Friday, 19 December 2014

Catching up

Naturally at this time of year things are a little busy. I've managed to read a little but am behind on reviewing what I've read. So this is a catch-up post with several really brief reviews, just to get myself up to date.

First up, Recipe for Love by Katie Fforde.

Zoe Harper has won a place on a TV cookery competition, one specialising in baking, (similar I suppose to The Great British Bake Off). On her way to the country house where the competition is to be held Zoe comes across Gideon Irving who has put his car into a ditch. She realises he's a judge for the competition but somehow can't help falling for him over the next few weeks. It's against the rules of course, how can he not be biased if he's involved with a competitor? Zoe's room mate is Cher who is determined to win at all costs. Zoe needs to keep her involvement with Gideon a secret from Zoe, while still concentrating on winning the competition, *and* trying to help out the pregnant couple who own the country house. Could things possibly be more complicated?

Not my favourite, Katie Fforde by any means. I found the idea that a competitor would knowingly jeopardise her position in a cookery competition, a bit far-fetched. And really... no matter how you look at it... it *is* cheating. I don't mind suspending disbelief when reading a romance but this was just plain silly. That said, it got a bit better towards the end and I was glad I'd persevered. Other Katie Ffordes have been much better than this.

Next, Point of Knives by Melissa Scott and Lisa A. Barnet.

A father and son, suspected of being 'summer-sailors', ie: pirates, are both murdered on the same night and Philip Eslingen is found standing over them. Philip helped Nicholas Rathe solve the mysterious disappearance of over eighty children in Point of Hopes and the two became romantically involved. They then split up when their respective bosses ordered them to because of conflict of interest. Eslingen's innocence is easy to prove but there still remains the question of the two dead men. Philip and Nico join forces once again so solve the murders.

I like this series a lot. Point of Knives is actually a novella sandwiched between the first book, Point of Hopes and book two, Point of Dreams. It's unusual for a fantasy series to focus on a same sex relationship but it makes a refreshing change. This is not an explicit book but the romantic aspect does come more to the fore than in the first book. I enjoyed it very much and liked that aspect of it more than the murder mystery, though that was good as well. I'm now looking forward to reading Point of Dreams early in the New Year.

Next, Once Upon a Christmas by Sarah Morgan. This in my book 35 for Bev's Mount TBR challenge.

Seven year old Lizzie has written to Santa to request a daddy for Christmas. Her mother, Bryony, is dismayed. She's been in love with Jack, a best friend to her two brothers, for most of her life. Jack treats her like a little sister and will never love her in the way she wants, so it seems she will have to start dating. But Jack's reaction to this is unexpected. He interferes, puts obstacles in her way, is a confounded nuisance in fact, until Bryony is at her wit's end. How will she ever find a dad for Lizzie if Jack continues to behave in this manner?

The answer of course is pretty obvious, as it should be with a Mills and Boon romance. LOL! I won this in a book draw last year and saved it for this Christmas. It's actually two books in one. Part one tells Bryony and Jack's story, part two tells the story of Helen, Bryony's best friend from London, who comes to stay in The Lake District after her fiance runs off with another woman, just weeks before the wedding. I have to say I enjoyed both books quite a lot. The reason for this is that the setting of a snowy Christmas/winter in The Lake District is absolutely delightful. The author clearly knows the area well and also knows about the work of NHS doctors and nurses and especially those who volunteer for mountain rescue work. I found it fascinating to be honest and the romance added a nice touch even though you'd have to be pretty stupid not to know who is going to end up with whom. A perfect read for the time of year.

So that's me caught up. I'm currently reading one of Anne Perry's Victorian Christmas Novellas, A Christmas Hope but doubt it'll be reveiwed now until after Christmas.


Sunday, 14 December 2014

Vintage Mystery Bingo Wrap-up

One of the challenges I've really enjoyed doing this year is Bev's Vintage Mystery Bingo challenge.

I decided to have a go at the Golden card and for this it was necessary to read books that were published pre-1960.

