read_warbler

Friday, 1 December 2017

Books read in November

I honestly thought November had been a very slow reading month, and I'm sure it actually was. But it still seems that I managed to read six books, which is really odd... Never mind, these are the books:

59. The Road to Tholonet by Monty Don. To be reviewed but this was a lovely book with the Gardener's World presenter touring famous French gardens, but also talking about his life and what France means to him. Delightful.

60. Sleep No More by P.D. James. Murder mystery short stories. Excellent anthology.

61. Printer's Devil Court by Susan Hill. One of the author's famous ghost story novellas. This one about a group of doctors in (I think) Victorian times who try to raise people from the dead. Quite atmospheric and nicely written.

62. The Distant Echo by Val McDermid. The lives of four students are ruined when they stumble over the dead body of a girl back in the 1970s. Cold-case story. Very good.

63. The Wave in the Mind by Ursula K. le Guin. Non-fiction book of essays on writing and reading. Slightly underwhelmed by this. A few of the essays I enjoyed but many rambled on too much and I lost interest. One for the charity shop box.

64. Dear Susan: Letters to a Niece by Ben Hartley. Another non-fiction, this time by an artist who moved from The Peak District down to Devon to teach art in Plymouth. Ben Hartley went to live in a rural village and wrote letters to his niece that were illustrated with beautiful little drawings and full of interesting anecdotes. A totally charming view of life in a Devon village in the 1960s.

So, six books is not bad. Truthfully, the first book was half finished I think before November started, and three of them were quite short books. So the six is not as impressive as it sounds! A favourite? Well, I liked Sleep No More by P.D. James and The Distant Echo by Val McDermid equally, very different books but both excellent. The non-fiction French gardens book, The Road to Tholonet by Monty Don, was also delightful. So, for once I don't think I'll pick an outright favourite.

To be honest I'm not in much of a reading mood at all at the moment. Here's what I am in the mood for:



Very large jigsaw puzzles. This one was 3,000 pieces, and a real pleasure to do, mentally challenging, which I find I need sometimes.

