Saturday, 4 April 2015

Mount TBR checkpoint #1

We're now a quarter of the way into 2015 so it's time for checkpoint #1 for Bev's Mount TBR challenge.

Bev asks participants to answer some questions.

1. Tell us how many miles you've made it up your mountain (# of books read). If you're really ambitious, you can do some intricate math and figure out how the number of books you've read correlates to actual miles up Pike's Peak, Mt. Ararat, etc. And feel free to tell us about any particularly exciting adventures you've had along the way.

My aim is to climb Mon Blanc and that involves reading 24 of my own books this year. So far I've read 9 which means I'm three quarters of the way to the top of Pike's Peak (12 books). I'm also ahead of where I should be which is a nice cushion to have. It could be that I end up climbing higher than Mont Blanc but I've no intention of actually pushing myself to do it, if that's the way it ends up - fine. If not, no problem.

2. Complete ONE (or more if you like) of the following:
A. Post a picture of your favorite cover so far.
B. Who has been your favorite character so far? And tell us why, if you like.
C. Have any of the books you read surprised you--if so, in what way (not as good as anticipated? unexpected ending? Best thing you've read ever? Etc.)
D. Which book (read so far) has been on your TBR mountain the longest? Was it worth the wait? Or is it possible you should have tackled it back when you first put it on the pile? Or tossed it off the edge without reading it all

2A: My favourite cover so far is this:

The cover of Helliconia Winter by Brian W. Aldiss shows a scene from the book with a 'Phagor' in the foreground watching some ships carrying humans who are on the run from the authorities and looking for somewhere to land and resupply the ships. I love the wintery, snowy mountain scenery and the depiction of the strange unknown statue. The cover art is by Tim Gill.

2B: My favourite character so far has been Mrs. Ross from The Tenderness of Wolves. Her life is far from perfect already with a husband who is uncommunicative and surly and a son who is alienated from her. Then the son is suspected of murder and disappears off into the Canadian wilderness of Ontario. Despite the fact that Mrs. Ross is terrified of wilderness, off she goes in search of him with a complete stranger, enduring incredible hardship. You have a to admire a woman like that, brave, indomitable and devoted to her son. They were a tough lot back then.


Friday, 3 April 2015

Dreamdark book 1 - Blackbringer

My second book for Carl's Once Upon A Time IX is Blackbringer, book 1 of the Dreamdark series by Laini Taylor.

Magpie Windwitch is the grand-daughter of the West Wind and a female Faerie. This makes her different to other faeries. Along with her parents she is able to hunt down and dispose of escaped devils or 'snags' as she calls them. More devils are escaping these days as humans keep freeing them from their prison containers... bottles, flasks etc. She's kept very busy travelling the world, doing her work, with her clan of crow companions.

The discovery of an abandoned fishing vessel causes unease in Magpie. She senses an unusual devil is behind the disappearance of the fishermen. She returns to the place of her birth, Dreamdark, in Scotland, a huge area of land that includes forests and mountains which is cut off from the outside world by an impenetrable hedge. Here she finds long lost friends, new friends and a new queen that she makes an instant enemy of. But she's not here to see them, she's here to find the Magruwen, the leader of the seven Djinns who made the world and may have originally imprisoned the marauding devil she now seeks. He may have information that can help her. The Magruwen's been lost for many thousands of years but even if she does find him Magpie is certain he won't want to help capture a devil who's a danger to the whole world. Regardless of that, Magpie knows she must succeed in her deadly mission or risk losing everything.

I'll be honest, I'm not a huge fairy story fan. When I picked this Young Adult book at random from the library shelves I was initially attracted by the gorgeous cover (it's by Jim Di Bartolo). I wasn't really expecting the blurb on the back to sound interesting enough to make me want to take it home. But, against all expectations, it did. And I'm really glad about that. Blackbringer turned out to be one of those pleasant little surprises you get from time to time when a book surpasses your expectations.

