read_warbler

Thursday, 11 April 2019

Birds of a Feather


Birds of a Feather by Jacqueline Winspear is my 12th. book for Bev's Calendar of Crime challenge, covering the April category of 'Author's birth month'.


The daughter of wealthy businessman, Joseph Waite, has gone missing. Charlotte Waite saw something in the paper one morning which alarmed her and subsequently disappeared off the face of the Earth. Waite doesn't want a lot of publicity so instead of calling the police he hires Maisie Dobbs to look into the matter. She's not very taken with the man but acknowledges that he's a good businessman and looks after the staff of his grocery chain well.

It doesn't take Maisie and her war veteran assistant, Billy Beale, long to discover that this is not the first time Charlotte has done a runner. Is she merely trying to escape her father's suffocating shackles once again or is there something more sinister going on? It seems it's the latter. Maisie discovers links between Charlotte and two women recently murdered by poisoning, and another who committed suicide. It seems the four women were close friends during World War One and it falls to Maisie and Billy to discover who and why someone wants them dead.

Yet another series I've done a complete reversal on, from not being that impressed with the first book some years ago, to rereading it, liking it a lot and moving on to this, book two, and loving it to bits. Why? Well, this time around I find I really love the relationships in it. There's Maisie and her father, Frankie, a man of humble origins, who can't understand why there's something preventing the two from being very close. Then there's Maisie's relationship with her two mentors, Lady Rowan who supported her financially through university, and Maurice Blanche her investigating mentor. Wouldn't we all like someone like these two in our lives?

Billy Beale is such an interesting character too, badly wounded in the war he's in constant pain and there's a secret he's keeping which is really worrying Maisie. She has a couple of suitors too, Chief Inspector Stratton whom Daisy helps sometimes, but he blots his copybook somewhat in this book, and a new chap, a Dr. Dene who runs a clinic for war veterans and is a friend of Maurice's. Interesting to see how that will pan out.

As to the mystery, well, if I'm honest, it wasn't rocket-science to guess who the culprit was quite early on. The interest for me was in why. And that aspect and discussions about it were beautifully handled and extremely interesting. And not a little heart-breaking really. I often think there's a lot more to be learnt about all kinds of subjects from a fictional book like this than from a non-fiction book... excellent though those can be. I've already reserved books three and four from the library and am hoping they'll arrive soon.

~~~oOo~~~

Tuesday, 9 April 2019

Catching up on reviews


First up, The Tattooist of Auschwitz by Heather Morris. This is my 4th. book for Becky's World at War reading challenge covering the category, 'A book set in Europe'.

Lale Sokolov and his family are part of a large Jewish community who live in Krompachy, Slovakia. After the Germans invade in 1939 their contented life slowly begins to disintegrate as the persecution of the Jews begins. In 1942 Lale is removed from his family and sent to Aushwitz-Birkenau in Poland. He doesn't know it's a concentration camp but when he realises this he decides to be a survivor. He's taken up by the Tattooist who has the job of tattooing prisoners deemed strong enough to work for the Germans, numbers tattooed on arms that will become iconic in decades to come. Eventually Lale finds himself the sole tattooist with privileges that include more food and a room of his own. He meets Gita, a female prisoner, and falls in love, he's determined that she too will survive this terrible place.

There seems to be some debate about whether this is fiction or non-fiction. I gather some of the facts presented are thought to be inaccurate, there's a good article about it here. Regardless, this is, obviously, a very sobering book to read. It's written totally without frills, starting from when Lale gets loaded onto a cattle truck with so many other men that there's hardly room to breathe, let alone anything else, right through to the end of the war when the Russians arrive. It is, of course, appalling. I've read quite a few books like this and every single time I end up wondering how on earth this kind of inhumanity can happen. The book may or may not be factually accurate but I'm pretty sure it gives a true account of what life was like in concentration camps, the way in which the lives of inmates were worth less than nothing, and what you had to do if you wanted to survive. We must never forget and if this book, accurate or inaccurate, helps us to keep the memory of the dead alive then that's fine by me.


Lastly, The Toy Makers by Robert Dinsdale.

The year is 1906 and Catherine Wray is young, single... and pregnant. She's from a middle-class family so arrangements have been made for her to go somewhere for the duration of her pregnancy: a home for unmarried mothers where she can have her baby and then have it taken for adoption. But Cathy has no intention of giving her baby away. She sees an advert for staff for The Emporium, a toyshop in London, and runs away from home. The Emporium is owned by Papa Jack, an elderly refugee from Eastern Europe, and his two sons, Kaspar and Emil, Kaspar being the eldest and most talented when it comes to creating magical toys. Because that's what The Emporioum is all about... magical toys. It opens on the first frost of the winter and closes when winter is over. Cathy finds a home there, hiding her pregnancy and loving the work and the people. She comes to the notice of the two sons and both fall in love with her but what will they do when Cathy can no longer hide her pregnancy and she will need the kind of help that neither are prepared for?

For me this was one of those books that made me sigh a bit. So much in it to love. It's beautifully written, a fascinating story with so many layers. Historically rivetting... the way in which World War One impinges on the idyll that is this wonderful shop full of magical toys is heart-breaking. There are other conflicts too, the two sons are constantly at loggerheads and the introduction of Cathy Wray into the mix is not helpful. I loved one of the back stories, that of Papa Jack and his forced march to Siberia and how he survived by making toys to stop being bullied. It was all beautifully told. Except... I didn't love the book. Awful thing to admit but I actually struggled to get to the end. I didn't want to give up on it as I actually wanted to know what happened, and there is an excellent twist at the end which was one of the best parts of the book for me. I think there are two reasons that I didn't love it. One was that I just didn't connect with the characters, especially Cathy... I honestly don't know why. The other is that long and frequent descriptions of toy soldiers and their battles are just not my thing. (Strange to admit but I was not a 'toy' child, I preferred books, jigsaw puzzles, colouring books and pencils.) Despite that, I still gave it four stars out of five on Goodreads because the writing was superb and it was not at all a 'bad' book, I just didn't connect with it as I had hoped.

