Sunday, 30 December 2007

Top... er... 15

I've tried hard, I really have... but I couldn't get my favourite books of last year (see previous post) down to ten. So here we have my top fifteen, not in any particular order.

1. The Book Thief - Marcus Zusak. Young adult, set in Germany during WWll, and is about how a young girl survives during the war. Narrated by Death.

2. The Earthsea Quartet - Ursula K. Le Guin. Young adult fantasy. The travels, trials, and tribulations of the wizard, Ged.

3. Saplings - Noel Streatfeild. Persephone novel. Charts the disintegration of a family during WWll. Focusses on the children.

4. Dissolution - C.J. Sansom. Historical crime. The first of the Matthew Shardlake series set during the reign of Henry Vlll. Lots of monks. I wasn't quite sure what they were all up to...

5. Family Roundabout - Richmal Crompton. Another Persephone novel. Concerns the dynamics and the interactions of two families, the Fowlers and the Willoughbys, during the 1920s.

6. Redburn - Herman Melville. Classic lit. Serving aboard ship in the 1800s. Was it fun? Not really...

7. Mistress of the Art of Death - Ariana Franklin. Historical crime. 12th. century Oxford. Adelia, a female doctor from Italy, has been sent to solve the murders of several children.

8. The Historian - Elizabeth Kostova. Horror. Vampires, but also a nice jaunt around Eastern Europe.

9. The First Casualty - Ben Elton. Historical Crime. WWl whodunnit but also much about conditions at the front. Not Elton's usual.

10. The House of Mirth - Edith Wharton. Classic Lit. New York around 1900. Charts the fall of Lily Bart, born to a life of ease and luxury but suddenly without the means to support such a lifestyle.

11. Crocodile on the Sandbank - Elizabeth Peters. Historical crime. First in the Amelia Peabody series of books set in Eygpt.

12. The Beekeeper's Apprentice - Laurie R. King. Historical crime. First in the Mary Russell series, charting the beginnings of Mary's relationship with Mr. Sherlock Holmes.

13. Still Life - Louise Penny. Crime. The first of the Armand Gamache series set in the village of Three Pines, Quebec. Wonderfully atmospheric.

14. The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes - Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Historical crime. What can I say?

15. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows - J.K. Rowling. Young adult fantasy. Again... what is there to say? Other than I wish it wasn't the last book...

A few facts and figures:

Fiction - 59, non-fiction - 11. That's not so great. I thought I read more non-fiction than that.

Female authors - 33, male - 37. Funny how you deceive yourself. I would have sworn I read and liked female authors much more than male.

Re-reads - 4. Yeah, well... I knew I didn't reread much.

I clearly have a taste for Young Adult fantasy - 17, plus a couple more I wasn't sure of.

I've also clearly discovered a real liking for historical crime books!

All in all I count the year a success. I've read more than ever, blogged more than ever, and made some delightful new reading friends. I can't wait to see what 2008 brings.


Book list - 2007

Copying an idea from several people, this is just a list of my books read for 2007 so that I can link to it in my sidebar. I shall pick it to pieces ;-) and choose some favourites this afternoon.

