Sunday, 30 December 2012

December books and 2012 round-up

So here we are, at the end of 2012. Where on earth did the year go? I say that every year but this time I feel like it's particularly true - the year has whizzed by like some kind of speeded up movie. Ridiculous. When you get older you want time to slow down, so what does it do? start running away from you... just when your knees are too creaky to allow you to run and catch up! Just great.

So, another year of reading behind me, but first a quick run-down of the 3 books I read in December.

The Black House by Peter May is set on the Isle of Lewis. I'll pinch Amazon's synopsis:

A brutal killing takes place on the Isle of Lewis, Scotland: a land of harsh beauty and inhabitants of deep-rooted faith. A MURDER. Detective Inspector Fin Macleod is sent from Edinburgh to investigate. For Lewis-born Macleod, the case represents a journey both home and into his past. A SECRET. Something lurks within the close-knit island community. Something sinister. A TRAP. As Fin investigates, old skeletons begin to surface, and soon he, the hunter, becomes the hunted.

For me this book was much more about Fin's journey back to his childhood than it was about the murder of a man who was at school with him. I would call this an incredibly well-rounded book because the murder was woven seamlessly into the story of Fin's childhood, both before his parents were killed in a car crash and then after when he goes to live with his aunt. The island itself plays a huge part in the plot, especially the descriptions of the annual guga hunt where men go and harvest young gannets, which are delicacy in restaurants. I would also add that this is one of the most atmospheric and beautifully written books I've read in a long, long time. Fantastic.

Drood by Dan Simmons is a Victorian gothic sort of a novel. On his way home from France, Charles Dickens is involved in a train crash. In the aftermath, as he tries to help the survivors, he sees a nightmare of an individual going from person to person, sucking the souls out of them. He shares this experience with fellow author, Wilkie Collins, and together they set out to find 'Drood'. Their search takes them underground to the sewers and opium dens, and thus to Undertown where Drood has his lair. But is he real, or is he a figment of the imagination? It will take both Dickens and Collins almost a lifetime to discover the answer.

Well, gosh. It seems that people either love or hate this novel. I had no idea which category I would fall into but Pat at Here There and Everywhere loves it so much I had a suspicion I would too. And so it proved. I understand why it might not appeal to some. It meanders all over the place time-wise, there's a lot of extra material about the books the authors wrote, and possibly the supernatural element combined with two real people is not for some. All I can say is that those were precisely the reasons I loved it so much! The book is almost 800 pages long, which apparently indiciates to some that it should have been shortened. I didn't think it was a single page too long. I loved the seedy, Victorian atmosphere, the historical detail, the speculation about Wilkie Collins' relationship with Charles Dickens, the details about Collins' opium addiction and so on. I found it *all* fascinating and completely absorbing. I know some of the historical details are supposition and can't be verified, but that was part of the fun for me... trying to decide what was real and what wasn't. The book has also had the effect of making me want to read more of Collins' work and also Dickens' biography by Clare Tomalin. Oh and Our Mutual Friend. In my mind, when a book has that kind of effect on you it has to be A Good Thing.

Lynn Schooler, the author of Walking Home: A Journey in the Alaskan Wilderness, lives in the town of Juneau in Alaska. He's been married for a few years and is building his wife and himself a new house. It's a hard slog, a day to day grind that's exhausting. He's starting to question whether it's all worth it as he's in his late fifties and now his marriage is seeming very shaky indeed. In order to clear his mind he decides on a journey by boat, and then on foot, up the inhospitable coast of Alaska. Everyone tells him he's completely mad as it's a perilous trip, but of course he goes anyway. I enjoyed this book immensely. The author is amazingly good at describing the landscapes, the wildlife, his feelings, the perils of the journey. He also treats us to some history of the area, the earthquakes, the tsunamis, the explorers, and it is rivetting. All of it. The reader also finds himself rather tied up in the details of the author's marriage and what went wrong. A sad episode. All in all, I thoroughly enjoyed this great read about one man's journey in Alaska and will add it to my American challenge list.


So... books for 2012. Sixty three altogether and twenty books less than 2011! Twenty! I thought it might be ten. LOL. But here's the thing: I really don't mind. I think I may have said at the end of last year that I wouldn't mind reading less books this year and thinking more about what I read, rather than *more* and having all of them just be one of a number of books I happened to read. So I'm quite happy with my sixty three books and, looking at Pinterest where I have a board entitled, Good Books - 2012, and where I have listed fifty books, it looks like most of the books I read were worth reading. Of the sixty three books thirteen were non-fiction. I'm not so happy with that... I was rather hoping I'd managed a few more non-fictions than a fifth of the total, although it is slightly up on last year. *Next* year I want to do better than that though.

I'll split my favourite books of the year into fiction and non-fiction. Fiction first and not in any particular order.

1. Downward to the Earth by Robert Silverberg

2. West of the Moon by Katherine Langrish

3. Living Dangerously by Katie Fforde

4. The Black Angel by John Connolly

5. The Black House by Peter May

6. Drood by Dan Simmons


1. Down Under by Bill Bryson

2. Wait for Me! by Deborah Devonshire

3. Love and War in the Appenines by Eric Newby

4. The Political Animal by Jeremy Paxman

5. Narrow Dog to Carcasonne by Terry Darlington

6. Walking Home by Lynn Schooler

So, should I choose actual favourites? Ummm... okay then. Fiction: Drood by Dan Simmons. Non-fiction: A tie between Down Under by Bill Bryson and The Political Animal by Jeremy Paxman. All three of these were fantastic reads.

It was also the year of the series for me. I devoured the Daisy Dalrymple books by Carola Dunn all through the summer. Then in the autumn I decided to reread Terry Pratchett's wonderful Sam Vimes books. And all year I read my way through about half a dozen of John Connolly's fantastic Charlie Parker series. It's no exaggeration to say that I enjoyed every one of these series books immensely and hope to carry on into 2013.

I think I'll leave my 2013 reading plans for another post as this is long enough. Happy New Year to everyone and here's to an excellent reading year in 2013.

Sunday, 23 December 2012

Christmas greetings!

I see I haven't posted here in several weeks. Which was unintentional but due to a bad back and the time of year. I have been reading, in fact I read two of my favourite books of the year this month, The Black House by Peter May and Drood by Dan Simmons. Hopefully I'll have time to post about those after Christmas, as they were - for me - exceptional books.

In the meantime I want to take a moment wish everyone who visits my blog, those who comment and those who don't, a very Merry Christmas indeed.

For some reason I always think of The Wind in the Willows as a Christmassy book and this snowy illustration from it is one of my favourites. A Happy New Year and I hope 2013 is a better year all round.

Monday, 3 December 2012

November books

I haven't reviewed the last three books I've read so thought I'd just do a quick rundown of the books I read in November, with quick reviews of those three books. There were five books in all, so a slowish reading month for me. Unusually, of the five books, three were non-fiction. I said somewhere else that I did well with non-fiction for the first few months of the year, badly in the middle months, but had returned to it in the autumn. I'm pleased with that as I really do want to read a lot more. Half and half is likely to be unrealistic given how much I enjoy crime yarns, fantasy, horror etc. but aiming for a third is not and I would very much like to achieve that in 2013. I don't think I have this year but we'll see at the end of this month.

Anyway... the books I read in November:

56. Narrow Dog to Carcassonne by Terry Darlington. I reviewed this here so no need to say anything other than I enjoyed it very much.

57. Ill Wind by Nevada Barr. Again reviewed here. A good read in an excellent series.

58. In Search of England by Roy Hattersley.

For people of a certain age Roy Hattersly was a very well known Labour politician. *Ex*politician now of course, but in his heyday he held various cabinet posts and was even deputy leader of the party. I knew he wrote books, fiction and non-fiction, but not that he was a prolific writer of columns and articles for newspapers, and this is what this book is all about. The book is divided into sections, literature (Roy is a huge Shakespeare fan), churches (he's an athiest who loves churches, an attitude I can well understand), animals, especially dogs, sport and so on. Hattersley's personality shines through with every word and I read the whole book in his voice as I know it so well. Some of the articles interested me more than others but that's to be expected. Anything about football is a huge yawn for me but I enjoyed the book and poetry essays, also the countryside ones and really, there wasn't a lot about this book I didn't like.

