Thursday, 31 March 2011


I've now read my very first Kindle book! Author, Steve Emmett, wrote to me to ask if I would care to read and review his debut book, Diavolino. I was about to write back to say that I couldn't because I was, sadly, Kindle-less, when another exact same request arrived. That put a stop to my dilly-dallying over whether or not to get one so I took the plunge and am now a fully paid up member of Clueless Owners of New Technology. Anyway, Steve's book was my first foray into actually reading a book on it.

Tom Lupton is a London based architect, married to Elspeth; they have a five year old daughter, Alice. They are all quite happy and settled in the capital. Then one of Tom's most important clients offers him a chance to build a dream house on a mysterious island on an Italian Lake. Tom and Elspeth are not sure about such a life-changing move but are eventually persuaded by the prospect of a few years in beautiful Italy.

What they find when they get there is a stunningly beautiful setting but a few locals who are not exactly thrilled to see them. Foreigners, it appears, are not welcomed by all. And then little Alice starts 'seeing' things around their temporary home on the island - strange monkish apparitions. No one quite believes the child although both her parents are also experiencing odd happenings.

Things come to a head when Tom and his assitant, Sima, are out excavating around the new build site. It's covered in weird creepers which clutch at you. Tom's attention is distracted and when he turns around Sima is disappearing into the ground and all he can see is her feet. Frantic, he tries to dig her out but the ground is hard and unyielding. What's happened to her? And what is the history of the island which the locals, and especially the mayor, are trying to hide from them? They eventually discover a macabre story which is centuries old... but what has that got to do with Sima's disappearance? They are soon to find out.

There's a really strong sense of place in this story and for me those are the best kind of books. I suppose it's the armchair traveller in me speaking, but if I can be transported by a story to somewhere I have never been and can imagine that place almost as though I had actually been there, then that's good writing. Here's Lake Trasimeno where the book is set:

It's clearly very beautiful indeed - I gather the author lived in the area for quite a while and for me that shows over and over. I really appreciate an author using that kind of local knowledge to full effect.

The story itself... well, it probably wouldn't be for everyone but I enjoyed it. Modern horror is not, to be honest, my forté - I prefer Victorian or Edwardian ghost yarns as there's something about gaslit stories of the macabre that I find utterly thrilling. But I'll give anything a go and this tale with its centuries old background gripped me from the start. I read it in a couple of days and I can't decide whether this was to do with Steve's very readable writing style or the ease of reading on a Kindle where you can choose exactly the font size you need. Both I suspect. Whatever, I found myself racing through it, wanting to find out what happens next as it really is 'edge of the seat' stuff.

My final point is something I'm not quite sure how to phrase. Erm... I find it, shall we say, 'refreshing', when male authors write about men as they really *are*. If you've been married a very long time, as I have, you tend to know these things but it's surprising how many female authors, writing men, don't seem to get it. The reverse is true too of course, many male authors don't write realistic women either, but that's not the point here. Steve's male characters rang very true and 'were' definitely blokes... not watered down versions of the reality.

All in all a good debut novel - creepy, suspenseful, atmospheric and, for me anyway, a lot of fun. And also a nice start to my Kindle reading experience - I'm thrilled with my new toy to be honest and love how pleasant it was to read a book on it. I'm sure it won't replace my proper books but as an additional reading tool it's brilliant.

Monday, 28 March 2011


I'm doing fairly well with my challenges this year, a couple of books read for both and the first book for Carl's Once Upon a Time V challenge is now under my belt: Beauty by Robin McKinley.

Grace, Hope and Honour are three sisters, the daughters of a wealthy ship-owner, whose mother died when they were young. Honour hates her name and thinks being beautiful is preferable to being honourable and thus, from when she is very young, is called 'Beauty' by everyone who knows her. This turns out to be a misnomer, as it happens, because as she grows it becomes apparent that Beauty is not beautiful like her sisters - in fact, she thinks of herself as rather plain.

Luckily they're a very close-knit family. When their father's business fails and they are all rendered destitute, one of his employees, Germain, offers marriage to Hope and a place for them all at his new forge, inland, in his remote home village. Miles from anywhere in fact, in a small village surrounded by a large forest. They accept his offer and a new life begins, one of hard work and simple pleasures with new neighbours who are welcoming and supportive. One thing Germain insists on though, is that none of them should ever go into the forest as it's known locally to be enchanted and dangerous.

