Wednesday, 18 October 2017

A couple of titles

Not a lot of time to read or post here at the moment as my husband had his knee operation several weeks ago and has needed a fair bit of looking after. But I have been able to slowly read a couple of books and these are they:

Firstly, The Tropic of Serpents by Marie Brennan:

This is book two in Marie Brennan's 'Lady Trent' series of fantasy books. In book one A Natural History of Dragons we saw how Isabella Trent grew up to love dragons, married, and then inveigled herself onto her first field trip to Vystrana (Russia?) to study dragons. In The Tropic of Serpents she's off again, this time to the country of Bayembe on the continent of Eriga, which I fancy is this alternate world's version of Africa. She's off to study swamp-wyrms in the company of Tom Wilker, who went with her before, and Natalie a runaway heiress. Bayembe is hot and humid, difficult, not only politics-wise, but also in the matter of femininity... things are very different for women here as opposed to Scirland where Isabella comes from. But most difficult of all will be living and surviving in The Green Hell, the swamp and forested area where she must go to study her dragons. This was a bit of a slow starter but picked up nicely as it went along. For me the most interesting aspect of these books is the travel. They read like Victorian travelogues quite honestly and as I love those, these books work for me. They might not work so well for people who don't like that kind of thing. I don't always find Isabella a particularly sympathetic character, perhaps I'm not meant to as she has to be tough in order to do what she wants with her life, ie. study dragons. The other thing I would say is that although these books are about the study of dragons, they don't actually feature dragons that much. Possibly this will come in later books. I liked these two books enough to order book three... after that, well, we'll see.


Next, Bury Your Dead by Louise Penny:

Armande Gamache is staying with a friend, Emile, in Quebec City, the old part, recooperating from a distastrous operation that went wrong. We're only told the whys and wherefores of this gradually as the book progresses. He's spending time doing some research in the Literary and History Society library, a place very few people know exist because it's run by the English of the city, not the French. When the body of Augustin Renard, a prominent French researcher into the whereabouts of the remains of Samuel de Champlain, the founder of Quebec, is found in the basement of the library the city police ask Gamache for his help. Meanwhile, back in Three Pines, Gamache's last case (from the book The Brutal Telling and you do need to read that book before this one) is still festering. Olivier's partner, Gabri, does not believe Olivier murdered the hermit in the forest. Gamache asks his sidekick, Beauvoir, also injured in the operation that went wrong, to go to the village and quietly investigate. If this all sounds a bit complicted that's because it is... *but*... it's not at all difficult to keep track of. There are three cases going on here, that of the body in the library basement, that of Olivier - is he guilty or not? - and that of the operation that went wrong. It's brilliantly executed in my opinion, it all knits together perfectly and for me is one of the best Gamache books so far, if not the best. I loved the library and its English board of trustees. I loved learning about the antipathy between the English Quebecois and the French, sad though it seems to be from the point of view of an outsider. The details of the history of the Battle of the Plains of Abraham were fascinating - I learnt about it at school of course but it was nice to hear more. I loved the whole mystery surrounding the body of Champlain and where it is. And of course the settings are marvellous. Quebec city sounds wonderful and I love, love, love the Village of Three Pines deep in the Canadian forest and want to live there... along with thousands of other fans of this series I suspect. A fantastic series which gets better and better with each book.

~~~oOO~~~

Friday, 22 September 2017

Third update on Where Are You Reading? challenge

Almost three quarters of the way through the year and autumn is officially here: my favourite time of year. I'm doing this Where Are You Reading? update now instead of at the end of the month because my husband will have his second knee operation next week and for a couple of weeks after that I may not be around very much. I'm guessing there won't be much reading going on either but I may be wrong.




This one is all about places. There's one about states but this one counts cities, countries, and fictional locations too. Read a book set in a location for each letter of the alphabet. West Virginia only counts for W, Bowling Green only counts for B, but the Pern series by Anne McCaffrey that is on a fictional planet counts as P ;-)


My list of books read so far:

A: (Alaska, USA) Blood Will Tell - Dana Stabenow (January '17)

B: (Bayembe) The Tropic of Serpents - Marie Brennan (Oct. '17)

C: (Cote D'azur, France) Jacquot and the Fifteen - Martin O'Brien (Feb '17)

D: (Devon, UK) North Face - Mary Renault (March '17)

E: (Europe) Continental Crimes - edited by Martin Edwards (August '17)

F: (France) Best Foot Forward - Susie Kelly (May '17)

G: (Gaillac, France) The Critic - Peter May (July '17)

H: (Hilary Magna, UK) Death of a Busybody - George Bellairs (Sept. '17)

I: (Italy) Excursion to Tindari - Andrea Camilleri (July '17)

J:

K: (Kingsmarkham, Sussex, England) No Man's Nightingale - Ruth Rendell (August '17)

L: (Lewis - The Outer Hebrides, Scotland) The Lewis Man - Peter May (January '17)

M: (Minnesota, USA) The Lost Girls - Heather Young (Feb '17)

N: (Norfolk, England) The Woman in Blue - Elly Griffiths (May '17)

O: (Oxford, England) Death on the Cherwell - Mavis Doriel Hay (June '17)

P: (Philadelphia, PA, USA) The Signature of All Things - Elizabeth Gilbert (February '17)

Q: (Quebec, Canada) The Brutal Telling - Louise Penny (Mar. '17)

R:

S: (St. Denis, Perigord, France) Bruno, Chief of Police - Martin Walker (June '17)

T: (Three Worlds, The) The Cloud Roads - Martha Wells (March '17)

U: (Utah, USA) To Helvetica and Back - Paige Shelton (Mar. '17)

V: (Vézére valley, France) The Caves of Périgord - Martin Walker. (August '17)

W: (Wisconsin, USA) Way Station - Clifford D. Simak (Feb. '17)

X:

Y:

Z:


Sooooo, that's 20 letters filled, 6 to go: B J R X Y & Z. I'm currently reading a book for B, leaving me with 5 letters to find books for before 2018. R shouldn't be a problem but the rest could be slightly problematical. I have a book set in Zimbabwe on my Kindle I think but we'll see what else emerges for the rest. Quite pleased with some of the destinations... various lovely US States, nice parts of France, Canada, Scotland, England and so on. Possibly I should vary the countries a bit more but those are the places I like reading about so it's a very much a list which reflects me and I can't think that that's really such a bad thing. I'm also pleased with the books I've read... there're some excellent titles on that list.

~~~oOo~~~

Tuesday, 12 September 2017

Catching up

I seem to spend half my life writing 'catch-up' book posts. These two couldn't be more different... I often look for similarities when doing multiple book review posts and it's fun when I find them, but there are none in these two - a non-fiction travelogue and a vintage whodunnit.

First up, Spain to Norway on a Bike Called Reggie by Andrew P. Sykes.

I saw this one on Goodreads, someone I follow reads a lot of travel books so I pick up loads of recs from him. I gather this is Andrew Sykes's third travel book, trust me to start on the last one but I honestly don't think it matters at all. He decides to cycle from the most southerly tip of Spain, Tarifa, to the most northerly tip of Norway, Nordkapp. This takes him through Spain, France, Belgium, Germany, Denmark, Sweden and Norway. My kind of book... I like cycling travelogues and have an interest in most of these countries, especially France, Sweden and Norway. The author is very good at describing the landscapes he's travelling through but not overdoing it with a load of purple prose. Naturally he meets a lot of different people. I sympathised with him over the English cyclist he met who was only interested in talking about himself and didn't ask a single thing about Sykes's journey: we all know people like that. He did, however, meet some really nice people including a German father and daughter who were friendly and helpful... although another lone German cyclist, Helmut, was a terrible misery and bore and Sykes had trouble avoiding him. It only goes to show I suppose that all kinds of people take to the road on bikes for all sorts of reasons, just like all walks of life. An excellent travel read and I'll definitely be searching out Andrew Sykes's other two books, Crossing Europe on a Bike Called Reggie and Along the Med on a Bike Called Reggie... especially that Med one. Naturally, Devon Libraries hasn't got either.


