Thursday, 31 December 2009

Books for 2009

Well, it's that time of year and everyone seems to be doing it so here's the run-down of the books I've read this year. In one way it's been a good reading year for me, numerically anyway. I've read 76 books and that's the most I've managed since I started keeping a record I think. And I did read an awful lot of good books this year. 'Good' and even 'very good'. But the number I would call absolutely 'wonderful' were not that many. I suppose that's just the way it goes... wonderful books are, after all, a bit rare and I am in no way complaining. I enjoyed most of my reads this year and there were very few actual disappointments.

Anyway, this is what I read from 1st. January to date:

1.. City of Illusions - Ursula K. le Guin
2.. Bitten - Kelley Armstrong
3.. In the Woods - Tana French
4.. The Jewel of Seven Stars - Bram Stoker
5.. Runemarks - Joanne Harris
6.. Moon Called - Patricia Briggs
7.. The Valley of Secrets - Charmian Hussey
8.. The Reaper - Peter Lovesey
9.. Remember Me? - Sophie Kinsella
10.. Blood Bound - Patricia Briggs
11.. Larklight - Philip Reeve
12.. A Fatal Inversion - Barbara Vine
13.. Truckers - Terry Pratchett
14.. Crossed Wires - Rosy Thornton
15.. The Graveyard Book - Neil Gaiman
16.. Here, There be Dragons - James A. Owens
17.. The Sedgemoor Strangler - Peter Lovesey
18.. Morrigan's Cross - Nora Roberts
19.. The Handmaid's Tale - Margaret Atwood
20.. Diggers - Terry Pratchett
21.. The Good Thief - Hannah Tinti
22.. Touchstone - Laurie R. King
23.. Solomon Time - Will Randall
24.. The Circle - Peter Lovesey
25.. Daughter of the Blood - Anne Bishop
26.. Over Sea, Under Stone - Susan Cooper
27.. Wings - Terry Pratchett
28.. Last Rituals - Yrsa Sigurdardottir
29.. The Corinthian - Georgette Heyer
30.. Infernal Devices - Philip Reeve
31.. Snow Blind - P.J. Tracy
32.. Henrietta's War - Joyce Dennys
33.. New Moon - Stephanie Meyer
34.. Grey Souls - Philippe Claudel
35.. The Dark is Rising - Susan Cooper
36.. Trains and Buttered Toast - John Betjeman
37.. The Accidental Sorcerer - K.E. Mills
38.. Father Brown - G.K. Chesterton
39.. The Shape of Water - Andrea Camilleri
40.. The Stolen Child - Keith Donohue
41.. Skulduggery Pleasant - Derek Landy
42.. The Terrcotta Dog - Andrea Camilleri
43.. The Secret History - Donna Tartt
44.. The Rubadub Mystery - Enid Blyton
45.. Birds, Beasts & Relatives - Gerald Durrell
46.. The Rat-A-Tat Mystery - Enid Blyton
47.. We Have Always Lived in the Castle - Shirley Jackson
48.. Endless Night - Agatha Christie
49.. On Hitler's Mountain - Irmgard Hunt
50.. Uncle Montague's Tales of Terror - Chris Priestly
51.. Inspector Ghote's First Case - H.R.F. Keating
52.. The Cruellest Journey - Kira Salak
53.. The Thirteenth Tale - Diane Setterfield
54.. A Christmas Journey - Anne Perry
55.. Good Behaviour - Molly Keane
56.. The Man in the Picture - Susan Hill
57.. The Ring O' Bells Mystery - Enid Blyton
58.. The Alchemyst - Michael Scott
59.. Relics - Pip Vaughan-Hughes
60.. The Coffin Trail - Martin Edwards
61.. Tales of Terror from the Black Ship - Chris Priestley
62.. Howards End is on the Landing - Susan Hill
63.. In the Company of Cheerful Ladies - A. McCall Smith
64.. Blue Shoes and Happiness - A. McCall Smith
65.. No Such Thing as Dragons - Philip Reeve
66.. Not So Quiet - Helen Zenna Smith
67.. The Snack Thief - Andrea Camilleri
68.. The Cruellest Month - Louise Penny
69.. A Gathering Light - Jennifer Donnelly
70.. The Sunday Philosophy Club - A. McCall Smith
71.. The Cipher Garden - Martin Edwards
72.. The Sea of Trolls - Nancy Farmer
73.. A Christmas Guest - Anne Perry
74.. Night Watch - Terry Pratchett
75.. The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane - Kate Dicamillo
76.. The Land of Silver Apples - Nancy Farmer

I haven't quite finished the last book but expect to today.

As usual with me it's rather an eclectic mix of fantasy, horror, crime, YA, novels, and a very little non-fiction (though not nearly enough.)

I went through and picked out my favourites and ended up with 15. Which are:

1.In the Woods by Tana French - terrifically atmospheric crime yarn.
2.The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman - beautifully written YA horror.
3.The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood - scary but brilliant dystopian tale.
4.Touchstone by Laurie R. King - historical crime, complicated and clever.
5.Infernal Devices by Philip Reeve - book 3 of his fantastic Mortal Engines series.
6.Grey Souls by Phillipe Claudel - WW1 story, beautifully written.
7.The Stolen Child by Keith Donohue - changeling fantasy.
8.The Secret History by Donna Tartt - psychological type crime yarn but much more than that.
9.Uncle Montague's Tales of Terror by Chris Priestley - YA horror along the lines of M.R. James.
10.The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield - gothic yarn that is creepy, atmospheric and very nicely written.
11.The Coffin Trail by Martin Edwards - first of a crime series set in the Lake District. Excellent.
12.Tales of Terror from the Black Ship by Chris Priestley - most ghostly stories from this author.
13.Not So Quiet by Helen Zenna Smith - what life was like for the female ambulance drivers in WW1. Everyone should read it.
14.A Gathering Light by Jennifer Donnelly - coming of age story set in the forests of New York state in the early 1900s.
15.Night Watch by Terry Pratchett - Sam Vimes triumphs again!

If I absolutely had to pick a favourite from those 15 it would be:

A Gathering Light by Jennifer Donnelly. This was one book I really did *love* this year. Beautifully written with a main character, Mattie Gokey, who was engaging, loyal and intelligent. A wonderful read.

Non-fiction favourite - a tie:

On Hitler's Mountain by Irmgard Hunt
Howard's End is on the Landing by Susan Hill

I loved both of those too.

Favourite new author:

Chris Priestley.
Closely followed by Nancy Farmer and Martin Edwards.

Biggest disappointment:

There weren't many to be honest but this one really did not live up to my expectations:

Morrigan's Cross by Nora Roberts

So that's it. Another reading year has come and gone and I'm happy with what I read. I feel like I want to do something a bit different next year but I'm not sure what. Perhaps read a few less books but concentrate more on what I'm reading. I especially would like to read a few more classics, some Victorian 'gothic' style lit perhaps, get into the crime genre a bit more. And then there's my massive tbr pile...

HAPPY NEW YEAR to one and all!

Monday, 28 December 2009

7 things I love (aside from books)

Pat over at Here, there and everywhere just did this 'seven things' meme so I'm nabbing it - seven things you love then, seven things you don't love.

I'll start with 7 things I love. (As Pat said, I'll leave out my husband, kids and grandkids as that goes without saying).

1. TV. I know, I know... there is some real rubbish on these days. Reality stuff I won't give houseroom to, soaps, 'so called' comedies... But there are also some real gems. The BBC still does fantastic travel documemtaries, cookery shows and intelligent quiz shows. It also makes excellent dramas such as Merlin, Dr. Who, Torchwood, and period dramas such as Emma, Cranford, and no one does Dickens better imo. If you're looking to spend Christmas money on a dvd you could do a lot worse than order Bleak House or Little Dorrit. I love them all.

2. A real fire. When I was a kid nearly everyone had a real fire. Then central heating became the norm and people did away with real fires in favour of gas ones. Since we've been married we've lived in six different houses and only in the first and then last two houses have we had a real fireplace where we can lay in and light a real fire. Honestly, in the depths of winter there is nothing better than settling down for the evening in front of one with a good book or a good TV show.

3. Sainsbury's grapefruit and lemon tea. I hate coffee and am not much of an ordinary tea drinker either. Truthfully, I like fizzy drinks far too much (Dr. Pepper being my fav.) So in order to stop myself drinking way too many carbonated drinks I drink grapefruit and lemon tea from Sainsburys. It has a nice sharpness and is very refreshing and also soothing when you have a cold.

