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:


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.


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.


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 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 Resistence 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.


Sunday, 14 May 2017

More catching up...

Yet again I'm behind on reviews. Since the beginning of May I've read three books and not had a moment to review any of them... admittedly I have been away for a week in Cornwall so that explains it a bit. So, this is yet another catch up post from me.

First up, The Woman in Blue by Elly Griffiths.

Ruth Galloway's new-age, Druid friend, Cathbad is cat sitting in the historical village of Walsingham in Norfolk. Out searching fot the cat one dark night he sees a vision of a woman in blue in the graveyard. Cathbad being Cathbad this doesn't bother him much until a body is discovered in a ditch and it's a woman, or 'the' woman in blue. DCI Nelson is brought in to investigate and it's not long until Ruth is brought in too via a friend who's a female priest who's been recieving hate mail. Ruth's not thrilled about this: Ruth and Nelson's daughter, Kate, is now five but Ruth has still not really come to terms with her feelings for her married daughter's father. Why does life have to be so damn complicated? Yet another superb instalment of Elly Griffith's Ruth Galloway series. I've loved every single one and this was no exception. I love the humour in them, the mysteries are always historically based, which suits me, and although I find Ruth and Nelson's relationship a bit frustrating... it's real. Life is messy like that for some, there are no easy answers and Ruth's struggles make me feel so sorry for her. Long may this series reign.

Next, Sleeping Giants by Sylvain Neuval.

A young girl, Rose, is desperate to try out her new birthday present, a bike. She rides it into the woods at Deadwood, South Dakota, and literally falls through the ground, into a giant metal hand. Many years on and Rose is a prominent scientist in charge of the project to recover the separate parts of what turns out to be a giant robot, buried thousands of years ago... but by whom? Not saying any more about this book as it would involve spoilers and for my money it would be shame to know too much about this unusual book before starting it. It's written, rather oddly, in the form of interviews by an unknown person with the main characters in the book. It's quite original and makes for a pacey read, I found it to be quite the pageturner. This is the first book in what I think is going to be a trilogy. Book two, Waking Gods, is just out I believe. I shall be reading it.

Lastly, a non-fiction book, Best Foot Forward by Susie Kelly.

I seem to have been in a bit of a French mood for some months which for me is rather odd. I'm enjoying the Jacquot murder books set in the south of France and various other books set in France have crossed my path recently. Including this non-fiction account of the author's walk across France from La Rochelle on the Atlantic coast to Lake Geneva. Susie Kelly was in no way a hiker or camper when she decided to embark on this epic journey, she pretty much suffered every step of the way and her descriptions of the state her feet got into were quite harrowing. But this was a really enjoyable recounting of the people she met, the landscapes she walked through, and how much she got lost. I really enjoyed it all, the author writes engagingly and honestly about her failings and triumphs. I shall look for more books by her.


Monday, 1 May 2017

Catching up

A couple of short book reviews today. First up, A Murder of Magpies by Judith Flanders.

Samantha Clair is a publishing editor at a firm of book publishers. She's in her forties, single by choice and has a mother, Helena, who's a high-flying lawyer. She normally deals with contemporary fiction of the light, romantic kind but her friend and fashion writer, Kit Lovell, has written a book about the death of fashion designer, Rodrigo Alemán. Reading the manuscript, Sam realises that what it contains could be explosive and sets about passing it through their team of libel lawyers. Then Kit disappears and Inspector Jake Field comes into her life. It soon becomes apparent that there's a lot more going on than just Kit's disappearance that may or may not be because of his unpublished manuscript. Sam, Jake and Helena set about investigating, Sam soon finding herself going further than Jake has authorised because all she really wants to do is find Kit - whereas the others seem to have developed quite another agenda.

It's so nice to have a protagonist who's not young and glamorous and twenty-something. Sam is a very ordinary woman in her mid-forties, funny, intelligent, realistic about the world. She's also a loyal friend who is doggedly determined. I loved her dry, sarcastic wit usually aimed at the realities of the publishing world. Interesting to read about that, we readers have very little idea how the books we love get published and this book gives a small glimpse into that hidden world. The spotlight was also turned on the fashion world, which is not really my thing but nevertheless it kept my interest. This is a light, amusing crime read, very much London based, 'different' in that it's not police procedure based at all. Oh and I loved Sam's lawyer mother, Helena, whom Sam is convinced is a Martian. There are three in this book series so far so I'm hoping to come across more on my travels.

Lastly, Just One Damned Thing After Another by Jodi Taylor.

Madeleine Maxwell, known to all as Max, is recruited to a department of Thirsk University known as St. Mary's. It's an Institute of Historical Research... but with a difference: the historians who work there can travel in time. Their purpose is to "investigate major historical events in contemporary time." To find out the truth of incidents that are in question. It takes months of training before Max and her fellow trainees are ready to make their first jump. Several drop out but Max is determined to succeed, not only that but to be the best. Eventually she and her fellow students are ready to take their place as fully fledged historians. Max travels to 11th. century London and joins the medical team at the front in World War 1. Then she lands a 'big one'... she's sent back sixty five million year to the Cretaceous Period. This assignment changes everything, for Max, for St. Mary's, and possibly the world.

Well this one was recommended to me by book blogger, Geranium Cat, on Facebook. I have to admit for the first 50 - 60 pages I was a bit so-so about it and then it suddenly took off like a bat out of hell and was non-stop action and intrigue until the very end. And I mean 'intrigue'... all kinds of double-crossings and unexpected twists... I was exhausted come the end. It was huge fun, a lot humour in the dialogue and first person naration. Interesting and entertaining characters - Max herself is a complicated and frustrating sort of person but I suspect there's a backstory there the reader may learn about in future books. There're quite a few of them, nine I think, with a lot of short stories and novellas in between. I'll certainly read more if I can get my hands on them.


Saturday, 22 April 2017

Pern books

It seems ages since I last posted. It is ages! Easter and the school holidays seem to have got in the way of everything this month so my book count for April is going to be well down I suspect. But there's no harm in that... it's been a fun couple of weeks with the grandchildren, they grow so quickly you must enjoy every moment with them.