Next up, Clarissa's England: A Gamely Gallop Through the English Counties by Clarissa Dickson Wright:

Anyone familiar with a UK cookery programme called Two Fat Ladies will know of Clarissa Dickson Wright. One half of the duo, Jennifer Paterson, sadly passed away in 1999, but thankfully Clarissa is still with us and still making TV shows. Just a couple of weeks ago we watched her three part series, Breakfast, Lunch and Dinner, and it was absolutely excellent. This book is exactly what it says on the tin: a tour of English counties. Clarissa gives us a history of each county, various food titbits, and plenty of anecdotes about her life if they concern the county or a city within that county. She isn't afriad to speak her mind, and thus be controversial or un-pc... and I like that. Like the Hattersley book I read it in her voice and that made it easier for me to appreciate her very droll sense of humour. I laughed quite a lot. I loved this book and now want to read her autobiography, Spilling the Beans.

Lastly my second fiction book of the month, a fantasy story, Green Rider by Kristen Britain.

Karigan G'ladheon, a girl in her late teens, has been expelled from school for fighting, although it was a legal fight, part of school lessons with swords and so forth. She's decided to run away and is out in the countryside when a rider comes at her out of the forest. He's a Green Rider, a messenger for the king... but he has three black arrows in his back and is dying in front of her. Karigan undertakes to deliver the message to the king and in doing so becomes a Green Rider herself. The problem is, the same people who murdered the unfortunate rider are now after her. She has to deliver the message to a city in the north where the king is. Luckily the horse seems to know the way, but takes her on routes through the forest that she had no idea existed. Her adventures are of course, many, and Karigan nearly loses her life on several occasions. It's a race against time and against the forces of evil.

Loved this book to bits. It's a long time since I've read a fantasy book which was as enjoyable and such a pageturner. I liked the characters, especially Karigan herself who is an excellent female protagonist, but the supporting cast were also excellent. I love books about forests and the one featured in about half of this book was fascinating. There was also court intrigue and skullduggery, an evil pretender to the throne and a much more evil and devious sourcerer behind it all. I think it's been said that it followed The Lord of the Rings a bit too closely and maybe that's so. But in truth, that didn't bother me at all... it was different enough to capture my imagination. I loved it and book two is hopefully now on the way.

And now on to December, always an awkward reading month for me - and others I'm sure - due to Christmas and the weeks leading up to it being busy with preparations. I plan to be casual about reading. I'm about to start The Black House by Peter May and have also downloaded quite a few free bits and pieces of Christmas themed stories and books for my Kindle to have fun with. 'No pressure' is my reading motto this month and I plan to stick to that.

Thursday, 22 November 2012

What's in a Name challenge

First of all I want to wish anyone in the USA who happens to be reading this, a very Happy Thanksgiving today. Hope you all enjoy your turkeys and trimmings and your day.

Well, I did say to myself that I would not do any challenges next year apart from the usual Once Upon a Time and R.I.P. hosted by Carl. Huh! Famous last words! I couldn't resist clicking on a link to next year's What's in a Name challenge, hosted by Beth Fish Reads, just to see what the categories were... and now I seem to have decided to do it. Hopeless.

Anyway, here are the details:

Between January 1 and December 31, 2013, read one book in each of the following categories:

1. A book with up or down (or equivalent) in the title. Read: High Rising - Angela Thirkell

2. A book with something you'd find in your kitchen in the title: Loose Lips Sink Ships, The Knife of Never Letting Go, Breadcrumbs

3. A book with a party or celebration in the title: A Feast for Crows, A Wedding in Haiti, Cocktail Hour under the Tree of Forgetfulness

4. A book with fire (or eqivalent) in the title: Burning for Revenge, Fireworks over Toccoa, Catching Fire

5. A book with an emotion in the title: Baltimore Blues, Say You're Sorry, Dreams of Joy

6. A book with lost or found (or equivalent) in the title: The Book of Lost Fragrances, The World We Found, A Discovery of Witches

• Books may be any form (audio, print, e-book).

• Books may overlap other challenges.

• Books may not overlap categories; you need a different book for each category.

• Creativity for matching the categories is not only allowed but encouraged.

• You do not have to make a list of books before hand.

• You do not have to read through the categories in any particular order.

I had a look through my tbr pile and came up with a list, which I am going to put here *but* I'm not holding myself to this list of books. This is just a few ideas for my own benefit as to what I *could* read.

1. Book read: High Rising by Angela Thirkell

2. Book read: The Cold Dish - Craig Johnson

3. Wedding Season - Katie Fforde
Highland Fling - Katie Fforde

4. Firestorm - Nevada Barr
Fire and Ice - Dana Stabenow

5. The Happy Foreigner - Enid Bagnold
Recipe for Love - Katie Fforde

6. Little Boy Lost - Marghanita Laski
A Discovery of Witches - Deborah Harkness

Any other suggestions anyone? All welcome.

Thursday, 15 November 2012

Llanelli pics

Several weeks ago my husband and myself had a short break in South Wales. Generally we head off to Cardiff, and indeed I still have photos to share from our few days there in August. But in October we went to Llanelli which is further on than Cardiff, the other side of Swansea in fact, and not quite as busy as Wales' capital city. We stayed as usual with Premier Inn who do these amazing offers of £19 a room. One heck of a bargain and no hardship to just pack up and take off for a few days for a change of scenery. We had stayed in Llanelli before, about 3 years ago, but realised very quickly that we'd missed a lot of what it has to offer in the way of coastal walks.

The first thing we discovered was the full extent of something called The Millenium Coastal path. We'd touched on it before but had no idea that it was about 5 miles long and runs from Llanelli to Bury Port. A few photos I took of it: (as always, click on pics for much bigger view)

These two joined together (righthand of first to lefthand of second) give you a good idea of the outlook from the path.

Six swans a-flying, if your eyesight's good enough to see them, and, it being a wild blustery day, a fabulous sky.

Looking back towards the town.

On our first trip we saw signs to a bird reserve but didn't realise it was a Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust reserve. How thick can you be! This visit we realised and went to have a look.

The outlook from the viewing tower, taken through glass so not that great, but the view was stunning.

Beautiful artwork on the walls of the WWT visitor's centre.

The Gower peninsula is right there by Llanelli - Swansea to be precise, but Llanelli is a close neighbour. We took a trip around there on another day, not our first visit, I didn't take many photos but here are a few:

This is Port Eynon Bay, a really rather stunning spot.

St. Cattwgs, the little church in the village of Port Eynon. I liked the statue of the lifeboat man outside.

The view from another part of The Gower across Oxwich Bay.

As always I planned to post just a few photos and ended up posting a lot. I never can choose between one or another and end up going mad. Never mind, South Wales is such a beautiful region, it's well worth the effort.

Tuesday, 13 November 2012

Ill Wind

I was introduced to Nevada Barr's Anna Pigeon series of books at the end of last year when I decided to read my way around the USA. Several people recommended the crime series that features park ranger, Anna Pigeon, because each book takes place in a different American national park. And so it was. I read the first two books and learnt a bit about the Guadalupe park in Texas and New Mexico and Isle Royale on Lake Superior. This time, in book three, it was the turn of the Mesa Verde national park in south western Colorado and the book was Ill Wind.

Anna has moved on from Isle Royale for personal reasons and is now settling into a new job with new colleagues. She finds herself in a bunk house situation, sharing with much younger women than herself. She's not happy. Not only are the women immature, party animals, Anna has had to board out her cat, Piedmont, as no pets are allowed.

She finds some solace in the park though. It's a fascinating place full of mystery. A native tribe known as the Anasazi had lived there and built wonderful cliff dwellings, despite the hostile environment and the difficulty of building such houses into a cliff.

Then, in the 13th. century, they suddenly disappeared without trace and no one has any idea what happened to them, although various theories abound.

Anna finds her new colleagues to be a mixed bunch. The one she feels closest to is Stacy, a male ranger who actually seems to be intelligent and thoughtful, something unusual in Anna's experience. He is married though, with a difficult homelife and he's not the only one, difficult marrital situations are two a penny in the park it seems.

