Books and me: on my shelves

Volunteers’ Week, which runs this year from 1-7 June, is a time to say thank you for the contribution millions of people make across the UK.

Clive Grewcock, a volunteer for Hampshire Libraries’ Home Library Service, talks about delivering books to readers who can’t get to the library, the importance of a sense of place in books and what he considers as the quintessential Dickens novel

I started volunteering for the Home Library Service just before Christmas when my wife who works at Lymington Library said they needed people to help. At the moment library staff choose the books for those who can’t come to the library and I do the deliveries and collect the returns. I’ve got four regulars who seem to appreciate the service and they all enjoy the books too so the library staff seem to be picking the right sort of books for them. One of my regulars reads a phenomenal number of books and she thinks the service is the bees’ knees. It makes a real difference and I’ll carry on with my volunteer role once my other volunteer activities start up again. 

Book habits
I read anywhere, everywhere and any time. As soon as I could read – I suppose since I was six or seven – I’ve always had a book on the go and I usually know what the next book is going to be too. I enjoyed adventure stories as a kid: like everyone I read all the Enid Blyton books. There was a series I loved called the Doctor Syn novels by Russell Thorndike (brother of actress Sybil) about a vicar who doubled as a smuggler on Romney Marsh. We used to go to the Romney Marshes as children so I loved that sense of place. 

I tend to read one book at a time although if I’m reading something a bit heavy, I might have a lighter book in between but generally it’s one book, start to finish, and then on to the next one. And since I’ve retired my books are 100% from the library.

What are you reading right now?
The book I’m reading at the moment isn’t necessarily typical of what I usually read – it’s a book that one of my Home Library Service users returned last week which caught my eye: The Manner of Men by Stuart Tootal. It’s about a unit of British paratroopers and the mission they were given ahead of D Day to take out one of the guns that swept down the main invasion beaches. Although I like history, I’m not a big reader of war books unless they are written from the standpoint of people involved. This book pieces together the story from diaries and letters from those who were in the regiment and also some letters and reference material from some of the Germans on the beaches. Another war book which has a different perspective is The Dead Man in the Bunker by Martin Pollack which follows the author as he discovers his father’s past in the Gestapo. It’s the best narrative I’ve read of how Hitler’s message was able to resonate with many Germans.

Reading patterns
I’m a regular reader of crime and detective novels especially the Scottish ones. One I particularly like is Glasgow-based writer Denise Mina who’s written two trilogies about people investigating criminals who aren’t necessarily police detectives: the Paddy Meehan series about a journalist which starts with The Field of Blood and the Garnethill trilogy about Maureen O’Donnell, a former psychiatric patient. She often interweaves real life crimes into her books.

Other authors I read in this genre include Ian Rankin, who everyone loves of course, Val McDermid, and Ann Cleeve’s Shetland series. I’m not sure what draws me to Scottish crime novels: perhaps it’s that they use a sense of place very well. I probably prefer Tartan Noir it to Scandi Noir although I’ve read a fair new Jo Nesbos. The Dublin Murder Squad by Tana French is another excellent series – the first one, In The Woods was really very good indeed.

Despite the fact I don’t usually like books with magic, I love the Peter Grant/Rivers of London novels by Ben Aaronovitch which are about a young officer in the Metropolitan Police who is recruited into a branch of the Met that deals with magic and the supernatural.  Again, the sense of place is probably what draws me to it as these novels reference London in so much detail.

All time favourites
Graham Greene is a big favourite of mine but I got to a point where I’d read every single one at least twice, although I have just reserved Brighton Rock from the library as I feel I could read that again quite happily. I usually try to read a Dickens at Christmas. Great Expectations would be my top choice possibly because I did it for O levels but also because it’s got all the classic Dickens elements: you can tell it was written as a serial as virtually every chapter is a cliff-hanger, and a character that disappears early on in the book suddenly reappears ‘Eastenders-style’ at the end. It’s Dickens to a T.

Recent recommendations
One book that’s stood out for me recently is The History of Loneliness by John Boyne. It’s about a devote Catholic priest whose his life unravels around him when revelations about child abuse in the church come to light. It’s a hugely moving book. I don’t set out looking for great writing but when I stumble across it, it really holds me.