1. Christmas Angel - Jo Beverley
2. The Little Country - Charles De Lint
3. The Magicians' Guild - Trudi Canavan
4. Indian Summer – Will Randall
5. The Undomestic Goddess – Sophie Kinsella
6. Morality for Beautiful Girls – Alexander McCall Smith
7. The Novice – Trudi Canavan
8. The High Lord – Trudi Canavan
9. The Book Thief – Markus Zusak
10. Diplomatic Baggage – Brigid Keenan
11. Straight Face – Nigel Hawthorne
12. The Weirdstone of Brisingamen – Alan Garner
13. The Moon of Gomrath – Alan Garner
14. The Secret Dreamworld of a Shopaholic – Sophie Kinsella
15. Knit One Kill Two – Maggie Sefton
16. Cirque de Freak – Darren Shan
17. The Vampire’s Assistant – Darren Shan
18. Practically Perfect – Katie Ford
19. Over Hill and Dale – Gervase Phinn
20. The Winds Twelve Quarters – Ursula K. Le Guin
21. The Earthsea Quartet – Ursula K. Le Guin
22. Quartet in Autumn – Barbara Pym
23. Saplings – Noel Streatfeild
24. The Book of Dead Days – Marcus Sedgwick
25. The Kalahari Typing School for Men – Alexander McCall Smith
26. Dissolution – C.J. Sansom
27. My Sister’s Keeper – Jodi Picoult
28. Family Roundabout – Richmal Crompton
29. Never the Bride – Paul Magrs
30. Redburn – Herman Melville
31. In Ethiopia with a Mule – Dervla Murphy
32. The Three Imposters – Arthur Machen
33. Lone Traveller – Anne Mustoe
34. The Railway Detective – Edward Marston
35. The Testament of Gideon Mack – James Robertson
36. Magyk – Angie Sage
37. Growing into War – Michael Gill
38. The Grass is Singing - Doris Lessing
39. Sylvester - Georgette Heyer
40. Stargazing - Peter Hill
41. The Observations - Jane Harris
42. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows - J.K. Rowling
43. The Full Cupboard of Life - Alexander McCall Smith
44. Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day - Winifred Watson
45. Lighthouse - Tony Parker
46. The Hobbit - JRR Tolkein
47. Out Stealing Horses - Per Petterson
48. Tales of the City - Armistead Maupin
49. Mistress of the Art of Death - Ariana Franklin
50. Dracula - Bram Stoker
51. The Book of Lost Things - John Connolly
52. The Historian - Elizabeth Kostova
53. A Time of Gifts - Patrick Leigh Fermor
54. The Haunting of Alaizabel Cray - Chris Wooding
55. Smoke and Mirrors - Neil Gaiman
56. To the Lighthouse - Virginia Woolf
57. Abarat - Clive Barker
58. Crocodile on the Sandbank - Elizabeth Peters
59. The First Casualty - Ben Elton
60. Address Unknown - Kressmann Taylor
61. Short Stories of the 19th. Century - selected by D.S. Davies
62. The House of Mirth - Edith Wharton
63. Still Life - Louise Penny
64. Castaways of the Flying Dutchman - Brian Jacques
65. Defying Hitler – Sebastian Haffner
66. Little House in the Big Woods – Laura Ingalls Wilder
67. A High Wind in Jamaica – Richard Hughes
68. The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes – Arthur Conan Doyle
69. The Beekeeper’s Apprentice – Laurie R. King
70. The Uncommon Reader – Alan Bennett

Thursday, 27 December 2007

The Beekeeper's Apprentice

It's rather strange to be coming to the end of yet another reading year. It hardly seems five minutes since it started! Hopefully I'll squeeze in one, possibly even two, more books before the new year starts but, whatever, it's nice to finish the year on a high with some really fun reading.

I feel like I want to really gush about this book. Several people, including deslily, recommended Laurie R. King's 'Mary Russell' series and being a bit of a Sherlock Holmes fan I had a feeling I would probably like them. Like? Make that 'love'! I adored this first one, The Beekeeper's Apprentice.

Mary Russell is fifteen and lives in Sussex with her despicable aunt. One day while out walking she stumbles across (literally) a retired Sherlock Holmes watching bees. Recognising another with a similar mind to his own the two strike up a friendship and Mary eventually becomes a kind of apprentice in the crime solving business. It's while Mary is at university that a diplomat's daughter is kidnapped. Holmes and Russell work together on the case and bring it to a conclusion. But have they? And who is trying to kill them, and why?

It was sort of weird at first to be reading a Sherlock Holmes book that was a)by an author other than Conan Doyle and b)not narrated by Watson! It's not quite the same, but then you wouldn't expect it to be and I personally was quite happy with the change in style, though perhaps not every dedicated Holmes fan would be. Depends on your preference really. I liked the portrayal of Holmes and found his friendship with Mary quite believable. It was nice in fact to see him as a human being with feelings and emotions and the ability to become attached to someone. I already know how the relationship changes and can't wait to read about how it happens. The crime element of the novel was also excellent; I tried to guess who was behind it all and got it quite wrong. The author does a great job of building to a climax and you fair gallop along with her to the end. Honestly, I can't recommend this book highly enough and am so pleased that there are many more in the series to read. Book two, A Monstrous Regiment of Women, is already on my tbr pile and will be one of my first reads for 2008.

