Thursday, 13 February 2020

Catching up

I seem to be having a good reading month and am flying through the books. Better knuckle down and do a quick catch-up post.

First up Unnatural Causes by Dr. Richard Shepherd:

Dr. Richard Shepherd is a real-life forensic pathologist who's spent his life working with the police. Not only that, he has worked on some of the most high-profile disasters in the UK: the Marchioness disaster on the Thames, The Hungerford massacre, the death of Princess Diana and many many more. In fact, it's stated that he's performed 23,000 autopsies and the book includes many case histories. Of course, a life working with dead bodies takes its toll, especially with family life and Dr. Shepherd is quite candid about his personal life and problems faced when his wife decides to train as a doctor. I imagine that if you're the kind of person who's interested in medical procedures then you would love this book. Personally, that's not my thing so I had to read this book in short bursts as sometimes it got to be a bit much. Nevertheless it was absolutely fascinating and I feel like I learnt a lot about medical and police procedure in murder cases.

Next, to lighten the mood, The Giant Rat of Sumatra by Richard L. Boyer:

In the Sherlock Holmes story, The Sussex Vampire by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Holmes describes the giant rat of Sumatra as 'A story for which the world is not yet prepared'. The story never did get written so author, Richard L. Boyer, has done the deed. And a good romp it is too. A man is pushed off the edge of a building close to where Holmes and Watson live in Baker's Street. He's a sailor just off a boat docked in the London docks. One of the dead sailor's colleagues tells a mad story of something frightening, brought aboard the ship and kept in the hold, that terrifies the whole crew. When the captain of the ship is found brutally murdered, aboard ship, with some horrible marks on him, Holmes realises that something is now loose in London... but what? I thoroughly enjoyed this rather madcap romp through Victorian London and and thence on to Shropshire. I felt it was very true to the original stories, good characterisation apart from one scene where I felt Watson didn't react as Conan Doyle would have written him. But otherwise, not bad at all. And it's put me in the mood for more Sherlock Holmes written by other authors so I've ordered this:

The Mammoth Book of New Sherlock Holmes Adventures, edited by Mike Ashley. I've read one or two other collections of his from the British Library and they were good, so hopefully this will be too. And what a stunning cover! Looks like a painting by John Atkinson Grimshaw, I'll have to check that when it arrives. Yes, happy to report the painting is 'Liverpool Docks' by John Atkinson Grimshaw.

Lastly, The Unpleasantness at the Bellona Club by Dorothy L. Sayers:

Lord Peter Wimsey is at his club, The Bellona, when a very elderly gentleman, General Fentiman, is found dead in the chair clutching a newspaper. No one realised he had died and therefore no one knows 'when' he died. Which turns out to be a problem because his estranged sister, Lady Dormer, a very wealthy widow, has also died. Her fortune was to go to him if she dies first, and thus to his heirs, Robert and George. But if the General were to die first the money would all go to her neice and companion, Ann Dorland. The question is, who was the first to die? Initially, this question is the main crux of the investigation and that's complicated enough. But when it's discovered that the old man may have died in suspicious circumstances then things really begin to unravel.

I love the way this book starts (in the Bellona club):

"What in the world, Wimsey, are you doing in this Morgue?” demanded Captain Fentiman, flinging aside the Evening Banner with the air of a man released from an irksome duty."

"Oh, I wouldn't call it that," retorted Wimsey amiably, "Funeral Parlour at the very least. Look at the marble. Look at the furnishings. Look at the palms and the chaste bronze nude in the corner."

"Yes, and look at the corpses. Place always reminds me of that old thing in Punch, you know - 'Waiter, take away Lord Whatsisname, he's been dead two days'."

Wonderful, absolutely wonderful. I can't help but be reminded a bit of P.G. Wodehouse when I read these Wimsey books. Sayer's touch with humour was every bit as deft and surely the two butlers, Jeeves and Bunter, are one and the same? Anyway, 'joyous' as always, and very complicated. About halfway through they seem to have it all worked out and so do you but then it comes to you that yes, there's another 50% of the book to go, so it can't all be sewn up or what will they talk about for the rest of the book? I've only got two more Wimsey's to go, The Five Red Herrings and Murder Must Advertise. But I might reread Strong Poison first as it was the first Wimsey I read and it would be interesting to read it again coming at it from the point of view of having now read the first five books. We'll see. The thing is, these books are eminently rereadable, always something new to discover I suspect. I also want to try the newer ones written by Jill Paton Walsh and have the first on my tbr pile, Thrones, Dominations, which was partly written by Sayers herself. Isn't reading fun?