When Stacy's dead body is discovered, neatly laid out in amongst the dwellings, Anna is devastated. Recovering from a drinking binge she decides to investigate herself. It seems there are mysterious goings on in the park. People have reported weird 'veil' sightings they can't explain. Anna discovers that there are an unusual number of medical rescues from a certain part of the park, all on the same day of the week. And then an asthmatic child dies as part of this anomaly and Anna realises she's on to something... but what? Nothing seems to add up or make sense and her own personal demons do not help the situation one little bit.

Well, this was another good book in this, in my view, quite unusual series. Unusual in that the mystery setting is not a huge city or a country house or whatever, but the national parks of America. I absolutely love this idea to bits and have really enjoyed the three areas I've been introduced to via these books. Saying that, I didn't find myself as fascinated by the Mesa Verde as I did the areas covered in the first two books. I don't know why, because the mystery of the disappearance of the Anasazi tribe is right up my street, and I've always been fascinated by the native American indians. Plus, Colorado is a state I've always fancied visiting but have never been fortunate enough to do so. Thus, I should have been in my element, but wasn't. But that's fine, I suspect this will be the case as I go through the books, some regions will grab me, others won't.

I think I'm rather addicted to these vintage American travel posters...

All that said, this was still a book I romped through with a great deal of pleasure. Anna is a great character, flawed, but a good ranger and always determined to get at the truth. I love her sister even though she's only ever been on the end of the phone. Hopefully we meet her in person one day. It can sometimes take a little while to get all the new characters straight - who they are, who they're married to, what their personal circumstances are, their hang-ups and so forth. But it's well worth the effort. These books are exciting, unusual, crime yarns and I'm so glad that several people recommended them and I gave them a go.

The next book in line is Firestorm, which I've heard is rather good, and it's on the shelf waiting for me for when I'm ready to read it. It's set here:

Yes... definitely addicted.

Monday, 5 November 2012

Narrow Dog to Carcassonne

Now that R.I.P.VII is at end (it went too quickly!) my thoughts begin to stray towards a return to reading some non-fiction. It's been a while. I read quite a lot of non-fiction at the start of the year, a lot of it connected to the youngest Mitford sister, Deborah. I haven't finished with that family yet, not by a long chalk and intend to get something from the library about the other sisters, possibly at the beginning of next year. My first love where non-fiction is concerned though is travel writing. Why, I've no idea. Possibly I've always been fascinated by other lands and cultures and I've speculated before that that even explains my love of science fiction and fantasy, especially the kind that explores new planets or alternative cultures in fantasy: it's all a kind of travel odyssey for me.

Anyway. I don't read heaps of travel memoirs but once I get into the habit again there's often no stopping me. Eric Newby is a new discovery (for me anyway) but I have old favourites: Bill Bryson, I would read his version of the phone book quite frankly, Will Randall with his teaching exploits in different countries, Anne Mustoe, cycling around the world, Patrick Leigh Fermor, Gerald Durrell collecting animals in far flung places and so on.

A newish discovery for me has been Terry Darlington. I read my first book by him back at the end of last year. It was called Narrow Dog to Indian River and in fact I think it's the last of the three books he's written so far. Terry and his wife, Monica, are a retired couple who own a canal boat commonly known in this country as a 'narrow' boat. They have a whippet named Jim and the three of them go on various trips both around the UK and abroad. The Indian River book charted their ambitious trip down the eastern seaboard of the United States. I read it as part of my American challenge and never did blog about it, but it was an excellent read. So, when I saw Narrow Dog to Carcassonne in the library the other day I nabbed with it with some enthusiasm.

It starts with Terry and Monica being persuaded by some friends to take their narrow boat across the English Channel to France. The friends also have a narrow boat and the crazy idea is that the two boats could be strapped together and off they go. In the event the friends drop out at the last minute but Terry and Monica decide to go ahead with their plans, not really realising how very dangerous it is for canal boats on the open sea. First of all they have to get to London from Stone, near Stoke-on-Trent, and the first third of the book describes their various adventures doing that.

They then cross the Channel and realise exactly what they've bitten off and how terrifying an undertaking they've embarked upon. Luckily they eventually arrive in France. They go to Paris by way of Belgium, decide that Belgium is not for them and begin their epic voyage proper after a few weeks in gay Paris.

I know nothing about canal boats, the limit of my experience being a trip up The Grand Western Canal, which starts here in my town, with my grand-daughter. It was delightful but whether I would want to do what this couple did, I don't know: I have my doubts. However, reading about it was another matter entirely. Terry Darlington is a writer with a very amusing turn of phrase. I actually cried with laughter in several places. He describes the people they meet, the places they go, troubles that occur on narrow boats if you don't keep your wits about you, and even sometimes when you do. Jim the whippet is adorable and features very prominantly throughout the book. He hates travelling on the boat, runs at 40 miles an hour and is addicted to pork scratchings. I especially love other people's reactions to him as Terry takes him around French towns and canals.

It's not all beer and skittles... or should I say 'wine and boules' as this is France... They have some very hairy moments, not just out in the Channel but also in French locks or coming down the river Rhone. One night the wife on the boat moored next to them shoots herself, the couple had only been socialising with Terry and Monica the night before. There's some talk about the French experience in WW2 as well, Vichy France, the resistance, that kind of thing. All of it very interesting indeed.

It's quite possible I may have enjoyed Narrow Dog to Indian River slightly more than this book, the reason for that being that I'm far more interested in the USA than I am in France. On the other hand, Narrow Dog to Carcassonne is funnier. I don't remember being quite so creased up with laughter with Indian River but it was every bit as interesting, in fact I plan to read it again soon. The book I haven't read, Narrow Dog to Wigan Pier, presumably a UK based travelogue, is in the library so I plan to grab that at some stage. In the meantime I can heartily recommend any book by this author as being a thoroughly interesting and entertaining read.

Thursday, 1 November 2012

R.I.P. VII wrap-up

I can't believe it's November already and another R.I.P. challenge has come and gone. But it has. R.I.P. VII, hosted by Carl, has been huge fun as always, and I'm always sad when it ends.

The Peril I was going for was:

The aim of this peril was to read four books. I did much better with it than I did with Once Upon a Time in the Spring, and managed to complete my four books and read three more, making seven in all of course.

The titles of the books were:

1. The White Road - John Connolly
2. Mistletoe and Murder - Carolla Dunn
3. Dark Matter - Michelle Paver
4. A Room Full of Bones Elly Griffiths
5. The Black Angel - John Connolly
6. The Unquiet - John Connolly
7. The Reapers - John Connolly

My favourite of those... it's a hard choice because they were all good but really the prize would have to go to The Black Angel. It was creepy, historical and very well written, as all of John Connolly's books are.

It seems the story here is John Connolly's 'Charlie Parker' books! I got hooked on them to the exclusion of almost everything else. I did start a couple of books on my shelf but couldn't get into them - I won't say what they were - the problem being that Connolly's writing is so good that when you've finished one it's hard to find other books which measure up. Never mind. I read seven books for this years R.I.P. and am quite pleased with that result. I haven't blogged about them all as it's been a bit of a busy month and I just haven't had time. Hopefully this month will see things quieten down and I can get back to writing about the books I'm reading.

Sunday, 7 October 2012

Three book reviews

I'm way behind with book reviews so this is going to be another of my quick catch-up posts covering three books.

The first book is The Black Angel by John Connolly. This is book 5 in his popular Charlie Parker crime/horror series. The book went back to the library last week so I've nabbed Amazon's synopsis to describe, partly because my memory is so bad but also it was a hugely complicated plot.

A young woman goes missing from the streets of New York. Those who have taken her believe that nobody cares about her, and that no one will come looking for her. They are wrong. She is 'blood' to the killer Louis, the man who stands at the right hand of private detective Charlie Parker, and Louis will tear apart anyone who stands in the way of his attempts to find her. But as Louis's violent search progresses, Parker comes to realize that the disappearance is part of an older mystery, one that is linked to an ornate church of bones in Eastern Europe, to the slaughter at a French monastery in 1944, and to the quest for a mythical prize that has been sought for centuries by evil men: the Black Angel. Yet the Black Angel is more than a myth. It is conscious. It dreams. It is alive. And men are not the only creatures that seek it .

