Sunday, 16 July 2017

Sicilian Crime stories

Two Sicilian based crime novels today. First up, Auntie Poldi and the Sicilian Lions by Mario Giordano:

Isolde Oberreiter, more commonly known as 'Auntie Poldi', is a German lady in her sixties who's decided to move to Sicily to be near her relatives in her retirement. She has a nephew who's trying to be a writer and he lives with her from time to time. He's the narrator of the tale and describes how eccentric his aunt is having lived a very colourful life indeed. She has a sort of odd-job man who works for her now and then, who disappears one day. Poldi is worried, but no one takes her seriously until she discovers his dead body on the beach. The police are on the case but Poldi decides to look into the murder herself as her father had been a detective in Germany. It's naturally a dangerous undertaking and the investigating officer, DCI Vito Montano, is not amused with her interference but is struggling with his attraction to Poldi. Unfortunately for him she also has more success with her investigations than he does...

To be honest I wasn't at all sure what to make of this. It was a fun murder mystery, I will say that, with a really nice setting on the island of Sicily. Nice sense of place and of the eccentricities of the inhabitants of that island. The problem for me, I think, was that I felt the author made Aunt Poldi just a bit too eccentric. I do actually like a bit of weirdness here and there, enjoy it in fact, but I almost felt the author had gone overboard just for the sake of it. I struggled to identify with Poldi and that's a shame as middle-aged female protagonists are very few and far between. I say 'middle-aged'... the author refers to her as 'elderly' and she's in her sixties... like me... I do not think of myself as 'elderly'! Surely these days elderly is late eighties or ninety. Anyhow, hit and miss with this book I think, but cheap to buy on Kindle and a fun read so I have no complaints whatsoever.

Next, Excursion to Tindari by Andrea Camilleri:

A young man, Nené Sanfilippo, is shot dead outside his block of flats in Vigata, Sicily. Inspector Montalbano and his team are assigned the case. Then another man turns up at the police station, very worried about his parents, Mr. & Mrs. Griffo, who have not answered their phone for several days. Montalbano naturally makes no connection between these two occurrences... *until* he finds that the murdered man and the missing couple lived in the same appartment block. It turns out that the Griffos were last seen on a coach which was taking its passengers on an excursion to the Sanctuary of the Madonna in Tindari. On the way back the coach stopped for a comfort break and no one remembers seeing them after that. Then a local Mafia chief asks to meet up with Montalbano. What on earth is going on?

