Sunday, 2 August 2020

Books Read in July

July was not a bad reading month for me... nine books read although that sounds better than it is because two of them were mostly read at the end of June.

The books:

45: Crossed Skis - Carol Carnac

46. The Village - Marghanita Laski

47. The White Road Westwards - 'BB'

48. Once Upon a River - Diane Setterfield

49. The Sea Mystery - Freeman Wills Crofts

50. The Honey Farm on the Hill - Jo Thomas

51. A Lesson in Secrets - Jacqueline Winspear.

Maisie goes on her first assignment for the British Secret service. She's asked to pose as a professor at a Cambridge college that's run by, and for, pacifists who are trying to stop another war from happening. It sounds harmless enough but the Secret Service think there may be goings on there which are contrary to British interests. Maisie hasn't been there long before Greville Liddicote, the man who founded the college, is found murdered. She's told to keep a low profile while the police investigate but she realises that she's in a unique position to discover things which they cannot. Another superb instalment of Maisie's investigations. The Nazi party has come to power in Germany and the plot of the book involves groups of Nazi sympathisers forming groups in this country in support of Adolf Hitler. Quite chilling and the subject is handled well. I look forward to more along these lines as World War Two slowly approaches.

52. Jack: A Life Like No Other. Biography of John F. Kennedy which started off very interesting but somehow or other I got a bit bored with it as I went along. This is possibly because it got very political (obviously) and I don't always understand how American politics work. Very good on the personal stuff though.

53. Arabella by Georgette Heyer.

Young Arabella Tallant is about to have her first 'season' in Regency London, courtesy of her godmother. At home she has numerous brothers and sisters and the family is not well off so it's quite important that she makes a good match if she possibly can in order to help her siblings along in life. On the way to London she has an encounter with Robert Beuamaris, a rich eligble bachelor, and encourages him to believe that she's a wealthy heiress. Before long she's the talk of the town in London and all because everyone thinks she's rich and a good catch. At some stage of course, the truth will out, and what then? I think this is my third or fourth reread of what is one of my favourite Georgette Heyer Regency romances. What all of this author's books have in common is the utterly sublime writing, Heyer knew her stuff and wrote with such humour that the books are a joy to read. I will be rereading more of these gorgeous books.

So, not a bad reading month... a mixed bunch, a couple of non-fictions, three crime yarns, and four general fiction books. I seem to be reading much more in the way of general fiction these days, I particularly enjoyed The Village by Marghanita Laski for instance and Once Upon a River by Diane Setterfield made for a very interesting reading experience. I like peppering my reading with the odd bit of women's fiction now as well, and Arabella reminded me how much I enjoy historical type fiction (although I know it's not in the 'serious' historical fiction category) so I plan to read more of that if I can.

Onwards and upwards into August. Happy Reading!


Sunday, 26 July 2020

Bookshelf Travelling for Insane Times

It's time for another Bookshelf Travelling for Insane Times post which is being hosted by Judith at Reader in the Wilderness.

The idea is to share your bookshelves with other bloggers. Any aspect you like:

1. Home.
2. Books in the home.
3. Touring books in the home.
4. Books organized or not organized on shelves, in bookcases, in stacks, or heaped in a helter-skelter fashion on any surface, including the floor, the top of the piano, etc.
5. Talking about books and reading experiences from the past, present, or future.

Whatever you fancy as long as you have fun.

This week I thought I would do something different and show you the part of my library that's on my Kindle Fire. During lockdown with libraries and bookshops shut if I've wanted a book I've downloaded it to Kindle, via Amazon of course. I do look at the price first and if I think it's too dear I won't buy it. Often though what I'm getting are offers or books at the cheaper end of the range or in some cases actually free.

(I've just realised that in the first two pictures you can see a reflection of my hands at the bottom of the Kindle. It looks like I'm trapped in there trying to get out...)

The first obvious thing is that I have four Maisie Dobbs books by Jacqueline Winspear. I've just finished A Lesson in Secrets (book 8), I went to check on Amazon to see how much the next book was and discovered that the next three were only £1.19 each so I grabbed them all.

Other additions were a bit more random.

A Kilo of String by Rob Johnson is a non-fiction 'moving to Greece' book which looks like fun.

The Kew Gardens Girls was bought because of one of the Amazon 'you might like this emails'. (I know...)

Aria's Travelling Book Shop by Rebecca Raisin I saw on Marg's Blog and as she reads some really good books I grabbed this one.