I would call this book charming. And yet the faeries in it are not actually charming in themselves. They're gritty little characters, fiesty and determined, ready to kill if need be. Just like us they're petty, resentful, bullying, violent... but also resourceful, brave and kind.

The author has created an interesting world with all the key ingredients you would expect from a fairy tale... magic, spells, potions, strange little imps, devils, djinns, talking crows. All this you would expect and might think the book would be a bit run-of-the-mill and predictable. To be honest I'm not sure why it wasn't and what it was about the book I liked so much. I'm normally impatient with books that have what I consider to be slightly dodgy Americanised British (in this case 'Scottish') accents. But not even that put me off. I think it was simply that it was different enough and charming enough for me to enjoy it. Plus, I really liked Magpie Windwitch who wasn't a pretty little faerie, but a tom-boy girl who enjoyed an exciting life and didn't fuss over her appearance. She was refreshingly different and I liked the fact that the author did this with a female character as it's usually the boys who get all the exciting roles in books. Nice job.

There's only one sad thing about this and that is that there are only two books. Blackbringer was Laini Taylor's first book. She wrote one more in the series, Silksinger, and then went on to write another series called The Daughter of Smoke and Bone. So I assume no more Dreamdark books. What a shame, as it really is an enchanting world she created.


Tuesday, 31 March 2015

Books read in March

Yet another reading month has come and gone and here we are - a quarter of the way through the year already. March is quite a long month so I've managed eight books this month and yet again it's a pretty electic selection.

Books for March:

14. The Tenderness of Wolves - Stef Penney

15. To a Mountain in Tibet - Colin Thubron. This blurb from Goodreads:

In his new book, Colin Thubron travels to Tibet, and takes the pilgrimage route to Kailas, the most sacred of the world's mountains, holy to one fifth of the earth's people, but rarely visited by westerners. Buddhists and Hindus have ritually circled the mountain for centuries, but its steepest slopes are sacrosanct and no one has ever climbed to the summit. Thubron made the expedition shortly after his mother's death, and his hike through a challenging terrain of rocks, lakes and remote monasteries is perhaps one of his most personal and poetic books to date.

Perhaps this isn't one of the author's best books, I don't know, but I never really felt completely involved in the story of his journey. Bits were interesting and informative but a lot of it felt repetitive and I struggled to finish it to be honest.

16. Insufficiently Welsh - Griff Rhys-Jones. The author is a very well known comedian and presenter of TV documentaries in Britain and *on* Britain. He was born in Cardiff but brought up in Essex and all his life has wondered if the Welsh people consider him to be 'insufficiently Welsh' to have a claim to his own nationality. Griff embarks on a journey around the various regions of Wales to see if this is so. Not only is the book a delightful travelogue for anyone wanting an introduction to Wales but the author's writing style is very readable and self-deprecating enough to be quite funny. Enjoyable but not one for the Welsh expert I suspect.

17. Helliconia Winter - Brian W. Aldiss

18. Sworn to Silence - Linda Castillo

19. The Killing Place - Tess Gerritson

20. Tooth and Claw - Jo Walton

21. Clear Waters Rising - Nicholas Crane

I said eclectic at the start of this post but there's a definite thread running through most of these books and that's cold weather, winter, mountains. No less than six have that connection and even the two that don't, Insufficiently Welsh and Tooth and Claw, have mountains somewhere in the book. I won't say it happened by accident because it didn't. I'm reading a lot about mountains at the moment and also enjoying books with a winter setting. Sometimes you just want to go with a theme and I find it's best to indulge yourself while it lasts.

Yet again I've read three non-fiction books this month. One was a bit average, one was good and one - Clear Waters Rising - was very good. So that's eight non-fiction books read so far this year. Very happy with that.

So, what was my favourite book this month? Well it was this one:

The Tenderness of Wolves by Stef Penney. No contest really... well there was... I really enjoyed Sworn to Silence by Linda Castillo, Tooth and Claw by Jo Walton and Tess Gerritsen's 8th Rizzoli and Isles book, The Killing Place. But The Tenderness of Wolves had something extra: it was just brilliant and a worthy winner of my book of the month.

