Sunday, 19 May 2019

Armchair travelling


Recently, I seem to have spent a fair bit of literary time in France and Italy, not on purpose, sometimes it just works out that way. Possibly I'm in the mood for those countries right now in a way I wasn't during the winter... which I suppose does make sense.

Anyway, first up, The Riviera Set by Mary S. Lovell (Read in April). This is my 11th. book for Bev's MTR Reading challenge 2019 and my 2nd. book for the The European Reading challenge 2019 covering the country of France.


This book is subtitled, '1920-1960: The golden years of glamour and excess' and that just about sums it up. The author chose a house, Chateau de l'Horizon, and its history to concentrate on and starts the book with the history of the woman who originally built it, Maxine Elliot. Maxine, born Jessica Dermot, in Maine in 1868 was of fairly humble stock. She became an actress and eventually ended up in England where she fell in love with the aristocracy and its way of life and determined to be accepted into it. This she eventually managed and after becoming a successful actress and wealthy business woman built the Chateau de l'Horizon in 1930 on the French Riviera between Cannes and Juan-les-Pins. It became a magnet for the rich and famous: actors, politicians and the British aristocracy all stayed there. Winston Churchill was a regular visitor and there's a lot about his visits which he mainly undertook on his own as his wife, Clementine, hated The Riviera and the kind of people it attracted. The Duke and Duchess of Windsor lived nearby, at least until the war, and sections that involved them were also intriguing. When Maxine died the house was eventually bought by Prince Aly Khan and was where he first met and fell in love with Rita Heyworth. In fact, he had a decided penchant for actresses which effectively disinherited him and prevented him becoming the Aga Khan when his father died. This was a fascinating book. Mary Lovell is an excellent biographer, I thoroughly enjoyed The Mitford Sisters... this book is not quite as good, possibly the subject being not quite as rivetting, but I was nevertheless very impressed and definitely plan to read more by her. (I now own The Churchills.)


Next, A Small Place in Italy by Eric Newby. This is my book 12 for Bev's MTR Reading challenge 2019 and my 3rd. book for The European Reading challenge 2019, covering the country of Italy.

One of the most well-known travel writers of the 20th. century, Eric Newby, recounts how he and his wife Wanda, whom he met during WW2 and features in Love and War in the Apennines, bought and renovated a ruin of a house, 'I Castagni', in Italy, beginning in 1967. As they were not living there year-round the work had to be done during their holidays, although they did seem to have quite long breaks away from England. This was a charming book, I loved getting to know his Italian neighbours, all their quirks, their routines which had not changed in hundreds of years (the spot was very isolated at that time) and their kindness which at times was overwhelming. The Newbys took part in the yearly wine-making and the descriptions of how it used to be when the grapes were picked by hand, and how it was an honour to be asked to help your neighbours, were fascinating. My goodness it was real hard graft, brightened only by interruptions for meals and plenty of wine. I love this type of book, these days there are a lot of French based ones, a few of which I've read, but it made a refreshing change to have an Italian one, although I suspect if I looked I would find there are a few modern Italian ones out there. Perhaps I will look.


Lastly, a fiction book, Mr. Gandy's Grand Tour by Alan Titchmarsh.

Timothy Gandy, in his mid-fifties and married with three grown-up children, suddenly becomes a widower when his wife, Isobel, collapses and dies unexpectedly. He's always wanted to travel abroad but Isobel was a poor traveller so they never did. Since childhood, Timothy has been interested in people who did The Grand Tour of Europe in the 19th. century and early 20th., taking in the art and the culture of countries such as France and Italy. Life with Isobel has turned him into a rather quiet, timid sort of man but he feels that if he doesn't go on this tour now, he never will. Paris is his first destination and he is quite unprepared for an encounter that happens there as he's painting, and the consequences. In fact, his whole holiday is going to follow this pattern and Tim not quite sure whether this is a good thing, or bad.