Clive was talking to Kate Price McCarthy

Entry Island by Peter May

About the book

IF YOU FLEE FATE…When Detective Sime Mackenzie is sent from Montreal to investigate a murder on the remote Entry Island, 850 miles from the Canadian mainland, he leaves behind him a life of sleeplessness and regret. FATE WILL FIND YOU…But what had initially seemed an open-and-shut case takes on a disturbing dimension when he meets the prime suspect, the victim’s wife, and is convinced that he knows her – even though they have never met. And when his insomnia becomes punctuated by dreams of a distant Scottish past in another century, this murder in the Gulf of St. Lawrence leads him down a path he could never have foreseen, forcing him to face a conflict between his professional duty and his personal destiny.

Reviewed by Wallington Village

“Very protracted stories. Unecessary time switches. Too complex for our liking although a great deal was learnt from this book”

star rating – none given


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Eye Contact by Fergus McNeill

About the book

you look him in the eye, you’re dead.

From the outside, Robert Naysmith is a successful businessman, handsome and charming. But for years he’s been playing a deadly game.

He doesn’t choose his victims. Each is selected at random – the first person to make eye contact after he begins ‘the game’ will not have long to live. Their fate is sealed.

When the body of a young woman is found on Severn Beach, Detective Inspector Harland is assigned the case. It’s only when he links it to an unsolved murder in Oxford that the police begin to guess at the awful scale of the crimes.

But how do you find a killer who strikes without motive?

Reviewed by Hythe Library

“we really enjoyed this book –the local connection made it more exciting. Normally there is a reason why someone acts in a certain way but not in this case which was refreshing. A definite complex character, not swayed by emotion, although you do see some conflict along the way with the little lad and his personal life. The ending was a little disappointing but I suppose it leaves it open to explore the character further in possible future novels

star rating ***

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Even the Dogs by Jon McGregor

About the book

On a cold, quiet day between Christmas and the New Year, a man’s body is found in an abandoned apartment. His friends look on, but they’re dead, too. Their bodies found in squats and sheds and alleyways across the city. Victims of a bad batch of heroin, they’re in the shadows, a chorus keeping vigil as the hours pass, paying their own particular homage as their friend’s body is taken away, examined, investigated, and cremated. All of their stories are laid out piece by broken piece through a series of fractured narratives. We meet Robert, the deceased, the only alcoholic in a sprawling group of junkies; Danny, just back from uncomfortable holidays with family, who discovers the body and futilely searches for his other friends to share the news of Robert’s death; Laura, Robert’s daughter, who stumbles into the junkie’s life when she moves in with her father after years apart; Heather, who has her own place for the first time since she was a teenager; Mike, the Falklands War vet; and all the others. Theirs are stories of lives fallen through the cracks, hopes flaring and dying, love overwhelmed by a stronger need, and the havoc wrought by drugs, distress, and the disregard of the wider world. These invisible people live in a parallel reality, out of reach of basic creature comforts, like food and shelter. In their sudden deaths, it becomes clear, they are treated with more respect than they ever were in their short lives.

Reviewed by Waterlooville

“A hard read but very well written and tackling a tough subject”

star rating – none given

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The Leopard by Jo Nesbo

About the book

YOU ARE ALLOWING THIS KILLING TO GO ON. The crime scenes offer no clues, the media is reaching fever pitch, and the police are running out of options. IT’S TIME THIS WAS STOPPED… There is only one man who can help them catch the killer. But Inspector Harry Hole doesn’t want to be found. …BECAUSE I HAVE APPOINTED THE NEXT VICTIM.


Reviewed by Everton

“Wiith so many characters with ‘strange’ names to us it took some time to navigate. Some macabre details but probably no worse than in real life situations which make the headlines. It became ‘un-put downable’ as you read through and held all of us as readers”

star rating *** ½


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The Silkworm by Robert Galbraith

About the book

When novelist Owen Quine goes missing, his wife calls in private detective Cormoran Strike. At first, she just thinks he has gone off by himself for a few days – as he has done before – and she wants Strike to find him and bring him home.

But as Strike investigates, it becomes clear that there is more to Quine’s disappearance than his wife realises. The novelist has just completed a manuscript featuring poisonous pen-portraits of almost everyone he knows. If the novel were published it would ruin lives – so there are a lot of people who might want to silence him.