Another reason for less reading is that I've become terribly addicted to the TV series, The Game of Thrones. We bought the boxed set a few weeks ago to see if we would like it... various people I know love it so I thought we might too. And goodness me we really do. I wasn't sure at first. It's very adult... quite a lot of sexual content and heaps of violence. But if you can get beyond that the storylines, acting and sets are amazing. We're on season three at the moment and fair galloping along. Plus... the books are calling to be read after I've finished with the TV series.

Anyway, books!

Anne McCaffrey's Pern books have long been a favourite of mine. I read the first two, Dragonflight and Dragonquest, in the early 1970s when I was in my early twenties and I remember being totally smitten with the fabulous world McCaffrey had created. It was many years after that that I finally got back to Pern with The White Dragon and The Harper Hall trilogy. Since then I've been slowly catching up with the many other dragon books Anne McCaffrey has written.

No sooner had I started All the Weyrs of Pern when I realised the book I should be reading was Dragonsdawn. This is because at the beginning of All the Weyrs it talks a lot about the original settlers but doesn't actually tell their story. Dragonsdawn does just that. The settlers were originally from Earth, all looking for a peaceful, agrarian way of life. They set up a settlement where they land, call it 'Landing', and for around eight years things go well. People gradually move out of Landing to set up their own farms or craft centres - life is idyllic. Small dragon-like animals have been discovered and many taken as pets. Then comes the day when thread falls from the sky like rain. People die, land and crops ruined. What is this horrific 'thing' which eats everything in its path? Where is it coming from? How long will it last? Questions need answers but in the short-term the settlers must find a way to fight the thread in the air before it can hit the ground and do tremendous damage. Is it possible the dragonettes might harbour an eventual solution?

Jump forward 2,500 years and we have the events of All the Weyrs of Pern. The inhabitants of present day Pern have discovered the remains of Landing where their ancestors first settled. The computer system, AIVAS, is still working and it doesn't take the likes of Jaxom and Piemur long to get it up and going. It seems that AIVAS is the font of all knowledge and the inhabitants of Pern have a lot to learn. Their ancestors slowly lost all of their technical know-how as they concentrated on fighting thread with dragons. They have to relearn what their forebears knew and quickly. AIVAS thinks they could eradicate thread forever but there is much to learn and only a short period of time in which to do it.

Thoroughly enjoyed these two connected books, particularly Dragonsdawn. When I first read the two initial dragon books all those years ago it didn't occur to me that there was a real back story to the tales of Lessa and F'lar and their dragons. I thought I was reading fantasy when in fact I was reading science fiction. I've just about made the adjustment! Because Dragonsdawn is pure sci-fi with its Earth settlers arriving on Pern to start a new way of life... the start of thread... and their use of the little dragonettes to find a way to fight the dreaded scourge. It's all fascinating stuff. When I'd finished that I went back to All the Weyrs of Pern which updates the story of the rediscovering of 'Landing' and how AIVAS has the current population relearn the knowledge that's been lost for 2,500 years. Again, fascinating. Towards the end one bit upset me to the point of tears. Pern fans will know what I'm referring to. All in all a thoroughly enjoyable couple of weeks with the dragons of Pern and I'm not going to stop as I'm reading a book of short stories that lead on from Dragonsdawn... Chronicles of Pern. Although I do plan to move onto to something crime based alongside that, as I miss my mysteries.

These two books are my books 9 & 10 for Bev's Mount TBR 2017 reading challenge.


Wednesday, 5 April 2017

Mount TBR: Checkpoint 1

Three months of 2017 have whizzed by so it's time for the first checkpoint for Bev's Mount TBR 2017

These are the questions Bev wants us to answer:

1. Tell us how many miles you've made it up your mountain (# of books read).

Well I'm doing Pike's Peak which is to read twelve of your own books in a year. I've read eight so far. Which means I'm two thirds of the way up the mountain already and way ahead of where I should be. It looks like I might be moving on to the next level at some stage. We'll see.

2. Complete ONE (or more if you like) of the following: I shall do three.

A. Post a picture of your favorite cover so far.

This is mine.

B. Who has been your favorite character so far? And tell us why, if you like.

That would be 'Moon' from the above book, The Cloud Roads by Martha Wells. Despite the sadness of his past life and how hard his present life is for him he still manages to be brave, honourable and hopeful for the future.

D. Title Scrabble: See if you can spell a word using the first letter of the first word in the titles of some/all of the books you have read so far. Feel free to consider "A," "An," or "The" as the first word or not as it helps you with your word hunt.

I thought I had a 5 letter word but no... I have heaps of 4s instead. So I'm choosing 'BOTH'.

Blood Will Tell - Dana Stabenow
On the Shores of the Mediterranean - Eric Newby
The Cloud Roads - Martha Wells
Haunted Library - ed. by Tanya Kirk


Thursday, 30 March 2017

Books read in March

March was an average reading month for me... six books tends to be my default number and if I manage that then I'm quite happy. Not that it bothers me, I read what I read... it's whether I enjoy the books that's the main factor. So when that is taken into account then it's actually been quite a good month.

Anyway, these are they:

15. To Helvetica and Back - Paige Shelton

16. The Brutal Telling - Louise Penny

17. The North Face - Mary Renault

18. L'Auberge - Julia Stagg

19. The Cloud Roads - Martha Wells

20. On the Shores of the Mediterranean - Eric Newby

My usual mixed bag... two crime stories, two general fiction, one fantasy and a non-fiction travel book. Two were a bit so-so and four very enjoyable. A month where two thirds of the books you read are good to very good is about as much as you can ask for really.

I'm struggling with a favourite. Two books *just* have the edge and those are The Brutal Telling and The Cloud Roads.

Two very different books but both absolutely superb. Two things they have in common is a wonderful sense of place and the kind of paciness I enjoy. Always something happening in both books. I don't think I will choose between them... I'll award them joint first place in my affections.

