Tuesday, 1 September 2015

Books read in August

Happy September to everyone reading this! My favourite time of year, autumn, is almost here and I couldn't be more delighted. The evenings are drawing in and the last few weeks have been cool and comfortable. I've been busy a lot of the summer with family and the garden so book reviews have been few and far between. It's been nice as I do enjoy my grandchilden immensely and we've had a lot of fun spending time with them this summer. But soon they'll be back to school and normality will return and I'll get back to doing a few book reviews... especially now that R.I.P. has begun.

Anyway, this past month I've read four books again and these are they.

38. The Wrath of Angels - John Connolly

39. August Folly - Angela Thirkell

40. Summer Half - Angela Thirkell

41. Arms of Nemesis - Steven Saylor

The hideously disfigured body was found in the atrium. The only clues are a blood-soaked cloak, and, carved into the stone at the corpse's feet, the word Sparta . . . The Overseer of Marcus Crassus's estate has been murdered, apparently by two slaves bent on joining Spartacus's revolt. The wealthy, powerful Crassus vows to honor an ancient law and have his ninety-nine remaining slaves slaughtered in three days. Gordianus the Finder is summoned from Rome by a mysterious client to find out the truth about the murder before the three days are up. (Blurb from Goodreads.)

Well, gosh, this was a bit of a cracking read. I enjoyed the first book in the series, Roman Blood, very much indeed. I didn't imagine that book 2 would surpass it in excellence... but it did. Shifting the action from the city of Rome to the Gulf of Puteoli worked a treat and what you get from that is gorgeous descriptions of the coast of Italy and frequent mentions of Vesuvius brooding over the scene. Wonderful. Once again, as with the first book, the plight of Roman slaves comes right to the fore. More so in this book as the author portrays what it's like to be a house-slave and, in one very memorable scene at the beginning, the daily horror of being a galley-slave on a ship. Apparently, just about the worst job any slave could find himself doing. The mystery was excellent... I decided who the culprit was fairly early on and was completely wrong. Naturally. All good fun. I'm really looking forward to reading more of these now - I'm finding it rather interesting discovering more about Ancient Rome and the Romans... both in Rome and here in Britain.

So, four very enjoyable books read in August. I loved all four to be honest so I'm not picking a favourite for once. Very nice to have a reading month where all of my books are very good. Hope September is equally as satisfying.


Monday, 31 August 2015

R.I.P. X

Autumn is almost here (our weather for the past few weeks in the UK has felt like it's already here) and with it comes the annual Readers Imbibing Peril challenge, or RIP for short. This year is its 10th. anniversary and to mark that Carl, who usually hosts it, is handing the reins to the ladies at The Estella Society. Nothing else has changed though, the Perils are still the same and so are the rules etc. So without further ado, R.I.P. X:

This lovely artwork is used with the kind permission of Abigail Larson.

As always there are various different ways to participate, you can just read a number of novels of your choice, you can read short stories, watch films, take part in the group read and so on.

As usual, I shall be doing:

Peril the First: Read four books, any length, that you feel fit (the very broad definitions) of R.I.P. literature. It could be King or Conan Doyle, Penny or Poe, Chandler or Collins, Lovecraft or Leroux…or anyone in between.

I may also do:

Peril the short story. Which is to read short stories over the weekends or at other times if you prefer.

The rules:

1. Have fun reading (and watching).
2. Share that fun with others.

The kind of books to read:

Dark Fantasy.

Anyway, I have selected a few books I'd like to get to and these are they (click for a clearer view):

Which of these I'll get to I'm not sure, hopefully all of the novels, plus one or two that I have on my ereaders, and a reread of some of the short story volumes. We shall see.

Hope everyone has a lot of fun with RIP this year and many thanks to Andi and Heather at The Estella Society for hosting.


Sunday, 16 August 2015

Two Angela Thirkells

Sometimes you're just in the mood for 'gentle'... as in books that are undemanding, charming, humorous... gentle. Which is how I ended up reading a couple of Angela Thirkell books in a row. First up, August Folly.

The Dean family, mother and father Rachel and Frank, and six of their nine children are coming to the Dower house for the summer. The oldest son, Laurence, 27, is to inherit the Palmer estate, the Palmers being childless. 'Organising' Mrs. Palmer is putting on a play for the village and has decided that it will be the Greek play, Hippolytus. The plan is to rope in the Dean family to act in the play and also the Tebbens, whose son and daughter, Richard and Margaret are also home for the summer. Richard is rather self-centred, his parents' golden boy, didn't work hard at university and thus got a third for his degree. Margaret has been working abroad, where she knew Laurence Dean quite well. Richard is dreading the summer with parents who annoy and embarrass him, but has reckoned without the irrepressible Deans.

