Friday, 28 November 2008

Series addict

This post is really for my own records. I wanted to list the various series I'd started just to get some idea of which ones I was reading and how far I'd got with each one. Once I began I was absolutely horrified at the sheer number, not only of those where I'd read only one or two, but of the number I plan to read! Hopefully this post will help me keep track of them and maybe inspire me to finish some.


Fantasy and horror:

The Twilight series – Stephenie Meyer (read 2)
The Mortal Engines series – Philip Reeve (read 3)
The Women of the Otherworld series – Kelley Armstrong (read 1)
The Mercy Thompson series - Patricia Briggs (read 2)
The Black Jewels trilogy – Anne Bishop (read 1)
The Dark is Rising sequence - Susan Cooper (read 2)
The Spooks series – Joe Delaney (read 3)
The Rogue Agent - K.E. Mills (read 1)
Skulduggery Pleasant - Derek Landy (read 1)
Nicholas Flamel – Michael Scott (read 1)
The Sea of Trolls - Nancy Farmer (read 2)

The Pern books – Anne McCaffrey (read many, need to continue)
The Newford books – Charles de Lint (read 1)
The Darkover series – Marion Zimmer Bradley (read 1)


Mary Russell/Sherlock Holmes – Laurie R. King (read 4)
Mma Ramotswe - A. McCall Smith (read 7)
Isabel Dalhousie - A. McCall Smith (read 1)
Armand Gamache – Louise Penny (read 3)
Amelia Peabody – Elizabeth Peters (read 1)
Lake District series - Martin Edwards (read 2)

Simon Serailler – Susan Hill (read 1)
Mathew Shardlake – C.J. Sansom (read 1)
Inspector Ghote - H.R.F. Keating (read 1)
Brother Petroc - Pip Vaughan-Hughes (read 1)


Mapp and Lucia – E.F. Benson (read 2)
Diary of a Provincial Lady – E.F. Delafield (read 1)
The ‘Anne’ books – L.M. Montgomery (read 1)
The Little House series – Laura Ingalls Wilder (read 1)

SERIES I WANT TO READ: (mainly fantasy)

The Wit’ch series – James Clemens
The Priestess of the White trilogy – Trudi Canavan

The Keys to the Kingdom series – Garth Nix
The Liveship Traders and Tawny Man trilogies – Robin Hobb

The Soldier Son Trilogy – Robin Hobb
The Pellinor series – Alison Croggon
The Temeraire series – Naomi Novik
The Coldfire trilogy – Celia Friedman
The Fionavar Tapestry trilogy – Guy Gavriel Kay
The Gardella Vampire Chronicles – Colleen Gleason
The Tamir Triad – Lynn Flewelling
The Gregor series - Suzanne Collins

And the awful thing is? I just know this isn't all of them...

Sunday, 23 November 2008

Predator's Gold

I didn't need to start another YA fantasy series, I really didn't. I have more than enough on the go - 18 at the last count - though not all YA. It was just that the first in this particular series, Mortal Engines by Philip Reeve, was on offer for 99p in Waterstones and me not being physically capable of resisting a book bargain, I had to buy it. And it turned out that I liked it a lot and set about reserving the sequel from the library, Predator's Gold... which I probably would not have read as quickly as I did but when I got the thing home I checked online and found that someone else had reserved it and it couldn't be renewed. So rather than lose it, I read it. And I'm glad because, if anything, it's even better than the original.

At the end of the first book Tom and his girlfriend, Hester Shaw, head off into the sunset in their airship, after many troubles with traction cities and the anti-traction league. We meet them again two years later, heading north to the Arctic where they encounter the moving city of Anchorage. It's practically deserted after a plague wiped out most of the inhabitants, including its leaders - and it's their teenage daughter, Freya, who is now in charge of this 'ghost' city. Tom recognises a kindred spirit in Freya who, although somewhat spoilt, is a history buff like him. They become rather too close for Hester's liking and when, one night, she catches them kissing she takes their airship and betrays the city to Arkangel, the worst kind of predator city. Things go from bad to worse and Tom is captured by The Lost Boys who live in the underwater city of Grimsby and are led by a Fagin-like character known only as 'Uncle'. Tom is in deep trouble and so is Hester who now regrets her hasty actions and has to shift heaven and earth to put things right again. Not only that, there is one very serious war looming...