Well now, I read something by TV gardener, Alan Titchmarsh, a fair few years ago and wasn't all that smitten. It seemed unremarkable: although the writing wasn't bad, I didn't connect with his characters very much, it all seemed a bit 'surface'. But it seems Mr. Titchmarsh has now matured as a writer and this offering is a lot better. Tim is a delightful character with depth and empathy, self-searching and introspective. I loved his voyage of discovery and the gentle way he made friends and subsequently helped and encouraged people with their problems. It was also a voyage of self-discovery for him, sometimes painful, always illuminating, never boring. If you like quiet, introspective, gentle books and also enjoy a bit of armchair travelling then quite honestly, you could do a lot worse.


~~~oOo~~~

Monday, 13 May 2019

New books!


So what with a recent birthday and using that as an excuse to buy myself a few books as well *cough* I've ended up with a neat little (?) pile of new books.


Not the best photo ever but never mind. From the bottom:

Fireside Gothic by Andrew Taylor. Three weird tales in this one and all of them sound excellent. Bit M.R. James-ish I fancy.

Lost in a Pyramid and & Other Classic Mummy Stories, selected by Andrew Smith. Pretty much what it says on the cover I assume - mad tales about pyramids.

A Field Guide to Getting Lost by Rebecca Solnit. Essays about being lost with subjects such as mapmaking, Hitchcock movies and Renaissance painting.

Journey into Cyprus by Colin Thubron. Spotted this in Waterstones Swansea, when we were there to see the author, John Connolly, a week or two ago. Grabbed because it's an unusual country for my Europe challenge.

Beyond the Footpath, Mindful Adventures for Modern Pilgrims by Clare Gogerty. Cogitating on walking, tips, ideas etc. Lovely cover.

Murder in the Bookshop by Carolyn Wells. 'Not sure I like the sound of this one' said assistant chappy in Waterstones...

Forget the Sleepless Shores by Sonya Taaffe. Strange stories to do with water. Blurb: Readers should expect to be captivated by many ghosts and spirits who inhabit brine, some from tears of heartache and loss, some from strange bodies of water, not necessarily found on the map but definitely discovered through charting a course through the perilous straits of author Taaffe's imaginations, which is eerie and queer (by every difinition of the word). Sounds pretty darn good to me. Birthday gift from my best friend. :-)

The Churchills by Mary S. Lovell. This author has become my favourite biographer and with my interest in Winston Churchill this was a must. Birthday gift from one of my daughters.

So... just a small *cough* pile. They'll sit on the shelf behind me for a while, doing their thing and making me happy. Small pleasures.

~~~oOo~~~

Wednesday, 8 May 2019

Two crime novels


As usual I'm several reviews behind so it's time to catch up on a couple.

First up, The Darkness by Ragnar Jónasson:

DI Hulda Hermannsdóttir is being forced into a retirement she doesn't want. Living alone after the death of her daughter and husband some years ago, her job is all Hulda has. Her boss tells her she can have two more weeks at work and she can spend it investigating any cold case she chooses. Hulda chooses the unsolved death of a young Russian girl washed up in an isolated bay on the coast. The girl was an asylum seeker and the officer leading the enquiry had concluded that she had taken her own life, depressed at how long her case was taking. But that officer is notoriously lax and Hulda does not believe the conclusion for one moment. Hulda has two weeks to prove him wrong and find a murderer.

It's a bit grim this one. I suppose I shouldn't have been surprised as Scandi noir does have a bit of a depressing reputation, but I don't read a lot of it so it did feel a bit relentless and I was taken aback by it. Poor Hulda is a very sad case. As the book goes along you find out what happened to her daughter and then later her husband, which explains her isolation and disconnection from her work colleagues. And they're a mean spirited lot, bullying really, it's horrible. Nothing seems to go right 'at all' and the ending... goodness me! I gather book 2 goes back to events 25 years ago, if I'm honest I don't think I can stand it. Even though this is a good book, very well written and gripping with an excellent feel for Iceland, the series is not, I fear, for me.


Lastly, The Dark Angel by Elly Griffiths. This qualifies for Bev's Calendar of Crime challenge under the August category of 'Primary action takes place in this month'.

Ruth Galloway is contacted by a friend in Italy, Dr. Angelo Morelli. He presents an archaeology TV show where he often unearths burial sites on camera. His latest skeleton reveal came with a buried mobile phone with the text message, 'Surprise'. Aside from this, Angelo thinks someone is trying to kill him and contacts Ruth because she's a bone expert who has also been involved in murder investigations. Ruth takes her daughter, Kate, and her best friend, Shona, and her little boy, Louis, hoping they can also make a holiday of the trip. They stay in an old house in a historical village, it's gorgeous but a bit too hot for Ruth. She has a difficult time balancing work and holiday but it's quite doable until an earthquake strikes which brings DCI Harry Nelson out from England in a panic. Ruth can't decide whether to be pleased or annoyed but can't help admitting that his help with the inexplicable goings on is invaluable.

This series is like a drug for me. Once I start one of the books I can't put it down and I would probably have to say that it's my favourite crime series, although there are other strong contenders. I love the archaeology that comes with every book, the history, and yes... all the talk about bones too, love it all. But most of all I think I like the back-story of Ruth and Harry and Harry's wife, Michelle, their daughters, the wonderful Cathbad, all of the characters feel like friends and it matters what happens to them. This book also has a bit of a shock ending, but every one of the Ruth Galloway books has some kind of shock occurrence close to the end. I even find myself waiting for it now. Wonderful, 5 stars on Goodreads no question at all.

~~~oOo~~~

Saturday, 27 April 2019

Books Read in April


April was a slightly better than average reading month for me, seven books read and a nicely varied bunch as regards genre.

18. The Toy Makers - Robert Dinsdale

19. The Tattooist of Auschwitz - Heather Morris

20. Birds of a Feather - Jacqueline Winspear

21. As the Crow Flies - Damien Boyd

22. Cheerfulness Breaks In - Anglea Thirkell

23. Pardonable Lies - Jacqueline Winspear

24. The Riviera Set - Mary S. Lovell (To be reviewed.)


So, seven books, six fiction, one non-fiction, a real mixed bag including three crime yarns, three historical fiction stories and a history of the French Riviera from 1900 to 1960ish. Two of the crime books were also historical so it seems I lived mainly in the first half of the 20th. century for the whole of the month of April...

And it continues as I'm presently reading this:



Churchill featured heavily in The Riviera Set so I'm really just continuing on from that, plus I'm currently watching The Crown on Netflix in which his presence is also rather prevalent. Funny how one thing can often lead to another.

Favourite book of April is this:



Pardonable Lies by Jacqueline Winspear was *just* superb.

Last month I listed six books I hoped to read in April. Of those I actually read three and abandoned one, so am quite pleased with that.


Books I would like to get to in May:




That last one, Beyond the Footpath by Clare Gogerty, might well be in the running for nicest cover of the year come the end of December. :-)

One difficultly is staring me in the face already. The first two books are Icelandic, which to choose for the European Reading Challenge? Eeeek... I don't need this kind of stress!

Happy reading in the glorious month that is May.