Next month I'm looking forward to continuing with Carl's Once Upon a Time IX reading challenge but other than that I'm not sure what I'll be reading. Possibly a couple of these off my tbr pile:

I also have a library pile of nine books at the moment, so I'd better crack on with those too. Whatever - I'm sure I'll find something...


Sunday, 29 March 2015

A couple of titles

Time to do brief reviews of what will probably be my last two completed books for this month - a fiction and a non-fiction.

First up, Tooth and Claw by Jo Walton.

Bon Agornin, the patriarch of a family of dragons, is dying and the family have gathered around his death-bed. The eldest son, Penn, a priest, hears his father's confession alone and against his better instincts, as confession is banned. He's shocked at what he hears. The old dragon dies. Tradition has it that the family get to eat the body as it brings nourishment and growth. Bon has let it be known that he wants his younger children to have the lion's share as they still have to make their way in the world. It's not in writing however and what happens is that his eldest daughter's husband, Daverak, decides to eat most of it, encouraging his own family to eat their fill as well. The rest of Bon's offspring are outraged but can do nothing. The two younger girls now have no home and to their despair are split up. Haner goes to live with her older sister and husband, Daverak, Selendra with Penn and his family. The only other offspring is Avan who lives in the city. He decides to sue Davarak after his outrageous behaviour but this will harm his sisters who are powerless now and have to conform in the households to which they're attached. There's no doubt that the lives of the two sisters have changed forever and they must both make the best of a bad situation.

What a curious world Jo Walton has created. I definitely think this will win the prize for the most 'different' book I've read come the end of the year. It's a world very similar in manners and customs to our Regency or Victorian period and it does read like a novel from Jane Austen or Anthony Trollope. Except of course that the characters are all dragons. And here's the thing: you forget that. They talk and behave like humans so you forget they're dragons... until a servant is eaten for making a mistake, or the runt of a litter is taken away and made a meal of, and you're brought up sharp and reminded that these are not humans. Very odd indeed. And it's a complicated world these dragons inhabit. Extremely hierarchical, hide-bound with traditions and rules, the women have very little power, servants have their wings bound... and hanging over all is the fear of being devoured alive by a stronger dragon who wants your job or because you're surplus to requirements or just plain 'weak'. It's all utterly fascinating and I loved it. Jo Walton is fast becoming one of my favourite authors.

Tooth and Claw is my book eight for Bev's 2015 Mount TBR challenge and my first book for Carl's Once Upon a Tine IX.

Lastly, Clear Waters Rising: A Mountain Walk Across Europe by Nicholas Crane.

The author, Nicholas Crane, is a British TV presenter of documentary series such as the wonderful 'Coast', 'Town', 'Map Man' and 'Great British Journeys'. That's mainly been over the last 10 years... before that he was mostly a travel writer and explorer, travelling by bicycle and on foot around the world. Clear Waters Rising charts an epic 6,000 mile journey he undertook by foot across the mountains of Europe in the mid-1990s. Being a bit of a map person he apparently looked at the map of Europe one day and realised it was possible to walk the width of the continent by traversing only various mountain ranges. He started at Cape Finisterre, on the coast of Spain, and walked the length of that country along the Cantabrian range. Thence onto the Pyrenees which form Spain's border with France and from there to The CĂ©vennes in France. Next, The Alps and through such countries as Switzerland, Italy, Germany and Austria. The Carpathian mountains followed, which I must admit I'd heard of but was not clear of their whereabouts. They actually go through such modern countries as Slovakia, Poland, Ukraine and Romania although the area abounds with ancient peoples who really don't feel part of the countries to which they've been asigned. Lastly, he traversed the Balkan range which took him through Romania and Bulgaria and into Turkey and thus to his final destination: Istanbul.

