Wednesday, 12 December 2018

A new series and an old one

Busy, busy at the moment so it's two quick reviews of what I've been reading over the past couple of weeks and they involve a brand new series and an old friend.

First up, the new series. Against a Dark Sky, book one in Katherine Pathak's 'DCI Dani Bevan' series.

DCI Dani Bevan and her team are assigned to a case in the small village of Ardyle at the foot of Ben Lomond in Scotland. A group of climbers became separated in bad weather, two returned safely to their holiday cottage, of the other three, a woman has been found strangled and two men are missing. For the people who live in the village it brings back bad memories of an event 30 years ago when a local school party got similarly separated in the fog and three children died. The parents of one of those children have returned to the village to offer help with the investigation. They claim to 'see' things in their dreams that they believe are linked to real life events. Most of the police team are skeptical about this but Dani feels they need all the help they can get. What she has to discover is whether there's a connection between the two tragedies and, if there is indeed one, is anyone else's life in danger?

This was one of those books that I found hard to put down. I believe this kind of murder story is known as A Police Procedural, where the tale is centred mainly around the police and the steps they take to solve a complicated murder. I sometimes find that can be a bit tedious but it wasn't in this case, there was a lot going on and the author injects a fair bit of pace into the story. I enjoyed the way in which family secrets were slowly revealed, people doing stupid things just as they do in real life. A real star of the book was the Scottish setting. Ben Lomond actually exists and as you can see the area is very beautiful. Katherine Pathak is excellent at atmosphere and depicting how frightening it suddenly becomes when the weather closes in on a mountain. With interesting characters, a strong mystery, and an excellent setting this was a real winner for me. I'll be reading more by this author, I have Aoife's Chariot, which is book one of another series, on my Kindle, and will be buying more in the Dani Bevan series too.

Against a Dark Sky is my eighth book for the 2018 European Reading challenge covering the UK.

And now for an old friend, A Song of Shadows, book 13 of John Connolly's 'Charlie Parker' series.

Parker is staying in the seaside town of Boreas, Maine, recuperating from a near-fatal shooting. He is quite frail and is trying to recover his former vitality by walking the beach, going further every day. A woman and her daughter, Ruth and Amanda Winter, move into the house further up the beach. The little girl is friendly but her mother is extremely wary. Parker isn't sure whether this is because of his reputation, which has preceded him, making the whole town wary of him, or whether there is another reason entirely. The young daughter alerts him when she asks about his dead daughter, how does she know about that? It's not long before things, as per usual around Parker, hot up. A dead body is washed up on the beach, a man named Perlman, and the police wonder if there's a connection to a double sadistic murder in Florida recently. Parker has a bad feeling about the whole business and tries to find out what is frightening Ruth Winter, because he doesn't think it's him. When his investigations turn out to be too little, too late, the trail leads eventually to the German community in Maine. Who are they? Why are they in the USA? What are they hiding?

A strong stomach is required for this instalment of the Charlie Parker chronicles. You know, as soon as the neighbour and her daughter appear on the scene and the daughter can see dead people, that things are not going to go well for them. A strong stomach because sadism is involved here, as regards the modern murders but also holocaust events in concentration camps in Germany during WW2. More than any book of this series, apart from possibly The Reapers which dealt with Mississippi in the 1950s and 60s, this is a real history lesson and even I who have read a fair bit about The Holocaust found myself horrified all over again. I often think that fictional books can be far more affecting than non-fiction when it comes to the retelling of shameful events and this book proves it. But it is also everything else we've come to expect from a Charlie Parker novel. It's psychologically very creepy, it's hugely descriptive - Maine is so real in Connolly's hands - and it's very funny in places: it needs to be to lighten the horror. But best of all there is that running back story of what Parker is and to this has been added the mystery of what exactly his daughter is. Rivetting. Superb, no one writes like John Connolly, but I have to read him in small doses and definitely NOT at bedtime! Five out of five stars on Goodreads, no question.


Thursday, 6 December 2018

Calendar of Crime challenge

I'm at it again... another challenge I can't resist. Well it does involve crime fiction after all!

The challenge is being hosted by Bev at MY READER'S BLOCK and the sign-up post is here.

This is a reading challenge that will allow mystery readers to include any mystery regardless of publication date. If it falls in a mystery category (crime fiction/detective novel/police procedural/suspense/thriller/spy & espionage/hard-boiled/cozy etc.), then it counts and it does not matter if it was published in 1892 or 2019

This is the chart for the monthly categories:

Challenge runs from January 1, 2019 to December 31, 2019. all books should be read during this time period. Sign up any time between now and November 1, 2019.

