Smoke and Ashes (Sam Wyndham, #3) by Abir Mukherjee

Cover of Smoke and Ashes (Sam Wyndham, #3)

The strongest outing yet for Captain Sam Wyndham and Sergeant Banerjee, who I noticed he did start to call “Suren” in this book – an abbreviated version of his full Indian name rather than the the anglicisation “Surrender-not” which sounds like a slur to my ears but also sounds typical of the colonial period and the British treatment of anything they couldn’t be bothered to understand.

Calcutta in the 1920s really came to life here; from the grand mansions to the opium dens to the military enclosures to the boatmen on the Hooghly river, and the city is populated by groups from all parts of India, including peacefully protesting followers of Mahatma Gandhi, the ever-present British military and the Prince of Wales (later Edward VIII) is about to visit. What could go wrong?! I like the way the author shows all the diversity within the population, no one’s ever just an “Indian”, you learn all about the different peoples who make up India along the way. I think I said in writing about one of the earlier books that Sam (as a white British man) seems too liberal for his time, but I think it works better than way for the modern reader.

The plot in this book took a bit of getting into, there’s a real web of plot lines being spun and they all get tangled up together very knottily. I liked how Sam covering up his increasingly worrying opium habit was an essential part of the conundrum rather than just period and place specific decoration to the story.

I’m looking forward to the next in the series.

More information about this book can be found on goodreads.

The Disappearance of Emily Marr by Louise Candlish

Cover of The Disappearance of Emily Marr

A very holiday sort of a read. I loved that it was set on the ÃŽle-de Ré where I holidayed a few years ago, it’s a place that’s near the top of my list of places I want to go back to. It’s a perfect sort of a place to pick to go and hide out in exile from the world. (Damn, now I’ve told you and won’t be able to hideaway there myself!)

Tabby turns up on the island when she’s near penniless, she was travelling with a boyfriend who dumped her, and she falls in with “Emmie Mason” who it seems is in exile there. The story goes back and narration from Emily explains what happened in her life before this. Tabby slowly pieces together her friend’s background. I loved the first Candlish book I read for its twist that I didn’t see coming, and this one is pretty good at twisting things around too. It’s not like some books where “you’ll never guess the ending” is the whole point and if you do hazard a guess that turns out to be in the right ball park you feel cheated though; I think it’s a good book whether you foresee the twists or not.

I’m intrigued by the cover I can see on goodreads for this book. There’s obviously been a change of marketing strategy for the author at some point. The copy I have has a very dark thriller-ish cover; this one is a brighter chicklit-ish holiday read sort of a cover. The novel is somewhere in between, and I think you’d enjoy it if you like either one of those genres.

More information about this book can be found on goodreads.

Paper Son (Lydia Chin & Bill Smith, #12) by S.J. Rozan

Cover of Paper Son (Lydia Chin & Bill Smith, #12)

I’m the wrong person to ask if this is a good book. I was super delighted to find that there was a new book in this series, the twelfth, it’s been several years since the last one and I’d thought the series was dead. It goes far away from the usual New York setting as Lydia and Bill head to the Mississippi Delta to investigate a murder among distant cousins of Lydia’s. I loved being back with the characters and though I was a bit disappointed that “New York” was missing as a character I think the story worked pretty well, the change of scene added a different dimension, and Lydia and Bill needed some time away.

It was great, and I really hope there will be more before too long.

More information about this book can be found on goodreads.

The Dark Angel (Ruth Galloway, #10) by Elly Griffiths

Cover of The Dark Angel (Ruth Galloway, #10)

I’m definitely back into enjoying this series after swearing I was giving up on it a few books back. I’m making no bones about the fact that I’m here for the ongoing soap opera of the central characters and that there are things that annoy me, but overall I really enjoy reading these anyway. The mystery plot here doesn’t really get going for a good long time, and even when it does it’s a bit thin really, but that is all fine by me as well. I have an ongoing problem with Ruth continually putting herself down (though I’ll acknowledge that it’s perfectly realistic for her to do so) and in this book I really noticed how time was taken to show her from other characters points of view where she came over as wise, competent and sexy. I thought that was really well done and nice to see.

More information about this book can be found on goodreads.

Under The Skin by Michel Faber

Cover of Under The Skin

This was recommended to me by my partner and I went into reading it without knowing a thing about it or even glancing at the blurb on the back cover. Which was a pretty good way to read it; the actual subject matter dawned on me slowly as I turned the pages. And I don’t want to say a thing about it because I don’t want anyone else to know what it’s about before reading it either. But it’s really good. (I think you can read the blurb if you want, at least on the copy I have it doesn’t give everything away like some books do. Mysteries seem particularly susceptible to wanting to tell you the whole plot for some reason. This isn’t a mystery, just a mysterious book. I’m stopping before I say anything else!)

More information about this book can be found on goodreads.

MI5 and Me: A Coronet Among the Spooks by Charlotte Bingham

Cover of MI5 and Me: A Coronet Among the Spooks

I picked this up randomly at the library thinking that the story of a young girl working for the secret services in the 1950s sounded interesting. I realised the author had written lots of probably romance-ish books that I’ve never read, but that’s fine, I often think that older female authors seem to have much more outrageous lives than the ones they write about. I missed the blurb on the cover telling me it was a “stone cold comic classic” though.

I can’t really say I enjoyed it. I mostly found it stupid rather than funny, that’s probably me rather than the book as I’m never very good with funny books anyway. I was never quite sure if I was in “truth is stranger than fiction” territory or how much it was embellished or if any of it was true to start with. It had its moments but I only really finished it so I could tick it off.