Monday, 10 February 2020

50 US States challenge update

Many thanks to all who suggested books for my 50 US states challenge.

I had suggestions both here and on Facebook so here're a few of the titles in case any one else is interested.

From Cathy at Kittling Books (via FB)

For New Mexico there are Walter Satterthwait’s Joshua Croft mysteries (Santa Fe) and Steven F. Havill’s Posadas County series (down along the border).

For North Dakota there’s the Marjorie Trumaine series by Larry D. Sweazy.

Timothy Egan’s The Worst Hard Time is one of the best books I’ve ever read and would count toward Oklahoma and Texas.

Another fantastic book is David Gran’s Killers of the Flower Moon (Oklahoma). I’ll make myself stop now. (NO, DON'T!)

From Mary:

Books by Ann Tyler for Maryland
Chesapeake by James Michener also for Maryland

From Pat at Here, There and Everywhere:

The Harry Bosch series by Michael Connelly
Bury my Heart at Wounded Knee - Dee Brown for a multi-state book

From Kay at Kay's Reading Life

The Bell Elkins series by Julia Keller for West Virginia (I've reserved the first one from the library.)

The Tracy Crosswhite series by Robert Dugoni for Washington state.

From Tracy at Bitter Tea and Mystery:

Suggestions for Alabama... note she has not read some of these.

To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee.

Anne George - Southern Sister mysteries (humorous cosy series)

Andrew Grant - False Positive (Det. Cooper Devereaux, 1st in a series).

Thomas H. Cook - Breakheart Hill.

Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe by Fannie Flagg

For Hawaii: The House Without a Key - Earl Derr Biggers (Charlie Chan)

For Oklamhoma: A Killing in Quail County - Jameson Cole

From Sam at Bookchase

Lonesome Dove by Larry McMurtry
And various other books by McMurtry including, The Last Picture Show and Terms of Endearment

From Noel - friend on Facebook: (all for Wisconsin)

The Little House in the Big Woods by Laura Ingalls Wilder (read and it's delightful)

Orchard by Larry Watson

The Loon Lake Mysteries by Victoria Houston (love the sound of these)

From Pam at Travellin' Penguin:

The Heart is a Lonely Hunter by Carson McCullers for Georgia

From Mamzie Bro on FB:

To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee (it's really remiss of me not to have read this one already)

From Yvonne at Fiction Books:

Two series by Susan Slater, 'Ben Pecos' and 'Dan Mahoney' which would cover New Mexico and Florida.


Doc - Mary Doria Russell (Kansas)
Women of the Copper Country - Mary Doria Russell (Michigan)
Snow Falling on Cedars - David Guterson (Washington State)
Cane River - Lalita Tademy (Louisiana)
Burglars Can't Be Choosers - Lawrence Block (New York city)

I 'think' I have caught all of the suggestions but more are always welcome. And my update from 2011 here also has a lot more.

These are a few of the books I own (there are more) that I want to read for this challenge:

And this is the book I've just started for 'Virginia'.

I think it will be perfect for that state.

If there are any more suggestions from anyone I'll edit them into this post but thanks again to all who commented. If this was Facebook or Twitter I would now add several 'heart' emojis.


Friday, 7 February 2020

My 50 states American challenge.

It was back in November 2011 that I formed a plan to read a book from every state in the USA.

I wrote two posts in fairly quick succession:

My first post.

My second post.

By the second post I'd had loads of suggestions, had sorted out a few of my own books and taken some photos and was ready to begin. I actually meant to post some updates along the way but somehow that never happened. What did happen was that I slowly but surely worked my way through 25 states, plus one book from New York City and a handful of 'multi-state' books.

It was this post from Robin at A Fondness For Reading that finally woke me up again and made me check on my progress.

So, a list of what I've read:



Walking Home - Lynn Schooler
A Cold Day For Murder - Dana Stabenow (and others in the series)


These Is My Words - Nancy Turner
Dog On It - Spencer Quinn
Desert Noir - Betty Webb


I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings - Maya Angelou
True Grit - Charles Portis



Ill Wind - Nevada Barr





Blindsighted - Karin Slaughter
Kisscut - Karin Slaughter





IOWA: --


The Little House on the Prairie - Laura Ingalls Wilder
The Virgin Of Small Plains - Nancy Pickard



The Neon Rain - James Lee Burke (and several others by him)