I have to say, it's introduced me to all kinds of authors whose books I'd never read before and sometimes authors I'd never even heard of. I started out wandering all over the golden bingo card, having lots of fun for several months just filling various categories willy-nilly. Eventually I could see several bingo lines that were close to being finished but in all I read 25 books for the challenge and that included 3 bingos. These are they:

Bingo 4th. horizontal line:

The Moving Toyshop by Edmund Crispin (1946) (A locked room mystery) (read June 2014)

The Mad Hatter Mystery by John Dickson Carr (1933) (An author never read before) (read in February 2014)

Watson's Choice by Gladys Mitchell (1955) (A book with a man in the title) (read in August 2014)

The Man in the Queue by Josephine Tey (1929) (A book with a professional detective) (read May 2014)

Detective Stories from the Strand edited by Jack Adrian (stories all pre-1960) (A short story collection) (read May 2014)

Murder on the Links by Agatha Christie) (1923) (A book set anywhere other than US or UK - read in place of medical mystery) (read November 2014)

Bingo 5th. horizontal line

Love Lies Bleeding by Edmund Crispin (1948) (An Academic Mystery) (Read in October 2014)

Laurels are Poison by Gladys Mitchell (1942) (A book with a method of murder in the title) (Read in November 2014)

The Sittaford Mystery by Agatha Christie (1931) (A country house mystery) (read October 2014)

Lock 14 by Georges Simenon (A mystery that involves water) (1934) (read February 2014)

Have His Carcase by Dorothy L. Sayers (A book set in England) (1932) (read February 2014)

Holy Disorders by Edmund Crispin (A book by an author with a pseudonym) (1945) (read June 2014)

Bingo 3rd. vertical line

Hag's Nook by John Dickson Carr (A book with a spooky title) (1932) (read September 2014)

A Shilling for Candles by Josephine Tey (A book that has been made into a movie) (1936) (read July 2014)

Fer-de Lance by Rex Stout (A book with an amateur detective) (1934) (read March 2014)

Watson's Choice by Gladys Mitchell (1955) (Book with a man in the title) (read August 2014)

The Sittaford Mystery by Agatha Christie (1931) (A country house mystery) (read October 2014)

Death in the Clouds by Agatha Christie (1935) (A book that involves a method of transportation) (read June 2014)

Many thanks to Bev for hosting such a thoroughly enjoyable challenge.


Sunday, 7 December 2014

Show me your book stash post

Carolyn of Riedel Fascination has challenged people who're doing one of her challenges to 'show me your book stash'. In other words take photos of your books wherever they are, on shelves, in piles, propping up the piano, whatever, and put them into a blog post. So, I've duly been around the house and taken some photos of my book shelves.

So here we go then. This first one is a pic I took of the books I intend to read for the 2015 Mount TBR challenge and is one of the shelves here in my study:

Next, another shelf here in my study, mostly a few of my horror books but also a few others:

These are at the top of the stairs facing you as you go up. Mainly reference books, non-fiction, poetry, my Cornish books, but also a few large heavy books that need sturdy shelves to hold them. These shelves were in the house when we moved in.

Next, one of two bookcases in my grandkids' bedroom (the other holds my grandkids' books and you can just see the corner of it). This one holds most of my favourite 'read' books, fantasy, sci-fi and crime. It's double stacked in places but I do still have some room on it.

Another set of shelves here in my study, sundry books with a few classics and Persephones on the bottom shelf.

Lastly, this bookcase is in my bedroom and holds more of my favourite books, Georgette Heyer, Daphne du Maurier, Enid Blyton etc.

So those are most (not all, *cough*) of my bookshelves. Hope you enjoyed this trip around my house looking at some of my book stash.


Thursday, 4 December 2014

The Sci-Fi Experience

Delighted that Carl is starting his annual Sci-Fi Experience early, as he did last year. I always enjoy this one as it reminds me that one of the very first genres I fell in love with as a teenager was science-fiction.

(Artwork by Stephan Martiniere.)

The 'Experience' runs from the 1st. December, 2014 to the 31st January, 2015. Participants can read as many science-fiction books as they like: one or many, whatever takes your fancy. The important thing is to 'enjoy' your reading.

Carl's sign-up post is here:

I have several books I'd like to get to this year.

1. Heliconia Winter by Brian W. Aldiss. I've read the first two books in this series and loved them, this'll be the perfect opportunity to finish the trilogy.

2. A Fire Upon the Deep by Vernor Vinge. I know little about this book other than it's considered a classic in the space opera section of the sci-fi genre. Sounds like it might be my kind of thing.

3. The Mote in God's Eye by Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle. Many, *many* years ago I read Niven's Ringworld and was blown away by it. Weirdly I don't think I've read a single other book by him since. And this is again supposed to be a classic.

4. Doomsday Book by Connie Willis. This one's been on my tbr mountain for 'years'. Time I got around to it.

If I manage to read just a couple of those I'll be a happy bunny. I suspect, December being, as it is for everyone, busy for me, that the majority of my reading for the Sci-Fi Experience will take place in January. Thanks again to Carl for hosting.