Another enjoyable episode in the detecting life of Salvo Montalbano... number five as a matter of fact. I can't claim that this is one of my favourite series, because it's not. I like them, I don't love them, and I'm not sure why that is. I do enjoy the taste of Sicilian life the author brings to his stories. The island is very real... the people, their addiction to food, the history, the oppressive heat, the organised crime, the eccentricity of the police force. There's a good natured, earthy humour I like and Montalbano's love of good food is endearing. His love life not quite so much. I read these books very intermittently, so as there're are rather a lot it'll take me while to get through them. But that's ok, I have several series I read like that, dipping in and out when the mood takes me. It's all good.

~~~oOo~~~

Tuesday, 11 July 2017

Two books about the water

Two watery books today. First, Waterlog by Roger Deakin.

This book is a celebration of wild swimming in the UK. It's quite a popular pastime apparently, which is something I was unaware of, although I have seen scenes of people swimming along rocky coasts on programmes such as the BBC's Coast. Roger Deakin set out, in 1996, to swim as many rivers, lakes, beachs, canals, aquaducts, you name it, of the country as took his fancy. He lived in Norfolk, near Diss, so East Anglia takes centre stage for a lot of the book. His home had small stretch of moat around it which apparently at one time, centuries ago, was not that unusual. But of course there are not many of them left, aside from a few stately homes and castles, Oxburgh Hall in Norfolk being a notable one. (It's owned by the National Trust and is a wonderful place to visit.)

He actually started his journey in the Isles of Scilly, off Cornwall, and thence into Cornwall itself. I was particulary interested in his swim in the outdoor lido in Penzance because this is where I swam as a child. The pool has recently been refurbished after being virtually destroyed by yet another Atlantic storm. Its triangular shape is apparently unique in the UK, something I didn't realise.


Photo: Penzance Jubilee pool

After that he swum all over the place, a lot in East Anglia as previously mentioned but also Scotland, Devon and Dorset, Sark in the Channel Islands, the Leeds & Liverpool canal, Lidos in London, remote mountain lakes in Wales, to name but a few.

It's quite hard to review books like this which meander almost as much as the rivers Deakin was swimming in. That's because his thoughts on all kinds of things take up as many pages as the actual swimming. We get a lot of history, topography, and musings on all kinds of topics, plus interesting bits on the people he meets, things that have happened to them and so on. The book is fascinating... it took me a month to read and I'm quite pleased about that as it meant I could savour it in detail and enjoy the wonderful laid back, contemplative nature it exudes. The sad thing is Roger Deakin died in 2006 aged 63. A sad loss to British nature writing.

Next: Three Men in a Boat - Jerome K. Jerome

Three Men in a Boat hardly needs any introduction from me. This is my second or even third time of reading it, although I did't own it. Not even sure what did happen to my copy but when I saw this lovely Oxford World Classics edition advertised by them on Twitter I decided it was time for a reread and this was the one I wanted to read. It involves of course, three men, Henry, George and the narrator 'J', deciding to row up the river Thames from Kingston to Oxford, along with the dog, a fox terrier, Montmorency. It catalogues their fictional adventures and misfortunes, their ineptness despite them all being men who've been out on boats on various rivers in the past. What struck me was what a popular pastime 'messing about on the river' was back in the 1890s when this book was written. It was crazy popular, not so much for the pleasure it seemed to me, but for the act of being seen out and about and taking part. The river could get so crowded at the weekends it could take hours to get through particular locks of which there are many on The Thames. Of course, the joy of this book is not necessarily the boat trip itself. It's the author's cogitations on everything under the sun. Hilarious stuff so beautifully put that it had me it fits of laughter. And I loved how self-deluded the narrator is when it comes to his own character. To be honest he's deluded about *most* things. The book is a joy, if you haven't read it, please do, you won't regret it.

One parallel I must draw between Waterlog and Three Men in a Boat is that both sets of travellers found access to some parts of the rivers difficult due to private ownership and *signs* up all over the place. It drove Roger Deakin mad and also the three men in the boat. You might have thought things would've improved in a hundred years but no, apparently *not*. Interesting.

I'll be reading the second book, Three Men on the Bummel very soon... think I've already read that too but honestly don't remember it so I'm hoping it too will be a joy.

~~~oOo~~~

Friday, 7 July 2017

Mount TBR checkpoint #2

We're now more than halfway through the year so it's time for the 2nd. Mount TBR checkpoint.


I signed up originally for Pike's Peak which is to read 12 books off your TBR pile.

First up, Bev wants us to:

1. Tell us how many miles you've made it up your mountain (# of books read). If you're really ambitious, you can do some intricate math and figure out how the number of books you've read correlates to actual miles up Pike's Peak, Mt. Ararat, etc. And feel free to tell us about any particularly exciting adventures you've had along the way.

Well, I'm there... at the top of Pike's Peak. I finished my 12th. book just a couple of days ago. What to do now? Well, I think I'll move on to the next mountain, Mont Blanc, which is to read 24 books. I've no idea whether I'll manage it but nothing ventured...


2. Complete ONE (or more if you like) of the following:

A. Choose two titles from the books you've read so far that have a common link. You decide what the link is--both have strong female lead characters? Each focuses on a diabolical plot to take over the world? Blue covers? About weddings? Find your link and tell us what it is.

My link is between Bill Oddie Unplucked by Bill Oddie and Waterlog by Roger Deakin. And the link is both authors' love of wildlife, in Oddie's case specifically 'birds'. It shines like a beacon out of both books and is delightful to read and learn from.