And when Quine is found brutally murdered in bizarre circumstances, it becomes a race against time to understand the motivation of a ruthless killer, a killer unlike any he has encountered before . . .

A compulsively readable crime novel with twists at every turn, The Silkworm is the second in the highly acclaimed series featuring Cormoran Strike and his determined young assistant Robin Ellacott.

Reviewed by Maisemore Book Club

Only three of us managed to finish this book, but it wasn’t much fun! a couple of members stopped reading due to the language which they felt was unnecessary. Other comments: The characters were not interesting, one didn’t have sympathy fort them, apart from Robin. Some thought she and her situation with Strike and Matthew could have been developed more. The story was gruesome, too long and overwritten. J K Rowling needs to do more editing or get a good editor to cut down the verbiage

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A Room Swept White by Sophie Hannah

About the book

Murder begins at home…

TV producer Fliss Benson receives an anonymous card at work. The card has sixteen numbers on it, arranged in four rows of four – numbers that mean nothing to her.

On the same day, Fliss finds out she’s going to be working on a documentary about miscarriages of justice involving cot-death mothers wrongly accused of murder. The documentary will focus on three women: Helen Yardley, Sarah Jaggard and Rachel Hines. All three women are now free, and the doctor who did her best to send them to prison for life, child protection zealot Dr Judith Duffy, is under investigation for misconduct.

For reasons she has shared with nobody, this is the last project Fliss wants to be working on. And then Helen Yardley is found dead at her home, and in her pocket is a card with sixteen numbers on it, arranged in four rows of four . . .


Reviewed by Alton Library – Thursday Group

Another one we were given…’An edge-of-your-seat author’ (Daily Express) – only so far as we nearly fell off in boredom! 2D, tedious, convoluted, boring, badly written. Please preserve us from literature of this poor quality

Star rating *

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This Body of Death by Elizabeth George

About the book

Elizabeth George’s masterly novel brings Detective Inspector Thomas Lynley back onto centre stage in an intricate crime drama. While DI Thomas Lynley is still on compassionate leave after the murder of his wife, Isabelle Ardery is brought into the Met as his temporary replacement. The discovery of a body in a Stoke Newington cemetery offers Isabelle the chance to make her mark with a high profile murder investigation. Persuading Lynley back to work seems the best way to guarantee a result: Lynley’s team is fiercely loyal to him and Isabelle needs them – and especially Barbara Havers – on side. The Met is twitchy: a series of PR disasters has undermined its confidence. Isabelle knows that she’ll be operating under the unforgiving scrutiny of the media, so is quick — perhaps too quick — to pin the murder on a convenient suspect. The murder trail leads Lynley and Havers to the New Forest, and the eventual resolution of the case. Its roots are in a long-ago act of violence that has poisoned subsequent generations and its outcome is both tragic and shocking.


Reviewed by Newcomers

“Overall we all enjoyed it but it was slow to get into with all the stories coming together and slow to introduce Inspector Lynley Could have been cut/edited a bit. Characters were perhaps stereotyped?

star rating ***


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The Shining Girls by Lauren Beukes

About the book

“It’s not my fault. It’s yours. You shouldn’t shine. You shouldn’t make me do this.”


Kirby is lucky she survived the attack. She is sure there were other victims were less fortunate, but the evidence she finds is … impossible.


Harper stalks his shining girls through the years – and cuts the spark out of them. But what if the one that got away came back for him?

Reviewed by Rucstall Mums

“A slow burner but developed into a page turner. Strong female characters. Disturbing in parts. Good for a reading group as good to discuss. Probably wouldn’t have picked it up but very descriptive and a memorable read”

star rating **

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Dare Me by Megan Abbott

Dare Me

About the Book

When Colette French arrives at school one fall and takes charge of the cheer squad, she brings a hint of threat. Sleek, remote and careless, she transforms the girls into warriors – and rivals. Addy and Beth find that for the first time they have secrets from one another. But their mentor is playing her own deadly game, and there is everything to lose.

Reviewed by Bridewell Beauties

Much Discussion: Unattractive and ugly book. Disturbing book in two parts – the second half slightly more convincing. Overall well written

Star rating   **

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