An Air That Kills by Andrew Taylor is the first of his Lydmouth series that I've been meaning to try for ages.

Behind the Mask by Matthew Dennis is a biography of Vita Sackville-West I downloaded after reading All Passion Spent by her.

The Things I Know by Amanda Prowse was a free book for Amazon Prime members and so was Opium and Absinthe by Lydia King. I haven't read anything by either authors so it will be interesting to do so. Amanda Prowse is especially popular I think.

Canal Pushers by Andy Griffiths is book one in the Johnson and Wilde crime crime series based on Britain's canals. I read about this series on Northern Reader's blog.

Ghost Trees by Bob Gilbert is all about trees in the London Parish of Poplar and was recommended to me by Rosemary at Scones and Chaises Longues

Books on this page include:

The Solitary Summer by Elizabeth Von Arnim who wrote The Enchanted April and Elizabeth and her German Garden of course, both gorgeous books. I think this is one of those free books from Gutenberg.

Gardens of Delight by Erica James is set in Italy and I grabbed it because I loved Summer at the Lake, also set in ITaly, so much.

Oak and Ash and Thorn by Peter Fiennes I downloaded because the author tweeted that it was cheap on Amazon at the moment, and because I loved his Footnotes so much I grabbed it quickly.

All in all I've probably downloaded about 30 books since lockdown, it could be more. It's probably a bit excessive but they were all fairly cheap and there are worse things to spend your money on. I'm sure the publishing industry appreciates all the buying people have been doing too, I gather it's one of the industries that has not suffered during the pandemic.


Tuesday, 21 July 2020

More catching up

Again I'm three books behind with reviews... and I don't even feel that I'm reading that fast, I'm just not reviewing fast enough! So, a quick catch-up post again.

First up, The White Road Westwards by 'BB'. This is my 12th. book for Bev's Mount TBR 2020 and also qualifies for Carl's Venture Forth under the category, 'A book where travelling is heavily involved'.

So this is one of the most delightful books I've read all year. The author, 'BB' (real name Denys Watkins-Pitchford), used to be a well known author of children's books back in the 1960s but he also wrote some excellent nature and countryside books for adults, several of which I read years ago. In this one he writes about a caravan trip he made with his family in the early 60s, exploring the whole of the South West of England. He visited a lot of places I know well so I suppose that helps. But honestly, this is some of the most beautiful writing I've ever read. He writes so eloquently about the countryside in summer, the birds and animals, the quirky people he comes across, his walks, the weather. Stunning. This will be in my top five non-fiction books of the year. I loved it. There is apparently one about his caravan trip exploring Scotland which I shall certainly be searching out.

Next, The Sea Mystery by Freeman Wills Crofts.

A father and son are returning from a fishing trip when they discover the dead body of a man, in a crate, which has been thrown into the sea off the coast of South Wales. Inspector French of Scotland Yard is called in and the first thing is to identify the body, a task which proves long and complicated. His investigations lead him to Devon and the small town of Ashburton where a local business has recently suffered the loss of two of their executives. It's thought they both died in a bog on Dartmoor late one night, after breaking down and wandering away from the car. Naturally, French believes there's much more to this tale than meets the eye. Another excellent vintage murder mystery from Freeman Wills Crofts. He is definitely one of my favourites of these rediscovered authors. This one was written in 1928 but it actually felt more modern, I had it down as a 1950s book before I discovered the truth. I love the way he plotted so precisely, timing actions down to the last minute. There are 30 of these Inspector French books and I'm always happy to discover one I haven't read.

Lastly, The Honey Farm on the Hill by Jo Thomas. This is my 9th. book for the European Reading challenge which is being hosted by Rose City Reader. It covers the country of 'Greece'.

Nell has spent the last 18 years bringing up her daughter, Demi, single-handed. Demi is the result of Nell falling in love with a young man, Stelios, on Crete, but they rowed when she told him was pregnant so she returned to South Wales to have the baby on her own, living with her grandmother. Now the factory where she works has burnt down and she has the chance to return to Crete as a volunteer worker on a honey farm. She wants to know what happened to Stelios. Most of all she wants to know if he ever really loved her or was she just a holiday romance to him. This was an enjoyable read, not wonderful, but fun. The heroine annoyed me a bit, constantly doing stupid things without apparently thinking at all. But there was a nice sense of a mountain village in Crete, the people and their problems, the food and so on. There's a back story of a herb called dittany which kept the town's economy going but has practically and mysteriously disappeared from the mountain, that was quite interesting. But overall I think I preferred Jo Thomas's Escape to the French Farmhouse which I read in June.