So now it's almost April and the year is slipping away. This 'time speeding up' thing as you get older is scary. It makes me feel that I really *must* read what I like, when I like. So, on that note I suddenly felt like reading some Pern books by Anne McCaffrey so that's what I'm going to do. I shall spend a couple of weeks indulging in one of my favourite science-fiction series of all time and read these two books:

And then maybe this:

*What* a gorgeous cover! So that's my reading plan for the first part of April. What are yours? Tell all. :-)


Wednesday, 29 March 2017

A few short reviews

As is often the case I'm a bit behind with book reviews so this is a 'catching up' post.

First up, L'Auberge by Julia Stagg

Gosh, what a hideous cover but that aside I rather enjoyed this light, fun read set in the French Pyrenees. An English couple, Lorna and Paul, have bought The Auberge (hostel, B&B type affair) in the mountain village of Fogas. The local mayor rather wanted his brother-in-law to have it and sets about making life very awkward for the couple in the hope that the business will fail and they'll have to sell it cheaply. All kinds of shenanigans ensue but along the way certain of the French villagers decide they don't like The Mayor's rum doings and set out to thwart him by helping the English couple out. Very nice sense of place in this one, nice descriptions of mountainous scenery and wintery conditions. My late sister-in-law lived in France for a while and also ran a B&B so this was quite familiar territory to me. I was quite aware of how much power French mayors wield, although hopefully most are not as corrupt as the one in this book. This is a series of five books, I'm not sure if I'll read any more, possibly if I happen to see any more in the library, but not otherwise.

Next, The Cloud Roads by Martha Wells.

Moon has no idea what he is... he only knows that he can shape-shift at will into a winged, flying creature. As far as he is aware there is nothing else like him anywhere, his small family having been killed by The Fell, another race of flying beings - but vicious - when he was a small child. He has been nomadic since this happened, living for spells with groundlings, here and there throughout The Three Worlds, but they always find out about his shape-shifting eventually and banish him from their commmunities. Then one day, expelled from yet another village, Moon is astonished to encounter Stone, an individual exactly like himself, albeit much, much older. Stone explains a little about what he is and offers him sanctuary at his colony some way away. Used to being independent, Moon is reluctant but decides to go with Stone for the duration, having nowhere else to go. It's probably just as well that he has no idea of the challenges ahead and how much danger his life, and that of his new friends, will be in.

I've owned this for four years now, always meaning to get around to it but never actually managing to. I'm so glad I made the effort at last as it really was an excellent fantasy read... well written, amazing world-building and interesting characters. Martha Wells has packed this book full of beautifully imagined beings, especially the Raksura, of which race Moon is a member. The Fell, who seem to be trying to take over the world, are vicious and frightening... genuinely scary. I loved the travelling element, naturally, and I think this continues through the next books of which there are five altogether. Delighted and plan to read all of them as and when I can. Thrilled with this new to me fantasy series. This is my book 7 for Bev's Mount TBR 2017.

Lastly, On the Shores of the Mediterranean by Eric newby.

Oh, how I wish I'd enjoyed this as much as I hoped to. I quite like Eric Newby's travel writing and this book about his trip to most of the countries surrounding The Mediterranean sea, with his wife, Wanda, should have been right up my street. And parts of it were. Where he concentrated on what they got up to it was fine, although I don't think I really needed quite so many names of streets in Naples. Where I got bogged down was in the history. Which is very odd because I like history, really like it, but it was all so dry and he didn't make any of it come alive. Carol Drinkwater's, The Olive Route, also about The Med, knocked spots off it quite frankly. A real shame, but there you go... you can't win 'em all. This was my book 8 for Bev's Mount TBR 2017.


Wednesday, 22 March 2017

Secondhand book buys

Sometimes you come across the best book buys when you're least expecting it. We had to visit a local small town on Monday for my husband to have his hearing aid adjusted. They have a Health Centre there, one to which we'd never been before. As soon as I walked in I sensed books. LOL! And there they were, quite a few of them, 50p each in aid of the Health Centre and being looked after by a lovely volunteer. We chatted while I picked out books. And what books!

First I spotted one of the delightful British Library Classic crime reissues, then another... eventually I had SIX.

From the bottom:

The Cheltenham Square Murder - John Bude
Death on The Cherwell - Mavis Doriel Hay
Antidote to Venom - Freeman Wills Crofts
Thirteen Guests - J. Jefferson Farjeon
The Poisoned Chocolate Case - Anthony Berkeley
The Cornish Coast Murder - John Bude

New, these are £8.99. I got six for £3. Fantastic bargain! Plus, several are books I wanted to read as I'd already read books by those authors and liked them.

On the other pile:

Mysterious Air Stories - edited by William Pattrick. An AM buy.
A Book of Railway Journeys edited by Ludovic Kennedy. Also an AM buy.
The Christmas Collection - Mary & Carol Higgins Clark. Bought at the Health Centre.
The Girl In Blue - P.G. Wodehouse. Also from the Health Centre.
Best Foot Forward - Susie Kelly. A walking in France book, AM buy.

Hubby's face when I approached him carrying a bag of books rather than one or two, was a picture... wish I'd taken it on my phone. I left a fiver in the honesty box and thought the fiver very well spent... and a good cause.


Saturday, 18 March 2017

North Face

So I'm standing in the Post Office queue yesterday afternoon... four or five people in front of me, my mind wandering, as it does, cogitating on books I want to read and those I'm reading at the moment etc. etc. North Face was going round my head, where it's set, its characters and so on, when I suddenly focussed on the woman standing in front of me. She was wearing a dark grey quilted anorak type of thing and there on the back of it in the right hand corner was a maker's logo. And what did it say? The North Face, that's what. This kind of thing happens to me all the time...

