Monday, 18 February 2019

Aoife's Chariot

Aoife's Chariot by Katherine Pathak is my 6th. book for Bev's Mount TBR 2019 and also qualifies for her Calendar of Crime challenge under the April category of 'Book title has word starting with A'.

Imogen Croft is a Scot who lives with her husband, Hugh, and children on the Essex coast in England. She had rather an idyllic childhood on the Scottish island of Garansay, situated in the Firth of Clyde, brought up with two older brothers, Michael and Allan. All three of the siblings have moved away but still maintain contact. When their mother, Isabel, dies suddenly the brothers suggest that Imogen goes north to look at the old farm and decide what should be done with it. Should it be sold, or should they keep it?

Some years ago Isabel had lost a bag when walking on the nearby mountain. Whatever had been in the bag was so important that it has caused a major upset in the family. It was never found... until now. Some builders find it and hand it to Imogen, but it's empty. Who took the contents?

At a fete, Imogen has a confrontational run-in with one of her brothers' old acquaintances, Alison. The woman is clearly drunk and has a reputation for this kind of behaviour. No one thinks any more about it until her body is discovered floating in a loch up on the mountain. Investigations reveal, shockingly, that the manner of Alison's death is identical to that of an aunt... her father's sister. How can this possibly be?

This one of those delicious 'family secret' type stories and, mixed with mysterious deaths and a fair bit of family history, it works tremendously well. Imogen slowly realises there are secrets in her family that she had no idea existed. Who was the mysterious Aileen who died young and who nobody talked much about? Why did her father distance himself from the family he was brought up with in the slums of Glasgow, to the point where Imogen hardly knew any of them? And what was in the bag her mother lost that was such a devastating loss? Imogen's quest to find an answer to these questions and more takes the reader on a fascinating journey.

One of the nice things about this story, for me, was its depiction of a happily married couple as the main characters. This is quite unusual, authors seem reluctant to allow any of their detectives a normal life. There are few who are not alcoholic, or in possession of three ex-wives and a clutch of hostile, estranged kids, sometimes all of the above... or indeed other sundry skeletons in residence in the cupboard rattling the lock to come out. So nice to have an ordinary couple, with ordinary kids and ordinary problems living a normal life. All power to Katherine Pathak's elbow say I, it's so refreshing.

I gather that the island of Garansay is probably the Isle of Arran. I've never been but after reading this book I would now love to. It's a character in its own right, so vividly does the author bring it to life. I loved descriptions of childhood haunts and grieved a bit with Imogen as she mourns the loss of the peace and quiet now that tourists have discovered their island. One section towards the end where there's a violent storm was so effective I felt I was actually there. Superb.

Aoife's Chariot is book 1 of a series, the 'Imogen and Hugh Croft' mysteries, of which there are currently 6 books and a short story. I'm so looking forward to reading more and have already bought book 2, The Only Survivor, for my Kindle.

Peggy at Peggy's Porch has also reviewed this book here.


Friday, 15 February 2019

Update on the book series I read

Well here we are, it's a while since I did an update of the various series I read (November 2017 in fact) so it's time to do just that. I have a dilemma when I look at the list. Why? Well there're so many that I've just not bothered with in ages and I'm trying to figure out why this is. Do I have a short attention span when it comes to keeping up or is it the fault of the books for not holding my attention? Maybe I just love starting shiny new series? Possibly there's something about the direction some of them take which no longer appeals: I know this to be true of one or two. In one case - Dark Iceland - I'm confused about which book to read next so that doesn't help.

I also wonder if it's just not possible to keep up with so many series so I end up reading just the ones which interest me the most 'at the moment'. I should really delete that second list of crime books and forget about them but I find I can't. After all, I'm notorious for returning to a series years after I read the last one, loving it, and finding my enthusiam renewed. Never say 'never'.

Crime - currently reading:

Charlie Parker - John Connolly - (read 12... up to book 13)
Ruth Galloway - Elly Griffiths (read 9)
Lord Peter Wimsey - (read 9)
Bruno, Chief of Police - Martin Walker (Read 3)
Comm. Adamsberg - Fred Vargas (Read books 1, 2, 4, 5 and 9)
Kate Shugak - Dana Stabenow (read 9)
Armande Gamache - Louise Penny (read 8)
Simon Serailler - Susan Hill (read 3)
DCI Dani Bevan - Katherine Pathak (read 1)
Imogen & Hugh Croft - Katherine Pathak (reading the 1st. book)
Rabbi Small - Harry Kemelman (read 1)

Also crime, but series I haven't read in a while but am unwilling to abandon just yet:

Matthew Shardlake – C.J. Sansom (read 3)
Flavia de Luce - Alan Bradley (read 7)
Daisy Dalrymple - Carola Dunn (read 21)
Rizzoli and Isles - Tess Gerritsen (read 8)
Mary Russell/Sherlock Holmes – Laurie R. King (read 5)
The Lewis trilogy - Peter May (read 2)
Gordianus the Finder - Steven Saylor (read 2)
Medicus - Ruth Downie (read 2)
Kate Burkholder - Linda Castillo (read 2)
Reverand Clare Fergusson - Julia Spencer-Fleming (read 3)
No.1 Ladies' Detective Agency - A. McCall-Smith (read 11)
Sea Detective - Mark Douglas Home (read 2)
Hannah Scarlett - Martin Edwards (read 6)
Jacquot - Martin O'Brien (read 5)
Enzo McLeod - Peter May (read 2)
Inspector Wexford - Ruth Rendall (read 2)
Dark Iceland - Ragnar Jónasson (Read 1)

Where the next genre is concerned the problem is a different one. This genre just does not interest me as much any more. And yet when I do read something from it, I usually enjoy it and find it a refreshing change. So this list will remain and I'm not going to put stress on myself over it, just read from it as and when I fancy.

Sci Fi, Fantasy and horror - both adult and young adult:

Mercy Thompson - Patricia Briggs (read 6)
Jackelian - Stephen Hunt (read 2)
Rivers of London - Ben Aaronovitch (read 4)
Liveship Trader - Robin Hobb (read 1)
Astreiant - Melissa Scott - (read 2 1/2)
Hyperion - Dan Simmons (read 1)
Lady Trent - Marie Brennan (read 3)
Cloud Roads - Martha Wells (read 1)
St. Marys - Jodi Taylor (read 1)
Pern - Anne McCaffrey (ongoing)

I wrote this in November 2017:

I've become a serious crime fic reader, with a definite bent towards vintage crime and anything set overseas, especially the USA or France. I also seem to have shifted slightly from being a fiction reader to someone who also reads a fair bit of non-fiction. Given that I'm not a speedy reader that means something has to give and it's tended to be my series reading.

And really, that still applies. Tastes change as get we get older, I eat food now that I wouldn't have even contemplated trying a few years ago, my taste in clothes has definitely changed, TV shows that once were 'must watch' are now 'can't stomach at all'. Opinions alter, even friends sometimes have a shelf-life. So why shouldn't our taste in books also undergo a radical change from time to time? It's life, Jim...


Tuesday, 12 February 2019

The Risk of Darkness

The Risk of Darkness is book three in Susan Hill's 'Simon Serrailler' (I still don't really know how to pronounce that surname properly) series of murder mysteries. It's my fifth book for Bev's Calendar of Crime reading challenge and covers the February category of 'Author's birth month'.

A child abductor is still at large in England (see book two). It's a source of huge frustration to the police in Lafferton from where one of the young boys was snatched. Despite all their efforts they were unable to catch the culprit.

A sudden phonecall takes DCI Simon Serrailler to Yorkshire where a young girl has been abducted from beside an ice-cream van... there are witnesses this time. They pin the person down but a car chase ensues. Serrailler ends up on a cliff ledge hundreds of feet above a stormy sea with the fugitive but there is something rather unexpected about this abductor of small children...

That seems a bit brief but that is the basic storyline. There is of course a lot more to this novel. The abductor is caught early on in the story with a child in the boot of the car. So we know who it is. The novel is really about how the police go about proving the same person is responsible for the other abductions. There is also heaps about Serrailler's private life, his family, especially his sister, Cat, and issues she has with her job and husband. Simon's treatment of women once again rears its ugly head, I liked the way his sister read him the riot act over this.

And there is also a lot concerning periphery characters. A subplot concerning a bereaved husband becoming mentally unstable for instance and holding a female vicar hostage. In fact the poor female vicar suffers endlessly. Knowing that Susan Hill was against the ordination of women back in the day made me wonder if she had an ulterior motive here. The family of the child abductor also feature a lot, their reactions, their actions, the terrible effect it has on them which will now never end... it's perhaps something we don't think about enough, a nightmare scenario that we all hope never to go through.

It's not an easy read this book. Susan Hill writes in a way which really gets to you. And I'm a bit of a wimp about child abduction in crime stories anyway, so I must admit to being a bit dismayed that the case wasn't sewn up in book two and continues on into this third book. It's quite psychological, motivations feature a lot, sections are written from the point of view of the perpetrator's of awful crimes... it's all fascinating but not comfortable reading. It's a pageturner, I tend to read Hill's crime books fairly quickly in four or five large chunks (the book is nearly 500 pages long) but after this I will need something much lighter. And shorter!