And the book is every bit as excellent as that description makes it sound. Parker's side-kicks, hit-men Louis and Angel (together in every sense of the word), take centre stage in this book. Charlie is there with them but this is all about a missing, troubled relative of Louis's. Louis feels he's let this girl down and is willing to shift heaven and hell (and black angels) to avenge her death. I've loved all of this series, I mean *really* loved them but this one was extra special. Possibly it was the history that did it... all the European monastery stuff was fascinating, dating from the 14th. century right up to Nazi Germany. More than that though I'm rivetted by these ideas of fallen angels being real that Connolly has introduced and by what Charlie Parker actually *is*. For me this is the perfect series of books, probably my current favourite at the moment though several others run it a close second. I've added it to my list of books read for Carl's R.I.P VII.

Next up is Die Laughing by Carola Dunn.

Daisy is off to the dentist. Not a place she enjoys going and it doesn't help that when she gets there, even though hers is the first appointment after lunch, he's nowhere to be seen and she's kept waiting. And waiting. Daisy is just about to go poking about when the dentist's nurse turns up, followed shortly by the dentist's wife. All three go looking for him and eventually find him slumped in his dentist's chair - dead. It seems he was inclined to take a whiff of laughing gas every now and then to cheer himself up. This time he's miscalcualted and killed himself. Or has he? Daisy sees evidence to the contrary and once the police arrive they're inclined to agree. Naturally Daisy's husband, DCI Alec Fletcher, is called in and Daisy is happy to help Alec solve the case, though Alec of course is not so so thrilled that his wife has fallen over yet another dead body...

Huge fun, as always. I particularly like the cover of this one, an artist by the name of Ken Leeder does these British covers and I have to say I really like them. Anyway, an enjoyable plot as always. Quite 'busy' with a lot of complicated extra-marital stuff going on so that the reader changes their mind a dozen times about who actually did the dirty deed. Daisy and Alec continue to enthrall me, and are definitely one of my all-time favourite literary couples. This is book twelve and I'm happy to say I got a cheap deal from The Book People and have the rest of them - eight books - on my tbr shelf.

Lastly, A Traveller's Life by Eric Newby.

Eric Newby, who died in 2006, was one of the most famous travel writers of his time. He wrote some 20 volumes of his travels around the world, the most famous of those being, probably, A Short Walk in the Hindu Kush. It was Danielle at A Work in Progress who started me on his books by mentioning Love and War in the Apennines, a memoir of his time in Italy during the war. I was intrigued, got it from the library, absolutely loved it, and promtply ordered A Traveller's Life from Amazon.

Newby goes to great pains to stress that this volume is not an autobiography as he only includes stories he thinks might really interest the reader. I have to say though that it does read like an autobiography! Whatever, it was an excellent read. It starts off with his 'travels' as a child, around London with his nanny and on holiday to Devon with his family. His time in a tall ship is described, then war broke out and, after Italy, he ended up in a prison of war camp in Germany. After the war, various jobs to fund his and his wife's various trips - he worked in the buying and selling of women's fashion trade. Several essays stood out for me. The prison camp one of course, his thoughts on how the art of William Henry Bartlett and Thomas Allom inspired his love of and curiosity for the history of Byzantium, his explorations of the sewers of London, his trip to the Scottish islands to investigate a way of life that was rapidly dying out, and his cycle trip from Wimbledon to Italy. One or two essays were a bit so-so but in the main this was a cracking read for anyone interested in 20th. century travel and history. I have two more books by Newby on the tbr shelf - A Short Walk in the Hindu Kush and A Small Place in Italy. And of course there are lots more which makes me very happy.


Sunday, 30 September 2012

Book title meme

I'm behind by two with book reviews but am having a busy, family, weekend so those will have to wait. I just couldn't resist one these 'Answer the question with the title of a book you've read this year' memes. I pinched it from Cathy at Kitling Books and had huge fun choosing the titles.

So, here goes.

1. Every Monday I look like: Damsel in Distress (Carola Dunn)

2. Last time I went to a doctor was because: I am Half Sick of Shadows (Alan Bradley)

3. Last Meal I ate was: In Tearing Haste (edited by Charlotte Mosely)

4. My savings account is: Partnership (Anne McCaffrey)

5. When a creepy guy asks for my number I: Die Laughing (Carola Dunn)

6. Ignorant politicians make me: The Killing Kind (John Connolly)

7. Some people need to spend more time: Living Dangerously (Katie Fforde)

8. My memoir could be titled: Time for the Stars (Robert Heinlein)

9. If I could have, I would've told my teenage self: Stories (edited by Neil
Gaiman and Al Sorrantinio)

10. In five years I hope I am: At Home in Thrush Green (Miss Read)

Go on... have a go. You know you want to...


Monday, 24 September 2012

R.I.P. VII short stories

This weekend I thought I would read a few short stories for Carl's R.I.P. VII.

I have so many books of ghostly or macabre short stories that it's ridiculous but I couldn't part with any of them, especially as a few are no longer that easily available. Anyway, I dug out a few new stories and a couple of ones that I'd read before.

I started with a favourite book of stories of the macabre by John Connolly: Nocturnes.

I'd read almost all of this book but had come to a halt at the Charlie Parker novella, The Reflecting Eye, mainly because I'd not read any of this series back then and didn't want to start here. It fits, according to the author, between The White Road and The Black Angel which is exactly the place I'm at so it was time. And it was a terrific story, introducing a character known as The Collector into the series. But the story actually concerns the Grady house, where a serial child killer died after being caught with children in his basement. The house is now owned by the father of the child who died that day but is attracting a lot of unwanted attention, mainly to do with the mirrors in the house. Charlie, Louis and Angel set up a stake-out. Fantastic little story.

I then read on and finished the four final stories in this collection - The Cycle, referring to the female 'cycle', The Bridal Bed, The Man From the Second Fifteen and my favourite, The Inn at Shillingford, a very traditional story of an inn with a nasty reputation where in Insurance man spends the night. Good one.

This collection of stories by John Connolly is fabulous and really not well known enough, which is a tragedy.

Next, inspired by Susan's post at You Can Never Have Too Many Books, I picked up The Oxford Book of English Ghost Stories, a book which I read back in the early 1990s but not since.

Susan read The Upper Berth by F. Marion Crawford, so I went for that first and was not disappointed. It's told as an after dinner tale in the best tradition of ghost story telling. The narrator was a frequent traveller by ship across the Atlantic and explained why he would never again use a certain ship. He'd been put into a cabin with a bad reputation and, despite warnings from a steward and the ship's doctor, spent the night there. During the night the stranger sharing his cabin jumped from the top berth, ran through the ship and jumped overboard. One might have thought this would tell the narrator something but not a bit of it. LOL. I do love these stories where People Refuse to See Sense... Good yarn though.

The second story I read from the collection was The Lost Ghost by Mary E. Wilkins. It was neither set in England nor by an English author, so how it made it into the collection I'm not sure. It matters not. It was in fact set in New England and is told by a woman reflecting with a friend about the strangeness of some houses. As a younger woman she had been a school teacher and lodged in an old house with two elderly sisters. She'd got home one evening and left her wet coat in the hallway to dry out. She thought it was odd when one of the sisters advised her not to leave it there, but did it anyway. When she woke up in the night to find a young girl standing in her doorway, holding the coat and saying, 'I can't find my mother', she thought it was odder still. This was another terrific little story, very sad and thought provoking.

Next and for my final story I moved on to a slim viloume entitled A Night on the Moor and Other Tales of Dread by R. Murray Gilchrist. Don't you just love some of these titles? ;-)

Not an author I've previously been familiar with, I must admit, I believe I grabbed this in a cheap bookshop somewhere and there are in fact quite a few of these little Wordsworth published ghost collections around. I decided to read the title story, A Night on the Moor. It was a fairly straightforward tale of a Victorian gent lost on the moors in the Peak District, in a snow storm, after a day out shooting. He finds a shepherd's bothy to sleep in but is awoken in the night by a woman knocking on the door. She's clearly a lady, but dressed in an old fashioned way. She's hiding a pet fawn from her husband so leaves the fawn in the bothy and takes the stranger back to her house for the night, warning that her husband might react badly. The outcome of this was fairly obvious but it was still a well written, entertaining yarn.