So, here we are back in December again. I've no idea where these years go and am finding the speed that they fly by quite scary. Before we know it Christmas will be over, 2018 will here and another year will zoom by. Like I said, 'Scary'.

~~~oOo~~~

Thursday, 23 November 2017

A couple of crime titles

I see I haven't posted since the beginning of the month, that's because I'm jigsaw puzzling again and when that happens my reading gets slower. Anyway, two crime titles today, two very different books but both top-notch writing and enjoyable.

First up, Sleep No More by P.D. James which is, I believe, the last anthology of crime stories the author wrote. There are six stories in this volume.

1. The Yo-yo. An old man finds a red yo-yo in a box of things which need sorting out. He remembers the Christmas it came into his possession when, as a young boy, he was driven to his grandmother's home instead of taking the train as per usual. In the car, one of his teachers, a man despised by all the boys at the private school. Something happens on the way there... An excellent story this, P.D. James gets nicely into the head of a boy with a strong sense of his own superiority.

2. The Victim. An assistant librarian marries an extremely pretty shopgirl. Before long she gets a new job, falls for her boss and leaves him. The librarian sets out to get revenge. Nicely told story with a good twist at the end.

3. The Murder of Santa Claus. Another schoolboy story with a Christmas theme. The boy concerned, Charlie, is sixteen this time and sent to spend Christmas with a step-uncle. Various people are present, strangers, so he's not comfortable at all and his uncle's oddness adds to the boy's unease. It seems the uncle like to dress up as Santa and visit his guest's rooms at one in the morning. But more than one person is abroad in the dead of night and when the uncle is found dead the next morning there are quite a few suspects... Another good story with quite a creepy atmosphere. I liked the 'anyone could have done this' aspect and had no idea who'd done it until the end.

4. The Girl Who Loved Graveyards. A ten year old girl is taken to live with her aunt and uncle after some kind of trauma but she seems to have blanked it from her mind so the reader has no idea what it is. Next to the house is a graveyard and the girl becomes obsessed with it. As she grows up she also becomes obsessed with finding her father's grave and sets about this task when her aunt and uncle emigrate to Australia. I think this was the best story in the book. It's nicely written and recounted, beautiful detail and a nice twist at the end.

5. A Very Desirable Residence. Harold Vinsom is on trial for attempting to murder his wife, Emily. The narrator of the story is a fellow teacher who is one of the few friends the married couple have. He observes that he hadn't known them very long before he realised that Harold was a sadist, subjecting his timid wife to constant verbal and mental abuse. So it came as no surprise when he learnt of the attempt on her life by her husband. Nice twisted little story this, very good observations of a marriage turned sour.

6. Mr. Millcroft's Birthday. A brother and sister, Rodney and Mildred Millcroft, are driving down to spend some time with their father on his birthday. He lives in a retirement home but is not happy there - he wants to move to another, more luxurious and relaxed place. There's plenty of money, he's given his fortune to these children, but they're being mean and keeping him in the cheaper, more regimented, place. During a picnic lunch Mr. Millcroft suddenly announces that he killed his brother who was about to change his will, leaving the famly fortune elsewhere. But is he telling the truth? Nice vein of humour running through this story. I like the vengeful father getting his own back on his selfish adult children.

This small volume of crime based short stories is excellent. Each one is very individual, very well told, and a joy to read. The writing is absolutely superb. I liked it so much I bought another of P.D. James' Christmas short story collections, The Mistletoe Murder and other stories.


The Distant Echo by Val McDermid, my book 4 for Peggy's Read Scotland 2017 challenge.

It's the late seventies and four male students from the university of St. Andrews are making their drunken way home in the early hours of the morning. One of them, Alex Gilbey, falls into an ancient Pictish burial site and discovers the body of Rosie Duff, a local girl who works in a popular bar. The boys are immediately prime suspects for the murder, but the police can find no real proof, despite the boys' movements that night being a bit suspicious. Mud sticks and twenty five years later this one accidental discovery has basically ruined their lives in one way or another. And then one of them dies in a house fire followed by another dying in suspicious circumstances. The police reopen this cold-case but Alex fears that if he doesn't surrepticiously help, then the remaining two of the original four will also die.

Margaret at Booksplease has been reading this Val McDermid series and inspired by her I thought I would try this, book one, of her 'Karen Pirie' series which are, I believe, all based on cold-cases. The surprise for me was that Karen Pirie was not in this book a lot, the centre of attention all the way through was the four boys. I'm thinking this is perhaps an introduction sort of a book and perhaps she'll feature more in future books of this series. Anyway, regardless of that, this was an excellent read. Quite complicated, quite a lot of people to keep tabs on and a lot of history of the original case to get through before it was brought up to date for the reopening of the case. I must confess here that I guessed the culprit quite early on. Of course, I didn't know if I was right so the books was not spoilt... to be honest it's so well written and so much in it that it couldn't be spoilt anyway. Possibly this book is not for everyone. The exploits of four uni students in the seventies are a bit eye-rolling and, if I'm honest, none of them were really likeable, not awful, but not terribly sympathetic characters. But I didn't mind that, I got very involved in the mystery aspect and the deatils of the investigation, and enjoyed the book very much indeed.

~~~oOo~~~

Thursday, 2 November 2017

Update on the book series I read

Goodness, time flies. It's well over 2 years since I updated my list of the series I read, June 2015. I thought it was last year! I always find it an interesting exercise. Some of the series I knocked off as I no longer have any interest in them, a few new ones have been added etc. Plus it's always fascinating to see which series I like to keep fairly up to date with and which ones I haven't touched in a couple of years but still want to read... at least... I think I do. Sometimes I fancy I kid myself. I also fine these posts serve to remind me of these neglected series and spur me on to to catch up with them. I'm missing Flacia de Luce for instance, I'm 3 books behind with that series. Kate Burkholder, the Reverand Clare Fergusson, Kate Shugak in Alaska... though I did read one of hers in January. I need to pull my finger out. Perhaps I should make 2018 'The Year of Catching up on My Book Series'. It's a thought.