~~~oOo~~~

Wednesday, 3 April 2019

Reading challenge update, the first 3 months


I went a wee bit mad this year and signed up for 6 reading challenges. But I know they're doable so am not fretting and it really is a very good way of getting books off the old TBR mountain. And so here we are, 3 months into the year (I know!) and, inspired by Margaret at Booksplease, it's time to review my progress with them... which ones are going well and which ones I need to pull my finger out for.

First up, The Mount TBR Reading challenge 2019 which is being hosted by Bev at MY READER'S BLOCK.


This runs from the 1st. January to the 31st. December. I'm doing Mont Blanc, for which I have to read 24 of my own books from before January the 1st. So far I've read 10.


Next, The Calendar of Crime challenge which is also being hosted by Bev and also runs from the 1st. January to the 31st. Dcember.




This, as the name suggests, is a calendar based challenge where various categories can be filled in. You can do one for each month or fill in as many as you like, there are 9 for each month. Great fun! So far I've read 11 books covering 7 months.


Next, The 2019 European Reading challenge which is being hosted by Rose City Reader.


This runs from the 1st. January 2019 to the 31st. January 2020. I'm doing the Five Star (Deluxe Entourage), which is to read at least 5 books by different European authors or books set in different European countries. I've read 1 but have loads more lined up.


Next, World at War which is being hosted by Becky's Book Reviews.


This is a Bingo based challenge and the idea is fill a line, across, down, diagonally, to get a Bingo. So far I'ved read 4 books, 2 each from 2 different columns so no actual 'bingo' just yet but I'll get there.


Next, The 12th. Annual Canadian Book challenge. This runs from the 1st. July 2018 to the 30th. June 2019.


The aim, for this challenge, is to read and review 13 or more Canadian books in a one year span: Canada Day to Canada Day. I came late to this one so have only read 4.


And lastly, What's in a Name? which is being hosted by Carolina Book Nook and runs from the 1st. January to the 31st. December.


For this there are 6 categories to complete, involving book titles, so 6 books to read. I've read 1.

And so. It seems I'm doing well with 3 challenges, Mt. TBR, Calendar of Crime and World at War. Not so well with Canada, What's in a Name? and Europe. Two of those I came later to so that explains that but as regards What's in Name? I need to pull my finger out and get reading, although 5 more books in 9 months is very doable so I'm not concerned at all. To be honest, I'm not concerned about any of them, I'm just enjoying the ride.

~~~oOO~~~

Sunday, 31 March 2019

Books read in March


It's been gardening weather for the last week, so I've been reading a bit less than usual. A tricky jigsaw puzzle has also been taking up my time, but that's the way it goes sometimes and I don't stress over it. It's nice to spend your spare time doing what you fancy rather than what you feel obliged to do. So I've read five books this month, slightly less than normal, but that's ok, next month I may read more. Or less. Or exactly the same number. Who knows!

Anyway, these are they:

13. Weekend at Thrackley - Alan Melville

14. Miss Marple's Final Cases - Agatha Christie

15. The Dancer at the Gai-Moulin - Georges Simenon

16. New Europe - Michael Palin. A trip around the ex-iron curtain countries in 2008 by the intrepid maker of travel documentaries, Michael Palin. I enjoyed the TV series very much but found the book dragged a bit. It was saved by his exquisite writing, he has wonderful descriptive powers and a very amusing way of expressing himself on paper. I laughed quite a lot.

17. City of the Lost - Kelly Armstrong


Favourite book of the five would probably be:


















Weekend at Thrackley by Alan Melville was beautifully written, funny and clever. You can't ask for more than that.

The two books I'm reading at the moment are:




The first is quite long, the second rather harrowing, so they're taking me a while to get through. When I've finished them - hopefully this week - I shall move on to one of these:





Happy reading in April!