Presumed Guilty - Tess Gerritsen
Dark Hollow - John Connolly (and many more)
The Cycle Of The Werewolf - Stephen King



Friday The Rabbi Slept Late - Harry Kemelman
Summer - Edith Wharton
Moby Dick - Herman Melville (partly set in Nantucket)
The Chatham School Affair - Thomas H. Cook


A Superior Death - Nevada Barr


On The Banks Of Plum Creek - Laura Ingalls Wilder
The Lost Girls - Heather Young


The Help - Kathryn Stockett
Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter - Tom Franklin
The Quiet Game - Greg Iles



Holmes On The Range - Steve Hackensmith
Black Cherry Blues - James Lee Burke


Fangirl - Rainbow Rowell




Night of the Living Dead - E.J. Copperman



In The Bleak Midwinter - Julia Spencer-Fleming
A Gathering Light - Jennifer Donnelly




The Last Runaway - Tracy Chevalier
Sworn to Silence - Linda Castillo




The Signature Of All Things - Elizabeth Gilbert



The White Road - John Connolly
Death Du Jour - Kathy Reichs


By The Shores Of Silver Lake - Laura Ingalls Wilder
The Long Winter - Laura Ingalls Wilder


Last Wool and Testament - Molly MacRae
Carved in Bone - Jefferson Bass


Track Of The Cat - Nevada Barr


To Helvetica and Back - Paige Skelton






The Way Station - Clifford D. Simak
Little House in the Big Woods - Laura Ingalls Wilder


The Cold Dish - Craig Johnson (and others in the series)

OK, so as well as the 50 states I also decided to include New York City and Washington DC. 'And' note down any multi-state books I read.


Maigret in New York - George Simenon
The House of Mirth - Edith Wharton



Narrow Dog to Indian River - Terry Darlington
The Gift of Rivers - edited by Pamela Michael
Travels With Macy - Bruce Fogle
Notes From a Big Country - Bill Bryson
A Voyage Long and Strange - Tony Horowitz

So, 25 states is far better than I thought I'd done to be honest. I've just been quietly writing titles in my trusty notebook and not counting at all.

What's apparent is that firstly I have some huge gaps, and secondly for some states I have multiple entries. The latter was deliberate... it seemed to me that in order to get a real flavour of a state it might be necessary to read a non-fiction, something fun (crime or horror etc.) and something fictional that was more informative. I've definitely done the fun thing! 'But' fun doesn't necessarily mean the book doesn't possess a real flavour of the state it's set in, John Connolly's 'Maine' for instance, James Lee Burke's 'Louisiana', Dana Stabenow's 'Alaska', all have an almost tangible sense of place in their books.

And so I have a long way to go. But that's OK. This is a long term project and always was and I see no reason to rush at it, I want to enjoy the journey.

I'll finish by saying that if anyone has any suggestions for states I'm missing... or states I already have where I should read more (and that's all of them) then please leave them in the comments. All are welcome.


Thursday, 6 February 2020

A quick catch-up post

I'm falling behind with reviews, a bit of a permanent state for me if I'm honest, so I'm going to catch up by doing brief reviews of my last two books.

First up, The Returning Tide by Liz Fenwick.

On Cape Cod, on the New England coast, Lara's great-grandfather, known to all as 'Grandie', is dying. A US veteran of World War 2, he's always been very reluctant to talk about what he did in the war. But it's his last word that shocks Lara, 'Adele'. Grandie's wife was called Amelia, so who on Earth was Adele? Lara has unexpected time off from her job as a chef and decides to head across the Atlantic to Cornwall where she's discovered that her great-grandfather spent time during the war. In Cornwall, Peta is getting married. Her twin brother, Jack, is very much against the marriage and her grandmother, Elle, is also uneasy. She knows from experience how much heartache love can bring and fears for her grand-daughter getting married so young. Not that anyone in the family knows anything about her personal heartache: Elle has kept her secrets for seventy years and hopes to take them with her to her grave. But fate, naturally, has other ideas...

I loved this book. At the beginning I wasn't sure that I would. There were New England goings on and Cornish goings on, both modern day, and I couldn't see a connection or work out who was who. Eventually, after several chapters, it became clear though and turned into one of those books where the reader has a clearer idea of what's happening and 'happened' than the characters, though it's not until the very end that we get to know the exact details. It is all quite sad, the story is basically saying, 'Look at what war does to families', but it's also a beautiful book about love, loyalty, being strong in the face of adversity. Cornwall of course features very strongly, and so does World War 2 in the form of what ordinary people were forced to do as part of their everyday lives. I rather fancy a massive amount of research went into the writing of this book but it's used with a delicate touch and not as evidence of how much work the author did. It's beautifully written and I found the whole book very affecting. This is my first book by Liz Fenwick but it certainly will not be the last.