Friday, 1 February 2019

Books read in January

The first month of 2019 is behind us already. Incredible, I'm clueless as where time goes these days. Regardless, January was quite a good reading month for me, seven books read and these are they:

1. The Christmas Secret - Anne Perry

2. Friday the Rabbi Slept Late - Harry Kemelman

3. The Beautiful Mystery - Louise Penny

4. Around the World in 80 Days - Michael Palin (To be reviewed)

5. Uprooted - Naomi Novik

6. Fire in the Thatch - E.C.R. Lorac

7. A Talent to Annoy - Nancy Mitford

This is a book of essays by novelist, Nancy Mitford. I have to admit that I've not read any of her novels but I do enjoy a book of essays and articles and this one was not a disappointment. Obviously some were more interesting than others. My favourites were a highly amusing piece on going to see Wagner for the first time, an essay on the English Aristocracy, an article about the Mapp and Lucia books, a really brilliant one on Scott's ill-fated expedition to the Antarctic (beautifully written) and one called 'Blor' which was all about the six Mitford sisters' childhood nanny. There was much more to enjoy, Nancy Mitford had a really cutting sense of humour and knew how to use it on paper, I laughed quite lot... but I also learnt an awful lot. She says at the end of the Scott piece, talking about various books on the subject, 'I would like to think that I may have induced somebody to read them again'. Well, I hope she would be happy to know that her excellent essay has made me want to do just that and I've reserved one of her recs from the library.

I'm quite pleased with my reading month. Seven excellent books, two non-fictions, some really superb crime writing, I mean really superb. Too difficult to choose a favourite as The Beautiful Mystery, Friday the Rabbi Slept Late and Fire in the Thatch were all so good.

I would recommend these three books to any lover of crime fiction, although The Beautiful Mystery would not be a good place to start the Armande Gamache series.

In my post at the beginning of January I did a little collage of six books I was hoping to read that month. I'm delighted to report that I actually read five of those six books. Clearly, doing that worked quite nicely for me. So nicely, I think I'll do it again. Here're a few I hope to get to, but there are others, so I won't be stressing on what gets read and what doesn't. I shall go with the flow...

I'm likely to start with The Bedlam Stacks but only because its a library book due back on the 11th. Feb. and someone else wants it so I can't renew. The cheek of it...

Happy reading and this is what my town in Devon, UK, looks like this morning, the 1st. of February:


Wednesday, 30 January 2019

Fire in the Thatch

Having quite a good reading month thus far. Fire in the Thatch by E.C.R. Lorac is my 4th book for Bev's Mount TBR 2019 challenge, my 4th. book also for her Calendar of Crime challenge covering the April category of 'Month related item' (Church) and my 1st. book for the World at War challenge which is being hosted by Becky at Becky's Book Reviews and covering the category of 'A book set in England, Ireland or Scotland', (mine is England).

The Mallorys are a small group of villages deep in the English countryside somewhere near Tiverton in mid-Devon. Colonel St. Cyres lives there in a manor house with his daughter, Anne, and daughter-in-law, June, and her small son. They're living with the colonel as refugees from war-torn London - her husband is currently a POW in Japan - but June is not happy... Devon is far too quiet and humdrum for her and she's bored out of her mind. It's due to this that she tries to persuade her father-in-law to rent a cottage in the manor's grounds to some friends of hers from the capitol but the old man is having none of it, having heard rumours that June might be having an affair with one of the friends.

Instead Colonel St. Cyres rents the cottage to Nicholas Vaughan, an ex-naval man, invalided out of the navy having come close to being blinded. Nick is steady and a hard, meticulous worker and soon has 'Little Thatch' renovated and its garden rejuvenated after many years of neglect. He keeps himself to himself but people in the surrounding villages like and respect him.

It therefore comes as a tremendous shock when the cottage burns to the ground one night with Nick inside it. It's presumed to be an accident, but Nick's ex-commanding officer thinks otherwise and persuades Scotland Yard to send someone to check. Detective Inspector McDonald is dispatched and at first is inclined to agree with the official verdict of an accident caused by a chimney fire or electrical fault. But he soon realises that this verdict does not match with Vaughan's meticulous personality. Given the man's thorough and particular ways it seems unlikely in the extreme that he would be lax in matters of fires or electricity. It has to be murder but who on earth would want such a man dead?

Usually when you read a murder mystery of the vintage persuasion, the one that's been done away with is not all that pleasant. The rich head of the family for instance, who's horrible to one and all because he holds the purse strings and has fun manipulating people. A spiteful woman who knows everyone's business and spreads malicious gossip or writes poisonous letters... these are typical of the done away with that the reader isn't too botheried has been done in. But for me, Fire in the Thatch was different. Why? Because I desperately did not want the victim to die even though I'd deduced he was going to from the blurb on the cover. I loved reading how Nicholas Vaughan went about renovating the thatched cottage, his gardening... he was a good man and I was quite affected by his death. This is good writing, to make readers actually care about your characters and be very upset when they're killed.