Lastly, Death of a Busybody by George Bellairs.

Miss Tither is the village busybody in the English village of Hilary Magna. Nothing and no one escapes her interfering attention and religious zeal. Straying husbands, courting couples in the woods, athiests, all come under her scrutiny and are told to mend their ways according to the dictates of The Bible. When her dead body is discovered in the vicar's cesspit, no one is very surprised and the list of suspects is a long one. Inspector Littlejohn from Scotland Yard is called in to help the local constabulary discover exactly how many pies Miss Tither had her finger in and which of them helped kill her.

This British Library Crime Classic was an excellent whodunnit. The large cast of characters was at times difficult to keep track of but I managed well enough. The quintessential English village was a joy even if we weren't actually told which county it was in... pedants like me need to know these things! The gorgeous cover is from a railway poster of Suffolk and the accents portrayed seemed to back this up although Hilary Magna sounds more Somerset than Suffolk. Never mind. I had no idea until the end who the culprit was, this was mainly because this was a complicated little plot with revelation after revelation as you went along, keeping you constantly guessing and changing your mind. Clever. There's also a nice vein of humour running through the story, always a plus. I wouldn't mind reading more by George Bellairs, he was apparently a Bank Manager in real life who wrote over 50 books, most of them about Inspector Littlejohn. I know the BLCC has one other volume available, a double book edition entitled, The Dead Shall be Raised & Murder of a Quack. That sounds like as good a place to start as any.

It's pretty much autumn here in the UK, my favourite time of year. Hope you have some good autumnal reading matter to keep you happy.

~~~oOo~~~

Monday, 4 September 2017

The Caves of Périgord

My first review of September is actually the last book I read in August. It's The Caves of Périgord by Martin Walker.




Lydia Dean works for a London auction house as an expert in prehistoric art. Things are not going too well with her job, she's not getting enough customers in and thus not enough publicity for her employers. A piece of prehistoric cave art, 17,000 years old, is brought to her - the owner, Major Phillip Manners, has just inherited it after his father's death and wishes to sell it. It appears his father fought with The Resistance in France during World War 2, and must have acquired it while in Périgord, near the Dordogne in southern France. But where? It's a smallish piece of rock and doesn't resemble anything found so far in, for instance, the Lascaux complex of caves. An expert is called in from France but before the cave art can be studied it's stolen from the auction house. Lydia and Manners set off for France where they believe they can find people who knew Manners' father during the war and might be able to shed some light on the origin of the piece.

In the Vézére valley in around 15,000BC a young man, Deer, an apprentice artist, is smarting after being falsely accused of an accident in the caves where his male counterparts are painting the local wildlife. He's been banned from the caves and humiliated by being made to work with the women. Deer needs to get back into the cave to paint. He also wants to become the mate of Moon, the daughter of the Keeper of the Horses, who paints horses in the caves. But he has a rival... The Keeper of the Bulls who is rapidly becoming the most powerful man in the tribe. Somehow or other he needs to solve these two problems, but how?

Three allied soldiers are working with The French Resistance in 1944, an Englishman, 'Capitaine' Manners, Phillp Manners' father, an American, McPhee, and Francois Malrand a Frenchman with a future in politics. Their job is sabotage, the teaching of it to resistance fighters. It's testing and dangerous and made much more so by the rivalry of the various factions within The Resistance. Gaullists (as in General de Gaulle), communists, Spanish fighters who fled the Spanish revolution in the 1930s, all are vying for superiority and have plans to be the dominant force after the war is over. Manners is the peace-keeper, the one with the tricky task of preventing them from killing each other rather than the Germans. His main objective though is to stop the German Das Reich division from travelling north to help stop the imminent allied invasion. In order to achieve this aim he sometimes has to make some terrible decisions.

This book could well be vying for best book of the year for me. It really is superb. I'm sometimes not a fan of a story told from different points in history. I find you no sooner get interested in what's being told about one person's story than it comes to an abrupt end and you're swept off somewhere else with a whole new set of characters to try and remember. Here though it worked very well. The sections were not short and 'bitty' but quite long and came to a natural conclusion. The most difficult part to write must've been that of Deer and Moon in 15,000BC as we don't really know much about the cave artists, but it's very well done, a realistic scenario I thought, and I loved the panoramic feel to these sections with gorgeous descriptions of the landscape of southern France.

With my current interest in The French Resistance I found the 1944 sections the most interesting. A lot of it mirrored some of the non-fiction I've been reading recently, particulary the political elements Edward Stourton discussed in his book, Cruel Crossing. I do love it when books overlap in this manner. Fiction often teaches you as much as non-fiction in my opinion, but reading both on a subject can work extremely well if you can find the books to match, which luckily I have. (Another good fictional book on this subject is Jacquot and the Angel by Martin O'Brien.)

There are deaths in this story but it's not at all a 'murder' mystery. It's a mystery about who stole the cave art, where is it, and where did it come from in the first place. I found the history fascinating and everyone's story excellent, the weakest, for my money, being the modern-day one. That had plenty of interest but I didn't feel the romantic aspect worked fantastically well. This is nit-picking... this is a jolly good book and I truly wish there were more around like it.

~~~oOo~~~

Friday, 1 September 2017

Books read in August

August was rather a good reading month despite it being the school summer hols and thus a bit busier than usual, not to mention we're having the bathroom redesigned and thus chaos reigns... Despite all that I managed to read eight books with a nice mix of fiction and non-fiction. These are the books:

43. Gardens of Stone - Stephen Grady. WW2, the story of a teenage boy in the French Resistance, non-fiction book.

44. The 12.30 From Croydon - Freeman Wills Crofts. Unusual vintage crime story.

45. The Natural History of Dragons - Marie Brennan. Part one of a fantasy series that portrays dragons as real.

46. No Man's Nightingale - Ruth Rendall. An excellent Inspector Wexford crime yarn about the death of a female vicar.

47. Continental Crimes - edited by Martin Edwards. An anthology of short vintage crime stories.

48. Cruel Crossing - Edward Stourton. How the French Resistance helped escapees from Nazi Germany and allied airmen escape into Spain via The Pyrenees.

49. My Good Life in France - Janine Marsh. Non-fiction... a British couple buy a wreck of a house in France and settle there.

50. The Caves of Périgord - Martin Walker.

So, three non-fiction - a number I'm pleased with - and five fiction. Three decent crime books in there and one good fantasy novel which is a genre I've not read in quite a while. I need to rectify that as I do enjoy a good fantasy book and have quite a few on my tbr pile still. The three non-fictions were all excellent, all concerned France, and all got a five star rating from me on Goodreads.

Choosing a favourite is rather difficult because this was an especially good month, none of the books were disappointing or dragged and I haven't a bad word to say about any of them. I think I'm going to have to call it a draw between a non-fiction and a fiction:



I haven't reviewed The Caves of Périgord by Martin Walker yet, but I will soon as it was so good. Both of these books were excellent reads, both concerned the history of the French Resistance to a greater or lesser extent, and both taught me an awful lot.