Sunday, 30 November 2014

A couple of titles

I'm behind once again as things have been a little busy. Time to catch up. Two rather different books today... and yet... despite the fact that one's a vintage crime yarn and the other a fantasy/sci-fi story... they are both 'crime' based books and have more in common than might be imagined at first glance.

First up, The Murder on the Links by Agatha Christie. This qualifies for Bev's Vintage Mystery Bingo challenge. I'm using it as my 'Free Space' book. I haven't been able to find a 'Medical Mystery' on my shelves and don't wish to buy one. Thus I'm claiming Murder on the Links, which is 'A book set anywhere other than the USA or England', and which I've already fulfilled, as my book for the 'medical mystery' space.

Hercule Poirot receives a letter from a Monsieur Renauld, a French millionaire. It seems he fears for his life and wants Poirot to come to France immediately to investigate. Poirot and Captain Hastings set off but find on arriving that they're too late and the man has been found dead in a shallow grave on the neighbouring golf-links. His wife is found bound and gagged in their bedroom and is telling a story of intruders who came in the night and dragged her husband away. Naturally the case is complicated. There's a son who was supposed to be on his way to South America but in fact wasn't. There are neighbours, one of whom is making clandestine visits to the house in the middle of the night to meet Monsieur Renauld. And naturally there's the obligatory tramp whose identity no one knows... Poirot sets about investigating and comes up against a modern French detective who is scornful of Poirot's 'little grey cells' methods. Which of them will solve ths case first?

Murder on the Links was only Christie's second Poirot mystery but you would never know it from the quality of the plot and the writing. This one is narrated by Captain Hastings (I assume the later ones, that he's not in, are not but am not sure who narrates those or whether they're written differently) and thus it has a nice vein of humour running through. Especially as Poirot challenges Hastings to try to solve the case alongside himself and the French detective. There's a lovely theme running through the plot too where Poirot's 'thinking' methods come up against the Frenchman's 'Sherlock Holmes' ones of crawling about on the ground looking for clues and so on. Christie was clearly poking gentle fun at the Sherlock Holmes books. There are red herrings aplenty and, it has to be said, a few moments where you wonder why everyone but Poirot is Really Stupid. But that said, this is a very enjoyable romp of a crime yarn and I really did enjoy it.

Next, Point of Hopes by Melissa Scott and Lisa A. Barnett. This is my book 13 for the My Kind of Mystery challenge which is being hosted by Riedel Fascination.

The place is the city of Astrient and the time is Midsummer with the annual fair rapidly approaching. It's always a busy time for the local points officers - police force - but this year is doubly so. The stars predict the death of the queen and as she has no heir the succession is very much open to question. The various candidates are vying for position and the atmosphere in the city is tense. At this time of year children often go missing too. Unhappy with their apprenticeship positions, or at home, they often run off with traders at the fair or sign up for the military.

It comes to the attention of Adjunct Pointsman, Nicolas Rathe, that this year more children than usual have gone missing - children who were quite happy and had no reason to run off. It's also quite clear that traders haven't taken them as the fair has barely begun. So where are all these children?

Philip Eslingen is newly released from the army and comes to live in the city, working as a 'knife' (security person) for a local inn come hotel. The hotel is popular with the ex-military and people of his nationality and somehow it gets about that this hotel is involved in the disappearances of the children. The trouble this causes brings him into contact with Nico Rathe and the two men set about trying to find out what's happened to over 80 children. It's an incredibly difficult case as there are no clues and the atmosphere in the city is strained and dangerous. Dark forces are at work and the two men will need all their ingenuity to solve this mystery.

Sometimes a book just hits the spot and this was one of those times for me. A book that straddles both the fantasy *and* crime genres is a bit of a rarity. Terry Pratchett's 'Sam Vimes' books spring immediately to mind, but I'm sure there are others. For me personally these books are usually winners as I'm a big fan of both of course. Having said that, the book is also science-fiction as it mentions the planet having two suns and things like 'first sunset' and 'second sunset', so I suppose it's really a bit of a hybrid.

Whatever it is, I really enjoyed this one. It's a world where astrology is real. People get their stars read based on their actual time of birth and whatever is forecast happens and people set a lot of store by it. Astrologers are hugely respected within society and even have their own university. Sexuality on this world is very fluid, people have heterosexual and homosexual relationships and all is normal. (Though this is not in 'any' way an explicit book.) I really, really like that approach and wish more authors of fantasy and sci-fi took it.