Sunday, 19 July 2020

Bookshelf Travelling for Insane Times

It's time for another Bookshelf Travelling for Insane Times post which is being hosted by Judith at Reader in the Wilderness.

The idea is to share your bookshelves with other bloggers. Any aspect you like:

1. Home.
2. Books in the home.
3. Touring books in the home.
4. Books organized or not organized on shelves, in bookcases, in stacks, or heaped in a helter-skelter fashion on any surface, including the floor, the top of the piano, etc.
5. Talking about books and reading experiences from the past, present, or future.

Whatever you fancy as long as you have fun.

This is another set of books I sorted out recently as a 'to be read soonish' selection. I do this on a regular basis, sometimes it works and I read the books, sometimes it doesn't, more often a few get read and the rest put back where I found them! My thinking with these books revolved around picking out a few that are something other than murder mysteries. I love a good whodunnit but just lately I've been craving something a bit different to add to the mix.

I'm concentrating on the nine books between The Historian and Arabella.

The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova is a book I read way back in 2007. I loved it but felt at the time that it was a keeper and would definitely bear rereading. I think that time might have come.

Lady's Maid by Margaret Forster. I've had this secondhand book on my shelves for yonks. It tells the story of Robert and Elizabeth Browning's elopement from the point of view of Elizabeth's maid, 'Wilson'.

Murder Must Advertise by Dorothy L. Sayers. Well, I had to put one murder book in didn't I? But I always think of Sayers' Lord Peter Wimsey books as a lot more than just ordinary murder mysteries. This one involves murder at an advertising agency and is one of the few Wimsey books I haven't read.

Sea Music by Sara MacDonald. A family saga story set in Cornwall. Another secondhand book I've had for years.

Mariana by Susanna Kearsley. One of those historical time-travel novels, the time travelled to being the 17th. century.

A Bird in the Tree by Elizabeth Goudge. Part one of another family saga type story. I've only read one book by Elizabeth Goudge and that was Green Dolphin Country *many* years ago. I'll be interested to see what I think of her writing now I'm much older.

The New House by Lettice Cooper. Written in 1936 this is the story of one family moving from a large house to a smaller one and covers just one day. Of course, it's much more than that involving family relationships and so forth.

The Piano Tuner by Daniel Mason. A piano tuner is asked to travel from London to Burma to tune a piano, the book charts his journey. I've had this for a long time and I see it was published in 2003, I also seem to recall it was one of those books everyone was talking about back then so it'll be interesting to see what all the fuss was about.

Arabella by Georgette Heyer. I've read this two, if not three, times over the years but it's been a while and having read Northern Reader's post about it I went to see if I still had it. No I didn't, so I ordered a copy and am looking forward to another wallow in this lovely book.

I'm actually quite hopeful of getting some of these read. Our library is still not open so I've pretty much been reading from my own bookshelves during lockdown and have been amazed at how many excellent books I've been squirreling away on my shelves!


Sunday, 12 July 2020

Catching up - three reviews

Three books to catch up on today, starting with Crossed Skis by Carol Carnac. This is my eighth book for the European Reading challenge covering the country of 'Austria'. And it's my 6th. book for Carl's Venture Forth, covering the category of 'A 2020 book purchase'.

A man dies in a house fire and it doesn't take long for the police to realise that it was murder. But who was he? Was he the lodger who rented the room or someone else? In the meantime a tour group is off to Austria for two weeks skiing. It's been a difficult task organising it, with people having to back out at the last minute and strangers taking their place. But, slowly but surely, the group get to know each other on the journey across Europe. A few days in, the easy atmosphere is spoilt when some money belonging to one of the men goes missing. The leaders of the group realise that something isn't right and the main question is, is everyone in the group who they say they are? Well, we all know the answer to that of course but as to guessing what was what and who was who well I didn't manage it. To be honest, for me the joy of this book was in the gorgeous Austrian mountain setting. It's beautifully depicted, mountains, villages, farms and so on. Also interesting was the 1950s 'British people abroad' feel to it, how we behaved and what was expected of us, how we were percieved by foreigners. Interesting from a historical perspective. Carol Carnac is the same writer as E.C.R. Lorac whose real name was Edith Caroline Rivett. She wrote some really excellent crime fiction, I don't think this is one of her best but I nevertheless gave it four stars on Goodreads as it was still an excellent read.

