Sunday, 15 December 2019

Mount TBR 2020 challenge

I did well with my Mount TBR challenge this year, reading all of the 24 books I signed up for. So, I'm signing up once more but climbing a different mountain this year.

The sign-up post is on Bev's blog here:

Challenge options:

Challenge Levels:

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

The rules are listed in the sign-up post.

This year I've decided to go for Pike's Peak, 12 books, somewhat less than last year. The reason for that is that I have a number of chunky fiction and non-fiction books to read - they obviously take a bit longer to get through so I think 12 is more realistic. Of course, if I get there early I can always upgrade.

Some of the books I hope to read through 2020:



Also possible:

And there are a lot of other possibles too *coughcough*, so we'll see. Can't wait for 2020 to arrive now.


Thursday, 12 December 2019

The Year of Living Danishly

The Year of Living Danishly: Uncovering the Secrets of the World's Happiest Country by Helen Russell is my 10th. book for the European Reading challenge 2019 which is being hosted by Rose City Reader.

Helen Russell and her husband lead busy lives in London, both with high-powered jobs. Helen sometimes wonders if it's all worth it as their quality of life is not what it should be, everything being dominated by work. Then her husband is offered a job with Lego in Denmark, just for a year. He wants to go but she resists at first, she's really not adventurous, it's too big a change and she suspects it would entail a huge culture shock.

Eventually, Helen gives in and agrees to go but first she does some research and discovers that Denmark has been named the happiest country in the world. This sounds like something that needs investigating and she is more than up to the challenge. Freelance journalism calls as opposed to her previous full-on magazine job and she can use her new career to find out why the population of Denmark is so happy.

Arriving in Denmark in January is the first shock. Where are all the people? Why are the streets empty? The simple answer is, 'Hygge'. This is the Danish concept of being at home, warm and cosy, with family, in the depths of winter. And that's exactly where everyone is: indoors. They do however meet some of the neighbours when two men knock on the door at 8am to tell them they're doing the recycling wrong and proceed to take them outside in the freezing cold and demonstrate how it should be done...

Helen soon discovers all kinds of things about the happy Danes. They love beautiful design in their daily lives, minimalism etc. They like to obey the rules as they believe it makes people feel safe. They trust everyone, so babies are left outside shops, something you don't see in the UK any longer but was quite common when I was a child. They love hobbies and pastimes and joining groups for said hobbies is hugely popular in Denmark. Autopsies are apparently very popular too. Yes autopsies... on animals... and it's especially popular to take your children along to watch them. You can't fly foreign flags in Denmark, there is even a list of 'flag rules'.

Of course, Danish crime dramas such as The Bridge and The Killing have brought Denmark into our living rooms - although not mine as they're not my cup of tea - but strangely one the most popular crimes series in Denmark itself is, Midsomer Murders. Go figure...

Anyway, I thoroughly enjoyed this intimate look at life in Denmark. Helen Russell writes informatively, candidly, but also very conversationally of the difficulties of assimilating herself and her husband into a country where they can't speak the language (although thankfully English is widely spoken) and don't immediately get the mindset. It takes effort and, all power to her elbow, she's willing to put plenty in.

One of the things that does come as a bit of a surprise to them is how rural the coastal town of Billund, in Jutland, where Lego has its headquarters, is. Copenhagen, the capital, is very cosmopolitan. Helen and her husband lived in London, also extremely cosmopolitan. They were very unprepared for such a rural culture shock and I think this made their adjustment much more difficult. I felt for them I must admit, especially her because of course her husband had his job to go to where he met new people and had automatic acquaintances: Helen as a freelancer working from home, did not and I think she felt the isolation quite badly.

I've read quite a lot of these books about people moving to foreign countries... more often than not it's Brits or Americans moving to France, Italy, Spain. Denmark's a bit unusual so for me it was especially interesting and is one of the best I've read. I feel like I now have a really strong sense of Denmark and its people, their culture, the landscape, the weather and so on. Highly recommend this if you like this kind of non-fiction as I do.


Friday, 6 December 2019

Catching up, a gardening book and Moby-Dick

A catch-up post while I actually have time. Two brief reviews, first up, A Little Light Weeding by Richard Briers. This is my 24th. book for Bev's Mount TBR 2019.