So that was my weekend of ghostly short stories. Huge fun, I enjoyed some excellent writing, particularly the Victorian stories which are always so beautifully crafted. Hope to read a few more in a couple of weeks but in the meantime I'm back with Charlie Parker, chasing after Black Angels. Such fun.

Friday, 21 September 2012

A Room Full of Bones

Well, I've just previewed this post before posting and all the paragraph breaks have disappeared. This was a problem with the new interface before, I seem to recall. I'm going to post and see if it alters but I imagine it won't and have no clue what to do about it. *Sigh* Why the hell can't these internet people just leave things alone?

ETA: Solved... you have to go to 'options' the first time you do a new post, scroll down to 'line breaks' and choose 'press enter for line breaks. The new interface has set it on a 'use br tag' default for some crazy reason. *Fumes silently*

ANYWAY. Still reading for Carl's R.I.P. VII, and still thoroughly enjoying the books I'm reading for it. Book four is A Room Full of Bones by Elly Griffiths, book four in her 'Ruth Galloway' series.

It's Halloween and Ruth has an appointment at the Smith Museum in King's Lynn in Norfolk. She's there to supervise the opening of a coffin which has been found on a building site. The coffin is marked and thus they know it contains the remains of one Bishop Augustine who lived back in the 14th. century. Arriving early, Ruth finds the small museum silent and empty. She takes a look around the museum and then heads for the room where the coffin is to be opened. There on the floor, apparently dead, is the museum curator, Neil Topham.

DI Harry Nelson is called in to investigate the murder. An awkward situation given he is the father of Ruth's daughter, Kate, but already married with two teenage daughters.

It seems the museum curator has been receiving threatening letters, connected with some bones held in the museum archives. These bones, Australian Aboriginal in origin, had been brought back from Australia by one of the current owner's, Lord Smith's, ancestors in the 19th. century. Needless to say, the modern day descendants want the remains back. Coincidently, Ruth has a new neighbour, Brian Woonunga, and he, with a name like that, is of course an Australian Aborigine. There has to be a connection and of course, when weirdness begins, Ruth's druid friend, Cathbad, is automatically on the scene.

The current Lord Smith runs a racing stables and clearly this is the first place to look for the truth. Nelson finds the family a difficult one, with many awkward and complicated relationships. Things are not right here, he can feel it, and the feeling is confirmed when he discovers that Lord Smith has also been receiving threatening letters. What on earth is going on? Dead snakes turning up people's doorsteps? Ritualistic dancing in the woods around the stables? And then someone else is killed in very odd circumstances. Ruth comes to realise her friends might be involved and needs to decide where exactly her loyalties lie.

Another page turner from Elly Griffiths. Great plot, full of weirdness. I love the way the author injects just a smidgeon of new age magic into these books, leaving the reader wondering if it's real or whether there's a logical explanation for Cathbad the druid's cermonies and machinations. I love this odd character the author's created, and he has an important part to play in this particular plot.

I also love Ruth Galloway of course. Her life is difficult and there's a substantial amount of hurt for her at the moment. I felt so sorry for her in regard to one particular thing that's going on, to do with Nelson, and it lessened my respect for him I have to admit. It was sort of solved at the end, but was it? The last sentence indicated that it might not be. I felt very ambivilent about the whole situation, knowing I 'should' feel one way and feeling quite guilty that I didn't. I wonder if I'm alone in this...

This relationship stuff is part of what's keeping me reading this series... plus of course they really are cracking good reads that gallop along at a very swift pace. I also adore the Norfolk setting and especially where Ruth's home is situated on the saltmarsh. Fabulous spot I would imagine. The next book is due out in March 2013 I gather. Can't wait.

Sunday, 16 September 2012

Dark Matter

I seem to be on a roll with Carl's R.I.P. VII as I've just finished my third book for it, Dark Matter - A Ghost Story by Michelle Paver.

Warning: This review might be a bit spoilerish although I've tried hard not to make it too much so.

Jack Miller is down on his luck. He has a dead-end job even though he struggled to get a physics degree back in the 1930s when someone from a poorish background like his rarely managed such an achievement. Almost at the end of his tether he answers an advert to join an expedition to the Arctic as the radio expert. He almost doesn't accept the offer. Meeting the five other members he finds they are from upper-class backgrounds and feels they are looking down on him. As he leaves he hears a comment to that effect and knows it for sure. Coming to his senses though, he realises that he would be missing a rare opportunity and basically has nothing to lose.

The five members end up as three when accidents befall two of the men. Jack is accompanied by Gus, a good looking young man, very much a leader of men, and Algie, plump and irritating. Jack takes to Gus but not to Algie.

They reach Norway and the three are tranported from Tromso to the island of Spitsbergen where they will spend the Arctic winter. They've picked a part of the island known as Gruhuken, an old mining area now deserted. But there's a problem. The captain of the ship transporting them, Eriksson, is not at all keen to take them to the spot they've chosen. When Jack tries to find out what the captain has against Gruhuken the man is tight-lipped: it's clear he's very much afraid of something but refuses to say what.

Eventually they reach the cove and set about making a camp. The crew stay to help but will not sleep ashore at night. In order to build a hut they have to demolish a hut built by the miners, which is not habitable, partly because of the terrible atmosphere there. And there's a strange post outside the hut known as the 'bear post' which is giving everyone the creeps.

The ship is about to leave and Jack, on his way back from a walk, sees the figure of a man standing beside the post, his head at a strange angle to his body. It was nobody that he knew. The ship leaves and the three men settle into a routine but something is not right. Jack is seeing and feeling strange things but feels he can't tell the others for fear of being ridiculed. Then Gus takes ill with apendicitis. Erikssen's ship returns and takes both Gus and Algie away, leaving Jack on his own with the winter darkness about to descend...

Well, this is a ghost story in the true sense of the word. It's told in journal fashion, a method which to me has a very Victorian feel to it, even though the story is set in 1937 with WW2 looming. The tension builds slowly. Even though there are small problems right from the start and the reader cannot help but feel the mission is doomed, you get carried away by the excitement the men so clearly feel, setting out, and are hoping for the best even though you just *know* it'll all end badly.

This is a genuinely creepy story. Not just the ghostly aspect which is well done and very effective, but more so because we watch the slow deterioration of a man's mind. It's impossible for anyone who hasn't done it to imagine how it must feel to be left completely alone in an Arctic winter. No daylight whatsoever to look forward to for four long months- no company, no one to speak to. Impossible *not* to go a bit potty, even in normal circumstances, let alone in a place that gives you the creeps. And this is all beautifully depicted by the author in this slow build-up to the devastating climax of the book.

I gather the author, Michelle Paver, has a fascination with Arctic wastes and has actually been to Northern Canada, Greenland, Scandinavia and Spitsbergen itself. This shows. To the point of the island feeling like a fourth character... the descriptions are so fantastic - the bleakness, the desolation, the stark beauty - you are actually *there*. I too am a bit taken with these regions so this was a massive plus for me and I adored this aspect of the book.

I wish there were more books written like this - more genuine ghost stories. Susan Hill is a master of the genre of course but I struggle to think of many others. Most fiction of this type was written in Victorian and Edwardian times as short stories, novels were rare, although some of the short stories could be pretty long. This book makes me want to search out some of the fantastic ones I've read and perhaps I will now do so. This was an excellent read and I highly recommend it if you fancy a proper ghostly read for RIP.

Two other reviews of this book are here at Margaret's blog, Booksplease and Susan's, You Can Never Have Too Many Books. I haven't read them yet as I wanted to come to the book fresh, but I shall go and read them now.

And another, GeraniumCat: here.

Friday, 14 September 2012

Mistletoe and Murder

My second read for Carl's R.I.P. VII is Mistletoe and Murder by Carola Dunn.

It's Christmas 1923 and Daisy Dalrymple has conceded to the demands of her snobbish mother and agreed to take her family to Brockdene for the holidays. Brockdene is a Tudor manor house in Cornwall, situated beside the river Tamar, which forms the border with Devon and Cornwall. It's isolated and therefore tricky to get to. It has a long, long history of smuggling and therefore tales of secret tunnels and ghosts abound.

Daisy goes ahead of the family as she is doing an article for a magazine and wants to gather information and photos before the Christmas mayhem begins. The house is occupied by the Norville family, poor relations of the the Duke of Westmoor.

