Sunday, 7 August 2016

O Jerusalem

My 19th. book for Bev's Mount TBR 2016 is O Jerusalem by Laurie R. King.

Sherlock Holmes and his apprentice, Mary Russell, are forced to flee Britain at the end of 1918. There are various choices as to where to go, each destination harbouring some kind of useful, governmental task to be undertaken for Holmes' brother, Mycroft. They plump for Palestine, newly occupied by the British who have recently ousted the Turks from the region. Mycroft, of course, has not told them the nature of the task he wants them to perform in Palestine: they have to discover that for themselves.

They're met by two Arab brothers, Ali and Mahmoud, who're not at all pleased to have to nursemaid two visitors from Britain and even more appalled when they discover that one of them is a young woman. Holmes and Mary disguise themselves as Arabs, Mary insisting that she will not pretend to be an Arab woman and cover herself in a burka - thus she 'becomes' a male, Arab youth. Their Arab guides are scandalised.

A journey around Palestine ensues, during which they come across several murders of Jews and Arabs alike. And there are rumours. Is there a plot and if so who is behind it and what is their intention? The region is like a tinderbox, one spark and the whole lot will ignite... which may be what some criminal mastermind intends. Holmes and Mary experience everything Palestine can throw at them, arid terrain, oppressive heat, flea-ridden accommodation, cliff-top monastries, a murder attempt, kidnapping. And then there is Jerusalem, where things become really exciting...

I finished this on Friday and here I am on Sunday still thinking about it. Some books affect you that way and it's often hard to see why that is. Historically, it was a fascinating read. A couple of books I've read recently have touched on the troubles in the Middle East... Carol Drinkwater's, The Olive Route, and there's a section in the non-fiction I'm currently reading, The Old Ways by Robert MacFarlane, where he walks in Israel and Palestine. Both talk about the heartbreaking situation there and in O Jerusalem Laurie King goes some way to explaining how the seeds of the trouble were sown after World War One. The British had just ousted the Turks from Palestine and the whole region had become dangerous to travel in. I don't know enough to express an opinion on either the history of the region, going back to biblical times, or the current situation, other than to say it's complicated and tragic. I need to read more about it and that's the truth.

Aside from the obvious historical interest this is a great 'ripping yarn'. 'Loads' going on as Holmes and Mary Russell stagger from one adventure to another. It's great fun, but at the same time thought provoking and informative. It is slightly confusing in that the timeline here is not after the last book, The Moor, but after, I think, book one, which is The Beekeeper's Apprentice. So their relationship is still in its fledgling state, ie. they're not married as they are in The Moor and Mary is still struggling to make Holmes think of her as a partner rather than an apprentice. Like her, I found his attitude rather condescending, but then Sherlock Holmes was ever thus with everyone. Mary Russell is one of my all time favourite fictional characters. I like her determination to be included in the action, not to be thought of as a weak, helpless woman and to stand up for herself. She has to prove herself and does so with aplomb.

It won't be years before I read the next Mary Russell book, Justice Hall. I don't have a copy of it unfortunately (I own several after that) but I shall be grabbing myself a copy as soon as I can. It's a terrific series, well written, always historically interesting... and fun!


Monday, 1 August 2016

Books read in July

Heavens above, has another month really come and gone? Apparently so. I was busy, so reading took a bit of a back seat and just four books were read. These are they:

37. The Ghost Fields - Elly Griffiths

38. Heirs of the Body - Carola Dunn

39. The Hanging Wood - Martin Edwards, book five in the Lake District series.

This one starts with a young woman, Orla Payne, committing suicide by jumping into a silo full of grain on her father's farm. Her brother, Callum, had dissappeared when he was fourteen and Orla seven. She has never stopped looking for him. At her place of work, a residential library, is a man who looks so much like Callum that Orla thought it might be him. Who is he? Hannah Scarlett is given a week to look into the disappearance of Callum. The case is and was complicated with many of the close-knit community involved and clearly keeping things back. Daniel Kind is also drawn into the investigation as he was a friend of Orla's. Hannah, now free, or free-ish, is reluctant to start anything with Daniel until she's sorted her head and heart out. But she certainly has no objection to working with him on this extremely difficult case. A good instalment of this excellent series, so glad I got back to it after a couple of years. I managed to follow the plot despite lots of different characters, all seemingly related by blood or marriage, muddying the waters and requiring a bit of concentration. Good writing, a bit of sexual tension, and a terrific sense of place.