4. Movies. I'm not a huge movie buff but I am pretty keen on seeing latest releases such as Harry Potter or Star Trek when they come out. The next one I'm dying to see is the new Sherlock Holmes movie. Hoping to see that on Wednesday.

5. My computer. Or rather the access it gives me to online friends via things like my blogs, Facebook, Twitter etc. When it plays up I'm automatically unhappy and it's been playing up a little this Christmas. :-(

6. Savoury snacks. I really don't have much of a sweet tooth, I just don't eat cream cakes and so forth, but I do have a real weakness for anything savoury - sausage rolls, salted peanuts, crisps, homemade cheese straws. It's unlikely I will ever be thin.

7. The sea. I was brought up by it and it's in my blood, the smell, the sound, and just the simple act of being able to see it every day. We live inland now but Devon is a maritime county and luckily you're never all that far from the ocean. We live about 45 minutes from the coast and I get to see the sea fairly often.

Now 7 things I don't love.

1. Mushrooms. I just really hate them.

2. Medical programmes on TV where they show you operations.

3. The heat. Anything much over 80f and I'm no good to anyone. I'm better with extreme cold than I am extreme heat.

4. Some reality TV shows such a Big Brother and I'm Celebrity, Get Me Out of Here. I just don't see the point.

5. Bad service in shops or restaurants.

6. People who are noisy in cinemas... rattling sweet papers, wandering around, talking through the film. GRRRRRRRR!

7. People in front of you on a flight who put their seat into the recline position and leave it there for the entire 7 hour flight. Why do I always get this?

Enough grumpiness... I hope everyone had a nice Christmas? I did but am also not sorry it's over. Some quiet reading time today would be lovely.

Thursday, 24 December 2009

It's Christmas!


We have family arriving today so I doubt I shall be around very much. Just wanted to wish everyone who visits this blog a very Merry Christmas, while I have a moment. I hope your holiday is all that you wish for and more. I'm really behind with reading my regular blogs so am looking forward to catching up with everyone in a few days. Happy Christmas!

Monday, 21 December 2009

Night Watch

I can't believe it's been more than two weeks since I posted here about books! Obviously, the time of year is responsible. I'm always optimistic that I'll get all the Christmas stuff done early and have time to read and every year it's the same - I just don't. But anyway, I have been reading a little so here's my first book for the Terry Pratchett reading challenge that runs through 2010, Night Watch.

Sweeper gave him a long, thoughtful look. 'Y'know,' he said, 'it's very hard to talk quantam using a language originally designed to tell other monkeys where the ripe fruit is'.

Sam Vimes is chasing a killer, a man named Carcer. He is evil through and through and has already killed one night watch officer. Passing through the Unseen University on the killer's trail something happens and both Sam and Carcer are transported back to when Sam was a very young policeman on the beat. The sergeant who taught Sam all he knew has been killed, which was not supposed to have happened, so Sam has to pretend to be John Keel in order that his young self learns what he needs to know and keeps on the straight and narrow. But there is still a killer to apprehend and things become further complicated when said killer joins the police force himself. How can Sam bring him down without revealing who he is and where he has come from? And then there's a little matter of a revolution that's about to happen...

Classic Terry Pratchett this one. A pacey plot that keeps you on your toes with all the time travelling details. *Lots* of his usual humour - clever use of language and wry observations on what makes us humans tick.

Legitimate First (a gravedigger) watched them go as they walked away. Sergeant Colon felt he was being measured up.

'I've always wondered about his name,' said Nobby, turning and waving. 'I mean... Legitimate?'

'Can't blame a mother for being proud, Nobby,' said Colon.

Spare and understated - Terry Pratchett always knows exactly how much to say to ensure maximum impact of a joke like that. It's a rare talent and it's impossible to overstate how very much I'm in awe of it. He's never spiteful or nasty, the digs are always gentle and tolerant and so, so true to life. Wonderful.

This is book six in the Sam Vimes 'Night Watch' series of Discworld books. They could easily be read as a series without reading the rest of the Discworld books and would especially appeal, I think, to lovers of crime novels. The first book in the series is Guards! Guards! but *my* next one will be Thud! Reading the synopsis on the inside cover, I'm already looking forward to reading it!

So that's my first book for The Terry Pratchett 2010 challenge which is being hosted by Marg at Reading Adventures. Always nice to get a new challenge underway.

Friday, 4 December 2009

Three short reviews

Rather busy at the moment still. I've been reading but not reviewing much and am three books behind so it's time for another batch of quickish reviews. First up, The Sunday Philosophy Club by Alexander McCall Smith.

Isabel Dalhousie is a single woman, a divorcee, in her forties, living in a nice part of Edinburgh. She's a woman of means who has no need to work, her 'job' being that of editing a philosophy magazine. One night, after an evening of classical music, she is a chance witness when a man falls from the upper circle of the theatre, to his death. To all intents and purposes it appears to be an accident but, looking closely at the scene of the accident, Isabel decides it is not and sets about investigating the mystery.

This is the first book of McCall Smith's Isabel Dalhousie series. It's no good comparing these to his Mma Ramotswe books because they are not the same - though it seems some people on Amazon expected them to be. Isabel is a sophisticate and, if the truth be known, a bit of a snob. She's quite likeable though, as she goes about her business observing people and philosophising about life (in that respect I suppose she is a 'bit' similar to Mma Ramotswe). We meet her neice, Cat, and hear about her failed love life and how Isabel dislikes her current boyfriend, and Grace, Isabel's opinionated housekeeper who is devoted to Isabel. All good fun and I easily liked it enough to continue with the series, have got book two on my library pile right now as a matter of fact.

Next - The Cipher Garden by Martin Edwards.

Some years ago Warren Howe was murdered. He was a landscape gardener and was hacked to death with his own scythe in the garden of a client. Warren was a habitual womaniser and not a pleasant character; there are several suspects but the case was never solved. Fast forward a few years and someone is sending short poison pen letters about the case, including one to the new cold case police dept. in The Lake District, headed by Hannah Scarlett. The case is reopened and, with the unoffical help of historian, Daniel Kind, Hannah sets about solving this difficult and emotive case.

Another excellent 'Lake District' mystery from Martin Edwards. A good crime yarn but also quite a lot about the personal lives of both Daniel and Hannah. I like the way the author is clearly leading up to something with these two and am quite happy that he's taking his time about it. It's good on setting too, The Lake District is beautifully described and it's quite easy to imagine yourself striding out on some of the wild, exposed fells. The title refers to Daniel's garden which he discovers is hiding a secret as he tries to bring it under control. I expected that to play more of a role I must admit, it being referred to in the title, but that aspect was interesting nevertheless. A good second book and I will definitely be continuing with the series.

Lastly a Young Adult fantasy, The Sea of Trolls by Nancy Farmer.

Jack lives with his mother, father and younger sister, Lucy, in the north of what is now England, somewhere around the end of the 7th century, AD. He's just an ordinary boy, loved by his mother but treated a little unfairly by his father who is besotted with sister, Lucy. Until he is taken on by the local bard as his apprentice and then it seems he is not so ordinary after all. The bard is from Norway and has lived there with the Vikings, until expelled for a reason Jack is not told. When a Viking raid occurs just a few months into Jack's training, Jack and Lucy are captured and taken across the North sea to the court of one of the viking kings, Ivar the Boneless and his half-troll and shape shifter wife, Frith. Jack mistakenly casts a spell on the unpredictable and bad tempered queen and has to go on a quest to save his sister. It's the adventure of his life... and might even *cost* him his life.

Thoroughly enjoyed this tale of bards and Vikings, 'berserkers', trolls and Norse mythology. It was great fun and very well written indeed. I actually thought Nancy Farmer was British because she made no mistakes whatsoever with the speech of the 'English' children, but it turns out she's American. Very nicely done. Lots of adventure, some humour, and some interesting references to Norse mythology and real Viking history. I have book two - The Land of Silver Apples - on my current library pile and am really looking forward to reading it.

Saturday, 28 November 2009

Late butterfly

The 28th. November, quite chilly, probably one of the chilliest days of the autumn so far (5C first thing - about 40f) and this lovely specimen (a Red Admiral I *think*) was sunning him or herself on the laurel a few minutes ago:

Better late than never I suppose!

