Sunday, 2 August 2015

Books read in July

July was yet another rather slow reading month for me, although slightly better with four books read rather than last month's three. Anyway, without further ado, these are the books:

34. Medicus and the Disappearing Dancing Girls by R.S. Downie

35. The Virgin of Small Plains by Nancy Picard

36. Déjá Dead by Kathy Reichs

Goodreads blurb:

The meticulously dismembered body of a woman is discovered in the grounds of an abandoned monastery.

Enter Dr Temperance Brennan, Director of Forensic Anthropology for the province of Quebec, who has been researching recent disappearances in the city.

Despite the cynicism of Detective Claudel who heads the investigation, Brennan is convinced that a serial killer is at work. Her forensic expertise finally convinces Claudel, but only after the body count has risen...

Tempe takes matters into her own hands, but her determined probing places those closest to her in mortal danger. Can Tempe make her crucial breakthrough before the killer strikes again?

This is my first book by Kathy Reichs. She's one of those authors that I've always seen all over the place... bookshops, supermarkets, the library... and never really been tempted to try. I've no idea why. Then my daughter recommended them and offered to lend me the first book and I thought, 'Well, why not?' I gather the series 'Bones' is based on these books, but as I know nothing about that series I can't comment further on that. I can just say that I thought this was a jolly good crime read. I like crime series set in countries other than the UK so this one being set in Montreal in Canada suited me very nicely. There's a nice sense of that city, its people and its problems etc. I liked Tempe herself, a woman in her forties with a teenage daughter and all the problems that having a real life and a demanding career brings. There's quite a lot of detail of the examining of dead bodies so if that's not your bag avoid this or, do as I did, skim read. I think I may also be becoming allergic to metaphors as they're sprinkled like confetti all through the story, and it's intrusive. Regardless... this is a good intro to a 'new to me series' and I will definitely grab more of my daughter's books at some stage.

37. Point of Dreams by Melissa Scott and Lisa A. Barnett.

The Alphabet of Desire is the new play that's been chosen as the midwinter masque in the city of Astrient. Philip Eslingen, newly dismissed from his job, gets a new position at the theatre teaching military drill to the chorus of the play. When the dead body of one of the chorus is found on the stage, Philip's lover, Nico Rathe, Adjunct Point at nearby Point of Dreams is called in to investigate. Several more deaths follow with no clues as to who the perpetrator is or motives for the murders. Is it political intrigue or something far more basic? One thing's for certain, neither man has any idea of the personal danger they're putting themselves into to investigate these crimes.

So far in this series I've read one book, Point of Hopes, one novella, Point of Knives, and now Point of Dreams which is officially book 2 I believe. The books are basically a crime series based in a fantasy world where astrology is real. My link to Point of Hopes reveals more about the setting of Astrient so I won't repeat myself here, suffice to say the world-building in the series is very good indeed. I'm not mad about theatre settings in stories I have to admit, I find some of the detail of the plays a bit tedious, rehersals and so on. That's why I gave it a four on Goodreads rather than a five. I do enjoy the relationship between Philip and Nico and I also like the fact that this is a world where the sexes are equal and all kinds of sexuality are the norm. Also an interesting aspect of this particular story was the use of flowers as magical instruments... very interesting and original. All in all a very good read. Good series.

Point of Dream is my book 17 for Bev's Mount TBR 2015 challenge.

I seem to have specialised in crime books this month, although admittedly one was a fantasy/crime story... it was still basically a crime yarn. It's been an odd month with mild illness, family things going on etc. so it's been nice to relax in quiet moments with a bit of murder and mayhem. I don't have a favourite book this month. All four books were equally good and fun and if August is similar then I shan't complain.


Monday, 20 July 2015

New books!

Time for a new books post. Despite my best efforts they still seem to find a way into the house. I wonder if my TBR pile will ever diminish...