40. Play with Fire - Dana Stabenow, book five in the Kate Shugak series.

Picking mushrooms out in the wilds of Alaska with friends, Kate Shugak finds a body in the ashes of an area that was burnt by a wildfire some months ago. A day or so later she's approached by a ten year old boy. Matthew Seabolt lives with his grandfather, Reverand Seabolt, a fundamentalist Christian. His father, Daniel, a teacher, disappeared at the time of the fire but no one reported him missing: the boy wants Kate to find him. It's clear that the body is Daniel Seabolt but he didn't get caught in the fire - he died of anaphylactic shock, completely naked. The authorities don't think the death is suspicious but Kate is convinced it is. Looking into the teacher's background she finds there are many questions but can she get the village community to answer any of them? Another excellent Kate Shugak outing. In this book we find out a lot about Kate's history... how she coped when she left her Native Alaskan community to go to college in the city for instance. All very interesting. The murder mystery is perhaps a little predictable, it's fairly clear what happened from early on but when the precise circumstances were revealed, at the end, I did find it quite shocking. From a fairly average beginning this series just gets better and better.

So that was my July reading. I'm not going to name a favourite as all four books were very much on a par quality-wise... all excellent, all well written, all just what I needed. Basically, because I was busy, I stuck to tried and tested crime series that I knew I would enjoy plus knew I needed to catch up on. I shall probably continue with that in August. I'm currently reading one of Laurie King's Mary Russell/Sherlock Holmes books, O Jerusalem! This is a series I've long neglected, which is a shame as the book is really good. Perhaps it's not such a bad idea if you get a bit jaded with a series to leave it for a year or two before you go back to it. That seems to have worked very nicely for me.


Sunday, 24 July 2016

New books!

I had my 9th. blogging anniversay this week... Tuesday to be exact. Nine years! I never thought I would be able to keep yakking on about books for that long. LOL! And it seems that this is post 666. Now that really should have occurred during the R.I.P challenge. Bad timing.

Anyway, enough prevaricating. Onwards. I really thought I hadn't acquired many books since Christmas. Ha! Right. It seems that might not be quite accurate. In my defense I had a bookish birthday and was given half a dozen books (I know, I know... excuses.) What I certainly haven't done in a very long time is a 'new books' post and as I love looking at other people's new bookish buys I thought some might like to see mine. As always, click on the photo for a larger view.

First up, a few birthday books:

The Natural History of Dragons - Marie Brennan (Fantasy)
Weatherland - Alexandra Harris (Non-Fiction about the weather)
Dancing on Ice - Jeremy Scott (Non-Fiction, polar exploration)
Sacred Sierra - Jason Weber (Non-Fiction, mountains)
Winter Tales - George Mackay Brown (short stories, maybe weird)
The Boat Who Wouldn't Float - Farley Mowat (Non-Fiction, Canadian travel)

Some new buys with lovely covers:

Uprooted - Naomi Novik (Fantasy)
The Essex Serpent - Sarah Perry (Historical weirdness, an RIP read perhaps?)
Fair and Tender Ladies - Lee Smith (American historical fiction)

Lastly, a few odd purchases:

There's a Seal in My Sleeping Bag - Lyn Hancock (Non-fiction, found in a charity shop)
Bill Oddie Unplucked - Bill Oddie (Bits & pieces by the famous bird watcher... a couple of quid from The Works... newly arrived in my town, which is dangerous as they sell jigsaw puzzles as well as cheap books.)
The Olive Tree - Carol Drinkwater (Non-fic, sequel to The Olive Route)
The Dream of Rome - Boris Johnson (Non-fiction, history)
Pompeii - Mary Beard (Non-fiction, history)

I think that's fourteen in all and I may have missed a couple. So much for doing the Mount TBR challenge and getting books OFF the reading pile! Hopeless, Lost Cause... fully paid up member of.


Friday, 22 July 2016

Catching up with several crime titles

I haven't had a lot of reading time recently and am behind on reviews of the books I have read. So this is very much a catch-up post... a few brief reviews of several crime novels.

First up, The Daughter of Time by Josephine Tey. This is my book 17 for Bev's Mount TBR 2016 challenge and also qualifies for Bev's Vintage Mystery Cover Scavenger Hunt under the category, 'Jewellry of any sort'.