Tuesday, 24 November 2009

Terry Pratchett 2010 challenge

Well, here's my second challenge for 2010. I ummed and ahhhed over it for a little while, mainly because I was trying to avoid taking on too many challenges for next year but, well, a Terry Pratchett challenge is a bit of a no-brainer for me. Every year I read something by him - this year it was his Bromeliad trilogy - and I still have quite a few of his books that I haven't read. Doing this challenge will get me caught up a bit. See how easily I talk myself into these things???

Anyway, this challenge is being run by Marg at Reading Adventures and her challenge post is here.

I love that button to bits!

The challenge runs from the 1st. Dec. 2009 to the 30th. Nov. 2010. There are several different levels of participation and I'm going for:

6-8 books - Academic at the Unseen University

You can either be reading the books for the first time, rereading, or even watching the TV adaptations if you like! As long as everyone has fun I will be happy! Please also do not feel limited to only reading the Discworld books as any books by Terry Pratchett will count for this challenge.

I don't think a list is required but a few Pratchett books I'd like to read include:

Night Watch (21st. Dec.)
The Colour of Magic
The Light Fantastic
Soul Music
Making Money
Unseen Academicals
The Last Hero
The Last Continent

And a reread of Carpe Jugulum would be nice, perhaps double it up for the R.I.P. challenge in the autumn. And I would also love to reread Good Omens.

Thanks to Marg for hosting this one, I'm looking forward to getting started.

Monday, 23 November 2009

A Gathering Light

I read about A Gathering Light, by Jennifer Donnelly, on Susan's blog... here at Bloggin' 'Bout Books, several weeks ago. I liked the sound of it so much I reserved it from the library and am so pleased I did. By the way, the American and original title of this book is A Northern Light. I can't think why they changed it for UK readers, perhaps it was thought that we might not understand concept of 'northern'...

It's 1906 and seventeen year old, Mattie Govey, lives on a small farm in the northern woods, in New York State. Mattie's abiding passion is books and she is desperate to go to college and, eventually, become a writer. How unlikely a dream this is quickly becomes evident as we hear about her life. She lives with her widowed father and three sisters, her elder brother, Lawton, having recently run away after a row with his father. They are a poor family and life is hard. Day to day living for Mattie is a constant round of chores, cooking and looking after the family; inbetween that she manages to fit in her school life which she loves more than anything. Words are her passion and she has a game in which she chooses a 'word of the day' and her, and her friend, Weaver, the only black teenager for miles around who also wants to go to college to be a lawyer, think of as many meanings for the word as they can, throughout the day.

The narrative, told in the first person, skips around over the space of some months, so we first meet Mattie in the present when she's working for a local hotel, waiting tables and skivvying in the kitchen. A body has been found in the lake and it's one of the hotel guests, a young woman, Grace Brown. She had been staying there with a young man, her fiance, Carl Grahm. But Mattie knows that that's not his real name because Grace had given Mattie some letters and asked her to burn them. Mattie had tried but not managed to do it and when the body turns up she eventually reads the letters instead. What is revealed shocks her into considering what her life has been and will become. Mattie is presently engaged to Royal Loomis, a blonde haired, good looking boy whose people own a neighbouring farm. Why is he so interested in a plain, bookish girl like Mattie? Especially as he has no interest in books himself and is scathing of her passion for them. Mattie looks back over events of previous months and draws parallels between her life and Grace's. Her head tells her she will never make it to college and even if it were possible she would still have to make the choice that most female writers of the previous century, and this, have been faced with - that of having a husband and children or having a career in writing. It seems to her that it's not possible for a woman to have both.

Well, this rather special book won the Carnegie medal for 2004 and I'm not even remotely surprised. You could describe this as a feminist book and that would be correct: it most certainly is. You're not beaten over the head with it precisely but woven into the story are straightforward facts about the lives of women at the beginning of the 20th. century. Their limited choices, sexual lives (not explicit but very matter of fact), continual child bearing, daily drudgery and so on. Even if you were well off and intelligent things were not that much better, men still had the upper hand and most women had, basically, to do what they were told or what was expected of them by society. It sounds depressing and, for us looking back, it is. But the book is not depressing as a whole, there is plenty of humour and Mattie herself is an absolute joy. Her personality jumps off the page at you and you can't help but grieve for her situation and lack of prospects while at the same time loving her zest for life.

There were elements of several of my favourite books in this story. Partly it was a sort of a backwoods version of A Tree Grows in Brooklyn but also there were shades of The Little House in the Big Woods and Anne of Greengables, albeit rather adult ones. It depends on the teenager of course, but I don't think I would recommend this book for anyone under the age of fifteen or sixteen as some of the themes are quite adult in nature.

All in all, a wonderful read... perfect for anyone doing the feminist challenge that I've seen on a couple of blogs lately. Certainly it'll feature in my top ten list of best reads this year and might even be my book of the year. Yes - it was that good.

Friday, 20 November 2009

I haz owlz!!!

There's nothing like a surprise package to cheer up your day and I got one yesterday. Deslily at Here, There and Everywhere has become quite famous for two things - her wonderful photos of the pond life where she lives *and* her crocheted toys. They're as cute as ninepence and so, imagine my surprise when I opened my surprise parcel and found these two lovelies...

Aren't they wonderful???

And then someone else decided to get in on the act... Chickotay... (yes, I am rather a big Star Trek fan, how did you guess?):

Not to mention The Three Stooges...

Not that I'm a bird person or anything - I wouldn't want you to get that idea...

Anyway, just to instill a *little* sanity into this post, Deslily also sent me a book! The Suspicions of Mr. Whicher by Kate Summerscale is one I've been wanting to read and as Deslily had finished with hers she passed it onto me.

The other two books are two Christmas anthologies that I want to read this Christmas. The Young Oxford Book of Christmas Stories I picked up in a charity shop, some months ago, and am hoping to read some of the stories with my grandaughter. Christmas Stories, edited by Diana Secker Tesdell, I ordered from Waterstones last Christmas. Unfortunately it took so long to come in that Christmas was over before I got it, so I've been saving it for this year. It includes stories by many classic authors such as Dickens, Conan Doyle, Trollope, Tolstoy, Willa Cather and a few slightly more contemporary ones such as Truman Capote, John Updike, Alice Munro, Muriel Spark, Elizabeth Bowen etc.

Anyway, thanks again, Pat, for my wonderful surprise package. It and the contents put a huge smile on my face and you can rest assured my new owls (I need to think of names now) have lots of company on my book shelves.

Wednesday, 18 November 2009

Two crime reviews

What with painting decorating the hall, stairs and landing, and various other things going on, my reading has suffered this month. Twelve books last month - I'll be lucky to hit six this. Never mind, it's not about numbers and what I've been reading I've mostly enjoyed. My current read, A Gathering Light (known as A Northern Light in the USA) by Jennifer Donnelly, is worth taking time over anyway as it is *so* good; a sort of mix of Little House in the Big Woods, Anne of Greengables and A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, with added mystery. I love it. As I'm pushed for time I'll do quick reviews of the two books I've finished over the last couple of weeks.

First up, The Cruellest Month by Louise Penny.

This is the third book in Louise Penny's 'Inspector Gamache' series. It's set, as are the others, in the fictional village of Three Pines which is in the forests of Southern Quebec.

Some of the inhabitants of the village are holding a seance in the local bistro. When nothing much happens someone suggests they hold one in the old Hadley house, on the hill, the scene of murders and traumatic events in previous books. During the second seance a woman dies of fright. Inspector Gamache and his team are called in and it's discovered that the woman had an abnormal amount of ephedra in her system, a herb used in the making of slimming pills. But she was not, and never had been, a slimmer. It seems she was murdered. Added to this investigation, Gamache still has troubles of his own involving his branch of the Canadian police, the Sureté. Several years ago he was closely involved in the bringing down of a rogue policeman and now that officer's friends are out to get Gamache. Someone in his own team is betraying him and he needs to find out who, while at the same time solve the mystery at Three Pines.

This book would have made a perfect read this year's RIP challenge. It was creepy and atmospheric and as good as many actual ghost stories. It's hard to overstate how much I enjoy this series. Louise Penny is such a good writer and has created a detective in Gamache who is likeable, worthy of respect, and clever. The setting too is just perfect. Three Pines, surrounded as it is by the northern forests, sounds like heaven and is inhabited by normal characters with flaws and idiosyncrasies just like the rest of us. Not all are likeable by any means, often acting in a selfish manner or doing things that are questionable. I've also enjoyed the background mystery of Gamache's problems at the Sureté. That was sort of solved in this book, but the reader gets the impression that the problem is actually far from over. Anyway, a superb read, and I already have the next book on my library pile, The Murder Stone.