Returning from a journey, late one night, the father gets lost in bad weather. Mistaking his way he ends up in the middle of the forest and eventually discovers a castle. Here there is no bad weather and beautiful roses are blooming. He picks one for Beauty and brings the wrath of the castle owner down upon his head - The Beast. The Beast tells him that he'll allow him to leave but he has to return within a week with his youngest daughter.

Back home, the father admits to what has happened. The whole family are horrified and against Beauty going but she won't hear of it and volunteers to go back with her father. Devastated at having to leave her family, but determined to go through with it, Beauty leaves for the castle, having no idea what her fate will be or whether she will ever see her beloved sisters again.

I have to say first of all that I have a well developed dislike for retold fairy tales. I'm not sure why but think it might be to do with the fact that I like unpredictability in my reading, I don't want to know how the story is going to pan out before I even start. And of course, with a retold fairy tale the story and ending is well known by everyone.

That said, I do have quite a fondness for the story of Beauty and the Beast. The idea of falling in love with someone, not because of their good looks, but because of their good character and intelligence greatly appeals to me. I've only read one book by Robin McKinley, Sunshine, a vampire story which I absolutely love, and I was curious to see how she handled this completely predictable story. Very nicely is the answer to that question. The story is beautifully narrated in the first person - Beauty is a delight in that she's down to earth, has no airs and graces and is brave and 'honourable' as her proper name suggests. It also doesn't harm that she's bookish! You can't help but like her. The Beast is also nicely drawn... I love the idea that his library is full of books that don't yet exist and thus Beauty is able to read Sherlock Holmes!

The sense of place is also very good... I'm a forest and mountains sort of person anyway so that helps but it does sound idyllic regardless of that; the descriptions are beautiful as the family go about their new pioneer style life. (Think Little House in the Big Woods by Laura Ingalls Wilder). I was rather envious, I must admit, despite the fact that the family's fortunes were ruined. It struck me they hadn't ended up with such a bad bargain.

So, am I converted to retold fairy tales now? Nope. LOL. I did quite enjoy this one but that's probably enough now for at least another year. I picked the book up in a charity shop ages ago and several times I've been on the brink of putting it in the charity shop box, unread. But I'm glad I didn't as it made a delightful and easy start to Carl's challenge.

Saturday, 26 March 2011

My series update

Time to update my book series post; as usual this is really for my own records and is an update of the one I did in 2010. Basically it's to save me from having to go back that far every time I need to update numbers. This is a serious thing for me because this list really does help me to keep track of the series that I'm reading. What it also proves is how slack I am at finishing them! *And* what an easy target I am for shiny new ones. The other thing that's starting to be apparent is that I'm doing better with crime series than I am my other love... fantasy. And 15 months on from my last proper update this is even *more* the case now than it was then. I continue to be bemused at this radical change in my reading habits.


Sci Fi, Fantasy and horror - both adult and young adult:

The Temeraire series – Naomi Novik (read 2)
The Wess'har series - Karen Traviss (read 2)
The Thursday Next series - Jasper Fforde (read 2)
The Jackelian series - Stephen Hunt (read 1)
The Harry Dresden series - Jim Butcher (read 1)
The Mercy Thompson series - Patricia Briggs (read 4)
The Mortal Engines series – Philip Reeve (read 3)
Septimus Heap - Angie Sage (read 5)

The Women of the Otherworld series – Kelley Armstrong (read 1)
The Nightrunner series - Lynn Flewelling (read 3)
The Dark is Rising sequence - Susan Cooper (read 3)

The Pern books – Anne McCaffrey (read many, need to continue)
The Newford books – Charles de Lint (read 1)
The Darkover series – Marion Zimmer Bradley (read 2)
The Majipoor Chronicles - Robert Silverberg (read 1)

Crime - modern and historical:

Charlie Parker - John Connolly - (read 6... up to book 7)
Grant County - Karin Slaughter - (read 2)
Matthew Shardlake – C.J. Sansom (read 2)
Merrily Watkins - Phil Rickman (read 3)
Anna Pigeon - Nevada Barr (read 2)
Flavia de Luce - Alan Bradley (read 4)
Daisy Dalrymple - Carola Dunn (read 12)
Rizzoli and Isles - Tess Gerritsen (read 6)
Ruth Galloway series - Elly Griffiths (read 4)
Mma Ramotswe - A. McCall Smith (read 9)
Armand Gamache – Louise Penny (read 4)
Lake District series - Martin Edwards (read 3)
The Shetland mysteries - Ann Cleeves (read 2)
Inspector Montalbano - Andrea Camilleri (read 4)
Mary Russell/Sherlock Holmes – Laurie R. King (read 4)