I think a map would help here:

Map from

I really enjoyed this travelogue. Nicholas Crane has a very engaging, self-deprecating writing style but also very nicely descriptive. Some of his adventures were amusing, some fascinating, some downright frightening... especially in the Balkans where he felt properly threatened for the first time on the whole trip. Mostly he came across kindness and friendliness and a willingness to talk. Hunters with dogs scared him rather. A weird, ghostly experience one night in The Alps also scared him. He did the walk not long after the Iron Curtain had come down and the situation in those countries was sometimes a bit hairy. He even decided not to go into Serbia as he was too worried for his own safety. But overall it seems he was amazed that he'd actually acheived his goal after 14 or 15 months of non-stop walking, and I have to stay I find it astonishing that he did. An excellent read and I'm pleased that I have another of his books on the TBR shelf: Two Degrees West, in which he walks the length of the UK along the Central Meridian.

Clear Waters Rising is my book nine for Bev's 2015 Mount TBR challenge.


Sunday, 22 March 2015

Short book meme

Time for a meme I think. Haven't done one of these in ages. Snagged from a friend on Live Journal.

1. What was your favourite book during childhood?

I tended towards favourite authors rather than favourite books to be honest: Enid Blyton and C.S. Lewis were two. But there was one book I took out of the library time after time and it's this one:

Minnow on the Say by Philippa Pearce. It's a gorgeous summer adventure about two boys looking for treasure on a river. I read it again in 2008 and my review is here.

2.What is your favourite book now?

Again I do tend towards favourite authors so naming just one favourite book is very hard. I shall name *one* of my favourite books and that is Drood by Dan Simmons.

Opinions are sharply divided on this book and I had no idea which side I would come down on. Turns out I absolutely adored it.

3. What is your favourite movie adaptation of a book?

Excellent question. Generally speaking the book is nearly always better than the film. In one case it was not though. The Last of the Mohicans by James Fenimore Cooper was turned into a fabulous film. The book? Truly awful. The writing was so dense and over-written I couldn't get past page 50. I thought it was a tragedy. It would, however, win a prize for best cover:

How gorgeous is that? Truthfully... I would buy that book for that cover if I ever came across it.

4. Do you prefer checking out books from the library or buying them?

I do both with gay abandon.

5. Have you ever been let down by a book that was highly recommended to you?

I suppose there must've been plenty of occasions but only one springs to mind and that was The Time Traveler's Wife by Audrey Niffenegger. I finished it and didn't hate it precisely. But I didn't love it like members of my family and just about every review I'd read, and that was really because I didn't give a monkey's about Henry and whatever her name was. Just didn't care. Ah well, life would be boring if we all liked the same books.


Friday, 20 March 2015

Once Upon A Time IX

Spring is almost upon us so it's that time of year again. Carl's Once Upon A Time IX reading challenge starts officially tomorrow, the 21st. March. This one of those challenges that I do every year without fail... it would not occur to me not to do it to be honest as it's always good fun and fantasy books are one of my favourite genres. This year is its 9th. year... time flies when you're having fun.

(This beautiful artwork is by Kimberly Kincaid.)

As always this challenge has a few fun and very flexible rules:

Rule #1: Have fun.

Rule #2: HAVE FUN.

Rule #3: Don’t keep the fun to yourself, share it with us, please!

Rule #4: Do not be put off by the word “challenge”.

While this event retains the word “challenge” from its earliest days, the entire goal is to read good books, watch engaging television shows and films, play immersive games and most importantly, visit old friends and make new ones. There are several ways to participate, and I hope you can find at least one to your liking:

I usually do Quest the First and this year is no exception:

Read at least 5 books that fit somewhere within the Once Upon a Time categories. They might all be fantasy, or folklore, or fairy tales, or mythology…or your five books might be a combination from the four genres.

So... this is the pool of my own books that I plan to read from:

It's pretty unlikely I'll get all of those read. And to be honest I'll be very happy if I can get perhaps three or four of the chunky books in this selection off the pile. (They will also count for my Mount TBR challenge, which is nice.)