What was nice is that I went from reading this book to A Gathering Light by Jennifer Donnelly and discovered that it is also set in the northern forests, but instead of the Canadian side, it is set on the New York state side. How odd it is when this happens!

My second book is The Snack Thief and it's by Italian writer, Andrea Camilleri.

I'm cheating with this one and pinching the synopsis from the FantasticFiction site. I don't normally do this but it's several weeks since I read it (before Not so Quiet in fact) and the details have really blurred in my middle-aged brain.

In the third book in Andrea Camilleri's Inspector Montalbano series, the urbane and perceptive Sicilian detective exposes a viper's nest of government corruption and international intrigue in a compelling new case. When an elderly man is stabbed to death in an elevator and a crewman on an Italian fishing trawler is machine-gunned by a Tunisian patrol boat off Sicily's coast, only Montalbano suspects the link between the two incidents. His investigation leads to the beautiful Karima, an impoverished housecleaner and sometime prostitute, whose young son steals other schoolchildren's midmorning snacks. But Karima disappears, and the young snack thief's life-as well as Montalbano's-is on the line...

Yes, well, the whole thing got a bit confusing to be honest. What with disappearances, murders and the government intrigue... in end I couldn't remember who was doing what, to whom, and why... My fault, I think, for not paying proper attention. The big problem for me is that I really dislike Camilleri's detective, Inspector Montalbano. He's arrogant, sneaky, selfish, treats his girlfriend like a doormat and, in this book, is jealous of her relationship with the young boy whose mother has disappeared. I wanted to smack him quite frankly (the inspector not the boy).

I feel I've given this series a good go. Three books is not a bad innings and there are too many books I want to read for me to be wasting time on a series I don't really care for.

To be honest, I like the fact that I seem to be finding my niche where crime books are concerned. There are those that I can't seem to get into - the Maisie Dobbs books for instance, these Inspector Montalbano books, Agatha Raisin (not enough depth in the writing for my taste), and I don't think Agatha Christie is going to be my thing either. On the other hand I thoroughly enjoy Martin Edwards, Susan Hill, Barbara Vine, Louise Penny, Peter Lovesey, and a whole clutch of historical crime authors such as C.J Sansom, Laurie R. King, Ariana Franklin, Elizabeth Peters and Anne Perry. I'm not sure what the connection between these authors is but there must be one somewhere. Just something about them that hits the right note I suppose. Each to his (or her) own.

Thursday, 12 November 2009

Library challenge wrap-up

For once I seem to have finished a challenge ahead of time. The Support your local library challenge which is being hosted by J Kaye has been running all year and finishes on the 31st. December.

I signed up to read 25 library books and have now, happily, read that number. I'm pretty pleased with my achievement - I thought I could do it but knew it was more library books than I normally read in one year, so was not too blasé about it. Anyway these are the books I read for this challenge:

1. In the Woods - Tana French
2. The Jewel of Seven Stars - Bram Stoker
3. Runemarks- Joanne Harris
4. The Valley of Secrets - Charmian Harris
5. Remember Me? - Sophie Kinsella
6. Larklight - Philip Reeve
7. The Graveyard Book - Neil Gaiman
8. The Sedgemoor Strangler - Peter Lovesey
9. Morrigan's Cross - Nora Roberts
10. The Good Thief - Hannah Tinti
11. Touchstone - Laurie R. King
12. The Circle - Peter Lovesey
13. Last Rituals - Yrsa Sigurdardottir
14. Snow Blind - P.J. Tracy
15. Grey Souls - Philippe Claudel
16. Trains and Buttered Toast - John Betjeman
17. Skulduggery Pleasant - Derek Landy
18. The Terracotta Dog - Andrea Camilleri
19. Endless Night - Agatha Christie
20. Inspector Ghote's First Case - H.R.F. Keating
21. A Christmas Journey - Anne Perry
22. Good Behaviour - Molly Keane
23. Relics - Pip Vaughan-Hughes
24. The Coffin Trail - Martin Edwards
25. No Such Thing as Dragons - Philip Reeve

A fair few of them seem to be crime books, which is odd seeing that I don't really regard myself as a hardened crime fan. Perhaps I'm becoming one. Favourites? Touchstone by Laurie R. King, In the Woods by Tana French, The Coffin Trail by Martin Edwards and The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman. But the majority of them were very good. Many thanks to J. Kaye for hosting.

So that's it for challenges for me for this year. I did sign up to do an Essay challenge but have changed my mind about it and decided not to do it after all. I rather fancy reading at will for the rest of the year.

Saturday, 7 November 2009

Not So Quiet

Kailana at The Written World is holding a small unofficial challenge to read books about WW1 and WW2 during the month of November. This is something I usually try to do anyway - read one or two war books in the run up Armistice Day - so this is my first book for that, Not So Quiet by Helen Zenna Smith.

Helen Smith, 'Smithy', is an ambulance driver at the front during the Great War. She's a middle-class 'nice' girl, as are all the ambulance drivers, the powers that be deciding that only nice, middle-class girls are capable of this sort of work. She shares a billet with 'Tosh', the daughter of an earl, The B.F. (her initials but it means the other thing too), Eta Potato (called so because her name is 'Potter'), and Skinny, despised by Tosh for various reasons. The work they do, driving dead and injured men from the front to various field hospitals is indescribably dangerous and harrowing. They work until they drop, with hardly any sleep, atrocious food and flea ridden accomodation. Not only that, they have to put up with the cruel and vicious treatment from the camp commandant, known as The Bitch. It's her idea of fun to victimise any and all of the drivers for no reason whatsoever or for tiny infringements.

As the story moves along we also hear about Smithy's friends and family, both back at home and serving at the front. Her sister, Trix, is working in a field hospital kitchen and also being treated like dirt by the nursing sisters. Smithy's family are all proud that both their girls are 'doing their bit' for the war effort without having any clue what conditions are like in France. It's a serious bone of contention between them and Smithy knows only too well that much of what she's enduring is for her mother to look good amongst her friends and various committees. Giving up and going home is not an option unless you're injured and even then you're harried back to France in case the neighbours think you're shirking your responsibilities. Not being able to take any more is considered cowardice from those who have no idea what the soldiers and other serving personel are going through.

This book reads like a work of non-fiction when it is, in fact, fiction. However, the author, Evadne Price (pen-name for this book, Helen Zenna Smith), borrowed heavily from the war diaries of WW1 ambulance driver, Winifred Young, when asked to write a spoof on Erich Maria Remarque's All Quiet on the Western Front. Evadne refused to write a spoof on such a serious subject and wrote instead, a damning comment on the futility of war and of the people in charge. It's a powerful piece of work, harrowing to read and making you wonder why so many thousands of men and women in their twenties put up with the conditions and the carnage, sacrificing, if not their lives, then their physical or mental health. This book should be read by all as an excellent accompaniment to Remarque's superb book.

Tuesday, 3 November 2009

No 1 Ladies' Det. Agency books

I'm so far behind with reviews it's not funny. On the other hand I have finished two challenges over the last few days - RIP IV and the Support Your Local Library one (have not done a wrap-up for that yet) so it's not all bad. Perhaps I can do a brief summary of the four books in need of review and then start afresh.

One of the books I read and finished was Howards End is on the Landing by Susan Hill. I loved it to pieces but am not doing a review until I've had a chance to sit down and read it all over again. There was so much of interest, so much that inspired me in this book about books, that I feel I just can't do it justice until I've gone through it again. In the meantime here's my favourite quote from the chapter explaining how Hill simply doesn't get Jane Austen:

My younger daughter learned to love Jane Austen from the BBC television adaptation starring Colin Firth and a clutch of other fine actors. She watched it so many times that she knew it by heart and could hardly be deterred from reciting entire scenes for our entertainment, until, like Mary, she had delighted us long enough.

I just can't read that without giggling. Wonderful book and I am so thrilled I own it and can dip into it whenever the fancy takes me.