Anyway, enough about coincidences, North Face by Mary Renault:

A group of people converge on a quiet B&B on the North Devon Coast, just a few years after World War Two. Miss Searle is an academic, a teacher, and a bit on the snooty side. Miss Fisher is a nursing sister, very down to earth, seen it all. Neil Langton is also an academic and teacher, he likes climbing and walking and is nursing a tragedy in his past and has yet come to terms with his grief. The two women try to communicate with him but he's not forthcoming, keeping himself to himself. Two more guests arrive. A young girl, Ellen, about 19, and a young man, Phillip. They arrive separately and affect surprise to see each other telling everyone that they are acquaintances at work. The nursing sister puts two and two together...

Next morning, Phillip takes off in a hurry. Something clearly wasn't right. The guests assume the girl will go too but she doesn't. She stays. Out one day, Neil comes across her, stuck on a rockface and has to rescue her. From then on the two slowly become friends and more, but naturally nothing is ever straightforward especially when the two people involved both have a lot of sadness in their past.

This was a random grab from the library. Well, not that random as I've felt for a while that I should read something by Mary Renault. What I want to read is actually her Alexander trilogy but naturally my library doesn't have it so I just sort of grabbed North Face to sample the author's writing.

I wish I'd liked it as much as I wanted to. On paper it should have been perfect, set in North Devon, an area I've lived in or around for over twenty years, and involving a bit of rock climbing which I don't do but like to read about. It *should* have been right up my alley. So, what was wrong?

Well firstly, to be positive, there was an excellent sense of place. The sleepy, summery atmosphere of the North Devon coast and countryside in the late 1940s was spot-on as it hasn't actually changed all that much. I recognised various places... even if one or two were actually over the border in Somerset, no matter, that aspect of the book was delightful. I also enjoyed the rock climbing bits, the danger was very well portrayed... edge of seat stuff towards the end. Brilliant.

What I'm ambivilent about is all the internalising of emotions that was going on in the book. The author clearly had a good grasp of psychology, people's selfish motives for what they think and do was nicely put over and I found that interesting. But at times I got so bogged down in the writing of it that I had to read some sections several times and still didn't really know what she meant or sometimes what had actually happened! It was quite frustrating to be honest and I had to face the fact that I might not be intelligent enough to understand parts of the book, which is quite sobering. LOL!

The one thing that did come over very well was how damaging to people's personal lives the war was. Even if you didn't lose someone, the effect on marriages and children was often catastrophic. The other thing I was struck by was the social mores of the period. I recognised all of them in my parents and grandparents, especially as regards the behaviour of women and how a reputation could be ruined in moments. Men had a lot more leeway of course and it was interesting how Neil thought of the two women in the B&B as unmarriageable old spinsters when they were around the same age as him... mid forties. This was very much a book of its time. Attitudes were very entrenched and the idea that anyone should have sex before marriage was so unthinkable that not only did it cause terrible gossiping, it made sensitive ladies like Miss Searle quite ill and write 'letters'. Fascinating stuff from our perspective in the 21st. century.

So, I was a bit hot and cold about this one. Gave it three stars on Goodreads when plenty of others would probably give it at least a four. I'm glad I read it and will try a few more of Mary Renault's book, especially the Alexander & Theseus trilogies if I can find them.


Tuesday, 14 March 2017

Update on my book series.

I haven't updated my list of the series I'm reading in quite a while, not since 2015 in fact. I find it very useful to do this as every now and then I peer at it to see which series I haven't read in a while and should get back to. Or maybe don't want to get back to at all... this happens quite a lot with me as I'm quite fickle. Embarrassed to admit it but I am. Extremely subject to moods in reading, like a butterfly flitting from one theme or place to another... vintage crime, ancient Rome crime, US based crime, Scottish crime... The Lake District, Canada, France! It seems there's no end to my finickyness. Ah well, never mind.

Anyway,the books:

Crime - modern and historical:

Charlie Parker - John Connolly - (read 11... up to book 12)
Matthew Shardlake – C.J. Sansom (read 3)
Flavia de Luce - Alan Bradley (read 6)
Daisy Dalrymple - Carola Dunn (read 21)
Rizzoli and Isles - Tess Gerritsen (read 8)
Ruth Galloway - Elly Griffiths (read 7)
Mary Russell/Sherlock Holmes – Laurie R. King (read 5)
The Lewis trilogy - Peter May (read 2)
Lord Peter Wimsey - (read 6)
Gordianus the Finder - Steven Saylor (read 2)
Medicus - Ruth Downie (read 2)
Kate Burkholder - Linda Castillo (read 2)
Reverand Clare Fergusson - Julia Spencer-Fleming (read 3)
Temperance Brennan - Kathy Reichs (read 2)
No.1 Ladies' Detective Agency - A. McCall-Smith (read 11)
Kate Shugak - Dana Stabenow (read 6)
Sea Detective - Mark Douglas Home (read 2)
Hannah Scarlett - Martin Edwards (read 6)
Jacquot - Martin O'Brien (read 3)
Armande Gamache - Louise Penny (read 5)
Dangerous Type - Paige Shelton (read 1)

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

Mercy Thompson - Patricia Briggs (read 6)
Jackelian - Stephen Hunt (read 2)
Rivers of London - Ben Aaronovitch (read 4)
Liveship Trader - Robin Hobb (read 1)
Astreiant - Melissa Scott - (read 2 1/2)
Hyperion - Dan Simmons (read 1)
Pern - Anne McCaffrey - (read loads but need to get back to them)
Books of the Raksura - Martha Wells (read 1)

Series I want to read: (mainly fantasy)

The Wit’ch series – James Clemens
Alpha and Omega - Patricia Briggs
Worldmaker trilogy - Lucy Hounsom
Lady Trent - Marie Brennan
Outlander - Diana Gabaldon
All Souls trilogy - Deborah Harkness
Todhunter Moon - Angie Sage
The Tawny Man trilogy – Robin Hobb (in fact all of the rest of her books.)

The Coldfire trilogy – Celia Friedman
The Fionavar Tapestry trilogy – Guy Gavriel Kay
Swordspoint - Ellen Kushner

As I noted back in 2015, what's really striking is how I've moved from being a fantasy/horror/sci-fi reader to being a reader concentrating on all kinds of crime stories. I never ever thought this would happen. I did read a bit of crime years ago, I used to love Ellis Peters' Cadfael books for instance, but converting to crime as a main genre, no I didn't anticipate that at all. Never say 'never'.