I'm so impressed with this series. The plots are imaginative and pacey but most of all there's very little that's cosy here. The world these people inhabit is dangerous and getting more so by the minute: nowhere is safe. Reeve's writing style has you on the edge of your seat, wondering what on earth will happen next. And his characters are complex... the good guys do bad things or are guilty of bad judgement or of fancying someone they shouldn't. The bad guys have their reasons and sometimes surprise you, and things are not always what they seem, which keeps the reader guessing. It's very refreshing to find this kind of ambiguity in young adult writing - refreshing but very, very pleasing. I wouldn't hesitate to recommend this series to anyone who enjoys YA writing that is not formulaic. Not that I have anything against formulaic, I like it in fact, but there are times when it's good to be taken by surprise and this is one of them. An excellent read.

Thursday, 20 November 2008


So I've been thinking about snow. Not because we have some today, it's actually a mild, breezy, pleasant day, but partly because it's due to get a lot colder by the weekend and the forecast is for 'wintery showers'. Of course, that could mean anything in this country, ranging from nothing at all, to half a dozen snow flakes, to this, from our winter of 2005:

Somehow or other I'm not expecting that this weekend.

Anyway, the other reason for me thinking about snow is that the book I'm reading now, Predator's Gold by Philip Reeve, and the book I read before it, Dead Cold by Louise Penny, are both books that have snowy settings. The former is set in the Arctic of the future and the latter in Quebec in winter. And they made me realise just how much I love reading books with winter-wonderland settings. So that, of course, started a book hunt around the house. Does anyone else love doing this or is it just me?

Here's what I came up with:

Hmm. I don't know why but I would have expected more. So I tried to think of more, but other than the wonderful first chapters of The Wind in the Willows nothing much came to mind. Although one of Ellis Peters's Brother Cadfael books, The Virgin in the Ice, has a very cold winter setting too, if memory serves, and is my favourite of the twenty or so books.

I did find a list of sorts here and that does provide a few interesting alternatives but nowhere else could I find a recommended list of 'snowy' books. Not even on Amazon's listmania.

So I was wondering... do any of you have any favourite books that have snow settings? Or even just 'wintery' settings - I'm not that fussed - just really in the mood for sitting indoors by the fire and reading about winter.


Sunday, 16 November 2008

Library challenge

I'm going to be careful about the book challenges I take on next year, only doing those that are flexible and that really suit me. Obviously, I will probably do Carl's challenges as those are a 'must' for me. Other than those though I have two finishing at the end of this year... and then only have one left - the Awards challenge which finishes in June. When I read about a new challenge that BooksPlease is doing for 2009 I considered several things; does it suit me? Have I time for it? Is it flexible? Answering 'yes' to all of those questions I really think I must take this one on.

Yes... it's a library book challenge! And it's being hosted by J. Kaye's Book Blog.

There will be three sizes of challenges.

** The first is to read 12 books from your local library in 2009.
** The second is to read 25 books from your local library in 2009.
** The third is to read 50 books from your local library in 2009.

You decide which one of the three challenges is best for you.

Here are the guidelines:

1) You can join anytime as long as you don’t start reading your books prior to 2009.

2) This challenge is for 2009 only. The last day to have all your books read is December 31, 2009.

3) You can join anytime between now and December 31, 2009.

My aim will be to read 25 books. So far this year I've read 18 books from the library so a total of 25 in 2009 should be achievable. Really looking forward to this fun challenge.

