Saturday, 31 December 2016

Catching up

Time to catch up on a couple of reviews... as always I seem to be behind. First up, my 24th. book for Bev's Mount TBR 2016 challenge, The Fellowship of Ghosts by Paul Watkins. This is also my 5th. book for the European Reading Challenge 2016 covering the country of 'Norway'.

I'm pinching the Goodreads synopsis for this one: Acclaimed writer Paul Watkins describes his spellbinding solo trek through the wilds of Norway's Rondane and Jutunheimen mountains—grand but harsh landscapes where myth and reality meet. His adventure takes him through valleys bordered by thousand-foot cliffs, roaring waterfalls wreathed in rainbows, blinding glaciers, and shimmering blue snowfields. Yet this is also some of the harshest, most challenging terrain in the world. Watkins's route follows razor-thin ridges, hair-raising paths, and vertigo-inducing drops. An engaging and reflective memoir, The Fellowship of Ghosts captures the profound connection between the Norwegian landscape and the myths, peoples, and dreams that it inspires.

Norway seems to be one of those countries that doesn't get written about a lot so when I saw this on Goodreads somewhere I nabbed myself a copy from Amazon. The author, Paul Watkins, follows in the footsteps of several walkers and mountain climbers who wrote about their experiences in Norway in the late 19th. and early 20th. century. The area covered is the mountainous part of southern Norway, but Watkins also explores fjords, various towns and a little of the capital city, Oslo. He recounts quite a lot of history as well, ranging from the vikings all the way up to WW2 and the country's occupation by the Nazis. He also talks about those other earlier explorers and what they got up to and how they coped with the conditions. It's all fascinating and I enjoyed it very much, particularly the section where he discusses supernatural experiences people have had in these mountains. Algernon Blackwood even based one of his ghost story novellas on a weird experience he had there. The Willows can be read here and I've downloaded it to my KIndle to read very soon. The Fellowship of Ghosts is a nice addition to the 'mountains' section of my travel writing shelf and not to be parted with.

Next, a crime fiction story, The Frozen Shroud by Martin Edwards.

In the tiny Lake District community of Ravenbank two murders have been committed. One took place before the first world war, the second only five years ago but the similarities are startling. Both women were battered to death in the same spot and a shroud placed over them to conceal their ruined faces. Daniel Kind, historian and friend of DCI Hannah Scarlett, is fascinated by the original murder and talk that the village is haunted by the ghost of the murdered servant girl. There's a lot of digging to be done and head of cold cases, Hannah, eventually becomes involved when another murder is committed. To all intents and purposes each of the killings was separately solved and the culprit found or on the run. Cut and dried. But is it? Perhaps not...

The Hannah Scarlett 'Lake District' series is one of those that every time I pick up a new instalment it never takes more than a page or two for me to sink right into the story and characters and feel right at home. The Frozen Shroud was no exception. I love the setting of The Lakes and author, Martin Edwards, is fantastic at describing the atmophere and landscape no matter what the weather and conditions. These stories are wonderfully atmospheric. This particular story begins around Halloween so is quite ghostly in feel. One aspect I enjoyed was the discussion of the ghost stories of Hugh Walpole, some of which I've read, and the works of Thomas de Quincy who was obssessed with murder of course and lived in The Lake District for a while. Daniel Kind is a historian and very into these kinds of books so this makes the series doubly enjoyable for me. The investigation into the murders made for a good, enjoyable crime yarn... quite complicated and involved. My early guess as to who the culprit was turned out to be correct but I didn't know that until the end. I have to admit to getting a bit frustrated with the complications of Hannah's personal life but that's fine, I think we're supposed to, to be honest. These books are never less than very readable, always well written and one of my favourite crime series of the moment.


Thursday, 22 December 2016

The Santa Klaus Murder

The Santa Klaus Murder, by Mavis Doriel Hay, is another one of the delightful new British Library Crime Classics reissues of vintage crime stories. It's my book 23 for Bev's Mount TBR 2016 and my 12th. book for her Vintage Mystery Cover Scavenger Hunt challenge covering the category 'A yellow object' (star on top of the tree).

The Melbury family have gathered for Christmas at the country house residence of the head of the family, Sir Osmond Melbury. They're all trying to keep him sweet because he's very rich and they want a good share of his money when he dies. What no one expects is that his death will happen within days, but happen it does when he's murdered in his study while Santa Klaus is doling out presents to the family in another room.

The Chief Constable, Colonel Halstock, is assigned the task of solving the murder, he being an old friend of the dead man. It's a poisoned chalice of course. The relatives hate him for questions he has to ask and the amount of delving he has to do. Just about everyone has their secrets and possible motive for killing Osmond Melbury, be it his five children, their various spouses, sundry suitors, employees and ex-employees. The list is endless. Sir Osmond, it seems, was a manipulator and complicated man who thought nothing of playing games with people's lives.

Halstock finds it impossible to trace the precise movements of the large number of people present during the relevant minutes when the murder occurred. Then a revelation throws everything he's learnt into doubt. An actor acquaintance tries to assist him in his enquiries but does he too have an ulterior motive? Is there anyone who hasn't? And why does it appear that everyone in the house is witholding information?

Well, this crime yarn was very enjoyable. It does involve a very large cast of characters and I must admit they were difficult to keep track of at first. Luckily there is a helpful list of who's who at the beginning and I did have to refer to it a few times. Eventually though I did get my head around them all and settled nicely into the storyline which is a traditional country house mystery. And there's nothing wrong with that, especially at this time of year when you're busy and just want a good, fun read.

That said, I thought this was very well written and quite challenging in the whodunnit department. I actually had no idea who'd done the deed until quite near the end and it's good fun when that happens. Perhaps I would've liked a slightly better idea of who the detective, Colonel Halstock, was. He didn't have the depth that we see in, say, Hercule Poroit, with his pedantry and funny little ways that make him so human. But that's being nit-picky. I really enjoyed the story and the setting and thought it was a perfect Christmas read.

The author, Mavis Doriel Hay, is one of those lost authors from the 1930s who has been rediscovered by the BLCC and her books reissued. There are two others available from them, Murder Underground and Death on the Cherwell both of which I plan to read now that I've discovered that the author's writing is very good.


Friday, 16 December 2016

Mount TBR 2017

Time to sign up for Bev's Mount TBR 2017. I find this an extremely useful challenge to do as it does help me get at least a number of books off the hefty tbr pile on my bookshelves. We won't talk about the fact that I usually end up adding as many new books each year as I read off the pile from previous years. 'The spirit is willing' as they say...

Anyway, go here for the sign up post to Mount TBR 2017 There you'll find a list of the rules and so on.

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

This year I did Mont Blanc - 24 books - but given the first month or two of 2017 will be a bit difficult I think I shall go for Pike's Peak - 12 books - and see how I go. It's likely I'll get beyond that but if I don't then it won't matter in the slightest.

Thanks to Bev, as always, for hosting the challenge.


Tuesday, 6 December 2016

Read Scotland 2017

As always around this time of year I've been thinking about which reading challenges to do next year. I'd already decided not to do too many as I've been finding it rather confining... I like to be free to read what I fancy rather than having to read for a challenge all the time. I think I've managed to strike a happy medium by keeping the amount of challenges to three. This year I may even cut that back to two, not sure at the moment. The beginning of next year is going to be difficult as my husband's second knee replacement surgery is happening on the 10th. January, so I know from experience that books will not be a priory for at least three or four weeks after that. We'll see how things pan out.

Anyway, one challenge that I have decided to do again, after a gap of a couple of years, is Peggy's Read Scotland 2017. I enjoyed this one when I did it before, plus I do have quite a lot of books about Scotland and by Scottish authors on my TBR pile.