Inspector Alan Grant is in hospital after some kind of accident. He's flat on his back and likely to be for weeks. And he's bored. Various people bring him books, none of which are to his liking. His actress friend, Marta, brings him some pictures of various people from history with interesting faces, so he can decide whether or not they were criminally minded. From them Grant eventually chooses Richard III and embarks on a reading investigation, from his sickbed, the aim of which is to discover whether or not he really did kill the princes in the tower.

No real need to say any more about the plot of this book because that's it really. The story is much more of a history lesson than it is a traditional whodunnit crime yarn. I thought it was all fascinating to be honest. I knew there had been a lot of doubt about whether or not Richard III was guilty of the double murder but in this book Josephine Tey sets out the evidence for and against by having Alan Grant read up about it and also giving him an assistant researcher. I learnt much that I didn't know about that time period but there is also the usual wry humour running through the book. I loved Grant's housekeeper, Mrs. Tinker, and her outfit that she refers to as 'me blue' by which she gauges the importance of any event she has to go to... ie. 'It wasn't good enough for 'me blue''. Hilarious. And there is much more gentle humour in this vein. Sadly, I think I now only have two more Josephine Tey books left to read. What a shame.

Next, The Ghost Fields by Elly Griffiths.

A World War Two plane is unearthed by a digger in a field in Norfolk, the body of the airman is still inside. Forensic archaeologist, Ruth Galloway, is called in and she discovers immediately that there's a bullethole through the pilot's skull. The body is identified as Fred Blackstock, whose family own a large house on the marshes. The problem is, the body doesn't belong to the plane. Someone has dug the body up from elsewhere and planted it in the WW2 bomber. DCI Nelson sets about solving this mystery with Ruth's help. Ruth is glad to be working with Nelson again but wishes her life was just a bit less complicated emotionally.

Loved it. But then I always love Elly Griffiths's Ruth Galloway books. They're not for everyone I know that, but I love how Griffiths manages to get inside the head of all her regular characters amd make it all so real and amusing. Ruth with her lack of tolerance for attention seeking colleagues or impatience with stupidity or prats, is at times hilarious. I also the love the back story of Ruth and Harry Nelson and their daughter... though this instalment was a bit of a tease in that department I thought, but still very good. The mystery element was also excellent, involving as it did the WW2 airfields of Norfolk. Interesting stuff. And of course always, always a terrific sense of place. Definitely one of my favourite series at the moment.

Lastly, Heirs of the Body by Carola Dunn. This is my book 18 for Bev's Mount TBR 2016 challenge.

Daisy Dalrymple is asked by her cousin Edgar, the present Lord Dalrymple, to help find an heir to the title and estate... he and his wife being childless. Various contenders are found, a diamond magnate from South Africa, a sailor from Jamaica, a young boy from Trinidad and a hotelier from Scarborough. A mixed bunch, no question. And are they all who they say they are? A lawyer friend has the task of finding out and meanwhile they are all invited the family estate, Fairacres, for Edgar's birthday celebrations and to get to know them all. Daisy and Alec also attend. And then the accidents begin. First minor things to the children, but then one of the claimants narrowly misses being killed by a tram and Daisy and Alec realise that things are more serious than they thought. Alec is instructed to investigate... with Daisy's 'help', naturally.

This is a huge series now... Heirs of the Body is book 21 I think. It must be very hard with a series of this length to keep up the quality and all power to the author's elbow for managing it. This isn't my favourite, I will admit, but Daisy Dalrymple books are never anything less than readable and I enjoyed this very family orientated instalment as Daisy's relations take centre stage. It sort of reminded me of Angela Thirkell's Barsetshire books to be honest, which is never a bad thing, and Enid Blyton! After the interesting ending I look forward to seeing what happens to these new members of Daisy's family, so I hope Carola Dunn tells us. I'm sure she will.


Friday, 1 July 2016

Books read in June

Yet another month has come and gone. Is time speeding up or what? June for me has been a month of looking after my husband after his knee replacement surgery. All is going well although the first week home was a bit rough: I have to admit that I underestimated how exhausting it would all be. Thank goodness he's now well on the road to recovery... and then in September we get to do it all again.

