Saturday, 24 June 2017

Death on the Cherwell

It seems I can't resist these lovely BLCC books. Each and every one is so beautifully presented, a delight to read, and I love the nostalgia of them. Even though many of them were written in the 1930s and 40s, before I was born, things hadn't changed much come the 50s and 60s when I was around, so they take me back to a time when modern life was not as frantic as it is today. I love them to bits. Today's review is Death on the Cherwell by Mavis Doriel Hay.

The first meeting of The Lode League takes place on the roof of a boathouse somewhere on the river Cherwell, in Oxford, on a gloomy February afternoon. Four girls, Sally, Daphne, Gwyneth and Nina have formed a society for the express purpose of cursing the bursar of their Oxford college, Miss Denning. Except that proceedings hardly have a chance to get underway before a canoe floats into sight and lying in it is, shockingly, the dead body of the said Miss Denning. The girls all attend Persephone college, an Oxford women only college, and this kind of scandal is not at all welcome to The Principal, Miss Cordell or 'Cordial' as the girls call her.

The police, of course, begin investigations but, worried that knowledge of The Lode League might cause the police to think they had something to do with the murder, the girls decide to investigate for themselves. It seems there are two main suspects - the elderly owner of a large house who has crossed swords with Miss Denning over a right of way across his land, and a farmer who wanted to sell the college some land but the deal doesn't interest them. A fellow student, from Yugo-slavia aslo seems implicated by her rather erratic behaviour.

The case is further complicated by the secretiveness of Miss Denning's life. She has a niece that she seems determined to keep away from Oxford at all costs. Why? Sally's sister and husband, who solved a previous murder case on the underground in London (Murder Underground), arrive to help solve the puzzle. It's a tricky one and no mistake, one in which the police appear quite happy to allow the undergraduate group to help solve.

Muriel Doriel Gray wrote only three crime novels, one of which I've read and enjoyed, The Santa Klaus Murder. (The other is Murder Underground which I've not read.) It seems a shame that she didn't write more as this was a very enjoyable read.

I quite enjoy books set in schools or colleges and there aren't that many of them so I always appreciate finding new ones. (One I can highly recommend is Miss Pym Disposes by Josephine Tey.) The girls in this book are thoroughly Jolly Hockey Sticks and none the worse for that. I wasn't sure of ages but imagine they're eighteen to nineteen... but seeming younger as of course back in those days children matured much later into adults. It wasn't until one of them was driving a car that I was brought up short and realised how old these girls were. Before that it was almost like reading an Enid Blyton book for mid-teens. Huge fun, to be honest. There's a nice vein of humour running through the whole thing, I found myself chuckling quite a lot, not only at the dialogue but also at the antics of the girls themselves. I liked how the detective in charge enjoyed their enthusiasm and found ways for them to help.

The mystery itself, of who killed The Bursar, was solid... various secrets to discover and various blind alleys you're led up. I didn't know until the end who'd 'dun it', so to speak, though some of the details are easy to guess if you read a lot of this sort of thing. To be honest, the real joy of this book is the river and college setting and 1930s period detail.

In all, a thoroughly enjoyable BLCC book. I have heaps more - around ten - to read and heaps more that I would love to own. They're all much too tempting!


Friday, 23 June 2017

New books!

Quite a few new books have mysteriously found their way into the house. I wonder where they're coming from... *coughs* So I thought I'd do a post as I haven't done one in quite a while. I have to say, some super, super covers on display here. Publishers seem to be really going out of their way these days to make books very attractive so well done them.

Anyhoo... these are the books bought, or given to me, or even *free*, over the last couple of months.

From the bottom:

To Oldly Go: Tales of Intrepid Travel by the Over 60s, Can't find an editor for this but basically the title says it all. Birthday present.

The Skeleton Road by Val McDermid. Scottish crime. Haven't read anything by this author, time I did. This one was free as Tiverton is having its literary weekend and a local shop is doing a book swap event. I took a load and came away with two.

The Olive Harvest by Carol Drinkwater. Very famous French 'olive growing' set of books. Love Carol's writing. This one was also free.