I also have a couple of library books for the challenge: The Goblin Emperor by Katherine Addison and Blackbringer by Laini Taylor.

To help me keep track of what I read I've opened a new Goodreads shelf. Always useful to be able to see at a glance what you've read and and what choices are still available.

Ok, so that's it. Looking forward to the next three months and to seeing what everyone else plans to read and does read. Have fun!


Tuesday, 17 March 2015

A couple of crime titles

I haven't read any psychological type crime yarns in quite some time as last year I concentrated mainly on Vintage Crime books. That was vastly enjoyable but I suddenly fancied something a bit more unsettling. This is the type of thing that I don't really like to watch on TV as it creeps me out too much but I have no problem with it in books. So anyway, the library supplied what I was looking for.

First up was Sworn to Silence by Linda Castillo. This 'new to me' series was recommended by Kay at Kay's Reading Life and this is book one in the series.

The Chief of Police at Painter's Mill, Ohio is Kate Burkholder. The town has a large Amish population and Kate herself was brought up Amish but left the religion/way of life in her teens. Thus, her relationship with her family and former Amish neighbours is almost non-existant. And life isn't that easy as a female chief of police either. Her fellow police officers have accepted her but dealing with town politics and politicians with personal agendas is never easy.

A body is discovered in a snowy field by a police officer chasing straying cows. The young woman's body is severely mutilated and it's obvious she's been murdered. Sixteen years ago there were several identical murders, is the killer back? Kate has a terrifying secret in her past which makes her think this serial killer can't be. But might she be wrong?

I must say a big 'thank you' to Kay for suggesting this series as this book was rivetting. A real pageturner. I really liked Kate and felt for her in her difficult situation. So much unfairness and injustice in her life and that made this book much more than just a crime yarn. The wintery, Ohio setting was superbly portrayed and I felt myself there in all the snowy bleakness. I will say that this book is not for the faint-hearted. If you don't care for gory descriptions (think Tess Gerritsen) and psychological type crime scenarios then this might not be for you. Personally, I couldn't put it down and have already put the next book on reserve at the library.

After that I fancied yet another psychological type thriller so I moved on to The Killing Place (or Ice Cold) by - funnily enough - Tess Gerritsen, book 8 in her long-running Rizzoli and Isles series.

Maura Isles is off to Jackson Hole in Wyoming for a medical conference. Her personal life is complicated at the moment because of who she's heavily involved with. At the conference she comes across Doug Comley who was at medical college with her, although the two were not really friends. He has his 13 year old daughter at the conference with him, plus two friends, and at dinner one night he tells Maura that they're all going to head off to a lodge in the mountains when the conference ends. He eventually persuades Maura to go with them. Things start out well but deteriorate when the sat nav sends them up the wrong road on the mountain. The car ends up in a ditch and the four adults and a child are stranded. There's no mobile phone signal and they didn't tell anyone where they were going. (This strikes me as TSTL... Too Stupid To Live!) They start out walking and come across a small settlement in a snow filled valley. What is this place? Why does it appear like a Marie Celeste scenario where people have disappeared off the face of the earth in the middle of their meals? Something is not right here and Maura knows without a shadow of a doubt that they need to get out of here and back to civilisation as soon as possible. But how?

Cracking good read this one. Tess Gerritsen never disappoints, her books always gallop along at breakneck speed, scaring you to death half the time but always hugely enjoyable. *If* you don't mind the fact that they are a bit gory. She doesn't spare the reader any details of autopsies and some of it does make you shudder a bit. Her main characters, Jane Rizzoli and Maura Isles are not blonde bimbo type women, they're intelligent, thoughtful, 'different'. Very different to each other too and I like that. The plot here seems simple but, typically, it turns out not to be. I thought I had it all worked out and of course that was nonsense. LOL! Good stuff. I won't leave it so long next time before I read more in this series.