With all that was going on I still managed to read six books. These are they:

31. The Olive Route - Carol Drinkwater

32. The Judge's House - Georges Simenon

33. Resorting to Murder edited by Martin Edwards

34. The Serpent Pool - Martin Edwards

35. The Daughter of Time - Josephine Tey (To be reviewed.)

36. The Illustrated Olive Farm - Carol Drinkwater. A companion piece to the author's Olive Farm trilogy (which I haven't read yet). Very nicely written and beautiful photography of the region in Southern France where the farm is.

And so.... four crime books and two non-fiction, all very enjoyable indeed. I don't need difficult reading at the moment and none of these were. Of the 'crime' books two books came out equal as being the most enjoyable and those were, Daughter of Time and The Serpent Pool. But 'overall' my favourite book was this:

Carol Drinkwater's The Olive Route. It deals with the origins and history of the olive tree and I thoroughly enjoyed the author's travels around the countries of the Mediterranean Sea. A truly excellent book.


Wednesday, 22 June 2016

A couple of crime titles

More catching up to do today, two crime titles, starting with Resorting to Murder edited by Martin Edwards.

This is a collection of holiday based, mostly obscure, crime stories written by various crime writers, many of whom have been long forgotten. Which is a shame really because while the collection is a trifle hit and miss, the stories do mainly hit the spot. I particularly liked several. The Hazel Ice by H.C. Bailey is a mountaineering story based in the Swiss Alps... lots of red herrings and complicated working out of peoples' alibis and so forth. Great fun. Where is Mr. Manetot? by Phyllis Bentley was written in the form of a letter, and concerned a chap who overheard something sinister in a deserted railway station and felt compelled to follow it up. Nicely written with an interesting ending. A Mystery of the Sandhills by R. Austin Freeman revolves around clothes found abandoned in the sand-dunes, where is the owner? Has he drowned? The amateur detective is into solving crimes scientifically like Sherlock Holmes. Talking of whom there's an excellent Holmes story in this volume, The Adventure of the Devil's Foot, a Cornwall based tale that I can remember being very frightened by as a child when it was shown on TV in the 1960s. All in all this is a good collection of stories, some better than others, but isn't that always the way? Love the railway poster cover too.

Resorting to Murder is my book sixteen for Bev's Mount TBR 2016 challenge.

Next, The Serpent Pool again by Martin Edwards.

DCI Hannah Scarlett is still in The Lake District investigating cold cases. Her current case is the death of a young woman, Bethany Friend, six years ago. Her body had been found in the Serpent Pool but the police had been unable to discover whether she had committed suicide or been murdered. Meanwhile a good customer of Hannah's partner Marc, who sells rare books, dies in a fire. It's almost certainly murder unless he tied himself up and set fire to all his books. Is there a connection between the two deaths? Daniel Kind becomes involved via his sister and Hannah once again finds herself fighting her growing attraction to him. But the real worry for Hannah is how involved is Marc in these very odd deaths and can their relationship survive all of these upheavals?

It's been far too long since I read a Hannah Scarlett book, and I have a few to catch up on.... three more left to read. Which is quite nice really because I enjoyed The Serpent Pool an awful lot. There's always a very strong sense of place, the Lake District being where the series is set... and this one took place during the winter so that was extra nice. (I'm rather a winter sort of a person). The mystery plot was a strong one, I kind of guessed who the culprit was but not the whys and the whyfors, which turned out to be a bit unusual. Hannah's personal backstory is one I like a lot, although it's maybe a bit frustrating as we all know what she ought to do but whether she will or not is questionable. But that's how real life is so that's not a complaint at all. A really enjoyable book and I'll be going after the next book, The Hanging Wood very soon.


Thursday, 9 June 2016

Catching up

I'm waaaaay behind with book reviews so it's time to catch up with some brief reviews.

First up, The Watchmaker of Filigree Street by Natasha Pulley, this is my third book for Carl's Once Upon a Time challenge.

Nathaniel Steepleton, known as Thaniel, is a telegrapher working for The Home Office in Victorian London. A one time pianist, he had to give up a promising career when his sister's husband died and it fell to Thaniel to earn enough to send her money for herself and her children.

Arriving home one evening Thaniel finds a gold pocket watch on his pillow. He has no idea where it came from or who put it there, but it's a very fine thing indeed. Nothing happens for a while apart from a threat by Irish Nationalists to plant a bomb in the vicinity of The Home Office. Everyone is naturally on edge. The watch saves his life when the bomb goes off so Thaniel goes in search of its maker. Keita Mori is a watchmaker and Japanese immigrant whom Thaniel takes to immediately but is he keeping a secret? Does he know something about the Irish bombs?