~~~oOo~~~

Sunday, 24 March 2019

City of the Lost


City of the Lost by Kelley Armstrong has languished on my Nook for a couple of years. My eldest daughter recommended the series but I completely forgot about it, and even that I had the first book, until I saw Kay's post and a bell went off in my addled brain. I do find that ereaders, Kindles and Nooks (and I have both), are basically gigantic black holes for books though. No matter, I found the ebook and spent last week reading it.



Casey Duncan is a police detective living the city life in Canada (I didn't catch which city, Toronto I assume). She has a secret: she killed someone when she was in her teens. Her friend, Diana, who knows about this, has problems of her own. Her abusive and controlling ex-husband is making life intolerable to the point of violence against her. The two need to escape, move on again, but where? They hear about a place, deep in the Yukon forests, where people who need to escape from something can go. At a price. But 'price' to Casey is not an issue, her parents left her comfortably off when they died.

The town of Rockton is not easy to get into. You need good reasons to get past the ruling council, who don't themselves live there. Casey is helped by the fact that she's a detective and the town is in need of one to assist the sheriff. Eventually the two women manage to get in, Diana going ahead first, Casey following a few weeks later.

On arrival Casey is immediately taken up by the local law-enforcement officers, who are basically the sheriff, Eric Dalton, and Will Anders, a deputy. It's clear from the off that the sheriff is a difficult personality and Casey struggles to get along with him, suspecting that he doesn't trust her. He's in need of help though, as people are disappearing into the forest and dying, killed by persons unknown. Half the town are criminals but also out in the forest live several different kinds of undesirables, some a lot more undesirable than others. The situation is dangerous and highly volatile and Casey's life is further complicated by the fact that her friend, Diana, has managed to get in with a Bad Lot. How can life here in a small town in the Canadian wilderness possibly be more complicated than it was in a large metropolitan city?

Kelley Artmstrong's most famous series is of course 'Women of the Otherworld', a werewolf based horror series. I've tried so hard to like them but with zero success, something about them just doesn't appeal. I like her writing though, she's always very readable, and I've always regretted that I didn't like the Otherworld books, hoping that she might write something else that I like more.

Well she has. This crime based series is much more my thing though it has to be said, it does come really close to 'horror' without actually being of that genre. Armstrong really ramps it up with her hints of 'what's out there in the forest', aided and abetted by descriptions of what happens to people who inadvertently, or otherwise, go wandering off. I know there are plenty of 'winderness horror' books out there, I haven't read any, but I suspect this is possibly an acceptable alternative for wimps like me who don't actually want to be terrified, just mildly alarmed.

For that reason and for a very strong sense of place I have to say I enjoyed the book very much. I'm not so sure about the main characters. I quite liked Casey but wasn't ecstatic over her, same for Sheriff Dalton. I think, like many series, it's necessary to read several books in to really get used to the characters and allow them to grow on you. That's happened to me with a lot of series so I'm happy to persevere. Plus, I'm intrigued to see where the author can go with such a small community as it seems to me that options are limited and I'm not sure that 'quirky wilderness characters' will be enough to keep my interest. We'll see.

City of the Lost is my 4th. book for The 12th. Annual Canadian Book Challenge, which is being hosted by The Indextrious Reader. I suspect I'm not going to complete this. I came to it 4 months late and it being to read 13 books by the end of June, I doubt I'll manage it. What I'll probably do is sign up again and give myself a full year to do it properly. So far though I have visited Quebec, twice, Toronto, and now The Yukon, so that's not bad, but I am hoping to cover all 13 provinces and terrtiories at some stage.

