Sunday, 30 December 2007

Top... er... 15

I've tried hard, I really have... but I couldn't get my favourite books of last year (see previous post) down to ten. So here we have my top fifteen, not in any particular order.

1. The Book Thief - Marcus Zusak. Young adult, set in Germany during WWll, and is about how a young girl survives during the war. Narrated by Death.

2. The Earthsea Quartet - Ursula K. Le Guin. Young adult fantasy. The travels, trials, and tribulations of the wizard, Ged.

3. Saplings - Noel Streatfeild. Persephone novel. Charts the disintegration of a family during WWll. Focusses on the children.

4. Dissolution - C.J. Sansom. Historical crime. The first of the Matthew Shardlake series set during the reign of Henry Vlll. Lots of monks. I wasn't quite sure what they were all up to...

5. Family Roundabout - Richmal Crompton. Another Persephone novel. Concerns the dynamics and the interactions of two families, the Fowlers and the Willoughbys, during the 1920s.

6. Redburn - Herman Melville. Classic lit. Serving aboard ship in the 1800s. Was it fun? Not really...

7. Mistress of the Art of Death - Ariana Franklin. Historical crime. 12th. century Oxford. Adelia, a female doctor from Italy, has been sent to solve the murders of several children.

8. The Historian - Elizabeth Kostova. Horror. Vampires, but also a nice jaunt around Eastern Europe.

9. The First Casualty - Ben Elton. Historical Crime. WWl whodunnit but also much about conditions at the front. Not Elton's usual.

10. The House of Mirth - Edith Wharton. Classic Lit. New York around 1900. Charts the fall of Lily Bart, born to a life of ease and luxury but suddenly without the means to support such a lifestyle.

11. Crocodile on the Sandbank - Elizabeth Peters. Historical crime. First in the Amelia Peabody series of books set in Eygpt.

12. The Beekeeper's Apprentice - Laurie R. King. Historical crime. First in the Mary Russell series, charting the beginnings of Mary's relationship with Mr. Sherlock Holmes.

13. Still Life - Louise Penny. Crime. The first of the Armand Gamache series set in the village of Three Pines, Quebec. Wonderfully atmospheric.

14. The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes - Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Historical crime. What can I say?

15. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows - J.K. Rowling. Young adult fantasy. Again... what is there to say? Other than I wish it wasn't the last book...

A few facts and figures:

Fiction - 59, non-fiction - 11. That's not so great. I thought I read more non-fiction than that.

Female authors - 33, male - 37. Funny how you deceive yourself. I would have sworn I read and liked female authors much more than male.

Re-reads - 4. Yeah, well... I knew I didn't reread much.

I clearly have a taste for Young Adult fantasy - 17, plus a couple more I wasn't sure of.

I've also clearly discovered a real liking for historical crime books!

All in all I count the year a success. I've read more than ever, blogged more than ever, and made some delightful new reading friends. I can't wait to see what 2008 brings.


Book list - 2007

Copying an idea from several people, this is just a list of my books read for 2007 so that I can link to it in my sidebar. I shall pick it to pieces ;-) and choose some favourites this afternoon.

1. Christmas Angel - Jo Beverley
2. The Little Country - Charles De Lint
3. The Magicians' Guild - Trudi Canavan
4. Indian Summer – Will Randall
5. The Undomestic Goddess – Sophie Kinsella
6. Morality for Beautiful Girls – Alexander McCall Smith
7. The Novice – Trudi Canavan
8. The High Lord – Trudi Canavan
9. The Book Thief – Markus Zusak
10. Diplomatic Baggage – Brigid Keenan
11. Straight Face – Nigel Hawthorne
12. The Weirdstone of Brisingamen – Alan Garner
13. The Moon of Gomrath – Alan Garner
14. The Secret Dreamworld of a Shopaholic – Sophie Kinsella
15. Knit One Kill Two – Maggie Sefton
16. Cirque de Freak – Darren Shan
17. The Vampire’s Assistant – Darren Shan
18. Practically Perfect – Katie Ford
19. Over Hill and Dale – Gervase Phinn
20. The Winds Twelve Quarters – Ursula K. Le Guin
21. The Earthsea Quartet – Ursula K. Le Guin
22. Quartet in Autumn – Barbara Pym
23. Saplings – Noel Streatfeild
24. The Book of Dead Days – Marcus Sedgwick
25. The Kalahari Typing School for Men – Alexander McCall Smith
26. Dissolution – C.J. Sansom
27. My Sister’s Keeper – Jodi Picoult
28. Family Roundabout – Richmal Crompton
29. Never the Bride – Paul Magrs
30. Redburn – Herman Melville
31. In Ethiopia with a Mule – Dervla Murphy
32. The Three Imposters – Arthur Machen
33. Lone Traveller – Anne Mustoe
34. The Railway Detective – Edward Marston
35. The Testament of Gideon Mack – James Robertson
36. Magyk – Angie Sage
37. Growing into War – Michael Gill
38. The Grass is Singing - Doris Lessing
39. Sylvester - Georgette Heyer
40. Stargazing - Peter Hill
41. The Observations - Jane Harris
42. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows - J.K. Rowling
43. The Full Cupboard of Life - Alexander McCall Smith
44. Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day - Winifred Watson
45. Lighthouse - Tony Parker
46. The Hobbit - JRR Tolkein
47. Out Stealing Horses - Per Petterson
48. Tales of the City - Armistead Maupin
49. Mistress of the Art of Death - Ariana Franklin
50. Dracula - Bram Stoker
51. The Book of Lost Things - John Connolly
52. The Historian - Elizabeth Kostova
53. A Time of Gifts - Patrick Leigh Fermor
54. The Haunting of Alaizabel Cray - Chris Wooding
55. Smoke and Mirrors - Neil Gaiman
56. To the Lighthouse - Virginia Woolf
57. Abarat - Clive Barker
58. Crocodile on the Sandbank - Elizabeth Peters
59. The First Casualty - Ben Elton
60. Address Unknown - Kressmann Taylor
61. Short Stories of the 19th. Century - selected by D.S. Davies
62. The House of Mirth - Edith Wharton
63. Still Life - Louise Penny
64. Castaways of the Flying Dutchman - Brian Jacques
65. Defying Hitler – Sebastian Haffner
66. Little House in the Big Woods – Laura Ingalls Wilder
67. A High Wind in Jamaica – Richard Hughes
68. The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes – Arthur Conan Doyle
69. The Beekeeper’s Apprentice – Laurie R. King
70. The Uncommon Reader – Alan Bennett

Thursday, 27 December 2007

The Beekeeper's Apprentice

It's rather strange to be coming to the end of yet another reading year. It hardly seems five minutes since it started! Hopefully I'll squeeze in one, possibly even two, more books before the new year starts but, whatever, it's nice to finish the year on a high with some really fun reading.

I feel like I want to really gush about this book. Several people, including deslily, recommended Laurie R. King's 'Mary Russell' series and being a bit of a Sherlock Holmes fan I had a feeling I would probably like them. Like? Make that 'love'! I adored this first one, The Beekeeper's Apprentice.

Mary Russell is fifteen and lives in Sussex with her despicable aunt. One day while out walking she stumbles across (literally) a retired Sherlock Holmes watching bees. Recognising another with a similar mind to his own the two strike up a friendship and Mary eventually becomes a kind of apprentice in the crime solving business. It's while Mary is at university that a diplomat's daughter is kidnapped. Holmes and Russell work together on the case and bring it to a conclusion. But have they? And who is trying to kill them, and why?

It was sort of weird at first to be reading a Sherlock Holmes book that was a)by an author other than Conan Doyle and b)not narrated by Watson! It's not quite the same, but then you wouldn't expect it to be and I personally was quite happy with the change in style, though perhaps not every dedicated Holmes fan would be. Depends on your preference really. I liked the portrayal of Holmes and found his friendship with Mary quite believable. It was nice in fact to see him as a human being with feelings and emotions and the ability to become attached to someone. I already know how the relationship changes and can't wait to read about how it happens. The crime element of the novel was also excellent; I tried to guess who was behind it all and got it quite wrong. The author does a great job of building to a climax and you fair gallop along with her to the end. Honestly, I can't recommend this book highly enough and am so pleased that there are many more in the series to read. Book two, A Monstrous Regiment of Women, is already on my tbr pile and will be one of my first reads for 2008.