And now here we are in September and autumn's on the way, my favourite time of year. Happy reading!

~~~oOo~~~

Monday, 28 August 2017

Ahem... France again

A couple more French books today, both very different to each other but both got five star ratings from me on Goodreads due to their readability and that feeling that both authors had poured a lot of love and effort into their individual projects.

First up, Cruel Crossing: Escaping Hitler Across the Pyrenees by Edward Stourton.

I knew that many refugees and escaped prisoners were helped out of France by the French Resistance during World War 2 but details of the route they took were sketchy in my head. I think I thought they all went through Switzerland or out via the south of France to Gibralter. And quite a few actually did but it seems many also went via various escape routes, The Pat Line, The Comet Line etc., which ran down through France to the Pyrenees and thus into Spain. The people helped included allied airmen who had been shot down over Germany, France or Belgium, persecuted Jews, resistance members for whom life had become too dangerous in France and so on. This non-fiction account tells the stories of so many very brave people that it would be impossible to recount them all here. Plus this not a book primarily about The Pyrennees, there's a lot more general information about the war and how it affected the French population. Vichy France is discussed in detail, colaboration... I had no idea there was a sort of offical French colaboration force in the south of France called The Milice. Many of the Resistance considered these people worse than the Germans. The author himself undertakes The Chemin de Liberté, one of the main escape routes over The Pyrenees, to get an idea of what it was like although it can never compare with having to do it in appalling weather, exhausted, with the threat of capture a constant threat. There isn't a lot about his walk though, mainly this is an excellent historical account of bravery in the face of appalling danger and cruelty. I gave this five stars on Goodreads as I learnt such a lot and it really is a very well written book.

Next, My Good Life in France by Janine Marsh.

Janine Marsh lives in London with her husband, Mark; she has a good, well paid job and no reason to move to another country. What she does do is pop regularly over to France on day trips to buy wine: it's only an hour and a half by ferry across the English Channel. On one of these forays, quite by accident really, they end up viewing several properties for sale and Janine falls in love with a wreck of a place in the Seven Valleys in Northern France. The couple buy it and set about renovating it, visiting every weekend they can manage. Then the recession arrives and Mark is made redundant. He drops the bombshell that he would like to move to France on a permanent basis. Janine is completely torn. Half of her loves her job... she is about to be promoted... half of her is drawn to their little house in France and the way of life. What the heck is she going to do?

Well, no prizes for guessing what the author decides to do and reading all about it was sheer delight. It's not an area where there are heaps of ex-pats so assimilating into the local village, becoming part of the community, was very necessary in order to survive. And, as I discovered when my late sister-in-law moved to France twenty years ago, the locals are nearly always very friendly. But you have to adapt to their ways, no use going there and expecting them to change for you. Why the heck should they? And, like us Brits, they have their quirks, especially when it comes to language, so many subtleties you need to learn because mistakes can be embarrassing. For instance if you're invited to a party, never ever turn up on time. It's considered rude... half an hour late is fine, two hours late is even better. And so on and so on. I thoroughly enjoyed this very personal look at the French way of life... how two hapless Brits managed to survive and fit into what sounds like a gorgeous area. Loved reading about their neighbours, their animals, their exploration of the area, it was all delightful. Janine Marsh's website, The Good Life in France is well worth a visit for all kinds of info and lovely pics. You can also follow her on Twitter or Facebook.

~~~oOo~~~

Friday, 18 August 2017

Various titles

Fair bit of catching up to do today. I've been reading but not reviewing, mainly because it's the school summer holidays and thus busier than normal. Not to mention the garden...

Anyway, three books to review... first up, The Natural History of Dragons by Marie Brennan, this is my book 13 for Bev's Mount TBR 2017 challenge.

Seven year old Isabella, Lady Trent, falls in love with dragons the day she finds a dead sparkling in the garden. It's an uphill struggle to study them, girls are not expected to do such things and she has to conspire with her brother in order to read books on the subject from her father's library. She can be her own worst enemy though and after a disastrous dragon hunt that she should not have been on, she's banned from studying and reading. Several 'grey years' pass and eventually Isabella meets Jacob Camherst, a scholar with an interest in dragons and the two marry. Isabella is able to recommence her studies. Then the opportunity to go on field trip to study dragon in the wild occurs, can she persuade her husband to take her along?

I thoroughly enjoyed this story of Lady Trent's early days as a studier of dragons - she's writing her memoirs in her later years when things have vastly improved for women who want to gain an education. I very much liked the style of the book which is that of a Victorian female explorer. Though this is not Victorian England it does feel very much like it, the country they travel to being perhaps Russia. It's well written, fun, and written exactly as though dragons were real and available for serious study. I liked it so much I already have book two, The Tropic of Serpents, on my tbr pile.


Next, No Man's Nightingale by Ruth Rendell:

Inspector Reg Wexford is now retired, still living in Kingsmarkham, and spending his retirement reading The Rise and Fall of the Roman Empire. His ex sidekick, DS Mike Burden, calls him in to help solve the murder of a local female vicar, Sarah Hussain, a woman of mixed parentage... she was half Irish, half Indian. She had a daughter, Clarissa, who doesn't know who her father is... could this be a clue to the murder? Wexford and Burden get very bogged down questioning Sarah's few friends and an old friend from her past. It doesn't seem as though anyone would've wanted her dead but someone strangled her in her own home. Burden declares that he is never interested in motive, just the facts, but Wexford feels that motive is the key to this and even when a man is arrested ploughs on with his own investigations.

This is actually the first Inspector Wexford book I've read, although I did watch the TV series avidly years ago. It's also book 24, the last of the series Ruth Rendell wrote, so it was perhaps a bit mad of me to start reading the series with that one. That said, I don't think it matters in the slightest, probably *because* I'd seen and TV series and knew all of the characters well. I enjoyed this very much indeed, in fact I enjoyed it much more than I thought I would for some odd reason. So much wonderful dry humour in Wexford's thoughts and musings... and endless common sense. And more humour in the character of Wexford's cleaner, Maxine. She never stops talking, in the manner of people we all know, and is hilariously written. I loved Wexford's bookishness and the use of The Rise and Fall of the Roman Empire to illustrate various points. Clever. Because it was such a complicated little plot, I really didn't know until the end who had done the deed, so that's a plus. All in all an excellent read, superb writing, and I will definitely be grabbing more from the library when I have some space on my ticket!


Lastly, Continental Crimes edited by crime writer, Martin Edwards:

I always find it difficult to review volumes of short stories, sometimes I say something about every story but as life is short I shall just review the book in a general way. This is an excellent collection of stories set all over Europe but mainly France, Belgium, Germany and Italy. Many would come under the heading of 'Vintage Crime' being set in the 1920s & 30s but there are later ones from the 1950s and so on. Two, The New Catacomb by Arthur Conan Doyle and The Secret Garden by G.K. Chesterton, I had read before. The former I thought was clever and well written, the latter I didn't read again as I hadn't been that impressed with it first time even though I do like Father Brown stories in general. Not all are actual murder stories - the title doesn't actually promise that anyway - and that's no bad thing. One of my favourites, Petit Jean by Ian Hay, was more of a war story, set in World War One. How an author could make such a story funny I've no idea, but he did and it was an excellent little intrigue yarn which actually made me giggle all the way through. I'd happily read more by this author. A couple of others I enjoyed - The Room in the Tower by J. Jefferson Farjeon (I read his Mystery in White last Christmas), which was a supernatural story set in a castle on the Rhine, and The Ten Franc Counter by H. de vere Stacpoole, a murder mystery set in Monte Carlo. Both were well written and enjoyable. Agatha Christie's offering, Have You Got Everything You Want?, is a 'Parker Pyne' story about some stolen jewels. This is one of Christie's recurrent characters that I'd not come across before, which is perhaps not surprising as there seems to be just one book of short stories and apparently they're not all mysteries. The Long Dinner by H.C. Bailey was one of those kinds of stories you feel like giving up on but come the end you're glad you didn't. It hoicks the reader all over the place from Paris, to Devon in the UK and then back to France and the coast of Brittany. Excellent story that starts out as one thing and ends up as something else entirely. Like all anthologies, Continental Crimes has its high points and its low points but taken as a complete collection I thought it was rather good and have discovered several authors I would like to read more of.

~~~oOo~~~

Sunday, 6 August 2017

Catching up

A quick catching up post today, two books to review... I was going to say, 'very different' but there is actually a connection: both books take place in the 1930s (the first one goes on into the 1940s too of course) and very much reflect those very difficult times.

First up, Gardens of Stone: My Boyhood in the French Resistance by Stephen Grady and Michael Wright.

Stephen Grady was born in 1925 in Northern France, very close to the Belgian border. His father was English, his mother French - they had met during the First World War. Mother and father, four children, grandma and an aunt all lived together in a two bedroomed house in the village of Nieppe. Stephen's father worked for the Imperial War Graves Commission tending several WW1 cemetaries in the area. Stephen is 13 when war breaks out... the evacuation of Dunkirk affects the family badly and when the Germans invade France Stephen's father, being English, has to go into hiding. Stephen is rather adventurous and wild and because of a prank with another boy ends up in the notorious Loos prison, sharing a cell with three adults. Surviving this he joins the Resistance in 1941 and begins a very dangerous existance of secrets and sabotage which sets him apart from his family.

When I started reading about France three months ago I didn't think that my reading would lead me to books about the French Resistance. I got here via a couple of crime books, but principally Jacquot and the Angel by Martin O'Brien which dealt quite a lot with the French Resistance in the south of France during World War Two. It piqued my interest. I saw mention of Gardens of Stone on Goodreads and decided to order it from Amazon. So glad I did. I usually take longer to read non-fiction and thought this would be no different. Wrong. I whizzed through it, partly because the writing was so accessible (author, Michael Wright, actually wrote the book I believe) but also it really was absolutely fascinating. I'm not really a war story sort of a person but this gripped me from the start and didn't let go. The author recounts his wartime experiences in a very matter of fact way, given he was only a teenager at the time, the triumphs, the tragedies, the fear, it's all there. Some of it makes for difficult reading, betrayal to the Germans by neighbours was rife, but also it was incredibly uplifting to read what very ordinary people were capable on in the way of bravery. Stephen's resistance 'job' was to test allied airmen stranded in France to make sure they were not German spies, because English was his first language. But he also took part in sabotage missions, doing things that no young person should ever have to do. One particular event scarred him for life. An amazing book, one I would wholeheartedly recommend to anyone with an interest in the history of the second world war.

Lastly, The 12.30 From Croydon by Freeman Wills Crofts.

It's the late 1930s and Britain is right in the middle of what people are calling The Slump. It's affecting all, but particularly businesses. Charles Swinburn has taken over his engineering business from a rich uncle who built it up from scratch along with Charles's father. Lack of orders, partly caused by him not obtaining up to date machines for the factory, has put the business into dire financial straits and Charles needs to find some money - fast. He goes the usual routes, banks and so forth with no luck. The last resort is to apply to his uncle, but Uncle Andrew is an unpleasant individual with a cruel streak whose ill health makes him even crabbier. He gives Charles some money but it's not enough and Charles needs a better plan; which is when he decides to murder his rich uncle...

So here we have a murder mystery written, not from the point of view of the police officers who investigate the murder, but from the viewpoint of the man who does the deed. I don't think I've read one like this before, it was absolutely fascinating. We get the whole plan from start to finish and it's very strange because although Charles is really not a very likeable person you do find yourself 'almost' hoping he gets away with it. Note that I'm not saying whether or not he does... The tendancy is to think Charles is every bit as clever as he thinks he is, forgetting all the other crime books you've read where the police are not as stupid as the perpetrator assumes. Very clever stuff and I enjoyed this one very much. My only misgiving is a personal one, I don't care for court room dramas and for the last 100 pgs or so that's what this book becomes, so it lost a bit of its interest then for me. *But* another cracking BLCC book... which I highly recommend to lovers of Vintage Crime.

~~~oOo~~~

Sunday, 30 July 2017

Books read in July

I have to admit, July is not my favourite month of the year. In fact it's my least favourite. It can sometimes be too hot, even in the UK ha ha, and I hate that. Thankfully, July 2017 has not been too awful, just a few odd days in a row where it's been, for me, uncomfortably hot. At the moment we have cool temps. with some sunshine, many showers, weather you can get on and work in. The garden's going well, we're harvesting raspberries, plums, courgettes, runner beans, carrots and so forth. Tomatoes are just coming in. The shallot crop was large and those have been dealt with gradually over the last week, either frozen or pickled. I feel a certain sense of achievement in respect of the last month despite the fact that I hate July! Crazy, but there you go.

Oddly, despite all the harvesting, I've still managed a good reading month. Seven books in all, eight really, as one of them is a book that has two books within its pages. Anyway, these are they:

36. Auntie Poldi and the Sicilian Lions - Mario Giordano

37. Waterlog - Roger Deakin

38. Excursion to Tindari - Andrea Camilleri

39. The Critic - Peter May

40. Words in a French Life - Kristin Espinasse

41. The Little French Guesthouse - Helen Pollard

42. Three Men in a Boat & Three Men on the Bummel - Jerome K. Jerome

So, a motley bunch. Two non-fictions, both good. Three crime yarns, a rom com, a couple of classics from Jerome K. Jerome. Three books set in France so that fascination's been with me for three months now (it started in early May) and shows no sign whatsoever of abating. Which is fine as I'm learning rather a lot... I'm now reading about The French Resistance during WW2... and knowledge never goes to waste.

I'm having trouble choosing a favourite book. The only one here that I gave a five star rating to on Goodreads is Waterlog by Roger Deakin. And it was indeed superb. Beautifully written and a book to immerse yourself in , no pun intend... oh, ok then perhaps I did mean it. ;-) But really if I think about these seven books, the one that's stayed with me is Peter May's The Critic.


It was so very French in its descriptions of wine making in the South of France, so much atmosphere and so very clever with its plotting. I should go back and give it a five on Goodreads rather than a four to be honest. Peter May is such a good writer and I haven't read anything by him that I haven't liked a lot.

So, onwards into August... another month I'm not mad about. Roll on September even though it's pretty much certain my husband's second knee operation will, at long last, be happening then. C'est la vie...

~~~oOo~~~

Friday, 28 July 2017

France... again!

More French books. Quelle surprise! Not. Anyway, three very different books.

First, The Critic by Peter May - my book 3 for Peggy's Read Scotland 2017 challenge.

American wine critic, Gil Petty, has been murdered, his body pickled in wine, dressed in ceremonial robes, and strung up scarecrow-wise in a vineyard in the Gaillac region of the south of France. This happened several years ago and it's yet another unsolved case for Scot, Enzo McCleod, who is trying to solve seven unsolved murders from a book by an acquaintance. As a critic, Petty had a lot of influence over what sold throughout the world in the way of wine. He was also not the pleasantist of people and Enzo suspects he had more than a few enemies. But then another body, similarly pickled and strung up, is discovered and there appears to be no connection between the two men. A code needs to be broken before this distressing case can be solved but are Enzo and his team of Nicole, Sophie and Bertrand, and Charlotte up to the task?

Another enjoyable foray into the world of Enzo McCleod in the south of France. In this one wine-making plays a huge part. I would almost say if you fancy going to France to take it up, read this book! To be honest there's a little too much detail but it did make me consider the power these critics have over people's lives, be it wine, food, hotels or whatever. You can understand the resentment hard working people must feel towards them. I like the team Enzo has around him, particularly Nicole the clever student from a very poor farming background. Her problems feel very real. Not so sure about the on/off girlfriend, Charlotte. And here's yet another male author writing a middle-aged main character who's apparently completely irrestible to much younger women... Anyway despite this I do like this series... it's well written, the murders are always complicated and thus hard to solve, and Peter May really does do 'France' very well indeed. I shall read more.


Next, Words in a French Life by Kristen Espinasse:

Kristin Espinasse is an American woman from Arizona who married a Frenchman and moved to the South of France. She thought she could speak reasonable French having always had an intense love of the country and studied the language extensively. But real French, spoken by real people, is quite a different animal to that which we're all taught in the classroom and Kristen found her language skills somewhat wanting. She started a blog, French Word a Day, in which she introduces her readers to new words and illustrates them with daily happenings in her own life with her family in Provence. I found this utterly charming. All the vagaries of French life are here, I wondered at how similar we all are with our worries and concerns for our families but also... how different with our little idiosyncrasies, our taboos, and so on. I loved hearing about her husband and children... who helped her a lot with her French as they grew... her friends and most of all the area in which she lived, which sounds rather idyllic. The book, I should add, also informs and I felt I learnt quite a lot, but in a gentle way... the best way in my opinion.


Lastly, The Little French Guesthouse by Helen Pollard:

Emmy and her boyfriend, Nathan, are on holiday in the Loire Valley, staying at a guesthouse, La Cour des Roses, owned by British ex-pats, Rupert and Gloria. Rupert has a sudden seizure in the kitchen one night and Emmy rushes off to find Gloria, his wife, and finds her and Nathan in a compromising position. Next day Nathan leaves with Gloria leaving Emmy to look after Rupert, just out of hospital. She stays to help him run the guesthouse and very quickly grows to love everything about the place and loves the new friends she meets. But she has a good job back in England, friends, family... she can't possibly stay... can she?

I don't read heaps of these romantic comedy type books but I do enjoy the occasional one, especially if it happens to be set in France as this one is. And here the setting is particulary well depicted. La Cour des Roses sounds absolutely idyllic, as does the village and surrounding Loire countryside. Well drawn characters add to the enjoyment, I liked Rupert, Alain and Sophie, but particularly loved the French woman who came to clean whose name eludes me - possibly 'Madame Dupont'. I will admit to a few moments when I felt like shaking Emmy, and as to her ex-boyfriend, well... Anyway, thoroughly enjoyable and there are two more books which I'll search out in due course.

So, here we are almost at the end of yet another month. Scary. It's already feeling autumnal, a fact which I don't mind in the slightest as autumn's my favourite time of year. Happy reading!