I'll never be French (no matter what I do) by Mark Greenside. My France thing continues unabated...

Three Men on a Boat & Three Men on the Bummel by Jerome K Jerome. I have actually read these but don't own them. Then I saw this copy advertised on Twitter and literally bought it for the cover. See it properly below.

To say Nothing of the Dog by Connie Willis. Sci-fi, time travelling, somehow connected to Three Men on a Boat because of course the full title of that book is: Three Men on a Boat to Say Nothing of the Dog

Murder of a Lady by Anthony Wynne. Vintage BLCC crime yarn. Scottish setting so it'll do for the Scottish challenge I'm doing. Birthday pressie.

A Scream in Soho by John G. Brandon. Another BLCC. London during WW2. Looks good. Another birthday pressie.

Continental Crimes edited by Martin Edwards. Short crime stories set on The Continent.

Death of a Busybody by George Bellairs. Village based crime yarn, coveted this for a while because of the cover so when I saw it in Smiths... (Fully paid up member of Sucker-for-a-lovely-cover-anonymous.)

Death on the Riviera by John Bude. Crime story set in the south of France.

And because the covers are too nice not to see, here they all are:


Sunday, 18 June 2017

Extraordinary People

Having already enjoyed two of the three books in Peter May's 'Lewis' trilogy, I spotted book one of his Enzo McCleod series in the library and thought I'd give that a go too.

A Scot living in Toulouse in the south west of France, Enzo McCleod is a biologist at the university in the historical city. He's taken a bet with a colleague that he can solve a cold case murder which is over ten years old, using modern techniques. Jacques Gaillard was a brilliant professor, destined for high places, when he disappeared off the face of the Earth. No one has any clue what happened to him and the police seemed to have lost interest in the case pretty quickly.

Enzo joins forces with journalist, Roger Raffin, who has investigated various cold cases and has copious notes which he's only reluctantly willing to share. Then a metal box is discovered in the catacombs below Paris after a tunnel collapse, which turns out to hold the skull of the missing man. Also in the box are various bits and pieces, clues perhaps to the whereabouts of the rest of skeleton? They piece together a theory and the hunt begins for the next box, neither of the men having any idea what they are getting themselves into or the danger which will present itself both to themsleves and to Enzo's family.

Well, I whizzed through this like a bat out of hell... unable to put it down unless someone was actually dying. Peter May has written this book for people who like puzzling things out, searching for answers in obscure records or books via the internet, gathering clues and figuring out the answers. And it works, or it did for me. I thoroughly enjoyed Enzo's tour of France, dragging along sundry companions, getting into a spot of bother at every turn, it was, to coin an over-used term, a real roller-coaster ride.

Enzo himself is a pony-tailed, middle-aged Scot with personal problems. He has two daughters by different mothers, one of whom won't have anything to do with him... he lives with the other who has a boyfriend Enzo doesn't approve of. I don't always care for these back stories of detectives in mystery books but this one struck a chord with me so I had no problem with it. And I did actually like him for recognising his own flaws and understanding why he had such problems in the first place.

One of my 'likes' shall we say, in books is 'tunnelling underground'... any books which go underground and do it well get the thumbs up from me. And this does just that. The last few chapters feature The Paris Catacombs, (which I was, rather stupidly, completely unaware of) and it is creepy and frightening. I'm assuming most of the info in the book is true and of course now I'd like to know a bit more! Maybe I can find a book in English as my French is not quite good enough for reading a text book I suspect.

As to the final culprit, it wasn't a surprise as I'd already guessed but that was not a problem at all. The joy of this book is in the journey and in that respect it was a hugely fun experience. I shall definitely read more in this series.

Extraordinary People is my book 2 (lagging behine a bit with this reading challenge) for Peggy's Read Scotland 2017, because Peter May is a Scottish author.


Wednesday, 14 June 2017

Catching up

I don't seem to be in the mood for long reviews of books at the moment. I'm even contemplating a blogging break for the summer, but have not definitely decided. In the meantime a couple of short reviews of crime yarns.

First up, The Sait-Fiacre Affair by Georges Simenon.