Monday, 24 December 2007

Christmas Eve

It's pouring with rain here tonight but I can still hear the church bells in the town ringing in Christmas. (It's 11.45pm.) They go wonderfully with the sound of raindrops falling on the roof.

We've had a very quiet Christmas Eve. I baked this morning, sausage rolls (can't have Christmas without those) and a peach and mincemeat pie. For the first time in years we're not having a turkey or a chicken on Christmas Day but a joint of roast beef instead and pork on Boxing Day. My two daughters will be here for both days with the eldest's husband and grandkids. The grandson is too young at fourteen months to have any idea what's going on but the grand-daughter is seven and *very* excited. She and I are a bit of a team so I'm looking forward to a lot of fun over the next couple of days. I firmly believe that Christmas is a time for children (of all ages) and this little titbit from Alan Titchmarsh's Fill my Stocking is one of my favourites:

"A friend of mine tells me of the time she went to her small son's nativity play, at the local school one afternoon in the week leading up to Christmas. There had been much in the way of preparation. Costumes had been cobbled together, all the angels had been found wings and the customary dolly had been wrapped in swaddling clothes. Emotions were running high.

When the great day arrived, the parents sat down in the audience to watch the performance. All went well until Mary and Joseph arrived at the inn and Joseph knocked on the door. It was opened by the innkeeper.

'May we come in?' asked Joseph.

'No!' replied the innkeeper abruptly and closed the door in their faces.

The Little boy playing Joseph looked around him nervously, then knocked again. The innkeeper opened the door once more and glowered at Joseph. 'What do you want?'

'I am Joseph and this is my wife, Mary. She is expecting a baby. May we come in?'

The innkeeper shook his head vigorously. 'No, you can't!'. The door was slammed again.

Joseph was getting more and more alarmed now and banged on the door until the scenery shook. As the door was opened he asked pleadingly, 'If there is no room at the inn, perhaps we could stay in your stable?'

'No, you can't!'

'Why not?'

'Because I wanted to play Joseph!'"


Several people commented about my brother who I mentioned in my previous post. The news is that he will have to have an operation to replace his faulty heart valve. We hoped it wouldn't be necessary, he's disabled as it is and even being in hospital is difficult for him, let alone having to go through a major operation. But there you go, it *is* necessary and his quality of life will be much improved once the op is done. Thanks to all for your kind thoughts.

I'll be back after Boxing Day no doubt. I may even have finished The Beekeeper's Apprentice by then! It's an excellent read, great fun, but my time for reading has been severely limited this past week so my Christmas ghost story anthology, borrowed from the library, has had to wait.

Have a great day tomorrow and let's offer up a few prayers for more peace in the world. We could certainly do with it.

Sunday, 23 December 2007

Merry Christmas!

I haven't posted all week, partly because I've been so busy with Christmas preparations, but also it's been a difficult week here. My brother was admitted to hospital with complications due to a faulty heart valve. It was rather unexpected so chaos kind of ensued. Sadly for him it looks like he'll be in hospital for Christmas but hopefully he'll be fine and 2008 will be a better year, healthwise, for him. I just wanted to wish all the lovely people who drop by my blog a truly wonderful Christmas and I hope your holidays are all that you would wish for.

Monday, 17 December 2007

The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes

Finished this one at last!

It's been absolutely brilliant reading this in a relaxed manner over the past few weeks, especially as I seem to be in a Sherlock Holmes sort of mood. ITV3 have been showing various of the Jeremy Brett series for weeks so it's been a nice tie-in with reading the stories. Just a few days after reading The Speckled Band, for instance, they showed that one, so it was interesting to compare the two. (I thought it was very faithful to the original.) And I shall be able to do much more of this as one of my Christmas presents from my husband this year will be the complete boxed set of the same series.

Of course some stories in the book were more familiar than others. A few, such as The Engineer's Thumb (my favourite I think), The Copper Beeches and The Beryl Coronet were almost unknown to me and thus I probably enjoyed them more than the more familiar like The Red Headed League or The Man with the Twisted Lip (though I do love that one too).

A good anthology anyway. I have A Study in Scarlett on the library tbr pile and have just started the first Mary Russell/Sherlock Holmes book by Laurie R. King, The Beekeeper's Apprentice. So far, I absolutely love it. She has Holmes down to a 'T' and I like the character of Mary very much indeed. So the Sherlock Holmes theme continues and will continue into 2008 as I try to get hold of more of the original Holmes books and read as many of the Mary Russell series as I can get my hands on. I have two already and have just ordered The Moor because it seemed that Amazon UK are selling that one with the American cover. I much prefer those to ours and if I collect the whole series will probably go for those if possible. Yep... I know I'm a real fusspot. :-)

Sunday, 16 December 2007

A High Wind in Jamaica

I now seem to have reached the exalted heights of Commodore with my Seafaring challenge. Three books read, one of them a classic, and that classic is A High Wind in Jamaica by Richard Hughes.

Well, this wasn't precisely what I was expecting. My overall memory of this is of the film of the book which was frequent Sunday afternoon TV viewing when I was a child. It seemed a happy film of children mistakenly taken off by pirates, the captain of said pirates being played by Anthony Quinn. So, it was kind of surprising to find this book is quite different to that.

The plot concerns the Bas-Thornton family who live in Jamaica. The five children of this family run wild in the ruins of the sugar plantations until one day they experience a hurricane. The parents decide it's too dangerous for the children to live there any more and pack them off to England. The ship they're on is boarded by pirates somewhere off Cuba and the children mistakenly get carried away. What follows is a story of how the children acclimatise to life aboard ship and an entirely male crew, and what they have to do to survive.

I gather this was first published in 1929 and I would imagine it caused quite a stir. The story is told from the point of view of Emily, a ten year old Bas-Thornton. There is an older girl from another family with them, Margaret, who seems to be around thirteen to fourteen, and what happens to her is broadly hinted at but left to the imagination. This is no fairytale of *nice* children and their adventures. There is death and murder and Hughes' depiction of children is more akin to Golding's Lord of the Flies than to what I would call a normal view where children try to do the right thing. Here they are not completely self-aware and tend to do what they have to in order to survive. And some of that is quite chilling to read about, and told rather matter-of-factly, which makes it even more shocking. It's definitely a disturbing book but also very humorous in many places; you could call it a black comedy of errors. I liked it but had no idea what to make of it once I'd finished and am still, two days later, thinking about the implications of Hughes' story. But then... that's what good literature does, doesn't it? It makes you think and ponder and, ultimately, changes you somehow.

Thursday, 13 December 2007

2008 books and tbr photos

I'm still in the middle of two books, Sherlock Holmes, and High Wind in Jamaica by Richard Hughes for my seafaring challenge, so no new reviews. Instead I thought I would copy Tara's post and do a sort of a wishlist for 2008. Books I have on my tbr pile and would like to read next year kind of thing. And I think such a post needs a few illustrations so I'll start with a photo of *part* of my tbr pile. (It probably consists of several hundred books altogether.) To tell the truth it's spread all around the house but these in my study are the main batch.

There are five shelves in all, two above this. And in my defense I must say that there are some 'read' books mixed up among the 'not read'. *cough*

Anyway, for starters these are some of the books I would like to read during 2008.


The Seventh Gate – Richard Zimler
Needle in the Blood – Sarah Bower
Across the face of the World – Russell Kirkpatrick
The Tenderness of Wolves – Stef Penney
The Shell Seekers – Rosamund Pilcher
The Book of the New Sun – Gene Wolfe
The Patriot’s Progress – Henry Williamson (Likely to be my Rem. Day read in November.)
The New House – Lettice Cooper
The Village – Marghanita Laski
The Warden – Anthony Trollope (In Feb. with Nan. Book not owned yet.)


The Nasty Bits – Anthony Bourdain
True North – George Erickson
Congo Journey – Redmond O’Hanlon
Between the Woods and the Water – Patrick Leigh Fermor
Oscar Wilde – Richard Ellmann
The Mitford Girls – Mary S. Lovell
On Hitler’s Mountain – Irmgard Hunt
The Seamstress – Sara Tuvel Bernstein with Louise Loots Thornton and Marlene Bernstein Samuels
A Book of English Essays – W.E. Williams
How to Travel With a Salmon - Umberto Eco

I think that's 20 books altogether. And I'm not expecting to read them all as I'll have two challenges on the go as well, the Cardathon one and What's in a Name? Plus, I am terribly moody when it comes to choosing my next book to read. But just to knock a few off the pile would be excellent.

