It’s almost the end of November and as I’m chasing the elusive 50K for Nano (I’m almost there, well, another 5K and I will be) I doubt I’ll be able to fit in another book from my TBR pile. But, I had aimed to read 30% of all the books I read during this challenge to be from my TBR pile, and I have actually accomplished that. I only realised today that the challenge was to encompass both October and November and I had really only started it in November, but when I looked back on what I’ve read and counted my reviews, I found I had read 10 books in total out of which I posted 3 reviews for the Clear Off Your Shelves Challenge:

A Test of Wills by Charles Todd
Her Royal Spyness by Rhys Bowen
A Grave Man by David Roberts

which makes 30% ish (well, a little less as 30% of 10 is 3.66 books. I can’t help calculating as I did an astrophysics degree that was basically all maths and physics for the first two years.)

But… when I looked back on the reviews I posted, what did I find but a review of A Game of Thrones by George R.R. Martin? Now that book has been on my TBR shelf for over a year, and since I finished reading it at the beginning of November this year, I guess it qualifies for the challenge! Yay! So that completes my Clear Off Your Shelves Challenge.

If feels really great to actually read books from my TBR shelf and I feel that I’ve actually accomplished something and that my book buying sprees aren’t all in vain. So thanks to Swapna of S. Krishna Books for hosting this wonderful challenge.

A Grave Man by David Roberts

24 November, 2009

I’ve been a big fan of David Roberts since reading Sweet Poison, his first book in his historical mystery series featuring Lord Edward Corinth and Verity Browne. For me, what is fascinating is that Verity Browne is a journalist/war correspondant and a communist. This brings us nicely to the politics which permeates Roberts’ novels. Some people dislike the political thread running through his mysteries, but I like it and have learnt (or re-learnt) quite alot about the Spanish Civil War and the lead up to WWII.

There is a huge range of country house mysteries available to choose from that it is quite refreshing to read something that focusses on the social changes of that period including the politics. I love my country house mysteries as I think a good one delivers emotional, psychological and extremely intricate plots (including a few laughs) and I am the first to reach out and grab one, so one that has a little more kick to it is a welcome addition to the genre.

I think it’s only as I grow older that I have become interested in the sociological and political aspects of history. I was never really interested in WWI and WWII when I was at school. I only wanted to learn about kings and queens. Only now I realise that politics and social structure/change are inherent in everything and permeate history, and am obsessively reading about the interwar years. There is just something about that period that strikes a chord. One of my favourite blogs is A Work in Progress where you can find wonderful reviews and posts on interwar fiction, non-fiction and mysteries, a recent post being about flappers.

As you can probably tell, I love Roberts’ mysteries and I don’t know why I took so long to start reading A Grave Man. Oh, yes I do, it’s been on my TBR pile and I’ve been too busy accumulating more books. So the Clear Off Your Shelves Challenge provided a good excuse to pick up this book and read it. This is my third book for the Challenge.

Personally I like to read my series in order so that you get a better understanding of the relationships that have developed as each book progresses. A Grave Man is the sixth book in the series featuring the two sleuths who come from opposite poles of the social spectrum. Edward Corinth is the younger brother of the Duke of Mersham and man about town with a private income. He is in love with Verity Browne who has inherited a private income, is the daughter of a newspaper baron and is a war correspondent in her own right and an ardent card carrying communist. When they first meet, they clash, but they find that when it comes to crime, the two of them together are better at solving mysteries than going solo.

In A Grave Man, they are faced with the murder of a famous archeologist at a funeral in Westminster Abbey. Both Edward and Verity try to investigate the murder as political events slowly start to spiral out of control as the Nazis gain power in Europe. Edward’s friendship with Churchill and Verity’s disdain for the man lead to a fissure in their relationship which had just started to bloom. And faced with the ugly realisation that some of their friends are involved in research in eugenics which may or may not be funded by the Nazis, Edward and Verity are in a race against time to unravel the murderer before he strikes again while trying to salvage their friendship.

This novel is set in 1937 as the threat of another war looms over Europe. Times are dark and the frivolous joviality of the 1920s has begun to dissipate. Both Lord Edward Corinth and Verity Browne are likeable and feisty characters, although Verity sometimes drives me mad as much as she does Edward. Roberts introduces several historical figures in his novel including the Duke and Duchess of Windsor as well as Churchill who all provide an interesting background to the story and colour the novel well. I particularly liked the way that he doesn’t wrap up or finish the novel neatly, leaving you wanting to read the next book.