~~~oOo~~~

Sunday, 16 July 2017

Sicilian Crime stories

Two Sicilian based crime novels today. First up, Auntie Poldi and the Sicilian Lions by Mario Giordano:

Isolde Oberreiter, more commonly known as 'Auntie Poldi', is a German lady in her sixties who's decided to move to Sicily to be near her relatives in her retirement. She has a nephew who's trying to be a writer and he lives with her from time to time. He's the narrator of the tale and describes how eccentric his aunt is having lived a very colourful life indeed. She has a sort of odd-job man who works for her now and then, who disappears one day. Poldi is worried, but no one takes her seriously until she discovers his dead body on the beach. The police are on the case but Poldi decides to look into the murder herself as her father had been a detective in Germany. It's naturally a dangerous undertaking and the investigating officer, DCI Vito Montano, is not amused with her interference but is struggling with his attraction to Poldi. Unfortunately for him she also has more success with her investigations than he does...

To be honest I wasn't at all sure what to make of this. It was a fun murder mystery, I will say that, with a really nice setting on the island of Sicily. Nice sense of place and of the eccentricities of the inhabitants of that island. The problem for me, I think, was that I felt the author made Aunt Poldi just a bit too eccentric. I do actually like a bit of weirdness here and there, enjoy it in fact, but I almost felt the author had gone overboard just for the sake of it. I struggled to identify with Poldi and that's a shame as middle-aged female protagonists are very few and far between. I say 'middle-aged'... the author refers to her as 'elderly' and she's in her sixties... like me... I do not think of myself as 'elderly'! Surely these days elderly is late eighties or ninety. Anyhow, hit and miss with this book I think, but cheap to buy on Kindle and a fun read so I have no complaints whatsoever.

Next, Excursion to Tindari by Andrea Camilleri:

A young man, Nené Sanfilippo, is shot dead outside his block of flats in Vigata, Sicily. Inspector Montalbano and his team are assigned the case. Then another man turns up at the police station, very worried about his parents, Mr. & Mrs. Griffo, who have not answered their phone for several days. Montalbano naturally makes no connection between these two occurrences... *until* he finds that the murdered man and the missing couple lived in the same appartment block. It turns out that the Griffos were last seen on a coach which was taking its passengers on an excursion to the Sanctuary of the Madonna in Tindari. On the way back the coach stopped for a comfort break and no one remembers seeing them after that. Then a local Mafia chief asks to meet up with Montalbano. What on earth is going on?

Another enjoyable episode in the detecting life of Salvo Montalbano... number five as a matter of fact. I can't claim that this is one of my favourite series, because it's not. I like them, I don't love them, and I'm not sure why that is. I do enjoy the taste of Sicilian life the author brings to his stories. The island is very real... the people, their addiction to food, the history, the oppressive heat, the organised crime, the eccentricity of the police force. There's a good natured, earthy humour I like and Montalbano's love of good food is endearing. His love life not quite so much. I read these books very intermittently, so as there're are rather a lot it'll take me while to get through them. But that's ok, I have several series I read like that, dipping in and out when the mood takes me. It's all good.

~~~oOo~~~

Tuesday, 11 July 2017

Two books about the water

Two watery books today. First, Waterlog by Roger Deakin.

This book is a celebration of wild swimming in the UK. It's quite a popular pastime apparently, which is something I was unaware of, although I have seen scenes of people swimming along rocky coasts on programmes such as the BBC's Coast. Roger Deakin set out, in 1996, to swim as many rivers, lakes, beachs, canals, aquaducts, you name it, of the country as took his fancy. He lived in Norfolk, near Diss, so East Anglia takes centre stage for a lot of the book. His home had small stretch of moat around it which apparently at one time, centuries ago, was not that unusual. But of course there are not many of them left, aside from a few stately homes and castles, Oxburgh Hall in Norfolk being a notable one. (It's owned by the National Trust and is a wonderful place to visit.)

He actually started his journey in the Isles of Scilly, off Cornwall, and thence into Cornwall itself. I was particulary interested in his swim in the outdoor lido in Penzance because this is where I swam as a child. The pool has recently been refurbished after being virtually destroyed by yet another Atlantic storm. Its triangular shape is apparently unique in the UK, something I didn't realise.


Photo: Penzance Jubilee pool

After that he swum all over the place, a lot in East Anglia as previously mentioned but also Scotland, Devon and Dorset, Sark in the Channel Islands, the Leeds & Liverpool canal, Lidos in London, remote mountain lakes in Wales, to name but a few.

It's quite hard to review books like this which meander almost as much as the rivers Deakin was swimming in. That's because his thoughts on all kinds of things take up as many pages as the actual swimming. We get a lot of history, topography, and musings on all kinds of topics, plus interesting bits on the people he meets, things that have happened to them and so on. The book is fascinating... it took me a month to read and I'm quite pleased about that as it meant I could savour it in detail and enjoy the wonderful laid back, contemplative nature it exudes. The sad thing is Roger Deakin died in 2006 aged 63. A sad loss to British nature writing.

Next: Three Men in a Boat - Jerome K. Jerome

Three Men in a Boat hardly needs any introduction from me. This is my second or even third time of reading it, although I did't own it. Not even sure what did happen to my copy but when I saw this lovely Oxford World Classics edition advertised by them on Twitter I decided it was time for a reread and this was the one I wanted to read. It involves of course, three men, Henry, George and the narrator 'J', deciding to row up the river Thames from Kingston to Oxford, along with the dog, a fox terrier, Montmorency. It catalogues their fictional adventures and misfortunes, their ineptness despite them all being men who've been out on boats on various rivers in the past. What struck me was what a popular pastime 'messing about on the river' was back in the 1890s when this book was written. It was crazy popular, not so much for the pleasure it seemed to me, but for the act of being seen out and about and taking part. The river could get so crowded at the weekends it could take hours to get through particular locks of which there are many on The Thames. Of course, the joy of this book is not necessarily the boat trip itself. It's the author's cogitations on everything under the sun. Hilarious stuff so beautifully put that it had me it fits of laughter. And I loved how self-deluded the narrator is when it comes to his own character. To be honest he's deluded about *most* things. The book is a joy, if you haven't read it, please do, you won't regret it.

One parallel I must draw between Waterlog and Three Men in a Boat is that both sets of travellers found access to some parts of the rivers difficult due to private ownership and *signs* up all over the place. It drove Roger Deakin mad and also the three men in the boat. You might have thought things would've improved in a hundred years but no, apparently *not*. Interesting.

I'll be reading the second book, Three Men on the Bummel very soon... think I've already read that too but honestly don't remember it so I'm hoping it too will be a joy.