Also read and finished because my grandaughter recommended it was No Such Thing as Dragons by Philip Reeve. I'm a huge Reeve fan - his Mortal Engines series is one of the best YA sci fi series around in my opinion - but I think this one was just a wee bit young for me. I can quite see how any 8 to 12 year old would love it though, with its interesting young characters and dragon hunt on the mountains in the depths of winter. It's also beautifully illustrated with a cover that is stunning. How lucky my grandaughter is to be a child now when children's books are experiencing an amazing upsurge in popularity with some brilliant writers flexing their muscles and producing some wonderful books.

Last week we had family here for half-term and I really thought I would have no time for reading at all. So I chose book six in Alexander McCall Smith's Mma Ramotswe series, In the Company of Cheerful Ladies, as a book that is easy reading for the few moments I might have.

I haven't read one of these in a while - last year I think - but the joy of them is that you can pick one and up and in no time at all you're immersed in life on Zebra Drive and Tokleng Road in Gabarone, Botswana. I'm not even sure I would call them detective novels. There are small mysteries, yes, and people's problems and family problems and problems with the folk who work at Speedy Motors and The No 1 Ladies' Detective Agency. But the books are much more about the people in them than the crimes, fascinating as those are. In this book Mma Ramotswe knocks over a cyclist and gains a new employee for her husband. Her assistant, Mma Makutsi, takes up dancing lessons and finds romance, and Mma Ramotswe's cruel ex-husband, Note, returns. Doesn't sound like an awful lot of action I know, but somehow or other McCall Smith has a way of writing that makes it all so fascinating that you can't put the book down and when you do, you can't wait to pick it up again.
So I got through that book in no time flat, despite having visitors, and grabbed the next one to read - Blue Shoes and Happiness. In this one Mma Makutsi and Phuti Radiphuti are engaged but has she jeopardised the engagement by telling him she's a feminist? And Mma Ramotswe has worries of her own too. What's going on at the Mokolodi Game Reserve? Is it witchcraft or something else? And then there's a case of blackmail to solve... and an even stickier problem - should she go on a diet?

Wonderful. Absolutely wonderful. I only have three more of these to read so need to consider which of his series to read next. I have the first Isobel Dalhousie book, The Sunday Philosophy Club, from the library and am hoping that might be my kind of thing, but I also own The 2 1/2 Pillars of Wisdom, an omnibus which looks interesting too. We'll see. I'm just so glad that McCall Smith has plenty of other books and series for me to try because I'd really hate to have nothing new to read from this delightful author.

Monday, 2 November 2009

RIP wrap-up

I have no idea where October went. I read twelve books - which for me is amazing - so that probably explains some of it... I was in various other worlds! Something else that also went very quickly this year was R.I.P. IV. We all started just before the end of August and here we are in the blink of an eye - November!

And so another R.I.P. challenge is over and it's time for my wrap-up. It's always sad as this and Carl's Once Upon A Time challenge are two of my favourites and they always go by too quickly!

Anyway, I did Peril the First which was to read four spooky books of your choice. I actually read six and those are as follows:

The Thirteenth Tale - Diane Setterfield
We Have Always Lived in the Castle - Shirley Jackson
Endless Night - Agatha Christie
The Man in the Mirror - Susan Hill
Uncle Montague's Tales of Terror - Chris Priestley
Tales of Terror from the Black Ship - Chris Priestley

I enjoyed them all but my favourites were The Thirteenth Tale and the two Chris Priestley books.

I also took part in the...

and read 15 short stories from various sources. My favourite of those (a reread) was Tarnhelm by Hugh Walpole but I also loved the two Sherlock Holmes stories I read - The Adventure of the Sussex Vampire and The Adventure of the Creeping Man.

So that's R.I.P. over for another year. It's been great fun and thanks to Carl for hosting it once again.


Saturday, 31 October 2009

Tales of Terror from the Black Ship

Happy Halloween to all those who celebrate it!

The perfect accompaniment to Halloween is a creepy book for the RIP IV challenge and my final book for that was Tales of Terror from the Black Ship by Chris Priestley.

The storm of the century is raging. Cathy and Ethan live with their father in The Old Inn which perches on top of a cliff, attached to the mainland of Cornwall by only a very narrow path. In a storm like this they are, to all intents and purposes, cut off. Which presents a problem. Both children are very sick indeed and need a doctor. Their father goes out into the tempest to fetch one, leaving the children alone. He's gone for a very long time and Cathy and Ethan become well enough to get up. They want to go and find him but the storm is still raging. Suddenly, there is a loud knock on the door - they have a visitor, one Jonah Thackeray, a sailor.

Thackeray keeps the children company through the night, regaling them with macabre stories of a very grisly nature. They hear about vampire passengers, sea snails on the march (ugh, ugh UGH!), murders, ghostly black ships, a strange child cast adrift in a dinghy and picked up by the crew of a ship, a weird piece of scrimshaw carved with a scene that changes according to where the owner is, and so on. And then there's the final twist involving the two children listening to the tales...

I think, for me, that author Chris Priestley is one of my discoveries of the year. His simply told but creepier than creepy stories are just fantastic. There are no happy endings here, these stories are meant to chill, and chill they do. I loved the first book in his ghostly series, Uncle Montague's Tales of Terror, but this one is even better. Possibly that's because I do love a sea-faring story, I'm not sure, I just know that I was blown away by this group of stories, beautifully written in the best tradition of ghost story telling. I already have his third book, Tales of Terror from the Tunnel's Mouth and like Black Ship it's calling to me and I'm having trouble resisting. It would make brilliant Christmas reading but I'm not sure if I can hold out that long.

And because it's Halloween... more gargoyles from Knightshaye's Court near Tiverton:

October 2009.


Friday, 23 October 2009

The Coffin Trail

I'm fairly certain - though not completely sure - that the first place I saw The Coffin Trail by Martin Edwards blogged about was on Kay's blog here. The book then slipped my mind until a couple of weeks ago when I came home from the library with The Arsenic Labyrinth, discovered it was book 3 in Edwards's Lake District series and that the first book was, in fact, The Coffin Trail. I reserved that one immediately as I do prefer reading crime series in the order they were written in.

Holidaying in the Lake District Daniel Kind and his girlfriend, Miranda, visit the village of Brack where Daniel stayed as a teenager with his family. Back then he had been friends briefly with Barrie Gilpin, a mildly autistic boy. Some years later a woman, Gabrielle Anders, was brutally murdered and her body laid out on a rocky outcrop above the village, the sacrifice stone. The next day Barrie's body had been discovered in a nearby ravine and it had been assumed that he was the murderer - although the police officer in charge of the investigation, Daniel's estranged father, Ben, had never been convinced.

Daniel and Miranda discover that the cottage where Barrie lived with his mother is for sale and, completely on impulse, they buy it with a view to a complete life change for them both. Daniel gives up his job as an Oxford professor and Miranda her journalism job and they move to the Lake District. But the events surrounding the murder start to prey on Daniel's mind. He never thought his friend was guilty and begins to ask questions in the village.

Within the Cumbrian police force a new cold case department has just been started and the detective heading it is DCI Hannah Scarlett. One of the first crimes to be reinvestigated is the Gabrielle Anders case and it's not long before Hannah, who worked under Daniel's father in the original case, comes into contact with Daniel. The two begin to join forces to solve the mystery, which is complicated and difficult and not helped by their various personal problems getting in the way. Between them can they manage to break down the wall of silence that the people of Brack have erected?

I couldn't put this down. I've had a couple of quiet days while my husband's been ill so have been able to indulge my wish to read this straight through, almost without stopping. It was rivetting. Martin Edwards has created well rounded characters in Hannah Scarlett and Daniel Kind, and left it so that the reader wants to read the rest of the books to see how their relationship develops. I like the fact that we weren't given everything in the first book so that there is plenty more to look forward to.

Plotwise I thoroughly enjoyed the mystery. There were so many twists and turns that I couldn't guess who had done the deed - my actual guess was wildly out - and I liked the way secrets unfolded and unexpected connections were slowly revealed.

The setting was magnificent. I have visted the Lake District on holiday and Edwards has evoked the wild beauty and isolation of the area perfectly. Nice little local details made it very real too - referances to the famous walker, Alfred Wainright, for instance. The title, The Coffin Trail, refers to centuries ago before small villages had their own church and graveyard to bury their dead. The body would have to be taken by horse over the hills to the nearest town and the route taken was known as the coffin or 'corpse' trail.