It's also my 10th. book for Bev's Mount TBR 2019 challenge and also qualifies for her Calendar of Crime challenge under the December category 'Author's birth month'.

~~~oOo~~~

Saturday, 16 March 2019

The Dancer at the Gai-Moulin


Please ignore, this is repeated from my last post to enable me to post it on the Calandar of Crime Link site.


The Dancer at the Gai-Moulin by Georges Simenon qualifies for Bev's Calendar of Crime challenge under the December category of 'A book title starting with the letter D' (the 'The' doesn't count). I'm also using it as my first book for The European Reading Challenge 2019 as it is set in Belgium.

Rene Delfosse and Jean Chabot are two young lads out on the town in Liége, in Belgium. The bar they're in is known as a bit of a den of iniquity and it makes the boys feel grown-up being there. They're keeping company with a dancer, Adéle, who suddenly moves away to entertain a man who appears to be from Greece. Also present, drinking in the bar, is a heavily built Frenchman that no one has seen before. The two boys are up to no good. They have a plan to hide in the cellars after closing time, creep back up to the bar, and rob the till. Putting their plan into action it all goes smoothly, until they realise there's a dead body behind the bar. It's the Greek looking gentleman from earlier in the evening. Terrified, the boys make a run for it thinking they can just disappear and no one will be any the wiser, but they've reckoned without the heavily built Frenchman...

Not my favourite Maigret so far (Maigret in Holland, The Misty Harbour, The Judge's House, Maigret and the Flemish Shop) but enjoyable nevertheless. Nice sense of the city of Liége during the wars, it was Simenon's home city and his love for it shows. The two feckless lads, one from a rich family, the other a poorish one, are depicted as rather amoral. Simenon picked one of them to concentrate on and the boy's increasing sense of desperation as he tries to hide his crimes from his parents and steer clear of the police is very well portrayed. I gave it a 3 star rating on Goodreads, rounded down from 3.5 as they don't do halves on there. For me it was not one of his best as it lacked the atmosphere of some of the novels I mentioned previously. I must admit I do enjoy these occasional Maigret reads and what a shame ITV have seen fit to cancel their excellent series with Rowan Atkinson, I felt it had a lot of potential.

~~~oOo~~~

Friday, 15 March 2019

Catching up on crime novels


First up, Miss Marple's Final Cases by Agatha Christie. This qualifies for Bev's Calendar of Crime challenge under the September category of 'Author's birth month'.

There are nine stories in this anthology, seven Miss Marple stories and two supernatural. Some of my favourite stories: Sanctuary, where Miss Marple and her god-daughter, Bunch Harmon, a vicar's wife, join forces to solve the mystery of a dead man in the church. The Case of the Perfect Maid where Miss Marple's maid asks her to help her friend, Gladdie, who's been dismissed from her job as a maid with two sisters. Very ingenious solution to this one. The Dressmaker's Doll, a supernatural story about a doll in a dressmaker's shop which moves of its own accord. In a Glass Darkly, another wierd tale, a man dressing in front of a mirror sees a strangling reflected in said mirror, when he turns around there's nothing there. Greenshaw's Folly is a tale of a new will, witnessed by Miss Marple's nephew, Raymond. The writer of the will is then murdered with an arrow... this is another story with an ingenious solution.

This was an all round excellent anthology. I enjoyed every story and thought the two supernatural tales were particularly good. I'm also very taken with Christie's use of humour in her books. I don't think she gets full credit for this and it certainly isn't reflected in the very latest TV adaptations. This, from The Perfect Maid made me giggle:

The dim light showed her to be a thin, indecisive-looking creature, with a good deal of greyish-yellow hair untidily wound around her head and errupting into curls, the whole thing looking like a bird's nest of which no self-respecting bird could be proud.

Wonderful. I've reserved another Miss Marple anthology, Thirteen Guests, from the library.


Next, The Dancer at the Gai-Moulin by Georges Simenon. This qualifies for Bev's Calendar of Crime challenge under the December category of 'A book title starting with the letter D' (the 'The' doesn't count). I'm also using it as my first book for The European Reading Challenge 2019 as it is set in Belgium.

Rene Delfosse and Jean Chabot are two young lads out on the town in Liége, in Belgium. The bar they're in is known as a bit of a den of iniquity and it makes the boys feel grown-up being there. They're keeping company with a dancer, Adéle, who suddenly moves away to entertain a man who appears to be from Greece. Also present, drinking in the bar, is a heavily built Frenchman that no one has seen before. The two boys are up to no good. They have a plan to hide in the cellars after closing time, creep back up to the bar, and rob the till. Putting their plan into action it all goes smoothly, until they realise there's a dead body behind the bar. It's the Greek looking gentleman from earlier in the evening. Terrified, the boys make a run for it thinking they can just disappear and no one will be any the wiser, but they've reckoned without the heavily built Frenchman...

Not my favourite Maigret so far (Maigret in Holland, The Misty Harbour, The Judge's House, Maigret and the Flemish Shop) but enjoyable nevertheless. Nice sense of the city of Liége during the wars, it was Simenon's home city and his love for it shows. The two feckless lads, one from a rich family, the other a poorish one, are depicted as rather amoral. Simenon picked one of them to concentrate on and the boy's increasing sense of desperation as he tries to hide his crimes from his parents and steer clear of the police is very well portrayed. I gave it a 3 star rating on Goodreads, rounded down from 3.5 as they don't do halves on there. For me it was not one of his best as it lacked the atmosphere of some of the novels I mentioned previously. I must admit I do enjoy these occasional Maigret reads and what a shame ITV have seen fit to cancel their excellent series with Rowan Atkinson, I felt it had a lot of potential.

~~~oOo~~~