Sunday, 12 March 2017

A couple of crime titles

Two crime books to review today. First up, To Helvetica and Back by Paige Shelton.

Clare Henry lives and works in Star City which is a winter ski resort in the mountains in Utah. Along with her grandfather, Chester, she run a business mending typewriters and restoring old books. A friend and neighbour, Mirabelle, brings her antique typewriter into the shop for Clare to mend the L, which doesn't work. A man they later refer to as 'leather-man', because of his clothes, comes into the shop and demands to be given said typewriter. He gets very angry when Clare refuses point blank to hand it over. Next day the man's dead body is discovered in the alley behind her shop. Because Clare had worked late that night and fallen asleep in the shop she finds she's a suspect... not good when your best friend, Jodie, is a police woman. It's up to Clare to try to establish her innocence by discovering what secrets an old typewriter holds that are worth killing for.

Paige Shelton is a new author to me, I don't think I'd even noticed the author on Goodreads. Then a friend whose whose opinion I trust recommended To Helvetica and Back and I'm so glad she did because I really enjoyed it. It was quirky and fun and the Utah setting attracted me as it's not generally a place where books are set. (Well, there must be a few but they're not so noticeable here in the UK.) There's a bit of history about the mining in the area, a bit of geology, a little bit of romance, and a good mystery, the background to which kept my interest well. I also liked the restoring of rare books angle and details about how it's all done. There's one more book in this series, Bookman Dead Style, which I'll read but I also downloaded to my Kindle, The Cracked Spine: A Scottish Bookshop Mystery by the same author. Books and Scotland... what's not to love about that?

Lastly, The Brutal Telling by Louise Penny, book five in the Armand Gamache series.

Chief Inspector Gamache and his team are called in when a body is discovered in the bistro in the village of Three Pines in rural Quebec. The dead man has been bludgeoned to death but no one has any idea who he is or how he came to be there. Gabri and Olivier, the gay couple who run the bistro, certainly have no idea. Gamache has no clue where to start with solving this murder but slowly he begins to realise that several of the villagers are holding something back, keeping secrets. People he thought he knew, considered friends, are perhaps not what he thought they were. But could they be murderers?

This is my favourite Gamache book so far, and that's not to denigrate the first four books either. This one was just a bit special. The cast is the usual one of Gamache's team, Beauvoir, Lacoste and a new young chap, Morin, and the various villagers we've come to know, husband and wife artists Peter and Clara, Gabri and Olivier who own the bistro, book shop owner, Myrna, eccentric Ruth and her duck, Rosa, and so on. A couple of new families have moved into the village so they add to the mix... and suspects. What's interesting about this book is the complicated plot. Who was the dead man? What's his story? Gamache really struggles to find answers. There are literary connections, cold war connections, Gamache even ends up on Queen Charlotte Island off the coast of British Colombia at one point. I felt Louise Pennty created a wierdness about the story that was almost supernatural, the creepy atmosphere quite got to me but I loved it. It's full of secrets and hidden histories and motives... so many layers. I hadn't a clue who the culprit was until the end. And the writing, well that was just sublime. I wish I could have given it more than five out of five on Goodreads. LOL

Both these books qualify for the Where are you Reading? challenge that's being hosted by Book Dragon's Lair. To Helvetica and Back under 'U' for Utah and The Brutal Telling under 'Q' for Quebec. Two quite difficult letters covered there. I'm still eyeing up that X though...


Thursday, 2 March 2017

World Book Day

Happy World Book Day! How wonderful that such a thing exists. So often I think books and readers are left behind in the mad rush that is modern day life and also in the belief that all should be sporty. We're not! Some of us are bookish and we're not fairly represented on TV or elsewhere in the media in my opinion. Anyway, I'll stop pontificating, here're a couple of truly beautiful books that have somehow made their way into my home over the last couple of days.

The Writer Abroad is a book of literary travels covering the entire world, from Austria to Uzbekistan, as it says on the cover. The selections were made by author, Lucinda Hawksley. The French Riviera: A Literary Guide for Travellers by Ted Jones is... A literary and entertaining journey along France's fabled Riviera, illuminating the lives and work of the great literary figures who found inspirarion there. The covers are stunning and well worthy of representing World Book Day.


Wednesday, 1 March 2017

Update on Where Are You Reading? challenge

This post is really for my own reference so when I come to update it I don't have to go further and further back looking for the post. (But please feel free to comment with any book recs.) Plus, I'm nerdy enough to want to keep close tabs on a challenge I'm enjoying so much.

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.


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)


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

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


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


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

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



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

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


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

X: The Xibalba Murders?



So that's 10 books read out of 26 and just 2 months into the year so that's not bad. I haven't quite finished the book for 'U' but when that's finished it'll be reviewed and a proper link added. Looking at these titles the big surprise to me is just exactly how many books I've read this year that're set in the USA! I had no idea. It probably illustrates how much I like that country and enjoy reading about it. And what's nice is that all these books add to my list of books for my personal challenge to read a book from every US state... and I still have plenty of those that are blank at the moment. Apparently I like a challenge!


Monday, 27 February 2017

Books read in February

February was a pretty average reading month for me, number-wise that is, with six books read. Quality-wise it was very far from average. Three books got 5 stars from me on Goodreads and two others, 4. That's a good month and is quite a rare occurrence. Anyway, these are the books:

9. The Signature of All Things - Elizabeth Gilbert

10. A Life in Questions - Jeremy Paxman

11. Way Station - Clifford D. Simak

12. The Lost Girls - Heather Young

13. William the Conqueror - Richmal Crompton. Thirteen stories of 1920s mayhem with Just William and his loyal Outlaws getting up to all sorts of mischief. Great fun.