Oscar Wilde mysteries - Gyles Brandreth (read 1)
Jean-Baptiste Adamsberg series - Fred Vargas (read 1)
Simon Serailler – Susan Hill (read 1)


Isabel Dalhousie - A. McCall Smith (read 6)
Mapp and Lucia – E.F. Benson (read 2)
Diary of a Provincial Lady – E.F. Delafield (read 1)
The ‘Anne’ books – L.M. Montgomery (read 1)
The Little House series – Laura Ingalls Wilder (read 5 up to book 6)
Miss Read books - (read 10)
The Barchester Chronicles - Anthony Trollope (read 2)

Series I want to read: (mainly fantasy)

The Wit’ch series – James Clemens
Alpha and Omega - Patricia Briggs
The Priestess of the White trilogy – Trudi Canavan

The Liveship Traders and Tawny Man trilogies – Robin Hobb

The Soldier Son Trilogy – Robin Hobb
The Pellinor series – Alison Croggon
The Coldfire trilogy – Celia Friedman
The Fionavar Tapestry trilogy – Guy Gavriel Kay
The Gardella Vampire Chronicles – Colleen Gleason
The Tamir Triad – Lynn Flewelling
The Gregor series - Suzanne Collins

And if anyone can think of any other series that I really ought to be reading please feel free to leave a comment.

Thursday, 24 March 2011

Happy Birthday!

I don't usually do birthday posts here, mainly because it tends to be a Live Journal thing to wish all your followers a happy birthday - on Blogger, not so much. But I'm going to today as Pat at Here There and Everywhere is a very special lady who deserves all the good wishes in the world. I think I'm right in saying that it was one of Carl's challenges that brought us together, most likely one of the R.I.P. ones. Pat commented on one of my posts and you know how it is... we just hit it off. We had a lot in common, both huge fans of Star Trek, both into fantasy books for both kids and adults and so on. There seemed no end to the stuff we had in common. That was several years ago and Pat has become the sister I never had, we e.mail, talk on the phone from time to time and as soon as I can get to Florida we'll be meeting, rest assured. Someone better call a Florida newspaper *that* day! And Hubby had best be ready with several boxes of tissues. Anyway, the point of all this is that it's Pat's birthday today and I want to wish my wonderful, funny, sparkling, smart, amazing 'sister' many happy returns of the day. May you have many more birthdays, Pat, and continue to brighten my life.

And here're some more bluebells to go with you card. And if there aren't bluebells in Kesterwood then there's just no justice!

Happy Birthday, Sis.

Wednesday, 23 March 2011

Garlic and Sapphires

It seems that my non-fiction reading this year has been based on books about food. There's a reason for this of course and that is that I'm doing the Foodie challenge which is being hosted by Margot at Joyfully Retired. Garlic and Sapphires by Ruth Reichl is my book two for the challenge.

Ruth Reichl was living happily in California with her husband and young son, working as food critic for the LA Times, when she was offered the job of food critic for the New York Times. She didn't exactly jump at the chance, even though her husband was very keen for her to take the job. Her lifestyle and working conditions in LA were very laid-back, comfortable in fact, and she knew that a position at the NY Times would be anything but.

She takes the job however, but, on one of her scouting trips, discovers on the plane over that her face has been on posters that have been hung in every commercial kitchen in the city. For a food critic it's important to be anonymous and Ruth realises that now she never will be and that this is going to cause a major problem.

Her solution to this is unusual. She calls a make-up artist friend of her late mother and together they create various disguises for Ruth to adopt as she goes about her work in the restaurants.

First up is Molly Hollis, a rather frumpy woman of a certain age:

I bought a dowdy Armani suit that was three sizes too large; Claudia insisted that I wear a padded bra and two thick skirts beneath it to give me more girth. I found a proper little purse and Mom's old diamond ring. Bit by bit the clothing came together. It took almost two months before Claudia pronounced the costume complete.