Peggy has a Goodreads group going for the challenge, here. All the info about the various levels of participation is there. I've decided to go for 'The Highlander' which is to read 6 to 10 books between the 1st. January and the 31st. December 2017.

My Goodreads shelf for Scotland is here and I'm hoping to get some of the unread ones off my TBR mountain. Books read can be read for other challenges as well.

Looking forward to taking part and thanks to Peggy for hosting.


Friday, 2 December 2016

The Singing Sands

The Singing Sands by Josephine Tey is my book 22 for Bev's Mount TBR 2016 and my 11th. book for her Vintage Mystery Cover Scavanger Hunt covering the category, A Body of Water.

Detective Inspector Alan Grant has been suffering from bad attacks of claustrophobia, so much so that he's been given a leave of absence. He heads to Scotland to stay with his cousin and her family for a few weeks. As the train pulls in to his destination he passes a compartment where the dead body of a young man is just being discovered. Alan inadvertantly picks up a newspaper belonging to the dead man and later discovers a poem he had started in the margins. Intrigued, Alan can't help himself, he has to find out more about who the young man was.

The death is declared an accident, the man had fallen while drunk and hit his head. He was one, Charles Martin, and apparently French. For some inexplicable reason, Alan Grant doesn't believe a word of it. He's supposed to be recovering from an illness, taking it easy, fishing, relaxing, but he can't. Something is just not right about this incident. The trail leads him to an island in The Hebrides to find 'the singing sands' in the poem written by a dead man and thus on to a discovery he could never have imagined in his wildest dreams.

I'm so sorry that this is the last Alan Grant book - I've loved them all, although my favourite was The Franchise Affair. The Singing Sands had a wonderful sense of place, the Highlands of Scotland, absolutely one of my favourite 'places' of all. Alan Grant on holiday was a joy. I loved his cousin, Laura, and her husband, and son, Pat... with his Scottish accent that no one can understand, hero worshipping Alan. Delightful. Poor Alan though is suffering from a bad dose of claustophobia and this is very well depicted. He suffers agonies on the train journey for instance as he forces himself not to open his carriage door during the night. Car journeys are a particular trial and one scene where he has to force himself not to ask the driver to stop and let him out is particularly affective and well written.

The thing that made this story for me though was the investigation. It was fascinating to follow Alan as he made painstaking progress with his inquiries, never giving up even though many of them led nowhere. This is not a hard-hitting, serial killer sort of a crime yarn, it's a gentle, intellectual exercise as one clue after another is followed up and either discounted or added to the stockpile of information. Where it all eventually led was completely unexpected... not the kind of thing I've ever seen in a crime story before. Huge fun.

As I said, it's a shame this is the last Alan Grant book. Josephine Tey only wrote six in the series, this last one published the year of her death in 1952, she was only 56. I still have a stand alone, Brat Farrar, to read and a couple of others that I don't own. What a class act she was as a writer, one of my favourites now, several of her books I will definitely reread.


Wednesday, 23 November 2016

Catching up

Yet again another busy month with family committments, so very little reading done. Just two books so far this month, neither of which I've managed to review so will do a couple of mini reviews to catch up. First, Holy Island by L.J. Ross.

DCI Ryan is on three month's sabbatical on Holy Island (Lindisfarne) after a particularly nasty case. He has almost recovered when the body of a young woman is discovered in the ruins of The Priory by a woman walking her dog. Ryan is called upon to help secure the crime scene and, eventually, put on the case. Dr Anna Taylor, who is originally from the island, is brought in as a consultant on pagan rituals as it seems the dead girl has been killed and laid out in a ritualistic manner. She instantly clashes with Ryan, and not helping is the amount of baggage she's carrying in respect of her personal family history on the island. Ryan does not want Anna on the case but when another body is discovered, also ritually killed, it seems he might not have a choice in the matter.

Well, I enjoyed this well enough... liked it, didn't love it, not sure why, sort of thing. The writing is certainly good enough, the sense of place is quite strong - even though I haven't been to Lindisfarne I felt as though I had. I think what didn't work for me was the romance between Ryan and Anna. Ordinarily I've no objection at all to romantic entanglements in whatever I read but this felt a bit contrived, very Mills and Boon, and thus unrealistic because people don't go on that way any more. And yes, I have read my fair share of Mills and Boon books in years gone by, especially Regency romances. But sticking that sort of confrontational relationship into a serious murder investigation just didn't work for me somehow. Shame, but there you go. I also found other elements of the story far-fetched but can't go into that as it would involve spoilers. I have say though that the crime element was well done, kept me reading to the end, and I didn't guess the outcome, so that is definitely a plus. There are four or five in this series and I gather they're quite popular. I don't think they're for me but they do well on Goodreads and are not dear if you have a Kindle, so for some they might be worth a try.

Next, a non-fiction book, Making It Up As I Go Along: Notes from a small woman by Marion Keyes.

Marion Keyes is a well known author of contemporary fiction with about twenty books under her belt. As well as fiction she writes columns for magazines and this collection of essays is mostly taken from those, interspersed with some previously unpublished material. The essays are divided into various sections, so we have (Bad) Health and Beauty, On My Travels, Marian Meets, Soul Searching and so on. What shines through is Marian's sense of humour. I've seen her on the Friday Panel on Strictly Come Dancing's 'It Takes Two', so I know she has the most wonderful Irish brogue and is naturally very funny. I was saddened to hear that she suffers so much with mental health issues, but not surprised as you often find that people who're funny and seem confident are, in reality, just the opposite. Some sections appealed to me more than others. I'm not a girly, make-up sort of a person so the Heath and Beauty section was less interesting to me than say, On My Travels. In that section she travels all over the world so that would appeal to me, a real armchair travel fiend. Her diary of her time in Antarctica was, for me, some of the best writing in the book, really fascinating. It's very easy to identify with a lot of what Marion writes about, a dislike of parties, going mad on Twitter (I don't do it these days but have in the past), crushes on celebrities (she's famously mad about Pasha on Strictly Come Dancing but there are many others) and so on. And even when you don't identify, the subject is always interesting to read about and always amusing. I can't recommend this book of essays highly enough. I nabbed mine in Morrisons for £4... the best £4 I've spent in ages. It reminded me of another simlilar volume, The Chain of Curiosity by Sandi Toksvig. If you like essays, buy that and Marian Keye's book, you won't be disappointed.


Monday, 31 October 2016

Speaking Out: Lessons in Life and Politics - Ed Balls

I haven't been reading all that much this month... I have months like this sometimes where nothing I pick up seems to engage me and I'm distracted by other things. We had a lovely visitor from Memphis staying for instance and the half-term week, just gone, was *really* busy. So it turns out that here we are at the end of October and all I've read is two books! And reviewed none. Goodness me, I'd better put that right, so this is Speaking Out: Lessons in Life and Politics by Ed Balls.

I don't know how well known Ed Balls is in the wider world but here in the UK he's a household name. For many years he was in politics, first as a political advisor and then as an MP himself for ten years. He was in the Labour cabinet as Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families and then served as Shadow Chancellor from 2010 to 2015 when he lost his marginal seat in that year's general election.

I have to confess here that I was not much of a fan until recently. He came over in political interviews as rather too convinced that he was right and anyone thinking differently was wrong. But then politicians as a breed often do come over that way, hardly any of them wanting to listen to an opposite point of view, or answering the question put to them, not realising that the electorate would actually quite like to see them doing those things. So what changed my opinion of him? Well, two things did the deed - this book and the BBC TV series, Strictly Come Dancing.

Let's deal with the book first. It's written as a series of essays to his younger 27 year old self. Things he knows now which he wishes he knew then, sort of thing (which of us wouldn't like that?) The book is written in four sections: Learning who you are, Learning what works, Learning the hard way, Learning to move on. Each of these four parts is divided into chapter headings such as Loyalty, Family, Markets, Risks, Spin, Hinterland, Future and so on. So into these chapters is slotted everything you can think of, some family history, political goings on from his early days as a political advisor to Tony Blair and Gordon Brown, his time as an MP... right up to the Labour party defeat in 2015, and loads of opinions, interesting anecdotes and so on.