~~~oOo~~~

Thursday, 25 April 2019

Pardonable Lies


Pardonable Lies by Jacqueline Winspear is my 14th. Book for Bev's Calendar of Crime challenge, covering the September category of 'Primary action takes place in this month'.


Maisie Dobbs is engaged by Sir Cecil Lawton to prove that his son, Ralph, really did die in the Great War. His wife died recently believing the young man was still alive despite the fact that the plane he was flying crash landed and burst into flames. On her deathbed she made her husband promise to find out the truth of the matter, even though he is sure his son died in the aircraft.

At the same time Maisie is trying help a young girl DI Stratton has arrested for murdering her uncle. The girl is hiding something and is thus uncommunicative: Stratton thinks Maisie might be able to get through to her.

All this means she is busy so Maisie is not exactly thrilled when her close friend from university, Priscilla, asks her to find out how her brother, Peter, died during the war. Priscilla, now married and living in France, lost three beloved brothers in the conflict, plus, like Maisie, is still traumatised after what the two of them went through as nurses on the western front. Maisie knows that this and the Lawton case will take her back to France, a place she desperately does not want to go, the memories being just too awful.

It soon emerges that someone else does not want her to go either. Unexplained 'accidents' and some poisoned chocolates indicate that Maisie is about to uncover secrets that someone would really rather she didn't.

Hard to put into words what a brilliant book this is. Book three in the Maisie Dobbs series is rather heart-breaking and painful to read in places, dealing as it does with the fall-out from World War One, still ongoing even after twelve years. People who lived through it and came out the other side were utterly traumatised and it never stopped, it might go away for a bit but then return with a vengeance, as Maisie discovers when she's forced to return to France and the site of the field-hospital where she served. There's only a brief description of what was happening there towards the end of the war but goodness me it's gut-wrenching.

There is, in fact, a lot going on in this book. Don't expect a traditional murder mystery because you won't find it here. Instead there are many topics explored, legal representation for the poor, the plight of gay men in the early 20th. century, the role of psychic mediums after the war, the intelligence secrets and missions of World War 1 and so on. Female police constables were just starting to be seen, so that was interesting. Maisie is rather 'ahead of the times' and can intuitively see things others cannot, in more ways than one, which fascinated me a bit. I can't wait to see what kind of journey this series takes me on. I'm becoming rather addicted I think and I can't believe I didn't find them interesting 10 years ago. I'm coming around to the idea that for everyone there's a time to read certain books and this is my time for Maisie Dobbs.


~~~oOo~~~

Saturday, 20 April 2019

Catching up


A couple of brief reviews to catch up on, I seem to be reading slightly quicker than I have time to review at the moment.

First up, As the Crow Flies by Damien Boyd. This is my 13th. book for Bev's Calendar of Crime challenge, qualifying for the August category, 'A Title beginning with A'.

Detective Inspector Nick Dixon has transferred from London back to his local patch in Somerset and joined The Avon and Somerset Police. When news comes through that his ex-climbing partner, Jake Fayter, has been killed in a climbing accident in Cheddar Gorge, Nick can't bring himself to believe that it was an accident: Jake was far too experienced and careful. But why would anyone want his friend dead? The parents ask Nick to investigate but the more he discovers the more he realises he didn't know Jake quite as well as he thought he did.

This is the first in a series that has already comprises 9 books. It's quite a short book but as far as I can see the books get longer, which I'm pleased to see. It was well written, I would have liked a bit more character depth but I rather suspect that will happen as the series goes along. One aspect I thoroughly enjoyed was that the setting was local to me. (I even know someone in the Avon and Somerset Police.) I loved being able to easily picture the Somerset Levels, the Somerset coast, the towns which cropped up, Cheddar Gorge... though I have never been climbing there heaven forfend. I do love reading about climbing though and this really ticked that particular box, excellent descriptions of what it's actually like. A good start to this new to me series - it's not the best I've ever read but it was a good, solid read and I have a suspicion it will settle in nicely as the books procede so I've reserved book 2 from the library.

Lastly, Cheerfulness Breaks In by Angela Thirkell. This qualifies for the World at War reading challenge, which is being hosted by Becky. The category is 'Any Book Published 1939 - 1945'.

This ninth book in Angela Thirkell's delightful Barsetshire series of books deals with the outbreak of World War 2. At the beginning most people are hopeful war won't happen but rather resigned to the fact that it probably will. The author Laura Morland, who has featured in several other books with her son Tony, moves out of her house and goes to stay with the Birketts who run a local private school for boys. She's there for the duration acting as a secretary but is also good friends with Mrs. Birkett. Slowly but surely the young men get called away to war but at first most are training nearby or in charge of training. Refugees arrive at the school in the form of a London boys' school plus the village takes evacuees from London. Naturally chaos ensues as the the village copes with the conflicts between the different factions but there's no shortage of good-will and people do what they always do in difficult circumstances: cope.

It was interesting to read a fictional account about how people living out in the British countryside dealt with various things that were thrown at them at the beginning of the war. The uncertainty, the sudden influx of people whose ways were very different to their own, the young men suddenly plucked out of their normal lives to lives that were anything but normal... that must've been incredibly hard for their parents to bear. All of this is nicely woven into a story which basically deals with the lives of a handful of people - Laura Morland, The Birketts, Lydia Keith bravely coping with a sick mother and trying to run an estate, her suitor Noel Merton, recently conscripted etc. There's a huge cast of extras, I particulary loved Miss Hampton and Miss Bent, two lesbians who write erotic fiction and can't keep out of the local pub. Because, believe it or not, for a novel with a serious theme, it's also very funny. There's a wedding at the beginning where the Birketts have managed to marry off their wayward daughter, Rose (see Summer Half), and the recounting of it is hilarious. In fact I laughed a lot all the way through, Thirkell had a very light touch with humour and it's really to the fore here. The book is of its time, I'm very tolerant when it comes to the portrayal of attitudes from the past because it serves to illustrate how much things have changed, but one thing, comments about a disabled child, made even me blanch a bit. But there you go, life *was* like that and there's no use denying it. A thoroughly delightful read but with a huge cliff-hanger at the end, so beware!

Happy Easter to everyone. This is one of my favourite times of the year, Easter being a lot less stressful I find than Christmas so, naturally, I've gone down with a cold so that I can't quite enjoy it as much as I would like... no energy to get in the garden for instance. Never mind, it's meant I've been able to read rather a lot. Silver linings and all that...