Lastly, The Icelandic Adventures of Pike Ward edited by K.J. Findlay. This is my first book for the European Reading challenge, 2020 which is being hosted by Rose City Reader. It cover the country of 'Iceland'.

Pike Ward was born in 1856 to a family who were ship brokers and shipping insurance agents by profession, in Teignmouth in South Devon (not far from where I live as a matter of fact). The family were wealthy enough that young Pike was able to go off to Iceland to see what the opportunities were for buying fish and exporting them to the UK. Very good, as it turned out and he made a home for himself there, spending a lot of time in Iceland and some in the UK. This book is based on some diaries he decided to keep for the year of 1906 by which time he had three bases in the country buying and selling the smaller fish that no one else wanted. Obviously he had to travel a fair bit and in those days there were no roads in Iceland so travelling was on horseback along mountain or coastal tracks that were often primitive and dangerous. I was quite surprised, and I don't know why because the country is called 'Ice'land for goodness sake, that it can snow all year round. Ward mentions the weather every single day and even in August he's reporting days when it's bitterly cold and snowing. I felt that I learnt quite a lot about early 20th. century Iceland, its welcoming people, their housing conditions, the landscape, the food... Pike struggled with that at times... and definitely the weather. His diaries were written with tolerance and humour, he describes one woman as,

'A nice girl but spits at meal times which takes off a bit of the glamour'.

And there was one soup meal he absolutely loathed and got caught tipping it out of the window with obvious repercussions from a ferocious landlady.

On the whole, I found the book on the repetitive side... weather, weather, more weather and I *like* weather... but interesting and revealing in parts, a good book for the European challenge.


Tuesday, 4 February 2020

Without Expiration

Without Expiration is a volume of twelve short stories by author William R. Hincy. I commented on Sam at Book Chase's review and the author kindly asked me if I would like a copy to read and review. I don't do this very often but on this occasion I said 'yes' and I'm glad I did.

The tag line on the front cover of this book asks: Are we bad people who sometimes do good things, or good people who do bad things?

I had a few favourite stories in the collection.

Left to Soak. A woman reflects on a lifetime of washing dishes. Not once in her 46 years of marriage has her husband ever done them for her or picked up the teatowel and wiped them dry. He's also taken her off to live in Boulder, Colorado, to mine silver, leaving her to live in a pigsty while he goes off to try and make his fortune. Funnily enough I've also been married for 46 years but fortunately I have a husband who does do dishes! However, I have come across marriages where the husband won't lift a finger to help, so this story rang a bell. It made me wonder if young women these days put up with this kind of behaviour. There's a sadness to the end of this story, a poignancy that makes you take a deep breath and sigh.

Friendly Stranger. I suppose this is a road-rage story but also it's about the modern scourge of 'impatience'. A driver is cut up by another road user then comes across him further along the road, stranded. He stops. You're sure he's going to help out. Definitely he is...

A Study in Discontinuity. A man's wife is in a coma and has been for years. Except that she keeps waking up from this coma, for several days, before slipping back into it. (I've actually no idea if this actually 'can' happen.) She's full of hate because of something he did, but whatever it is he's paying for it bigtime because every time she wakes up years have passed and nothing is the same as it was last time but they're still married of course. This is a really wierd story, almost science-fiction in flavour, certainly a bit on the creepy side. The author uses annotations to effect in this but for me I'm not sure they weren't a bit distracting.

Years of the Dog. A Chinese family own a very old dog... and keep on owning it... down the generations this dog survives. I wasn't sure what to make of this but I was 'so' intrigued by it.

Flying. An elderly father wants to go paint-balling with his grown-up son. You realise something's not right when Dad comes down in his speedos and gets sent back for his trousers.

So, what about this question: Are we bad people who sometimes do good things, or good people who do bad things? It's a very good one and being old with probably far too much time on my hands, it's something that I occasionally ponder. I wish I had an answer. The news is full of terrible happenings and the kinds of things humans are willing to do to each other horrifies me on a daily basis. But it's too simplistic just to say we're basically wicked and only do good things for the look of the thing or for fear of punishment. We're too complicated for that and this book of short stories is a small piece of evidence if it were needed.