More information about this book can be found on goodreads.

A Brief History of Everyone Who Ever Lived: The Stories in Our Genes by Adam Rutherford

Cover of A Brief History of Everyone Who Ever Lived: The Stories in Our Genes

Loved this. It took me a while to get into the stride of it, but once I did it was pretty much unputdownable. One of those books I want to absorb so much of in order to have coherent evidence based arguments to throw at idiots (or the unenlightened at least, not everyone I argue with is an idiot after all, I can’t be bothered to waste time talking with the completely closed-minded.) I read this from the library but I’m pretty certain I’ll be buying the author’s next book(s) so I can keep them on hand if they look as useful and good as this one.

If I had to pick one argument to take away from this one and try to keep in my brain it would be the evidence that leads to the conclusion: “What is unequivocal is that the colloquial and traditional descriptions of race that are commonly used in the West are not accurately reflected in the underlying genetics”. Yes, we can all look at a person and describe them using racial terminology but the designations are all seen through our own cultural filters (though I think I have some mild version of face-blindness so I’m rubbish at guessing people’s heritage by anything other than which Pantone chip their skin matches), but genetically there’s no way to look at our genes and neatly classify people into any of the taxonomies that the racists would like.

After I finished the book I looked up human genetic clustering and found the maths of the attempts at genetic clustering all super interesting. Would you like two races? The boundaries could be drawn in any number of places, maybe we could say the native Americans, Australians, Asians are one race and everyone else is in the other. Or seven races? That makes the Kalash people of the Himalayas split out as their own race? Apparently the racists like to pick out the attempt at “five genetic clusters” which looks most like the ones they think exist a priori, but why is five the magic number? And none of these clusters look to split the white European people out into a race of their own which seems to be what the racists I see in the UK at least would like.

Anyway, if you want the cohesive argument on this, as well as a vast array of other interesting things that fall out of our genetics, then read the book, there’s a lot more to it than this. I’m just jotting things down to jog my own memory of an excellent book here.

More information about this book can be found on goodreads.

What the Luck?: The Surprising Role of Chance in Our Everyday Lives by Gary Smith

Cover of What the Luck?: The Surprising Role of Chance in Our Everyday Lives

I picked this up because I’d enjoyed reading Standard Deviations: Flawed Assumptions, Tortured Data, and Other Ways to Lie with Statistics by the same author last year. This one was lighter all round; more accessible probably but also focused on just one concept really.

It’s a couple of hundred pages of exploration of regression to the mean. An example he uses is when you praise one group of students for doing well, and shout at a group who do badly. When you come back the next day the praised group generally do worse, and the shouted at group do better. Does this mean that shouting is a more effective tool than praise? No, it’s just that generally people who turn in performances far from the average are really more average than their performance showed. If they do really well they will do worse next time whatever, and the poor performers will probably improve anyway. (Side note: so just be nice to everyone ok? Not mathematical insight, just human.)

Like his other book this was a bit heavy on the examples from American sports for me, but there were plenty of other topics covered. I didn’t need convincing of the theory behind regression to the mean but I enjoyed the read anyway and the surprisingly takeaway for me was how uplifting the idea that “it’s more average than you think” could be.

More information about this book can be found on goodreads.

Murder Most Unladylike: A Wells & Wong Mystery (Wells & Wong Mystery, #1) by Robin Stevens

Cover of Murder Most Unladylike: A Wells & Wong Mystery  (Wells & Wong Mystery, #1)

Adding these write-ups of my backlog in no particular order, just the one that most leaps up as being remembered gets written about first. If I can remember how to structure sentences that is; that last one puts me in doubt.

I borrowed this from my daughter’s bookshelves – she read it ages back. It’s a mystery set in a girl’s school in the 1930s and I know it’s been well received. I was intrigued as to how the school setting would be handled by a modern author, I read plenty of original 1930s school stories as a child and in retrospect they were often formulaic, class-ist, sexist, racist and probably a lot more. And I was also interested in how the murder mystery element would be handled in a book aimed at pre-teens.

I’m pleased to say that both my worries were assuaged. Making the narrator non-white and an outsider in the school system – she’s from Hong Kong – was a great move of the author’s. Rather than just smoothing over the 1930s sensibilities and making everyone act nicely the issue is addressed head-on in the way the narrator is treated by some of the other characters in the book. And the mystery too is very well set up and resolved. Obviously I’m not going to give away the plot but I was pleased it was set up as definitely a murder with no hedging of “maybe it was an accident” to confuse the reader, and that the solution was something that made sense from a 1930s point of view but that would resonate with readers today and highlight some of the things that have changed in the last 85 years.

All in all it was very well done. I expected it to be pretty good, and was satisfied.

More information about this book can be found on goodreads.

The Sudden Departure of the Frasers by Louise Candlish

Cover of The Sudden Departure of the Frasers

I read another book by the same author last year that surprised me with how unexpectedly good its ending and plot resolution was so I picked this up from the library to try another by the same author. There are a lot of similar features between the two stories – they both have double sided narratives, two stories told at different times by two different characters, and figuring out how the two sides are going to mesh together is most of the mystery. And then both books are kind-of estate agency thrillers involving people buying houses in odd circumstances and involve a cast of neighbours who probably know more than they are saying.

I didn’t think this was nearly as good a story as Our House but it was a quick and easy read that entertained me one sunny weekend in the garden. In a way it’s nice to read an older book by an author you enjoyed that doesn’t make you want to go and read all their other older books, and I’ll certainly be trying her newer books anyway.

More information about this book can be found on goodreads.