Another pic. These are the top shelves, well part of them anyway.

Add to this these are the series that I would like to start or continue with next year:

Amelia Peabody – Elizabeth Peters
Mary Russell – Laurie R. King
Armand Gamache – Louise Penny
Sherlock Holmes - ACD
Matthew Shardlake – C.J. Sansom
Septimus Heap – Angie Sage
The Little House - LIW
The Wit’ch series - James Clemens

And the authors whose work I would like to read or reread:

Charles Dickens.
Anthony Trollope
Edith Wharton
Orson Scott Card
Rudyard Kipling

I'm kind of wondering if I might have bitten off more than I can chew but this is an informal thing, apart from the official challenges I'm doing, so really there's no pressure.

More pics. The books for my What's in a Name? challenge. Just 'because' really...

And some recent acquisitions:

These are all charity shop, AM, or eBay buys apart from the Laurie R. King series.

So, it rather looks like 2008 is going to be quite a busy reading year. I did promise myself that I would go for quality rather quantity next year - I do tend to be quite a keen counter of books read each year. But I don't see why I can't be both relaxed about my reading *and* have some kind of plan to work to.

Sunday, 9 December 2007

Two reviews

I seem to be getting into the habit of reading several books at once. This is very unlike me! I usually read one book religiously until it's finished and then move on to the next. I'm not sure why it's changed suddenly, other than I decided I needed a different bedtime read to the one I was reading during the day, a book about the rise of the Nazis. I prefer something a bit more cheerful to go to sleep on! So I've been reading The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes at bedtime and that's still ongoing and very enjoyable. In the meantime I've finished the Nazi book and also read Little House in the Big Woods by Laura Ingalls Wilder. Anyway, a little about both of those.

I found Defying Hitler by Sebastian Haffner in the library. (Why I need library books when I've hundreds of books of my own is one of those little mysteries which we won't go into here.) I immediately spotted it as *my* kind of book and so it proved to be.

The author was born somewhere around 1907 into a rather literary, 'thinking' German family. Age-wise this places him in the thick of some the most momentous years of German history and he charts the progress of WW1 carefully; how as a child was obsessed with battles and casualties and so on. Things begin to go wrong after the war. War reparations took their toll on the economy and population, a revolution followed and a man called Hitler gradually began to emerge as a force in German politics. The insidious manner in which Hitler's party took over the country is depicted in all its horror, especially in regard to the Jews as the author, although not Jewish himself, had a Jewish girlfriend and many Jewish friends. Many opinions are expressed about the personality of the average German, his susceptibility to brain washing and the fact that Germany was at a low ebb and Hitler took his chance. You sense the author's outrage and disgust at the goings on, how suddenly he was unable to speak freely to anyone because you never knew what their stance was on the political situation. You also sense his feelings of inadequacy that he is unable to do anything to halt the onslaught of barbarity, realising that his death in a concentration camp would be a futile gesture. His gradual realisation that he will have to leave Germany is heart breaking because it's clear he loves his country, his hatred is for what has happened to it.

The narrative finishes in 1934 just after his return from a Nazi camp that he has had to attend in order to be eligible to take his law exams. His son finishes the author's history, not because he dies - he lives to a ripe old age in fact - but really because Haffner stopped writing the book and shoved it away in a drawer. The son finds it after his death and thinks it worth publishing. Which it most certainly is. The slow decline of an entire country into fascism is a fascinating, if tragic, thing to read about. You wonder how it can happen and then realise from reading this book, just how easily it *can* happen. The author's opinion is that it couldn't happen in a lot of countries but I'm not so sure. Many Germans just sat back and hoped someone else would stop Hitler, they 'did nothing' in other words and we're all inclined to do that more than we like to admit. An excellent, informative read.

I spent yesterday recovering from a stomach bug so a gentle read was called for. I've been intending to read Laura Ingalls Wilder's 'Little House' books for a while. I never read them as a child but my daughters were huge fans, so much so the books they have are falling to pieces so I bought a new edition of Little House in the Big Woods.

I'm sure most people have read these and already know that this first book is all about Ma and Pa, Laura and Mary, and little baby Carrie who live in the forests of Wisconsin in the late (I think) 1800s. It charts a year of living, from winter right around to autumn, trials and tribulations - but also many good times.

I found this utterly charming and actually quite informative as to the way families lived and survived. Family was clearly hugely important, you relied entirely on your immediate relatives for your survival and more distant ones for things such as bringing in crops and entertainment. Human nature is here too. Laura is jealous of Mary because Mary is fair haired and pretty and people praise her and ignore Laura who has brown hair and feels herself not so pretty. Cousin Charley is spoilt in Pa's opinion because he's not made to help on the farm enough. The day they force him the boy makes a complete nuisance of himself on purpose. A delightful read which I'll be passing on to my grand-daughter as I know she'll love it. And I'll be reading the next one, Little House on the Prairie, soon.

Monday, 3 December 2007

St. Michael's Mount photos

At last I have a computer of my own again after losing mine and having to use my husband's for two months. (He never complained once!) Anyhow, that means I now have access to my photo programme again, despite having lost many precious photos in the crash. (It's been a lesson to me, believe me.) So, I thought I'd post some photos I took of St. Michael's Mount while we were in Cornwall, on holiday, in October. They're not very seasonal because, as you can see, the weather was glorious! It was quite a climb to the top and there are warnings at the bottom against attempting it if you have health problems. We were borderline (Hubby has a heart condition) but we risked it and were glad we did. I was a teenager when I last climbed to the top of The Mount so the views took my breath away as though new to me.

I haven't put any family photos up as I'm a little wary of it but anyone wishing to see a family one drop me an e.mail (I think my address is on my user info) and I'll pop it along.

Sunday, 2 December 2007

Book challenges

I've been trying to decide on book challenges for next year. I want to strike a balance between taking on the ones I fancy and overloading myself to the point where I have to read something from a challenge rather than what I feel like reading. At the moment I'm in the middle of one, The Seafaring Challenge, which finishes at the end of January. For that I have just two titles left to read. I also plan to do The Cardathon one, but haven't sorted out the books for that yet and may well stick purely to novels written by Orson Scott Card. Actually, that really appeals as I feel sure I will like his writing. I'll probably read six for that one and it lasts all year, so that's fine. I've decided on one other that lasts all year and then when a shorter one crops up that I fancy I'll feel free to have fun with that without feeling too pressured. The trouble is I'm a creature of moods where reading is concerned and sometimes I just want to read what I fancy rather than what I have to read.

Anyway, the other year-long challenge I've chosen is the 'What's in a Name?' challenge, hosted by Words by Annie. I just loved the idea of choosing titles to go with certain words and had a lot of fun picking the books from my tbr pile.

Here's the link for this challenge: What's in a Name?

The books I've chosen are as follows:

1. A book with a 'colour' in its title:

Anne of Green Gables - L.M. Montgomery

2. A book with an 'animal' in its title:

River Horse: Across America by Boat - William Least Heat-Moon

3. A book with a 'first name' in its title:

Tamsin - Peter S. Beagle

4. A book with a 'place' in its title:

Jamaica Inn - Daphne Du Maurier

5. A book with 'weather' in its title:

Frost at Morning - Richmal Crompton

6. A book with a 'plant' in its title:

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn - Betty Smith

As I said, I had fun choosing the titles but in some cases didn't find it very easy. 'Animal', 'first name' and 'weather' were obvious to me as those are three books I wanted to read next year anyway. But the other three I agonised over. I plumped in the end for Anne of Green Gables for the 'colour' as that's a set of books I fancied rereading next year (I don't think I've actually read all of them). 'Plant' gave me loads of problems and I'm still not sure about my choice. I may change that eventually - even though I love Ursula Le Guin, I'm not certain about this particular book.

All of these books I own apart from one, which is Anne of Green Gables, and I'll be adding that to my Christmas Amazon order.

Thursday, 29 November 2007

Castaways of the Flying Dutchman

This YA book is the second of my books for the Seafaring Challenge I'm participating in. It's Castaways of the Flying Dutchman by Brian Jacques.

Brian Jacques is the fairly well known author of the Redwall series of books for children. I thought 'Castaways' was a stand alone but checking Amazon I see there are a couple of others so it would seem to be a newish series. Anyway, I have read the first Redwall book and found it to be *okay*, nothing more. Truthfully, the same things which irritated me about that book, irritated me about this one.