Richard Briers (1934 - 2013) was a household name in the UK, I can remember him in the 1960s in a comedy called Marriage Lines with Prunella Scales (Fawlty Towers and canal cruising docs. with her husband, Timothy West on ITV). But he's probably most famous for the 1970s comedy series, The Good Life where he played Tom Good, who with his wife, Barbara, played by Felicity Kendall, went self-sufficient, growing veggies and keeping livestock in the back garden. Apparently he got really interested in gardening around the time of that series, hardly surprising I suppose. Anyway, A Little Light Weeding is full of excerpts from all kinds of books, both fiction and non-fiction, about gardens and gardening. There are headers for sections such as 'Daffodils', 'Gooseberries', 'Spring', 'Bees', 'Class in the garden', 'Birds', and so on. There are tips, observations and complaints. And poems. I liked this one:

Awake my muse, bring bell and book
To curse the hand that cuttings took.
May every sort of garden pest
His little plot of ground infest
Who stole the plants from Inverewe,
From Falkland Palace, Crathes too.
Let Caterpillers, capsid bugs,
Leaf-hoppers, thrips, all sorts of slugs,
Play havoc with his garden plot,
And a late frost destroy the lot.

Lady MaConochie of Inverewe

And this quote:

One of the most pleasing sounds of Springtime to be heard all over the country, is the contented cooing of osteopaths as Man picks up his garden spade.

Oliver Pritchett

A lovely book for casual dipping in and out of or for an undemanding bedtime read.


Next, Moby-Dick or The Whale by Herman Melville.

What on Earth to say about this? I haven't the skill to review it I'm afraid, so what shall I write? Well, it took me just over six weeks to read, I did actually think it would take me longer, up to Christmas and possibly beyond. It wasn't really what I thought it would be. I thought it was a book about hunting down a white whale and it is, but the white whale is hardly there until the very end so it actually isn't, not to my mind anyway. What it's about is 'Whaling'. I knew nothing about that before I read Moby-Dick and now I really do. I'm sure it's been said before that if you want to know about the whaling industry of the 1800s this is the book to read, but it's worth saying again, 'It definitely is'. I read all about the anatomy of whales, their habits, the catching of them, the men that went after them, the boats they sailed in, where they came from... Nantucket mostly... the differences between how one country went about whaling and another, how the whale was butchered... in minute detail. This is not a book for the faint-hearted, it's no good whatsoever reading this with your 21st. century sensibilities on full alert: it would make you feel quite ill. I can't say that I 'enjoyed' this book. It was interesting, in parts. Rather tedious in quite a lot of other parts. Written in a manner that I struggled to understand a lot of the time, I did a lot of rereading. There's no doubt about it, this is a work of genius but I'm simply not intelligent enough to fully appreciate it. For me there was too much rambling in a style of language that I just couldn't get my head around, try as I might, and I did try. I'm glad I've read it. I've learnt a lot and that's always good, but I was not much entertained by it and have no wish to read it again, so in the charity shop box it shall go. (And, *whispers*, good riddance.)

I do have, on my TBR pile, this book:

Ahab's Wife by Sena Jeter Naslund.

The blurb from Goodreads:

A magnificent, vast, and enthralling saga, Sena Jeter Naslund's Ahab's Wife is a remarkable epic spanning a rich, eventful, and dramatic life. Inspired by a brief passage in Moby Dick, it is the story of Una, exiled as a child to live in a lighthouse, removed from the physical and emotional abuse of a religion-mad father. It is the romantic adventure of a young woman setting sail in a cabin boy's disguise to encounter darkness, wonder, and catastrophe; the story of a devoted wife who witnesses her husband's destruction by obsession and madness. Ultimately it is the powerful and moving story of a woman's triumph over tragedy and loss through her courage, creativity, and intelligence.

Now that sounds interesting and will be one of my first chunkster reads for 2020. So while I turned out not to be Moby-Dick's biggest and most enthusiastic cheerleader, I have a feeling it 'will' inspire me to read other books connected with the subject, even if only vaguely. So, it's all good.


Monday, 2 December 2019

Mount TBR challenge complete

This year I decided to climb Mont Blanc for Mount TBR 2019. That involved reading 24 books that I've owned since before the 1st. January 2019. These are the books I read.

1. Friday the Rabbi Slept Late - Harry Kemelman
2. Around the World in 80 Days - Michael Palin
3. Uprooted - Naomi Novik
4. Fire in the Thatch - E.C.R. Lorac
5. To Oldly Go - a Bradt travel guide - short travel tales
6. Aoife's Chariot - Katherine Pathak
7. The Mitford Girls - Mary S. Lovell
8. Weekend at Thrackley - Alan Melville
9. The Dancer at the Gai-Moulin - Georges Simenon
10. City of the Lost - Kelley Armstrong
11. The Riviera Set - Mary S. Lovell
12. A Small House in Italy - Eric Newby
13. Hot Sun, Cool Shadow - Angela Murrills
14. The Body on the Doorstep - A.J. MacKenzie
15. Antidote to Venom - Freeman Wills Crofts
16. Unnatural Death - Dorothy L. Sayers
17. Superfluous Women - Carola Dunn
18. Blue River, Black Sea - Andrew Eames
19. Melmoth - Sarah Perry
20. Backpacks, Boots and Baguettes - Simon Calder & Mick Webb
21. Narrow Dog to Carcassonne - Terry Darlington
22. A Thousand Miles from Anywhere - Sandra Clayton
23. The Cornish Coast Murder - John Bude
24. A Little Light Weeding - Richard Briers