Monday, 24 December 2007

Christmas Eve

It's pouring with rain here tonight but I can still hear the church bells in the town ringing in Christmas. (It's 11.45pm.) They go wonderfully with the sound of raindrops falling on the roof.

We've had a very quiet Christmas Eve. I baked this morning, sausage rolls (can't have Christmas without those) and a peach and mincemeat pie. For the first time in years we're not having a turkey or a chicken on Christmas Day but a joint of roast beef instead and pork on Boxing Day. My two daughters will be here for both days with the eldest's husband and grandkids. The grandson is too young at fourteen months to have any idea what's going on but the grand-daughter is seven and *very* excited. She and I are a bit of a team so I'm looking forward to a lot of fun over the next couple of days. I firmly believe that Christmas is a time for children (of all ages) and this little titbit from Alan Titchmarsh's Fill my Stocking is one of my favourites:

"A friend of mine tells me of the time she went to her small son's nativity play, at the local school one afternoon in the week leading up to Christmas. There had been much in the way of preparation. Costumes had been cobbled together, all the angels had been found wings and the customary dolly had been wrapped in swaddling clothes. Emotions were running high.

When the great day arrived, the parents sat down in the audience to watch the performance. All went well until Mary and Joseph arrived at the inn and Joseph knocked on the door. It was opened by the innkeeper.

'May we come in?' asked Joseph.

'No!' replied the innkeeper abruptly and closed the door in their faces.

The Little boy playing Joseph looked around him nervously, then knocked again. The innkeeper opened the door once more and glowered at Joseph. 'What do you want?'

'I am Joseph and this is my wife, Mary. She is expecting a baby. May we come in?'

The innkeeper shook his head vigorously. 'No, you can't!'. The door was slammed again.

Joseph was getting more and more alarmed now and banged on the door until the scenery shook. As the door was opened he asked pleadingly, 'If there is no room at the inn, perhaps we could stay in your stable?'

'No, you can't!'

'Why not?'

'Because I wanted to play Joseph!'"


Several people commented about my brother who I mentioned in my previous post. The news is that he will have to have an operation to replace his faulty heart valve. We hoped it wouldn't be necessary, he's disabled as it is and even being in hospital is difficult for him, let alone having to go through a major operation. But there you go, it *is* necessary and his quality of life will be much improved once the op is done. Thanks to all for your kind thoughts.

I'll be back after Boxing Day no doubt. I may even have finished The Beekeeper's Apprentice by then! It's an excellent read, great fun, but my time for reading has been severely limited this past week so my Christmas ghost story anthology, borrowed from the library, has had to wait.

Have a great day tomorrow and let's offer up a few prayers for more peace in the world. We could certainly do with it.

Sunday, 23 December 2007

Merry Christmas!

I haven't posted all week, partly because I've been so busy with Christmas preparations, but also it's been a difficult week here. My brother was admitted to hospital with complications due to a faulty heart valve. It was rather unexpected so chaos kind of ensued. Sadly for him it looks like he'll be in hospital for Christmas but hopefully he'll be fine and 2008 will be a better year, healthwise, for him. I just wanted to wish all the lovely people who drop by my blog a truly wonderful Christmas and I hope your holidays are all that you would wish for.

Monday, 17 December 2007

The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes

Finished this one at last!

It's been absolutely brilliant reading this in a relaxed manner over the past few weeks, especially as I seem to be in a Sherlock Holmes sort of mood. ITV3 have been showing various of the Jeremy Brett series for weeks so it's been a nice tie-in with reading the stories. Just a few days after reading The Speckled Band, for instance, they showed that one, so it was interesting to compare the two. (I thought it was very faithful to the original.) And I shall be able to do much more of this as one of my Christmas presents from my husband this year will be the complete boxed set of the same series.

Of course some stories in the book were more familiar than others. A few, such as The Engineer's Thumb (my favourite I think), The Copper Beeches and The Beryl Coronet were almost unknown to me and thus I probably enjoyed them more than the more familiar like The Red Headed League or The Man with the Twisted Lip (though I do love that one too).