14. Jacquot and the Fifteen - Martin O'Brien

Not a bad mix of books, one excellent autobiography, one crime, one science fiction and I'm not sure how to categorise the other three... historical fiction and children's I imagine. Every single book was enjoyable, several of them outstandingly so. Thus I'm really struggling to pick a favourite. My head says The Signature of All Things by Elizabeth Gilbert or The Lost Girls by Heather Young because both were so good. But really... when it comes down to it my heart tells me that this one had a very tiny edge:

I do love Martin O'Brien's Daniel Jacquot crime series, set in the south of France. So well written with a gorgeous sense of place and 'food'. Wonderful.


Saturday, 25 February 2017

Catching up

Time to catch up with several book reviews. Busy with the grandchildren over half-term and then a nasty cold most of this past week meant I was not really up to posting... or doing much at all to be honest. Apart from reading...

First up, Way Station by Clifford D. Simak

Enoch Wallace lives in Wisconsin on his remote family farm. He's 120 years old, fought in the American civil war in fact, but looks like a 30 year old. How can this be? Government agents would love to know so they are watching him. Enoch knows he's being watched but also knows they can do nothing to harm him. He's protected by a Galactic Federation - because Enoch is the only keeper of a way station on planet Earth. Countless aliens pass through his home on the way to other planets in our spiral of the galaxy and he has made friends with many of them. His home is impregnable, protected by a sort of cloak and within it Enoch never ages. But what of these government agents? And what of his nearest neighbours, a vicious family, apart from the daughter, Lucy, who is both deaf and dumb and seems to have an affinity with nature. Can they, between them, bring Enoch's carefully built existence crashing down around his ears?

This excellent vintage sci-fi story - it was written in 1963 - is very much of its time period. World peace was very much on people's minds after two world wars and the cold war just beginning. The main character, Enoch, is very despondent about the state of the world and expecting another terrible war to happen sooner rather than later. He's even created a sort of chart to note down events and has deduced from it that war is inevitable. From our vantage point in 2017 we know that it didn't happen but I have to say I sympathised with his despondency very strongly. We all know what it feels like to have these thoughts. But this is not a depressing tale. It's a celebration of nature, of our differences, of the fact that despite all there are plenty of people working to stop war happening. The place where this story was set, by the Mississippi in Wisconsin, was familiar to me as I'd just seen it in one of Michael Portillo's railway documentaries. So I could picture it perfectly and knew how beautiful it was there. I do love these vintage sci-fi stories, I read a lot of them back in the 60s but access to them, apart from the library and one bookshop in Penzance, was difficult. No ordering from other libraries in the county in those days and I couldn't really afford to buy books. It's fun to catch up on some of the ones I didn't know about now that access is so much easier. I have to say, I really enjoyed this one... my book five for Bev's Mount TBR 2017 reading challenge.

Next, The Lost Girls by Heather Young.

It's the summer of 1935 and the Evans family are at their summer home by a lake in Minnesota. The family are the mother and father and three daughters, Lilith 13, Lucy 11 and Emily aged 6. The happenings of that summer are recorded by Lucy, now very elderly and with not long to live. It was the summer that Lilith grew away from her and joined the other teens in the area, leaving Lucy at a loose end. And it was the summer that Lucy's six year old sister, Emily, disappeared and was never found.

Justine lives in modern day California with her two daughters and her new partner, Patrick. Patrick is seemingly the perfect man but something about his clinginess worries Justine. When she learns that her Great Aunt Lucy (Justine's grandmother was Lucy's sister, Lilith) has left her the house by the lake she decides to uproot herself and the girls and go there to live, without telling Patrick where she's gone. The change from sunny California to freezing Minnesota is dramatic and no one is very happy. There are still people at the lake who remember the tragic events of the summer of 1935. The house is so full of memories it feels haunted somehow and Justine finds she can't stay there during the day. And she can't help but wonder... what did happen to the missing sister, Emily?

Fabulous, just fabulous. This is a debut novel I gather... you'd never know it. It's so beautifully written with a really intense sense of time and place and a very lovely lyrical feel to the writing. The story is written with one chapter for Lucy, one for Justine and then Lucy again and so on. Lucy's chapters are written in the first person because she's writing the journal, Justine's in the third. It works so well and sucks you in immediately. I won't say this is a happy tale because it's not. There's lot of sadness and difficulty for the characters and towards the end some of it is quite hard to read. There's also a bit of frustration... one character got away lightly in my opinion. But that's life, there are no simple answers. This is very much a 'family secrets' sort of book and I know a lot of people enjoy that sort of thing... if you do then I can thoroughly recommend this one.

Lastly, Jacquot and the Fifteen by Martin O'Brien.

Chief Inspector Daniel Jacquot of the French police once played rugby for France. For ten minutes at the end of a game he was brought on as the reserve and scored the try that won France the match against England. He doesn't really think that merits him an invitation to the reunion party for that particular team but he gets one regardless and decides to go to the weekend do with his new girlfriend, Claudine. It's being held on the Cote D'azur at the luxury home of the team's then skipper, now a billionaire businessman. Unfortunately, three members of the team have recently died so of course are not there. When another member of the team supposedly commits suicide the morning after the party, Daniel's suspicions are aroused. It doesn't look like suicide to him but no one seems interested and he finds he's on his own in his quest to find a murderer who may be killing off members of the one time French rugby team. But why? What on Earth would anyone have to gain by this?

This is the third Jacquot book I've read and am happy to report that this was equally as good as the first two... possibly even the best of the three. Which is quite surprising really as there's a bit of a rugby thing going on in it, something which I know very little about. It didn't matter in the slightest as the main focus is on who's killing various members of Jacquot's team. I gobbled the book up in about a day, which is quick for me, but it was quite hard to put down. This is partly because the plot was so fast paced but also Martin O'Brien writes really well. (He's one of a small band of British male crime writers that I've recently come to admire including Peter May, Martin Edwards and Mark Douglas-Home.) I must also add that he makes the Cote D'azur sound utterly gorgeous... all that fabulous coastal scenery and inland with the hills and wonderful houses, gorgeous views. This book really took my mind off my rotten cold and I'm so grateful for that and also very glad that I still have six Jacquot books left to read.