~~~oOo~~~

Thursday, 11 April 2019

Birds of a Feather


Birds of a Feather by Jacqueline Winspear is my 12th. book for Bev's Calendar of Crime challenge, covering the April category of 'Author's birth month'.


The daughter of wealthy businessman, Joseph Waite, has gone missing. Charlotte Waite saw something in the paper one morning which alarmed her and subsequently disappeared off the face of the Earth. Waite doesn't want a lot of publicity so instead of calling the police he hires Maisie Dobbs to look into the matter. She's not very taken with the man but acknowledges that he's a good businessman and looks after the staff of his grocery chain well.

It doesn't take Maisie and her war veteran assistant, Billy Beale, long to discover that this is not the first time Charlotte has done a runner. Is she merely trying to escape her father's suffocating shackles once again or is there something more sinister going on? It seems it's the latter. Maisie discovers links between Charlotte and two women recently murdered by poisoning, and another who committed suicide. It seems the four women were close friends during World War One and it falls to Maisie and Billy to discover who and why someone wants them dead.

Yet another series I've done a complete reversal on, from not being that impressed with the first book some years ago, to rereading it, liking it a lot and moving on to this, book two, and loving it to bits. Why? Well, this time around I find I really love the relationships in it. There's Maisie and her father, Frankie, a man of humble origins, who can't understand why there's something preventing the two from being very close. Then there's Maisie's relationship with her two mentors, Lady Rowan who supported her financially through university, and Maurice Blanche her investigating mentor. Wouldn't we all like someone like these two in our lives?

Billy Beale is such an interesting character too, badly wounded in the war he's in constant pain and there's a secret he's keeping which is really worrying Maisie. She has a couple of suitors too, Chief Inspector Stratton whom Daisy helps sometimes, but he blots his copybook somewhat in this book, and a new chap, a Dr. Dene who runs a clinic for war veterans and is a friend of Maurice's. Interesting to see how that will pan out.