When an ominous note predicting the time and place of a death finds its way to Maigret's desk in Paris, his investigation brings him to Saint-Faicre, the place of his birth. It isn't long before a darkness descends on Maigret and the town, as the prediction becomes a brutal reality and the Inspector discovers he is not welcome in the place he once called home. (Synopsis from Goodreads.)

I've read quite a few Maigrets over the past two or three years and mostly enjoyed them. I haven't given any a two star rating on Goodreads as far as I remember but I did this one. Why? Well I found myself bored by it. I'm in the minority, there're loads of four stars on GR, which leads me to wonder what I missed. I certainly 'missed' the usual excellent French atmosphere to these books. Simenon's Maigret yarns are normally steeped in it but I got nothing. Nor did I care who did away with the countess or why... or about 'anyone' in the entire book to be frank. A shame really but I have a few more promising Maigret titles on my Nook to try (this was a library book) and will certainly do so. I recently really enjoyed ITV's adaption of one of the books, Night at the Crossroads, with Rowan Atkinson. I wasn't sure at first but his portrayal is growing on me quite nicely. Hope they make more.

Bruno, Chief of Police by Martin Walker.

Chief of Police in the town of St. Denis in the Perigord region of SW France is Captain Bruno Courréges. An ex-military man he has settled in the area and is very content with his life... he has good friends, a nice house, good food, good wine. There is little crime in the area, one of the main preoccupations is to try and stop EU inspectors from swooping on the local markets and enforcing their hygiene rules. Bruno is complicit in these shenanigans. Then the rural idyll is shattered when the body of a very elderly North African man is discovered. He's head of a family of immigrants who have settled in the area. Many forces come into play. The body was marked with a swastika so is this the work of Le Front National? A young man is arrested but Bruno is convinced there's more to it than meets the eye. The old man was a veteran of several wars so could there be a connection there?

I thought I would absolutely love this and there were elements I enjoyed, for instance I thought the town itself and its surroundings sounded lovely. I liked the quirky people and it seemed to me the author had got French quirkiness spot on, from what I remember from when my late sister-in-law lived in France... not all that far from this region funnily enough. And there was a good mix of characters even including some interesting Brits. Rather surprisingly I think it was Bruno himself I was was a bit 'bleugh' about. And I think it was because he seemed a bit too good to be true, to the point of blandness. I kept thinking that the author had written Bruno, not a as a 'real person', but specifically to appeal to women. The author's idea of what women want in a man. But what's wrong with that? I honestly don't know but it just didn't feel right to me. Comparing him to Martin O'Brien's Daniel Jacquot there's absolutely no contest. Jacquot feels real (and no less attractive) whereas Bruno, for me, does not. I have a feeling this is just me. Goodreads has many positive reviews and I did give it three stars as I didn't *not* enjoy it, I'm just fairly certain I won't seek out out any more in the series. Which is a shame, but there you go.


Saturday, 3 June 2017

Reading France

So. I'm on rather a French kick at the moment, and it shows no sign of abating, so this naturally involves books set in La Belle France. First up, book 4 of Martin O'Brien's series, Jacquot and the Angel.

The death of an entire German Family, elderly father and mother, their daughter and her daughter, living in Provence involves Daniel Jacquot in one of the most complicated cases of his career. The elderly father, Dr. Martner, is a grower and authority on orchids. He is also old enough to have been involved in WW2 and many older local French villagers have very long memories. A young local man is arrested for the murders but something nags at Jacquot about the arrest. Into the picture comes Marie-Ange to run the florist shop while the the parents of the arrested man support him during his trial. Who is she really? And she help Jacquot solve this most brutal of cases?

Funny how the first one or two of most new crime series can be a bit iffy... it's only natural for an author to need to get into his or her stride. It's not always the case though and it's not here. Martin O'Brien hit his stride from the start of the very first book, Jacquot and the Waterman and has simply not wavered at all. This is book four and wow is it superb read. I loved the WW2 connections, details about the French Resistence seemed spot on and life in France during the war was very much brought to life. But the author is also fantastic on modern-day France. Lots of detail about the countryside, the seasons, the food, the villages, the idiosyncracies of its people. Wonderful. I honestly can't praise the series enough and happily gave Jacquot and the Angel a five star rating on Goodreads - no question about it at all. Jacquot and the Angel is my book 11 for Bev'sMount TBr 2017 challenge.