I can wholeheartedly recommend this to crime fans. It's not a cosy mystery but neither is a hard-nosed one, it's pitched just nicely, imo. I'm off to the library today to grab book two, The Cipher Garden.

Book 24 for my Support your local library challenge which is being hosted by J.Kaye.

Monday, 19 October 2009


I honestly did not intend to start a new series. Relics by Pip Vaughan-Hughes was a random library grab, a book that I thought sounded like a lot of fun. But after I'd started it I checked the author out on FantasticFiction and found the book I was reading was in fact part one of his 'Brother Petroc' series. Typical. Even when I try not to start any new series, I end up doing just that...

The year is 1235. Brother Petroc is a novice monk, a scholar studying in the city of Balecester. He hails from Dartmoor, his parents having given him to the monastry at Buckfast in Devon because he showed academic promise. Petroc's life is one of scholarly pursuit, heavy drinking and trying to avoid the sins of the flesh until, one night, he encounters Sir Hugh de Kervezey at an inn. Petroc immediately senses the man is trouble and is tragically proved right when, a few nights later, Sir Hugh tricks him into a taking a holy relic from the cathedral. Right in front of his eyes, Kervezey brutally murders a church offcial and promptly frames Petroc for the murder.

Petroc goes on the run, back to Buckfast Abbey, but he is not even safe there as Sir Hugh is there ahead of him, victimising Petroc's friend and mentor, Brother Adric, to get information about the young novice. Adric sends Petroc to Dartmouth to meet with a ship to take him out of the country. The journey is long and arduous, with Sir Hugh's men close on his heels, but he eventually meets up with the enigmatic Captain de Montalhac, a Frenchman and collector of relics. Petroc sets sail on the Cormaran and thus begins a series of adventures in countries such as Greenland, Ireland, France and Greece that will change the course of Petroc's young life.

Even though I didn't mean to start yet another series I'm actually quite glad that this book turned out to be the first part of one because I rather enjoyed it. I've always quite liked any historical book that took me on a trip around Europe, or out on the high seas, and this one covers both of those so it's a 'win, win' situation really. Pip Vaughan-Hughes writes in a bit of a swash-buckling style, the story is really a bit of a boys-own yarn with lots of chases and fighting and adventures galore. There's also some romance and misunderstandings therein... to be honest there's something for everyone and if you fancy a light, fun read you could do a lot worse than Relics. I certainly plan to grab book 2 from the library at some stage.

And having enjoyed this 'high-seas' story I'm now thinking of making a sea-faring list of books - pirates, sea voyages, fantasy, historical, anything really, so if anyone can think of any, feel free to leave a comment.

This was book 23 out of my 25 for the Support your local Library challenge which is being hosted by J.Kaye.

Wednesday, 14 October 2009

Year of the Historical challenge

I know I said I wouldn't do another year long challenge next year, but I'm nothing if not contrary, not to mention liable to change my mind at the drop of the hat. And it doesn't take much. I spotted a nice button on a book blog I read on LJ, saw that it was a challenge involving historicals, and that was me - sold. I either have the attention span of a fruit fly or I'm just a complete walk-over, I'm not sure.

Anyway the challenge is called, Year of the Historical and it's being hosted by Lurv A La Mode.

The idea is to read one or more historicals per month throughout the year:

Books can be older, just published or previously read. Authors can be old favorites or new-to-you. I didn’t want to specify specific requirements for each month – though I contemplated it. Write those reviews any way you please – you’re blogs, your styles, dudes. This way you, the reader, are free to pick and choose what works best for you. This might be a challenge, but who says it needs to be difficult? The main thing is to enjoy yourself.

We’re talking straight historical (English, French, Ancient History – The Clan of Cave the Bear, etc.); and historical romance (Regency, Georgian, Medieval, American, paranormal historical…). If the book takes place in a notable, or even a more obscure, history in time, it’s game. These can be adult themed or young adult. They can be rereads or new-to-you authors. They can be ones you’re reading for other challenges too.

One of the reasons I want to do this challenge is because it ties in nicely with what I want to read next year, which is a few lengthy historical books. I have so many on my tbr mountain that a challenge like this will really help reduce the pile. We don't have to make a list but I'm pretty sure the first book I'll be reading for the challenge will be Drood by Dan Simmons. Others that I'm hoping to include:

The Needle in the Blood- Sarah Bower
Fixing Shadows - Susan Barrett
David Copperfield - Charles Dickens
People of the Book - Geraldine Brooks
Temeraire - Naomi Novik
Ratcatcher - James McGee
An Accomplished Woman - Jude Morgan
Moby Dick - Herman Melville
Oscar Wilde and the Candleight Murders - Gyles Brandreth
The Cater Street Hangman - Anne Perry

But we'll see how it goes. Likely as not I'll end up reading none of those at all! Whatever happens though, I'm greatly looking forward to this challenge.

Tuesday, 13 October 2009

The Alchemyst

I first read about the Nicholas Flamel YA series of books, by Michael Scott, on Deslily's blog - Here, There and Everywhere. She's been recommending them for years and for years I've been studiously ignoring her as I have enough series on the go. But book series are like salted peanuts - you can never have too many and, in one of her recent posts I took one look at the beauty of the covers and caved in and bought the first two.

The first one is The Alchemyst.

While their parents are away on a summer archeological dig, fifteen year old twins, Josh and Sophie, stay with their aunt in San Francisco. They have summer jobs in the same street, across the road from each other, Sophie in a coffee shop, Josh in a bookshop. The bookshop's owner is Nick Fleming a rather enigmatic figure that Josh has grown to like and admire.

One day the bookshop is attacked by one, Dr. John Dee, and three golems, intent on capturing an ancient book that Nick owns, the Book of Abraham the Mage. Using magic,they get hold of all but two pages, Nick's wife is kidnapped, and Nick and the twins are forced to flee. They collect a 'young woman' along the way, Scatty, and end up in a Shadowrealm, guarded by some very strange creatures, which takes the form of an immense tree. The realm is ruled over by an Elder, thousands of years old: Hekate.

It seems that Nick Fleming is actually seven hundred year old, Nicholas Flamel and, from what the adults are saying, there are things the twins might not know about themselves. They are bewildered and frightened and try to escape, but escape from this nightmare is no longer possible. Their lives will, literally, never be the same again.

I'm pretty pleased that I picked this series up at last. I really enjoyed this pacey romp around the Californian countryside with Nicholas Flamel and his cohorts. It's full of excitement and imagination with many nods to ancient myth and ordinary history... or should I say *extra*ordinary history! I think there's room for a little more fleshing out of characters, I didn't feel I got to know the twins all that well for instance, but I'm sure that will come in the next books. Deslily tells me they get better and better and that wouldn't surprise me at all. I have the next one, The Magician, on my tbr pile and once I've knocked a few books off the library pile I'll get to it. Thanks to Deslily for the rec.

Sunday, 11 October 2009

An award

The very lovely Booklogged at A Reader's Journal listed me among her newly discovered blogs, recently, and gave me this award:

Truthfully, I'm not a great one for blog awards as I really dislike having to choose 'favourites' from my blog roll; anyone who is on my blog roll is a 'favourite' or they wouldn't be there. I feel it's hurtful to those not chosen for the awards and I don't believe book blogging should be about who's popular and who isn't; it should be about nice people and good books. That said, this is not that kind of award. You just have to list a few new blogs that you've recently discovered, so that's fine and dandy and I'm happy to do that.

Here are the rules of the "One Lovely Blog Award":

Accept the award, post it on your blog together with the name of the person who has granted the award, and his or her blog link. Pass the award to 15 other blogs that you’ve newly discovered. Remember to contact the bloggers to let them know they have been chosen for this award.

I don't think I can do 15 but here are a few blogs I've recently discovered and like.

Book Psmith
Caitlin at Chaotic Compendiums
Diane at Bibliophile by the sea
Geranium Cat
Paperback Reader
Sharry at xalwaysdreamx
Bookpusher at The Genteel Arsenal
Verity at Verity's Virago Venture

See, now I'm worrying that I've forgotten someone... and knowing my middle-aged, addled brain, I probably have.

Anyway, thank you to Booklogged for this award, if you've never visited her lovely blog then you really should... she's just started a state by state list of bloggers and is currently on West Virginia, a state I've visited a couple of times and absolutely love.