Next:

Use titles from your list to complete as many of the following sentences below as you can. If you haven't read enough books to give you good choices, then feel free to use any books yet to be read from your piles. I've given my answers as examples. Feel free to add or change words (such as "a" or "the" or others that clarify) as needed.

My Life According to Books:

1. My Ex is/was Waterlog(ged) - Roger Deakin (To be reviewed)

2. My best friend is The Woman in White - Wilkie Collins (on tbr pile)

3. Lately, at work (It feels like) The Haunted Library - Edited by Tanya Kirk

4. If I won the lottery (I'd take to) The Cloud Roads - Martha Wells

5. My fashion sense (resembles) Bill Oddie Unplucked - Bill Oddie

6. My next ride (Leaves from) The Way Station - Clifford D. Simak

7. The one I love is The Lewis Man - Peter May

8. If I ruled the world (I'd be) William the Conqueror - Richmal Crompton

9. When I look out my window (I see) Dragonsdawn - Anne McCaffrey

10.The best things in life are On the Shores of the Mediterranean - Eric Newby

So, onwards and upwards... Mont Blanc!

~~~oOo~~~

Saturday, 1 July 2017

Second update on my Where Are you Reading? challenge

Well, here we are... six months into 2017 and it's downhill all the way to Christmas. *Dodges sundry rotten veg* I wanted to pop an update on the Where Are You reading? challenge up here, mainly for own benefit so I don't have to go too far back when updating it. Also it's one I like keeping an eye on as I'm enjoying it quite a bit.




This one is all about places. There's one about states but this one counts cities, countries, and fictional locations too. Read a book set in a location for each letter of the alphabet. West Virginia only counts for W, Bowling Green only counts for B, but the Pern series by Anne McCaffrey that is on a fictional planet counts as P ;-)

The sign up post is here: Where are you Reading? and is being hosted by Book Dragon's Lair.

You don’t need a blog to participate. Feel free to link to a Goodreads shelf or another public profile where everyone can see your books.

There is one hard rule, one just for general courtesy, and several guidelines. There are no levels, unless you want to do a second set of letters.

Hard Rules
The book in question must have an ISBN or equivalent. If you can buy it or borrow it, it counts -

General Courtesy
When you sign up in the linky, put the direct link to your post. That way we can find it.

Guidelines

1. You can list your books in advance or as you read them. You can also change your list.

2. Any format, any genre or length of book counts but it must be the complete book, individual books in a collection do not count separately.

3. Anyone can join, you don’t need to be a blogger, just let me know in the comments.

4. Reviews are not necessary but a list of books you read is. There will be a link up for reviews if you wish to post them. You can make a list of books you want to read and change them if you'd like.

5. Crossovers for other challenges count.

6. Books started before January 1st, 2017 don’t count - unless you start over. ;-)


My list:

A: (Alaska, USA) Blood Will Tell - Dana Stabenow (January '17)

B:

C: (Cote D'azur, France) Jacquot and the Fifteen - Martin O'Brien (Feb '17)

D: (Devon, UK) North Face - Mary Renault (March '17)

E:

F: (France) Best Foot Forward - Susie Kelly (May '17)

G:

H:

I: (Italy) Excursion to Tindari - Andrea Camilleri (July '17)

J:

K:

L: (Lewis - The Outer Hebrides, Scotland) The Lewis Man - Peter May (January '17)

M: (Minnesota, USA) The Lost Girls - Heather Young (Feb '17)

N: (Norfolk, England) The Woman in Blue - Elly Griffiths (May '17)

O: (Oxford, England) Death on the Cherwell - Mavis Doriel Hay (June '17)

P: (Philadelphia, PA, USA) The Signature of All Things - Elizabeth Gilbert (February '17)

Q: (Quebec, Canada) The Brutal Telling - Louise Penny (Mar. '17)

R:

S: (St. Denis, Perigord, France) Bruno, Chief of Police - Martin Walker (June '17)

T: (Three Worlds, The) The Cloud Roads - Martha Wells (March '17)

U: (Utah, USA) To Helvetica and Back - Paige Shelton (Mar. '17)

V:

W: (Wisconsin, USA) Way Station - Clifford D. Simak (Feb. '17)

X:

Y:

Z:


Sooooo, that's 14 letters filled, 12 to go. I have books to cover a few of the vacant letters, B, G and H for instance, and probably others if I care to search properly amongst the TBR mountain. Quite pleased with some of the destinations... various lovely US States, nice parts of France, Canada, Scotland, England and so on. Possibly I should vary the countries a bit more but those are the places I like reading about so it's a very much a list which reflects me and I can't think that that's really such a bad thing.