Next, The Village by Marghanita Laski. This is my 10th. book for Bev's Mount TBR 2020. It also qualifies for Carl's Venture Forth under the category 'A Social Media Recommended Book' (Rosemary whom I met on Twitter recommended it) and for Rosemary's #ProjectPlaces.

The Trevors, Wendy and Gerald, are a very middle-class couple with two daughters, Margaret and Sheila. Sheila is academic and will likely end up with a good career but Margaret is the opposite. She has no aptitude for school work and the hope is that she can snag herself a 'suitable' husband and settle down to domestic bliss with a clutch of children. But this is the mid 1940s and the class divide is alive and kicking even though the Trevors have no money. Unfortunately, there are no young men around who are interested in a very ordinary girl who is not outgoing or vivacious. Except Roy Wilson, but Roy is solidly working class, in fact his mother cleaned for the Trevors before the war. That said, he has a good job in the printing trade with a good salary and is solid and dependable. Margaret and Roy start to see each other in secret, knowing that when it comes out, as it surely will, there will be hell to pay. And of course there is... Well this book is what I would call a 'little gem'. It's a slow-burner, the author takes her time to introduce the characters, tell you who lives in the village and how it's split, housing-wise, ie. middle classes in one area, working classes in another, the solitary upper class female in the Big House that everyone looks up to (I loved her) and so on. Their attitudes soon become very apparent and so does the snobbery. The Trevors are at loss to know what to do about Margaret, they know she's not a good catch for middle class sons around the area but refuse to consider letting her marry where her heart lies. Someone said to Margaret, 'The trouble with you is that you've got no sense of class' and neither does she. She really doesn't care that Roy and his family are an ordinary working family. It's also quite clear to her that Roy's family think more of her than her own do. Things were changing very rapidly in the late 1940s and into the 1950s. The class barriers were coming down like the Berlin Wall in the 1990s but the middle classes were resisting like hell. This is a fascinating book that charts the beginning of the change of attitude they had forced upon them. By the time I married into a middle class family in the 1970s (nothing like the Trevors I hasten to add) no one gave a damn about my working class background. My prospective mother-in-law was more interested in the fact that I read a lot, knitted, made clothes and did jigsaw puzzles, all of which she did too. I could not have been made more welcome. Anyway, if this kind of social history topic interests you then this is an excellent book to read. It's beautifully written and observed and I will certainly read more by Marghanita Laski, in fact I have Little Boy Lost on my tbr pile.

Lastly, Once Upon a River by Diane Setterfield. This was a gift from my lovely friend, Pat, at Here, There and Everywhere so it's my 7th. book for Carl's Venture Forth under the category 'A gift that was given to me'. It's also my 11th. book for Bev's Mount TBR 2020 and also qualifies for Rosemary's #ProjectPlaces, 'the river' being the Thames.

It's the late 1800s and a child is rescued from the upper reaches of the river Thames and brought to The Swan Inn at Radcot. No one knows who the little girl is but there are two possibilities, she might belong to the Vaughans who had a girl, Amelia, kidnapped from her bedroom a couple of years ago, or it might be Alice, the grand-daughter of a local farmer whose son - the child's father - is of very dubious reliability. There is also a third possibility that only one person is aware of. The problem is, for one reason or another, no one can really be sure. What is known is that the child doesn't speak and is, to coin a phrase, 'away with the fairies'. It's a mystery that needs to be solved and Rita, a local nurse, and Daunt, the man who rescued the girl, set about solving it... no easy task as there are a lot of things they don't know about the lives of the people on the river. This is a book that seems to divide people: some love it, some are a bit 'meh' about it, and others can't get beyond the first few chapters. I think I come somewhere between the first two - I liked it, but I didn't love it. I wasn't sure I would even like it after a couple of chapters. It felt over-written and vague and I just couldn't work out who was who and what they were doing in the book. It all came together eventually though and I was glad I persevered. For me the best thing about the story is the setting of the inn and the villages around that area on the Thames. It's very well depicted and I liked the sort of 'fey' atmosphere of the whole book. I liked Rita too, the manner in which she had educated herself to be a medical person was admirable I thought. I loved how open-minded she was. I think, to be honest, that this is not a book to be rushed. I approached it like that, taking time with it, and I think it reaped its rewards. I almost felt too that it was one of those books that would bear reading again immediately. It's rare that I feel that way about a book but I fancy a second reading would give me a better idea of what was going on. I'm not going to do it but I will keep it to reread in a couple of years.