~~~oOo~~~

Friday, 7 July 2017

Mount TBR checkpoint #2

We're now more than halfway through the year so it's time for the 2nd. Mount TBR checkpoint.


I signed up originally for Pike's Peak which is to read 12 books off your TBR pile.

First up, Bev wants us to:

1. Tell us how many miles you've made it up your mountain (# of books read). If you're really ambitious, you can do some intricate math and figure out how the number of books you've read correlates to actual miles up Pike's Peak, Mt. Ararat, etc. And feel free to tell us about any particularly exciting adventures you've had along the way.

Well, I'm there... at the top of Pike's Peak. I finished my 12th. book just a couple of days ago. What to do now? Well, I think I'll move on to the next mountain, Mont Blanc, which is to read 24 books. I've no idea whether I'll manage it but nothing ventured...


2. Complete ONE (or more if you like) of the following:

A. Choose two titles from the books you've read so far that have a common link. You decide what the link is--both have strong female lead characters? Each focuses on a diabolical plot to take over the world? Blue covers? About weddings? Find your link and tell us what it is.

My link is between Bill Oddie Unplucked by Bill Oddie and Waterlog by Roger Deakin. And the link is both authors' love of wildlife, in Oddie's case specifically 'birds'. It shines like a beacon out of both books and is delightful to read and learn from.


Next:

Use titles from your list to complete as many of the following sentences below as you can. If you haven't read enough books to give you good choices, then feel free to use any books yet to be read from your piles. I've given my answers as examples. Feel free to add or change words (such as "a" or "the" or others that clarify) as needed.

My Life According to Books:

1. My Ex is/was Waterlog(ged) - Roger Deakin (To be reviewed)

2. My best friend is The Woman in White - Wilkie Collins (on tbr pile)

3. Lately, at work (It feels like) The Haunted Library - Edited by Tanya Kirk

4. If I won the lottery (I'd take to) The Cloud Roads - Martha Wells

5. My fashion sense (resembles) Bill Oddie Unplucked - Bill Oddie

6. My next ride (Leaves from) The Way Station - Clifford D. Simak

7. The one I love is The Lewis Man - Peter May

8. If I ruled the world (I'd be) William the Conqueror - Richmal Crompton

9. When I look out my window (I see) Dragonsdawn - Anne McCaffrey

10.The best things in life are On the Shores of the Mediterranean - Eric Newby

So, onwards and upwards... Mont Blanc!

~~~oOo~~~

Saturday, 1 July 2017

Second update on my Where Are you Reading? challenge

Well, here we are... six months into 2017 and it's downhill all the way to Christmas. *Dodges sundry rotten veg* I wanted to pop an update on the Where Are You reading? challenge up here, mainly for own benefit so I don't have to go too far back when updating it. Also it's one I like keeping an eye on as I'm enjoying it quite a bit.




This one is all about places. There's one about states but this one counts cities, countries, and fictional locations too. Read a book set in a location for each letter of the alphabet. West Virginia only counts for W, Bowling Green only counts for B, but the Pern series by Anne McCaffrey that is on a fictional planet counts as P ;-)

The sign up post is here: Where are you Reading? and is being hosted by Book Dragon's Lair.

You don’t need a blog to participate. Feel free to link to a Goodreads shelf or another public profile where everyone can see your books.

There is one hard rule, one just for general courtesy, and several guidelines. There are no levels, unless you want to do a second set of letters.

Hard Rules
The book in question must have an ISBN or equivalent. If you can buy it or borrow it, it counts -

General Courtesy
When you sign up in the linky, put the direct link to your post. That way we can find it.

Guidelines

1. You can list your books in advance or as you read them. You can also change your list.

2. Any format, any genre or length of book counts but it must be the complete book, individual books in a collection do not count separately.

3. Anyone can join, you don’t need to be a blogger, just let me know in the comments.

4. Reviews are not necessary but a list of books you read is. There will be a link up for reviews if you wish to post them. You can make a list of books you want to read and change them if you'd like.

5. Crossovers for other challenges count.

6. Books started before January 1st, 2017 don’t count - unless you start over. ;-)


My list:

A: (Alaska, USA) Blood Will Tell - Dana Stabenow (January '17)

B:

C: (Cote D'azur, France) Jacquot and the Fifteen - Martin O'Brien (Feb '17)

D: (Devon, UK) North Face - Mary Renault (March '17)

E: (Europe) Continental Crimes - edited by Martin Edwards (August '17)

F: (France) Best Foot Forward - Susie Kelly (May '17)

G: (Gaillac, France) The Critic - Peter May (July '17)

H: (Hilary Magna, UK) Death of a Busybody - George Bellairs (Sept. '17)

I: (Italy) Excursion to Tindari - Andrea Camilleri (July '17)

J:

K: (Kingsmarkham, Sussex, England) No Man's Nightingale - Ruth Rendell (August '17)

L: (Lewis - The Outer Hebrides, Scotland) The Lewis Man - Peter May (January '17)

M: (Minnesota, USA) The Lost Girls - Heather Young (Feb '17)

N: (Norfolk, England) The Woman in Blue - Elly Griffiths (May '17)

O: (Oxford, England) Death on the Cherwell - Mavis Doriel Hay (June '17)

P: (Philadelphia, PA, USA) The Signature of All Things - Elizabeth Gilbert (February '17)

Q: (Quebec, Canada) The Brutal Telling - Louise Penny (Mar. '17)

R:

S: (St. Denis, Perigord, France) Bruno, Chief of Police - Martin Walker (June '17)

T: (Three Worlds, The) The Cloud Roads - Martha Wells (March '17)

U: (Utah, USA) To Helvetica and Back - Paige Shelton (Mar. '17)

V: (Vézére valley, France) The Caves of Périgord - Martin Walker. (August '17)

W: (Wisconsin, USA) Way Station - Clifford D. Simak (Feb. '17)

X:

Y:

Z:


Sooooo, that's 18 letters filled, 8 to go. I have books to cover a few of the vacant letters, B, G and H for instance, and probably others if I care to search properly amongst the TBR mountain. Quite pleased with some of the destinations... various lovely US States, nice parts of France, Canada, Scotland, England and so on. Possibly I should vary the countries a bit more but those are the places I like reading about so it's a very much a list which reflects me and I can't think that that's really such a bad thing.

~~~oOo~~~

Friday, 30 June 2017

Books read in June

Seems I haven't had a bad reading month in June, after a bit of a lull for a couple of months where my enthusiasm wasn't what it might have been. Six books read and most pretty good, which is about all you can ask for really.

These are the books:

30. Flirting With French - William Alexander. The author's endless struggle to learn French.

31. The Saint-Fiacre Affair - Georges Simenon. Maigret solving the murder of a countess in his home village.

32. Bruno, Chief of Police - Martin Walker. Chief of police, Bruno Courréges, endeavouring to discover who in his peaceful French town killed a North African war hero.

33. Extraordinary People - Peter May. Enzo McCleod whizzing around France trying to solve the cold case of a missing academic.