If I'm honest I found the nitty-gritty of his political years with Blair and Brown slightly less interesting than some of the personal stuff. Where the personal stuff was concerned I discovered that he is extremely protective of his family, especially his children, because in his opinion they did not decide to be in the public eye. All power to his elbow for that, in my opinion anyway. I also discovered that he has a stammer. Not the kind of stuttering stammer that's obvious, the kind where you can't get your words out, an 'internal' stammer. For someone who had to make speeches and give interviews that must've been horrendous and I gather at times 'was'. I had no idea he played piano, ran marathons for a charity called Whizz Kidz, enjoyed karaoke (Lord help us), loves reading. I *did* know about the football but am not sure how. You just wonder why it is that politicians hide behind some kind of barrier, not wanting the electorate to know they have another, more interesting, side to them? It's a real shame actually because this is one fascinating chap.

Some while ago I read a comment by the then Political Editor of the BBC, Nick Robinson. He said he thought that at some stage the public would have a complete reversal of opinion on Ed Balls. That they would come to see him in a different light as we now do Michael Portillo, for instance, who was also reviled as a politician but is now loved as a total railway geek in his excellent BBC railway programmes. I wonder if Nick Robinson had any idea that this reversal would come about as a result of the biggest show on British TV, Strictly Come Dancing? I bet if someone had suggested it he would laughed them out of the room. But it is so. Bonkers as it might seem, it is actually so. Millions are now watching Ed Balls, not speechifying at the dispatch box, but learning to dance with his pro partner, Katya Jones. I'll tell you it is electrifying. He's not by any means the best dancer, but nobody gives a damn because he's clearly loving it, trying and working very hard, and is by far the most entertaining celebrity in Strictly this year. His first dance, the waltz, was ok, not amazing but ok. Then he comes out in week two and does this:

He totally won me over with that and, despite all predictions to the contrary, is still in it and getting better by the week. It's joyous and I love it and so, apparently, do plenty of others who are voting in their thousands to keep him in the show. I actually hope he'll get to the final.

Anyway. I'll stop pontificating and just say that if you enjoy political books or are just interested in the current phenomenon that is Ed Balls, get this book and read it. You won't regret it.


Friday, 30 September 2016

Books read in September

October begins tomorrow and autumn is well and truly with us. My garden has these in abundance:

Although I'm only happy with the creatures that make these staying outside thank you very much.

In other news my reading has been quite good this month, six books read and these are they:

46. Poirot and Me - David Suchet

47. Carved in Bone - Jefferson Bass

48. The Labours of Hercules - Agatha Christie

49. Sight Unseen - Robert Goddard

50. The Old Ways - Robert MacFarlane

51. A Shadow on the Wall - Jonathan Aycliffe

All of these were enjoyable reads. None of them were standout 'wonderful' but if pushed I would choose this as my favourite:

I liked the settings, the mystery and the addition of historical detail. Will definitely read more books by Robert Goddard.

Onwards now into October, one of my favourite, if not 'the' favourite, months.


Sunday, 25 September 2016

Catching up

Catching up with a few quick reviews today, books I enjoyed but didn't really want to do a full post on.

First up, Poirot and Me by David Suchet.

Because I've been reading a few Agatha Christies recently I grabbed this when I saw it on the shelf in the library. It was a light read, probably only of interest to real Poirot afficionados, which I'm probably not although I have enjoyed the Poirot books I've read and of course love David Suchet in the role. The book covers his entire experience from being cast, right through to his last performance. In fact it starts out with him playing Poirot in the episode where he dies... although that was not in fact the last time he played him. I enjoyed all the ups and downs he experienced, although if you believe what you read about actors 'ups and downs' are their lives, but in the end it did become a bit repetive. How he almost never knew if there would be another series made for instance so found it hard to plan for future roles, although this must be an awkward thing, when you've read it ten times you start to roll your eyes a bit. All in all, Mr. Suchet comes over as a lovely man, if a trifle pedantic (he freely admits to having more than a passing resemblance to Poirot), and this was a good bedtime read for me.

Next, The Old Ways by Robert McFarlane.

My problem here is that I've been reading this for months and months and that which I read at the beginning has been Lost in The Mists of Time. So, I'm going to nick part of the synopsis Goodreads has supplied:

Told in Macfarlane's distinctive voice, The Old Ways folds together natural history, cartography, geology, archaeology and literature. His walks take him from the chalk downs of England to the bird islands of the Scottish northwest, from Palestine to the sacred landscapes of Spain and the Himalayas. Along the way he crosses paths with walkers of many kinds — wanderers, pilgrims, guides, and artists. Above all this is a book about walking as a journey inward and the subtle ways we are shaped by the landscapes through which we move. Macfarlane discovers that paths offer not just a means of traversing space, but of feeling, knowing, and thinking.

It was a delightful book. Macfarlanes's style of writing is magical, introspective, informative... very engaging. On balance, I didn't think this was quite as good as Mountains of the Mind but this is possibly because I took so long to read it, perhaps it made it feel a bit interminable. Note to self: read these non-fictions a bit more quickly! The Old Ways was my book 21 for Bev's Mount TBR 2016 challenge.

Lastly, A Shadow on the Wall by Jonathan Aycliffe.

The Rector of Thornham St. Stephen, in Norfolk, Edward Atherton, has died in mysterious circumstances after opening the tomb of the 14th century Abbot of Thornham. His brother, Matthew, approaches unversity don, Richard Asquith, to help him discover more about his brother's death. Asquith has a bit of a reputation for investigating the supernatural. It's not long of course before all kinds of rum doings are unearthed, literally, and things go really badly for everyone involved... or even not involved. I did enjoy this M.R. James style gothic novel. The writing is not of James' quality, but then you wouldn't expect that, it is very readable and after a slow start becomes very creepy indeed. I like the way it meanders all over the place, even venturing to the French Pyrennees at one stage. It is supposed to be a Victorian yarn and that didn't always come over, but that's a common fault with modern authors who set stories in Victorian times and it didn't over bother me. This gothicky style of creepy story is my thing I suppose, and there are *loads* of them in various supernatural anthologies and I would encourage anyone to seek them out. Some of those written by quite obscure authors from the early part of the 20th. century are absolutely 'terrific'... especially female writers. Virago did a couple of superb anthologies which I can't recommend highly enough. This was my 3rd. book for Carl's R.I.P. XI challenge.


Monday, 19 September 2016

Sight Unseen

My second book for Carl's R.I.P XI challenge is Sight Unseen by Robert Goddard.

In his forties and existing aimlessly in Prague, David Umber is approached by the retired police inspector who investigated a crime he witnessed as a student back in 1981. It took place at Avebury among the very famous stone circle there. A girl working as a nanny took her eye off the youngest of the three children for a moment and the child, a two year old girl, Tamsin Hall, was snatched. In the ensuing panic her older sister stepped out in front of the van in order to stop it taking her sister away and was knocked over and killed. Tamsin has never been seen since and is presumed dead by all.

The police officer, Sharp, is convinced that he didn't investigate as well as he might have and now wants to put things right. A feeling exacerbated by an anonymous letter he's received. He persuades David to accompany him back to England and help him reopen the investigation. David was in Avebury at the time to meet a man called Griffin who wanted to show him a book of letters by Junius, an 18th. century anonymous writer of venomous letters about royalty and politicians. Junius was David's Ph.D subject and he had done much research into his identity. The man, Griffin, had failed to turn up in 1981 but in all the chaos and confusion no one had tried to find out why.