Books read for this challenge:

1. In the Woods - Tana French
2. The Jewel of Seven Stars - Bram Stoker
3. Runemarks - Joanne Harris
4. The Valley of Secrets - Charmian Harris
5. Remember Me? - Sophie Kinsella
6. Larklight - Philip Reeve
7. The Graveyard Book - Neil Gaiman
8. The Sedgemoor Strangler - Peter Lovesey
9. Morrigan's Cross - Nora Roberts
10.The Good Thief - Hannah Tinti
11.Touchstone - Laurie R. King
12.The Circle - Peter Lovesey
13.Last Rituals - Yrsa Sigurdardottir
14.Snow Blind - P.J. Tracy
15.Grey Souls - Philippe Claudel
16.Trains and Buttered Toast - John Betjeman
17.Skulduggery Pleasant - Derek Landy
18.The Terracotta Dog - Andrea Camilleri
19.Endless Night - Agatha Christie
20.Inspector Ghote's First Case - H.R.F. Keating
21.A Christmas Journey - Anne Perry
22.Good Behaviour - Molly Keane
23.Relics - Pip Vaughan-Hughes
24.The Coffin Trail - Martin Edwards
25.No Such Thing as Dragons - Philip Reeve


Saturday, 15 November 2008

Mortal Engines and Dead Cold

Two shortish book reviews today. The first is Mortal Engines by Philip Reeve. This YA book was a 'gold' winner in the Nestlé Book Prize, won the Blue Peter book of the year award, and was shortlisted for the Whitbread Children's Book of the Year award. All in all I think that's enough awards for me to include it as a title in the list of my books for the Awards challenge being hosted by

Tom, an orphan, is an apprentice to the Guild of Historians in London. But this is no ordinary city of London. This is London centuries after the sixty minute war and this London, like many other cities and towns in the world, travels - on wheels or tracks. And it eats other, smaller towns in order to keep going. One momentous day Tom prevents the murder of his idol, Valentine, head of the Guild of Historians and famous archaeologist. The would-be murderer, a teenager like himself, is Hester Shaw, grossly disfigured in the face and out for vengeance. Instead of being lauded as a hero, circumstances intervene and Tom suddenly finds himself falling down a waste-chute. When he comes to, he is alone with Hester Shaw in the Out-country and London, his home, is disappearing into the distance. Disenchanted as he was with his life, this is not what he wanted. Who is this girl and what is her reason for wanting Valentine dead? And, more importantly, how can he possibly return home?

Quite easy to understand why this one won all its awards - it's a cracking tale! I think it's described as YA fantasy but, to my mind, its post-apocalyptic setting is more akin to sci fi not fantasy. Whatever its label, it's an excellent, pacey read. Very imaginative - who would have thought of moving cities? - with good characterisation and many twists and turns. And, like J.K. Rowling, Reeve doesn't hesitate to kill off his characters when necessary... quite shockingly in some instances. Be warned! I've just started the second book in the series, Predator's Gold, and there are two more after that.


Next up, Dead Cold by Louise Penny, the second book in her CI Armand Gamache crime series.

The setting is, as with the first book, the village of Three Pines in Quebec, about an hour and half from Montreal. During a curling match, out on the frozen lake, with the whole village in attendance, CC de Poitiers is murdered - electrocuted to be exact. No one is terribly sorry, her husband, daughter and residents of village all hated her. So the list of suspects is as long as your arm - and who is this woman anyway? Why are there no records of her childhood anywhere? Gamache is pleased to be back in the village of Three Pines and, along with his assistant, Beauvoir, and various officers, one of whose loyalty could be questionable, sets about solving this most complicated of mysteries.

Hard to emphasize enough how much I enjoyed this book. It takes place around Christmas, with an extremely snowy setting, so I'm thinking that this atmosphere is probably what appealed to me most about it. It's wonderfully done to the point where you can almost feel the intense cold. That said, the plot is nothing to sniff at either. The twists and turns keep you turning the pages, wondering what will happen next. I changed my mind about whodunnit around six times and up to the end didn't really know for sure. There's also quite a nice background story going on with a conflict between the charismatic Gamache and one of his superiors; I'm assuming that will continue in the next book which is The Cruellest Month, set in Spring. The first two were Autumn and Winter, the fourth book, The Murder Stone, is just out and set in Summer. Great read for crime buffs... and even though I'm not one (although I am starting to rethink that), I absolutely loved it.


