Wednesday, 31 December 2014

My reading for 2014

Time now to think about the sort of reading year I had in 2014. In some ways, it has to be said, it was a hugely successful year for me. For the first time ever - at least since I've been keeping a record - I've managed to read 100 books in one year. I'm quite a slow reader so, to be honest, I never previously thought it was possible for me to do this. The point at which I realised it might be possible was in June when I saw that I'd read 57 books already and that if I carried on that way I would wind up with a total of 100 or more. I started to run out of steam in September. It was inevitable really, 10 books a month is hard to keep up. And the last couple of weeks with Christmas and so on it's been really hard to concentrate on reading. 'But' I got there.

So what now? Well, nothing. I have absolutely no intention of ever trying to do it again. Why? Because it's a pretty pointless exercise really. I read because I love reading and books. Not to clock up numbers. It's a bit like the differance between Twitchers and Bird-watchers. The former have lists and collect birds to fill their lists. The latter just go out and watch any bird because they love them and that's the way I feel. Next year I will read less. Not necessarily less words and pages but probably less books. It seems like a peculiar thing for a book lover to say, but it is so. But that speculation is for another post. In the meantime these are the books I read in 2014:


1. Spilling the Beans – Clarissa Dickson Wright
2. The Long Winter – Laura Ingalls Wilder
3. Space Plague – Zac Harrison
4. Consider Phelbas – Iain M. Banks
5. The Yellow Dog – Georges Simenon
6. Darke – Angie Sage
7. Strictly Ann – Ann Widecombe
8. Shards of Honour – Lois McMaster Bojold
9. Tentacles – Roland Smith
10. The Talisman Ring – Georgette Heyer


11. Have His Carcase – Dorothy L. Sayers
12. Lock 14 – Georges Simenon
13. Letters from the Horn of Africa – Sandy Curle, ed. By Christian Curle
14. The Mad Hatter Mystery – John Dickson Carr
15. Sundiver – David Brin
16. A Voyage Long and Strange – Tony Horwitz
17. Good Evening Mrs. Craven – Mollie Panter-Downes
18. Maigret in Holland – Georges Simenon
19. A Moment of Silence – Anna Dean
20. A Greedy Man in a Hungry World – Jay Rayner


21. The Nine Tailors – Dorothy L. Sayers
22. Touch Not the Cat – Mary Stewart
23. Sisters of Sinai – Janet Soskice
24. West with the Night – Beryl Markham
25. Fer-de-Lance – Rex Stout
26. The Middle-Aged Mountaineer – Jim Curran
27. A Gentleman of Fortune – Anna Dean
28. A Woman of Consequence – Anna Dean
29. Among Others – Jo Walton
30. Madame Maigret’s Own Case – Georges Simenon


31. Thirtheenth Child – Patricia Wrede
32. Huntingtower – John Buchan
33. The Red House Mystery – A.A. Milne
34. The Ocean at the End of the Lane – Neil Gaiman
35. Lost Things – Jo Graham and Melissa Scott
36. What Makes this Book so Great – Jo Walton


37. Cuckoo’s Egg – C.J. Cherryh
38. The Man in the Queue – Josephine Tey
39. A Fete Worse than Death – Delores Gordon-Smith
40. Death by Silver – Melissa Scott & Amy Griswold
41. The Outcast Dead – Elly Griffiths
42. The Last Continent – Terry Pratchett
43. Detective Stories from the Strand – ed. Jack Adrian
44. The River of Adventure – Enid Blyton
45. Demon in the House – Angela Thirkell


46. Alanna: The First Adventure – Tamora Pierce
47. The Moving Toyshop – Edmund Crispin
48. Death in the Clouds – Agatha Christie
49. The Fair Miss Fortune – D.E. Stevenson
50. More than Love Letters – Rosy Thornton
51. The Turkish Embassy Letters – Lady Mary Wortley Montagu
52. Buried for Pleasure – Edmund Crispin
53. The Sixth Lamentation – William Brodrick
54. The Burning Soul – John Connolly
55. Out of the Deep I Cry – Julia Spencer-Fleming
56. Up with the Larks – Tessa Hainsworth
57. Holy Disorders – Edmund Crispin


58. Sovereign – C.J. Sansom
59. Charlotte Fairlie – D.E. Stevenson
60. The Rendezvous and other stories – Daphne du Maurier
61. The Library Book – Ed. Rebecca Gray
62. Sanctus – Simon Toyne
63. The Overloaded Ark – Gerald Durrell
64. Helliconia Summer – Brian W. Aldiss
65. Lorraine Kelly’s Scotland – Lorraine Kelly
66. The Dead in their Vaulted Arches – Alan Bradley
67. A Shilling for Candles – Josephine Tey
68. For the Time Being – Dirk Bogarde


69. Tea Time for the Traditionally Built – Alexander McCall Smith
70. Wild Strawberries – Angela Thirkell
71. Fangirl – Rainbow Rowell
72. Anthem for Doomed Youth – Carola Dunn
73. Letters from Skye – Jessica Brockmole
74. Elizabeth and her German Garden – Elizabeth von Arnim
75. Watson’s Choice – Gladys Mitchell
76. They Came to Baghdad – Agatha Christie
77. Fortunately, the Milk – Neil Gaiman
78. Come, Tell Me How You Live – Agatha Christie Malloran


79. Hag’s Nook – John Dickson Carr
80. Silver Borne – Patricia Briggs
81. The Twenty-third Man – Gladys Mitchell
82. Let’s Explore Diabetes with Owls – David Sedaris
83. A Coven of Vampires – Brian Lumley
84. Night of the Living Deed – E.J. Cpperman


85. Love Lies Bleeding – Edmund Crispin
86. The Unburied – Charles Palliser
87. A Short Walk in the Hindu Kush – Eric Newby
88. Clouds of Witness – Dorothy L. Sayers
89. The Sittaford Mystery – Agatha Christie


90. The Hills is Lonely – Lillian Beckwith
91. Laurels are Poison – Gladys Mitchell
92. Surgically Enhanced – Pam Ayres
93. Murder on the Links – Agatha Christie
94. Point of Hopes – Melissa Scott and Lisa Barnett


95. Point of Knives – Melissa Scott and Lisa Barnett
96. Recipe for Love – Katie Fforde
97. Once Upon a Christmas – Sarah Morgan
98. A Christmas Hope – Anne Perry
99. Gone West – Carola Dunn
100. A Christmas Grace – Anne Perry

Basically, for me, 2014 was the year of the vintage mystery. I had a 'lot' of fun with Bev's Vintage Mystery Bingo challenge, (reading 25 books for it in all) and while I'll not be doing it in 2015 I will certainly return to it another year. I discovered authors I'd never even heard of and the experience definitely enriched my reading for 2014.

I didn't do brilliantly with non-fiction - 21 this year - but then I never seem to. I fancy I did slightly better in 2013 but not much. On the other hand, the 21 I did read were all pretty good.

In no particular order, here're my top 5 non-fiction:

1. A Voyage Long and Strange - Tony Horwitz
2. Sisters of Sinai - Janet Soskice
3. What Makes this Book so Great - Jo Walton
4. Come, Tell me How You Live - Agatha Christie Malloran
5. The Hills is Lonely - Lillian Beckwith

I'll do a top 12 for fiction.