Back in England, Umber travels into Wiltshire, with Sharp, to the scene of the crime. The parents of the children have divorced, the mother and her new family still live locally, the father has moved to Jersey with his surviving son. Unsurprisingly they do not welcome being made to relive the whole horrifying experience over again, particularly as a sex offender in prison has confessed to kidnapping and murdering young Tamsin Hall. Then the sex offender is murdered himself and Sharp and Umber realise they have touched a nerve somewhere. What they don't realise is how much danger they will be putting themselves into by dragging up the past.

Well... this is my first book by Robert Goddard. I've had the author recommended to me on several occasions, just not got aroud to him, which is a shame because this book was an excellent read. It's one of his more recent ones, written in 2005 I believe, which means there is quite an extensive back catalogue and a few books written since that as well. A good list is here on Fantastic Fiction: Robert Goddard's books. Judging by Sight Unseen, I suspect there are some excellent books among those titles.

The thing I liked about this one was how it wove two mystery storylines into one so seamlessly. Ie. the case of the missing child and who took her and the historical thread of who the 18th. century letter writer, Junius, was. He really did exist by the way. All the way through you're not only trying to work out who took the child, why was she taken, and was she dead... but you're also wondering what the connection is to Umber's studies of Junius. It's a fast moving plot so you need to keep your wits about you, a lot of characters to keep in your head as well: it can be a bit confusing. But the settings of Avebury and Jersey are interesting and well depicted, especially Avebury and the stone circle. He had the atmosphere there spot on.

There were two things that stopped me giving it a five on Goodreads... which I fully intended to do until about two thirds of the way through when it began to run out steam a bit, for me anyway. Perhaps it was me running out of steam, not the plot, but it seemed to lose its momentum a little. The other thing was that I never really felt I knew David Umber very well or perhaps I didn't really like him all that much, I'm not sure. I read somewhere that this can be a problem with Goddard's main characters. In the main though a fast moving plot, lots of twists and turns and some interesting historical detail made this a very good read.


Wednesday, 14 September 2016

The Labours of Hercules

My tenth book for Bev's Vintage Mystery Cover Scavenger Hunt 2016 is The Labours of Hercules by Agatha Christie. It covers the category, 'Any other animal' (other than a cat or dog) as the cover shows a wild boar, deer, lion, horse etc.

Poirot has decided to retire and grow marrows... or rather cultivate them to try and improve the flavour as he believes them to be very bland. (They are.) But first he decides to take on twelve cases which he wants to tie in with the Twelve Labours of Hercules. He's inspired to do this by a professer friend, Dr. Burton, who thinks Poirot has missed out on something by never having studied the Classics. Dr. Burton is bemused by Poirot's christian name:

Poirot looked at him [Dr. Burton] enquiringly.

'Thinking of an imaginary conversation. Your mother and the late Mrs. Holmes, sitting sewing little garments or knitting: 'Achille [Poirot's brother], Hercule, Sherlock, Mycroft...''

Poirot failed to share his friend's amusement.'

So Poirot sets out to learn something about the twelve labours of Hercules by way of twelve last cases:

1. The Nemean Lion. A Pekinese dog is stolen and returned after a ranson of £200 is paid. The woman who owned the dog only told her husband about the incident after she'd paid the ransom. The husband, livid, wants his money back and calls Poirot in to help. Poirot discovers that this is not the first Pekinese this has happened to... Very nice twist at the end of this one.

2.The Lernean Hydra. A doctor asks Poirot for help. His wife has recently died and the village gossips have started to whisper that he might have poisoned her. Is there a way to put a stop to the rumours?

3. The Arcadian Deer. Poirot's car has broken down in the middle of nowhere. He finds a hotel for the night and is later visited by a young man who has been working on his car: he needs help. He wants Poirot to find a girl - a lady's maid - he met while he was doing some work at the local big house. She was staying there with a Russian ballet dancer but suddenly disappeared. Another one with a nice twist at the end.

4. The Erymanthian Boar. Poirot is in Switzerland. He takes a funicular railway to the top of a mountain where he becomes stranded with a group of people and embroiled in the capture of a killer.

5. The Augean Stables. A political story involving the covering up of the true personality of a former British PM. This one didn't really work for me.

6. The Stymphalean Birds. Harold Waring, who works in politics, is on holiday in one of the slavic countries. He takes up with a middle-aged woman and her married daughter but it seems the marriage is not a happy one and Harold becomes dangerously involved when it all goes pear shaped. Hercule Poirot only comes in towards the end of this one but it's a good story with a nice twist at the end.

7. The Cretan Bull. Diana Maberly visits Poirot because her fiance has broken off their engagement. He's told her that insanity runs in his family, that he too is going mad and that madmen should not marry. She doesn't believe it for a moment but what can Poirot do to help? A good one.

8. The Horses of Diomedes. A doctor friend calls Poirot in the middle of the night, asking him if he could come around to a neighbour of his. It seems she's been holding drug fueled parties and a young girl is in trouble. The dr. wants Poirot to find out where the drugs are coming from. Not my cup of tea this one.

9. The Girdle of Hyppolita. Poirot's been asked to go to France to look into a case of a stolen Rubens. Inspector Japp approaches him to look into another case while he's there - the case of a schoolgirl, disappearing from a train on the way to a new school in France. Nicely done, this one... another surprising ending.

10. The Flock of Geryon. Miss Carnaby, from the first story in this collection, The Nemean Lion, is back. She's bored and has an idea for an enquiry that she could help Poirot with. A friend of hers has joined a religious sect, and altered her will in favour of the charismatic leader. Several other women who did likewise are now dead, and Miss Carnaby is naturally worried for her friend. Poirot sends her off to join the sect. Good story.

11. The Apples of the Hesperides. A wealthy financier bought a gold chased goblet some years ago but it was stolen from the seller before he could take possession of it. The financier tasks Poirot with finding finding the goblet. Interesting... with a nice ending.

12. The Capture of Cerberus. Poirot comes across Countess Vera Rossakoff on the London Underground, a woman he'd had dealings with and admired twenty years ago. She now owns a new, popular nightclub in London and Poirot goes to see her. Later, Japp suggests that drug deals are going on in the nightclub and asks Poirot to investigate. Readable but not my favourite story by any means.

This was an absolutely delightful collection of short stories. I thought connecting them to the Twelve Labours of Hercules was ingenious... the Pekinese in the first story was the lion in The Nemean Lion, two odd women in the sixth story were the birds in The Stymphalian Birds and so on. Terribly clever. Naturally some stories are better than others, some worked very well for me, others a bit less. Personally, I really liked The Nemean Lion, The Stymphalian Birds, The Girdle of Hyppolita and The Flock of Geryon and several others were pretty good as well.

As always the vein of humour running through the entire book was joyous. It's so understated, just popped in, almost like a sleight of hand:

'He threw a glance of deep reproach at Miss Lemon. She did not notice it. She had begun to type. She typed with the speed and precision of a quick-firing tank'.

Can't you just see that? LOL! Wonderful. I'm such a convert to Agatha Christie and am having a lovely time cherry picking and sampling various books.

And talk about one book leading to another. I sent for a book about Greek myths because reading this one that deals with the twelve labours of Hercules has piqued my interest. I don't really know much about Greek lit. despite having taken it at O level when I was 17. (I failed it... the only exam I've ever failed, LOL!) Seems to me you're never too old to learn something new... or relearn something you should've paid more attention to in the first place.


Sunday, 11 September 2016

Carved in Bone

I've made a start on this year's R.I.P. challenge with a crime thriller, Carved in Bone by Jefferson Bass.

Dr. Bill Brockton is in charge of the Body Farm in Knoxville, Tennessee. This is a place where human corpses are left exposed to the elements so that scientists can study what happens to them. The doctor is called to a cave in the nearby Great Smokey Mountains where a body has been found in a cave. As it has been effectively sealed off from the outside air the remains are mummified: it's one of the strangest case he has ever encountered.