I raised my head and opened my eyes. Looking into the mirror, I found a woman I did not recognize staring straight at me.
"Meet Molly," said Claudia. I could not speak. I found myself moving my lips to see if hers would move too. They did. I wiggled my nose; Molly's nose wiggled. I raised my fingers; she raised hers. I waved. She waved back. Claudia tapped my arm and said gently, "I believe it's showtime."

What happens as a result of this transformation is that Ruth is treated like anyone else in the restaurant they go to. Well, not quite. She doesn't look like their normal clientele; she's not wealthy or beautifully dressed - she clearly doesn't really belong and they treat her accordingly. The two ladies are given a small table at the back of the dining room, amongst the smokers, when she has specifically asked for non-smoking. They were subsequently ignored and condescended to by the staff; the evening was not enjoyable or a success in any way, shape, or form.

Subsequent disguises include 'Brenda' the earth mother, 'Chloe' the seductress, and 'Miriam', a startlingly realistic caricature of her own mother. What Ruth discovers is that these disguises not only transform her outward appearance, they transform her inwardly as well. She finds herself talking, reacting and even eating as they would.

Ruth now has the ammunition to write the kind of food column unknown up to now on the NY Times, one where the rating is based on what really happens, not on how the esteemed critic is fawned over from the moment she arrives at a restaurant until she leaves.

I found this pretty much unputdownable. I think the writing style accounts for this; it's very, very readable and the author injects almost a sense of suspense as you wonder how she's going to be treated in the various posh restaurants she frequents. She always gave the place three or four visits so it was fascinating to compare the different treatments meted out.

It was also interesting to read about the other places she liked to eat with her family or friends. The smaller, less well known, ethnic places or the family restaurants where children were welcome and they didn't care who you were. I found myself wanting to go to the Korean or Chinese places, the food sounded amazing.

Dynamics with colleagues at the NY Times building were also quite fascinating. How she was treated by various old-style and then new editors, the reactions of the former critic to her columns (he wrote vicious letters to the editor saying she should be sacked), and her friendship with Carol, one of the secretaries.

Also included in the book are some of Ruth's favourite recipes - New York cheesecake, hash browns, roast leg of lamb, last minute chocolate cake and so on. A nice addtion to the book I thought.

In short, this is a very good read for anyone even vaguely interested in food writing or eating out. Even if you're not particularly I think this would be of interest as just a jolly good, well written, interesting book. Plus, I always enjoy any book set in New York as the atmosphere, even though I've never - sadly - been there, seems unique. I'll also, almost certainly, be seeking out other foodie books by Ruth Reichl.

Monday, 21 March 2011

Once Upon a Time V

I know that here in the UK daffodils and primroses are blooming but I never think that Spring has truly arrived until Carl's Once Upon a Time challenge is once again upon us. I did his Sci Fi experience this year, so I had something to tide me over as it's a long time between the 31st. October and the 21st. March! But all the time I've been waiting for this, one of his main challenges, and am delighted that, at last, it's time.

Once again there are various options in the form of quests. I'll be doing...

Read at least 5 books that fit somewhere within the Once Upon a Time criteria. They might all be fantasy, or folklore, or fairy tales, or mythology…or your five books might be a combination from the four genres.

I don't know how Carl manages to find such beautiful artwork every time for his challenges but he's done it again. This year's artwork is the work of Anne-Julie Aubry and it is just beautiful.

I'm trying to read a bit more from my tbr pile this year so my pool of books is based mainly on that this time. I suspect I won't just read from that though... I'm certain someone will read something that I must have and will want to read for the challenge. And really that's part of the fun so I'm not going to deny myself that. But if, amongst my books, I can read three or four from this list then I'll be a happy bunny.

The Eyre Affair - Jasper Fforde
Lost in a Good Book - Jasper Fforde
Storm Front - Jim Butcher
The Wood Wife - Terri Windling
Eric - Terry Pratchett
The Ropemaker - Peter Dickinson
The Snow Spider Trilogy - Jenny Nimmo
The Lies of Locke Lamora - Scott Lynch
Beauty - Robin McKinley
Labyrinth - Kate Mosse
Jack of Kinrowan - Charles de Lint
The Ill-Made Mute - Cecilia Dart-Thornton
The Court of the Air - Stephen Hunt
Daughter of the Forest - Juliet Marillier
The Door into Fire - Diane Duane
The Islands of the Blessed - Nancy Farmer

Some of these have sitting on my tbr pile for years and I know have been on previous OUaT lists of mine. I feel quite ashamed of that but such is the way with book addicts... there are worse sins. :-)

Anyway, I'm looking forward to seeing what others have on their lists and thanks to Carl for once again hosting this brilliant challenge.