Meanwhile in Oxford Grace Carrow is a young woman studying physics at university, one of the first women allowed to do such a thing. A talented student, she's studying the luminiferous ether and wants to prove its existence with her experiments. A chance meeting at a ball brings her and Thaniel Steepleton together. Thaniel likes this studious, unfeminine young woman immediately but Keita does not. Thus Thaniel finds himself torn and having to make choices he'd really rather not but, like it or not, the lives of these three people are now inextricably entwined.

It's now a couple of weeks since I finished this and here's proof that you should write about books fairly quickly because I'm now struggling to remember it. Mainly I enjoyed it... its concentration on intricate clockwork was fascinating and something I've not come across before... it's a wee bit steampunkish and I like that. I don't think I understood all of the scientific explanations, especially Keita Mori's strange existance. But again... that was rather unique. I found characterisation slightly weak... I didn't feel strongly about any of the people in the book. I did like the flashback sections where we heard about Mori's past life in Japan. All in all not bad at all for a debut novel and I look forward to more by the author in the future.

Next, a non-fiction book, The Olive Route by Carol Drinkwater. This is my book 15 for Bev's Mount TBR 2016 challenge.

Carol Drinkwater is an actress, probably best known in the UK for playing Helen, the wife of James Herriot in the BBC series, All Creatures Great and Small. After moving to France to live on an olive farm, she wrote about her experiences in a trilogy of books that have become hugely popular. After writing those she decided to investigate the origins of her beloved olive tree, hoping to discover who turned the olive into the domesticated tree that we know today. How many thousands of years ago was this done? She starts her investigations in The Lebanon where she's shown an olive grove purported to be 6,000 years old. From there Carol's travels take her all over the Meditteranean, visiting countries such as Greece, Syria, Libya, Israel, Malta, meeting people, hearing their stories and discovering the history of the olive.

To be honest, I found this book to be more of a travelogue than a history book. And for me, that's fine. I notice some on Goodreads were disappointed: personally I wasn't. I found it to be the perfect mix of the author's recounting of her experiences around The Med along with bits of history of each country. My favourite place was Malta where she met a man trying to reintroduce the olive to the island after hundreds of olive groves were destroyed centuries ago. I thought that was joyous and so did she I think. More disturbing for me was her experience in Libya. This was just before the Arab Spring and Gadaffi was still in power and lone white women were not really that safe travelling alone. Now of course they're definitely not safe... but then no one is! She also found Israel unsettling, understandably so with what's going on there. It's a complicated situation but I felt she wrote very well about her time there. In fact the writing is top notch... descriptive, atmospheric, very personal. I really did love this book to pieces and was sorry to finish it. I've had it on my Kindle for several years but feel I would like paper copy so will probably get it along with its sequel, The Olive Tree. I also plan to read her olive farm trilogy at some stage.

Last, The Judge's House by Georges Simenon.

For some reason (we never find out why) Inspector Maigret has been exiled from the police in Paris. He's been sent to a quiet coastal backwater area of the the Vendée (just south of Brittany) where he's basically bored to tears. Then Didine Hulot, an elderly woman, comes to report that her husband has seen a body on the floor of a local house. Said house is owned by a retired judge who has moved to the area from Versailles, with his son and daughter. Maigret catches the judge trying to dispose of the body and arrests him. But it's really not clear who exactly killed the dead man or even who he is. There's a complicated story of a family beset by mental problems and a local fisherman who wants to marry the judge's daughter. It takes all of Maigret's ingenuity to unravel the tangled mess and get to the bottom of it all.

It helped with this one that I'd been to the Vendée where it's set and could appreciate the atmosphere and descriptions. It really was very much of its place and time, Georgs Simenon was an expert at such things and several of his books now have really sent me to the place where they're set. Plotwise I found it slightly predictable, but it was fun seeing Maigret going about solving the murder... never letting a single person know what was going on in his head. I also liked the Miss Marple type character of Didine Hulot who knew everything that was going on in the village and was always one step ahead of Maigret. Infuriating him of course. A nice comfy read for me which is what I need at the moment.

The Judge's House qualifies for Bev's Vintage Mystery Cover Scavenger Hunt Challenge under the category 'Bird'... because there are rather a lot of seagulls on the cover!