First up, some I bought for myself (what was that I said about 'best efforts'? *Cough*)

After reading Cathy's review of Plagueland by S.D. Sykes and checking the library to see if they had it - they didn't - I decided to treat myself. Naturally when Amazon told me it was a book that was part of their '3 for £10' current offer I was not going to pass that up. So, The Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd was added, as I've had it on my radar for a while and would like to read it for The Southern Lit challenge I'm doing this year. Dragons at Crumbling Castle by Terry Pratchett will be read by me and my grandson this summer holidays. Hopefully it's a good choice... it certainly looks like fun.

Then one day last week the postman brought me a package. I knew I wasn't expecting anything so it was quite exciting seeing what it was. What was it? Well it this:

My lovely 'Sis' in Florida, Pat at Here, There and Everywhere, had seen this lovely little book about Scotland somewhere, thought of me and my holiday there last year and bought it for me. Postage from the USA to the UK is not cheap but she sent it to me regardless. Pat is without a doubt one of the kindest people I know and I'm so proud to know her and I honestly wish she really was my sister. The book is called, In Search of Scotland by H.V. Morton. And it's full of beautiful pictures like these:

And this lovely map:

I can't thank Pat enough for this thoughtful and lovely gift. I am so blessed with my friends.

And then yesterday I had a visit from a bookish friend and we sat and chatted about all things books and she had brought these books with her for me:

The quality of the photo is not great I'm afraid. The books are:

The Raven Boys by Maggie Stiefvater
The Celestine Prophecy by James Redfield
A Quest for Orion by Rosemary Harris
The Ivory and Horn by Charles de Lint

A nice selction and of course she wasn't allowed to leave unless she took some of mine away with her. LOL!


Tuesday, 7 July 2015

Two crime titles

Brief reviews of a couple of crime books today. First up, Ruso and the Disappearing Dancing Girls by Ruth Downie:

Gaius Petreius Ruso is a doctor, or the medicus, in Ancient Rome somewhere around 117AD. Following his divorce and the subsequent discovery that his deceased father has left the family bankrupt, he decides to move to Britania in the hope of better pay, some of which he can send home to help his brother keep the family farm going. He ends up in Deva - modern day Chester - working in a hospital in the military garrison there. He's hardly arrived when he resues an injured slave girl, Tilla, from a slave trader. The fact that she's less than grateful and that he has to hide her presence in the hospital from the authorities doesn't make his life any easier. Nor does the discovery of two dead bodies, both of them females from the local brothel. Is there a serial killer on the loose? Nothing is going right for Ruso at the moment and the last thing he needs is to get a reputation as 'that doctor who's investigating the murders'. Naturally, that's precisely what happens.

It feels like months since I've read any crime books... in fact it's only about three weeks! Anyway, nice to get back to one and also nice to return to Ancient Rome, albeit slightly later than Steven Saylor's books and rather than Rome - here we have Ancient Britain, occupied by the Romans of course. The setting was Chester, a city I've been to briefly and it's old, historical and beautiful. Anyway, this series was recommended to me by a friend when I asked for Ancient Rome book recs. And I'm glad as it was a thoroughly absorbing read. Poor Ruso is really down on his luck, struggling, but it comes over in a light-hearted, comic way as he staggers from disaster to disaster. I loved Tilla, even though she was totally misguided... although her status as a slave gave her very few choices and really makes the reader consider the plight of slaves in Roman times. It's a concept that's hard for us and our 21st. century sensibilites to understand but it was a way of life in those days and these books are a good way of educating us about that. Their complete powerlessness is shocking to me, I have to confess, and how anyone can ever have thought it was ok to 'own' another human being is totally beyond me. Anyway, I have the second book in this Medicus series waiting for me at the library and also plan to read the next Steven Saylor book soon, Arms of Nemisis, which I gather also concentrates on the plight of slaves.

Next, The Virgin of Small Plains by Nancy Pickard.