The cave is in Cooke County, a rather remote area, where there's a history of lawlessness and criminality, and corruption within the official law that does exist. Dr. Brockton senses immediately that the local sheriff is hiding something in connection with the body in the cave, but getting him to reveal what he knows will require some ingenuity on his part. And what part does Jim O'Connor, a man with a ciminal past, play in all this? Despite himself the doctor is drawn to O'Connor and trusts him over the sheriff. What he doesn't realise is how dangerous this tangled web of a case is going to become and how much his personal safety will be jeopardised.

The author, Jefferson Bass, is in fact two authors in one... Jon Jefferson, a writer, and Dr. Bill Bass, a forensic anthropologist. Dr. Bass did actually work at the University of Tennessee and founded The Body Farm. There are nine books in the Body farm series and Carved in Bone is book one.

For me, the best thing about this book was the setting. We drove down through that area - The Great Smokey Mountains of East Tennessee - on the way from North Carolina to Memphis back in 2006 and thought it was stunning. So this was a nice reminder of that holiday and the authors convey the beauty and sense of isolation very well indeed. I had no idea that one of the biggest cash crops there is marijuana, grown quietly in isolated valleys where law enforcement can't find them.

Storywise I found the plot interesting but the writing and background a bit 'blokey'. I've come across the 'male, middle-aged main character who has countless much younger women chasing after him' scenario before. I know this does happen in real life sometimes but for some reason I can't help but find it rather eye-rolling every time I encounter it in books. I think I must be a really cynical old lady. But really... the mystery of the body in the cave, who she is, why she was murdered etc. is more than strong enough to hold up on its own, especially with that glorious setting... for me personally, the romantic subplot was superfluous. Your mileage may vary, as they say.

The book is peopled with some very colourful characters too, so there is plenty of interest, plus a few amusing scenes here and there as the doctor is taken to various mountain locations and has to cope with some peculiar situations. He's out of his comfort zone and it was fun to read about.

I shall probably read more in this series as there was enough about it to like and it is, after all, a first book. I try to cut a bit of slack for a first attempt.


Sunday, 4 September 2016

R.I.P. XI challenge

September is here and that means Carl's R.I.P. challenge is with us once again. Here's the link to his R.I.P. XI post.

R.eaders I.mbibing P.eril XI takes place from September 1st, 2016 through October 31st, 2016.

The kind of books to read for this challenge are:

Dark Fantasy

There are only two expectations if you want to participate with us:

1. Have fun reading (and watching*).
2. Share that fun with others.

There are multiple levels of participation so that you can imbibe as much, or as little, as you desire/as time permits, and still consider yourselves a part of this community event.

I'll be doing Peril the First.

Read four books, of any length, from the very broad categories earlier defined as perilous. They could all be by the same author, a series of books, a random mix of classic and contemporary or whatever you like.

I've created a shelf on Goodreads, listing a pool of books I'd like to read from. The link for that is here. I hope everyone who takes part enjoys the challenge and thanks as always to Carl for hosting.


Saturday, 3 September 2016

Books read in August

Another busy month for me but five books read so that's not bad considering.

41. O Jerusalem - Laurie R. King

42. The Wolf in Winter - John Connolly

43. Follow that Bird! - Bill Oddie

44. Jacquot and the Waterman - Martin O'Brien

45. True Grit - Charles Portis

True Grit tells the story of Mattie Ross, who is just fourteen years of age when a coward going by the name of Tom Chaney shoots her father down in Fort Smith, Arkansas, and robs him of his life, his horse, and $150 in cash. Mattie leaves home to avenge her father's blood. With the one-eyed Rooster Cogburn, the meanest available U.S. Marshal, by her side, Mattie pursues the homicide into Indian Territory.

I rather enjoyed this western adventure, told in the first person by fourteen year old, Mattie Ross. I haven't seen the newer movie version of True Grit but remember with a deal of fondness the late 60s version starring John Wayne, Kim Darby and Glen Campbell (though I'd forgotten Glen Campbell was in it even though he was one of my favourite singers back then). Anyway... I felt it portrayed very well how it was to live in 1870/80s Arkansas, I was fascinated by it all to be honest but then I have always enjoyed westerns on the screen even if I haven't read all that many. I gather there are considerable differences between the film and the book but as I haven't seen the film in a while I wasn't affected by that. I loved Mattie and her struggle to avenge her father's death even though she was only a fourteen year old girl. I would have liked more detail about The Territory... the area outside Arkansas inhabited by Indians and outlaws... which would have meant a longer book and that would have been fine. I felt that I'd no sooner got into the book than it was finished. It made me want to read more in the same vein so I'll have to look on Goodreads to see what there is in the way of realistic westerns. Not a bad read at all.

Another good batch of books... all were decent reads and I even managed a non-fiction. Favourite read this month? Well they were all good but this one was just a tad above the others in interest and enjoyment:

September is now upon us and it's starting to feel very autumnal in the mornings and evenings. Delightful. And the R.I.P. challenge has started so I need to get my post up sharpish. Happy reading!


Friday, 26 August 2016

Catching up... again.

As seems to be the case most of this summer I'm behind with book reviews. So this is one of my catch-up posts... three short(ish) reviews of a mixed bag of books read this month.

First up, The Wolf in Winter by John Connolly. I'm going to pinch the blurb from Goodreads for this one.

The community of Prosperous, Maine has always thrived when others have suffered. Its inhabitants are wealthy, its children’s future secure. It shuns outsiders. It guards its own. And at the heart of Prosperous lie the ruins of an ancient church, transported stone by stone from England centuries earlier by the founders of the town… But the death of a homeless man and the disappearance of his daughter draw the haunted, lethal private investigator Charlie Parker to Prosperous. Parker is a dangerous man, driven by compassion, by rage, and by the desire for vengeance. In him the town and its protectors sense a threat graver than any they have faced in their long history, and in the comfortable, sheltered inhabitants of a small Maine town, Parker will encounter his most vicious opponents yet.

First-class entertainment as always from John Connolly with this, book twelve, of his Charlie Parker series. He never disappoints with the weirdness of his situations, and the characters inhabiting said situations. Prosperous is a mighty peculiar town and it soon becomes apparent that its population is hiding a very dark secret indeed. Cue Charlie Parker's entrance stage left... poking his nose in where it definitely isn't wanted and opening up a real can of worms. It's all great stuff and gets even better when his pet assassins, Louis and Angel, join the investigation. For my money the ending fizzled out a bit, not enough explanation, but the rest of the book with its suspense, strong sense of place, and excellent storyline more than make up for that. Terrific.

Next, Follow that Bird! by Bill Oddie. This is my book twenty for Bev's Mount TBR 2016 challenge.

People of a certain age (mine!) will know Bill Oddie as one of The Goodies from the 1970's comedy sketch TV series. Nowadays he's probably more well known as a birdwatcher who appears on TV rather a lot in wildlife documentaries or programmes such as Springwatch... or used to... not around as much these days I notice. Follow that Bird! recounts some of his early adventures watching birds and making TV programmes. I say 'watching birds' - for much of his early bird watching years he was actually a twitcher which is slightly different. Twitchers like to keep lists of rare birds and tick them off as they see them, they'll travel all over the country for a rarity. Your average robin or blackbird does not really interest them. Anyway, six sections make up this book each recounting his various adventures - on holiday in Morocco, on the Isles of Scilly in October (when American rarities fly in), in India, Papua New Guinea, Ireland and on Shetland. There are anecdotes galore, amusing situations, 'dangerous' situations. One of the most chilling for me was the death of one of his twitching friends who was killed by a tiger in India. Bill wasn't there when it happened but when he did visit the area some while later he was saddened to discover more about how the tragedy actually occurred. I like Oddie's easy and humorous writing style, he's very self-deprecating and informative but so much concentrating on rare birds I'd never heard of and didn't know became a bit tedious. Nevertheless this was a perfectly good bedtime read for me.