Tuesday, 11 November 2008

Bookish meme

My lovely friend Deslily at Here, there and everywhere said she hoped I would do this meme - '7 random bookish things about me' - and as I'm always happy to natter about books, here goes.

1. I have this fantasy whereby I go somewhere totally peaceful for a holiday and do nothing but read. My ideal location would be a log cabin by a lake. England isn't exactly famous for such places so I'm thinking it would have to be somewhere in America or Scandinavia. It sounds idyllic, sitting outside the cabin with a lovely view over the lake and mountains just reading and snoozing and cooking something nice on BBQ for meals. Dream on.

2. Fantasy number two is being snowed in, in the middle of winter, in a cabin in the mountains, with Harrison Fo... I mean, um, 'loads of books' and nothing to do except read beside a roaring log fire, and make soup.

3. My tbr mountain is massive. I'm not that young any more and it seems I share with a few other bloggers the worry that I may not live long enough to finish my tbr pile but also, in my case, to read all of the books I want to read. I should stop buying books really so that the first worry might diminish a bit. Naturally, I won't or perhaps 'can't' because it is an addiction this book buying thing. Here's the current state of my tbr pile:

As you can see I'm having to shove them in between the books and the shelf above now. (Some of these have been read I should add.)

4. Which leads me to 'why' this addiction. It's a tough one to answer. I think possibly I have this inate curiosity about other people and their lives, the stories they have to tell etc. And books, fiction and non-fiction, feed that because that's what they are - people's lives between the covers of a book. I truly believe that all bookworms have this too and that's why we connect so well. We're all naturally curious and have, imo anyway, a special kind of intelligence and an enthusiasm for knowledge.

5. One of the real pleasures of my life these days is discussing books with my eight year old grandaughter. She is now reading some of the YA books that my daughter and her husband read and feel are suitable for her age group. At eight a little care still needs to be taken about content but she gobbled up the Narnia books for instance and adored them. I have a feeling that this little pleasure of mine is only going to increase as she gets older.

6. I'm really bad at starting new series of books. By that I mean that I have far too many on the go. I did a list the other day and found that I have 18 series started (fantasy, crime, novels) and 14 that I want to start at some stage. It's ridiculous. I have to blame someone so I blame partly my eldest daughter who reads YA fantasy and is always recommending new series, but also bloggers like Deslily, Nymeth and Darla who do exactly the same thing! Not to mention Danielle at A Work in Progress, with her wonderful crime and novel recs, and Booksplease, and Tara at Books and Cooks, and Elaine at Random Jottings who's responsible for the Mapp and Lucia thing and well... many others too numerous to mention but you'll know who you are I'm sure. Of course, it's mainly my own fault for not having the willpower to ignore these wonderful bookish posts...

7. And then there are charity shops of course. It seems I can't go anywhere without 'just popping in' to one or two to see what treasures they're concealing within. If Hubby is with me I just do one or two to prove I have some restraint. (HAHA) If, like yesterday, my eldest daughter is there in his place, we do every one we come across. I think we did every charity shop in the Exeter shopping centre and actually, I wasn't that bad because I *only* came away with three books:

For £3.50 I got a book of ghost stories by Sheridan le Fanu, a crime book I saw reviewed somewhere and have been looking for for a while now - Miss Smilla's Feeling for Snow by Peter Hoeg and, best of all, this lovely hardback book of creepy stories by Daphne du Maurier. I mean... how could I possibly leave that behind???

And because I can I'll do an 8th. bookish thing about me.

8. I really, really, really do not understand people who never read. When I hear people say, 'I've never read a book in my life' I am totally flabbergasted and can't imagine how they ever manage to cope.