The year is 1987 and on a snowy night the sheriff of Small Plains, Kansas, along with his two teenaged sons, finds the dead body of a young woman. They take the body to the local doctor, a close friend of the sheriff, and the boys are told to stay in the car. What happens to the body in the doctor's surgery is witnessed in secret by Mitch, the local judge's son, whose girlfriend, Abby, the doctor's daughter, is waiting upstairs for him. He never returns. Abby discovers the next day that Mitch has left town, never to return. Mitch's mother tells her that the boy has been sent away to avoid him becoming entangled with her - a small-town girl - when he is destined for higher things. Devastated she eventually accepts this as do the whole town. No one tries very hard to discover the name of the dead girl so she's buried in an anonymous grave. Seventeen years later after Mitch's mother is found dead in the same cemetary, things start to unravel and secrets that have been kept for a very long time begin to emerge.

Well, who would have thought that this would turn out to be a page-turner? I bought it a couple of years ago after reading a blog-review of it... unfortunately I can't remember whose it was. (Possibly Cathy or Kay.) Anyway, it languished, as many of my books do, on the tbr shelf until I decided, on a whim, to read it last week. Immediately, I was in Kansas on a winter's night with snow falling all around and I just thought, 'Ah... I'm going to like this one.' And so it turned out to be. The plot uses that device of hopping back and forth between time periods, in this case !986/7 and 2004. I can't say I'm the biggest fan of this style of writing but in this book it works very well. I *am* a big fan of this kind of family secrets story. I must admit I worked out fairly early on who and what and even why, but the fun was in seeing if I was right. The fun was also in the setting of small town America and seeing how these towns work with several big-wigs sort of running the town... if it's at all true... which it is to a certain extent in the UK, I know. Characterisation wasn't the strongest, I will say that. I didn't feel I really knew the main characters but the plot carried it and it was pacey and kept my interest throughout. Glad I picked it up after all this time.

The Virgin of Small Plains is my book 16 for Bev's Mount TBR 2015 challenge .


Friday, 3 July 2015

Mount TBR checkpoint 2

Goodness, halfway through the year already and time for the second checkpoint post for Bev's Mount TBR 2015 challenge.

I'm answering one of Bev's questions and then doing the 'My day in Books' thing (always love doing those).

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

I'm doing Mont Blanc this year, which is to read 24 books. So far I've read 15 books which is 3 more than I should have read at this stage. So I'm over halfway up the mountain and quite pleased with that. *Maybe* I might even make it to Mount Vancouver (36 books) but I'm not planning to bust a gut trying, especially as at the moment I seem to be in less of a reading mood than I was earlier in the year. We'll just have to see.

OK. So. My Day in Books using the titles of books we've read. Bev says that: 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. With only 15 books read it wasn't quite enough to fill all the answers sensibly so I have used a few titles on the tbr mountain. I have tried to use books that I really do plan to read this year though.

I began the day with: Our Mutual Friend
before breakfasting on: The Seeds of Time

On my way to work I saw: Clear Waters Rising
and walked by: Untrodden Peaks and Unfrequented Valleys
to avoid: Wildwood
but I made sure to stop at: A View from the Foothills

In the office, my boss asked me how to use: Foucault's Pendulum
and sent me to research: The Name of the Wind

At lunch with: Ahab's Wife
I noticed: Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell
playing a game of: A Fire upon the Deep

When I got home that night, I imagined myself: A Tiny Bit Marvellous
and wondered if: [I'll have a] Gaudy Night
Finally, I went to bed and dreamed about: The Dark Horse


Tuesday, 30 June 2015

Books read in June

I didn't think I could do any worse in June than I did in May... as regards numbers of books read I mean. Well I proved myself wrong! After reading four in May I've actually dropped to *three* in June. Various reasons - busy in the garden, family stuff and er... jigsaw puzzles. I love doing them and sometimes all I want to do is jigsaw after jigsaw. But to be honest? I think that's fine. You have to do what makes you happy and at the moment it's clearly jigsaw puzzles for me.