Monday, 13 February 2017

A Life in Questions

A quickish sort of review today... mainly because, while I enjoy them very much, I always find biographical, memoir type books hard to review.

Anyway, A Life in Questions by Jeremy Paxman.

Jeremy Paxman, or 'Paxo' as he's more commonly referred to here, is a household name in the UK. Not only is he famous for his rather forthright interviewing of famous politicians but he's also the question master on University Challenge, a quiz show for students which is immensely popular. Add to that quite a few excellent TV documentary series on subjects such as the Victorians and their art, World War One, The EU, The British Empire (I can recommend all of these) and you have a long and varied career.

Firstly, the author's childhood is charted at - what he refers to - as a minor public school, Malvern College, then his years at St. Catharine's college, Cambridge and thus onto his first job at the BBC in 1972. He worked in Northern Ireland during The Troubles... in fact he was all over the world in various trouble spots such as The Middle East and The Balkans, until he finally decided enough was enough and went on to do various news presenting jobs... landing a position on Newsnight in 1989.

This book made for very interesting and entertaining reading. Paxman is hugely self-deprecating throughout, laughing at himself and admitting that much of his success is down to being in the right place at the right time. I've watched, probably, every one of his documentaries and read four or five of his highly entertaining books (I particularly recommend, On Royalty, The Political Animal and The English). So I suppose you could call me a bit of a fan. I like not only his irreverant writing style but also his irreverent attitude to the powers that be and people in high places who proclaim themselves to be better than the hoi polloi and then turn out not to be. I also like his intelligence and the fact that he's a very keen reader.

A Life in Questions is written in a very readable, but intelligent way. Paxman makes his readers laugh with his way with words and sense of humour and I'm a real sucker for that. This is, necessarily, quite an opinionated book. I don't always agree with him but he always states his case clearly and concisely and always make me think... which for me is one of the reasons I like reading this kind of thing. It's also quite fascinating to hear behind the scenes anecdotes about his experiences with some of the people he's met or worked with. Some he has a lot of respect for, others not so much. I'm still wondering who 'the news bunny' is. And Sylvia Nailvarnish...

Now of course I want to read the couple of books I have of his which I've not yet read, The Victorians and Empire both based on documentaries I've watched. I also need to get his book on World War One. Highly recommend this one to anyone interested in the lives of political journalists... I realise there probably aren't that many of us. LOL!


Wednesday, 8 February 2017

The Signature of All Things

My Goodreads bookshelf tells me that I first saw The Signature of All Things by Elizabeth Gilbert on that site in October of 2013. I added it as a 'Want to read' and here I am in 2017 finally getting around to it. Good job no one was holding their breath.

Alma Whittaker was born to her parents, Henry and Beatrix, in Philadelphia in the year 1800. Henry was a self made man from London, who made a large fortune collecting plants around the world, Beatrix an educated, no nonsense Dutch woman from a family of botanists in Amsterdam. Alma's was a strange upbringing, she was bright and encouraged to be self-educated by using the huge library in the house. There wasn't a lot of love around although she adored her father, but her mother was quite distance and strict. Alma had no friends of her own age whatsoever. The girl took refuge in a love of plants and of learning.

At the age of nine, Alma's life changed when her parents adopted Prudence, the daughter of one of the estate workers. Where Alma was considered a very plain child by her parents, Prudence was beautiful beyond measure. Thrown together, the two girls did not fight or even argue but they were so different, Alma open and spontaneous, Prudence very reserved, that they could find no point of reference and were never close.

It was a strange and unconventional household to grow up in. The girls were never treated as children and encouraged to take part in dinner time discussions with important and educated visitors. Education was everything. Alma revels in this and grows intellectually year by year. In their teenage years the girls gain a friend, Retta, who lives nearby and is everything they are not... a normal girl of the time, interested in clothes and gossip. Alma falls in love with a publisher friend of her father's but nothing works out as it's supposed to and eventually, she finds herself living alone with her father. Luckily, Alma still has her interest in botany and decides on a specialist field of interest within that subject. Then the publisher friend of her father brings her some wonderful paintings he's been sent by a botanist of rare talent. After that, life for Alma is never the same again.

Opinions on The Signature of All Things seems to be split right down the middle... going by Goodreads anyway. People seem to either love it or hate it... the haters finding it rambling and boring. Admittedly, it is almost 600 pages and it does ramble a bit. Normally I'm not a huge fan of that but just occasionally I find it works for me and this is one of those times.

For me, the book reads a bit like a biography of a fascinating person, albeit a fictional one. The author has created a main character in Alma who is flawed just like all of us, but like all of us she's just trying to do her best. No one told you anything about anything in those days and girls especially were kept ignorant and thus were permanently confused. She might have been born into a rich family but things are not easy for her, especially emotionally. She suffers from being tall and well built and not traditionally pretty. Luckily, she has a good brain and the opportunity to use it.

For the first two thirds of the book, Alma's existence is mostly confined to the mansion in Philadelphia. This might seem like a very restricted story and in some ways it is, but for me it only intensified the tale somehow. Alma is such a fascinating person and the people around her so interesting that I was never bored. Her studies, her books, her discoveries, all are delightful to read about.

When the action moves to Tahiti after Alma's father dies it almost becomes a different book. She's there on a quest and has a huge adjustment to make; in a tiny village in Tahiti your wealth is pretty much irrelevant. And anyway all her belongings are stolen the minute she arrives so she's suddenly learning how to look after herself for the first time in her life. I massively enjoyed this section of the book.

The scope of this novel is wide ranging. The Theory of Evolution looms large as Alma approaches her sixties and there's much discussion of how this affects mainstream religious beliefs. This is not a religious book but religion was such a large part of people's lives in the 19th. century that it's an integral part of the story and rightly so. Sexuality is unflinchingly dealt with too so if this is not your bag be warned... there is some explicitness.