What else? Well, the world-building within the novel is quite stunning. It reminded me of the kind of detail Robin Hobb includes in her books. The city of Astrient with all its complications and peculiarities, its heaving, medieval, type population, it's poverty, its cramped conditions, feels so real. The authors have made it come alive in the same way that Terry Pratchett made Ankh Morpork feel like a real place. Amazing.

The mystery element was also well done. For the first part of the book it took second place rather but that was because the authors spent time introducing the characters, letting us get to know who they were and what they were about and, of course, explaining the world in which they live. So that was fine with me, and the book got even better when they began to concentrate on where the children had disappeared to.

All in all, for me, a stonking good read. There are a couple more books and a novella and I plan to read all of them. It's so nice to discover a new series that really works for you.


Saturday, 29 November 2014

The 2015 Mount TBR Reading challenge

Well, I didn't exactly excel at the 2014 Mount TBR challenge: I didn't do really badly but will not finish where I should. Wrap-up post for that will come in a few weeks but I know I will not have reached my goal of 48 books.

But, nothing ventured, I shall give it another shot next year... but somewhat differently I think.

As before the challenge is being hosted by Bev at My Reader's Block.

These are the challenge levels:

Pike's Peak: Read 12 books from your TBR pile/s
Mount Blanc: Read 24 books from your TBR pile/s
Mt. Vancouver: Read 36 books from your TBR pile/s
Mt. Ararat: Read 48 books from your TBR piles/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

And the rules:

*Once you choose your challenge level, you are locked in for at least that many books. If you find that you're on a mountain-climbing roll and want to tackle a taller mountain, then you are certainly welcome to upgrade. All books counted for lower mountains may carry over towards the new peak.

*Challenge runs from January 1 to December 31, 2015.

*You may sign up anytime from now until November 4th, 2015.

*Books must be owned by you prior to January 1, 2015. No ARCs (none), no library books. No rereads. [To clarify--based on a question raised last year--the intention is to reduce the stack of books that you have bought for yourself or received as presents {birthday, Christmas, "just because," etc.}. Audiobooks and E-books may count if they are yours and they are one of your primary sources of backlogged books.]

*You may count any "currently reading" book that you begin prior to January 1--provided that you had 50% or more of the book left to finish in 2014. I will trust you all on that.

*Books may be used to count for other challenges as well.

*Feel free to submit your list in advance (as incentive to really get those books taken care of) or to tally them as you climb.

*There will be quarterly check-ins and prize drawings!

And so. Last year I bit off slightly more than I could chew so I'm aiming rather lower for next year. The plan is to go for Mont Blanc which is to read 24 books off your TBR pile. *But* I would like the 24 books to be one of two things - either chunky (over 350 pages although I will not be pedantic about it) or non-fiction of any length. I have a lot of both on my TBR shelves and it's high time I shifted a few. So going for 24 books will not necessarily involve less reading, it could even end up being *more*... just less books in actual number.

A few titles I'd like to shift:


Agatha Christie, an autobiography - Agatha Christie
Gerald Durrell, the authorised biography - Douglas Botting
Meander - Jeremy Seal
Jack - Geoffrey Perret
Thames, Sacred River - Peter Ackroyd
The Mitford Girls - Mary S. Lovell
A View from the Foothills - Chris Mullin
Blue Latitudes - Tony Horowitz
Wildwood, a Journey Through Trees - Roger Deakin
Atlantic - Simon Winchester
Africa in my Blood - Jane Goodall
Ox Travels - edited by Mark Ellingham, Peter Florence & Barnaby Rogerson
The Churchill Factor - Boris Johnson
Scribble, Scribble, Scribble - Simon Schama


Outlander - Diana Gabaldon
The Mad Ship - Robin Hobb
Tigana - Guy Gavriel Kay
A Fire Upon the Deep - Vernon Vinge
The Name of the Wind - Patrick Rothfuss
Un Lun Dun - China MiƩville
Our Mutual Friend - Charles Dickens
Mill on the Floss - George Eliot
Gaudy Night - Dorothy L. Sayers
Ahab's Wife - Sena Jeter Naslund
Ox Crimes - edited by Mark Ellingham and Peter Florence
A Tiny Bit Marvellous - Dawn French
The Woman in White - Wilkie Collins
Byzantium - Stephen Lawhead

I only planned to list 10 or so but here I am with 28 already and there are many more. To be honest if I just get a few off this list I will be well pleased.


Monday, 17 November 2014

Several titles

I'm rather behind with reviews even though my reading has slowed down a bit over the last few weeks. My first three books of November have not been reviewed here so it's time for a catch-up post.