Anyway these are the three books I read in June:

31. Fyre by Angie Sage. The last in the author's Septimus Heap books. Delightful read.

32. An Expert in Murder by Nicola Upson. The first in the suthor's Josephine Tey series. I was slightly ambivilent about this one but overall it was an enjoyable read.

33. The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss. Another book I was ambivilent about but overall not a bad read.

So that's me for June. The final book was rather long - 660 pages - and took me a good while to read, so perhaps it's not as terrible as it looks. This month also saw the end of Carl's Once Upon a Time XI challenge, for which I managed to read seven books so I'm quite pleased with that.

My favourite read of these three is this:

I loved the way Angie Sage tied up loads of loose ends but also created an interesting plot with all the usual characters. She has a new offshoot series out now and I need to remember to look for those next time I'm in the library.

And just for fun, here're three new (to me) jigsaws I bought recently from charity shops and eBay:

Happy reading or jigsaw puzzling or whatever else you plan to do in July. Truthfully, I dislike heat, thus July is my least favourite month of the year and anyone looking for me will probably find me indoors sheltering from it. I'm such an old misery! LOL!


Thursday, 25 June 2015

The Name of the Wind

My seventh and final book for Carl's Once Upon a Time challenge is The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss. It's also my book fifteen for Bev's Mount TBR 2015.

The innkeeper of the Waystone Inn, situated in a very remote forested area, seems like just an ordinary sort of chap. Nothing special, just your run of the mill inkeeper. A writer of stories, the Chronicler, knows better and arrives at the inn hoping to get Kote - alias 'Kvothe' - to tell him his story. He knows that Kvothe is anything *but* ordinary. Eventually Kote agrees but tells Chronicler to set aside three days because his story is a long one.

Kvothe started life in a troupe of travelling actors and singers. Until he was eleven his life was idyllic. Particularly when an arcanist (a sort of wizard, very educated) joins the travellers for a spell. Kvothe is devastated when he leaves but the arcanist has taught him much and left him with a desire to attend the university.

Sadly, Kvothe's life is changed forever, one day, when he strolls into the woods on an errand. It takes a while and on his return his whole troupe, including his parents, have been viciously murdered. The culprits are still there but disappear in front of his eyes. Who or what are they? Kvothe is now a penniless orphan. He makes his way to one of the big cities, Tarbean, and becomes a child beggar, living on his wits, barely surviving. How is he supposed to get to the university this way? Something has to change and eventually it does. He makes it to the university which is of course where he discovers that your heart's desire is not always what it's cracked up to be...

Yet another book I feel rather ambivilent about. To tell the truth I actually wonder if I'm getting a bit bored with long fantasy novels. Or perhaps I'm just not finding the right ones. I did actually give this four stars on Goodreads as the writing is very good indeed and I didn't really have too much trouble finishing it. And parts of it were excellent... the section at the beginning where he was with the troupe, and the last 150 pages where I felt the book - 660 pages of it - really took off.

My problem was how formulaic it is. Life at the university was at times interesting but he gets banned from the 'most' interesting bit... the archives... so we didn't actually get to read much about that at all. Instead we get reams about his feud with a rich student, Ambrose, and I just felt like I had read that in so many other books. Harry Potter for one... Trudi Canavan's books... and I'm sure there are more. Why are none of these kids' school lives ever normal?

The other thing which made me sigh deeply was yet another male author for whom women seem to be an afterthought. You'd never think we make up fifty per cent of the population. His mother hardly figured at all and all the other women in the book were required to be beautiful and potential girlfriends, or fancied Kvothe rotten, thus suffering from unrequited love and so on and so on. I know I'm perhaps not the target audience of books like this but I do get very tired of this male sexual fantasy type of writing. How are we ever supposed to educate boys to change their attitudes towards women when grown men keep churning out these books that exclude ordinary girls and women? Where every woman has to be stunningly beautiful or she doesn't exist. Sorry to rant but it annoys me. I'm now wishing I'd given it a three instead of a four on Goodreads. LOL!