I really enjoyed A Grave Man, and I urge you to try David Roberts’ series beginning with Sweet Poison. You get a dash of history, mystery and the bohemian life! Ta da! (I know, I know, I just can’t help myself.) There are only ten books in the series and the final volume, Sweet Sorrow, was published this year.

A Test of Wills by Charles Todd

My first book for the Clear Off Your Shelves Challenge and it feels good! I feel virtuous when I actually read a book from my TBR shelf, instead of staring at the spines pulsating with potential stories and then turning to my newly acquired secondhand and library books. It’s a bit like reading a mouthwatering cookbook and then making some spicy instant ramen afterwards.

I am obsessively drawn to stories set in the interwar years and am forever checking out book blogs and amazon to find as many as I can. If they are mysteries, it’s even better as they combine two of my favourite subjects! I first came across Charles Todd when I was browsing for books on the internet (as you do on a rainy evening) and found that he was actually a mother and son team writing crime novels set in post WWI UK. So I promptly got the first in his series featuring Inspector Ian Rutledge, as I like reading my series in sequence. But then I began to read John Lawton’s excellent Blackout which is a crime novel set during WWII with lots of darkness, action and an attractive but troubled leading detective with a penchant for the ladies. Because of this, I got sidetracked into reading other genres as I like to mix and match my reading material, and didn’t get a chance to try A Test of Wills until this month.

I’m both sad and glad I waited because I wish I had discovered Todd earlier but then I’m glad because now I have a whole new series to look forward to and there are 12 books in the series. A Test of Wills begins with the murder of a decorated war hero with an impeccable reputation in a small town recovering from the war. He leaves behind a beautiful ward who is about to marry one of his friends, a much acclaimed and decorated flying ace who has been celebrated in parliamentary and royal circles. This proves problematic as the two men were last seen having a viscious argument, and the last thing the government needs is one of their heroes being accused of bloody murder.

The story was incredibly good and very character driven. Like Christie’s novels, you have the usual stereotypes inhabiting the quintessential English village, but there is an edge of darkness to them which you won’t find in St. Mary Mead. The best thing about the book, however, was Inspector Ian Rutledge sent from London to solve the case. He is a damaged man, a survivor of the trenches, who has returned to Scotland Yard to resume what was once a glittering career. He has his demons, and I won’t give it away, but it certainly surprised me. Todd’s treatment of shell-shock is thought-provoking and I don’t think I’ve read anything like it anywhere else. There is a barely supressed tension in all the characters that vibrate from the pages, and although I wasn’t too surprised by the dénouement, there were enough suitable suspects to keep you wondering who the murderer is until the end.

I’m really glad I came across this series and really look forward to reading the rest one by one. Todd has just published the first book in a new series featuring WWI nurse Bess Crawford which also looks very inviting…

For those of you wondering what I’m doing writing my blog when I should be furiously tapping away and expanding my word count on my Nano novel, I’m trying, believe me, I’m trying. I’m just a little stuck on the main plot which has become rather convoluted due to my laziness in outlining before actually writing, so today I will be sitting down with a double espresso and writing that d**ned outline.

Clear Off Your Shelves Challenge

It’s halfway through October and I think I’ve more than fulfilled myself for Carl’s R.I.P. IV Challenge this year, although I’m in the middle of reading Natsuo Kirino’s Grotesque which will be my final offering for this particular challenge.

But look what I’ve found? Another challenge which will also help clear my TBR shelf! Yes, something fun and also très useful. The Clear Off Your Shelves Challenge hosted by Swapna at S.Krishna’s Books is ideal for serial book buying hoarders like meself. The challenge runs from 1st October to 30th November 2009 and you are required to state the percentage of books you hope to read which will be from your TBR pile. Review books will have to have gathered dust for 6 months, but as I’m still relatively new to blogging with no review books, I get to pick whatever I like.

Next month’s going to be a toughie as I’ll be participating in Nanowrimo, but I’ll still be trying to read books in between frenzied bouts of writing. So I’m aiming for a good 30%. So 1 in 3 books should be off my shelf. I haven’t decided what books I’ll read yet, so that’ll come up in my review and wrap up.

This challenge is a timely find as I’ve been reading many great reviews of Susan Hill’s newest tome Howard’s End is on the Landing and have been contemplating doing the same with my books.