Next up a non-fiction, A Year in Provence by Peter Mayle.

I think I must be last person on the planet not to have read this hugely famous book by Peter Mayle. I've had plenty of time to ignore it as it was written in 1989! I do believe though that your time to read certain books is not always the same as everyone else's and clearly now was my time for A Year in Provence. The format is very simple, a chapter is devoted to every year of the author's first year living in France. The trials and the tribulations include the work on his house and difficulties getting workmen to finish a job, the bureaucracy, the language, The Mistral. But of course these are all outweighed by the joys of the landscape, the food, getting to know his neighbours and learning about the French culture. I have to say, like many others before me, I loved this book to bits. And I didn't expect to. It's so famous, iconic really, and I often don't care for these iconic books that everyone loves. I've heard it's the first book about Brits going to live in France, though I'm not sure that's actually the case. Certainly I gather it began a huge migration of Brits to France, beguiled by Mayle's descriptions of the rural Provence lifestyle. Oddly, both this book and the previous Jacquot book are set in the same area - Cavaillon - I think I'm going to have Google the town and see some actual pictures of it and the surrounding Luberon mountains. Anyway, super super book, atmospheric, descriptive and very funny. I think there are more books about Provence by Peter Mayle so will definitely keep an eye out. Another five star book.

Next, Flirting with French: Adventures in Pursuit of a Language by William Alexander.

The author, William Alexander, is American but he would desperately like to be French. The key, he believes, is becoming fluent in the language of the country he is so in love with. But this is easier said than done - naturally. French is not known as one of the most difficult languages in the world to learn for nothing. All that conjugating of verbs and loads of rules to be learnt. And everything but everything is masculine (le) or feminine (la), even inanimate objects, so all these have to be learnt as well. He gets himself into a right pickle and despairs of ever getting a handle on the language. He tries everything, various online language tools, audio courses, adult classes, social networking, immersion classes and two weeks at a language school in Provence. The results are very interesting indeed. He's quite hard on himself I think, although he does make a bit of a meal of the whole process... I did find it a trifle agonising *but* extremely funny and rather informative about language and how we learn. I had to give this yet another five star rating as it was so entertaining quite frankly.


Sunday, 14 May 2017

More catching up...

Yet again I'm behind on reviews. Since the beginning of May I've read three books and not had a moment to review any of them... admittedly I have been away for a week in Cornwall so that explains it a bit. So, this is yet another catch up post from me.

First up, The Woman in Blue by Elly Griffiths.

Ruth Galloway's new-age, Druid friend, Cathbad is cat sitting in the historical village of Walsingham in Norfolk. Out searching fot the cat one dark night he sees a vision of a woman in blue in the graveyard. Cathbad being Cathbad this doesn't bother him much until a body is discovered in a ditch and it's a woman, or 'the' woman in blue. DCI Nelson is brought in to investigate and it's not long until Ruth is brought in too via a friend who's a female priest who's been recieving hate mail. Ruth's not thrilled about this: Ruth and Nelson's daughter, Kate, is now five but Ruth has still not really come to terms with her feelings for her married daughter's father. Why does life have to be so damn complicated? Yet another superb instalment of Elly Griffith's Ruth Galloway series. I've loved every single one and this was no exception. I love the humour in them, the mysteries are always historically based, which suits me, and although I find Ruth and Nelson's relationship a bit frustrating... it's real. Life is messy like that for some, there are no easy answers and Ruth's struggles make me feel so sorry for her. Long may this series reign.

Next, Sleeping Giants by Sylvain Neuval.