I enjoyed the particular setting of this book because I live there. Not in a pretty Devon village, but in the nearest town, Tiverton, which is mentioned often. I can't say that I know where E.C.R. Lorac was thinking of for the group of hamlets known as The Mallorys but that doesn't mean they're not there as I don't know every village hereabouts and it seemed they were quite a few miles out in the countryside. (Not for nothing is there a village about 15 miles out of Tiverton called No Man's Land.) There are huge swathes of countryside in Devon that have nothing in them but farms and small villages and this is depicted beautifully, indeed I rather suspect the areas have not changed much in the 70 years since this book was written.

I gave this one 5 stars on Goodreads. I loved it. Gobbled it up in 2 days and had no idea until the last chapter who had done the deed. And I thought 'why' was quite clever too. I'm very pleased that I have several more by E.C.R. Lorac to read, two kindly given to me by Elaine at Random Jottings and a couple I bought for myself. Can't wait, excellent writer.


Tuesday, 29 January 2019


Uprooted by Naomi Novik was my 3rd. book for Bev's Mount TBR 2019 reading challenge.

In the idyllic village in which Agnieszka lives there is a problem. Every ten years the 'Dragon' takes a girl and this girl is lost to her family for another ten years. The dragon is not actually a dragon at all, he's a wizard, and no harm comes to the girls, they return after their ten years is up and nearly always go to live somewhere other than the village because they have been changed in some way.

Another choosing is fast approaching but the villagers are relaxed. They know who will be chosen, Agnieszka's best friend, a girl named Kasia, who's head and shoulders prettier and braver than all the other girls. Except that's not what happens: Agnieszka is chosen instead. It's a huge shock to one and all, particularly Agnieszka.

The other problem the village has is The Wood: something malevolent lives there and controls it. It's the reason a wizard lives in the tower, his job is to hold back The Wood and stop it from encroaching, smothering the valley and possibly the whole land. It kills people as it goes, and not in a nice way, they're locked inside trees and become corrupted.

But Agnieszka is different to the other girls that have been taken by The Dragon in the past - she has magic and refuses to be just a skivvy. Things are about to change.

I've had this on my TBR pile for four or five years and never quite got around to it, so on the basis that I am trying to get rid of a few of my older books I did the random grab thing and read it. It read a bit like a retold fairy tale, a sub-genre of Fantasy that I'm not that crazy about, but I couldn't pin down which fairy tale so that was fine. I think I read somewhere that it might be a Polish fairy tale and it did read like that I must admit.

I gave it four stars on Goodreads despite the fact that I was slightly ambivilent about it. Four stars because I loved the writing and the setting of a forested valley was sublime - beautifully described it felt so real. The story itself, well I found it rather exhausting to be honest. Non-stop angst and very little that was happy or good ever happening. It was relentless. I got to the end but couldn't read more than 50 pages without needing a break from the angst. I think I've turned into a wimp in my old age, although I don't react in this way to crime/murder stories so 'go figure' as they say in the US.

I was also a little uneasy about how the wizard treated Agnieszka at the beginning, one or two scenes felt a bit off to me, but that's possibly just me being sensitive. For most fans of fantasy books I think this would be an excellent read and very enjoyable. It's beautifully written, exciting, action packed (but like I said, possibly too much for me) and full of well-rounded, individual characters. And I liked the idea of a forest being taken over and turning evil. It felt very original and I liked that.


Tuesday, 22 January 2019

Wrap-up post for European Reading challenge 2018

So, the European Reading challenge 2018 actually ends on the 31st. of this month but I'm pretty sure I won't be adding to the eight books I read for it so it's time for the wrap-up post.

The challenge was to read at least five books set in different European countries. These are the eight books I managed to read:

1. ITALY: Summer in the Islands - Matthew Fort

2. FRANCE: A Climate of Fear - Fred Vargas

3. ICELAND: Snow Blind - Ragnar Jónasson

4. SPAIN: As I Walked Out One Midsummer Morning - Laurie Lee

5. GERMANY: Travellers in the Third Reich - Julia Boyd

6. BULGARIA: The Shadow Land - Elzabeth Kostova

7. SWITZERLAND: Swiss Vendetta - Tracee De Hahn

8. SCOTLAND (my 'UK' book): Against a Dark Sky - Katherine Pathak

I chose all of these books because I felt they would tell me something about the country in which they are set. And they did exactly that. All eight belonged very much in their respective countries and were excellent reads. I really enjoyed this challenge, I'm not doing it this year as I have five others on the go but will definitely be doing it again at some stage as I found it hugely enjoyable. Many thanks to Rose City Reader for hosting.