I'm quite pleased that 11 of them were non-fiction. In fact I'm almost tempted to keep to non-fiction for it next year but we'll see... I haven't quite made up my mind which mountain I will go for yet. Anyway, another enjoyable Mount TBR and many thanks to Bev for hosting.


Friday, 29 November 2019

Books read in November

Looking at the number of books I've read this month, four, it would appear that I haven't been reading very much. Not true. One, unfinished, behemoth of a book has taken up much of my reading time and the books listed below were slotted in around, read as light relief.

65. The Pale Horse - Agatha Christie

66. The Cornish Coast Murder - John Bude

67. Bon Voyage: The Telegraph Book of River and Sea Journeys edited by Michael Kerr.

This was an enjoyable collection of worldwide voyages covering oceans, seas and rivers. I enjoyed hearing about the launch of the Queen Mary in the 1930s and how she ran aground. Martha Gellhorn's D Day experiences stowing away in one of the hospital ships was rivetting and I plan to look into that and her a bit more. For me, the most interesting section was 'The Americas', specifically river trips on the Mississippi and Missouri. I definitely want to read more in that vein. If I have a minor complaint it's that there were a few too many cruise liner trips included. Some people the book made me want to read more about: Henry Stanley (of Stanley and Livingstone fame), Arthur Ransome, Martha Gellhorn, Robert Louis Stevenson (I own a book of his letters), Hammond Innes (I used to love his books), Thor Heyerdahl and Tim Butcher. To be honest that's the joy of this kind of book, they lead to many more interesting books and people. I believe there's another book in the same vein about railway journeys so I will be reserving that from the library at some point.

68. The Murder of My Aunt - Richard Hull.

Edward Powell lives in deepest Wales with his aunt, and loathes both of them. He's a complete snob about everything, food, cars, music, you name it... nothing is ever good enough for him. Mildred, his aunt, adores Wales and the village they live in, Llwll... what she struggles with is her nephew, Edward. The two of them are at permanent loggerheads, constantly bickering, point scoring and embarrassing each other in public. Edward eventually comes to a decision: he must murder his aunt. The question is, how? Well this was something of a different whodunnit as it charts Edward's attempts to do away with the dreadful aunt. The trouble is, he's every bit as dreadful as she is and although I enjoyed the humour and the quirkiness of the book I did find the constant carping wearing and could not empathise with either of the main characters. Of course, once the point of view changes, about two thirds into the book, you get a different perspective and all is not as it seems. Rural Wales put on a good show in this and was easy to picture as I've been around a lot of it... I felt as though the author got Welsh country folk spot on. And yet again another lovely cover.


So, I'm still reading these two:

Three quarters finished with both. Moby-Dick is the aforementioned behemoth and the Richard Briers is my bedtime read and as such is perfect.

Planning to read these two this month.

The Year of Living Danishly by Helen Russell will be my 10th. and possibly last book for the European Reading Challenge until I start again in the new year. And In the Garden of the Beasts by Erik Larson will be my final book for the World at War challenge.

And finally I'll be dipping into these three lovelies as and when I have time closer to Christmas.

From the left, The Everyman Book of Christmas stories, The Mistletoe Murder and other stories by P.D. James, and The Christmas Chronicles by Nigel Slater.


Tuesday, 19 November 2019

A couple of crime titles

Catching up on reviews with a couple of crime titles today. First up, The Pale Horse by Agatha Christie.

Father Gorman is called in to minister the last rites to a dying woman: she has something she wants to tell him before she dies. On the way home he stops at a coffee shop for a drink and writes a list of people's names down on a piece of paper. Before he can reach home he will be dead. Several people on this list are already dead, supposedly of natural causes. The godson of one of them, Mark Easterbrook, becomes suspicious and starts to investigate with the occasional help of author, Ariadne Oliver. Investigations lead to a village with an old pub by the name of The Pale Horse, although it's no longer a pub but is lived in by three single women. Village gossip has them down as witches but surely this is nonsense? When people start to die almost by remote control, Easterbrook takes matters into his own hands, putting himself and, more importantly, his girlfriend, into extreme danger. Fantastic Fiction lists this as an Ariadne Oliver book but to be honest she's not really in it a lot. It's really a standalone and as such I found it works very well and I enjoyed it a lot. It has a nice supernatural bent, a bit of romance which doesn't interfere with the plot, and I had no idea who the culprit was or how it was done. It also has an excellent sense of both London and the gossipy, insular atmosphere of an English village in the early 1960s. I had no idea until Jo at The Book Jotter left a comment on my last post that the BBC has dramatised it for showing over the Christmas. To be honest I haven't liked their recent adaptations but will give this a go and hope they haven't modernised the life out of it.