Sunday, 20 March 2011

Library Loot!

Library Loot is a weekly event co-hosted by
Marg and Claire that encourages bloggers to share the books they’ve checked out from the library. If you’d like to participate, just write up your post-feel free to steal the button-and link it using the Mr. Linky any time during the week. And of course check out what other participants are getting from their libraries!

I had a good clear out of my library books last week, admitting to myself that I'm only in the mood for undemanding books at the moment. So this is my current library pile:

From the bottom:
The Lost Art of Gratitude & 44 Scotland Street by Alexander McCall Smith. The first is book something or other *g* in his Isabel Dalhousie series, the next in line for me to read anyway. The second, 44 Scotland Street, is the first in the series of the same name which I need to try as so many folk seem to like it. Exactly what I need... another new series.

Library Confidential: Oddballs, Geeks and Gangstas in the Public Library by Don Borchert. An American friend grabbed this from her library and I was astonished to find when I checked that our library had it too. This is a non-fiction book which, I'm guessing, does exactly what it says on the tin...

The Grave Tattoo by Val McDermid. Randon grab, I know she has a lot of fans and it's time to see if I might be one of them.

The Apprentice by Tess Gerritsen. Book two in her Rizzoli and Isle series. I'm expecting more blood and gore...

Pilgrim's Rest by Patricia Wentworth. Another totally random crime book grab.

Garlic and Sapphires by Ruth Reichl. I'm reading this for my Foodie challenge. Almost finished now and have thoroughly enjoyed this look at the life of the New York Times food critic.

So, that's it. Seven books on my library pile at the moment. Nothing too testing but that what I seem to want at the moment, so there you go.


And just to add to this post, a couple of random photos. First up, the first of our spring primroses. The hard winter has knocked them back a bit but a few have come through nicely.

And secondly, my latest jig-saw puzzle:

It's a scene of The Great Smokey Mountains in the USA, one of the most beautiful areas in the world, imo, along with The Blue Ridge Mountains. We brought this puzzle back for our daughter last time we were there in 2006, looking at the size of the box, I'm not sure how, but we did! Anyway, it was lovely to do... very odd shaped pieces which made it not straightforward at all.

Hope everyone is enjoying the start of Spring here in the UK. Elsewhere I gather that winter is still holding some in its icy grip but here we have bright sunshine and Hubby has already started digging the veg beds with a view to planting a few early seeds. Our own veg are a bit of a way off yet but I can't wait.

Monday, 14 March 2011


Well, I am now the proud owner of a swish new Kindle.

It arrived the day after I ordered it, at 8.00 in the morning. I was flabbergasted. Especially as I'd been given a delivery date of a week hence. I'd been thinking of getting one for several months now. Several close online friends have them and quite a few acquaintances too and every one of them seems to love their Kindle. Then a couple of authors wrote and asked me to review their books and it turned out they were Kindle only. So I took the plunge and ordered... a bit shocked at myself to be honest as they're not *that* cheap and I'm still wondering if the expense is justified: I have a very large tbr pile so I don't really need it. That said, I'm chuffed to bits with it and love how nice it looks and how easy it is to use.

I'm not planning on filling it full of brand new books, I have to admit. A few maybe, but I'm more attracted by the free stuff available. I downloaded a clutch of books from this site last night:


Two Edith Whartons - The Custom of the Country and In Morroco. Also several pioneer type US travel books such as First Across the Continent by Noah Brooks and The Oregan Trail by Francis Parkman. And a couple of other sundry volumes such as South Sea Tales by Jack London.
The other site I really want to investigate is The Book Depositry's free book site: The Book Depositry

They have loads and loads of free items, many by Dodo Press by the look of it, who do some interesting titles of which I actually own several. I need just a bit (lot!) of time to go through the 13,000 strong list.

I know there are more sites out there too so am looking forward to investigating further. Plus one of the features is that you can put your own files on there, and for free now, by using the address. So, if you're a fan fiction sort of a person you can carry that around with you as well as books. We're away for a few days at the beginning of April (Cornwall) so it'll be lovely not to have to haul a bag of books away with me, but to take my nifty new Kindle instead.