As to the mystery, well, if I'm honest, it wasn't rocket-science to guess who the culprit was quite early on. The interest for me was in why. And that aspect and discussions about it were beautifully handled and extremely interesting. And not a little heart-breaking really. I often think there's a lot more to be learnt about all kinds of subjects from a fictional book like this than from a non-fiction book... excellent though those can be. I've already reserved books three and four from the library and am hoping they'll arrive soon.

~~~oOo~~~

Tuesday, 9 April 2019

Catching up on reviews


First up, The Tattooist of Auschwitz by Heather Morris. This is my 4th. book for Becky's World at War reading challenge covering the category, 'A book set in Europe'.

Lale Sokolov and his family are part of a large Jewish community who live in Krompachy, Slovakia. After the Germans invade in 1939 their contented life slowly begins to disintegrate as the persecution of the Jews begins. In 1942 Lale is removed from his family and sent to Aushwitz-Birkenau in Poland. He doesn't know it's a concentration camp but when he realises this he decides to be a survivor. He's taken up by the Tattooist who has the job of tattooing prisoners deemed strong enough to work for the Germans, numbers tattooed on arms that will become iconic in decades to come. Eventually Lale finds himself the sole tattooist with privileges that include more food and a room of his own. He meets Gita, a female prisoner, and falls in love, he's determined that she too will survive this terrible place.

There seems to be some debate about whether this is fiction or non-fiction. I gather some of the facts presented are thought to be inaccurate, there's a good article about it here. Regardless, this is, obviously, a very sobering book to read. It's written totally without frills, starting from when Lale gets loaded onto a cattle truck with so many other men that there's hardly room to breathe, let alone anything else, right through to the end of the war when the Russians arrive. It is, of course, appalling. I've read quite a few books like this and every single time I end up wondering how on earth this kind of inhumanity can happen. The book may or may not be factually accurate but I'm pretty sure it gives a true account of what life was like in concentration camps, the way in which the lives of inmates were worth less than nothing, and what you had to do if you wanted to survive. We must never forget and if this book, accurate or inaccurate, helps us to keep the memory of the dead alive then that's fine by me.


Lastly, The Toy Makers by Robert Dinsdale.

The year is 1906 and Catherine Wray is young, single... and pregnant. She's from a middle-class family so arrangements have been made for her to go somewhere for the duration of her pregnancy: a home for unmarried mothers where she can have her baby and then have it taken for adoption. But Cathy has no intention of giving her baby away. She sees an advert for staff for The Emporium, a toyshop in London, and runs away from home. The Emporium is owned by Papa Jack, an elderly refugee from Eastern Europe, and his two sons, Kaspar and Emil, Kaspar being the eldest and most talented when it comes to creating magical toys. Because that's what The Emporioum is all about... magical toys. It opens on the first frost of the winter and closes when winter is over. Cathy finds a home there, hiding her pregnancy and loving the work and the people. She comes to the notice of the two sons and both fall in love with her but what will they do when Cathy can no longer hide her pregnancy and she will need the kind of help that neither are prepared for?

For me this was one of those books that made me sigh a bit. So much in it to love. It's beautifully written, a fascinating story with so many layers. Historically rivetting... the way in which World War One impinges on the idyll that is this wonderful shop full of magical toys is heart-breaking. There are other conflicts too, the two sons are constantly at loggerheads and the introduction of Cathy Wray into the mix is not helpful. I loved one of the back stories, that of Papa Jack and his forced march to Siberia and how he survived by making toys to stop being bullied. It was all beautifully told. Except... I didn't love the book. Awful thing to admit but I actually struggled to get to the end. I didn't want to give up on it as I actually wanted to know what happened, and there is an excellent twist at the end which was one of the best parts of the book for me. I think there are two reasons that I didn't love it. One was that I just didn't connect with the characters, especially Cathy... I honestly don't know why. The other is that long and frequent descriptions of toy soldiers and their battles are just not my thing. (Strange to admit but I was not a 'toy' child, I preferred books, jigsaw puzzles, colouring books and pencils.) Despite that, I still gave it four stars out of five on Goodreads because the writing was superb and it was not at all a 'bad' book, I just didn't connect with it as I had hoped.

~~~oOo~~~

Wednesday, 3 April 2019

Reading challenge update, the first 3 months


I went a wee bit mad this year and signed up for 6 reading challenges. But I know they're doable so am not fretting and it really is a very good way of getting books off the old TBR mountain. And so here we are, 3 months into the year (I know!) and, inspired by Margaret at Booksplease, it's time to review my progress with them... which ones are going well and which ones I need to pull my finger out for.

First up, The Mount TBR Reading challenge 2019 which is being hosted by Bev at MY READER'S BLOCK.


This runs from the 1st. January to the 31st. December. I'm doing Mont Blanc, for which I have to read 24 of my own books from before January the 1st. So far I've read 10.


Next, The Calendar of Crime challenge which is also being hosted by Bev and also runs from the 1st. January to the 31st. Dcember.




This, as the name suggests, is a calendar based challenge where various categories can be filled in. You can do one for each month or fill in as many as you like, there are 9 for each month. Great fun! So far I've read 11 books covering 7 months.


Next, The 2019 European Reading challenge which is being hosted by Rose City Reader.


This runs from the 1st. January 2019 to the 31st. January 2020. I'm doing the Five Star (Deluxe Entourage), which is to read at least 5 books by different European authors or books set in different European countries. I've read 1 but have loads more lined up.


Next, World at War which is being hosted by Becky's Book Reviews.


This is a Bingo based challenge and the idea is fill a line, across, down, diagonally, to get a Bingo. So far I'ved read 4 books, 2 each from 2 different columns so no actual 'bingo' just yet but I'll get there.


Next, The 12th. Annual Canadian Book challenge. This runs from the 1st. July 2018 to the 30th. June 2019.


The aim, for this challenge, is to read and review 13 or more Canadian books in a one year span: Canada Day to Canada Day. I came late to this one so have only read 4.


And lastly, What's in a Name? which is being hosted by Carolina Book Nook and runs from the 1st. January to the 31st. December.


For this there are 6 categories to complete, involving book titles, so 6 books to read. I've read 1.