Sunday, 5 July 2020

Reading challenges, the first 6 months of 2020

Well, here we are, halfway through the year (and what a year!) I thought I would do a reading challenge update to see how far I've got and chart my progress. This year I decided to do just two reading challenges, it hasn't quite ended up like that *cough* but those are the two I concentrated on for the first five months anyway.

First up, Bev's Mount TBR 2020.

I signed up to read 12 books for this challenge this year. So far I've read 10, 6 non-fiction and 4 fiction. That's not to say that I've only read 10 of my own books this year. In fact I've read 34, but of those 34 I decided that only 10 would qualify for Mount TBR because they're either long books or have been sitting on my TBR mountain since Noah and The Flood.

Next, The European Reading challenge which is being hosted by Rose City Reader.

I signed up for:

FIVE STAR (DELUXE ENTOURAGE): Read at least five books by different European authors or books set in different European countries.

So far, I've read 8 books for this challenge. I've visited Iceland, Ireland, Germany, Albania, France, Italy, Austria and the UK. To all intents and purposes I've completed this one but have no intention of leaving it there. I'm hoping to read at least 10 books and if possible, more.

So for the first 5 months I kept to my intention of only doing 2 challenges. And then Carl came along with a delightful summer reading experience entitled, Venture Forth.

The idea is to spend June and July reading whatever you fancy and maybe fulfilling various prompts. My prompt list is in this post and so far I've read six books that qualify.

Another reading experience I loved the sound of is Rosemary's #ProjectPlaces. That runs till the end of December and simply involves reading books where the title is a place of some sort. My post about that is here and so far I've read 3 books that qualify. I intend to read a lot more.

So, that's my challenge update for the first six months of 2020. Hopefully the second six months will be equally productive.


Friday, 3 July 2020

Bookshelf Travelling for Insane Times

It's time for another Bookshelf Travelling for Insane Times post which is being hosted by Judith at Reader in the Wilderness.

The idea is to share your bookshelves with other bloggers. Any aspect you like:

1. Home.
2. Books in the home.
3. Touring books in the home.
4. Books organized or not organized on shelves, in bookcases, in stacks, or heaped in a helter-skelter fashion on any surface, including the floor, the top of the piano, etc.
5. Talking about books and reading experiences from the past, present, or future.

Whatever you fancy as long as you have fun.

This week it's all about rivers, a small stack I created recently because I do enjoy reading about them: people travelling up and down rivers, people swimming in them, people living beside them and so on. It's always interesting to read about how a river influences people's lives.

From the bottom:

Down the River by H.E. Bates. He wrote The Darling of Buds May of course and Fair Stood the Wind for France and is better known for his fiction than non-fiction I suspect. This book is about the twin rivers Bates grew up with, the Ouse and the Nene, and is beautifully illustrated by Peter Parkington. I put a few pics of the paintings in this post.

Once Upon a River by Diane Setterfield. I've just started this fiction book. It's based in an inn on the upper reaches of the Thames. I'm not sure what to make of it to be honest. I like the plot but am not convinced about the manner in which it's written. Odd.

Meander: East to West along a Turkish River by Jeremy Seal. I had no idea that the word 'meander' came from an actual river that 'meanders'. How fascinating! This is the story of the author's trip along the river in a canoe. I've had this one for quite a while...

The Pull of the River by Matt Gaw. Another author canoeing rivers, lots of them this time, all over Britain. I think this was very popular when it came out in 2018 so I'm looking forward to reading it.

Our Mutual Friend by Charles Dickens. I believe this classic is based on and around The Thames in London and I've been meaning to read it for years. Hopefully this is the year I'll get around to it... all 800 pages.

Other books about 'rivers' that I've enjoyed, Waterlog by Roger Deakin, Down the Nile by Rosemary Mahoney, The Cruellest Journey by Kira Salak, A State of Wonder by Ann Patchett, Brazilian Adventure by Peter Fleming, The Gift of Rivers edited by Pamela Michael, Lost Lands, Forgotten Stories by Alexandra J. Pratt. And I have more on my TBR pile of course.

So nice to get back to these 'Insane Bookshelf' posts after a couple of weeks away.