving the house at night in secret and with the help of poor, aspiring journalist, Ian, Tillie sets about investigating what happened to her sister. This was interesting in that it gave me quite an insight into the free and easy use of laudanum, morphine and heroin in the late 1800s. Knowing what we now know about its addictiveness, it's quite horrifying to watch quite honestly and you're sitting, reading, thinking, 'DON'T !!! '. That said, this is really a fun, if rather unlikely, gothicky style book with a plucky (mostly) heroine who loves science doesn't understand or observe the social mores about class distinction that existed a hundred years ago. It was a decent read and I enjoyed it.

Lastly, Sherlock Holmes and the Shadwell Shadows by James Lovegrove.

The premise of this is that some papers have been discovered (probably in the wardrobe) written by Dr. John Watson in which he declares that all of the Sherlock Holmes adventures he wrote about were cover-ups for a much bigger story. Which is that H.P. Lovecraft's weird tales of the Cthulhu Mythos were real and he and Holmes have been fighting that fight and not one of Victorian crime at all. This first book of a trilogy recounts how he and Holmes really met and what really happened to Watson in Afghanistan to leave him mentally scarred. A shadowy menace is now stalking Shadwell in the East End of London, there's a powerful but mysterious Chinaman involved and ultimately Holmes' and Watson's first encounter with a dangerous adversary. Without being bowled over, I liked this well enough. It's a bit of a romp around Victorian London with a load of supernatural goings on that are straight out of Lovecraft's Cthulhu world. Villains abound and Holmes and Watson are well tested. I have a feeling I'm going to like book two more, Sherlock Holmes and the Miskatonic Monstrosities, which involves events that happened in New England. The series is well written so that helps a lot and Holmes and Watson feel authentic, not as authentic as Conan-Doyle wrote them, but not that far off.

So that was quite a good selection of weird fiction for September and October reading and I've certainly not finished with the weirdness yet!


(Diane) Bibliophile By the Sea said...

Graham Norton's, A Keeper sounds like one I'd love. I enjoy the way you share just enough to hook me LOL

Sam said...

Interesting choices, for sure, Cath. I have to admit that I didn't know that Graham Norton was even an author. I know him only as a TV presenter and host. "A Keeper" sounds like a real page-turner, as attested to by how quickly you finished it.

Both of the others sound like they could be fun, too, especially since I'm getting back into the whole Sherlock Holmes thing lately, but I'm going to look for the Norton book before checking those out any closer, I think.

Lark said...

I've just realized why nothing exciting ever happens in my life--why I never seem to find doorways to magical lands or discover packets of intriguing letters--it's because I don't own a wardrobe! ;D And I think Opium and Absinthe sounds like a lot of fun. Maybe because I like plucky heroines so much.

TracyK said...

All of these books sound interesting, although I have never read any Sherlock Holmes pastiches so I don't know that I would start with this one. I need to read more of the original stories first, probably.

The Graham Norton book sounds very good. I hope I can restrain myself from getting it soon, because I have way too many books already.

Yvonne @ Fiction Books Reviews said...

I love the cover of "Opium and Absinthe", even though it's probably not the book for me. Interesting though that we berate the rampant drug culture of today as something new, don't you think?

It seems that so many 'celebrities' (Oh! how I hate that word, they are just people doing a job of work like the rest of us), when they run out of steam in the public eye, turn to writing books, some much better than others! I occasionally add these books to my 'wish list', but I'm not in that much of a hurry to read them, although this one does sound really good!

Another lovely post, thanks for sharing :)

Cath said...

Diane: Oh, The Keeper was very good, and was made even better because it wasn't really what I was expecting. I'm not a great one for sharing a lot of detail about books, I prefer to share a good outline and let the reader discover the rest for themselves. But I also like that other bloggers do it differently because I like variety and there's room for all in my opinion.

Sam: Yes, Graham Norton's been writing books for about five years now. He freely admitted that being famous makes it very easy to get a publishing contract and I can see why that must rankle with ordinary people trying to get a book published.

Sherlock Holmes seemes to be everywhere I look at the moment, but that a 'good' thing.

Cath said...

Lark: LOL!!! Get yourself a wardrobe immediately!!! Yep, I think Opium and Absinthe would suit you although you might find Tillie's behaviour a bit frustrating when viewed from the 21st. century and our knowledge of prescription drugs. I kept having to remind myself that they did not 'know'.

Tracy: Some of the Sherlock Holmes pastiches are actually not bad. I liked The Giant Rat of Sumatra by Richard L. Boyer for instance.

Having way too many books is the story of all our lives I think. I'm still shoving books onto my Kindle willy-nilly.

Cath said...

Yvonne: oh yes, drugs are absolutely nothing new except in the case of drugs prescribed by the doctors back then where they didn't seem to know the dangers. But by the time this book is set I think they were starting to know as various characters tried to get Tillie to ease off, so unless this was artistic license, they were starting to know that having a lot of women hooked on laudunum was not good.

I don't read very many books by celebrities (for want of a better word). They're not my bag as part of me resents how easy it is for them to get published. For some of them it is running out of steam and turning to writing as last resort, but others, like Richard Osman and Graham Norton, have not got that need, they're still very famous and hugely wealthy so I wonder why they do it. I can only assume it's because they had an irrestible urge to write. Norton's book was lent to me by one of my daughters, I would not have been reading it otherwise, which is probably a shame as I would've missed out on an excellent book as he can write.

Thanks for stopping by.

Tina said...

I was surprised how much I enjoyed books by Graham Norton too. I liked A Keeper and The Holding very much. My third of his books is in the mail now - Home Stretch!

Susan said...

Why is it ALWAYS the wardrobe? LOL.

All three of these sound excellent. The Graham Norton book sounds especially good. I had no idea he even wrote books. I'm definitely going to check it out. Thanks for the heads-up!

Cath said...

Tina: I'll definitely be reading more by Graham Norton. Quite taken by surprise by the quality of his writing.

Susan: I don't know, but it is always the wardrobe. LOL

Yes, Norton has been writing books for several years now. And the nice thing is he can actually write!