1. The Long Winter - Laura Ingalls Wilder
2. Have His Carcase - Dorothy L. Sayers
3. Among Others - Jo Walton
4. The Outcast Dead - Elly Griffiths
5. Charlotte Fairlie - D.E. Stevenson
6. Nine Tailors - Dorothy L. Sayers.
7. Helliconia Summer - Brian W. Aldiss
8. Fangirl - Rainbow Rowell
9. Letters From Skye - Jessica Brockmole
10. Point of Hopes - Melissa Scott and Lisa Barnett
11. Out of the Deep I Cry - Julia Spencer-Fleming
12. The Sittaford Mystery - Agatha Christie

I'm not going to choose favourites. This is partly because there was no stand-out fabulous book this year. And secondly, I liked all of these books for different reasons.

And just to whet my own appetite for next year's reading, here's a shelf of books I hope to get through next year:

If I get to the end of the year and have read most of these and nothing else, I shall still be a happy bunny.

Happy New Year and Happy Reading in 2015 to all those who pop in and read my ramblings whether you comment or not.


The last few books of the year

I have five or six posts that I need to do here and most will have to wait until the New Year because of lack of time at the moment.

Anyway, this will be my final 'review' post of the year and I have three books to do short reviews of. First up, Gone West by Carola Dunn. This is my book 36 for Bev's Mount tbr challenge.

Daisy Dalrymple is heading for The Peak District of Derbyshire to stay with an old school friend. The friend, Sybil Sutherby, is secretary to writer of westerns, Humphrey Birtwhistle, who lives on a very isolated farm with his family. The family include all manner of odd-bods, from his unmarried brother and sister to his American wife and their son, and a pretty cousin and two of her admirers. Sybil has invited Daisy because she thinks there is something sinister going on in the house. She's not sure but she thinks somebody might be trying to do away with Humphrey. Daisy hasn't told her husband, Alec, a Scotland Yard detective, the real reason why she's visiting. Hopefully it will all come to nothing and she won't have to. Hopefully...

Another fun adventure with Daisy Dalrymple sleuthing away in The Peak District this time. It was all a bit Cold Comfort Farm with strange relatives and primitive conditions galore. Very enjoyable and a nice sense of place. Book twenty in the series so I only have one book left to read. Oh woe!

Next up two novellas, both by Anne Perry: A Christmas Hope and A Christmas Grace.

The Amazon blurb: London, 1868. As the Christmas season begins, Claudine Burroughs feels little joy in its endless social calls and extravagant events. Working at a clinic for desperate women has opened her eyes to a different world. Then her two worlds collide. A prostitute smuggled into a grandiose Christmas party is found brutally beaten. Poet Dai Tregarron stands accused. But Dai insists he was trying to protect her from the violence of three young men. Claudine believes him, but with society closing ranks against him, how can she prove his innocence without risking everything?

This wasn't a bad Christmas mystery but sometimes I have trouble connecting with the characters in Anne Perry's books - they don't always feel real. Plus, the situations sometimes feel a bit forced or contrived... and this was one of those occasions. The background stuff was quite interesting, mainly due I think to the fact that anything about Victorian London interests me but otherwise, sorry, a bit pedestrian.

The Amazon blurb: Emily Radley's Christmas plans are shattered when she learns that her aunt is dying. Although estranged from her, Emily decides that she must journey to Susannah's home in Ireland to assist her in her final days. When she reaches Connemara though, it is evident that Susannah has more on her mind than her health. Then Daniel, the lone survivor of a ship wrecked in a violent storm, seeks refuge in Susannah's house. Determined to understand why the village is not welcoming its new arrival, Emily discovers strange parallels with the unsolved death of another young man, Connor, many years before. Susannah, desperate to find out what happened to Connor before she dies, urges Emily to investigate. And as she does, Emily learns that some people will do anything to keep their secrets safe.

I had a very different reaction to this Anne Perry Christmas novella. The characters and their situation felt a bit more real somehow and, more than that, so did the setting. I can only assume the author knows the west coast of Ireland very well because she made it come alive in this story. Fabulous descriptions of the ocean and storms that come in off the Atlantic, the isolated village and wild countryside: wonderful. That alone made me bump my Goodreads rating from a 3 star to a 4.


Friday, 19 December 2014

Catching up

Naturally at this time of year things are a little busy. I've managed to read a little but am behind on reviewing what I've read. So this is a catch-up post with several really brief reviews, just to get myself up to date.

First up, Recipe for Love by Katie Fforde.

Zoe Harper has won a place on a TV cookery competition, one specialising in baking, (similar I suppose to The Great British Bake Off). On her way to the country house where the competition is to be held Zoe comes across Gideon Irving who has put his car into a ditch. She realises he's a judge for the competition but somehow can't help falling for him over the next few weeks. It's against the rules of course, how can he not be biased if he's involved with a competitor? Zoe's room mate is Cher who is determined to win at all costs. Zoe needs to keep her involvement with Gideon a secret from Zoe, while still concentrating on winning the competition, *and* trying to help out the pregnant couple who own the country house. Could things possibly be more complicated?

Not my favourite, Katie Fforde by any means. I found the idea that a competitor would knowingly jeopardise her position in a cookery competition, a bit far-fetched. And really... no matter how you look at it... it *is* cheating. I don't mind suspending disbelief when reading a romance but this was just plain silly. That said, it got a bit better towards the end and I was glad I'd persevered. Other Katie Ffordes have been much better than this.

Next, Point of Knives by Melissa Scott and Lisa A. Barnet.

A father and son, suspected of being 'summer-sailors', ie: pirates, are both murdered on the same night and Philip Eslingen is found standing over them. Philip helped Nicholas Rathe solve the mysterious disappearance of over eighty children in Point of Hopes and the two became romantically involved. They then split up when their respective bosses ordered them to because of conflict of interest. Eslingen's innocence is easy to prove but there still remains the question of the two dead men. Philip and Nico join forces once again so solve the murders.

I like this series a lot. Point of Knives is actually a novella sandwiched between the first book, Point of Hopes and book two, Point of Dreams. It's unusual for a fantasy series to focus on a same sex relationship but it makes a refreshing change. This is not an explicit book but the romantic aspect does come more to the fore than in the first book. I enjoyed it very much and liked that aspect of it more than the murder mystery, though that was good as well. I'm now looking forward to reading Point of Dreams early in the New Year.

Next, Once Upon a Christmas by Sarah Morgan. This in my book 35 for Bev's Mount TBR challenge.

Seven year old Lizzie has written to Santa to request a daddy for Christmas. Her mother, Bryony, is dismayed. She's been in love with Jack, a best friend to her two brothers, for most of her life. Jack treats her like a little sister and will never love her in the way she wants, so it seems she will have to start dating. But Jack's reaction to this is unexpected. He interferes, puts obstacles in her way, is a confounded nuisance in fact, until Bryony is at her wit's end. How will she ever find a dad for Lizzie if Jack continues to behave in this manner?

The answer of course is pretty obvious, as it should be with a Mills and Boon romance. LOL! I won this in a book draw last year and saved it for this Christmas. It's actually two books in one. Part one tells Bryony and Jack's story, part two tells the story of Helen, Bryony's best friend from London, who comes to stay in The Lake District after her fiance runs off with another woman, just weeks before the wedding. I have to say I enjoyed both books quite a lot. The reason for this is that the setting of a snowy Christmas/winter in The Lake District is absolutely delightful. The author clearly knows the area well and also knows about the work of NHS doctors and nurses and especially those who volunteer for mountain rescue work. I found it fascinating to be honest and the romance added a nice touch even though you'd have to be pretty stupid not to know who is going to end up with whom. A perfect read for the time of year.