The story concerns a young boy who, running away from an abusive family in Denmark, in 1620, finds himself aboard The Flying Dutchman. There follows a fifty page account of his time on the ship, abused by one and all, but managing to make his way as the ship's cook. Before long the ship is wrecked off the coast of Tierra del Fuego and something happens to the boy and his dog. He then spends a period of time with a shepherd before moving on. Next thing you know it's England, 1896, and the boy, Ben, and his dog, Ned, wash up in a small village that's being threatened by a tyrant who plans to raze the village to the ground and build a huge cement works. It's their job to do something about this, aided and abetted by various new friends.

I keep having to remind myself that Jacques writes for children, not adults, so I probably shouldn't be too harsh. It's just that, as an adult, I can't stand his writing. Other children's authors don't annoy me the way he does, so what's the problem? Well, I find his writing insultingly simplistic and bland. Everyone is stereotypical - good or bad, kind or evil, nothing in between. Plus, people simply don't speak to each other the way they do in his books! And I lost count of the number of times I was informed that Ben was 'towheaded' with unruly hair. I just think children deserve better than this. That said, I believe his Redwall series is extremely popular so who am to judge? On the plus side - I did quite enjoy the seafaring bit of the book, it's just a shame that I was hoping for more and didn't get it. I really won't be reading any more books by Brian Jacques.

Monday, 26 November 2007

Still Life

I'm reading quite a lot at the moment, partly due to life becoming ever so slightly less busy but also to the fact that I'm still ill with the same cold bug I've had for about a month now. So I've been curling up in front of the fire with a book whenever possible. I love this time of year, autumn and winter are two seasons I really enjoy, but goodness how I hate the winter ills. There's a reason for them of course - in a word: grandchildren. What they get, you get. First it was the grand-daughter, but now that she's seven and seems to catch less her place has been taken by the grandson who generously shares all that he picks up during his two days at nursery. LOL. Ah well, this too shall pass.

Anyway, my latest read is one of the library books I trekked all over the county to find. It's Still Life by Louise Penny. I saw this recommended by Kay at My Random Acts of Reading and, even though I'm not really a keen reader of crime fiction, for some reason it appealed.

A little about the book. It's set in a small village in southern Quebec. Jane Neal is found dead in the forest on Thanksgiving morning; she's been shot by an arrow. Chief Inspector Armand Gamache and his team are brought in to investigate and it proves a difficult case. Jane was an elderly resident, retired school teacher and part of a very close knit group of friends. It soon becomes clear that the murderer has to be someone local, a friend therefore. Secrets begin to emerge, as they are wont to do, and Gamache has his work cut out to sort out the facts and solve the mystery.

This was such a good read. When I was a teenager I had this thing about wanting to emigrate to Canada. I never did of course but books about Canada have ever since held a special fascination for me. I had a very real sense of place from this book. The author made me feel as though I were really in Three Pines in the autumn and that's very skillful in my opinion. As to the plot, well, I didn't guess whodunit, I was quite wrong. LOL. I very much enjoyed the character of Armand Gamache and got close to all the other characters in the village; I even felt I knew the dead woman very well. And there were unusual things about the book which I won't go into but which all added to my enjoyment. Thank you to Kay for blogging about this book, I definitely plan to read the two other in the series as soon as can get hold of them.

Wednesday, 21 November 2007

The House of Mirth

My first novel by Edith Wharton. I'm not sure if The House of Mirth is a good place to start with this author but that was all the library had so that was where I started.

I'd decided to read this slowly and savour it because sometimes I read books far too quickly and can hardly remember anything about them a few weeks later. Sadly, the book had other ideas. I got so wrapped up in the dramas of Lily Bart's life that I ended up not being able to put it down.

Briefly, this is a book about a girl, orphaned at nineteen, after her father has lost all his money. Up to then she's been used to the best of everything and moved among the higher echelons of society. The setting is turn of the century New York. Almost penniless she goes to live with a rich but boring aunt who allows her some money but not enough to keep Lily in the style to which she's become accustomed. She gets into debt. Being a very beautiful woman the obvious answer is to marry a rich man and she isn't short of offers, but always falls at the last hurdle, whether from integrity or stupidity isn't clear. She makes some grave mistakes and because the majority of her rich friends are shallow and selfish, she pays for them, even though the mistakes are not always entirely her fault. And it's also clear that one particular 'friend' has got it in for her and is setting her up for a fall...

I won't say any more as there are twists and turns that would spoil it for others. I will say that this is not a particularly 'happy' read - quite frustrating at times in fact - but it is compulsive reading. You feel that Lily is on some roller-coaster ride and is about to fall off if she's not careful, (and she isn't!) I suppose the story is a warning to all about the dangers of mixing in high society; the rich are rich for a reason and it's isn't usually much to do with being kind and charitable. For me though it was more about the nature of friendship - why it is that some people have a need to be accepted by the worst kind of people? When push comes to shove who can you 'really' rely on to help you when you're down and out? Fascinating stuff and I thoroughly enjoyed this very readable but quite sad book.

I will definitely be reading more Edith Wharton but am not sure what. It depends on what the library turns up or what I can see in charity shops. The Buccaneers and The Children appeal but I really need to do some investigating about her other novels first.

Saturday, 17 November 2007

A meme and bits and pieces

I nabbed this meme from Tara and Nan and my quote is from The House of Mirth by Edith Wharton.

Open up the book you’re currently reading to page 161 and read the sixth sentence on the page, then think of 5 bloggers to tag.

"If only she could reach there before this labouring anguish burst from her breast to her lips - if only she could feel the hold of Gerty's arms while she shook in the ague-fit of fear that was coming upon her!"

No idea what that's about as I'm only on page 95. I'm really enjoying this excursion into the novels of Edith Wharton though. I've read quite a few of her ghost stories and liked them a lot, but no novels. People seem to hold her in such high regard that I thought it was time I tried something a bit longer. There are others I know but The House of Mirth was what the library had so The House of Mirth it was. No tagging, btw, if you would like to do this meme then please do.

By and large my reading of classic American authors is really poor and, along with all my other 2008 reading plans, I really ought to do something about that. Are there any particular authors I should read? But please don't say 'Fennimore Cooper'. I will never forget trying to read The Deerslayer...


I had my first item of spam in the comments to my last post. It's never happened before and it may never happen again but I'll watch the situation and if it does I'll start using the word moderation thing. I didn't plan to but needs must. I do wish these people would find something better to do. Like READ!


By and large I've been pretty good at not buying any new books for a while. I have so much on my tbr pile that it seemed wasteful to be continually buying new ones. Well, not wasteful, buying books is an investment in education and enjoyment, imo, so wasteful is the wrong word. Whatever, I thought I would try to ease off for a few weeks and concentrate on the books I have and the library pile. Amelia Peabody threw me though. I loved the first book about her Egyptian adventures so much that I couldn't resist getting some more. I already owned three, #1, #4 and #9 so I filled in a few gaps and bought #2, 3 and 5. so those should keep me going for a while. I adore the covers on these books so much. They remind me of the ones for the UK editions of Alexander McCall Smith's Number One Ladies' Detective Agency series but I've no idea if they're by the same artist. 'Vibrant' is the word I would use to describe them:

Hmm. I was hoping if was clever they'd come out in a horizontal line rather than a vertical one. I don't think computer technology is ever going to be my 'thing'. LOL.

Hope everyone is having a good weekend. I'm away to light the fire and sit by it with The House of Mirth.

Thursday, 15 November 2007

Two short books

Reading is proving a bit difficult at the moment as I have conjunctivitis. So I've stuck to casual reading this last week - a *very* short little book and a book of short stories.

First up Address Unknown by Kressman Taylor. This short work of fiction was apparently written in 1938 for a magazine and then published as a book. It concerns two friends and partners in an art gallery. One is an American Jew who lives in San Francisco, the other a German who moves back to Germany in 1932. The two correspond. At first the letters are just family greetings and news. Then the American, Max, starts to ask questions about Hitler and events in Germany. He's not easy about it - he has a sister working in Vienna etc. His friend, Martin, at first reassures him but gradually the letters take a more sinister turn. I won't say any more about the plot but this little book packs a real punch and I found it very disturbing. It only took me 45 minutes to read so I would say get it from the library if the subject interests you.