These Angela Thirkell novels are sheer delight from start to finish. This one had a lot of characters so it was necessary to concentrate a bit to remember who was who but even I managed to get there in the end. The story is basically a romance but Thirkell did not write in a sentimental manner about people so these stories are not soppy in any way. They're full of humour and very accurate as regards human failings. I love how Richard, in his early twenties, falls for the middle-aged mother of nine children. The eldest Dean girl, Helen, is so possessive of her brother, Laurence, that she's made miserable when he seems to be falling for Margaret. And the children in Thirkell's books are always so real... there's even a couple of mentions of Tony Morland from previous books. All in all... delightful. I have a feeling I'm going to end up with a massive collection of Angela Thirkell's books.

Next, Summer Half.

Colin Keith is studying for the Bar but decides that he shouldn't be so dependant on his parents and takes a post as a teacher at Southbridge School for boys. The head master and his wife have two daughters, one of whom, Rose, is engaged to Philip Winter a teacher in the same house as Colin. Rose is beautiful, but far from clever. She's also flighty and likes to have the attention of every man in the room. It makes Philip edgy and unpredictable. Colin has two sisters, Lydia, still at school, and the beautiful Kate. Colin's house master, Everard Carter, falls for Kate but Kate seems to be interested in someone else. Add in two schoolboys, Eric Swan and Tony Morland from Demon in the House, now older but still irrepressible, and you have a recipe for much drama and highjinks both at school and during the holidays.

This Angela Thirkell again has a 'huge' cast of characters, all of them very individual with quirks and flaws that make them very real. I always like a book set in a school so that was delightful too and it was very nice to see Tony Morland again, who hadn't changed much in the intervening five or so years. The romantic tangles and misunderstandings were of a similar nature to August Folly, at least in one instance, but as I enjoyed that aspect that was fine. Again there was a lot of humour to the fore mainly as regards the quirks in human nature. One thing strikes as you read these books, set in the 1930s, and that's how much fun the children had outdoors. Even the older ones at 16 or 17 were happy getting messy clearing out a pond or swimming in the river. And reading! Goodness they were well read. They seemed so much younger than modern kids of that age which was rather refreshing. Another super read from Angela Thirkell... I gave both books a five on Goodreads.

August Folly and Summer Half are my books 18 and 19 for Bev's Mount TBR 2015 challenge.


Sunday, 9 August 2015

The Wrath of Angels

My first book for August is The Wrath of Angels by John Connolly. It's book eleven in his well known 'Charlie Parker' series, about a private detective based in the state of Maine in the USA.

Some years ago hunting friends Harlan Vetters and Paul Scollay came across the wreckage of a plane somewhere deep in the Great North Woods of Maine. They found inside evidence that it had been carrying a prisoner and that that prisoner might have survived. No other bodies were evident. They also found money - lots of it - and a long list of names. They took the money and Harlan also took one sheet from the list of names, leaving the rest behind. Both men have now died of old age. Harlan's daughter, Marielle, comes to see private detective, Charlie Parker, along with Paul Scollay's brother, because she knows he investigates this sort of thing. Her father had told her the whole story on his death-bed. She gives him the list her father had, clearly glad to get rid of it and the knowledge she never wanted.

Charlie begins to investigate and discovers that some very odd people have also been searching for the wreckage of a plane that was never reported missing. People begin to die, among them a prominent female lawyer known to be working with Parker's enemies. He begins to wonder if his name is also on the missing list when the fact is confirmed by Epstein, a man that Charlie has worked with in his fight against the enemy they all face. Who is the beautiful woman and frightening young child who're connected to the quest for the plane and the murders? What secrets is the plane wreck hiding? And what else is loose in the Great North Woods that's scaring the locals to the point where no one will go near that area? Naturally, it's Parker's task to find some answers.

Oh, Charlie Parker, how do I love thee? Let me count the ways... LOL! Seriously though this is my absolute favourite series of all time. Such a flawed man is Parker, he's firmly on the side of right but sometimes the things he has to do make you - and people in the stories - wonder. His sidekicks, gay couple Louis and Angel, are another reason I love this series so much. Like Parker they're also ambivilent personalities, very violent, assassins if the truth be known... but they too do what they do for the right reasons. Plus they inject humour - the dialogue is sometimes laugh out loud funny - into what are often very dark doings as these books come firmly into the 'horror' genre, even though they're also very much crime yarns. Make no mistake, these books are not for the faint hearted... not fun books to read at bedtime. They're seriously scary. People die horribly!

The other thing author, John Connolly, is seriously brilliant at is creating a sense of place. He's Irish so how he ever manages to transport the reader so firmly to Maine I have no idea. In this book the sense and atmosphere of The Great North Woods is palpable. I've had a fascination for it since watching The Last of the Mohicans on TV as a teen... even though I realise they never left British soil to film the thing... the 'idea' was there and that was enough. So a book set there is right up my alley and with additional extreme creepiness thrown in, well it was nigh on perfect.

I won't go into the background to the series too much. You really need to start at the beginning as it's very much an ongoing plot that progresses with each book as you find out more about Parker and the people opposing him. It's compulsive stuff to be honest. For those who enjoy horror mixed with crime and a damn good background story I can't recommend these books highly enough. But don't read them alone on a dark and stormy night...


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 .