So that's me caught up. I'm currently reading one of Anne Perry's Victorian Christmas Novellas, A Christmas Hope but doubt it'll be reveiwed now until after Christmas.


Sunday, 14 December 2014

Vintage Mystery Bingo Wrap-up

One of the challenges I've really enjoyed doing this year is Bev's Vintage Mystery Bingo challenge.

I decided to have a go at the Golden card and for this it was necessary to read books that were published pre-1960.

I have to say, it's introduced me to all kinds of authors whose books I'd never read before and sometimes authors I'd never even heard of. I started out wandering all over the golden bingo card, having lots of fun for several months just filling various categories willy-nilly. Eventually I could see several bingo lines that were close to being finished but in all I read 25 books for the challenge and that included 3 bingos. These are they:

Bingo 4th. horizontal line:

The Moving Toyshop by Edmund Crispin (1946) (A locked room mystery) (read June 2014)

The Mad Hatter Mystery by John Dickson Carr (1933) (An author never read before) (read in February 2014)

Watson's Choice by Gladys Mitchell (1955) (A book with a man in the title) (read in August 2014)

The Man in the Queue by Josephine Tey (1929) (A book with a professional detective) (read May 2014)

Detective Stories from the Strand edited by Jack Adrian (stories all pre-1960) (A short story collection) (read May 2014)

Murder on the Links by Agatha Christie) (1923) (A book set anywhere other than US or UK - read in place of medical mystery) (read November 2014)

Bingo 5th. horizontal line

Love Lies Bleeding by Edmund Crispin (1948) (An Academic Mystery) (Read in October 2014)

Laurels are Poison by Gladys Mitchell (1942) (A book with a method of murder in the title) (Read in November 2014)

The Sittaford Mystery by Agatha Christie (1931) (A country house mystery) (read October 2014)

Lock 14 by Georges Simenon (A mystery that involves water) (1934) (read February 2014)

Have His Carcase by Dorothy L. Sayers (A book set in England) (1932) (read February 2014)

Holy Disorders by Edmund Crispin (A book by an author with a pseudonym) (1945) (read June 2014)

Bingo 3rd. vertical line

Hag's Nook by John Dickson Carr (A book with a spooky title) (1932) (read September 2014)

A Shilling for Candles by Josephine Tey (A book that has been made into a movie) (1936) (read July 2014)

Fer-de Lance by Rex Stout (A book with an amateur detective) (1934) (read March 2014)

Watson's Choice by Gladys Mitchell (1955) (Book with a man in the title) (read August 2014)

The Sittaford Mystery by Agatha Christie (1931) (A country house mystery) (read October 2014)

Death in the Clouds by Agatha Christie (1935) (A book that involves a method of transportation) (read June 2014)

Many thanks to Bev for hosting such a thoroughly enjoyable challenge.


Sunday, 7 December 2014

Show me your book stash post

Carolyn of Riedel Fascination has challenged people who're doing one of her challenges to 'show me your book stash'. In other words take photos of your books wherever they are, on shelves, in piles, propping up the piano, whatever, and put them into a blog post. So, I've duly been around the house and taken some photos of my book shelves.

So here we go then. This first one is a pic I took of the books I intend to read for the 2015 Mount TBR challenge and is one of the shelves here in my study:

Next, another shelf here in my study, mostly a few of my horror books but also a few others:

These are at the top of the stairs facing you as you go up. Mainly reference books, non-fiction, poetry, my Cornish books, but also a few large heavy books that need sturdy shelves to hold them. These shelves were in the house when we moved in.

Next, one of two bookcases in my grandkids' bedroom (the other holds my grandkids' books and you can just see the corner of it). This one holds most of my favourite 'read' books, fantasy, sci-fi and crime. It's double stacked in places but I do still have some room on it.

Another set of shelves here in my study, sundry books with a few classics and Persephones on the bottom shelf.

Lastly, this bookcase is in my bedroom and holds more of my favourite books, Georgette Heyer, Daphne du Maurier, Enid Blyton etc.

So those are most (not all, *cough*) of my bookshelves. Hope you enjoyed this trip around my house looking at some of my book stash.


Thursday, 4 December 2014

The Sci-Fi Experience

Delighted that Carl is starting his annual Sci-Fi Experience early, as he did last year. I always enjoy this one as it reminds me that one of the very first genres I fell in love with as a teenager was science-fiction.

(Artwork by Stephan Martiniere.)

The 'Experience' runs from the 1st. December, 2014 to the 31st January, 2015. Participants can read as many science-fiction books as they like: one or many, whatever takes your fancy. The important thing is to 'enjoy' your reading.

Carl's sign-up post is here:

I have several books I'd like to get to this year.

1. Heliconia Winter by Brian W. Aldiss. I've read the first two books in this series and loved them, this'll be the perfect opportunity to finish the trilogy.

2. A Fire Upon the Deep by Vernor Vinge. I know little about this book other than it's considered a classic in the space opera section of the sci-fi genre. Sounds like it might be my kind of thing.

3. The Mote in God's Eye by Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle. Many, *many* years ago I read Niven's Ringworld and was blown away by it. Weirdly I don't think I've read a single other book by him since. And this is again supposed to be a classic.

4. Doomsday Book by Connie Willis. This one's been on my tbr mountain for 'years'. Time I got around to it.

If I manage to read just a couple of those I'll be a happy bunny. I suspect, December being, as it is for everyone, busy for me, that the majority of my reading for the Sci-Fi Experience will take place in January. Thanks again to Carl for hosting.


Sunday, 30 November 2014

A couple of titles

I'm behind once again as things have been a little busy. Time to catch up. Two rather different books today... and yet... despite the fact that one's a vintage crime yarn and the other a fantasy/sci-fi story... they are both 'crime' based books and have more in common than might be imagined at first glance.

First up, The Murder on the Links by Agatha Christie. This qualifies for Bev's Vintage Mystery Bingo challenge. I'm using it as my 'Free Space' book. I haven't been able to find a 'Medical Mystery' on my shelves and don't wish to buy one. Thus I'm claiming Murder on the Links, which is 'A book set anywhere other than the USA or England', and which I've already fulfilled, as my book for the 'medical mystery' space.

Hercule Poirot receives a letter from a Monsieur Renauld, a French millionaire. It seems he fears for his life and wants Poirot to come to France immediately to investigate. Poirot and Captain Hastings set off but find on arriving that they're too late and the man has been found dead in a shallow grave on the neighbouring golf-links. His wife is found bound and gagged in their bedroom and is telling a story of intruders who came in the night and dragged her husband away. Naturally the case is complicated. There's a son who was supposed to be on his way to South America but in fact wasn't. There are neighbours, one of whom is making clandestine visits to the house in the middle of the night to meet Monsieur Renauld. And naturally there's the obligatory tramp whose identity no one knows... Poirot sets about investigating and comes up against a modern French detective who is scornful of Poirot's 'little grey cells' methods. Which of them will solve ths case first?

Murder on the Links was only Christie's second Poirot mystery but you would never know it from the quality of the plot and the writing. This one is narrated by Captain Hastings (I assume the later ones, that he's not in, are not but am not sure who narrates those or whether they're written differently) and thus it has a nice vein of humour running through. Especially as Poirot challenges Hastings to try to solve the case alongside himself and the French detective. There's a lovely theme running through the plot too where Poirot's 'thinking' methods come up against the Frenchman's 'Sherlock Holmes' ones of crawling about on the ground looking for clues and so on. Christie was clearly poking gentle fun at the Sherlock Holmes books. There are red herrings aplenty and, it has to be said, a few moments where you wonder why everyone but Poirot is Really Stupid. But that said, this is a very enjoyable romp of a crime yarn and I really did enjoy it.