Once there, Daisy's detective nose is alerted by the oddness of the family. Godfrey Norville is obsessed with the history of the house, to the exclusion of all else. His mother is an Indian woman and very soon Daisy discovers that there is some doubt as to whether she was actually married to the father of her two sons. The fact that he had gone to India and married a local girl causing scandal within his family back home. This is not helped by the fact that he died soon after arriving back in England and the marriage certificate was lost.

The current family are a peculiar lot and made even more so when the other brother, a captain in the navy, arrives home from India with a rather puritanical minister. It seems he might know something about the marriage but before he can reveal all is killed with a knife in the chapel on the estate. Daisy's husband, Alec, a Scotland yard detective, has to give up his Christmas holiday in order to investigate the murder. And of course there's no way that Daisy is not going to help...

This is Carola Dunn on top form, in my opinion. I thoroughly enjoyed this country house mystery and the reason for that is that the author states at the beginning of the book that she based the house on Cotehele in Cornwall. I've been there several times so this really brought the book alive for me.

Sadly it's many years since we were there so I don't have photos but I borrowed this one from the Cornish Tours website:

The property is now owned by the National Trust and here's the page for Cotehele. It's a stunning property in beautiful grounds and an ideal setting for a mystery novel.

Anyway, the book was, as are all the Daisy books, huge fun. The author fills her books with wonderfully quirky characters and this one was no exception. There are also some very human moments... the surprise Daisy feels at how much she misses Alec when she's not with him, the hurt her mother inflicts on Daisy as she denigrates Alec and his police job in front of strangers, and Daisy wishing she had the kind of mother or mother-in-law that she could look after and cosset. Daisy finds her life interesting and fun, but all is not a bed of roses by any means.

So that's my second read for R.I.P. VII. Two very different books read so far but both excellent.

Sunday, 9 September 2012

The White Road

At last I have my first book for Carl's R.I.P. VIII under my belt. I actually had to finish another book before I could start... it was a very good book... but a little frustrating as I wanted to be off and running with R.I.P. Well now I am and my first book for it was The White Road by John Connolly, book four in his very well known 'Charlie Parker' series.

Charlie and his new partner, Rachel, are now expecting a baby. Charlie is understandably uneasy as his former wife and young daughter were brutally murdered. The murderer was caught but Charlie knows full well that there are still people out there who want to get him and would stop at nothing to achieve their aims.

He gets a call from a former colleague now living in South Carolina, Elliot Norton. Norton is a lawyer and has taken on the case of a young black man, Atys Jones, accused of raping and murdering his girlfriend. The case is high profile because the girl is a member of a white, well-to-do family in the Charleston area. Norton is asking Charlie for his help but Charlie is reluctant, partly because of Rachel's pregnancy and not wishing to leave her alone, but also the case is giving him a bad feeling. Faulkner, the religious psychopath who was involved in his last case, is in prison but likely to be bailed by a man also local to Charleston. Is there a connection with all that's going on?

Charlie somehow feels compelled to go to Charleston to help his friend, Norton, out. What he finds there is a tangled web of lies and deceit that go back forty or fifty years to the days of racial segregation, and even beyond. It seems that Atys Jones' mother and sister disappeared in suspicious circumstances. Slowly, Charlie discovers that a group of young white men were involved, who these boys were, and that they are all still alive. His involvement is apparently highly unpopular because of his reputation, but is that all there is to it? And then someone starts to murder the group of men, one by one...

This book is a lot more complicated than I have managed to describe. John Connolly writes fabulously complicated plots and you need to keep your wits about you when you embark on one of them. The background plots are always some kind of grisly murder but never, ever simple. Charlie Parker sees dead people, has done since the death of his wife and daughter. In this book the supernatural element is increased to the point where we begin to wonder what Charlie is. It's partially explained - I'm not saying how, but I have to admit to being somewhat gobsmacked at the ideas behind it all. John Connolly is such a classy horror writer, one of the best and certainly my favourite at the moment.

The other thing I just love about this series is that the author does not treat the reader as an idiot: so we get history and geography lessons. In this we learn a little about the history of slavery, racial segregation, what the area around Charleston, SC, is like, the swamps and so forth. I did not know, for instance, that rice was grown in South Carolina. I thought slavery was based mainly on cotton and sugar... but 'rice'... news to me. Fascinating.

There are now eleven books in this series, plus a novella in the anthology, Nocturnes. The indication seems to be that the novella fits in after The White Road - I haven't read it yet, so will probably read that after my current RIP read. So thrilled that there are still so many Charlie Parker books for me to enjoy. A word of warning - they're probably not for everyone!

An excellent first read for R.I.P. VII. If every book I read is a good as this one I shall be a happy bunny.

Wednesday, 29 August 2012


Autumn is very much in the air here in England. (Mind, it has been all summer. ;-)) The nights are drawing in very quickly and it's cool and rainy, although that's not to say it won't suddenly turn around and present us with a dry, warm September. I kind of hope not as I prefer a moody autumn to be honest. But there you go, what I'm actually here to say is that it's that time of year again - time for Carl's creepy books, reading extravaganza - R.I.P. VII.

“Does something amuse you?’ asked Uncle Montague.
‘I was merely reminding myself, Uncle, that I am getting too old to be so easily frightened by stories.’

‘Really?’ said Uncle Montague with a worrying degree of doubt in his voice. ‘You think there is an age at which you might become immune to fear?”
― Chris Priestley, Uncle Montague’s Tales of Terror

I do love this quote from Chris Priestley's first 'Tales of Terror' book. (There are three, *all* completely brilliant and well worth reading.)

And what amazing artwork... perfect, imo. It's by Donna at Gothicrow apparently.

Anyway, Carl's post about R.I.P. VII is here, for those that want to check it out and maybe get involved.

Of the various levels of participation I'm going to do Peril the first.

Which is to... 'Read four books, any length, that you feel fit (the very broad definitions) of R.I.P. literature. It could be King or Conan Doyle, Penny or Poe, Chandler or Collins, Lovecraft or Leroux…or anyone in between.'

The kinds of books that can be read include:

Dark Fantasy.
Or anything sufficiently moody that shares a kinship with the above.

I seem to have gathered a substantial pool of books to choose from, not quite sure how that happened, I'm starting to wonder if I do it automatically come mid-August. Sort of a subconscious thing... lol.

Anyway, a few of them are:

Rivers of London - Ben Aaronovitch
Fated - Benedict Jacka
Pure - Andrew Miller
Mistletoe and Murder - Carola Dunn
I Shall Wear Midnight Terry Pratchett
The Hound of the Baskervilles According to Spike Milligan (humour)
The House of Silk - Anthony Horowitz
Fallen - Tim Lebbon
Full Dark House - Christopher Fowler

Those I own... but I also have from the library:

The White Road - John Connolly
Dark Matter - Michelle Paver
A Room Full of Bones - Elly Griffiths
The Black Angel - John Connolly
The Unquiet - John Connolly

Other possibles include:

The Fifth Elephant - Terry Pratchett (a reread)
Carpe Jugulum - Terry Pratchett (also a reread)
The Little Stranger - Sarah Waters
Drood - Dan Simmons
A reread of any of Chris Priestley's 'Tales of Terror' books.
Some H.P. Lovecraft.
Some M.R. James.

Quite honestly, it'll just depend where my mood takes me as to which of these I read and for me that's part of the fun. I'm also sure there'll be more books added to this list as I see what others are reading.

Happy creepy reading!

Sunday, 19 August 2012

Not blogging and books

Well, I really haven't done very well at blogging this month. I plead the Olympics, a few days being unwell this past week, and next week I won't be here, I'll be in Cardiff. So it's a quick post today or none until almost the end of the month.

And it isn't even as if I haven't been reading, because I have. Four books this month as a matter of fact. So I thought I'd do a very quick word about each of them to bring me up to date.

The first book of the month was a reread of my favourite Georgette Heyer - Sylvester.