~~~oOo~~~

Friday, 30 June 2017

Books read in June

Seems I haven't had a bad reading month in June, after a bit of a lull for a couple of months where my enthusiasm wasn't what it might have been. Six books read and most pretty good, which is about all you can ask for really.

These are the books:

30. Flirting With French - William Alexander. The author's endless struggle to learn French.

31. The Saint-Fiacre Affair - Georges Simenon. Maigret solving the murder of a countess in his home village.

32. Bruno, Chief of Police - Martin Walker. Chief of police, Bruno Courréges, endeavouring to discover who in his peaceful French town killed a North African war hero.

33. Extraordinary People - Peter May. Enzo McCleod whizzing around France trying to solve the cold case of a missing academic.

34. Death on the Cherwell - Mavis Doriel Hay. Female Oxford undergrads from the 1930s try to solve the murder of the their college's bursar.

35. Confession - Martin O'Brien. To be reviewed. Marseilles detective, Daniel Jacquot, working undercover to find a missing teenage girl from Paris.


These were all excellent books. I see they're nearly all crime stories which is about typical of me these days. Also, all but one set in France, which is also typical of me at the moment. It seems there are a few good French crime series out there... if anyone has any other recs of good French crime series please do feel free to recommend them.

As to a favourite, well the two that jump out are, Extraordinary People by Peter May and Confession by Martin O'Brien. Except... I really *really* enjoyed this one:

Because, well basically because it made me laugh a lot. Plus, I learnt quite a bit about language and how we learn... the optimum age for learning to speak a new language and so on. I don't own this book, it was a library book, but I'm very tempted to buy a copy in order that I can reread it at some stage, it was that interesting and informative.