Next, Point of Hopes by Melissa Scott and Lisa A. Barnett. This is my book 13 for the My Kind of Mystery challenge which is being hosted by Riedel Fascination.

The place is the city of Astrient and the time is Midsummer with the annual fair rapidly approaching. It's always a busy time for the local points officers - police force - but this year is doubly so. The stars predict the death of the queen and as she has no heir the succession is very much open to question. The various candidates are vying for position and the atmosphere in the city is tense. At this time of year children often go missing too. Unhappy with their apprenticeship positions, or at home, they often run off with traders at the fair or sign up for the military.

It comes to the attention of Adjunct Pointsman, Nicolas Rathe, that this year more children than usual have gone missing - children who were quite happy and had no reason to run off. It's also quite clear that traders haven't taken them as the fair has barely begun. So where are all these children?

Philip Eslingen is newly released from the army and comes to live in the city, working as a 'knife' (security person) for a local inn come hotel. The hotel is popular with the ex-military and people of his nationality and somehow it gets about that this hotel is involved in the disappearances of the children. The trouble this causes brings him into contact with Nico Rathe and the two men set about trying to find out what's happened to over 80 children. It's an incredibly difficult case as there are no clues and the atmosphere in the city is strained and dangerous. Dark forces are at work and the two men will need all their ingenuity to solve this mystery.

Sometimes a book just hits the spot and this was one of those times for me. A book that straddles both the fantasy *and* crime genres is a bit of a rarity. Terry Pratchett's 'Sam Vimes' books spring immediately to mind, but I'm sure there are others. For me personally these books are usually winners as I'm a big fan of both of course. Having said that, the book is also science-fiction as it mentions the planet having two suns and things like 'first sunset' and 'second sunset', so I suppose it's really a bit of a hybrid.

Whatever it is, I really enjoyed this one. It's a world where astrology is real. People get their stars read based on their actual time of birth and whatever is forecast happens and people set a lot of store by it. Astrologers are hugely respected within society and even have their own university. Sexuality on this world is very fluid, people have heterosexual and homosexual relationships and all is normal. (Though this is not in 'any' way an explicit book.) I really, really like that approach and wish more authors of fantasy and sci-fi took it.

What else? Well, the world-building within the novel is quite stunning. It reminded me of the kind of detail Robin Hobb includes in her books. The city of Astrient with all its complications and peculiarities, its heaving, medieval, type population, it's poverty, its cramped conditions, feels so real. The authors have made it come alive in the same way that Terry Pratchett made Ankh Morpork feel like a real place. Amazing.

The mystery element was also well done. For the first part of the book it took second place rather but that was because the authors spent time introducing the characters, letting us get to know who they were and what they were about and, of course, explaining the world in which they live. So that was fine with me, and the book got even better when they began to concentrate on where the children had disappeared to.

All in all, for me, a stonking good read. There are a couple more books and a novella and I plan to read all of them. It's so nice to discover a new series that really works for you.


Saturday, 29 November 2014

The 2015 Mount TBR Reading challenge

Well, I didn't exactly excel at the 2014 Mount TBR challenge: I didn't do really badly but will not finish where I should. Wrap-up post for that will come in a few weeks but I know I will not have reached my goal of 48 books.

But, nothing ventured, I shall give it another shot next year... but somewhat differently I think.

As before the challenge is being hosted by Bev at My Reader's Block.

These are the challenge levels:

Pike's Peak: Read 12 books from your TBR pile/s
Mount Blanc: Read 24 books from your TBR pile/s
Mt. Vancouver: Read 36 books from your TBR pile/s
Mt. Ararat: Read 48 books from your TBR piles/s
Mt. Kilimanjaro: Read 60 books from your TBR pile/s
El Toro: Read 75 books from your TBR pile/s
Mt. Everest: Read 100 books from your TBR pile/s
Mount Olympus (Mars): Read 150+ books from your TBR pile/s

And the rules:

*Once you choose your challenge level, you are locked in for at least that many books. If you find that you're on a mountain-climbing roll and want to tackle a taller mountain, then you are certainly welcome to upgrade. All books counted for lower mountains may carry over towards the new peak.

*Challenge runs from January 1 to December 31, 2015.

*You may sign up anytime from now until November 4th, 2015.

*Books must be owned by you prior to January 1, 2015. No ARCs (none), no library books. No rereads. [To clarify--based on a question raised last year--the intention is to reduce the stack of books that you have bought for yourself or received as presents {birthday, Christmas, "just because," etc.}. Audiobooks and E-books may count if they are yours and they are one of your primary sources of backlogged books.]

*You may count any "currently reading" book that you begin prior to January 1--provided that you had 50% or more of the book left to finish in 2014. I will trust you all on that.

*Books may be used to count for other challenges as well.

*Feel free to submit your list in advance (as incentive to really get those books taken care of) or to tally them as you climb.

*There will be quarterly check-ins and prize drawings!

And so. Last year I bit off slightly more than I could chew so I'm aiming rather lower for next year. The plan is to go for Mont Blanc which is to read 24 books off your TBR pile. *But* I would like the 24 books to be one of two things - either fiction that's over 300 pages (although I will not be pedantic about it) or non-fiction of any length. I have a lot of both on my TBR shelves and it's high time I shifted a few. So going for 24 books will not necessarily involve less reading, it could even end up being *more*... just less books in actual number.

A few titles I'd like to shift:


Agatha Christie, an autobiography - Agatha Christie
Gerald Durrell, the authorised biography - Douglas Botting
Meander - Jeremy Seal
Jack - Geoffrey Perret
Thames, Sacred River - Peter Ackroyd
The Mitford Girls - Mary S. Lovell
A View from the Foothills - Chris Mullin
Blue Latitudes - Tony Horowitz
Wildwood, a Journey Through Trees - Roger Deakin
Atlantic - Simon Winchester
Africa in my Blood - Jane Goodall
Ox Travels - edited by Mark Ellingham, Peter Florence & Barnaby Rogerson
The Churchill Factor - Boris Johnson
Scribble, Scribble, Scribble - Simon Schama


Outlander - Diana Gabaldon
The Mad Ship - Robin Hobb
Tigana - Guy Gavriel Kay
A Fire Upon the Deep - Vernon Vinge
The Name of the Wind - Patrick Rothfuss
Un Lun Dun - China Miéville
Our Mutual Friend - Charles Dickens
Mill on the Floss - George Eliot
Gaudy Night - Dorothy L. Sayers
Ahab's Wife - Sena Jeter Naslund
Ox Crimes - edited by Mark Ellingham and Peter Florence
A Tiny Bit Marvellous - Dawn French
The Woman in White - Wilkie Collins
Byzantium - Stephen Lawhead

I only planned to list 10 or so but here I am with 28 already and there are many more. To be honest if I just get a few off this list I will be well pleased.


Monday, 17 November 2014

Several titles

I'm rather behind with reviews even though my reading has slowed down a bit over the last few weeks. My first three books of November have not been reviewed here so it's time for a catch-up post.

First up, The Hills is Lonely by Lilian Beckwith, which is my book thirteen for Peggy's Read Scotland 2014 challenge.