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 8)
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 5)
Armande Gamache - Louise Penny (read 6)
Enzo McLeod - Peter May (read 2)
Inspector Wexford - Ruth Rendall (read 2)


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)
Lady Trent - Marie Brennan (read 2)
Cloud Roads - Martha Wells (read 1)
St. Marys - Jodi Taylor (read 1)


Sundry:

Barsetshire - Angela Thirkell - (read 5)
The Little House series – Laura Ingalls Wilder (read 5 up to book 6)
The Barchester Chronicles - Anthony Trollope (read 2)


Series I want to read: (mainly fantasy)

The Wit’ch series – James Clemens
Alpha and Omega - Patricia Briggs
Starborn - Lucy Hounsom
The Tawny Man trilogy – Robin Hobb



The Coldfire trilogy – Celia Friedman
The Fionavar Tapestry trilogy – Guy Gavriel Kay
The Gardella Vampire Chronicles – Colleen Gleason
Swordspoint - Ellen Kushner

I wrote this 2 years ago:

I think what this post underlines more than anything is how much my reading tastes have switched from fantasy/horror to crime. I still read the former but am much more into crime stories these days, especially vintage and historical it would seem. And that's fine. Things change and I always believe in going with the flow.

Basically that still applies. I've become a serious crime fic reader, with a definite bent towards vintage crime and anything set overseas, especially the USA or France. I also seem to have shifted slightly from being a fiction reader to someone who also reads a fair bit of non-fiction. Given that I'm not a speedy reader that means something has to give and it's tended to be my series reading. And I actually don't mind that, it means I'm open to change and flexible as regards what I read.

~~~oOo~~~

Tuesday, 31 October 2017

Books read in October

Well, I knew October would be a slow reading month and so it turned out to be. I read four books which, all things considered, is not actually terrible. Plus... they were all good books and that's a real bonus. And perhaps four good books is better than dozens of average ones. Anyway, these are the books:

55. The Tropic of Serpents - Marie Brennan

56. Bury Your Dead - Louise Penny

57. Jacob's Room is Full of Books - Susan Hill.

I'm not a huge fan of the author's crime novels, but I do think she writes a cracking good ghost story and I do enjoy her non-fiction (The Magic Apple Tree is delightful) especially her books about books. I love Howards End is on the Landing, read it several times, and enjoyed Jacob's Room is Full of Books just as much. It's written on a monthly basis, covering one year, and meanders all over the place with bits about the countryside, the weather, the author's life and yes... books! Very enjoyable, even though I sometimes did not agree with her opinions.




58. Thirteen Guests - J. Jefferson Farjeon.

This is your classic Country House Mystery, the house concerned being Bragley Court. Lord Aveling invites twelve people for a weekend house party and they are joined by Jon Foss, a stranger who had an accident on the platform of the railway station, and was brought to the house by one of the female guests. That makes the number of guests thirteen of course, 'unlucky for some'. Foss is a keen observer of various shenanigans and then two dead bodies turn up and things turn interesting as the police are brought in and secrets are slowly revealed. This crime yarn was excellent, quite pacey once it got going, interesting characters - I always find 'motive' the most interesting part of a mystery like this and this one didn't disappoint. Very much of its time (the 1930s) but I'm always intrigued how these books often illustrate the old saying, 'The more things change, the more they stay the same'. Another excellent BLCC book.

So that's October almost done and dusted. Four good books so it's hard to choose a favourite really. If pushed I would have to go for:


This was a brilliant instalment of Louise Penny's Armand Gamache series set in Quebec. Loved the snowy Quebec City and Three Pines setting, the library, the history... it was perfect. Five stars on Goodreads, no quibbling.

~~~oOo~~~

Wednesday, 18 October 2017

A couple of titles

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

Firstly, The Tropic of Serpents by Marie Brennan:

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


Next, Bury Your Dead by Louise Penny:

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

~~~oOO~~~

Friday, 22 September 2017

Third update on Where Are You Reading? challenge

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




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


My list of books read so far:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

J:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

R:

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

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

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

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

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

X:

Y:

Z:


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

~~~oOo~~~

Tuesday, 12 September 2017

Catching up

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

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

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


Lastly, Death of a Busybody by George Bellairs.

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

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

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

~~~oOo~~~