I'm obviously feeling a bit full of the joys of Spring so here're a few flowery photos I took last week at our local National Trust house, Knightshaye's Court:


Sunday, 13 March 2011

The Good Husband of Zebra Drive

I've now read two books for my What's in a Name challenge and thought I was doing well until I saw that some have already finished it. I suppose I like to spread my challenges out a bit - each to his own, as they say. Anyway, my latest for this one is The Good Husband of Zebra Drive by Alexander McCall Smith. It is, I think, book eight in his Mma Ramotswe series of books and is my read for the 'life stage' section of this challenge.

Mma Rammotswe's friend and colleague, Grace Makutsi, is now engaged to Phuti Radiphuti, owner of a local furniture store. Mma Makutsi's circumstances are now completely the reverse to when she started at the No.1 Ladies' Detective Agency, when she was very poor, unable to find employment despite excellent results from her secretarial college, and looking after a very sick brother. Her fiance is a wealthy man and she really has very little need to work at all any more and thus, little things with her job are starting to annoy her... mainly her employer's tendency to find fault with Mma Makutsi's habit of plain speaking, sometimes to the point of rudeness.

Other changes are afoot. Mma Ramotswe's husband, Mr. J.L.B. Matakoni wants to take a more active role in the detective agency and is given a case to investigate. And Charlie, the older of his apprentices, wants to leave the garage where he's an apprentice mechanic, and start a taxi business.

Cases are piling up. The rudest woman in Gabarone wants to know who her husband is having an affair with. A printing business is experiencing petty theft - its owner thinks she knows who the culprit is but needs proof. And in Mma Ramotswe's home village of Mochudi a cousin has reported three deaths in the hospital where he works. It seems the deaths have all taken place in the same bed, in the same ward, on the same day of the week and at the same time. It's peculiar to say the least. Precious investigates but meets a wall of silence, no one, it seems, knows anything. The other two cases are investigated by Mr. J.L.B. Matekoni and Mma Makutsi, but all three eventually surprise everyone with their outcomes.

I never fail to be charmed by this series. Someone (I can't remember who now) on My Life in Books had the first book as one of their book choices. They said that the crime element is really incidental and I would agree with that wholeheartedly. They're really all about the people in them, their relationships with each other, how it's possible to make the world a better place by treating one another with decency and kindness. I would call these books - and thus the author - wise because he stresses in every book that things are not always black and white. People do things for reasons that are not always obvious, sometimes they just don't know any better. In Africa it's often the case that if you sack the breadwinner a whole family starves or a dependent relative who is HIV positive will die for lack of medical attention. These things have to be considered and consider them Mma Ramotswe does. That's probably why she's one of my favourite characters in literature at the moment.

It's all done with such gentle hunour too. Mma Makutsi's 97% at secretarial college is a constant source of wry amusement. But it's often her personal musings that tickle me the most:

... she found herself looking down on the top of Teenie's head; at a small woollen bobble, in fact, which topped a curious tea-cosy style knitted cap which she was wearing. She looked more closely at it, wondering if she could make out an opening through which a tea pot spout might project; she could not see an opening, but there was a very similar tea cosy in the office, she remembered, and perhaps she or Mma Ramotswe might wear it on really cold days. She imagined how Mma Ramotswe would look in a tea cosy and decided that she would probably look rather good: it might add to her authority, perhaps, in some indefinable way.

Oh yes... I can just imagine Mma Ramotswe's face if Grace suggested she put a tea cosy on her head. ;-)

What I would say is that if you like to read only proper crime books then this series is probably not for you. But if you have an interest in Africa and its people, in the dynamics of family or working relationships or just simply love people centred books with a bit of philosophy thrown in, then you could do a lot worse than try this delightful series of books. They're certainly one of my all-time favourite comfort reads.


Wednesday, 9 March 2011

The Tapestry of Love

When Rosy Thornton e.mailed me to ask if I would like a copy of her latest book, The Tapestry of Love, I had to think hard about it. I knew it was set in France and to tell the truth I avoid books set there like the plague. The reason? Well, a much loved sister-in-law and her husband moved there in the mid-nineties. It was a financial and healthwise disaster from start to finish, culminating in the husband dying of pancreatic cancer and my sister-in-law of a brain tumour two years later. This kind of thing is not conducive to good memories of a country. So I thought long and hard, decided that my sister-in-law would have said I was being a wimp and said 'yes please'.