And so. It seems I'm doing well with 3 challenges, Mt. TBR, Calendar of Crime and World at War. Not so well with Canada, What's in a Name? and Europe. Two of those I came later to so that explains that but as regards What's in Name? I need to pull my finger out and get reading, although 5 more books in 9 months is very doable so I'm not concerned at all. To be honest, I'm not concerned about any of them, I'm just enjoying the ride.

~~~oOO~~~

Sunday, 31 March 2019

Books read in March


It's been gardening weather for the last week, so I've been reading a bit less than usual. A tricky jigsaw puzzle has also been taking up my time, but that's the way it goes sometimes and I don't stress over it. It's nice to spend your spare time doing what you fancy rather than what you feel obliged to do. So I've read five books this month, slightly less than normal, but that's ok, next month I may read more. Or less. Or exactly the same number. Who knows!

Anyway, these are they:

13. Weekend at Thrackley - Alan Melville

14. Miss Marple's Final Cases - Agatha Christie

15. The Dancer at the Gai-Moulin - Georges Simenon

16. New Europe - Michael Palin. A trip around the ex-iron curtain countries in 2008 by the intrepid maker of travel documentaries, Michael Palin. I enjoyed the TV series very much but found the book dragged a bit. It was saved by his exquisite writing, he has wonderful descriptive powers and a very amusing way of expressing himself on paper. I laughed quite a lot.

17. City of the Lost - Kelly Armstrong


Favourite book of the five would probably be:


















Weekend at Thrackley by Alan Melville was beautifully written, funny and clever. You can't ask for more than that.

The two books I'm reading at the moment are:




The first is quite long, the second rather harrowing, so they're taking me a while to get through. When I've finished them - hopefully this week - I shall move on to one of these:





Happy reading in April!




~~~oOo~~~

Sunday, 24 March 2019

City of the Lost


City of the Lost by Kelley Armstrong has languished on my Nook for a couple of years. My eldest daughter recommended the series but I completely forgot about it, and even that I had the first book, until I saw Kay's post and a bell went off in my addled brain. I do find that ereaders, Kindles and Nooks (and I have both), are basically gigantic black holes for books though. No matter, I found the ebook and spent last week reading it.



Casey Duncan is a police detective living the city life in Canada (I didn't catch which city, Toronto I assume). She has a secret: she killed someone when she was in her teens. Her friend, Diana, who knows about this, has problems of her own. Her abusive and controlling ex-husband is making life intolerable to the point of violence against her. The two need to escape, move on again, but where? They hear about a place, deep in the Yukon forests, where people who need to escape from something can go. At a price. But 'price' to Casey is not an issue, her parents left her comfortably off when they died.

The town of Rockton is not easy to get into. You need good reasons to get past the ruling council, who don't themselves live there. Casey is helped by the fact that she's a detective and the town is in need of one to assist the sheriff. Eventually the two women manage to get in, Diana going ahead first, Casey following a few weeks later.

On arrival Casey is immediately taken up by the local law-enforcement officers, who are basically the sheriff, Eric Dalton, and Will Anders, a deputy. It's clear from the off that the sheriff is a difficult personality and Casey struggles to get along with him, suspecting that he doesn't trust her. He's in need of help though, as people are disappearing into the forest and dying, killed by persons unknown. Half the town are criminals but also out in the forest live several different kinds of undesirables, some a lot more undesirable than others. The situation is dangerous and highly volatile and Casey's life is further complicated by the fact that her friend, Diana, has managed to get in with a Bad Lot. How can life here in a small town in the Canadian wilderness possibly be more complicated than it was in a large metropolitan city?

Kelley Artmstrong's most famous series is of course 'Women of the Otherworld', a werewolf based horror series. I've tried so hard to like them but with zero success, something about them just doesn't appeal. I like her writing though, she's always very readable, and I've always regretted that I didn't like the Otherworld books, hoping that she might write something else that I like more.

Well she has. This crime based series is much more my thing though it has to be said, it does come really close to 'horror' without actually being of that genre. Armstrong really ramps it up with her hints of 'what's out there in the forest', aided and abetted by descriptions of what happens to people who inadvertently, or otherwise, go wandering off. I know there are plenty of 'winderness horror' books out there, I haven't read any, but I suspect this is possibly an acceptable alternative for wimps like me who don't actually want to be terrified, just mildly alarmed.

For that reason and for a very strong sense of place I have to say I enjoyed the book very much. I'm not so sure about the main characters. I quite liked Casey but wasn't ecstatic over her, same for Sheriff Dalton. I think, like many series, it's necessary to read several books in to really get used to the characters and allow them to grow on you. That's happened to me with a lot of series so I'm happy to persevere. Plus, I'm intrigued to see where the author can go with such a small community as it seems to me that options are limited and I'm not sure that 'quirky wilderness characters' will be enough to keep my interest. We'll see.

City of the Lost is my 4th. book for The 12th. Annual Canadian Book Challenge, which is being hosted by The Indextrious Reader. I suspect I'm not going to complete this. I came to it 4 months late and it being to read 13 books by the end of June, I doubt I'll manage it. What I'll probably do is sign up again and give myself a full year to do it properly. So far though I have visited Quebec, twice, Toronto, and now The Yukon, so that's not bad, but I am hoping to cover all 13 provinces and terrtiories at some stage.