All the other rules are to be found at the sign-up post.

Saturday, 1 December 2018

Books read in November

Another average reading month for me - 6 books read - but not average quality-wise... taking that into consideration it was a jolly good month.

These are the books:

57. Wash This Blood Clean From My Hands - Fred Vargas

58. Leap In: A Woman, Some Waves, and the Will to Swim - Alexandra Heminsley.

Already a seasoned runner and marathon participant, Alexandra Heminsley decides to take up swimming. She can swim, but not all that well. She watches other people do the front crawl easily and wonders why she can't seem to master the stroke. She takes lessons and realises it involves very precise breathing. Why can't she master it? Well of course she does... in the end. Her 'journey' is quite interesting, I really admired her perseverance and the lengths (no pun intended) she was willing to go to to achieve her goals. A longish teaching session at the end was not quite as interesting but not a bad read, a bit different.

59. Picnic in Provence - Elizabeth Bard.

American, Elizabeth Bard, has written two books about her life in France. Naturally this is the second book and I've not read the first, which involved her meeting Frenchman, Gwendal, and falling in love. On holiday in Provence they fall in love with a very old house previously owned by poet, René Charr. They buy the house and, after their first child is born, uproot themselves and move into it. The book is about how they acclimatise to a very different lifestyle to the one they had in Paris. The people are very different for a start, life is much more laidback and attuned to the seasons. Elizabeth loves cooking and in Provence you can really indulge that sort of passion. Loved this book. It seems I never tire of reading about how people cope with cultural differances and experience steep learning curves in foreign countries, especially France and especially Provence. Plus there are recipes! What's not to like?

60. Lord Peter - Dorothy L. Sayers

61. The Pure in Heart - Susan Hill

62. The Writer Abroad - Lucinda Hawksley

Synopsis from Goodreads: From the grand tour to the global village, novelists and poets have made particularly observant travelers. Many writers have been prone to wanderlust, eager to explore the world and draw inspiration from their travels. They recorded their notes in letters, journals, essays and books. In some cases, these became celebrated examples of travel writing, such as George Orwell’s Homage to Catalonia, but there are many more accounts which remain overlooked. This collection takes us on a literary journey around the world, through extracts from Arthur Conan Doyle in Australia, Aldous Huxley in India, Charles Dickens in Italy, Henry James in France, Mary Wollstonecraft in Sweden, and many more. Quite a sumptuous book this. Fabulously illustrated with paintings various artists have done of the regions covered in the book. It's split into sections: Africa, Asia, Europe, The Poles, Australasia, and more. Being an armchair traveller I enjoyed it enormously, the selected extracts come from journeys taken centuries ago right up to those undertaken in the 20th. century. A book to keep and dip into when the mood takes you and for finding authors and books to explore further.


It seems my reading this month has been split right down the middle: three excellent crime/murder mysteries and three equally good non-fiction books. Very happy with that state of affairs. Once again I'm not going to choose a favourite book of the month. They were all very good in different ways. It was a very satisfying month all round and I wish every month was as good for reading.

Currently reading and enjoying:

And here we are in the last month of the year... not at all sure how we got here so quickly and to be honest it's a bit scary but, regardless, happy reading in December.


Wednesday, 28 November 2018

The World at War reading challenge

The host of this 'new to me' reading challenge is Becky at Becky's Book Reviews.

The sign up post is here.

Duration: January - December 2019
Goal: Get at least one bingo! (more are welcome, of course!)
Sign up in the comments!

The categories:

_ Any book published 1914-1918
_ Any book published 1918-1924
_ Any book published 1925-1930
_ Any book published 1931-1938
_ Any book published 1939-1945
_ A nonfiction book about World War I
_ A nonfiction book about 1910s and 20s
_ A nonfiction book about 1920s and 30s
_ A nonfiction book about 1930s
_ A nonfiction book about World War II
_ A fiction book set during World War I
_ A fiction book set 1918-1924
_ A fiction book set in the 1920s
_ A fiction book set in the 1930s
_ A fiction book set during World War II
_ A book set in the United States or Canada
_ A book set in England, Ireland, or Scotland
_ A book set in Europe
_ A book set in Asia or Middle East
_ A book set elsewhere (a country/continent not already read for the challenge)
_ A book focused on "the war"
_ A book focused on "the homefront"
_ Watch any movie released in 1940s
_ Watch any movie released in the 1930s
_ Watch any movie about either war

More information and rules are in the sign up post.