All that said it's not a bad read if you're not ultra-sensitive to this kind of thing. Most people adore the book and it has one of the highest ratings on Goodreads that I've ever seen. It had enough about it that I can't decide whether or not to read the sequel, The Wise Man's Fear. On balance I think I probably won't. It's around 1,000 pages long and I'm not sure I can stand to be irritated for the amount of time it'll take me to read it, despite occasional flashes of brilliance.

I'm hoping one of these days I'll find a fantasy series by a male author that I really love. So far Robin Hobb (female... in the UK Robin tends to be a boy's name) is and probably always will be my favourite fantasy author. Her Liveship Trader series has some fantastic women in it, 'all kinds' of women too with actual characters! Just love it.


Tuesday, 16 June 2015

An Expert in Murder

Another of the authors my grand-daughter and I saw at our town's Literary Festival was Nicola Upson. She was doing the crime panel with two other authors, Simon Hall and Clare Donoghue. It was a delightful afternoon, all three authors were candid and very funny. There was also the opportunity to buy books by these authors and I came away with the first two Josephine Tey books by Nicola Upson. The first is An Expert in Murder:

On her way to London from Inverness on the train, author Josephine Tey meets a young woman, Elspeth Simmons. Tey is the author of a play currently enjoying a very successful run in the West End, Richard of Bordeaux. It appears that Elspeth is a huge fan of the play and has already seen it several times. As the play is entering its final week, Elspeth is seeing it one last time, with her boyfriend, who works at the New Theatre where it's being shown.

Josephine and Elspeth get on like a house on fire and Josephine is looking forward to seeing her again later that week. They part on the station platform when Elspeth finds she's left something on the train and goes back for it. It's not until the next day that Josephine discovers from her friend, DI Archie Penrose, that Elspeth was brutally murdered in the railway carriage. A note left at the scene ties the killing to the play, Richard of Bordeaux.

Archie and Josephine set about trying to find the murderer but the plot is very thick indeed. So many people at the theatre had the opportunity but why on earth would anyone want to kill an innocent and charming young girl? Archie is convinced it's a case of mistaken identity and that Josephine was the intended victim. But it turns out to be not that simple and nothing is what is seems in this heartbreaking and complicated case.

When this book was first published back in 2008 I seem to recall seeing various comments about the use of a real person in a fictional book... whether or not it was a bit questionable. I was on the fence about it then and I still am to a certain extent. We're more used to it now of course. Dickens and Wilkie Collins were both used in Drood by Dan Simmons, there's a fantasy series, the name of which escapes me at the moment, that uses a clutch of real authors and so on and so on. On the one hand it does feel a bit odd but on the other... this is actually a very enjoyable book.

I have to admit that theatre based plots are not always my favourite - it's not a world I'm particularly fascinated by and they do tend to have hordes of characters whose identity I have problems keeping tabs on. And this one was no exception, although I did get there in the end. Plus, I do find I have minimal patience with the shenanigans of the acting fraternity. All that prima donna behaviour and no one having the nerve to stand up to them...

To be honest, I think the reason the book was saved for me was Josephine herself who was depicted as a very down to earth, ordinary person and her and the police officer, Archie Penrose, did make rather a good team. The mystery was also rather good and it wasn't until close to the end that I worked out who had done the deed. I had kind of worked out the whys and the wherefores, although it was quite tricky, but not the 'who' exactly. The background of the aftermath of WW1 and the tunnellers was seamlessly interwoven with a 'family secrets' type of plot and is the kind of thing I really enjoy. (Birdsong by Sebastian Faulks is probably the best fictional book I've read on the WW1 tunnelling subject but it does waffle rather a lot.)

All in all a very good read and I'm pleased to have book 2 ready to go. It's Angel with Two Faces and is set in Cornwall, which is a real plus for me, and I do enjoy it when this kind of series gets away from London and into the shires so to speak. Yet another new series for me... exactly what I need! LOL!