It's also my 10th. book for Bev's Mount TBR 2019 challenge and also qualifies for her Calendar of Crime challenge under the December category 'Author's birth month'.

~~~oOo~~~

Saturday, 16 March 2019

The Dancer at the Gai-Moulin


Please ignore, this is repeated from my last post to enable me to post it on the Calandar of Crime Link site.


The Dancer at the Gai-Moulin by Georges Simenon qualifies for Bev's Calendar of Crime challenge under the December category of 'A book title starting with the letter D' (the 'The' doesn't count). I'm also using it as my first book for The European Reading Challenge 2019 as it is set in Belgium.

Rene Delfosse and Jean Chabot are two young lads out on the town in Liége, in Belgium. The bar they're in is known as a bit of a den of iniquity and it makes the boys feel grown-up being there. They're keeping company with a dancer, Adéle, who suddenly moves away to entertain a man who appears to be from Greece. Also present, drinking in the bar, is a heavily built Frenchman that no one has seen before. The two boys are up to no good. They have a plan to hide in the cellars after closing time, creep back up to the bar, and rob the till. Putting their plan into action it all goes smoothly, until they realise there's a dead body behind the bar. It's the Greek looking gentleman from earlier in the evening. Terrified, the boys make a run for it thinking they can just disappear and no one will be any the wiser, but they've reckoned without the heavily built Frenchman...

Not my favourite Maigret so far (Maigret in Holland, The Misty Harbour, The Judge's House, Maigret and the Flemish Shop) but enjoyable nevertheless. Nice sense of the city of Liége during the wars, it was Simenon's home city and his love for it shows. The two feckless lads, one from a rich family, the other a poorish one, are depicted as rather amoral. Simenon picked one of them to concentrate on and the boy's increasing sense of desperation as he tries to hide his crimes from his parents and steer clear of the police is very well portrayed. I gave it a 3 star rating on Goodreads, rounded down from 3.5 as they don't do halves on there. For me it was not one of his best as it lacked the atmosphere of some of the novels I mentioned previously. I must admit I do enjoy these occasional Maigret reads and what a shame ITV have seen fit to cancel their excellent series with Rowan Atkinson, I felt it had a lot of potential.

~~~oOo~~~

Friday, 15 March 2019

Catching up on crime novels


First up, Miss Marple's Final Cases by Agatha Christie. This qualifies for Bev's Calendar of Crime challenge under the September category of 'Author's birth month'.

There are nine stories in this anthology, seven Miss Marple stories and two supernatural. Some of my favourite stories: Sanctuary, where Miss Marple and her god-daughter, Bunch Harmon, a vicar's wife, join forces to solve the mystery of a dead man in the church. The Case of the Perfect Maid where Miss Marple's maid asks her to help her friend, Gladdie, who's been dismissed from her job as a maid with two sisters. Very ingenious solution to this one. The Dressmaker's Doll, a supernatural story about a doll in a dressmaker's shop which moves of its own accord. In a Glass Darkly, another wierd tale, a man dressing in front of a mirror sees a strangling reflected in said mirror, when he turns around there's nothing there. Greenshaw's Folly is a tale of a new will, witnessed by Miss Marple's nephew, Raymond. The writer of the will is then murdered with an arrow... this is another story with an ingenious solution.

This was an all round excellent anthology. I enjoyed every story and thought the two supernatural tales were particularly good. I'm also very taken with Christie's use of humour in her books. I don't think she gets full credit for this and it certainly isn't reflected in the very latest TV adaptations. This, from The Perfect Maid made me giggle:

The dim light showed her to be a thin, indecisive-looking creature, with a good deal of greyish-yellow hair untidily wound around her head and errupting into curls, the whole thing looking like a bird's nest of which no self-respecting bird could be proud.

Wonderful. I've reserved another Miss Marple anthology, Thirteen Guests, from the library.


Next, The Dancer at the Gai-Moulin by Georges Simenon. This qualifies for Bev's Calendar of Crime challenge under the December category of 'A book title starting with the letter D' (the 'The' doesn't count). I'm also using it as my first book for The European Reading Challenge 2019 as it is set in Belgium.

Rene Delfosse and Jean Chabot are two young lads out on the town in Liége, in Belgium. The bar they're in is known as a bit of a den of iniquity and it makes the boys feel grown-up being there. They're keeping company with a dancer, Adéle, who suddenly moves away to entertain a man who appears to be from Greece. Also present, drinking in the bar, is a heavily built Frenchman that no one has seen before. The two boys are up to no good. They have a plan to hide in the cellars after closing time, creep back up to the bar, and rob the till. Putting their plan into action it all goes smoothly, until they realise there's a dead body behind the bar. It's the Greek looking gentleman from earlier in the evening. Terrified, the boys make a run for it thinking they can just disappear and no one will be any the wiser, but they've reckoned without the heavily built Frenchman...