As to the actual stories, UK readers of a certain age will recall a series on TV called Tales of the Unexpected, based on the short stories of Roald Dahl. Well, this is what some of the stories in this volume reminded me of. They were uncomfortable, made you want to look away sometimes as though you were being made privy to secrets that were too private, almost too much honesty. I don't read books like this very often... I should do it a bit more as it does us good to read out of our comfort zone. And the writing is just superb, I suspect that's why the stories are so effective and hit home so accurately. They're poignant to the point of painful and I suspect the older you are the more you'll get it because at our age we've seen rather a lot and nothing surprises us any more. An uncle in his sixties used to say that to me when I was in my thirties, that nothing he heard surprised him anymore. I didn't quite get it then, not enough experience of life perhaps, but I understand it now.

As usual I find books of short stories difficult to review but this is an excellent anthology, especially if you like writing that makes you think out of the box or that takes you out of your comfort zone. It made me want to go and look for a book on psychology or anthropology... my problem is that I have too many questions and the more I read the more I have. But that's good thing, right?


Saturday, 1 February 2020

Six Degrees of Separation

The Six Degrees of Separation meme is a monthly meme hosted by Books are my Favorite and Best. This is my second go at this so it looks like it's going to become a regular thing with me.

Books can be linked in obvious ways – for example, books by the same authors, from the same era or genre, or books with similar themes or settings. Or, you may choose to link them in more personal ways: books you read on the same holiday, books given to you by a particular friend, books that remind you of a particular time in your life, or books you read for an online challenge.

A book doesn’t need to be connected to all the other books on the list, only to the ones next to them in the chain.

This month's chain begins with Fleishman is in Trouble by Taffy Brodesser-Akner, a book set in New York about a newly divorced man who is suddenly irresistibly attractive to women.

I haven't read this and have no intention of doing so, so the link I've chosen is New York as I don't know enough about the book to choose another. Also living in New York, but in real life, is screenwriter, film director and essayist, Nora Ephron.

Her book, I Feel Bad About My Neck, is a book of essays about all sorts of subjects but my favourite by far were those where she speaks about everyday life in New York. Fascinating.

Another excellent book of essays is Making It Up As I Go Along by Marian Keyes.

Marian is Irish and speaks about her homeland and its people with warmth and humour, I loved this book. Also set in Ireland is Haunted Ground by Erin Hart.

This rather good archaeological crime story with a wonderful sense of Ireland is based around the finding of a severed head in peat bog. Severed heads (isn't this lovely?) also feature strongly in Head in the Sand by Damien Boyd.

This excellent series is set in and around the county of Somerset in the UK. As is the title story in a book of short stories, The Sedgemoor Strangler by Peter Lovesey.

It's an excellent murder story set on the Somerset Levels not far from where I live, in fact this is a very solid short story collection all told.

So, my journey this month has taken me from New York to Ireland and thus to Somerset in the UK. Not many stops this time but good fun nevertheless.

Next month will begin with Wolfe Island by Lucy Treloar.


Wednesday, 29 January 2020

Books read in January

Well, it's unlikely that I'll actually finish another book before the end of the month so I thought I'd get my 'Books read in January' post done a little early.

January tends to be one of my main hibernating months. Comfortably ensconced in a comfy chair, the fire lit, while the rain beats down and the wind whistles down the chimney is my idea of heaven. To the point that I often sigh a bit when the weather gets warmer as Spring approaches. Although the weather getting warmer as Spring approaches is not always a given of course - snow in March or April is not exactly unknown in the UK. There's an old weather proverb isn't there, 'As the days get longer, the cold gets stronger'.

Anyway, the books I've been reading in my comfy chair this month numbered six and these are they:

1. Kickback - Damien Boyd

2. Travelling Light - Alastair Sawday

3. Saturday the Rabbi Went Hungry - Harry Kemelman

4. The Cure of Souls - Phil Rickman

5. The First Cadfael Omnibus - Ellis Peters

6. Without Expiration - William R. Hincy (to be reviewed)

Hmm, I've definitely majored on murder mysteries this month - four this month, six if you count the fact that the Cadfael omnibus had three books within its covers. Not that I'm addicted to dead bodies or anything...

Thus, my favourite book this month was this:

Huge fun rereading these first three books from this excellent historical crime series.

I'm currently reading five books but concentrating on these three:

And these are some of the books I want to choose from to read in February:

Under the Tuscan Sun will be for the European Reading challenge and Fair and Tender Ladies will be for 'Virginia' for my personal 50 States American challenge. I've neglected that a bit but want to resurrect it and crack on. I'll be doing an update on my progress very soon.