Lilian Beckwith, advised to take a rest somewhere quiet for the good of her health, advertises for suggestions as to where to go from the readers of a magazine. One of the replies was from a woman, Morag McDugan, who lives on the Isle of Skye. Lilian is captivated by the letter, which is rather naively written, and decides on the spot to go and stay with Morag. Her arrival is not auspicious as she arrives on a dark and stormy evening and wonders if she'll even survive being ferried across to the island, let alone anything else. 'Anything else' turns out to be having to climb a six-foot wall to get into Morag's house as the tide is in and her front gate is submerged! After that it's culture shock after culture shock as the English woman learns to live with the idiosyncracies of an island population who are insular in the extreme, about fifty years behind the times, and loathe the English with a vengeance.

This was a very gentle, amusing read... basically a 'fish-out-of-water' story in which the joke is how the English woman, used to late 1950s mod-cons, learns to live on an island which has no mod-cons at all. What I haven't been able to discern is whether this is fact or fiction. I was sure it was fact but I gather she didn't move to Skye alone, she went with her husband and the books are based on the characters she met and became involved with. Which makes them fiction... except that I'm still not sure. They're classed as 'non-fiction' and 'autobiographical' on Goodreads. Hmm. Anyway, that aside I enjoyed the beautiful descriptions of the island very much indeed. The author certainly knew how to convey the moods of the weather and its affects on the stunning scenery very well indeed. As a cultural thing it was fascinating to hear how basic life was on the island in the fifties, certainly as regards medicine and healthcare, but also food-wise (they lived very much on what the sea provided), transport, communications, and indoor plumbing (there was none). I was less enamoured of all the drinking and drunkeness but that's just me being a prude. Was the author mildly patronising about the locals? I'm not sure. I don't *think* so but others might. I enjoyed the book and it made me even more determined to visit the Isle Skye one day.

Next, Laurels are Poison by Gladys Mitchell. This is my book twenty two for Bev's 2014 Vintage Bingo Mystery challenge and covers the category, 'A book with a method of murder' in the title.

Deborah Cloud has a new job at the Carteret teachers' training college. She is to teach a bit but mainly she will be the new sub-warden of Athelstan House. She walks into a mystery. The warden, Miss Murchan, has gone missing and the principal of the college has called Mrs. Bradley in to take her place and try and find out where the missing Miss Murchan has gone. It's a can of worms. There's some kind of malicious prankster abroad. At first the pranks are relatively harmless, chamber pots going missing etc. Then clothes trunks are raided and people's clothes slashed, a girl's hair is cut off in the middle of the night, and things take on a far more sinister note when the house cook is found murdered. Mrs. Bradley, Deborah and three trainee teachers put their heads together to get to the bottom of this very complicted mystery.

I think this is my third 'Mrs. Bradley' mystery and possibly my favourite so far. I liked the college setting and peep into the 1930s style of training teachers. I believe Gladys Mitchell was herself a teacher so doubtless knew all about it. The three girls who help solve the mystery enliven the plot no end but I did have difficulty occasionally with the way one of them spoke... the 1930s modern slang and literary quotes. It was a good whodunnit in that I couldn't really work out who, why or how so I was kept guessing until the very end and then wondered why I'd been so thick. Happy to have a few more of these on my Nook to read when I don't want a book that's too deep. Good fun.

Lastly, Surgically Enhanced by Pam Ayres.

This is a book of essays mainly, interspersed with some of Pam's inimitable poetry which I'm a bit of a fan of, I have to say. I love seeing her reading her own work on TV as she has an amusing manner about her which is always hilarious - to me anyway. I'm sure there are plenty who think quite the opposite. The essays are basically all about her life. Her childhood in Stanford-in-the-vale in Berkshire, her marriage and children (rather oddly as a married woman she's 'Mrs. Russell', as am I of course), learning French, adopting a dog, canal holidays, packing to go on holiday, cruising, shopping on the internet, the perils of using a new hairdresser when you're away somewhere and much, much more. I enjoyed every single one, probably because I could identify very strongly with quite a lot of it. Wierdly, I preferred the essays to the poems and I think that may be because her poetry is best heard read out loud rather than read silently to one's self. They were not bad though and one struck a particular chord with me - There's Some Mistake about the sadness of aging and looking back at your life. She hit the nail right on the head with that one. All in all, an enjoyable random grab from the library and I really must get around to Pam Ayres' autobiography next year.


Tuesday, 11 November 2014

Victorian Bingo Challenge 2015

Well, like a true book nerd, I've been giving some thought over the last week or two to what kind of reading year I want 2015 to be. That kind of navel gazing is for another post but when I saw the following challenge advertised I realised it would fit very nicely with some of my thoughts and plans.

So here we go, this is The Victorian Bingo Challenge and it's being hosted by Becky at Becky's Book Reviews.


The first Bingo card is for 2015. The goal is to get a Bingo (horizontal, vertical, diagonal, four corners and center square). This will require a minimum of five books.

One book per square. For example: Oliver Twist can count for "Book with a name as the title" or "Charles Dickens" or "Book published 1837-1940" or "Book published in serial format" or "Book over 400 pages" or "Book that has been adapted into a movie" or "Book set in England." But obviously, it can only count once.

This is the bingo card:

(I have to say, I really love the category choices.)

More details:

1. Fiction or nonfiction.

2. Books, e-books, audio books all are fine.

3. Books and movies can be reviewed together or separately.

4. You can create a reading list if you want, but it's not a requirement.

5. If you do make a list, consider adding a list of five books you'd recommend to others

6. If possible try to try a new-to-you author! I know it can be really tempting to stick with familiar favorites.

7. Children's books published during these years should not be forgotten!

8. Rereads are definitely allowed if you have favorites!

9. A blog is not required, a review is not required, but, if you don't review please consider sharing what you read in a comment with one or two sentences of 'reaction' or 'response.'

10. For the 2015 challenge, any qualifying book FINISHED January through December 2015 counts. OR any qualifying book REVIEWED January through December 2015 counts.

Ok so those're the challenge details. A list is not required, especially in my case as I rarely keep to them *cough*. But I always like to take a photo of some of the books I *could* read so here... *drumroll*... it is:

Click on the pic of course to see the books properly. If I can get five of those off my tbr pile in 2015 I would be so chuffed with myself. I've not read any George Eliot or Amelia Edwards, so those would be my 'new-to-me' authors. I'll also be reading some more Anthony Trollope and have several on my Kindle to choose from. I will also give some thought to some children's books, possibly a reread of The Water Babies by Charles Kingsley which I read as a young teen and loved and am curious as to how I would react to it now. We'll see. Really looking forward to starting this challenge and thanks to Becky for hosting it.

Wednesday, 5 November 2014

The Sittaford Mystery

I seem to have become a convert to Agatha Christie. Not that I 'disliked' her books before, I was just not bothered. I've always loved the dramas that the TV companies put out - Miss Marple, Poirot etc., but have not read any of her books since my teenage years and then not all that many. But perhaps Agatha Christie grows on you as you get older, for certain people anyway, because that's what's happened to me as I absolutely loved The Sittaford Mystery. It's my book twenty one for Bev's Vintage Mystery Bingo challenge and covers the category: A Country House mystery. It's also my book seven for Carl's R.I.P IX challenge.

Sittaford is a village that perches on a hill on Dartmoor. It's not in a pretty little valley with trees and a bubbling brook, but is high up, windswept and isolated, and you have to be hardy to live there. That's why the few inhabitants are surprised when a mother and daughter couple, the Willetts, take Sittaford house, built and owned by Colonel Trevelyan, for the winter. The Colonel moves into a nearby village but his close friend, Major Burnaby, continues to visit him on a regular basis.