Sylvester, Duke of Salford has decided it's time he married. He's not in love, or of a romantic persuasion so just needs a suitable girl. He goes to check out Phoebe Marlow, the daughter of a late friend of his mother's who lives, not that happily, with her father and step-mother and sisters. Phoebe takes offense at being looked over like a horse and takes flight with a child-hood friend, Tom. Sylvester has already lost interest in the girl and leaves but comes upon the two in an inn after they've crashed their carriage. Thus begin his adventures looking after the two and escorting Phoebe to London, where Phoebe turns out to be not at all biddable and falls into scrape after scrape. I've read this one four or five times now, and it's always fresh and delightful. I have other favourite Heyers, Frederica, Arabella, Venetia, The Black Sheep and so on but Sylvester is the one that keeps asking to be read... and so I do.

Next, Kisscut by Karin Slaughter.

I'm pinching the Amazon synopsis for this as the book went back to the library. When a teenage quarrel in the small town of Heartsdale explodes into a deadly shoot-out, Sara Linton - paediatrician and medical examiner - finds herself entangled in a horrific tragedy. And what seems at first to be a terrible but individual catastrophe proves to have wider implications when the autopsy reveals evidence of long-term abuse and ritualistic self-mutilation. Sara and police chief Jeffrey Tolliver start to investigate, but the children surrounding the victim close ranks. The families turn their backs. Then a young girl is abducted, and it becomes clear that the first death is linked to an even more brutal crime. And unless Sara and Jeffrey can uncover the deadly secrets the children hide, it's going to happen again... Not for the faint-hearted this one. I mean *really* not for the faint-hearted. It involves child-abuse which is something I'm normally not happy reading about but Karin Slaughter's writing tends to carry you through and so it did this time. An excellent read and I'm happy to have book 3 of this Grant County series on my library pile.

Next, The case of the Murdered Muckraker by Carola Dunn.

Daisy is in New York meeting her publisher while husband, Alec, is in Washington advising a gov. dept. She's staying in the Chelsea hotel and soon becomes entangled in the various comings and goings of the other guests. Visiting her publisher, Daisy sees one of the hotel guests is there, a newspaper man, Otis Carmody. Suddenly there is a shot and Otis Carmody plummets to his death down a lift-shaft. Daisy's done it again - fallen over a dead body. Eventually, Alec joins her and the two set about trying to find out which of the hotel guests was the murderer. Another delightful Daisy Dalrymple book. I loved the 1920s American setting, the quirky guests in the hotel - especially the two elderly sisters - and the flight across America that Alec and Daisy end up taking in order to get their man. Huge fun.

Lastly, Snuff by Terry Pratchett.

Sybil has taken her husband, Sam Vimes, Commander of the Anch-Morpok city watch, away for a holiday. This is problematic partly because Sam is addicted to his job, but also the place he's being taken to, Sybil's ancestral home, is in the *country*. Sam is a city boy through and through and wants no truck with the countryside. Young Sam, their son, is in his elememt though as his new obsession is animal poo, of which there is an abundance out in the country. Once there, it doesn't take Sam long to discover that something isn't right. But what? His policeman's nose can sniff a mystery a mile off but first he has to find out what the secret is. It doesn't take him long. Unfortunately it also doesn't take him long to get himself arrested for murder... I think this is book 8 of Terry Pratchett's Sam Vimes books, which is also part of his larger, Discworld series. I've read and loved them all and this one's no exception. In fact, I thought this was the best, although The Fifth Elephant is very close behind. The mix of comic fantasy and mystery is a brilliant one, and Terry does humour better than anyone writing today, in my opinion. It's subtley done and I chuckled my way through the whole thing. Aside from that there is a serious theme to the story... that of how we treat a race of beings we consider to be vermin despite the fact that they have artistic and musical talent and language. Extremely thought-provoking. I wish some of the biggoted idiots we have in the world today could be force-fed Terry's books. Simply wonderful, this book, likely to be in my top ten for 2012.

So that's it from me for a while. RIP might be my next post at the end of the month, or there may be Welsh photos, we'll see.

Wednesday, 8 August 2012

A book meme

The Olympics has me in thrall at the moment so I'm not reading as much as I might be. I honestly did not expect to be as hooked as I am but there you go, The Games in your own country is a rare occurance and I suspect I will not see it again, so am making the most of it.

About all I've read this month is a reread - Sylvester by Georgette Heyer, a book I never tire of and must have read four or five times. I'm not sure how it always seems to read as fresh as though I've never read it before...

In the meantime, while there are no actual book posts from me, here's a book meme I nabbed from a friend.

1. Favourite childhood book?
Minnow on the Say by Philippa Pearce (amongst many).

2. What are you reading right now?
Kisscut by Karin Slaughter

3. What books do you have on request at the library?
Just one, Keeping the Dead by Tess Gerritsen

4. Bad book habit?
Buying books and then having them sit on the shelf, unread, for years.

5. What do you currently have checked out at the library?
About 7 books, mainly crime I think - Karin Slaughter, John Connolly, James Lee Burke, a Raffles short story volume by E.W Hornung.

6. Do you have an e-reader?
I do indeed and I love it to bits. It will never replace real books for me but I love to use it as an extra reading tool.

7. Do you prefer to read one book at a time, or several at once?
Mostly just one but if a book is particularly scary then I tend to have something lighter on the go for bedtime reading. And sometimes I'll be reading a non-fiction alongside some fiction.

8. Have your reading habits changed since starting a blog?
Yes. I read a lot of blog reviews and tend to buy recommendations or get them from the library. I'm sure my newish obsession with crime books is down to blogging... in fact I know it is.

9. Least favourite book you read this year (so far)?
Stories edited by Neil Gaiman and Al Sorrantonio

10. Favourite book you've read this year?
Hmm. Not sure I can name just one! OK, *one* of the best was Blindsighted by Karin Slaughter.

11. How often do you read out of your comfort zone?
Probably not as often as I should. I like what I like and tend to stick to it as, for me anyway, reading is for enjoyment.

12. What is your reading comfort zone?
Crime, science fiction, fantasy.

13. Can you read on the bus?
I don't go on the bus any more but when I used to travel by coach occasionally, yes I could read on it.

14. Favourite place to read?
My favourite chair or in the conservatory where the light is excellent.

15. What is your policy on book lending?
I tend to lend to my daughters only, mainly because I don't know any others that read. If I did I think I would be careful as I do like to get my books back eventually.

16. Do you ever dog-ear books?

17. Do you ever write in the margins of your books?

18. Not even with text books?
I may have when I was at school.

19. What is your favourite language to read in?

20. What makes you love a book?
Imaginative plotting - I like to be taken by surprise. A spot of romance. Good writing.

21. What will inspire you to recommend a book?
Anything but it's a difficult area as you have to consider strongly what the person may or may not like. People's tastes vary enormously.

22. Favourite genre?
Not long ago I would have said fantasy/horror and I still love those but right now I would have to say that I love crime and mystery stories.

23. Genre you rarely read (but wish you did)?
I can't think of an answer to this. I'm an electic reader and will read most genres and do. Maybe westerns?

24. Favourite biography?
Wait For Me by Deborah Devonshire.

25. Have you ever read a self-help book?
No. I'm beyond help. ;-)

26. Favourite cookbook?
Anything by Nigel Slater.

27. Most inspirational book you've read this year (fiction or non-fiction)?
I'm struggling to define 'inspirational' to be honest. Um... Down Under by Bill Bryson was such a brilliant book about Australia I suppose I could be said to have been inspired by it?

28. Favourite reading snack?
Crisps or peanuts.

29. Name a case in which hype ruined your reading experience.
Can't think of one.

30. How often do you agree with critics about a book?
I don't really read things that professional critics review.

31. How do you feel about giving bad/negative reviews?
I like to say what I think but hope I'm never cruel. I always stress too that this is only my opinion, others might have a different experience.

32. If you could read in a foreign language, which language would you chose?
This is pathetic but 'none'.

33. Most intimidating book you've ever read?
I don't tend to be intimidated by books, I tend to hope I'm capable of reading anything I put my mind to.

34. Most intimidating book you're too nervous to begin?
I'm not nervous of books, but a possible answer might be War and Peace *if* I had any interest in reading it, which I don't.

35. Favourite Poet?
I don't have one. Poetry is something I wish I knew more about. I tend to have favourite poems such as The Way Through the Woods by Kipling but I honestly can't say I've read enough of any one poet to have a favourite.