The book begins with Catherine Parkstone arriving in France to start a new life. She's leaving behind two adult children in their twenties, a sister who's a lawyer and a mother with Alzheimers who lives in a home. Catherine is divorced, her husband having left her for a younger woman, although the couple are on reasonably good terms. Obviously this is a brand new start for Catherine whose plan is to settle into a newly bought house in a small (very) village in the Cévennes, a mountainous region of southern France. In order to make ends meet she plans to be a needlewoman, taking on soft furnishing jobs and taking commissions for her tapestries.

And that's it really. I don't want to give too many spoilers away but basically the story revolves around how she settles in and gets to know her neighbours. I loved this aspect of the book. I haven't been to the Cévennes, my sister-in-law lived first of all on the edge of the Dorgogne and then moved further north close to the Vendée. Her first house was in the middle of nowhere, but she did have farming neighbours just like the couple in this book. Everything was so familiar, their way of life, the markets, the giving of little gifts. It was startlingly accurate. When she moved to a small village she woke one morning to find another local farmer had been around and cut her grass with his machine without being asked, just as Catherine's neighbour did for her.

I absolutely adored the descriptions of the local area, the mountains, woods and valleys in particular. The author takes the time to give the reader a real feel for the area and by the sound of it it's absolutely stunning. I pinched this photo from the national park website:

Wow. It's every bit as beautiful as the book implies although I think the heat in the summer would give me personally real problems.

Other things I enoyed - how the author focusses on Catherine's needlework. I don't do much these days but I used to and it was wonderful to hear details of her work and how she went about each project, the threads and materials she used and the use to which each project was put. I found myself wanting photos!

So, all that said, what was I not too keen on? Answer, the romantic stuff.

A bit spoilery...
She gets involved with Patrick, a neighbour who is clearly interested in her too. And then he does something which I found myself very saddened by as by this time I really liked him. I couldn't forgive him for it, even at the end when he said why. In fact... his reasons only made it worse for me and if this were real life I would be worried for her. So did this ruin the book for me? No, certainly not. I like a book that makes me think and this made me ponder on the kind of behaviour some women accept from men and how, unless women stop doing this, the behaviour of - I should say - a *minority* of men, will never get any better. But that's just me... I haven't seen where anyone else was bothered by this and actually it makes the book a lot less predictable that it might otherwise have been. Plus, having strong feelings about certain aspects of a story is *never* a bad thing; in point of fact, it's a good author who can provoke reactions like this in my experience.

Anyway, my thanks to Rosy for allowing me to read her book for free. It's a terrific read... atmospheric with one of the best senses of place I've ever come across. Take it from me, this is the *real* France here, warts and all! I think I may even be over my aversion to books set in that country, though sadly I still have no wish to go back and visit.

I'll be quite happy to pass this one on to anyone else who would like to read and review it. Either e.mail me or leave a comment - I'll post anywhere in the world.

ETA: Book taken - winging its way to Texas as we speak.

Sunday, 6 March 2011

The Surgeon

The Surgeon by Tess Gerritsen is a crime book I've been trying to read for several months. For one reason or another my attempts were unsuccessful but, at long last, I've managed it. So many people have told me how good her books are that I was quite anxious to try them; now I've read one for myself I understand the enthusiasm!

A&E surgeon Catherine Cordell has moved from Savannah to Boston to work in the hospital there. She's trying to forget an appalling sexual assault and near murder where she only survived by shooting and killing her assailant. He is dead, she should be able to rebuild her life, but two years later it's quite clear she has someone else on her trail.

In Boston two women have been murdered and another badly assaulted in exactly the same manner as the Savannah murders and assaults. But the perpetrator is dead so what's going on? Detective Moore, known as 'Saint' Moore', and Jane Rizzoli, a rookie detective not popular because of her prickliness, begin to investigate. It becomes clear that the centre of this investigation is Catherine Cordell but she can hardly remember the events of that fateful night. To Rizzoli's disgust her temporary partner, Moore, for whom she had huge respect, becomes personally involved with the surgeon. Rizzoli makes a bad mistake whilst chasing a supsect and is sidelined in the investigation, but she can't leave it alone, partly because her treatment in the police department mirrors her family life... often ignored in favour of the men. It makes her even more determined to rise above it all and solve this mystery before someone else is brutally murdered.