The visits have to come to a temporary halt though as Sittaford is cut off by deep snow. Instead, the major goes to visit the Willetts for the evening along with a few other neighbours. A seance is suggested and, although not all are happy, it goes ahead. What happens is shocking. The glass suggests that Colonel Trevelyan is dead and was killed at 5.25 that evening. It must be nonsense. Mustn't it? Major Burnaby is sure of it but is uneasy enough to take himself off and walk through the darkness and the snow to where the colonel is staying to see if he is all right. He's not of course: he's been murdered.

Suspects are many and varied, his relatives - sisters, nephews, in-laws - all have reasons for wanting him gone. Others come under suspicion too, such as the man who 'does' for him, Evans, and his new wife. Inspector Narracott investigates, along with Emily Trefusis, the fiancé of one of the colonel's nephews who has been arrested, and Enderby, a journalist. It takes the combined talents of all of them to solve this hugely complicated case.

I wonder if I liked this so much because it was set on Dartmoor? I know the area and it's always nice when you're reading a book to be able to picture the setting easily. And I'm especially fond of 'snowy' backgrounds. The ravages of winter are not that great when you have to be out and about in them but sitting cosily in your favourite armchair reading about deep snow and cold temperatures is very enjoyable. To me anyway.

I don't think it was just that though. I liked everything about this story. Emily Trefusis was such an interesting character. A 'managing female' in the making but Christie didn't use this in a derogatory manner: she celebrated a strong woman who knew what she wanted and set out to get it. I loved that. She came over so powerfully it made me wonder if Christie was using herself as a model for the character - I seriously need to read her autobiography which is sitting on my bookshelf right now.

The other thing I've discovered I really like is the vein of humour running through some of Christie's books. I'd somehow not been aware of that and it's come as quite a surprise. Her humour is based on observations of people's behaviour, the bizarre things we all do and say. I wish I'd collected a quote or two but I forgot in the enjoyment of the book. Suffice to say she didn't just write crime books, she was a sharp observer of human nature and behaviour.

I gave The Sittaford Mystery a five on Goodreads. For me it just hit 'exactly' the right spot for all the reasons I've stated. I plan to read a lot more Agatha Christie but will have to be careful what I choose. Some of the plots of Poirot or Miss Marple stories are overly familiar from watching them on TV. I think there are plenty of others though - several series such as Tommy and Tuppence, a few standalones and loads of short stories, plus her autobiography which, after reading Come, Tell Me How You Live a few weeks ago, I now can't wait to read.


Monday, 3 November 2014

R.I.P. IX wrap-up

Time flies when you're having fun and once again Carl's R.I.P. IX challenge has come and gone in the blink of an eye.

As usual I decided to do:

Which was 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.

I managed to read seven books in all and these are they:

1. Hag's Nook by John Dickson Carr

2. Silver Borne by Patricia Briggs

3. The Twenty-third Man by Gladys Mitchell

4. A Coven of Vampires by Brian Lumley

5. Night of the Living Deed by E.J. Copperman

6. The Unburied by Charles Palliser

7. The Sittaford Mystery by Agatha Christie (to be reviewed)

I enjoyed all of the books very much indeed. I seem to have quite successfully combined my current crime book addiction with this RIP challenge by choosing crime books that all had a supernatural element of some sort in the plot. Sometimes it was more to the fore than others, but all had something spooky about them.

Hard to pick a favourite but if I had to I think it would be a draw between The Unburied by Charles Palliser and Agatha Christie's The Sittaford Mystery. Both were cracking reads.

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


Saturday, 25 October 2014

Two book review

My reading's been really slow this month and has jumped around a bit in regards to subject, some fiction, some non-fiction etc. I think after storming through books all year I've become a bit jaded and am struggling to find books to catch my interest. I find when that happens it's best to go with the flow and do something else as my enthusiasm for books always returns fairly quickly. Anyway, two books today - A Short Walk in the Hindu Kush by Eric Newby and Clouds of Witness by Dorothy L. Sayers.

First up, a non-fiction offering, A Short Walk in the Hindu Kush by travel writer, Eric Newby. This is my book 34 for Bev's Mount TBR 2014 challenge.

In 1956 Eric Newby decided to temporarily leave his job in the London fashion industry and go walking and climbing in the Hindu Kush, which is a mountain range that stretches from central Afghanistan to Northern Pakistan. He travels with a friend, Hugh Carless, a diplomat who is between posts, but close to taking up a position in Iraq or Iran (I can't remember which.) The two men are complete novices at climbing mountains so start by taking an intensive three day course in Wales, in which they learn not much more than the basics. They travel to Afghanistan, hire some help and off they go.

What follows is a very interesting tale of adventure and hardship: incredible hardship in fact. The two men really have no clue how challenging the terrain in that country is, how poor the indigenous peoples are, and how hard they will have to work just to walk to the mountains, let alone 'climb' said mountains. It's incredible they survived really, both men were walking skeltons by the end of it. A Short Walk in the Hindu Kush is one of those iconic books that many travel writing fans cite as a 'must read'. I'm not sure I would go that far. I enjoyed it, the writing was excellent and there was plenty of humour. I also found fascinating that Afghanistan in the 1950s was reasonably accessible to foreigners, which it most certainly is not now of course. It was certainly a real history lesson. The only 'slight' drawback for me I suppose is that I couldn't believe how naive they were and how happy they seemed to put the lives of their native companions at risk. But there you go, things were different back then and this book illustrates that extremely well. Glad I've read this travel classic but would probably not read it again. Preferred Love and War in the Apennines.

Lastly, a vintage crime yarn, Clouds of Witness by Dorothy L. Sayers. This is my book 21 for Bev's Vintage Mystery Bingo challenge and covers the category, 'A book with a lawyer, courtroom or judge'.

Lord Peter Wimsey's brother, Gerald, the Duke of Denver, is at a country retreat, Riddlesdale Lodge, in the North Riding of Yorkshire. He's there with his family - wife, sister, Mary, sister's new fiance, Denis Cathcart, and various friends and acquaintences. Lord Peter is holidaying in southern Europe but his valet, Bunter, reads about Gerald's arrest for murder in the paper, and the pair return to England. It seems a body was discovered in the conservatory of the lodge, at three in the morning. The dead man is Cathcart, Mary's fiance. Gerald discovered the body but claims he didn't comit the murder, even though he had argued badly with Cathcart earlier in the night. He has an alibi but won't say what it is. Peter, the policeman, Charles Parker, and Bunter, set about investigating the killing. It's a tangled web. Cathcart was not what he seemed, Mary is mixed up in the business somehow, and how is an isoloted farm, up on the moor, and its strange inhabitants connected to the crime? The case of course ends in the courthouse and it's not until then that the truth comes out.

I think this is my fourth Lord Peter Wimsey book, but the second that was actually written. I'm not reading them in order, I should be probably, but it hasn't worked out like that and as far as I can see it doesn't make too much difference. As with the other books in the series, Clouds of Witness was an absolute delight. Sayers' skill at plotting a crime yarn strikes me as second to none and she always treats the reader as an intelligent person, which is more than you can say about some modern writers.

One of the things I love most is the humour, Wimsey's dialogue is at times hilarious:

"Oh, come along old thing. Biggs is some celebrity, you know, and perfectly toppin' to look at, in a marbly kind of way. He'll tell you all about his canaries..."