I found this cheap little Wordsworth Classic paperback a few months ago and couldn't resist it as it includes several authors I've not tried before and I thought it would be a good way to see what I thought of their writing. The stories are by authors such as Dickens, Conan Doyle, Oscar Wilde, H.G. Wells, Guy de Maupassant, Mrs. Gaskell, Anton Chekov and so on.

I definitely had favourites though really they were all good. Several, like The Yellow Wallpaper by Charlotte Perkins Gilman, The Judge's House by Bram Stoker and the Sherlock Holmes yarn, The Red-Headed League, I'd read before but it was nice to reacquaint myself with them.

A little about two of my favourites:

The Squire's Story by Elizabeth Gaskell. This one concerns the arrival of a certain Mr. Higgins in a small village and charts his progress as he buys a house and settles down to marry. Slowly you realise there is something not quite right about the gentleman but there is only one woman who realises it. Beautifully written and very absorbing. I own and have read a couple of short story selections by the author but not read any novels. I must put that right but can't decide whether to read Cranford *before* it comes on the TV or after...

The Journey to Panama by Anthony Trollope. Shamefully I've read nothing by Trollope so this little story was an introduction to his writing for me. The story is a simple one about a young woman who is sailing from England to the West Indies and on through the Panama Canal. She's travelling with a family she doesn't know but becomes friendly with a young man. She starts to spend a lot of time with him and confides that she is travelling to be married but is dreading it. The point of this story is that people behave very differently to normal when confined for long weeks aboard ship and Trollope illustrates the point very well with this story.

Other stories I enjoyed were, The Withered Arm by Thomas Hardy (again, never read any of his novels), The Sphinx Without a Secret by Oscar Wilde, The Kiss by Anton Chekov and Juke Judkin's Courtship by Charles Lamb. Worth every penny of the £3.97 I paid for it.

I'm now reading my first ever novel by Edith Wharton, The House of Mirth. I've read a few of her short stories but never anything longer so I'm going to take my time and enjoy it. And hope this wretched conjunctivitis goes away quickly!

Sunday, 11 November 2007

The First Casualty

What better day to review a book about World War One than Remembrance Sunday. The First Casualty by Ben Elton has been sitting on my tbr pile since the Christmas before last and I've been meaning to read it for ages. To be honest I'm glad I didn't as this week has seemed like the perfect time with so much else about the subject on the TV.

First, a bit about the book. The story concerns one Douglas Kingsley, a senior policeman in London, who is imprisoned for being a conscientious objector during WW1. In the process he loses his family (wife and child) who disown him and is very badly mauled by both inmates and warders of Wormwood Scrubs. His death is 'arranged' and the next thing he knows he's on the way to Ypres to investigate the death of Alan Abercrombie, an officer and son of a cabinet minister, who is listed as 'killed in action' but who has in fact been murdered.

If you were expecting a simple crime story from this book (and I was) you'd be vastly mistaken. How silly of me to expect a man like Ben Elton to write a simple story! For those who don't know, Ben Elton first made his name in Britain as a stand-up comedian, the sort specialising in social and political commentary. Since then he's become a writer in earnest, of various TV series such as Blackadder and The Thin Blue Line, and books. He's not everybody's cup of tea but I like him because he says what he thinks and no messing. And that kind of describes this book really. He minces no words whatsoever when telling us of the opinions of policeman, Kingsley, and from the perspective of almost a hundred years, he makes a lot of sense. Of course, things are never *that* simple and, to his credit, he does stress that. Conditions at the front are also described very graphically. There are descriptions of ways to die in battle, injuries, bodily functions, sex, homosexuality, you name it. If you're not keen on that kind of thing then this may not be the book for you. On the other hand if you can stand it, and are interested in WWI, then this book is a real gem.

So, yes, I'm sure you've gathered that I liked this book. I took three days to read it when I expected to take five or six because it's a heftyish tome. It's a page turner and no mistake; I couldn't put it down. So, will I rush out now and get more books by Elton? Probably not, because this is not his normal kind of output - I think he usually writes modern novels and I'm not sure they'd be my thing. But The First Casualty most certainly was and I'm really hoping he'll do more in a similar vein in the future.

Thursday, 8 November 2007

Crocodile on the Sandbank

For a person who doesn't reread much I've actually done my fair share of that this year. Here's another example, Crocodile on the Sandbank by Elizabeth Peters.

My first reading of this book has to have been about 25 years ago. Back then I got it from a library - would have been either Newton Abbot or Barnstaple - read it, loved it, hoped there would be more, promptly forgot all about it. Until several years ago when I began to wonder if the series I was seeing and hearing about was connected in any way to that long ago book. It turned out it was and at last I got around to rereading the first one so I can read a few of the follow-ons. And there are plenty to read - eighteen I think! Ms Peters has clearly not been sitting around filing her nails.

Anyway, the story concerns Amelia Peabody, a Victorian woman of independent means. She's one of these forceful, no-nonsense women in her mid-thirties who feels herself to be plain and believes she will never marry. On her way to Egypt she rescues Evelyn Barton-Forbes, a ruined woman, and the two of them proceed on to Egypt as companions. Much skulduggery then ensues as they encounter the Emerson brothers, Radcliffe and Walter, who are in the middle of an archaeological dig. The women join them on the dig. Then a mummy makes its appearance - up to no good surely *g* - and Evelyn is pursued by said mummy, and sundry suitors, until eventually all is revealed to everyone's satisfaction.

I liked this every bit as much the second time of reading as the first. It really is great fun. Amelia is an excellent heroine with her no-nonsense approach and I like the fact that Radcliffe is every bit her match and doesn't let her walk all over him. The crime element is not that difficult to work out but that didn't worry me; it's the kind of book that's more about the characters than the plot. How many of these I'll read I'm not sure. I have several more to read here but I'm just not sure whether the quality is maintained up to book 18. We'll see how it goes.

Remembrance Day is fast approaching so I thought I'd make my reading fit the occasion. I'm reading The First Casualty by Ben Elton, which is a WWI crime story. So far it's excellent. In fact I think it might be a crime reading month for me as I also have two Book Crossing crime books by Julie Kaewert to read, and Still Life by Louise Penny from the library. This from someone who would never really call herself a crime reader.

Monday, 5 November 2007

Libraries, books and dramas

I really enjoy visiting libraries in other towns. Our county, Devon, allows you to borrow books from any library in the county (I'm assuming it's the same all over the country) so if we're heading out for the day I often pop into the local library to see if I can pick up a gem or two. Today we headed down to Topsham which is a village on the river Exe only a couple of miles from Exeter. It has a beautiful situation on the river and is lovely for a stroll, either along the river or along the high street with its small independent shops. I was really good... I looked in several charity shops but managed somehow not to buy any books. I did however pop along to their library. After checking the Devon Library Online catalogue I found that Topsham had a copy of Still Life by Louise Penny, so that was the first thing I nabbed. It's the first in a series of detective novels set in Quebec and recommended by Kay at My Random Acts of Reading; for some reason I just like the sound of them. Really pleased to get that anyway *and* what else did I spot on the shelves but The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield. Thrilled about that. Hubby picked up a stack of sci fi books he'd never seen before too. So, a good book day despite the fact I didn't actually buy any.

I thought last night's adaptation of E.M. Forster's A Room With a View was absolutely charming. Good performances from all the cast but especially from father and son, Timothy and Rafe Spall. Some people didn't like the ending which had been altered. Well, not altered exactly but added to. Personally I thought it was appropriate and have no complaints.

Other dramas eagerly anticipated by me - My Boy Jack on Sunday night which tells the story of Rudyard Kipling and his son, Jack, and how he came to be fighting in WWI despite terrible eyesight. Jack will be played by Daniel Radcliffe and the trailers look excellent. The trailers for Cranford are also being shown and that too looks like it might be a winner. That will be completely new to me as I've never read the book. And I've also just discovered that ITV have made The Old Curiosity Shop, which I read many years ago but have wanted to read again for a while now. Perhaps I'll make 2008 the year when I reread some Dickens and maybe read a few that I've not read such as Our Mutual Friend and Bleak House. The BBC adaptation of the latter, from a couple of years ago, was so wonderful that I really feel I *should* read the book sometime. I fancy 2008 is going to be a packed book year...