This is a Bingo! style challenge which are always enjoyable. And I know I have plenty of books which will fit into a lot of the categories. Should be fun.


Tuesday, 20 November 2018

Yet more crime fiction

A couple of crimefic reviews to catch up on today.

First up, Lord Peter by Dorothy L. Sayers.

This is a volume of all the short stories written by Dorothy L. Sayers about Lord Peter Wimsey. Like most anthologies it's a mixed bag but unlike most anthologies even the ones that're not superb are good, there are no duds here. I've actually been reading this since July so a few of those first stories are lost in the mists of time but these are a few of my favourites that I made a note of:

The Abominable History of the Man With Copper Fingers. The first story in the collection and one of those stories retold in a men's club by an actor about his experiences of a famous wealthy man and his penchant for revenge. Genuinely menacing and creepy.

The Unprincipled Affair of the Practical Joker. A phantom coach and horses with a headless driver story. Was not expecting that from Dorothy L. Sayers! Honestly, this was a 'cracking' yarn. I loved it.

The Learned Adventure of the Dragon's Head. Wimsey is looking after his young nephew who is recovering from an illness. He takes him to a bookshop where said nephew buys an old book of weird drawings. Then the owner tries to get them back. Why? This one was an absolute joy. Loved it.

The Image in the Mirror. A man is reading an H.G. Wells story, The Plattner Experiment, about a man who was blown into the fourth dimension and came back with all of his organs reversed. The man tells Wimsey that he was bombed in WW1 and also came back with his organs reversed. Absolutely fascinating story and I must dig out the original Wells' story.

The Incredible Elopement of Lord Peter Wimsey. An adventure set in the Pyrenees. A doctor is living an isolated and lonely life with his wife in the mountains. Village gossip has it that the wife's mental state is very bad but she was fine when she arrived. This one has Wimsey pretending to be a magician... great stuff and huge fun but also quite an air of menace about it too.

The final two stories involve Wimsey and Harriet Vane becoming parents.

The Haunted Policeman has Wimsey outside having a smoke after the birth of his first son. A policemen comes up and tells him a very weird story about a house numbered 13 in which he saw that a murder had been committed but on further investigation the next day turned out not to exist.

Talboys. Peter and Harriet now have three sons and are on holiday at Talboys. A female relative is staying with them who thinks the boys are not being brought up correctly and this seems to be confirmed when Bredon, Wimsey's eldest, aged six, is caught pinching peaches. When the tree is stripped the next day Bredon's accused but swears he didn't do it. The boy and Peter join forces to find out who did. Loved, loved, loved this. Particularly the snake named Cuthbert...

A really fantastic volume of short stories. Beautifully written as you might expect and, something I didn't really expect, quite weird. I absolutely loved this weird or supernatural tone to some of the stories and several had a real air of menace about them that was unexpected too. As I said before, even the average stories in this book knock spots off some by other authors. Terrific collection.

Lastly, The Pure in Heart by Susan Hill.

DCI Simon Serailler is in Venice on holiday when he gets a call from his father asking him to come home as his disabled sister is in hospital gravely ill. Having lost a colleague in a brutal manner in a previous investigation Simon is in Venice to recuperate, but answers the summons immediately. Not long after he gets back a young boy is snatched from the street outside his own house, with obvious results for the parents. And an ex-con returns to Lafferton, trying to go straight but will circumstances allow this?

Well it's quite a few years since I read the excellent first book in this series, The Various Haunts of Men. I planned to read this second book quite quickly but discovered it was about a missing child. I don't do children being harmed in books very well so I left it, and left it, and in fact it's now 10 years since I read the first book. And that's a shame. Yes, there is a missing child in the story and it is quite heart rending. But the book also focuses on Simon and his family. I won't call them dysfunctional exactly but there are problems, Simon gets on very badly with his father, his mother has always been distant, Simon himself does not treat women very well. The person Simon adores is his sister, Cat, and being with her and her lively family basically keeps him sane. Susan Hill does psychology extremely well, and I like that. She realises nothing is ever black or white and I thoroughly enjoy the manner in which she examines family relationships, crimes, people's motives, with a fine tooth comb. As a writer she is a class act. There is no firm resolution at the end of the book, reflecting life as it often is of course. I gather book 3 continues on with the investigation so have promptly reserved it from the library.


Tuesday, 13 November 2018

Mount TBR reading challenge, 2019

I had a break from Mount TBR this year but the tbrs have mounted up quite badly, despite my efforts, so I thought I'd do the challenge next year as all the books I bought *this* year will qualify of course. So here we go.