This kind of thing kept me giggling all the way through.

The book is peopled with some great characters apart from Wimsey. His mother is a joy, I like the policeman, Parker, who clearly has A Thing for Mary, and the farm inhabitants up on the moor were a frightening but also hilarious crowd. Well drawn I thought. I wasn't so keen on the last quarter or so of the book which was courthouse based. But that's just me - I've never been keen on courtroom dramas. But I did think one particlaur scene where Wimsey and Bunter get lost on the moor was one of the most suspenseful scenes I've ever read anywhere.

So pleased that I have another ten Wimsey books to read. No idea which to read on my next outing, Gaudy Night seems to be universally popular but, for reasons known best to myself, I'm saving that for next years reading pile. Anyone got any other favourites?


Wednesday, 15 October 2014

The Unburied

My book six for Carl's R.I.P. IX challenge is The Unburied by Charles Palliser. It's also my book twelve for the My Kind of Mystery challenge, which is being hosted by Riedel Fascination. I read it because I saw it reviewed on my friend Pat's book blog, here, and thought it sounded rather good.

Dr. Edward Courtine, a rather arrogant and conceited Oxbridge professor, has decided to spend a few days with an old friend before spending Christmas with relatives. The 'old friend' is Austin Fickling, a man the doctor was at university with in the mid 1800s. The two had a serious falling out many years ago but the doctor forced the friendship to continue, although the two men have not seen each other in decades.

Arriving in Thurchester, Dr. Courtine finds his friend behaving oddly and wonders if it was a mistake to come. After dinner Austin tells the doctor a strange story concerning the local cathedral and a double murder that took place two hundred years ago. It's thought that one of the murdered men, a Dr. Burgoyne, haunts the cathedral, and that recent works on the building may have disturbed the ghost.

Dr. Courtine is hoping to find a missing manuscript about the life of Alfred the Great in the cathedral library but also finds himself involved in rivalries between various church dignitaries and masters who teach in the choir school. A catastophe occurs when a local man who was planning to leave his fortune to the school is murdered. The doctor and his friend, Fickling, are unwittingly dragged in as witnesses and Courtine will have to decide where his loyalties lie.

I enjoyed this book but found it a bit confusing if I'm honest. I know it took me quite a few days to read as I was busy and when you don't read a book straight off but end up with breaks of a whole day and sometimes more, it really doesn't help with keeping up with what's going on in a complicated plot. Especially if your brain is as addled as mine is at times. There was a huge cast of characters to be remembered, two timelines - Victorian and the 1600s - three if you count the historical background of Alfred the Great, and a great deal of rambling about this and that.

The setting of a city, somewhere in the south of England, which had a large and influential cathedral was very atmospheric in a Victorian, M.R. James, sort of way. I took it in my mind to be Salisbury but it can't be as the houses in that city are not built right up to the cathedral and as far as I know, never have been. (I thought of Truro in Cornwall, where this is the case, but but I don't think it was meant to be that far from civilisation. LOL) Whatever, the setting and the political infighting, as regards the people who work in the cathedral and attached schools, and their constant bickering and attempts to do one another down, was very well done. Very true to life. I sort of wondered why Courtine didn't just up and go home, because it was very clear his 'friend', Austin, was Up To No Good right from the start, but there you go. If every character in every book did the sensible thing there would be no fictional stories.

The writing was excellent. As I said, very reminiscent of M.R. James and his way of telling a spooky, atmospheric tale but with much more history. If James had ever written a full-length novel I suspect it would have been just like this. I liked the history aspect a lot and always enjoy an author who doesn't presume stupidity on behalf of his reader. I'd love to read more by Charles Palliser, I gather the famous one that everyone was reading a couple of years ago is The Quincunx, another Dickensian, gothicky type mystery. I shall keep an eye out for it.


Friday, 10 October 2014

Scotland pics

OK, well I've been trying to get around to posting a few photos of our trip to Scotland all week. Things always conspire but at last I have a moment to do it. It was an absolutely gorgeous week, we explored to our heart's content, went a lot further than we expected, and also fitted in an afternoon visit to some close friends. It was such a nice week, made all the better by good weather which broke the day after we left. We couldn't have timed that better. As regards the photos you'll get a much better idea if you click on each one for a bigger photo.

Anyway, first up I had to take a pic of the rather nice view from our hotel room (Premier Inn, Inverness West, if anyone's interested).

That first afternoon we took a quick ride down the road to see Loch Ness, and here it is in all its moody glory.

Day two and after studying the map (I'm the map geek of the family) we realised that a trip across the mountains to the west coast was not at all out of the question. Good decision, fabulous views all the way. This is Loch Glascarnoch.

Moody skies and dark hills all around...

Further along the road, Loch Droma.

More stunning mountain views.

Loch Broom with Ullapool in the distance.

Ullapool itself. I rather liked this quiet, unassuming town. Quite isolated but with *such* a gorgeous setting.

The view up the loch from Ullapool towards the Atlantic.

Moody Loch Broom.

These next two photos fit together. They show the coastal view over Little Loch Broom towards Loch Broom (where we'd been that morning) with tiny islands. A quintessential coastal Scottish view I think. The rain had set in and it was looking very atmospheric.

So that was our first glorious day and that's enough for this post. More soon.


Sunday, 5 October 2014

Two more crime books

I spent most of last week in Bonny (and it is!) Scotland so posts here have been non-existant. Now of course I have three to do, this book post, an update on the Mount TBR challenge and a post with some pics of Scotland. So without further ado... a book review post.

The first book covers all of three reading challenges. Firstly it's my book five for Carl's R.I.P. IX challenge. Then it's my book thirty three for Bev's 2014 Mount TBR challenge. And lastly, it's my book eleven for the My Kind of Mystery challenge which is being hosted by Riedel Fascination, which takes me beyond the number of books required for the category 'Secret Messages' (5 - 10) and into a new category, 'Unearthing Clues' (11 - 20).

Alison Kerby is now a single mother, recently divorced from her husband, with a nine year old daughter, Melissa. Unable to decide how to earn a living, she buys an historical house on the coast of New Jersey with the aim of opening a guest house for paying guests. Alison is skilled enough to do the much needed renovations herself but a bucket of compound falls and hits her on the head, after which things are never the same again. She discovers she can now see ghosts, but not just any ghosts, one is the previous owner of the house, Maxie, and the other is the private detective, Paul, whom Maxie engaged to protect her against death threats she was suddenly receiving. They tell Alison that they were murdered and want her to help find the culprit as they can't go beyond the boundaries of the property. Alison is far too busy to help and thus reluctant, but when she finds a death threat in her email inbox things naturally change. Alison is no private detective but she must find out what's going on and why ownership of this particular house seems to entail threats on the owner's life, before her and her daughter's lives come seriously under threat.

This was a nice little read for RIP IX. What I didn't realise before I started the book was that the author is a man. I found out halfway through and while it shouldn't have made a difference, in reality, it did. I realised that the snappy humour displayed - by way of Alison, the first person narrator - was of a more male orientated type. I'd realised something was slightly amiss and when I found out the author was male it all fell into place. Not that that was in any way problematic, just slightly odd. In fact, this book is a fun read. If you're looking for a serious, scary sort of ghost story then this is not it. This is, I suppose, a cozy mystery and therefore humour is to the fore with the ghosts able to speak and interact with 'some' humans but not all. The house here is a beautiful, historical building and I found all the renovation details quite interesting, though possibly just a trifle too detailed. Again, evidence of a male author... but that's just my opinion of course. All in all a good, fun read, the first in a series that I'm not sure if I'll continue with. We'll see.