Monday, 10 November 2008

Holiday snaps

It's about as wet and miserable as it could possibly be today, 'soup' weather, so I spent the morning making Tara's lentil soup. We had some for lunch and it was absolutely delicious. There's plenty left for another day and it's a definite 'make again' recipe.

It's 'indoor' weather as well as 'soup' weather so I got going with our Cornish holiday photos from several weeks ago and am posting a few here. This first lot are of Sennen Cove which is on the same stretch of coast as Land's End, facing the Atlantic Ocean - next stop Newfoundland if you're mad enough to jump in. This wasn't a day for jumping in though... we'd had a real Autumn gale the day before and, knowing the area as I do (born and brought up here), I realised that Sennen was the place to go to see some good, rough seas.

Two views from the car park. That's Cape Cornwall in the distance in the first one, the only cape in England. Closer photos of that next time.

The little harbour at Sennen.

I love all the nets and floats piled up for the winter.

The sea was crashing over this break-water in huge waves and cascading down like a water-fall.

More of the coastline.

Two of the bay itself... very popular surfing area in the summer.

It was quite a cold day - our youngest daughter, our grandson (aged just two) and my husband, all wrapped up against the biting wind. I want a Thomas the Tank Engine hat like my grandson's!

Reading-wise I've just finished a YA fantasy, Mortal Engines by Philip Reeve, and liked it so much I'm off to the library to try and get part two this afternoon. More on that book later in the week. Now reading Dead Cold, the second in the CI Armand Gamache books by Louise Penny.

Sunday, 9 November 2008

All Quiet on the Western Front

One of the things you hear concerning the novel, All Quiet on the Western Front, by Erich Maria Remarque, is that it is the definitive book about WWI and that everyone should read it. I've always felt slightly ashamed that I never have - how can I say that I have an interest in books about that conflict when I've never read All Quiet on the Western Front? Ludicrous. So, this year I was absolutely determined to put that right, despite having pulled out half a dozen other WWI and 2 books that I also wanted to read - this library book was coming first. And it did, and I'm so glad I made the effort at last.

In essence this is quite a simple book. It concerns a class of German students, aged around 18, whose over zealous, jingoistic school master practically forces them to sign up to fight in the war. Some are more eager than others but none feel able to refuse. The narrator is Paul Baumer an academic, thoughtful boy from a poor background, and the book follows his and half a dozen of his friends' experiences as they try to stick together throughout the war.

Their basic training is brutal, made worse by Himmelstross, the monster who is in charge of their unit. He is cruel beyond words and develops a real hatred for Baumer's group of friends. After that they are sent to the front and most of the book deals with conditions...

"They [the rats] seem to be really hungry. They have had a go at practically everybody's bread. Kropp has wrapped his in tarpaulin and put it under his head, but he can't sleep because they run across his face to try and get at it. Detering tried to outwit them: he fixed a thin wire to the ceiling and hooked the bundle with his bread onto it. During the night he puts on his flashlight and sees the wire swinging backwards and forwards. Riding on his bread is a great fat rat."

...going over the top, how it feels being under fire and the part 'chance' plays in whether they live or die.

"It's this awareness of chance that makes us so indifferent. A few months ago I was playing cards in a dugout; after a a bit I got up and went out to go and talk to some men I knew in another dugout. When I got back, there was nothing left of the first one, a direct hit from a heavy shell had flattened it. I went back to the other dugout and got there just in time to help dig the men out. While I was away it had been buried."

At one stage Paul is sent home on leave for two weeks. The sense of alienation he feels from his family, friends and various townsfolk, who have no idea what he and thousands of other young men are going through on the front, is intense and heart-breaking. He ponders whether an entire generation, those who survive, will ever be able to live a normal life again. The men who are fighting have become like machines, hardly capable of thinking like human beings anymore. All that matters is staying alive, where the next meal is coming from, and supporting their comrades.