Lastly, Jacquot and the Waterman by Martin O'Brien. This is my fourth book for the 2016 Europeanen Reading Challenge which is being hosted by Rose City Reader and covers 'France'.

There's a killer on the loose in Marseilles. Young women are being drugged and then drowned, earning the killer the nickname of The Waterman. It falls to CI Daniel Jacquot of the French police to investigate the murders, he is an international rugby player turned policeman now working with homicide in the south of France. After three deaths Jacquot still hasn't got anything to go on and then a body turns up with a tattoo which he is able to trace the origin of and the chase is on. But so many people are involved and from the highest echelons of Marseilles business life to boot. Jacquot will have to tread on some seriously sensitive toes to get a result with this one, not to mention work with a new, very annoying, partner *and* recover from being dumped by his girlfriend. And all the time the body count is increasing...

This series was recommended by Elaine at Random Jottings, so I thought I'd try the first book. So glad I did, it was *excellent*. Being a rabid armchair traveller I loved the setting of the city of Marseilles. I seem to be reading quite a few books set in and around The Med at the moment, so the setting for this book was very much an added attraction for me. The sense of place created is superb. I also liked the convoluted plot with its twists and turns... I'm not generally into crime stories that involve big business and shady business deals but this was well done and kept my interest. Daniel Jacquot is a slightly unusual detective with his ponytail and rugby player build, likes his food too and the author describes French food with a great deal of love. I've already reserved the second book from the library... a word of warning... if you decide to try this series and like to read series in order, check the order after The Waterman as there is some confusion. The correct order is (Jacquot and...) The Waterman, The Master, The Fifteen and The Angel. After those four I think Fantastic Fiction have the order correct.


Sunday, 7 August 2016

O Jerusalem

My 19th. book for Bev's Mount TBR 2016 is O Jerusalem by Laurie R. King.

Sherlock Holmes and his apprentice, Mary Russell, are forced to flee Britain at the end of 1918. There are various choices as to where to go, each destination harbouring some kind of useful, governmental task to be undertaken for Holmes' brother, Mycroft. They plump for Palestine, newly occupied by the British who have recently ousted the Turks from the region. Mycroft, of course, has not told them the nature of the task he wants them to perform in Palestine: they have to discover that for themselves.

They're met by two Arab brothers, Ali and Mahmoud, who're not at all pleased to have to nursemaid two visitors from Britain and even more appalled when they discover that one of them is a young woman. Holmes and Mary disguise themselves as Arabs, Mary insisting that she will not pretend to be an Arab woman and cover herself in a burka - thus she 'becomes' a male, Arab youth. Their Arab guides are scandalised.

A journey around Palestine ensues, during which they come across several murders of Jews and Arabs alike. And there are rumours. Is there a plot and if so who is behind it and what is their intention? The region is like a tinderbox, one spark and the whole lot will ignite... which may be what some criminal mastermind intends. Holmes and Mary experience everything Palestine can throw at them, arid terrain, oppressive heat, flea-ridden accommodation, cliff-top monastries, a murder attempt, kidnapping. And then there is Jerusalem, where things become really exciting...

I finished this on Friday and here I am on Sunday still thinking about it. Some books affect you that way and it's often hard to see why that is. Historically, it was a fascinating read. A couple of books I've read recently have touched on the troubles in the Middle East... Carol Drinkwater's, The Olive Route, and there's a section in the non-fiction I'm currently reading, The Old Ways by Robert MacFarlane, where he walks in Israel and Palestine. Both talk about the heartbreaking situation there and in O Jerusalem Laurie King goes some way to explaining how the seeds of the trouble were sown after World War One. The British had just ousted the Turks from Palestine and the whole region had become dangerous to travel in. I don't know enough to express an opinion on either the history of the region, going back to biblical times, or the current situation, other than to say it's complicated and tragic. I need to read more about it and that's the truth.

Aside from the obvious historical interest this is a great 'ripping yarn'. 'Loads' going on as Holmes and Mary Russell stagger from one adventure to another. It's great fun, but at the same time thought provoking and informative. It is slightly confusing in that the timeline here is not after the last book, The Moor, but after, I think, book one, which is The Beekeeper's Apprentice. So their relationship is still in its fledgling state, ie. they're not married as they are in The Moor and Mary is still struggling to make Holmes think of her as a partner rather than an apprentice. Like her, I found his attitude rather condescending, but then Sherlock Holmes was ever thus with everyone. Mary Russell is one of my all time favourite fictional characters. I like her determination to be included in the action, not to be thought of as a weak, helpless woman and to stand up for herself. She has to prove herself and does so with aplomb.

It won't be years before I read the next Mary Russell book, Justice Hall. I don't have a copy of it unfortunately (I own several after that) but I shall be grabbing myself a copy as soon as I can. It's a terrific series, well written, always historically interesting... and fun!


Monday, 1 August 2016

Books read in July

Heavens above, has another month really come and gone? Apparently so. I was busy, so reading took a bit of a back seat and just four books were read. These are they:

37. The Ghost Fields - Elly Griffiths

38. Heirs of the Body - Carola Dunn

39. The Hanging Wood - Martin Edwards, book five in the Lake District series.

This one starts with a young woman, Orla Payne, committing suicide by jumping into a silo full of grain on her father's farm. Her brother, Callum, had dissappeared when he was fourteen and Orla seven. She has never stopped looking for him. At her place of work, a residential library, is a man who looks so much like Callum that Orla thought it might be him. Who is he? Hannah Scarlett is given a week to look into the disappearance of Callum. The case is and was complicated with many of the close-knit community involved and clearly keeping things back. Daniel Kind is also drawn into the investigation as he was a friend of Orla's. Hannah, now free, or free-ish, is reluctant to start anything with Daniel until she's sorted her head and heart out. But she certainly has no objection to working with him on this extremely difficult case. A good instalment of this excellent series, so glad I got back to it after a couple of years. I managed to follow the plot despite lots of different characters, all seemingly related by blood or marriage, muddying the waters and requiring a bit of concentration. Good writing, a bit of sexual tension, and a terrific sense of place.

40. Play with Fire - Dana Stabenow, book five in the Kate Shugak series.

Picking mushrooms out in the wilds of Alaska with friends, Kate Shugak finds a body in the ashes of an area that was burnt by a wildfire some months ago. A day or so later she's approached by a ten year old boy. Matthew Seabolt lives with his grandfather, Reverand Seabolt, a fundamentalist Christian. His father, Daniel, a teacher, disappeared at the time of the fire but no one reported him missing: the boy wants Kate to find him. It's clear that the body is Daniel Seabolt but he didn't get caught in the fire - he died of anaphylactic shock, completely naked. The authorities don't think the death is suspicious but Kate is convinced it is. Looking into the teacher's background she finds there are many questions but can she get the village community to answer any of them? Another excellent Kate Shugak outing. In this book we find out a lot about Kate's history... how she coped when she left her Native Alaskan community to go to college in the city for instance. All very interesting. The murder mystery is perhaps a little predictable, it's fairly clear what happened from early on but when the precise circumstances were revealed, at the end, I did find it quite shocking. From a fairly average beginning this series just gets better and better.

So that was my July reading. I'm not going to name a favourite as all four books were very much on a par quality-wise... all excellent, all well written, all just what I needed. Basically, because I was busy, I stuck to tried and tested crime series that I knew I would enjoy plus knew I needed to catch up on. I shall probably continue with that in August. I'm currently reading one of Laurie King's Mary Russell/Sherlock Holmes books, O Jerusalem! This is a series I've long neglected, which is a shame as the book is really good. Perhaps it's not such a bad idea if you get a bit jaded with a series to leave it for a year or two before you go back to it. That seems to have worked very nicely for me.