Next, Love Lies Bleeding by Edmund Crispin. This is my book twenty for Bev's Vintage Mystery Bingo challenge and covers the category: An Academic Mystery.

Gervase Fen has been asked to present the prizes at Castrevenford school, a private school in Worcestershire. He arrives the night before and almost immediately becomes embroiled in a murder mystery. Two of the teachers at the school are found dead and a female pupil has gone missing after a failed assignation with a male pupil. The local police are out of their depth and ask Fen, with his experience of solving murders, to help. It seems all kinds of strange events are connected with the case, including some unusual behaviour on behalf of the dead teachers, a mysterious manuscript, student romance, and the death of an old woman in a nearby village. Fen has his work cut out to solve this one, not least because the life of a student hangs in the balance.

Another very enjoyable Gervase Fen mystery. Fen is such an interesting amateur detective. Every inch an academic and just a touch pompous, but he knows he is and thus tries not to take himself too seriously. Crispin's writing style is wonderfully humorous and droll and it's quite possible to laugh yourself through his books. There's another glorious chase scene later in the book which would do an Ealing comedy proud. Totally bonkers and thus delightful. I like books set in schools so this appealed to me on that extra level and I wish there were more academic mysteries around to be honest; I find them wierdly enjoyable. I think this is my fourth Fen mystery so far so it's nice that I still have five left to read. I hope they're all as good as the four I've read so far.


Wednesday, 24 September 2014

A jig-saw puzzle post

Well autumn is here and as is often the case my mind turns to cosy pursuits like doing jig-saw puzzles. I think I've said before that I've been doing them since I was four or five and have never lost my love of them. I even managed to marry a chap whose 'mother' loved to do them. How's that for convenient? And now I share mine with my daughter and her husband and they give me theirs to do as well. It's always nice to have a hobby that your family shares.

Anyway, I know a few people who read this blog also do puzzles so here're a few of the ones I've been doing over the past weeks. As always, click for a larger view.

This 1000 piece puzzle is called 'Spring at The Tulip Walk, Mainau, Lake Constance' which is a lake on the river Rhine in Germany. I gather the tulip walk on this island is rather famous - hardly surprising. This was a lovely puzzle to do, quite hard, but I had the help of my grand-daughter to complete it.

This lovely autumn scene was borrowed from my daughter. Another 1000 piece one. The photo is of the Ashridge Estate in Hertfordshire, owned by the National Trust. If you go to the site and wait for the slide-show to go through it does show a view a bit similar to this. I gather then that this estate must be famous for its autumn colour. This was another nice one to do, quite difficult as a lot of the colours are similar of course. But it's gorgeous when complete.

Another shared one, 1,250 pieces, and a charity shop buy. It had a piece missing but that's ok, I knew about it so that's fine. Again it was enjoyable to do. It's called The Astronomer by a certain artist. Unfortunately I've given the puzzle back and can't remember the name. But it certainly was a really fun puzzle to do.

Finally, I took a photo of some of the ones I still had to do (before I did the tree one).

It looks like I have hours of peaceful enjoyment ahead.

And thanks to a couple of online friends posting links recently I've discovered two nifty jig-saw puzzle sites:


I rather suspect there may be others too. I should warn... these sites are *very* addictive!


Monday, 22 September 2014

Short stories for R.I.P. IX

Some short stories for the R.I.P IX 'Short story weekend' today, which I haven't done so far but usually try to do at least a couple of times during the challenge.

A Coven of Vampires is a book of short stories by horror writer, Brian Lumley. It's my book four for Carl's R.I.P. IX challenge and also my book 32 for Bev's Mount TBR challenge.

Perhaps I should apologise for the cover. I didn't think too much of it until my husband told me that the sight of it on the coffee table had been freaking him out all week. LOL!!!

Brian Lumley is an English author from the North East of the country, where some of his stories are actually set. I've been reading his books for many years now, probably since the late eighties or early nineties and it always surprises me that he's not more well-known than he actually is. I suspect he's most famous for his 'Necroscope' series of vampire books, none of which I've read right through. I believe I started one, couldn't get on with it and abandoned it. What I do love are his short stories and novellas. Some of those feature another of his creations, Titus Crow, a sort of psychic investigator... again I'm not mad about about those but have read a few and they're ok. Where I think the author excels is in his orginal horror short stories and those of a Lovecraftian 'Chthulu Mythos' theme. A Coven of Vampires concentrates on those two types of stories and was therefore right up my street.

Lumley's speciality, it seems to me, is weird tales. He doesn't do ghost stories, he does the kind of macabre tale that chills your blood. Although this volumes purports to be about vampires you won't find Dracula in a black cloak and fangs here. Instead we have other kinds of parasitic behaviour and some of it is very disturbing indeed.

In Uzzi a man is involved in a car accident, knocking over a female pedestrian. In her dying moments, the man, wracked with guilt, swears to 'look after Uzzi' thinking this must be a much loved pet. It's not. When he senses that something terrible is sharing his bed with him at night he wonders if he's losing his mind.

The Picnickers is one of my favourites in the book. A young boy is staying with his uncle in a seaside village in the North East of England. The village is a pit village and as his uncle is a local doctor, the boy is quite used to tragedy in the form of mining disasters. One such happens and a man dies, swiftly followed by the suicide of his wife. This coincides with the arrival of a family of gypsies whom the boy comes across in the woods. They frighten him with their silence and strange eyes. Ther dead wife wants to be buried with her husband and things come to a head when the coffin of the recently buried miner is found riddled with holes: something has burrowed into it. But how? And why? I liked the use of the boy as the narrator in this and the way in which he sets out to watch the adults and solve a very odd mystery. Good writing and a terrific story, in tone it reminded me of Neil Gaiman's, The Ocean at the End of the Lane.

Several Chthulu stories are really rather good - The House of the Temple for instance. A man inherits a house in Scotland, from his uncle, with the proviso that he can only inherit all of his uncle's money if he destroys the house completely within three months. He goes to live in the house with an artist friend, to try and discover what secrets about the house and adjoining deep pond his uncle had unearthed. The Thing from the Blasted Heath is also very good, retelling as it does the story of how a man plants a strange tree in his garden. It's come from a place where a meteor hit some heathland and where nothing will now grow. The tree scares a neighbour with its unearthly glow at night and the owner must try to find out what's going on. Very creepy.

Zack Phalanx is Vlad the Impaler! is a bit of a spoof story involving the filming of a movie about Vlad the Impaler in the Carpathian Mountains. The main star doesn't show up for filming which causes mayhem. They use villagers for extras but they're spooked by something and one night disappear altogether. Bit of a crazy ending this one has but is quite good.

What Dark God? is set on a British Rail train in the mid 1970s. (I can quite see why that might spawn a horror story...) It involves two chaps sharing a carriage with some very stange people indeed. The ending of this one really chills the blood.

All in all a good anthology of creepy stories. Only a couple I felt were a bit average (not 'bad') so out of thirteen that's pretty good; and four or five I thought were actually terrific. Brian Lumley writes very well indeed, in my opinion, sucking the reader into some very strange situations and making you believe they're not that unlikely at all! Reading this has made me want to read more Brian Lumley for RIP. I really like his Chthulu novellas and although I've read several there are just as many I've not read so I'll be looking those out next month.