A young girl, Rose, is desperate to try out her new birthday present, a bike. She rides it into the woods at Deadwood, South Dakota, and literally falls through the ground, into a giant metal hand. Many years on and Rose is a prominent scientist in charge of the project to recover the separate parts of what turns out to be a giant robot, buried thousands of years ago... but by whom? Not saying any more about this book as it would involve spoilers and for my money it would be shame to know too much about this unusual book before starting it. It's written, rather oddly, in the form of interviews by an unknown person with the main characters in the book. It's quite original and makes for a pacey read, I found it to be quite the pageturner. This is the first book in what I think is going to be a trilogy. Book two, Waking Gods, is just out I believe. I shall be reading it.

Lastly, a non-fiction book, Best Foot Forward by Susie Kelly.

I seem to have been in a bit of a French mood for some months which for me is rather odd. I'm enjoying the Jacquot murder books set in the south of France and various other books set in France have crossed my path recently. Including this non-fiction account of the author's walk across France from La Rochelle on the Atlantic coast to Lake Geneva. Susie Kelly was in no way a hiker or camper when she decided to embark on this epic journey, she pretty much suffered every step of the way and her descriptions of the state her feet got into were quite harrowing. But this was a really enjoyable recounting of the people she met, the landscapes she walked through, and how much she got lost. I really enjoyed it all, the author writes engagingly and honestly about her failings and triumphs. I shall look for more books by her.


Monday, 1 May 2017

Catching up

A couple of short book reviews today. First up, A Murder of Magpies by Judith Flanders.

Samantha Clair is a publishing editor at a firm of book publishers. She's in her forties, single by choice and has a mother, Helena, who's a high-flying lawyer. She normally deals with contemporary fiction of the light, romantic kind but her friend and fashion writer, Kit Lovell, has written a book about the death of fashion designer, Rodrigo Alemán. Reading the manuscript, Sam realises that what it contains could be explosive and sets about passing it through their team of libel lawyers. Then Kit disappears and Inspector Jake Field comes into her life. It soon becomes apparent that there's a lot more going on than just Kit's disappearance that may or may not be because of his unpublished manuscript. Sam, Jake and Helena set about investigating, Sam soon finding herself going further than Jake has authorised because all she really wants to do is find Kit - whereas the others seem to have developed quite another agenda.

It's so nice to have a protagonist who's not young and glamorous and twenty-something. Sam is a very ordinary woman in her mid-forties, funny, intelligent, realistic about the world. She's also a loyal friend who is doggedly determined. I loved her dry, sarcastic wit usually aimed at the realities of the publishing world. Interesting to read about that, we readers have very little idea how the books we love get published and this book gives a small glimpse into that hidden world. The spotlight was also turned on the fashion world, which is not really my thing but nevertheless it kept my interest. This is a light, amusing crime read, very much London based, 'different' in that it's not police procedure based at all. Oh and I loved Sam's lawyer mother, Helena, whom Sam is convinced is a Martian. There are three in this book series so far so I'm hoping to come across more on my travels.

Lastly, Just One Damned Thing After Another by Jodi Taylor.

Madeleine Maxwell, known to all as Max, is recruited to a department of Thirsk University known as St. Mary's. It's an Institute of Historical Research... but with a difference: the historians who work there can travel in time. Their purpose is to "investigate major historical events in contemporary time." To find out the truth of incidents that are in question. It takes months of training before Max and her fellow trainees are ready to make their first jump. Several drop out but Max is determined to succeed, not only that but to be the best. Eventually she and her fellow students are ready to take their place as fully fledged historians. Max travels to 11th. century London and joins the medical team at the front in World War 1. Then she lands a 'big one'... she's sent back sixty five million year to the Cretaceous Period. This assignment changes everything, for Max, for St. Mary's, and possibly the world.

Well this one was recommended to me by book blogger, Geranium Cat, on Facebook. I have to admit for the first 50 - 60 pages I was a bit so-so about it and then it suddenly took off like a bat out of hell and was non-stop action and intrigue until the very end. And I mean 'intrigue'... all kinds of double-crossings and unexpected twists... I was exhausted come the end. It was huge fun, a lot humour in the dialogue and first person naration. Interesting and entertaining characters - Max herself is a complicated and frustrating sort of person but I suspect there's a backstory there the reader may learn about in future books. There're quite a few of them, nine I think, with a lot of short stories and novellas in between. I'll certainly read more if I can get my hands on them.