Sunday, 24 July 2016

New books!

I had my 9th. blogging anniversay this week... Tuesday to be exact. Nine years! I never thought I would be able to keep yakking on about books for that long. LOL! And it seems that this is post 666. Now that really should have occurred during the R.I.P challenge. Bad timing.

Anyway, enough prevaricating. Onwards. I really thought I hadn't acquired many books since Christmas. Ha! Right. It seems that might not be quite accurate. In my defense I had a bookish birthday and was given half a dozen books (I know, I know... excuses.) What I certainly haven't done in a very long time is a 'new books' post and as I love looking at other people's new bookish buys I thought some might like to see mine. As always, click on the photo for a larger view.

First up, a few birthday books:

The Natural History of Dragons - Marie Brennan (Fantasy)
Weatherland - Alexandra Harris (Non-Fiction about the weather)
Dancing on Ice - Jeremy Scott (Non-Fiction, polar exploration)
Sacred Sierra - Jason Weber (Non-Fiction, mountains)
Winter Tales - George Mackay Brown (short stories, maybe weird)
The Boat Who Wouldn't Float - Farley Mowat (Non-Fiction, Canadian travel)

Some new buys with lovely covers:

Uprooted - Naomi Novik (Fantasy)
The Essex Serpent - Sarah Perry (Historical weirdness, an RIP read perhaps?)
Fair and Tender Ladies - Lee Smith (American historical fiction)

Lastly, a few odd purchases:

There's a Seal in My Sleeping Bag - Lyn Hancock (Non-fiction, found in a charity shop)
Bill Oddie Unplucked - Bill Oddie (Bits & pieces by the famous bird watcher... a couple of quid from The Works... newly arrived in my town, which is dangerous as they sell jigsaw puzzles as well as cheap books.)
The Olive Tree - Carol Drinkwater (Non-fic, sequel to The Olive Route)
The Dream of Rome - Boris Johnson (Non-fiction, history)
Pompeii - Mary Beard (Non-fiction, history)

I think that's fourteen in all and I may have missed a couple. So much for doing the Mount TBR challenge and getting books OFF the reading pile! Hopeless, Lost Cause... fully paid up member of.


Friday, 22 July 2016

Catching up with several crime titles

I haven't had a lot of reading time recently and am behind on reviews of the books I have read. So this is very much a catch-up post... a few brief reviews of several crime novels.

First up, The Daughter of Time by Josephine Tey. This is my book 17 for Bev's Mount TBR 2016 challenge and also qualifies for Bev's Vintage Mystery Cover Scavenger Hunt under the category, 'Jewellry of any sort'.

Inspector Alan Grant is in hospital after some kind of accident. He's flat on his back and likely to be for weeks. And he's bored. Various people bring him books, none of which are to his liking. His actress friend, Marta, brings him some pictures of various people from history with interesting faces, so he can decide whether or not they were criminally minded. From them Grant eventually chooses Richard III and embarks on a reading investigation, from his sickbed, the aim of which is to discover whether or not he really did kill the princes in the tower.

No real need to say any more about the plot of this book because that's it really. The story is much more of a history lesson than it is a traditional whodunnit crime yarn. I thought it was all fascinating to be honest. I knew there had been a lot of doubt about whether or not Richard III was guilty of the double murder but in this book Josephine Tey sets out the evidence for and against by having Alan Grant read up about it and also giving him an assistant researcher. I learnt much that I didn't know about that time period but there is also the usual wry humour running through the book. I loved Grant's housekeeper, Mrs. Tinker, and her outfit that she refers to as 'me blue' by which she gauges the importance of any event she has to go to... ie. 'It wasn't good enough for 'me blue''. Hilarious. And there is much more gentle humour in this vein. Sadly, I think I now only have two more Josephine Tey books left to read. What a shame.

Next, The Ghost Fields by Elly Griffiths.

A World War Two plane is unearthed by a digger in a field in Norfolk, the body of the airman is still inside. Forensic archaeologist, Ruth Galloway, is called in and she discovers immediately that there's a bullethole through the pilot's skull. The body is identified as Fred Blackstock, whose family own a large house on the marshes. The problem is, the body doesn't belong to the plane. Someone has dug the body up from elsewhere and planted it in the WW2 bomber. DCI Nelson sets about solving this mystery with Ruth's help. Ruth is glad to be working with Nelson again but wishes her life was just a bit less complicated emotionally.

Loved it. But then I always love Elly Griffiths's Ruth Galloway books. They're not for everyone I know that, but I love how Griffiths manages to get inside the head of all her regular characters amd make it all so real and amusing. Ruth with her lack of tolerance for attention seeking colleagues or impatience with stupidity or prats, is at times hilarious. I also the love the back story of Ruth and Harry Nelson and their daughter... though this instalment was a bit of a tease in that department I thought, but still very good. The mystery element was also excellent, involving as it did the WW2 airfields of Norfolk. Interesting stuff. And of course always, always a terrific sense of place. Definitely one of my favourite series at the moment.

Lastly, Heirs of the Body by Carola Dunn. This is my book 18 for Bev's Mount TBR 2016 challenge.

Daisy Dalrymple is asked by her cousin Edgar, the present Lord Dalrymple, to help find an heir to the title and estate... he and his wife being childless. Various contenders are found, a diamond magnate from South Africa, a sailor from Jamaica, a young boy from Trinidad and a hotelier from Scarborough. A mixed bunch, no question. And are they all who they say they are? A lawyer friend has the task of finding out and meanwhile they are all invited the family estate, Fairacres, for Edgar's birthday celebrations and to get to know them all. Daisy and Alec also attend. And then the accidents begin. First minor things to the children, but then one of the claimants narrowly misses being killed by a tram and Daisy and Alec realise that things are more serious than they thought. Alec is instructed to investigate... with Daisy's 'help', naturally.

This is a huge series now... Heirs of the Body is book 21 I think. It must be very hard with a series of this length to keep up the quality and all power to the author's elbow for managing it. This isn't my favourite, I will admit, but Daisy Dalrymple books are never anything less than readable and I enjoyed this very family orientated instalment as Daisy's relations take centre stage. It sort of reminded me of Angela Thirkell's Barsetshire books to be honest, which is never a bad thing, and Enid Blyton! After the interesting ending I look forward to seeing what happens to these new members of Daisy's family, so I hope Carola Dunn tells us. I'm sure she will.


Friday, 1 July 2016

Books read in June

Yet another month has come and gone. Is time speeding up or what? June for me has been a month of looking after my husband after his knee replacement surgery. All is going well although the first week home was a bit rough: I have to admit that I underestimated how exhausting it would all be. Thank goodness he's now well on the road to recovery... and then in September we get to do it all again.

With all that was going on I still managed to read six books. These are they:

31. The Olive Route - Carol Drinkwater

32. The Judge's House - Georges Simenon

33. Resorting to Murder edited by Martin Edwards

34. The Serpent Pool - Martin Edwards

35. The Daughter of Time - Josephine Tey (To be reviewed.)

36. The Illustrated Olive Farm - Carol Drinkwater. A companion piece to the author's Olive Farm trilogy (which I haven't read yet). Very nicely written and beautiful photography of the region in Southern France where the farm is.

And so.... four crime books and two non-fiction, all very enjoyable indeed. I don't need difficult reading at the moment and none of these were. Of the 'crime' books two books came out equal as being the most enjoyable and those were, Daughter of Time and The Serpent Pool. But 'overall' my favourite book was this:

Carol Drinkwater's The Olive Route. It deals with the origins and history of the olive tree and I thoroughly enjoyed the author's travels around the countries of the Mediterranean Sea. A truly excellent book.