Friday, 2 November 2007


Well now, Abarat by Clive Barker is my first book for the Seafaring challenge which is being run by I Heart Paperbacks. It goes on until the 31st. Januaury so I'm quite pleased that I have the first of my four books under my belt already.

I'd never read anything by horror writer, Clive Barker, before so didn't have much idea of what to expect. *Different* is what this book for young adults turned out to be. Quite original, imo, but it's quite hard to put my finger on why that is.

The book's main character is Candy Quackenbush, a teenage girl living a less than fascinating life and with an abusive father in Chickentown, Minnesota. She gets embroiled in the problems of 'Mischief', an individual with not only his own head but about nine small ones who are all his brothers. Thus she finds herself transported to the land of Abarat, an archipeligo of islands where each island is always at a particular hour of the day. As would be expected of a fantasy/horror story the book is peopled by some very strange characters that Candy meets along the way, some friends, some foes. Christopher Carrion is the main villain of the peace (I can't even *begin* to describe him). For one reason or another he is compelled to capture Candy, but there are plenty of other not so obvious villains in this very weird universe and all are pretty fascinating. Likewise all the different islands - this book is choc-full of imaginative ideas.

Abarat is the first in a series so is a kind of scene setter if you like. Not sure how many have been written but I know there's a part two. The book itself is lavishly illustrated with paintings by Barker which help to make this a unique book - and the characters are so weird that this is actually very helpful. The book itself is very readable, and a *quick* read but somehow I was never really set alight by it. It was good but not wonderful. I also expected more sea travel than there actually was. There is *some*, enough to qualify it for the challenge, and it's certainly a very watery world, which is something that appeals to me a lot. Will I pick up any sequels? To tell the truth I'm not sure... maybe search for them in the library, which is where I actually found this.

Monday, 29 October 2007

To the Lighthouse

To the Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf has been on my tbr mountain for a couple of years now. I decided to read it for the Books to Movies challenge, a challenge which sadly I have a feeling I'm not going to be able to complete. (RL turned busy and difficult just after I signed up for it in August.) But I did, nevertheless, want to read this particular book as I've long wanted to find out whether I'm a fan of Woolf's writing - or not.

So, am I a fan? To tell the truth - decisive as always - I'm not sure. I started this book and got to about page 70. I struggled all the way with her rambling style, her going off at a tangent about this, that and the other. I don't know why it irritated me, I usually have a lot of patience with that style of writing, maybe I wasn't concentrating hard enough, I don't know. Sometimes she just totally lost me! So, I gave it a rest for about a fortnight. Read a couple of other things and then went back to it. The story, btw, is about the Ramsay family who own a holiday home on Skye. Really it's about the family and their hangers-on, the dynamics of the relationships between them and especially what kind of marriage Mr and Mrs Ramsay have. So, anyway, after a fortnight or so I went back to the book. And somehow it didn't seem as bad. Suddenly I didn't feel like flinging it across the room but was reading it quite happily. Did she stop rambling after seventy pages? Was I in a different mood? I haven't a clue. Nor can I decide whether I actually liked it or not. I couldn't help comparing it to a wonderful Persephone book I read in the summer called Family Roundabout by Richmal Crompton. That too was a book about families set around about the same time, if memory serves me correctly. I'm very much afraid the Woolf book came up wanting. Family Roundabout was so much more involving, crisply written, amusing - I was desperate to know what happened to all the members of the family. Sadly, in To the Lighthouse I wasn't really all that bothered. Does this make me a Philistine? The fact that I prefer Richmal Crompton's writing to that of the genius that is Virginia Woolf? I'll have to think on that one. Maybe try one or two more of Woolf's books or essays before I cast judgement on my own judgement (so to speak). The thing is, I really want to like her writing. I feel as though I should like it for some bizarre reason. After all, I saw and enjoyed the movie of Mrs Dalloway and yes, I know a film is a very different kettle of fish to a book, but nevertheless I found the story interesting and liked what it had to say. I honestly don't know what to think (no change there then) and clearly will have to try another of her books in order to form some kind of definite opinion.

Currently reading: Abarat by Clive Barker.

Friday, 26 October 2007

Seafaring challenge

I've been trying to get around to listing my books for The Seafaring challenge, hosted by I Heart Paperbacks, for weeks.

The details for this challenge are here:

Seafaring challenge

I'm aiming high and going for the rank of Admiral and for that you have to read four seafaring themed books before January 31st. 2008. My pool of seven books are as follows:

Abarat by Clive barker
Castaways and Flying Dutchmen by Brian Jacques
Whale Road by Robert Low
Temeraire by Naomi Novik
The Lycian Shore by Freya Stark (non-fiction)
High Wind in Jamaica by Robert Hughes
Journey to the Sea (anthology) edited by Sarah Brown

I haven't added links as I don't have time at the moment but will do so later.

Wednesday, 24 October 2007

Smoke and Mirrors - Neil Gaiman

Smoke and Mirrors by Neil Gaiman is the fourth book of my RIP II challenge for this year.

So far the only books I've read by Neil Gaiman are Stardust and Good Omens, penned with Terry Pratchett of course. I liked both of those and I liked this anthology as well but I'm still not certain if I would like his other books such as Anansi Boys, American Gods and Neverwhere. Just not certain that they would be my sort of thing. My husband recently read Neverwhere and didn't rate it... mind, we don't always agree on books so that doesn't mean a lot. *g*

Anyway - Smoke and Mirrors. A good antholgy. I didn't like all of the stories but then when do you ever? I think, like a lot of people, I would say the best story is 'Chivalry', a story I read for one of the Short Story Sundays and reviewed a few weeks back. But there is plenty more to enjoy. I liked 'The Price' very much indeed - a story of a cat taken in as a stray but who is getting into terrible fights during the night. Its owner keeps him in for four nights to recover and finds the family have terrible luck during those four days and nights... 'Troll Bridge' was also very good. It tells what happens when a boy goes for a very long walk along an abandoned railway track and eventually comes to a bridge. He makes a bargain there that he will revisit many times during his life. Atmospheric and intriguing that one. 'One Life Furnished in Early Moorcock' I liked a lot too. Unless I'm mistaken this isn't really a sci fi story at all but I liked it all the same. It's just a story about a boy's school days and his love of Michael Moorcock's 'Elric' fantasy stories. It was delightful and slightly autobiographical I gather. Other stories of note, Looking For the Girl, When We Went to see the End of the World By Dawnie (charmingly written as a child would write), We Can Get Them For You Wholesale and Snow, Glass, Apples (for those who think they know the story of Snow White and The Seven Dwarves;-)). In fact, there were only a few in the whole book that I didn't care for.

This book has reminded me of how much I like short story anthologies. I used to read them a *lot* but hardly any these days, and that's a shame so will try to put that right. The only word of warning I would add is that I know there are folks out there who don't care for a lot of sexual content and a couple of the stories are quite explicit, or are of the sort where the author calls a 'spade a spade' if you get my drift. But if that's okay with you then you should enjoy this anthology.

As I've now read four books for Peril the First, I suppose I've officially finished the RIP II challenge. I've done a couple of Short Story Sundays (hope to do another next Sunday) but probably won't have time now to read the extra book, which in my case was The Mystery of the Sea by Bram Stoker. I still plan to read it though and probably the rest of the pool as they're all books I want to read. I'm currently reading The New Lovecraft Circle edited by Robert M. Price and am enjoying that a lot. Hoping to review a couple of the stories for Short Story Sunday if I have the time.

Friday, 12 October 2007

The Haunting of Alaizabel Cray

I've now finished the third of my RIP II challenge books, the YA adult book, The Haunting of Alaizabel Cray, by Chris Wooding.

Compared to some of my other latest reads this was a very easy read indeed. Not simple... I don't mean that... just incredibly readable, 'a page turner' as they say.

The story is set in London but not a London that we know. It's Dickensian in nature but there are some nasty things coming out of the woodwork at night, the wych-kin, literally the stuff of nightmares. Thaniel Fox is a wych-hunter, a good one. He's tracking down a cradlejack one night when a terrified girl, Alaizabel Cray, literally runs into his arms. She has no idea who she is or where she's come from but it's clear she's been abused by someone and is being haunted. Gradually the story emerges, she has some connection with The Fraternity, an evil, secret society made up of some of the well-to-do and most powerful people in the city. So what's going on? Whatever it is it seems it might spell the end of London as a city and life as they know it, and Alaizabel is the key to unlocking the mystery and saving them all.