Thursday, 8 October 2009

The Man in the Picture & Good Behaviour

I'm falling behind with book reviews once again. So, as my cold is making me feel thoroughly unenthused about anything other than sitting in a chair and reading, I think I'll do two shortish reviews to catch up. First up, The Man in the Picture by Susan Hill.

'Oliver' is staying in rooms at his old university in Cambridge, during school holidays, so that he can visit and spend time with his old professor, Theo Parmitter. Theo is very elderly now and retired but used to dabble a bit in the buying and selling of works of art. He points out a particular piece he has to Oliver, a piece that Theo has hung in a corner out of the way. It's a depiction of a carnival scene in Venice and Oliver is strangely drawn to the painting but repelled by it at the same time. Over the space of a couple of evenings, ensconced by the fire, Theo recounts the manner in which he came across the painting and the sinister effect it has had on life ever since.

To my mind Susan Hill writes her ghost stories very much in the style of M.R. James. They tend to be written in that same old-fashioned 'academic' style which is such a pleasure to read - her The Woman in Black is one of my all-time favourite supernatural tales for instance. Thus I had expectations of this book and I was not at all disappointed. Hill sets a very cosy scene to start off with but an air of menace quickly builds. There are stories within stories too - Theo describing how he went to Yorkshire to meet a previous owner of the painting for instance - that chapter so reminded me of a recently read book, The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield. For me this is a classic little ghost story. I liked everything about it, the setting, the atmosphere, the nice twist at the end. Great stuff - and even better... I picked this hardback up in a charity shop for 80p!

Book 5 for Carl's RIP IV challenge.

Next up, Good Behaviour by Molly Keane.

Aroon is the product of Irish/British aristocracy from just before WW1. She, her parents, and brother, Hubert, once lived at Temple Alice, a crumbling mansion somewhere in Ireland. They lived the high life, hunting, shooting, fishing, money no object. But the story begins with Aroon, her sick mother, and Rose, a sort of house-keeper living in a small house and fighting over whether the invalid should be given rabbit to eat. It's clear they are in very straightened circumstances. The narrator, Aroon, goes right back to the beginning to tell us all about her life...

I didn't realise this was a Virago Modern Classic until I had finished it, as of course the old green covers are no more. I probably would have had more of an idea what to expect if I'd known. This is not a cheerful story. Aroon's history is one of real sadness. She's tall and ungainly - on the big side as grows into womanhood. She doesn't realise it but from everything she says it's quite clear the rest of the family regard her as a bit of a joke. They keep things from her on a tragic scale - the family finances, her brother's sexuality, even her own sexuality is a complete mystery to her. At the same time they fill her head with that sense of upper-class superiority that will make her totally incapable of coping with the realities of life once the inevitable happens. The whole thing is quite appalling.

This is a brilliantly written novel. I know very little about Molly Keane other than this was one of her later books, written after she'd given up writing for many years. The sadness of the story is almost overwhelming - a couple of times I had to set it aside as I didn't want to read what was coming next. It's an odd kind of story where the narrator is completely decieved as to events but the reader is as privy to them as the other characters. I don't know much about it but this seems to me to be very clever writing indeed. At some stage I would like to read more of Molly Keane's work, but perhaps not just yet.

Book 22 for J.Kaye's Support your local Library challenge.


Sunday, 4 October 2009

A Christmas Journey

I spent the day with my daughter on Thursday and this next book is a library book that she handed me saying, 'You'll like this one, Mum'. It was A Christmas Journey by Anne Perry. Now Anne Perry is an author I've been aware of for a while. I've been told she writes cracking good historical crime of the Victorian variety and I think there's a WW1 series too, but I'm not sure if that's a crime series or not. So, when my daughter handed me this novella by her, I took it happily and have been reading it over the last couple of days.

Lady Vespasia Cumming-Gould is at a weekend house party, their host, Omegus Jones, is a man greatly respected by Vespasia. There are sundry other guests, including attractive young widow, Gwendolen Kilmuir, who is hoping soon to become engaged to another of the guests, Bertie Rosythe. But Vespasia's friend, Isobel, another widow, is jelaous of Gwendolen and doesn't mince her words. She makes a cruel remark to Gwendolen, resulting in the woman's suicide later that night.

Omegus and Vespasia decide to find out what happened and the assembled group agree that if Isobel is culpable then she should seek 'forgiveness and expiation' by delivering the news, along with Gwendolen's last letter, to her mother in Scotland. Vespasia offers to go with her and thus a long and arduous journey to, and around, Scotland begins... just a week or so before Christmas.

This would make a really good Christmas crime read for anyone that way inclined. There is a crime involved obviously, but also there is a bit of a travel journal of Scotland (I believe Anne Perry lives there), lots of snow and mountains and so on. There is also quite bit of social commentary on the times. The manner in which a Victorian widow became surplus to requirements for instance, and the only way she could re-establish her place in society was to marry again. Also the way in which people were ostracised if they broke the very strict codes of conduct - women especially - men were often forgiven or somehow managed to blame someone else for their misdemeanour. As I'm sure everyone knows, life was hard for women back then, even for those in the more privileged classes.

I liked this slim little volume a lot. It was writen in 2003 and was the first of Perry's Christmas crime novellas, which I think she's now quite well known for. I'll certainly be reading more of her work if I spot it in the library and this is in fact my 21st. book for my Support your Local Library challenge which is being hosted by J. Kaye.


It seems I'm a thief because I loved Nymeth's idea of posting a photo of books she hopes to read in the near future, here, and stole it. My pile is quite a bit smaller as I'm a slow reader who doesn't want to get depressed at her lack of progress! LOL.

A fairly mixed bag there... but of course that's not all because I have what is, for *me* anyway, a fairly large library pile. This is they:

Some of these are random grabs, some are books or authors I saw blogged about or were recced to me - Witch Wood by John Buchan, Molly Keane, Shirley Jackson - and there are also three non-fictions because I'm determined to keep on reading that kind of book even though I've finished the Non-fiction Five challenge.

So there you go... plenty of good reading for the autumn months ahead.

And lastly, we were in the seaside town of Teignmouth on Thursday. I hardly took any photos at all as we are there a lot and I know I've posted photos of the area here before. But I took a couple and was particularly pleased with this one, which I thought I'd share. October on the south Devon coast:


Friday, 2 October 2009

The 13th. Tale

*Fanfare* At last I have read The Thirteenth Tale! It's been on my tbr mountain for a couple of years, I've had it on lists for at least three challenges, maybe more, but just not got to it. This year, encouraged by Deslily, I decided it was high time its tbr status was no more. So I added it to my pool of books for Carl's RIP IV challenge for which it is a perfect read.

Margaret Lea is a young woman who is seriously into books. Her thing is Victorian literature, which is lucky as her father owns an antiquarian bookshop and she has helped him with his work since she was a young girl. Her mother has nothing to do with the shop and in fact has problems with depression. Margaret's relationship with her is strained and Margaret has no idea why until one day she discovers a secret about her birth.

Summoned, one day, to Yorkshire by famous author, Vida Winter, Margaret is confused as to why the author apparently wants her to write about her life when so many have tried before and been lied to by Vida. At first reluctant, Margaret decides to go and finds herself on the lonely Yorkshire moors, in a large country house that is hiding many secrets.

Miss Winter agrees to tell Margaret the truth about her life and thus begins a series of stories about the Angelfield family, specifically twins, Adeline and Emmeline, but also their mother, Isabel, and her brother, Charles, their housekeeper, the Missus, and gardener, John-the-dig. There is much to be told and huge secrets that Margaret wants to know more quickly than Miss Winter wishes to tell her. Margaret travels to the ruins of Angelfield House and senses ghosts from the past but also meets some very real people who are connected to the mystery somehow. Will she get to the bottom of it all before Miss Winter's very obvious illness reaches its ultimate conclusion?

To tell the truth this book is very difficult to explain. There are so many twists and turns that it's almost impossible to talk about it without giving away spoilers. I can say the atmosphere is quite gothic without giving anything away. There are nods to authors such as The Bronte sisters, especially books such as Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights, Daphne du Maurier, Wilkie Collins and Henry James and I loved that as it kept me guessing about connections... usually sending me off in the wrong direction but what fun!

This is such a good book, it really is. It would appeal in particular to anyone who likes a good mystery or a ghost story but I'm certain it would also be enjoyed by anyone who just loves a darn good read. It's certainly made me fancy rereading books such as The Woman in White and Jane Eyre, and Rebecca needs to go onto the reading list for next year too. (I can't remember if I've read that book or not.) What better than a thoroughly good read that inspires you to go on to read other really good books?