36. How many books do you usually have checked out of the library at any given time?
Anywhere from 3 to 10. I try to restrain myself but rarely have any luck with that.

37. How often have you returned books to the library unread?
Quite lot!

38. Favourite fictional character?
Oh lord. Soooo many. I'll plump for a current favourite - Det. Insp. Alec Fletcher from Carola Dunn's Daisy Dalrymple books. I love how long-suffering and tolerant he is.

39. Favourite fictional villain?
Don't have one - I'm a 'hero' sort of a gal. ;-)

40. Books I'm most likely to bring on vacation?
Just something I know I'm going to love. I usally take several, plus my Kindle.

41. The longest I've gone without reading.
A couple of days.

42. Name a book that you could/would not finish.
Loads. I don't make myself finish books I don't like anymore. I also instantly forget them so I can't remember any titles.

43. What distracts you most when you're reading?
My husband fidgetting. My grandaughter has inherited this gene.

44. Favourite film adaptation of a novel?
The Last of the Mohicans.

45. Most disappointing film adaptation?
Can't think of one.

46. The most money I've ever spent in the book-store at one time?
No accurate idea but I would tend never to spend more than about £25. Average for me in a bookshop is around £15 to £20.

47. How often do you skim a book before reading it?
I don't.

48. What would cause you to stop reading a book half-way through?
I wouldn't get as far as that I think. If I'd managed halfway I'd probably plough on.

49. Do you like to keep your books organised?
Yes. Kind of. I'm a bit random in my organisation though.

50. Do you prefer to keep books or give them away once you've read them?
It depends on how much I liked the book. If it's a keeper, I keep it, if not it goes to the charity shop generally, or passed on to one of my daughters.

51. Are there any books you've been avoiding?
I don't tend to avoid books. I suppose I'm not planning to read Fifty Shades of Grey but I'm not sure if that qualifies as *avoiding*. I just don't fancy it.

52. Name a book that made you angry.
Can't name a title in particluar but books about the holocaust that I've read in the past.

53. A book you didn't expect to like but did?
Twilight. Although I try not to be prejudiced about books before I start them.

54. A book that you expected to like but didn't?
The Time Traveler's Wife by Audrey Niffenegger

55. Favourite guilt-free, pleasure reading?
Er... no guilt here... sorry. It's all guilt-free as far as I'm concerned.

Thursday, 26 July 2012

Three more books

I've actually read and finished six books this month, which is the first time I've done that since March, so perhaps I'm almost back to normal with my reading. I still don't want anything too heavy or that needs much concentration, so here I am with three more light reads to review.

First up another Daisy Dalrymple book by Carola Dunn - To Davy Jones Below.

This is probably a bit of a spoiler but anyone who's read any of the previous books in this series will not really be surprised to learn that Alec and Daisy are now newly married. Honeymoon over, they're inveigled into a trip to America so that Alec can help an American police force set up a new department. Daisy will take the opportunity to see her American publishers. They go by sea, and hope the voyage will be a nice relaxing time that they can spend together. They're joined by old friend, industrialist, Caleb Arbuckle, his daughter, Gloria and her new husband, Daisy's friend, Phillip Petrie. Also there is a business acquaintence of Arbuckle's, Jethro Gotobed and his new wife, ex-showgirl, Wanda. A storm hits halfway across the Atlantic and Alec has to take to his bed with sea-sickness. A man goes overboard, is saved, but foul-play is suspected. With Alec incapacitated it's left to Daisy to try and investigate. She finds it impossible to find any believable suspects but realises that Wanda is perhaps not what she seems. She's seen two men hanging around the ex-showgirl and when she discovers they might card-sharps her nose for a mystery is alerted. Eventually, Alec recovers enough to help her and together they set about trying to unravel the confusing facts. And then someone really is murdered...

Book nine of Daisy's adventures solving murders. This was not perhaps the best of the series so far - for me that would be Styx and Stones - but it was an enjoyable romp with a good list of quirky characters. Carola Dunn is very good at quirky characters, in my opinion, and it's one of the things that make her books well worth reading. I liked the fact that Daisy and Alec's relationship has moved on, they were very much the newlyweds in this one and for me that was fun and realistic. As always there was plenty of humour and a bit of realism - Daisy's friend, Lucy, insists she go to the new Marie Stopes contraceptive clinic to get sorted as she doesn't want to get 'preggy' (love that term) straight away. I love little details like that. All in all, another fun instalment of Carola Dunn's delightful series - as Daisy would say, 'Spiffing!'

Next, At Sea by Laurie Graham.

Enid and Bernard Finch have been married for over twenty years. He's an academic, an expert in the classics and together the two of them do cruises, Bernard giving talks on all things classical and Enid supporting him. Bernard sounds very English but is in fact an American. Enid, a minor member of the aristocracy and known as 'Lady' Enid, has had quite a loveless upbringing and gradually we learn that her marriage is more or less the same. Bernard is demanding in that he requires his ego to be constantly stroked but is not demanding emotionally or in the bedroom. One night at the beginning of the cruise one of the passengers claims to know Bernard from when he was a child. He claims Bernard is Willy Fink who lived in a small town in New York state: they were neighbours. Bernard denies any such thing but takes to their cabin at mealtimes and then fakes a throat infection. Enid realises Bernard is avoiding contact with this passenger, and also suspects her husband is not the man she thinks he is. What better tool to use to find out more than the world wide web? Having to fend for herself onboard ship, Enid begins her tranformation from 'innocent' to something else entirely...

I read about this book a week or two ago on Elaine's Random Jotting's post. It struck me that it sounded like a really fun read, I checked my local library and there it was, so I grabbed it. 'Fun' is the right way to describe this book. It does have a serious point to make, that of a woman trapped in a loveless marriage and not realising there's another way until circumstances force her into it. But the point is made with such a light touch you don't really realise you're being told about something that's really quite sad. Bernard is a brilliant creation, a self-centred ego-maniac who's been taking advantage of Enid's good nature for years. Her 'revenge' is wonderful as she discovers how caring ordinary people can be, that being a bit brash does not mean 'unkind', that the web can bring you back into contact with old friends, and that it is possible to discover the joys of sex at 55. I laughed my way through this as Enid so subtley puts Bernard in his place, time after time. Joyous. I shall certainly be picking up other books by this author and many thanks to Elaine for the recommendation.

Lastly, Blindsighted by Karin Slaughter.

Sara Linton is a paediatrician and medical examiner in the town of Heartsdale, Georgia. She's divorced from Jeffrey Tolliver, a local detective, he cheated on her but she still loves him and the feeling is mutual. Lunching with her sister, Tess, in the local diner, Sara goes to the ladies and discovers the brutally mutilated, murdered body of Sibyl Adams. Sibyl is the twin sister of a junior detective, Lena Adams, which further complicates the case for Jeffrey. Lena is awkward and prickly in the extreme, really she shouldn't be allowed anywhere near the case but Lena has other ideas. The investigating detectives have no idea why Sibyl has been the victim of this brutal murder - is it because she's a lesbian in a conservative area? Then a student from the local university campus goes missing. Again Sara discovers the body, pinned to the bonnet of her car. A serial killer is on the loose - who will be his next victim?

Well now, I wonder should I be concerned at my taste for these really quite shocking murder mysteries. This one was very gory, shocking, even sexually explicit. Very much in the vein of Tess Gerritsen and John Connolly to be honest... and I'm actually pleased to have discovered yet another author like them to read! The book was a real page-turner, I devoured it in just over a day, really not wanting to put it down at all. I liked the suspense aspect of course - edge of the seat stuff, especially the final few chapters. But also, I really liked Sara. She's independent, intelligent, not always easy to understand. She has something in her past which affects her badly and this is slowly revealed through the book. I also liked Jeffrey a lot, despite his indescretion. It was clear he was really a decent man, how much he regretted his mistake, and how much he wanted Sara back. Stick a bit of angsty romance in any book and I'm lost and gone forever. LOL. This book, as anyone will judge from what I've said, is NOT for everyone. Many will hate the graphic detail, the blood and the explicitness. If you're okay with that it's a 'must read'. If you're not, don't touch it with ten foot bargepole. Looking forward to reading more and have book 2 on reserve at the library.