As I said before, this is a page turner. A rollicking good yarn which is nice and spooky, pacey, and well told. It's YA so nothing too horrible (thank goodness) and I seemed to detect a slight touch of Cthulu Mythos about the tale too. The Dickensian aspect of the city was more than a little attractive to me - I love a good 'seedy, 1800's London' yarn and here it was well done with even a crime element included with a serial killer at large. So this is a real mix... historical/horror/crime etc. And it works! I loved it and will read more of Chris Wooding's work if I can find it. In fact he has a new book out on the 18th. of this month, The Fade, which sounds like it might be really good.

Thursday, 11 October 2007

The Historian and A Time of Gifts

At last, a free morning to catch up on reviews. I'm behind for a variety of reasons but hopefully when I've done these two I'll be able to keep up better.

The Historian has been such a popular book for this challenge and so many people have written excellent reviews that I feel like I haven't a lot to add to what they've already said. Most people seem to have loved it and I'm no exception.

The story concerns a young woman - I'm not sure we ever learn her name - who comes across a book in her father's library. It's empty apart from an illustration of a dragon in the centre. Disturbed by the drawing the girl questions her father, who is upset to learn that she has found the book... or rather that the book has found her. Over weeks and months she gradually draws a very long story out of him, despite his obvious reluctance. The story concerns the disappeareance of the father's tutor, Rossi, when the father was a student and how he went searching for him across Europe. And thus how he met the girl's mother and how the quest tied in with the history of Count Dracula.

This is not a quick read. It's a story to be read slowly and savoured, not least because several histories run parallel to each other and you need to keep your wits about you while reading it. I think for me one of the best qualities of the book is that it doesn't treat its reader like an idiot. It's unashamedly about a book about people who love books and who are very well educated, and I like that a lot. I'm not clever enough to be part of such a world... but oh, how I would love to be! Another plus for me was all the wonderful travelling depicted. I'm such an armchair traveller and lover of travel books that all the too-ing and fro-ing around Europe was definitely part of the book's attraction, imo. And it was nicely creepy - not all the way through, but enough to make it something other than a travel and history narrative, and book about books.

One other curious fact for me is that the BBC are currently showing Michael Palin's new travel show and where should he be exploring but Eastern Europe where much of The Historian is set of course. I call that an odd coincidence. And it's making me enjoy the series even more than I would normally.


A Time of Gifts by Patrick Leigh Fermor has been sitting on my tbr mountain for a couple of years. I believe it and its sequel, Between the Woods and the Water, are classics among travel books and I can easily see why. The reason I picked this one up now was because of The Historian... I just wanted to read some more European travel stories and this one fitted the bill nicely.

The book is actually about the author's walk from Amsterdam to Constantinople in 1933. He is only 18 and not well off so he stays in cheap places or with friends he makes along the way. This first book takes him through Holland, Belgium, Germany, Austria, Czechoslovakia and into Hungary. Germany at this time was just entering its Nazi period and the author had one or two experiences of that but not as much as you would have thought. Basically, he found nearly everyone to be very kind regardless of nationality - their's and his. But Europe was changing and it was very odd reading about a way of life that would only continue for a few more years until the start of The War.

This is another book which assumes a certain amount of intelligence on behalf of its reader. The language was something else. Nearly every page had a couple of words I'd never heard of, but then I was expecting this as I'd heard about it on LibraryThing. The writing itself was beautifully descriptive especially when dealing with the winter landscapes the author travels through. 'Possibly' I would have liked more in the way of human stories instead of so many descriptions of architecture but that's a small quibble. I enjoyed the read and will certainly read its sequel very soon.

Tuesday, 9 October 2007

Home again, home again...

I've been back from holiday for a couple of days now, but up to my eyes in laundry and cooking ratatouille and stewed apple for the freezer with all the tomatoes and apples we have around at the moment. We had a wonderful holiday down there in Cornwall, as soon as I have my own computer back I'll post a few of the photos I took. Son-in-law is coming to look at my pc this weekend so crossed fingers would be appreciated. :-)

I want to thank all the kind people who commented on the sad loss of my sister-in-law recently. Everyone is so kind, even though I've hardly been on Blogspot any time at all. The funeral went very well and the next day we scattered her ashes off The Cobb at Lyme Regis... a spot made famous by Meryl Streep in The French Lieutenant's Woman of course, and a place my sister-in-law loved very much.

A review of The Historian and A Time of Gifts will be forthcoming tomorrow hopefully. Time allowing. I'm now reading the third of my RIP II books, The Haunting of Alaizabel Cray by Chris Wooding, and loving it. I'm pretty certain of completing the challenge but not sure if I'll have time for the extra book by Bram Stoker. We'll see. It's been so busy and will continue to be (though not quite so bad) until the end of the month.

Sunday, 23 September 2007

This and that

Things are rather busy here at the moment. I need to do a review of The Historian, which I finished a couple of days ago, but doubt that I'll have time to do that for a while. My sister-in-law sadly passed away on Friday night. She had a brain tumour, so truthfully we were actually glad that she hardly suffered at all. This coming week is going to be busy therefore and probably quite difficult for all. Add to that that we're on holiday in Cornwall the week after so have stuff to do for *that*, plus my computer crashed on Tuesday so I'm using my husband's, *and* I have a cold so am not feeling one hundred per cent... I really doubt any reviews will get done this week and certainly not the week after. I am enjoying escaping the stress by reading everyone else's blogs though, and getting some reading of my own done. I enjoyed The Historian so much that I wanted to read something travelish about Europe so I'm reading A Time of Gifts by Patrick Leigh Fermor. It's an account of his walking trip from Holland to Constantinople, at the age of 18, in 1933 - the first part anyway - I have the second instalment on the tbr pile and may take it away as holiday reading next week. It's quite a classic among travel books, I gather, and I can understand why as it's really very good indeed.

Sunday, 16 September 2007

Chivalry - SS Sunday

I'm too absorbed in The Historian to spend too much time on short stories for the RIP II challenge, today, but I did want to read one in particular. It was Chivalry by Neil Gaiman from his anthology, Smoke and Mirrors. Christina at I Heart Paperbacks and Deslily at Here, There and Everywhere reviewed this one and it sounded fun so I read it this morning.

Chivalry is a simple little tale about Mrs Whitaker, an oap who buys a chalice from the local Oxfam charity shop. Not accidently, she knows what it is - it's the Holy Grail - and so does the chap who turns up on her doorstep the next day. He's wearing a suit of armour and his horse is outside, nibbling Mrs Whitaker's gladioli...

If you need a bit of cheering up, this is a good story to choose. I laughed and laughed - not because it was hysterically funny but because our quirky little ways in the UK are so beautifully observed. I believe the author now lives in The States but it's clear he's been into one or two UK charity shops in his time.

"The (Oxfam) shop was staffed by volunteers. The volunteer on duty this afternoon was Marie, seventeen, slightly overweight, and dressed in a baggy mauve jumper that looked like she had bought it from the shop."

Now, own up, we've all met her haven't we? ;-p

'Joyous' is all I can say. The only Gaimans I've read are Stardust and Good Omens. I've very little experience of his short stories apart from the one he wrote for Shadows Over Baker Street which was very good too. He's clearly an author I ought to pay a lot more attention to and I'm certainly going to read the rest of the tales in this book. 'After' The Historian...


A quick tech question. Would anybody have any idea why some of the text in my blog is now turning up in German? For instance the line about the use of 'html' under the comment box. I have my language settings set to UK English so I'm a bit bemused by this.

Thursday, 13 September 2007

The Book of Lost Things

This is my first official book for the RIP II challenge, (midway through September and I've only finished one book - I need to get my skates on). Anyway, I added this one to my book pool as an after-thought after reading so many good things about it on other people's blogs, and I'm really glad I did.

The Book of Lost Things by John Connolly is about twelve year old David who loses his mother through illness just at the start of World War II. Rather too soon for his liking his father finds another wife, Rose. Determined not to accept her overtures of friendship David retreats into his books of myths and fairytales and begins to hear them whispering to him. Not long after, he sees The Crooked Man for the first time. One night a German bomber crash lands in the garden and, outside and facing certain death, David makes a dash for a hole in the wall and enters, via a tree, another land. This land is peopled by characters from his fairy stories and other things much worse and far more threatening, including The Crooked Man. David needs to find his way home but there are those that don't wish him to do so and who try to stop him getting to the king's palace to see The Book of Lost Things, which could provide him with a route back to his own land.