Wednesday, 22 June 2016

A couple of crime titles

More catching up to do today, two crime titles, starting with Resorting to Murder edited by Martin Edwards.

This is a collection of holiday based, mostly obscure, crime stories written by various crime writers, many of whom have been long forgotten. Which is a shame really because while the collection is a trifle hit and miss, the stories do mainly hit the spot. I particularly liked several. The Hazel Ice by H.C. Bailey is a mountaineering story based in the Swiss Alps... lots of red herrings and complicated working out of peoples' alibis and so forth. Great fun. Where is Mr. Manetot? by Phyllis Bentley was written in the form of a letter, and concerned a chap who overheard something sinister in a deserted railway station and felt compelled to follow it up. Nicely written with an interesting ending. A Mystery of the Sandhills by R. Austin Freeman revolves around clothes found abandoned in the sand-dunes, where is the owner? Has he drowned? The amateur detective is into solving crimes scientifically like Sherlock Holmes. Talking of whom there's an excellent Holmes story in this volume, The Adventure of the Devil's Foot, a Cornwall based tale that I can remember being very frightened by as a child when it was shown on TV in the 1960s. All in all this is a good collection of stories, some better than others, but isn't that always the way? Love the railway poster cover too.

Resorting to Murder is my book sixteen for Bev's Mount TBR 2016 challenge.

Next, The Serpent Pool again by Martin Edwards.

DCI Hannah Scarlett is still in The Lake District investigating cold cases. Her current case is the death of a young woman, Bethany Friend, six years ago. Her body had been found in the Serpent Pool but the police had been unable to discover whether she had committed suicide or been murdered. Meanwhile a good customer of Hannah's partner Marc, who sells rare books, dies in a fire. It's almost certainly murder unless he tied himself up and set fire to all his books. Is there a connection between the two deaths? Daniel Kind becomes involved via his sister and Hannah once again finds herself fighting her growing attraction to him. But the real worry for Hannah is how involved is Marc in these very odd deaths and can their relationship survive all of these upheavals?

It's been far too long since I read a Hannah Scarlett book, and I have a few to catch up on.... three more left to read. Which is quite nice really because I enjoyed The Serpent Pool an awful lot. There's always a very strong sense of place, the Lake District being where the series is set... and this one took place during the winter so that was extra nice. (I'm rather a winter sort of a person). The mystery plot was a strong one, I kind of guessed who the culprit was but not the whys and the whyfors, which turned out to be a bit unusual. Hannah's personal backstory is one I like a lot, although it's maybe a bit frustrating as we all know what she ought to do but whether she will or not is questionable. But that's how real life is so that's not a complaint at all. A really enjoyable book and I'll be going after the next book, The Hanging Wood very soon.


Thursday, 9 June 2016

Catching up

I'm waaaaay behind with book reviews so it's time to catch up with some brief reviews.

First up, The Watchmaker of Filigree Street by Natasha Pulley, this is my third book for Carl's Once Upon a Time challenge.

Nathaniel Steepleton, known as Thaniel, is a telegrapher working for The Home Office in Victorian London. A one time pianist, he had to give up a promising career when his sister's husband died and it fell to Thaniel to earn enough to send her money for herself and her children.

Arriving home one evening Thaniel finds a gold pocket watch on his pillow. He has no idea where it came from or who put it there, but it's a very fine thing indeed. Nothing happens for a while apart from a threat by Irish Nationalists to plant a bomb in the vicinity of The Home Office. Everyone is naturally on edge. The watch saves his life when the bomb goes off so Thaniel goes in search of its maker. Keita Mori is a watchmaker and Japanese immigrant whom Thaniel takes to immediately but is he keeping a secret? Does he know something about the Irish bombs?

Meanwhile in Oxford Grace Carrow is a young woman studying physics at university, one of the first women allowed to do such a thing. A talented student, she's studying the luminiferous ether and wants to prove its existence with her experiments. A chance meeting at a ball brings her and Thaniel Steepleton together. Thaniel likes this studious, unfeminine young woman immediately but Keita does not. Thus Thaniel finds himself torn and having to make choices he'd really rather not but, like it or not, the lives of these three people are now inextricably entwined.

It's now a couple of weeks since I finished this and here's proof that you should write about books fairly quickly because I'm now struggling to remember it. Mainly I enjoyed it... its concentration on intricate clockwork was fascinating and something I've not come across before... it's a wee bit steampunkish and I like that. I don't think I understood all of the scientific explanations, especially Keita Mori's strange existance. But again... that was rather unique. I found characterisation slightly weak... I didn't feel strongly about any of the people in the book. I did like the flashback sections where we heard about Mori's past life in Japan. All in all not bad at all for a debut novel and I look forward to more by the author in the future.

Next, a non-fiction book, The Olive Route by Carol Drinkwater. This is my book 15 for Bev's Mount TBR 2016 challenge.

Carol Drinkwater is an actress, probably best known in the UK for playing Helen, the wife of James Herriot in the BBC series, All Creatures Great and Small. After moving to France to live on an olive farm, she wrote about her experiences in a trilogy of books that have become hugely popular. After writing those she decided to investigate the origins of her beloved olive tree, hoping to discover who turned the olive into the domesticated tree that we know today. How many thousands of years ago was this done? She starts her investigations in The Lebanon where she's shown an olive grove purported to be 6,000 years old. From there Carol's travels take her all over the Meditteranean, visiting countries such as Greece, Syria, Libya, Israel, Malta, meeting people, hearing their stories and discovering the history of the olive.

To be honest, I found this book to be more of a travelogue than a history book. And for me, that's fine. I notice some on Goodreads were disappointed: personally I wasn't. I found it to be the perfect mix of the author's recounting of her experiences around The Med along with bits of history of each country. My favourite place was Malta where she met a man trying to reintroduce the olive to the island after hundreds of olive groves were destroyed centuries ago. I thought that was joyous and so did she I think. More disturbing for me was her experience in Libya. This was just before the Arab Spring and Gadaffi was still in power and lone white women were not really that safe travelling alone. Now of course they're definitely not safe... but then no one is! She also found Israel unsettling, understandably so with what's going on there. It's a complicated situation but I felt she wrote very well about her time there. In fact the writing is top notch... descriptive, atmospheric, very personal. I really did love this book to pieces and was sorry to finish it. I've had it on my Kindle for several years but feel I would like paper copy so will probably get it along with its sequel, The Olive Tree. I also plan to read her olive farm trilogy at some stage.

Last, The Judge's House by Georges Simenon.

For some reason (we never find out why) Inspector Maigret has been exiled from the police in Paris. He's been sent to a quiet coastal backwater area of the the Vendée (just south of Brittany) where he's basically bored to tears. Then Didine Hulot, an elderly woman, comes to report that her husband has seen a body on the floor of a local house. Said house is owned by a retired judge who has moved to the area from Versailles, with his son and daughter. Maigret catches the judge trying to dispose of the body and arrests him. But it's really not clear who exactly killed the dead man or even who he is. There's a complicated story of a family beset by mental problems and a local fisherman who wants to marry the judge's daughter. It takes all of Maigret's ingenuity to unravel the tangled mess and get to the bottom of it all.

It helped with this one that I'd been to the Vendée where it's set and could appreciate the atmosphere and descriptions. It really was very much of its place and time, Georgs Simenon was an expert at such things and several of his books now have really sent me to the place where they're set. Plotwise I found it slightly predictable, but it was fun seeing Maigret going about solving the murder... never letting a single person know what was going on in his head. I also liked the Miss Marple type character of Didine Hulot who knew everything that was going on in the village and was always one step ahead of Maigret. Infuriating him of course. A nice comfy read for me which is what I need at the moment.

The Judge's House qualifies for Bev's Vintage Mystery Cover Scavenger Hunt Challenge under the category 'Bird'... because there are rather a lot of seagulls on the cover!