Lastly, The Cornish Coast Murder by John Bude. This is my 28th. book for Bev's Calendar of Crime challenge covering the March category of 'Primary action takes place in this month'. It's also my 23rd. books for Bev's Mount TBR 2019.

Reverand Dodd is the vicar of the village of Boscawen on the north coast of Cornwall. He likes the quiet life and enjoys good food and evenings by the fire reading detective novels. When a local magistrate, Julius Tregarthen, is found dead in his home, shot through the head, Dodd is horrified but also intrigued and can't stop himself helping the police in the investigation. Luckily, Inspector Bigswell of the local force does not mind, in fact welcomes the help as the case is very complicated. The dead man's neice, Ruth, who lived with him, has been seeing a local author and Tregarthen had objections to the relationship. Did the author kill him? Dodd thinks not but all the evidence points that way so Bigswell is obliged to follow that line of enquiry. Which of them is right?

This was quite a good yarn. I loved the setting. The dead man's home is described as being on a 'ness' (a cape or headland) and practically surrounded by the Atlantic, a fantasic setting for a crime story like this and I absolutely loved it. I'm sure this is possibly because I know that region very well and am biased but even so, it was beautifully done. And the whys and the wherefores of how the murder was committed were equally complicated and interesting, 'different'. My only grouse is with the revelation of who did it. My reaction was, 'Eh?' And that's all I'm going to say apart from: 'lovely cover'.


Monday, 11 November 2019

Currently reading and new books

Nice to be home again after a flying visit to Cornwall. The county was looking good in its autumn colours but everywhere in the UK is wild and woolly at the moment, high winds, lot of rain, floods in the north, awful to see rivers in flood on the news and people's homes ruined.

Anyway, books. As a bit of light relief from this:

I'm reading this:

A random grab from the library, the large print section in fact. Not somewhere I make a make beeline for as a matter of course but just occasionally it occurs to me to take a gander at what's over there. When I got home with The Pale Horse by Agatha Christie I looked at it on Goodreads because I'd never heard of it before and lo and behold three or four of my friends on there really liked it. And so do I. I'm about one third in and already it's full of mystery, a dead woman, followed by a dead priest who came to minister the last rites to her. A list of people found hidden on the priest, three of whom recently died, apparently of natural causes. Three women living together in a village who have the reputation of being witches. What's the connection?

And here's the thing... I've always fancied living in an old vicarage. Well who hasn't? By all accounts they were actually cold and draughty and very uncomfortable, but still the idea has always appealed and I think Agatha Christie knew the appeal was shared by a lot of people. So she comes up with this:

The Vicarage sitting room was big and shabby. It was much shaded by a gargantuan Victorian shrubbery that no one seemed to have the energy to curb. But the dimness was not gloomy for some peculiar reason. It was, on the contrary, restful. All the large shabby chairs bore the impress of resting bodies in them over the years. A fat clock on the chimney-piece ticked with a heavy comfortable regularity. Here there would always be time to talk, to say what you wanted to say, to relax from the cares brought about by the bright day outside.

I wonder how long it took Christie to get that description just right? So that all of us with a fancy to live in an old vicarage would be foaming at the mouth to go and find this room and settle down in one of those 'large shabby chairs' with a good book and a cup of tea. Incredible to me that there are people who are snooty about the writing ability of this amazing author.

Of course, while I was in the Penzance area I just had to visit The Cook Book shop in St. Just. Here you can browse the second-hand books and have a coffee or lunch or whatever you like. It's delightful. I came away with the bottom two of these books:

The Oatmeal Ark by Rory MaClean tells of the Reverand Hector Gillean who apparently built a ship in the early 1800s and sailed from the Hebrides to Canada to find the promised land. Couldn't leave that on the shelf, could I? Eight Feet in the Andes by Dervla Murphy is a book I've been after for a while so was glad to nab that for a couple of quid. The other two books are, Watersteps Through France by Bill and Laurel Cooper, this covers two of my bookish loves, canals and France; and the other is Beyond Time edited by Mike Ashley, time travel stories, sent to me by The British Library. Great cover on the latter:

Many thanks to The British Library for that and it's been added to the pile for next year's reading.