Well, this book wasn't exactly what I thought it would be but then I'm not sure what I was expecting so that's probably a daft thing to say. The first few chapters were certainly very sad and so realistic that you soon realise that although this is a book about a child and about children's stories, it isn't really a book for young children. Older children, yes maybe, but not younger ones. And don't look for happy endings to each section. As David travels towards the palace he has many encounters and although most are character building they're not necessarily happy. Snow-white, for instance, is no Disney heroine! Although the seven dwarves are still a great comedy act... And there are some very dark things inhabiting this realm which don't appear in any fairy story. Where they come from I'm not saying but the wolves are er... interesting.

This is a beautifully written book. One of those where you can't stop turning the pages because you have to know what happens next. There are twists and turns galore, most of which I really wasn't expecting. I particularly liked the ending which was both happy and sad in equal measure and that suits me fine. That life is like that is a discovery that David makes for himself and you find yourself cheering him on all through the book - but weeping for him at the start when life is so hard. It's that kind of book and I'm so glad I squeezed it into my book pool for the RIP II challenge.

Sunday, 9 September 2007

Short Story Sunday

For RIP II Short Story Sunday I've chosen three stories from one of the books in my book pool - Tales of Unease by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.

The New Catacomb

Kennedy and Julius Burger are two young archaeologists working in Rome. The former is from a well off background, the latter is not and has had to make his own reputation by dint of hard work. Both love their work to the point of obsession. Burger has found a new catacomb but won't tell Kennedy where it is. Kennedy, used to getting his own way, has to know and Burger makes a bargain - that if his friend will tell him of his dealings with a certain young woman he will tell him the location of the new catacomb. Reluctantly, Kennedy gives in and tells him. To say more would give away the outcome, which, once I'd read a certain sentence I could see coming a mile away. A nicely written short story though, atmospheric, especially in the tunnels, and with a satisfying ending.

The Brown Hand

Dr. Hardacre relates the story of how he, out of the whole of his large family, came to be named heir to Sir Dominick Holden, an eminent surgeon who had spent many years in India. Holden had removed the hand of an Indian native and taken the hand in payment for the operation, for his pathological collection. The one stipulation was that the native wanted it back when he died. The hand had subsequently been destroyed in a fire and certain events were now making the retirement of Holden and his wife a complete misery. Dr. Hardacre was able to render them a certain service and thus became Holden's heir. A bit run-of-the-mill this one, but atmospheric enough and nice descriptions of the prehistoric Wiltshire countryside.

The Terror of the Blue John Gap

The title of this suggested to me that it was probably set in the Derbyshire Peak District so it was a story I really wanted to read. Of the three read, I think this was probably the strongest, both in atmosphere and plot. Dr. John Hardcastle is convalescing from an illness and goes to stay on a farm, run by two spinsters, in The Derbyshire Peak District. Close by is The Blue John Gap and the mine where the beautiful and rare Blue John mineral is mined. Legend has it that there is 'something living in the depths of the mountain' and Hardcastle is curious enough to investigate. Enough said. This is an engaging tale, written in the form of a diary. I loved the parts that took place underground in the caves and cavern, finding them creepy and claustrophobic. The Peak District itself is very well described; it's an area I like very much so I can vouch for its authenticity. Not a bad yarn.

Based on these three I look forward to reading the rest of the stories in this book. They certainly varied in quality, ie. whether they were creepy enough for my taste. The Terror of Blue John Gap was the best in that respect and if there are more like that in this volume I will be quite happy.

Currently reading: The Book of Lost Things by John Connolly for the RIP II challenge.

Saturday, 8 September 2007


This is one of those odd instances where you're sure you've read a book but it turns out you haven't. I must have been confusing film with book that's all I can say but I quickly realised as I was reading that I certainly had *not* read Dracula before. Hardly anything about it was familiar and I think that's because it's written in diary form and thus, to my mind anyway, is quite unlike any of the movies.

The story begins as Jonathan Harker, representing his Exeter firm of solicitors, is on the way to Transylvania for a meeting with Count Dracula. His subsequent experiences scar him for life and he's lucky to escape with said life intact. In the meantime the count has set off for England with his boxes of native earth in tow. Harker's fiancé, Mina, is in Whitby with her friend, Lucy, when the count's ship lands up there with all hands dead. Lucy has a deadly encounter with Dracula in the churchyard and thus begins her decline. Dr. Van Helsing from Holland is called in to help and joins forces with Lucy's fiancé, Lord Godalming, Dr. Seward, a doctor in mental health, Quincy Morris, a friend, Mina herself and Jonathan on his eventual return from Europe. Together they hatch various plans to ensnare the clever and evasive count and there are many twists and turns before they finally have to pursue him back to Transylvania.

I was really quite surprised at how much I enjoyed this one. It was creepy, full of suspense and beautifully written. There were times, I have to admit, when I thought, 'How can they be that stupid?' But many books rely on the stupidity of its characters, so that's okay... there would be no stories if everyone used their common sense. I very much liked the 'diary' format of the book, I think it was used a fair bit back then (late 1800s) in supernatural writing - not so much now perhaps. It enables you to get the story from many points of view in a way that works very well and Stoker gets the voices right, imo - even down to Van Helsing's not quite correct English. The blood transfusions made me smile. I've no idea when the medical profession started doing those but I'm thinking that in 1897 they didn't know about different blood types! But, small nit-picks aside, this is such a good read and I honestly have no idea why I never bothered to read it before.

I feel fully prepared now to read Elizabeth Kostova's The Historian, looking forward to it in fact and intrigued as to how it connects to the events or people in Dracula.

Edited to add: Beware! Spoilers for Dracula in comments!!

Thursday, 6 September 2007

New books

I thought I'd post a few pics of recent book purchases. I'm a terrible book buyer, seeming to be able resist anything except temptation. I do frequent charity shops, I will say that in my defense... and therein can be found some excellent bargains, cheaper even than eBay because no postage is involved of course.

The top four books here are all to do with WW2 and my interest in The Holocaust and the beginnings of Nazism. The Anne Frank is the newer uncut version so I'll be interested to reread that to see what was left out. And David Copperfield was £1.97 in Tescos! Bargin!

A couple of new ones here but mainly charity shop or eBay buys. I'm especially pleased with The Magic Apple Tree by Susan Hill. I read this years ago from the library. It covers a year in the author's life in rural Oxfordshire, has the most wonderful etchings as illustrations and is quite delightful. The two sci fi books are Ender's Game by Orson Scott Card because I plan to take part in the Cardathon challenge next year and Before the Golden Age 3 edited by Isaac Asimov. The latter bought because I have '2' and love it so much as it includes Tumithak of the Corridors and Tumithak in Swawm, two of my favourite sc fi short stories. So, I could hardly leave '3' on the shelf could I? The Freya Stark I bought because I know she's a classic travel writer but I've never read any of hers, so this book, The Lycian Shore will be a good starting point.

And these final two are the book pool for my RIP2 challenge... purely because I just couldn't resist taking a pic of them. I should probably get out more.

Sunday, 2 September 2007

August books & RIP update

Can it really be the 2nd. September already? Answer: yes it can. August was incredibly busy and I'm rather hoping that the busy spell is now at an end. I did manage to read a few books but less than usual - five instead of my average six to eight. Never mind, it's quality not quantity and I enjoyed what I did read. And those titles were:

Lighthouse by Tony Parker
The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkein
Out Stealing Horses by Per Petterson
Tales of the City by Armistead Maupin
Mistress of the Art of Death by Arianna Franklin

I'm now reading Dracula by Bram Stoker. Not for my RIP challenge but so that I can read The Historian for said challenge. I had a feeling it might be useful to do so and had that feeling confirmed by Booklogged. Anyway, Dracula, which I thought I'd read but have decided I haven't, is such a good read that I'm having trouble putting it down.

I've also added a further title to my RIP book pool and that is The Book of Lost Things by John Connolly. Added because I keep hearing so many good things about it (and couldn't resist). I now also own The Mystery of the Sea by Bram Stoker, a book I'd never even heard of before now so hope to be able to fit that in at the end of the challenge.

Anyway, I'm hoping for some really good reads now that autumn is well and truly on the way. The weather here in the UK has turned very autumnal indeed and that's okay by me, I love this time of year more than any other.