34. Death on the Cherwell - Mavis Doriel Hay. Female Oxford undergrads from the 1930s try to solve the murder of the their college's bursar.

35. Confession - Martin O'Brien. To be reviewed. Marseilles detective, Daniel Jacquot, working undercover to find a missing teenage girl from Paris.


These were all excellent books. I see they're nearly all crime stories which is about typical of me these days. Also, all but one set in France, which is also typical of me at the moment. It seems there are a few good French crime series out there... if anyone has any other recs of good French crime series please do feel free to recommend them.

As to a favourite, well the two that jump out are, Extraordinary People by Peter May and Confession by Martin O'Brien. Except... I really *really* enjoyed this one:

Because, well basically because it made me laugh a lot. Plus, I learnt quite a bit about language and how we learn... the optimum age for learning to speak a new language and so on. I don't own this book, it was a library book, but I'm very tempted to buy a copy in order that I can reread it at some stage, it was that interesting and informative.








So, onwards into July. Half the year has now come and gone and if that's not scary I don't what is. Happy reading!

~~~oOo~~~

Saturday, 24 June 2017

Death on the Cherwell

It seems I can't resist these lovely BLCC books. Each and every one is so beautifully presented, a delight to read, and I love the nostalgia of them. Even though many of them were written in the 1930s and 40s, before I was born, things hadn't changed much come the 50s and 60s when I was around, so they take me back to a time when modern life was not as frantic as it is today. I love them to bits. Today's review is Death on the Cherwell by Mavis Doriel Hay.


The first meeting of The Lode League takes place on the roof of a boathouse somewhere on the river Cherwell, in Oxford, on a gloomy February afternoon. Four girls, Sally, Daphne, Gwyneth and Nina have formed a society for the express purpose of cursing the bursar of their Oxford college, Miss Denning. Except that proceedings hardly have a chance to get underway before a canoe floats into sight and lying in it is, shockingly, the dead body of the said Miss Denning. The girls all attend Persephone college, an Oxford women only college, and this kind of scandal is not at all welcome to The Principal, Miss Cordell or 'Cordial' as the girls call her.

The police, of course, begin investigations but, worried that knowledge of The Lode League might cause the police to think they had something to do with the murder, the girls decide to investigate for themselves. It seems there are two main suspects - the elderly owner of a large house who has crossed swords with Miss Denning over a right of way across his land, and a farmer who wanted to sell the college some land but the deal doesn't interest them. A fellow student, from Yugo-slavia aslo seems implicated by her rather erratic behaviour.

The case is further complicated by the secretiveness of Miss Denning's life. She has a niece that she seems determined to keep away from Oxford at all costs. Why? Sally's sister and husband, who solved a previous murder case on the underground in London (Murder Underground), arrive to help solve the puzzle. It's a tricky one and no mistake, one in which the police appear quite happy to allow the undergraduate group to help solve.

Muriel Doriel Gray wrote only three crime novels, one of which I've read and enjoyed, The Santa Klaus Murder. (The other is Murder Underground which I've not read.) It seems a shame that she didn't write more as this was a very enjoyable read.

I quite enjoy books set in schools or colleges and there aren't that many of them so I always appreciate finding new ones. (One I can highly recommend is Miss Pym Disposes by Josephine Tey.) The girls in this book are thoroughly Jolly Hockey Sticks and none the worse for that. I wasn't sure of ages but imagine they're eighteen to nineteen... but seeming younger as of course back in those days children matured much later into adults. It wasn't until one of them was driving a car that I was brought up short and realised how old these girls were. Before that it was almost like reading an Enid Blyton book for mid-teens. Huge fun, to be honest. There's a nice vein of humour running through the whole thing, I found myself chuckling quite a lot, not only at the dialogue but also at the antics of the girls themselves. I liked how the detective in charge enjoyed their enthusiasm and found ways for them to help.

The mystery itself, of who killed The Bursar, was solid... various secrets to discover and various blind alleys you're led up. I didn't know until the end who'd 'dun it', so to speak, though some of the details are easy to guess if you read a lot of this sort of thing. To be honest, the real joy of this book is the river and college setting and 1930s period detail.

In all, a thoroughly enjoyable BLCC book. I have heaps more - around ten - to read and heaps more that I would love to own. They're all much too tempting!

~~~oOo~~~

Friday, 23 June 2017

New books!

Quite a few new books have mysteriously found their way into the house. I wonder where they're coming from... *coughs* So I thought I'd do a post as I haven't done one in quite a while. I have to say, some super, super covers on display here. Publishers seem to be really going out of their way these days to make books very attractive so well done them.

Anyhoo... these are the books bought, or given to me, or even *free*, over the last couple of months.



From the bottom:

To Oldly Go: Tales of Intrepid Travel by the Over 60s, Can't find an editor for this but basically the title says it all. Birthday present.

The Skeleton Road by Val McDermid. Scottish crime. Haven't read anything by this author, time I did. This one was free as Tiverton is having its literary weekend and a local shop is doing a book swap event. I took a load and came away with two.

The Olive Harvest by Carol Drinkwater. Very famous French 'olive growing' set of books. Love Carol's writing. This one was also free.

I'll never be French (no matter what I do) by Mark Greenside. My France thing continues unabated...

Three Men on a Boat & Three Men on the Bummel by Jerome K Jerome. I have actually read these but don't own them. Then I saw this copy advertised on Twitter and literally bought it for the cover. See it properly below.

To say Nothing of the Dog by Connie Willis. Sci-fi, time travelling, somehow connected to Three Men on a Boat because of course the full title of that book is: Three Men on a Boat to Say Nothing of the Dog




Murder of a Lady by Anthony Wynne. Vintage BLCC crime yarn. Scottish setting so it'll do for the Scottish challenge I'm doing. Birthday pressie.

A Scream in Soho by John G. Brandon. Another BLCC. London during WW2. Looks good. Another birthday pressie.

Continental Crimes edited by Martin Edwards. Short crime stories set on The Continent.

Death of a Busybody by George Bellairs. Village based crime yarn, coveted this for a while because of the cover so when I saw it in Smiths... (Fully paid up member of Sucker-for-a-lovely-cover-anonymous.)

Death on the Riviera by John Bude. Crime story set in the south of France.

And because the covers are too nice not to see, here they all are:








~~~oOo~~~

Sunday, 18 June 2017

Extraordinary People

Having already enjoyed two of the three books in Peter May's 'Lewis' trilogy, I spotted book one of his Enzo McCleod series in the library and thought I'd give that a go too.




A Scot living in Toulouse in the south west of France, Enzo McCleod is a biologist at the university in the historical city. He's taken a bet with a colleague that he can solve a cold case murder which is over ten years old, using modern techniques. Jacques Gaillard was a brilliant professor, destined for high places, when he disappeared off the face of the Earth. No one has any clue what happened to him and the police seemed to have lost interest in the case pretty quickly.

Enzo joins forces with journalist, Roger Raffin, who has investigated various cold cases and has copious notes which he's only reluctantly willing to share. Then a metal box is discovered in the catacombs below Paris after a tunnel collapse, which turns out to hold the skull of the missing man. Also in the box are various bits and pieces, clues perhaps to the whereabouts of the rest of skeleton? They piece together a theory and the hunt begins for the next box, neither of the men having any idea what they are getting themselves into or the danger which will present itself both to themsleves and to Enzo's family.

Well, I whizzed through this like a bat out of hell... unable to put it down unless someone was actually dying. Peter May has written this book for people who like puzzling things out, searching for answers in obscure records or books via the internet, gathering clues and figuring out the answers. And it works, or it did for me. I thoroughly enjoyed Enzo's tour of France, dragging along sundry companions, getting into a spot of bother at every turn, it was, to coin an over-used term, a real roller-coaster ride.

Enzo himself is a pony-tailed, middle-aged Scot with personal problems. He has two daughters by different mothers, one of whom won't have anything to do with him... he lives with the other who has a boyfriend Enzo doesn't approve of. I don't always care for these back stories of detectives in mystery books but this one struck a chord with me so I had no problem with it. And I did actually like him for recognising his own flaws and understanding why he had such problems in the first place.

One of my 'likes' shall we say, in books is 'tunnelling underground'... any books which go underground and do it well get the thumbs up from me. And this does just that. The last few chapters feature The Paris Catacombs, (which I was, rather stupidly, completely unaware of) and it is creepy and frightening. I'm assuming most of the info in the book is true and of course now I'd like to know a bit more! Maybe I can find a book in English as my French is not quite good enough for reading a text book I suspect.

As to the final culprit, it wasn't a surprise as I'd already guessed but that was not a problem at all. The joy of this book is in the journey and in that respect it was a hugely fun experience. I shall definitely read more in this series.

Extraordinary People is my book 2 (lagging behine a bit with this reading challenge) for Peggy's Read Scotland 2017, because Peter May is a Scottish author.