A good anthology anyway. I have A Study in Scarlett on the library tbr pile and have just started the first Mary Russell/Sherlock Holmes book by Laurie R. King, The Beekeeper's Apprentice. So far, I absolutely love it. She has Holmes down to a 'T' and I like the character of Mary very much indeed. So the Sherlock Holmes theme continues and will continue into 2008 as I try to get hold of more of the original Holmes books and read as many of the Mary Russell series as I can get my hands on. I have two already and have just ordered The Moor because it seemed that Amazon UK are selling that one with the American cover. I much prefer those to ours and if I collect the whole series will probably go for those if possible. Yep... I know I'm a real fusspot. :-)

Sunday, 16 December 2007

A High Wind in Jamaica

I now seem to have reached the exalted heights of Commodore with my Seafaring challenge. Three books read, one of them a classic, and that classic is A High Wind in Jamaica by Richard Hughes.

Well, this wasn't precisely what I was expecting. My overall memory of this is of the film of the book which was frequent Sunday afternoon TV viewing when I was a child. It seemed a happy film of children mistakenly taken off by pirates, the captain of said pirates being played by Anthony Quinn. So, it was kind of surprising to find this book is quite different to that.

The plot concerns the Bas-Thornton family who live in Jamaica. The five children of this family run wild in the ruins of the sugar plantations until one day they experience a hurricane. The parents decide it's too dangerous for the children to live there any more and pack them off to England. The ship they're on is boarded by pirates somewhere off Cuba and the children mistakenly get carried away. What follows is a story of how the children acclimatise to life aboard ship and an entirely male crew, and what they have to do to survive.

I gather this was first published in 1929 and I would imagine it caused quite a stir. The story is told from the point of view of Emily, a ten year old Bas-Thornton. There is an older girl from another family with them, Margaret, who seems to be around thirteen to fourteen, and what happens to her is broadly hinted at but left to the imagination. This is no fairytale of *nice* children and their adventures. There is death and murder and Hughes' depiction of children is more akin to Golding's Lord of the Flies than to what I would call a normal view where children try to do the right thing. Here they are not completely self-aware and tend to do what they have to in order to survive. And some of that is quite chilling to read about, and told rather matter-of-factly, which makes it even more shocking. It's definitely a disturbing book but also very humorous in many places; you could call it a black comedy of errors. I liked it but had no idea what to make of it once I'd finished and am still, two days later, thinking about the implications of Hughes' story. But then... that's what good literature does, doesn't it? It makes you think and ponder and, ultimately, changes you somehow.

Thursday, 13 December 2007

2008 books and tbr photos

I'm still in the middle of two books, Sherlock Holmes, and High Wind in Jamaica by Richard Hughes for my seafaring challenge, so no new reviews. Instead I thought I would copy Tara's post and do a sort of a wishlist for 2008. Books I have on my tbr pile and would like to read next year kind of thing. And I think such a post needs a few illustrations so I'll start with a photo of *part* of my tbr pile. (It probably consists of several hundred books altogether.) To tell the truth it's spread all around the house but these in my study are the main batch.

There are five shelves in all, two above this. And in my defense I must say that there are some 'read' books mixed up among the 'not read'. *cough*

Anyway, for starters these are some of the books I would like to read during 2008.


The Seventh Gate – Richard Zimler
Needle in the Blood – Sarah Bower
Across the face of the World – Russell Kirkpatrick
The Tenderness of Wolves – Stef Penney
The Shell Seekers – Rosamund Pilcher
The Book of the New Sun – Gene Wolfe
The Patriot’s Progress – Henry Williamson (Likely to be my Rem. Day read in November.)
The New House – Lettice Cooper
The Village – Marghanita Laski
The Warden – Anthony Trollope (In Feb. with Nan. Book not owned yet.)


The Nasty Bits – Anthony Bourdain
True North – George Erickson
Congo Journey – Redmond O’Hanlon
Between the Woods and the Water – Patrick Leigh Fermor
Oscar Wilde – Richard Ellmann
The Mitford Girls – Mary S. Lovell
On Hitler’s Mountain – Irmgard Hunt
The Seamstress – Sara Tuvel Bernstein with Louise Loots Thornton and Marlene Bernstein Samuels
A Book of English Essays – W.E. Williams
How to Travel With a Salmon - Umberto Eco

I think that's 20 books altogether. And I'm not expecting to read them all as I'll have two challenges on the go as well, the Cardathon one and What's in a Name? Plus, I am terribly moody when it comes to choosing my next book to read. But just to knock a few off the pile would be excellent.