I can't seem to discover whether Diane Setterfield is writing another book. There's no mention of it anywhere but I sincerely hope she is after the success of The Thirteenth Tale. This is a seriously good writer and it would be an awful shame if all we got from her was one book. Fingers crossed.

This is my 4th. book for Carl's RIP IV challenge.

Monday, 28 September 2009

The Cruellest Journey and N-F Five wrap-up

I suddenly realised that the finishing date for the Non-Fiction Five challenge, being hosted by Trish's Reading Nook, was rapidly approaching and I still only had four books read. So I took a quick look at the pile and chose The Cruellest Journey by Kira Salak to read.

Kira Salak is an American woman who apparently likes to go on crazy journeys. Her friends and family all think she's mad and even she admits to being a little bit insane. This book sees her deciding to follow in the footsteps of Mungo Park who, in 1795, set out on the first of his two journeys to chart the course of the river Niger in West Africa. Her plan is to do the bit from Ségou to Timbuktu in Mali, a trip of about 600 miles, by kayak. She knows full well how dangerous this journey will be. She's a white woman travelling alone in a Muslim country where, if the truth be known, things haven't changed much since Park undertook his trip. Added to that she has a pathological fear of hippos, of which there are a great many on this river.

Interesting stuff this one. I love a good travel book and this was a good one *except* I did wonder at times whether she wasn't just a trifle foolhardy. As she travels up river the various tribes she encounters become less and less friendly. Men seem to make a beeline for her, either for money or other, rather more obvious, reasons. She sees young men sporting T shirts bearing the image of Osama Bin Laden and it dawns on her that this is not just for fun. I understand wanting a challenge but to willingly put yourself into so much danger seems strange. Towards the end of the journey she makes this observation:

I decide to ignore the man and paddle as hard as I can. He runs after me for a while but finally gives up. So much for my fifteen minutes of in-the-moment bliss. The fear is back, sitting like a bad meal in my gut. Every time the river curves, I look ahead for sight of men lying in wait for me in canoes, the river getting more and more narrow. I realise, but without surprise, that I've lived with constant fear on this trip. Fear of being chased, assaulted, robbed. Fear of bad weather and waves that might capsize my boat. Lots of fear. Fear of the wind, of harsh storms. Fear of hippos, crocodiles. Fear of being harassed by young men in passing boats, or of having my things stolen if I stop at villages. Endless fear.

I understand the fascination with parts of Africa that are still a mystery but to put up with the things she did for not much of a reason, and not to even get much enjoyment or satisfaction out of it - I find that questionable. She did redeem herself at the end with certain actions and I did find her stance on the treatment of women and slaves in Mali laudable. I learnt a fair bit and I must say that the writing was beautiful. It was an interesting book all told, and I own Travels in the Interior of Africa by Mungo Park and plan to read that at some stage because Salak's book has made me curious about it. Plus Salak has written another travel book: Four Corners: A Journey into the Heart of Papua New Guinea although, judging by one of the Amazon reviews, she was just as foolhardy on that trip too! I'll probably see if the library has that.

So, that was my fifth and final book for the Non-Fiction Five challenge. The books I read were:

Birds, Beasts and Relatives by Gerald Durrell (memoirs, nat. history)
Solomon Time by Will Randall (travel)
Trains and Buttered Toast by John Betjeman (essays)
On Hitler's Mountain by Irmgard Hunt (memoirs, history)
The Cruellest Journey by Kira Salak (travel)

I've enjoyed each and every one but if I had to choose a favourite it would be On Hitler's Mountain by Irmgard Hunt. Many thanks to Trish of Trish's Reading Nook for hosting the challenge and making me read some non-fiction!

Saturday, 26 September 2009

Reading bliss

A cup of tea
A quiet nook
A cookie and
A picture book
A lump of sugar
On my spoon -
Now that's a perfect afternoon.

~~Eileen Spinelli~~

Sounds good to me... well maybe not the lump of sugar and I'm about to start The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield rather than a picture book... but still the essence of a nice quiet afternoon is in those words. Our grandson is spending the night with us tonight but until he arrives at five, I'm off for my 'perfect afternoon'.

Tuesday, 22 September 2009

Uncle Montague and Inspector Ghote

For the last week I've been reading two books along side each other, so it's only fitting that they be reviewed together, especially as I enjoyed both equally.

First up, it's Uncle Montague's Tales of Terror by Chris Priestly. I saw this in the library some months ago but at the time was not in the mood for 'spooky' and promptly forgot all about it. It was only when I saw this post of Carl's at Stainless Steel Droppings that I was reminded of the book and decided to get hold of it to read for Carl's R.I.P. IV challenge.

Edgar is a young boy who doesn't really gel that well with his mother and father. The only member of his family he feels any connection with is his Uncle Montague. He visits him regularly when he's not at school, having to endure a spooky walk through the woods in order to get to his uncle's even spookier house. Once there and settled in front of the fire with tea and biscuits, Uncle Montague regales the boy with tales of the macabre that always seem to be connected to some object in the room. A picture frame, a pair of binoculars, a wierd looking carved bench end and so forth. Slowly but surely Edgar begins to realise that there's some secret behind the tales that he can't quite grasp at...

Chris Priestley apparently wrote this book as a homage to ghost story writer, M.R. James ('Montague' was his christian name). It is in fact a book of short stories linked by a common theme, so short stories... but not exactly. Having read quite a lot of tales by M.R James I can say with all honesty that the 'homage' is a splendid one. Priestly has captured James's academic, ghostly writings perfectly and done what I would not have believed possible - turned them into a book for young adults. All the spookiness is there in spades but written in a very readable form. On the back cover of my copy is a small footnote, ' This is a seriously scary book - younger readers be warned!' And I would agree with that. My nine year old grandaughter could read this easily but I wouldn't give it to her for another three or four years as it's too frightening. Even I, sitting up in bed at midnight reading it, found myself looking around the room at times, and listening to noises after I'd turned out the light. Brilliant. And I don't say that lightly. And beautifully illustrated by David Roberts too. At the same time as I sent for this I also sent for Priestly's second book, Tales of Terror from the Black Ship and I'm finding it really, really hard to leave it alone and get on with other reading I need to do. If ever a book was calling to me...

Next up, Inspector Ghote's First Case by H.R.F. Keating. This was a random grab from the library; I was attracted by the idea of a crime book set in India. When I got home and checked FantasticFiction I discovered that the book I'd picked up was in fact book 25 in what is a very long series indeed.

Assistant Inspector Ghote of the Bombay police force and his wife, Protima, are expecting their first baby when a letter arrives informing him that he has been promted to Inspector. He is given a couple of weeks off before taking up his post but is all of a sudden summoned to the house of Sir Rustom Engineer, the first Indian after Independence to be made head of the police in India. Sir Rustom has received a letter from an old acquaintance, Robert Dawkins. It seems Dawkins' wife has committed suicide and he's desperate to find out why. He begs the help of Sir Rustom and Sir Rustom decides to send the newly promoted Inspector Ghote to Mahableshwar, in the foothills of the Himalayas, to investigate. Ghote discovers that Dawkins' house is called Primrose Cottage but there are no primroses, and the head manservant has far too many turbans than is strictly decent. And what does the gardener's boy know... and why has the local police inspector - a bully known to Ghote from police college days - closed the case so quickly? Things are not at all what they seem and Ghote has his work cut out in doing this favour for Sir Rustom.

The setting for this book is early sixties India and you get a real flavour of India at the time and the way in which Indians taking over from the British in key jobs were treated by Brits who decided to stay on. In a nutshell - not very well, by some of them at least. Keating's Inspector Ghote doesn't let this get to him though, he's a methodical man, if somewhat indecisive, destined by the sound of it to be a very good policeman. I found him charming and realistic, I could 'hear' his voice loud and clear throughout the book and loved his very human characteristics. It didn't matter at all that this was book 25 in the series, in a way I suspect this might be a good grounding to continue with the rest of the books, a sort of prequel if you like. Because, yes, I will continue with this series; I liked this book tremendously, it was charming and atmospheric and beautifully written and I can well see why H.R.F. Keating was a recipient of the CWA Diamond Dagger Award. Superb.

Inspector Ghote's First case is book 20 for my Support Your Local Library challenge which is being hosted by J. Kaye.