There is much more to this book of course: I could go on and on. In my opinion it *is* the definitive book on the Great War. Some might say that it is written by 'the other side', the enemy we were fighting and yes, this is true. But the odd thing is that you forget that when you're reading it. Remarque makes hardly any mention of British, French or American troops, referring to them as 'the others' most of the time and the narrator and his friends just become human beings caught up in terrible events that they have no control over.

There was a comment in the paper this weekend to the effect that with most wars people know what they're fighting for and know there's a good reason for being there. But with WWI hardly anyone actually understood why exactly they were risking their lives and certainly this is made very apparent in the book. The futility and waste, the human suffering and appalling conditions are really brought home to the reader. It is the definitive book because in it I can see other books that have been written since where the author has clearly used this work as a reference point. So, do I agree that everyone should read All Quiet on the Western Front? Yes, absolutely. Millions died in this futile conflict, believing it was the war to end all wars. We should never forget their sacrifice.

Wednesday, 5 November 2008

Daphne du Maurier

I'm currently reading All Quiet on the Western Front as my WW1 'remembrance' read leading up to the 11th. November - Armistice day. It's brilliant but hard going so for light relief I started Myself When Young, Daphne du Maurier's autobiography of her life as a child (born 1907), teenager and young woman, up to when she married in 1932.

The idea was to read this slowly, interspersed with the other book, and I'd probably take a week or more to read it. Ho ho... I didn't bargain for an absolutely wonderful little book, so beautifully written that I wouldn't be able to leave it alone. Daphne du Maurier's background is not one I should have been able to identify with much. She was born into a privileged family, her father, Sir Gerald du Maurier, was a famous and successful actor, her grandfather, George, a famous novelist (author of Trilby) and artist. So money was no object. The three girls, Angela, Daphne and Jeanne, were educated privately and at home and then sent to finishing school in France. Throughout all this though, Daphne never really felt that she fitted in. She was a loner, an avid reader. She disliked the social whirl so intensely that she longed to be free of it all, resenting the fact that because she was born a woman this might not be possible. Eventually, of course, the family discovered Cornwall and Daphne realised that that was where she was at her happiest, dressed any old how and messing about in boats or walking the cliffs - which is how she discovered a certain house called Menabilly...

I'm not usually one of these people who keeps checking to see how many pages are left till the end of a book because I dread it ending. The end is the end as far as I'm concerned - I don't generally hanker after more. I did in this instance though. When I read in the introduction that Myself When Young was meant to form part of a much longer autobiography that never got written, I felt bereft. I really, really want to know a lot more about this wonderful author's fascinating life. Luckily, there is what I gather to be an excellent biography by Margaret Forster, plus Daphne wrote other books about her family and in particular her father, Gerald, not to mention Vanishing Cornwall and Rebecca Notebook: And Other Memories both of them highly autobiographical I believe. I hope so, I really do. And I recommend this lovely book to anyone who has read and enjoyed any of Daphne's other titles - I can't imagine anyone not being delighted with it to be honest.

Tuesday, 4 November 2008

RIP challenge wrap-up

Well, Carl's RIP challenge is over for another year and it's time to wrap mine up.

I chose 'Peril the First' which was to 'Read Four books of any length, from any subgenre of scary stories that you choose' between the 1st. September and the 31st. October. I chose a pool of twelve books and from those I managed to read six, which was more than I expected, so I'm quite pleased. The books were:

The Ghost Stories of M.R. James - selected by Michael Cox
The Vampire Tapestry - Suzy McKee Charnas
The Vanished - Celia Rees
Twilight - Stephenie Meyer
The Moor - Laurie R. King
Tunnels- Roderick Gordon and Brian Williams

I enjoyed them all, every single one. Hard to choose a favourite but if pushed it would probably be between The Ghost stories of M.R. James and Tunnels. But I also loved The Moor and Twilight... Let's face it, I'm likely to love anything that comes under the heading of 'supernatural'!

I thoroughly enjoyed the challenge and would like to thank Carl for hosting it once again. Looking forward to The Once Upon a Time one now. :-)