First up, The Hills is Lonely by Lilian Beckwith, which is my book thirteen for Peggy's Read Scotland 2014 challenge.

Lilian Beckwith, advised to take a rest somewhere quiet for the good of her health, advertises for suggestions as to where to go from the readers of a magazine. One of the replies was from a woman, Morag McDugan, who lives on the Isle of Skye. Lilian is captivated by the letter, which is rather naively written, and decides on the spot to go and stay with Morag. Her arrival is not auspicious as she arrives on a dark and stormy evening and wonders if she'll even survive being ferried across to the island, let alone anything else. 'Anything else' turns out to be having to climb a six-foot wall to get into Morag's house as the tide is in and her front gate is submerged! After that it's culture shock after culture shock as the English woman learns to live with the idiosyncracies of an island population who are insular in the extreme, about fifty years behind the times, and loathe the English with a vengeance.

This was a very gentle, amusing read... basically a 'fish-out-of-water' story in which the joke is how the English woman, used to late 1950s mod-cons, learns to live on an island which has no mod-cons at all. What I haven't been able to discern is whether this is fact or fiction. I was sure it was fact but I gather she didn't move to Skye alone, she went with her husband and the books are based on the characters she met and became involved with. Which makes them fiction... except that I'm still not sure. They're classed as 'non-fiction' and 'autobiographical' on Goodreads. Hmm. Anyway, that aside I enjoyed the beautiful descriptions of the island very much indeed. The author certainly knew how to convey the moods of the weather and its affects on the stunning scenery very well indeed. As a cultural thing it was fascinating to hear how basic life was on the island in the fifties, certainly as regards medicine and healthcare, but also food-wise (they lived very much on what the sea provided), transport, communications, and indoor plumbing (there was none). I was less enamoured of all the drinking and drunkeness but that's just me being a prude. Was the author mildly patronising about the locals? I'm not sure. I don't *think* so but others might. I enjoyed the book and it made me even more determined to visit the Isle Skye one day.

Next, Laurels are Poison by Gladys Mitchell. This is my book twenty two for Bev's 2014 Vintage Bingo Mystery challenge and covers the category, 'A book with a method of murder' in the title.

Deborah Cloud has a new job at the Carteret teachers' training college. She is to teach a bit but mainly she will be the new sub-warden of Athelstan House. She walks into a mystery. The warden, Miss Murchan, has gone missing and the principal of the college has called Mrs. Bradley in to take her place and try and find out where the missing Miss Murchan has gone. It's a can of worms. There's some kind of malicious prankster abroad. At first the pranks are relatively harmless, chamber pots going missing etc. Then clothes trunks are raided and people's clothes slashed, a girl's hair is cut off in the middle of the night, and things take on a far more sinister note when the house cook is found murdered. Mrs. Bradley, Deborah and three trainee teachers put their heads together to get to the bottom of this very complicted mystery.

I think this is my third 'Mrs. Bradley' mystery and possibly my favourite so far. I liked the college setting and peep into the 1930s style of training teachers. I believe Gladys Mitchell was herself a teacher so doubtless knew all about it. The three girls who help solve the mystery enliven the plot no end but I did have difficulty occasionally with the way one of them spoke... the 1930s modern slang and literary quotes. It was a good whodunnit in that I couldn't really work out who, why or how so I was kept guessing until the very end and then wondered why I'd been so thick. Happy to have a few more of these on my Nook to read when I don't want a book that's too deep. Good fun.

Lastly, Surgically Enhanced by Pam Ayres.

This is a book of essays mainly, interspersed with some of Pam's inimitable poetry which I'm a bit of a fan of, I have to say. I love seeing her reading her own work on TV as she has an amusing manner about her which is always hilarious - to me anyway. I'm sure there are plenty who think quite the opposite. The essays are basically all about her life. Her childhood in Stanford-in-the-vale in Berkshire, her marriage and children (rather oddly as a married woman she's 'Mrs. Russell', as am I of course), learning French, adopting a dog, canal holidays, packing to go on holiday, cruising, shopping on the internet, the perils of using a new hairdresser when you're away somewhere and much, much more. I enjoyed every single one, probably because I could identify very strongly with quite a lot of it. Wierdly, I preferred the essays to the poems and I think that may be because her poetry is best heard read out loud rather than read silently to one's self. They were not bad though and one struck a particular chord with me - There's Some Mistake about the sadness of aging and looking back at your life. She hit the nail right on the head with that one. All in all, an enjoyable random grab from the library and I really must get around to Pam Ayres' autobiography next year.