As usual the challenge is being hosted by Bev at MY READER'S BLOCK.

Challenge Levels:

Pike's Peak: Read 12 books from your TBR pile/s
Mount Blanc: Read 24 books from your TBR pile/s
Mt. Vancouver: Read 36 books from your TBR pile/s
Mt. Ararat: Read 48 books from your TBR piles/s
Mt. Kilimanjaro: Read 60 books from your TBR pile/s
El Toro: Read 75 books from your TBR pile/s
Mt. Everest: Read 100 books from your TBR pile/s
Mount Olympus (Mars): Read 150+ books from your TBR pile/s

For the various rules please visit Bev's sign-up post here. (I like the fact that rereads now count.)

At first I thought I'd just go for Pike's Peak - 12 books - and then I thought, 'Don't be such a wimp.' So I'm going for Mont Blanc, which is to read 24 books. As I have actually read almost 30 of my own books this year that ought to be achievable. In theory...

Looking forward to starting this, partly because it'll be the start of a new year and I always feel enthusiastic about what books I want to read. Right now, coming to the end of the year, my enthusiam is waning slightly. It will return.


Friday, 9 November 2018

More crime fic

Two murder mysteries to review today... it's all I seem to be reading at the moment, not that I see that as a 'bad' thing.

First up, Swiss Vendetta by Tracee de Hahn.

Agnes Luthi is an inspector with the Swiss police, but she has dual nationality, she's actually American who was born in Switzerland. She's just changed departments within the police, moving from financial crime to violent crimes. She's the sole parent of three boys as her husband has recently died. The storm of the century is almost upon Lausanne when the police get a call to say that a body's been found in the grounds of a local chateau. Agnes only just manages to get to the place before the storm hits and the group of police officers who made it with her are to be cut off for several days while they investigate the murder of Felicity Cowell, who worked for a London auction house. The Vallotton family who own the chateau are a very old, traditional Swiss family and are not giving very much away. Agnes has her work cut out to solve this one, not only because of the family but the elements are also very much against her.

I was ever so slightly underwhelmed by this. The first half of the book was really slow and I might have given up if I hadn't been reading it for a couple of challenges. As it was it did improve, more began to happen, and I did become interested in the case. But I still found the characters a little bit flat. There's a back story that concerns how Agnes's husband died and why, I found this distracting to be honest, although the truth when it came out was a surprise. The setting for the book was excellent and there is a strong feeling of Switzerland in a snowstorm and the aftermath - that I very much liked. All in all, this book was a bit hit and miss for me but that's OK, it's impossible to love everything.

Swiss Vendetta is my 5th. book for the What's in a Name reading challenge and covers the category, 'A Nationality'. It's also my 7th. book for The European Reading challenge, covering the country of Switzerland.

Next, Wash this Blood Clean from my Hand by Fred Vargas, book six in the Commissaire Adamsberg series.

No one on Adamsberg's team has any idea that he had a brother, Raphael. Years ago the brother was the main suspect in the murder of a young woman in the village in the Pyrenees where the family lived. The murder weapon had been some kind of trident, a fork for digging, and Adamsberg has, over the years since this happened, done some digging of his own, convinced as he was that his brother was innocent. His conclusion was that a serial killer is on the loose and that it is a famous judge who lived in the village. He comes to think of the killer as The Trident. No one, of course believes him - the judge is well respected - and when the judge dies that seems to be the end of that for fifteen years. Until Adamsberg spots a murder in the paper, a woman killed in exactly the same way as all the others. But the judge is dead... Various members of the team are off to Quebec on a DNA course. Adamsberg can forget about his dead serial killer while over there can't he? Well no, of course he can't.

Oh my goodness, how can Fred Vargas possibly manage to maintain the quality of this series like she does? This was so complicated, so many layers going on, the historical case or cases, the DNA course, Adamsberg's personal life interfering with those two things - his own stupidty, which is a bit mind boggling to be honest. You want to give him a shake at times. The Quebec setting is beautifully done, the cultural differences between the local Quebecois and their counterparts from Paris was beautifully illustrated and very funny. Every single character is so real, all with their different quirks and habits and failings. I love Clémentine and her friend Josette, the eighty year old computer hacker. Hilarious. I've loved every single book in this series and hate the thought that eventually I'll finish them all and have to wait for a new book to be written.

Wash This Blood Clean From My Hand is my first book for the 12th. Annual Canadian Book challenge which is being hosted by The Indextrious Reader.