Another pic. These are the top shelves, well part of them anyway.

Add to this these are the series that I would like to start or continue with next year:

Amelia Peabody – Elizabeth Peters
Mary Russell – Laurie R. King
Armand Gamache – Louise Penny
Sherlock Holmes - ACD
Matthew Shardlake – C.J. Sansom
Septimus Heap – Angie Sage
The Little House - LIW
The Wit’ch series - James Clemens

And the authors whose work I would like to read or reread:

Charles Dickens.
Anthony Trollope
Edith Wharton
Orson Scott Card
Rudyard Kipling

I'm kind of wondering if I might have bitten off more than I can chew but this is an informal thing, apart from the official challenges I'm doing, so really there's no pressure.

More pics. The books for my What's in a Name? challenge. Just 'because' really...

And some recent acquisitions:

These are all charity shop, AM, or eBay buys apart from the Laurie R. King series.

So, it rather looks like 2008 is going to be quite a busy reading year. I did promise myself that I would go for quality rather quantity next year - I do tend to be quite a keen counter of books read each year. But I don't see why I can't be both relaxed about my reading *and* have some kind of plan to work to.

Sunday, 9 December 2007

Two reviews

I seem to be getting into the habit of reading several books at once. This is very unlike me! I usually read one book religiously until it's finished and then move on to the next. I'm not sure why it's changed suddenly, other than I decided I needed a different bedtime read to the one I was reading during the day, a book about the rise of the Nazis. I prefer something a bit more cheerful to go to sleep on! So I've been reading The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes at bedtime and that's still ongoing and very enjoyable. In the meantime I've finished the Nazi book and also read Little House in the Big Woods by Laura Ingalls Wilder. Anyway, a little about both of those.

I found Defying Hitler by Sebastian Haffner in the library. (Why I need library books when I've hundreds of books of my own is one of those little mysteries which we won't go into here.) I immediately spotted it as *my* kind of book and so it proved to be.

The author was born somewhere around 1907 into a rather literary, 'thinking' German family. Age-wise this places him in the thick of some the most momentous years of German history and he charts the progress of WW1 carefully; how as a child was obsessed with battles and casualties and so on. Things begin to go wrong after the war. War reparations took their toll on the economy and population, a revolution followed and a man called Hitler gradually began to emerge as a force in German politics. The insidious manner in which Hitler's party took over the country is depicted in all its horror, especially in regard to the Jews as the author, although not Jewish himself, had a Jewish girlfriend and many Jewish friends. Many opinions are expressed about the personality of the average German, his susceptibility to brain washing and the fact that Germany was at a low ebb and Hitler took his chance. You sense the author's outrage and disgust at the goings on, how suddenly he was unable to speak freely to anyone because you never knew what their stance was on the political situation. You also sense his feelings of inadequacy that he is unable to do anything to halt the onslaught of barbarity, realising that his death in a concentration camp would be a futile gesture. His gradual realisation that he will have to leave Germany is heart breaking because it's clear he loves his country, his hatred is for what has happened to it.

The narrative finishes in 1934 just after his return from a Nazi camp that he has had to attend in order to be eligible to take his law exams. His son finishes the author's history, not because he dies - he lives to a ripe old age in fact - but really because Haffner stopped writing the book and shoved it away in a drawer. The son finds it after his death and thinks it worth publishing. Which it most certainly is. The slow decline of an entire country into fascism is a fascinating, if tragic, thing to read about. You wonder how it can happen and then realise from reading this book, just how easily it *can* happen. The author's opinion is that it couldn't happen in a lot of countries but I'm not so sure. Many Germans just sat back and hoped someone else would stop Hitler, they 'did nothing' in other words and we're all inclined to do that more than we like to admit. An excellent, informative read.