For me this is a difficult book to do justice to. All I can really say is how much I loved and enjoyed it and mourned when it ended. Like I said, it really is not everyone's cup of tea, but I had a feeling it was the kind of thing I might enjoy when I was in the right mood, and so it turned out to be. I'm so glad I gave it the time and effort it deserved.


Tuesday, 31 January 2017

Books read In January

I feel like I've spent the entire month hibernating in front of a the fire... reading. After an autumn where I just didn't feel like reading very much I've more than made up for it by reading eight books through January. For some that may not be all that many, but for me that's a *lot*. Of course, it wasn't supposed to be this way. My husband was due to have knee surgery at the beginning of the month but because his long term blood sugar was too high it was postponed while he works on getting it down. No idea when it will now happen but my guess is, not until well into Spring. Several very nice book blogging friends emailed to ask how he was and I thank them for that.

Anyhoo, books. This is what I read in January:

1. The Willows - Algernon Blackwood. A weird story which I read about in The Fellowship of Ghosts by Paul Watkins. I found the novella on the net and downloaded it to my Kindle. I enjoyed the sense of place, ie. an area on the River Danube, and the idea that a place can be so close to another dimension or world that the border is very thin and things might cross over. But I also found it rather too rambling and overly descriptive. My mind kept wandering to be honest.

2. Jacquot and the Master - Martin O'Brien

3. Blood Will Tell - Dana Stabenow

4. Kick: The True Story of JFK's Forgotten Sister - Paula Byrne

5. The Haunted Library - edited by Tanya Kirk

6. Maigret in New York - Georges Simenon

7. The Lewis Man - Peter May

8. Bill Oddie Unplucked - Bill Oddie. A household name in the UK, Bill Oddie was a TV presenter of wildlife programmes until a few years ago when ill health intervened. The book contains fifty of his essays, magazine articles and blog entries. They're mainly connected with his love of birds, recounting trips to farflung places to film for the TV, personal birding trips, describing his wildlife friendly garden and so on. All are entertaining as well as funny but also often make a serious point concerning the subject in hand. I enjoyed this very much. Bill always makes me think, sometimes making me form an opinion on things I've never given much thought to. I like his forthrightness even when his opinion may not be a popular one. A great pity he's not on TV very much now. This is my book 4 for Bev's Mount TBR 2017.

So, an excellent reading month and a varied one as well. Six fiction books, two non-fiction, all good reads. I'm still majoring on crime stories it seems, four of those read this month, plus two ghost stories. Of the two non-fiction one was biographical the other essays. I think that's a pretty varied crop of books and I'm quite happy with that.

Quite hard to pick a favourite as I really did enjoy the crime yarns, particularly The Lewis Man and Jacquot and the Master, but really my favourite book for January was this:

Kick: The True Story of JFK's Forgotten Sister by Paula Byrne. This was just so readable and interesting... loved it to bits.


Friday, 27 January 2017

Two crime titles

A couple of crime titles to review today.

First up, Maigret in New York by Georges Simenon.

Maigret is now retired and living the quiet life in the country. His rural idyll is interupted one morning when a young man, Jean Maura, comes to call. He is French but his father lives in New York having moved there as a twenty year old. Just recently Jean's been getting letters from him that have given him cause for concern. He wants Maigret to take the boat to New York with him to help discover if his father is in some kind of trouble. It's the last thing the retired police inspector wants to do but eventually he is persuaded. Immediately the ship docks Jean Maura disappears. Maigret is now in America, speaking very little English and with no clear idea of where to begin to solve this mystery. But is there a mystery at all? The father is being very cagey and unconcerned. And if there is a mystery, has Maigret any business interfering where he has no jurisdiction?

This is #27 of the Maigret books, written in 1946 according to Goodreads. I was surprised to find him retired in it because there are loads more books after 1946 so I can only assume the timelines skip around a bit or he comes out of retirement as I remember Hercule Poirot did. Odd. Anyway, I enjoyed Maigret's expedition to New York very much. His culture shock was severe, partly because of the language barrier, but mainly to do with the idea of personal freedom that pervades the American way of life: the French are much more into officialdom, form filling and so on. Poor Maigret found it hard to cope. I did get a bit confused about who was who and who'd done what to whom and when, but got it sorted in the end. Not bad but think I prefer the earlier Maigret outings for atmosphere. And as to ITV's new productions of Maigret, starring Rowan Atkinson, I enjoyed them but am not really sure he suits the part. Suspect he will grow on me.

Next, The Lewis Man by Peter May.

Fin McLeod is back on the island of Lewis after divorcing his wife and giving up his job with the Edinburgh police. He has nowhere to live so is outdoors in a tent. A body has been found in a peatbog and at first it's thought to be thousands of years old, until a tattoo of Elvis is discovered on one of its arms. This is now a murder enquiry. Fin becomes involved when DNA reveals that the murdered young man is related to the father of Marsaili, his girlfriend when he was a teenager, and mother of his son. Marsaili's father, Tormod, has always professed to have been an only child with no living relatives. The problem is that he is now in the throws of dementia and answers to questions can't be relied upon. How on Earth can the truth be got at after all these years?

Well, this was quite an enthralling tale. It was a slow burner, gradually working up to being quite fascinating by about halfway when family history really starts to become the important aspect of the story. There are two parallel timelines going on, the events of the modern day dealing with Fin's investigations and personal problems, and that of sixty years ago told by Tormod in the first person. It sounds confusing but is not at all and works extremely well. The whole thing is compelling, it was a book I kept wanting to pick up read more of to find out what happened, but not just what happened... 'who' exactly people were. To be honest, as a whole, it was rather a sad tale so don't pick this up looking for cheerful story because you won't find it. What you will find is a beautifully written book with a wonderful sense of place in the island of Lewis, in the Outer Hebrides. There are some gorgeously descriptive passages that transport you right there, in all weathers... good, bad and downright diabolical. This is book two in May's 'Lewis' trilogy, the first book being The Black House which I read in 2013. I hope to read the final instalment, The Chessmen, later this year.

The Lewis Man is my first book for Peggy's Read Scotland 2017 reading challenge and my book three for Bev's Mount TBR 2017.