Well now, the first thing to say about this is how how gory it is. There's blood and guts and vivid descriptions of what goes on in the A&E departments of any large hospital. Plus, graphic descriptions of really nasty bodily assaults on women. This book should so *not* be my thing. I mean *really*. I cannot understand for the life of me why I liked it so much, I really really can't.

On the plus side I really liked Jane Rizzoli. She's describes as 'plain', is abrasive and prickly, but that is understandable. Women are constantly being sidelined in favour of men and an incident where she got back to her desk and found some moron had put a tampon in her bottle of water made me really feel for her. I can actually remember reading of a real life incident like this, otherwise I would think it far-fetched, no man would do this surely? Well yes, as matter of fact, a minority of men *would* do such a degrading thing. So she had my sympathy right from the start and I wanted to see her solve this one and prove she was every bit as good, if not better, than the men.

The story itself is also rather gripping. It's a bit clichéd but a 'roller-coaster ride' describes it very accurately. There's a lot of suspense, plot twists, even a bit of romantic suspense! I really liked it... and I am someone who never watches operations on TV and am definitely not into medical dramas or anything like that. I want to know more about Jane Rizzoli now, not sure how many books there are in this series but book two is The Apprentice and may be connected to book one as far as I can tell. It's just been returned to my local library so I will be on the doorstep first thing tomorrow morning to grab it before anyone else!

Wednesday, 2 March 2011

February round-up

Two months of 2011 have slipped by and March is upon us. Not sure where those two months went but I for one am happy that signs of spring are all around us. I do, in fact, love winter but enough is enough with chest infections, cold bugs and sinus problems... I'm quite content that spring is on the way. I'm not so thrilled that it's followed by summer, but there you go, you can't have everything.

February was not a bad reading month. Six books read, which is very much an average number for me - I occasionally manage eight or even ten but I'm not sure how: six feels comfortable... I loathe being rushed with any book, which is the case at the moment as someone has reserved my current read (The Surgeon by Tess Gerritson) and I have to have it back at the library by Friday. I don't think there'll be a problem as I'm halfway through, I have time to read for a couple of days, *and* it's a fast paced, easy read, but you know... ugh! for having to rush a book.

Anyway. Books read in February:

Thrush Green - Miss Read
The Dark Tower - Marion Zimmer Bradley
Battles at Thrush Green - Miss Read
Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close - Jonathan Safran Foer
Return to Thrush Green - Miss Read
Crossing the Line - Karen Traviss

Not one was a duff read. I don't know if this is because I'm careful what I pick up, or whether it's just luck but I seem to get very few duffers these days. The Miss Reads are charming and nostalgic and make excellent bedtime books. Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close was, for me, an experimental book that I'm very glad to have read. The two sci fi books, The Dark Tower and Crossing the Line were for Carl's Sci Fi experience and were a joyous reminder of my first love in reading - Science Fiction. My favourite read of the month? Crossing the Line by Karen Traviss. I won't bang on any more than I have been about this series, suffice it to say I've been a bit blown away by it and fear that whichever month I read one of this series in, the book will end up being book of the month. Oh well. So be it.

This last month has seen me finish Carl's Sci Fi Experience with three books read. Very pleased about that.

We've also been lucky enough in the UK to have 'proper' book show that's running for two weeks - My Life in Books which is being hosted by Anne Robinson from The Weakest Link.

Apparently, she got the idea for the series when she, or someone, interviewed Chris Evans at the Hay book festival about his favourite books and the audience was fascinated. The series has been a delight (it finishes Friday) with various famous celebs pairing up to talk about favourite books that have influenced their lives. Then Saturday BBC2 is running an entire evening of bookish programmes to celebrate World Book Night. I'm like a kid in a sweet shop as book programmes are so rare on TV and here we are with actual 'choice' because author, Sebastian Faulks, has also had a book programme on for the last few weeks whereby he's talked about various types of characters in fiction: lovers, snobs, villains and so on. I found that series a bit patchy to be honest, one or two were interesting, others not so much.

Coming up this month - Carl's Once Upon a Time challenge which is one I always look forward to and my pile is already on the shelf and growing daily. I'm a happy bunny. :-)