I spent yesterday recovering from a stomach bug so a gentle read was called for. I've been intending to read Laura Ingalls Wilder's 'Little House' books for a while. I never read them as a child but my daughters were huge fans, so much so the books they have are falling to pieces so I bought a new edition of Little House in the Big Woods.

I'm sure most people have read these and already know that this first book is all about Ma and Pa, Laura and Mary, and little baby Carrie who live in the forests of Wisconsin in the late (I think) 1800s. It charts a year of living, from winter right around to autumn, trials and tribulations - but also many good times.

I found this utterly charming and actually quite informative as to the way families lived and survived. Family was clearly hugely important, you relied entirely on your immediate relatives for your survival and more distant ones for things such as bringing in crops and entertainment. Human nature is here too. Laura is jealous of Mary because Mary is fair haired and pretty and people praise her and ignore Laura who has brown hair and feels herself not so pretty. Cousin Charley is spoilt in Pa's opinion because he's not made to help on the farm enough. The day they force him the boy makes a complete nuisance of himself on purpose. A delightful read which I'll be passing on to my grand-daughter as I know she'll love it. And I'll be reading the next one, Little House on the Prairie, soon.

Monday, 3 December 2007

St. Michael's Mount photos

At last I have a computer of my own again after losing mine and having to use my husband's for two months. (He never complained once!) Anyhow, that means I now have access to my photo programme again, despite having lost many precious photos in the crash. (It's been a lesson to me, believe me.) So, I thought I'd post some photos I took of St. Michael's Mount while we were in Cornwall, on holiday, in October. They're not very seasonal because, as you can see, the weather was glorious! It was quite a climb to the top and there are warnings at the bottom against attempting it if you have health problems. We were borderline (Hubby has a heart condition) but we risked it and were glad we did. I was a teenager when I last climbed to the top of The Mount so the views took my breath away as though new to me.

I haven't put any family photos up as I'm a little wary of it but anyone wishing to see a family one drop me an e.mail (I think my address is on my user info) and I'll pop it along.

Sunday, 2 December 2007

Book challenges

I've been trying to decide on book challenges for next year. I want to strike a balance between taking on the ones I fancy and overloading myself to the point where I have to read something from a challenge rather than what I feel like reading. At the moment I'm in the middle of one, The Seafaring Challenge, which finishes at the end of January. For that I have just two titles left to read. I also plan to do The Cardathon one, but haven't sorted out the books for that yet and may well stick purely to novels written by Orson Scott Card. Actually, that really appeals as I feel sure I will like his writing. I'll probably read six for that one and it lasts all year, so that's fine. I've decided on one other that lasts all year and then when a shorter one crops up that I fancy I'll feel free to have fun with that without feeling too pressured. The trouble is I'm a creature of moods where reading is concerned and sometimes I just want to read what I fancy rather than what I have to read.

Anyway, the other year-long challenge I've chosen is the 'What's in a Name?' challenge, hosted by Words by Annie. I just loved the idea of choosing titles to go with certain words and had a lot of fun picking the books from my tbr pile.

Here's the link for this challenge: What's in a Name?

The books I've chosen are as follows:

1. A book with a 'colour' in its title:

Anne of Green Gables - L.M. Montgomery

2. A book with an 'animal' in its title:

River Horse: Across America by Boat - William Least Heat-Moon

3. A book with a 'first name' in its title:

Tamsin - Peter S. Beagle

4. A book with a 'place' in its title:

Jamaica Inn - Daphne Du Maurier

5. A book with 'weather' in its title:

Frost at Morning - Richmal Crompton

6. A book with a 'plant' in its title:

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn - Betty Smith

As I said, I had fun choosing the titles but in some cases didn't find it very easy. 'Animal', 'first name' and 'weather' were obvious to me as those are three books I wanted to read next year anyway. But the other three I agonised over. I plumped in the end for Anne of Green Gables for the 'colour' as that's a set of books I fancied rereading next year (I don't think I've actually read all of them). 'Plant' gave me loads of problems and I'm still not sure about my choice. I may change that eventually - even though I love Ursula Le Guin, I'm not certain about this particular book.

All of these books I own apart from one, which is Anne of Green Gables, and I'll be adding that to my Christmas Amazon order.