~~~oOo~~~

Wednesday, 14 June 2017

Catching up

I don't seem to be in the mood for long reviews of books at the moment. I'm even contemplating a blogging break for the summer, but have not definitely decided. In the meantime a couple of short reviews of crime yarns.

First up, The Sait-Fiacre Affair by Georges Simenon.

When an ominous note predicting the time and place of a death finds its way to Maigret's desk in Paris, his investigation brings him to Saint-Faicre, the place of his birth. It isn't long before a darkness descends on Maigret and the town, as the prediction becomes a brutal reality and the Inspector discovers he is not welcome in the place he once called home. (Synopsis from Goodreads.)

I've read quite a few Maigrets over the past two or three years and mostly enjoyed them. I haven't given any a two star rating on Goodreads as far as I remember but I did this one. Why? Well I found myself bored by it. I'm in the minority, there're loads of four stars on GR, which leads me to wonder what I missed. I certainly 'missed' the usual excellent French atmosphere to these books. Simenon's Maigret yarns are normally steeped in it but I got nothing. Nor did I care who did away with the countess or why... or about 'anyone' in the entire book to be frank. A shame really but I have a few more promising Maigret titles on my Nook to try (this was a library book) and will certainly do so. I recently really enjoyed ITV's adaption of one of the books, Night at the Crossroads, with Rowan Atkinson. I wasn't sure at first but his portrayal is growing on me quite nicely. Hope they make more.


Bruno, Chief of Police by Martin Walker.

Chief of Police in the town of St. Denis in the Perigord region of SW France is Captain Bruno Courréges. An ex-military man he has settled in the area and is very content with his life... he has good friends, a nice house, good food, good wine. There is little crime in the area, one of the main preoccupations is to try and stop EU inspectors from swooping on the local markets and enforcing their hygiene rules. Bruno is complicit in these shenanigans. Then the rural idyll is shattered when the body of a very elderly North African man is discovered. He's head of a family of immigrants who have settled in the area. Many forces come into play. The body was marked with a swastika so is this the work of Le Front National? A young man is arrested but Bruno is convinced there's more to it than meets the eye. The old man was a veteran of several wars so could there be a connection there?

I thought I would absolutely love this and there were elements I enjoyed, for instance I thought the town itself and its surroundings sounded lovely. I liked the quirky people and it seemed to me the author had got French quirkiness spot on, from what I remember from when my late sister-in-law lived in France... not all that far from this region funnily enough. And there was a good mix of characters even including some interesting Brits. Rather surprisingly I think it was Bruno himself I was was a bit 'bleugh' about. And I think it was because he seemed a bit too good to be true, to the point of blandness. I kept thinking that the author had written Bruno, not a as a 'real person', but specifically to appeal to women. The author's idea of what women want in a man. But what's wrong with that? I honestly don't know but it just didn't feel right to me. Comparing him to Martin O'Brien's Daniel Jacquot there's absolutely no contest. Jacquot feels real (and no less attractive) whereas Bruno, for me, does not. I have a feeling this is just me. Goodreads has many positive reviews and I did give it three stars as I didn't *not* enjoy it, I'm just fairly certain I won't seek out out any more in the series. Which is a shame, but there you go.

~~~oOo~~~

Saturday, 3 June 2017

Reading France

So. I'm on rather a French kick at the moment, and it shows no sign of abating, so this naturally involves books set in La Belle France. First up, book 4 of Martin O'Brien's series, Jacquot and the Angel.


The death of an entire German Family, elderly father and mother, their daughter and her daughter, living in Provence involves Daniel Jacquot in one of the most complicated cases of his career. The elderly father, Dr. Martner, is a grower and authority on orchids. He is also old enough to have been involved in WW2 and many older local French villagers have very long memories. A young local man is arrested for the murders but something nags at Jacquot about the arrest. Into the picture comes Marie-Ange to run the florist shop while the the parents of the arrested man support him during his trial. Who is she really? And can she help Jacquot solve this most brutal of cases?

Funny how the first one or two of most new crime series can be a bit iffy... it's only natural for an author to need to get into his or her stride. It's not always the case though and it's not here. Martin O'Brien hit his stride from the start of the very first book, Jacquot and the Waterman and has simply not wavered at all. This is book four and wow is it superb read. I loved the WW2 connections, details about the French Resistance seemed spot on and life in France during the war was very much brought to life. But the author is also fantastic on modern-day France. Lots of detail about the countryside, the seasons, the food, the villages, the idiosyncracies of its people. Wonderful. I honestly can't praise the series enough and happily gave Jacquot and the Angel a five star rating on Goodreads - no question about it at all. Jacquot and the Angel is my book 11 for Bev'sMount TBr 2017 challenge.


Next up a non-fiction, A Year in Provence by Peter Mayle.

I think I must be last person on the planet not to have read this hugely famous book by Peter Mayle. I've had plenty of time to ignore it as it was written in 1989! I do believe though that your time to read certain books is not always the same as everyone else's and clearly now was my time for A Year in Provence. The format is very simple, a chapter is devoted to every year of the author's first year living in France. The trials and the tribulations include the work on his house and difficulties getting workmen to finish a job, the bureaucracy, the language, The Mistral. But of course these are all outweighed by the joys of the landscape, the food, getting to know his neighbours and learning about the French culture. I have to say, like many others before me, I loved this book to bits. And I didn't expect to. It's so famous, iconic really, and I often don't care for these iconic books that everyone loves. I've heard it's the first book about Brits going to live in France, though I'm not sure that's actually the case. Certainly I gather it began a huge migration of Brits to France, beguiled by Mayle's descriptions of the rural Provence lifestyle. Oddly, both this book and the previous Jacquot book are set in the same area - Cavaillon - I think I'm going to have Google the town and see some actual pictures of it and the surrounding Luberon mountains. Anyway, super super book, atmospheric, descriptive and very funny. I think there are more books about Provence by Peter Mayle so will definitely keep an eye out. Another five star book.


Next, Flirting with French: Adventures in Pursuit of a Language by William Alexander.

The author, William Alexander, is American but he would desperately like to be French. The key, he believes, is becoming fluent in the language of the country he is so in love with. But this is easier said than done - naturally. French is not known as one of the most difficult languages in the world to learn for nothing. All that conjugating of verbs and loads of rules to be learnt. And everything but everything is masculine (le) or feminine (la), even inanimate objects, so all these have to be learnt as well. He gets himself into a right pickle and despairs of ever getting a handle on the language. He tries everything, various online language tools, audio courses, adult classes, social networking, immersion classes and two weeks at a language school in Provence. The results are very interesting indeed. He's quite hard on himself I think, although he does make a bit of a meal of the whole process... I did find it a trifle agonising *but* extremely funny and rather informative about language and how we learn. I had to give this yet another five star rating as it was so entertaining quite frankly.

~~~oOo~~~