So, onwards into July. Half the year has now come and gone and if that's not scary I don't what is. Happy reading!

~~~oOo~~~

Saturday, 24 June 2017

Death on the Cherwell

It seems I can't resist these lovely BLCC books. Each and every one is so beautifully presented, a delight to read, and I love the nostalgia of them. Even though many of them were written in the 1930s and 40s, before I was born, things hadn't changed much come the 50s and 60s when I was around, so they take me back to a time when modern life was not as frantic as it is today. I love them to bits. Today's review is Death on the Cherwell by Mavis Doriel Hay.


The first meeting of The Lode League takes place on the roof of a boathouse somewhere on the river Cherwell, in Oxford, on a gloomy February afternoon. Four girls, Sally, Daphne, Gwyneth and Nina have formed a society for the express purpose of cursing the bursar of their Oxford college, Miss Denning. Except that proceedings hardly have a chance to get underway before a canoe floats into sight and lying in it is, shockingly, the dead body of the said Miss Denning. The girls all attend Persephone college, an Oxford women only college, and this kind of scandal is not at all welcome to The Principal, Miss Cordell or 'Cordial' as the girls call her.

The police, of course, begin investigations but, worried that knowledge of The Lode League might cause the police to think they had something to do with the murder, the girls decide to investigate for themselves. It seems there are two main suspects - the elderly owner of a large house who has crossed swords with Miss Denning over a right of way across his land, and a farmer who wanted to sell the college some land but the deal doesn't interest them. A fellow student, from Yugo-slavia aslo seems implicated by her rather erratic behaviour.

The case is further complicated by the secretiveness of Miss Denning's life. She has a niece that she seems determined to keep away from Oxford at all costs. Why? Sally's sister and husband, who solved a previous murder case on the underground in London (Murder Underground), arrive to help solve the puzzle. It's a tricky one and no mistake, one in which the police appear quite happy to allow the undergraduate group to help solve.

Muriel Doriel Gray wrote only three crime novels, one of which I've read and enjoyed, The Santa Klaus Murder. (The other is Murder Underground which I've not read.) It seems a shame that she didn't write more as this was a very enjoyable read.

I quite enjoy books set in schools or colleges and there aren't that many of them so I always appreciate finding new ones. (One I can highly recommend is Miss Pym Disposes by Josephine Tey.) The girls in this book are thoroughly Jolly Hockey Sticks and none the worse for that. I wasn't sure of ages but imagine they're eighteen to nineteen... but seeming younger as of course back in those days children matured much later into adults. It wasn't until one of them was driving a car that I was brought up short and realised how old these girls were. Before that it was almost like reading an Enid Blyton book for mid-teens. Huge fun, to be honest. There's a nice vein of humour running through the whole thing, I found myself chuckling quite a lot, not only at the dialogue but also at the antics of the girls themselves. I liked how the detective in charge enjoyed their enthusiasm and found ways for them to help.

The mystery itself, of who killed The Bursar, was solid... various secrets to discover and various blind alleys you're led up. I didn't know until the end who'd 'dun it', so to speak, though some of the details are easy to guess if you read a lot of this sort of thing. To be honest, the real joy of this book is the river and college setting and 1930s period detail.

In all, a thoroughly enjoyable BLCC book. I have heaps more - around ten - to read and heaps more that I would love to own. They're all much too tempting!

~~~oOo~~~

Friday, 23 June 2017

New books!

Quite a few new books have mysteriously found their way into the house. I wonder where they're coming from... *coughs* So I thought I'd do a post as I haven't done one in quite a while. I have to say, some super, super covers on display here. Publishers seem to be really going out of their way these days to make books very attractive so well done them.

Anyhoo... these are the books bought, or given to me, or even *free*, over the last couple of months.



From the bottom:

To Oldly Go: Tales of Intrepid Travel by the Over 60s, Can't find an editor for this but basically the title says it all. Birthday present.

The Skeleton Road by Val McDermid. Scottish crime. Haven't read anything by this author, time I did. This one was free as Tiverton is having its literary weekend and a local shop is doing a book swap event. I took a load and came away with two.

The Olive Harvest by Carol Drinkwater. Very famous French 'olive growing' set of books. Love Carol's writing. This one was also free.

I'll never be French (no matter what I do) by Mark Greenside. My France thing continues unabated...

Three Men on a Boat & Three Men on the Bummel by Jerome K Jerome. I have actually read these but don't own them. Then I saw this copy advertised on Twitter and literally bought it for the cover. See it properly below.

To say Nothing of the Dog by Connie Willis. Sci-fi, time travelling, somehow connected to Three Men on a Boat because of course the full title of that book is: Three Men on a Boat to Say Nothing of the Dog




Murder of a Lady by Anthony Wynne. Vintage BLCC crime yarn. Scottish setting so it'll do for the Scottish challenge I'm doing. Birthday pressie.

A Scream in Soho by John G. Brandon. Another BLCC. London during WW2. Looks good. Another birthday pressie.

Continental Crimes edited by Martin Edwards. Short crime stories set on The Continent.

Death of a Busybody by George Bellairs. Village based crime yarn, coveted this for a while because of the cover so when I saw it in Smiths... (Fully paid up member of Sucker-for-a-lovely-cover-anonymous.)

Death on the Riviera by John Bude. Crime story set in the south of France.

And because the covers are too nice not to see, here they all are:








~~~oOo~~~