Not my favourite Maigret so far (Maigret in Holland, The Misty Harbour, The Judge's House, Maigret and the Flemish Shop) but enjoyable nevertheless. Nice sense of the city of Liége during the wars, it was Simenon's home city and his love for it shows. The two feckless lads, one from a rich family, the other a poorish one, are depicted as rather amoral. Simenon picked one of them to concentrate on and the boy's increasing sense of desperation as he tries to hide his crimes from his parents and steer clear of the police is very well portrayed. I gave it a 3 star rating on Goodreads, rounded down from 3.5 as they don't do halves on there. For me it was not one of his best as it lacked the atmosphere of some of the novels I mentioned previously. I must admit I do enjoy these occasional Maigret reads and what a shame ITV have seen fit to cancel their excellent series with Rowan Atkinson, I felt it had a lot of potential.

~~~oOo~~~


Wednesday, 13 March 2019

New books!


I did a quick flit around several charity shops yesterday while my husband was at the drs. I wasn't holding out a lot of hope as I tend to look for more unusual books, the usual I can find in the library generally speaking. But Marie Curie and Cancer Research came up trumps. Really delighted with the four I found.



From the bottom:

Erebus: The Story of a Ship by Michael Palin. This is basically what it says on the tin, a non-fiction story of the history of HMS Erebus, the ship that was involved in the ill-fated Franklin expediton of 1845. This one has a beautiful front cover too.

















Munich by Robert Harris. This one is based around Chamberlain's efforts to prevent World War 2 and is, I gather, rather good.


Pole to Pole by Michael Palin. Based on the TV series where the intrepid Palin travels from the North to the South Pole along the line of longitude, 30 degrees east.


The Magnetic North: Travels in the Arctic by Sara Wheeler. This charts the author's travels around the Arctic Ocean and the lands which surround it. This is also rather good I've heard and also has a nice cover.

















The last two books are not charity shop buys but were sent to me by the British Library publishers for review. They're two science fiction volumes, The Darkest of Nights and The Tide Went Out both by Charles Eric Maine. Nice covers on these too.




The charity shop buys seem to centre around my love of reading about cold places... generally mountains... I haven't read a lot about Arctic and Antarctic exploration, looks like I'm about to start. Anyway, very pleased with my book haul (especially as I was actually looking for jigsaws) and rather fancy I should troll around the charity shops a bit more often.

~~~oOo~~~

Saturday, 9 March 2019

The European Reading Challenge


Well, I lasted just over a month. The European Reading challenge 2018 finished at the end of January of this year. I'm already doing 5 other challenges so I decided that I probably shouldn't do this as well. Famous last words. I really really miss it and am going to sign up for another year. This is the link to the sign-up post for The European Reading Challenge 2019, where you will find info and rules. The host is Rose City Reader.



The idea is to read books by European authors or books set in European countries (no matter where the author comes from). The books can be anything – novels, short stories, memoirs, travel guides, cookbooks, biography, poetry, or any other genre. You can participate at different levels, but each book must be by a different author and set in a different country – it's supposed to be a tour.

These are the standard European countries:

Albania, Andorra, Armenia, Austria, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Belgium, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Georgia, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Kazakhstan, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Moldova, Monaco, Montenegro, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Republic of Macedonia, Romania, Russia, San Marino, Serbia, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Turkey, Ukraine, United Kingdom, and Vatican City.

I'm going to do the FIVE STAR (DELUXE ENTOURAGE) which is to: Read at least five books by different European authors or books set in different European countries.

Last year I managed eight books for this challenge and would hope to do as well this year too. I loved doing it and know it'll be great fun to do again.

~~~oOo~~~

Tuesday, 5 March 2019

Weekend at Thrackley


Could the covers of these British Library Crime Classic books possibly be any prettier?


Gorgeous. (Hands up who read that in the voice of Craig Revel-Horwood.)

Anyway. Weekend at Thrackley by Alan Melville is my book 8 for Bev's Mount TBR challenge, my 3rd. book for Becky's World at War challenge covering the category 'A fiction book set in the 1930s', and my 8th. book for Bev's Calendar of Crime challenge covering the December category of 'House Party'.

Jim Henderson is down on his luck. A veteran of World War One, he's not been able to get a job, is thus very hard-up, and has to live in a lodging house with a Mrs. Bertram who, 'read the newspapers rather more than was good for her'. When he receives an invitation to a House party from an Edwin Carson, who claims to have been a friend of his father, he looks upon it as weekend of free food. He's even more pleased to discover that a friend of his, Freddie Usher, has also been invited, although Freddie has no idea why he's on the invitation list.

The two motor off to Surrey and discover on arrival that Thrackley is a large, forbidding establishment in the middle of some dark pine woods. Both of them start to wish they'd not come but standing on the entrance steps is an actress that Freddie's a bit keen on, so stay they do.

As well as the actress and themselves, there're a couple of artists, a Lady Stone and Carson's daughter, Mary. None of them have the first clue why they've been invited but Freddie was asked to bring the family jewels as Carson is an expert in precious stones and wants to see the collection.
The women of the group also have expensive jewellery on them. Jim is confused. He has no expensive gems for his host to study so why is he here?

As a whodunnit this really isn't. There is a dead body but it's way into the book and it's quite clear who did the deed. The book is more of a mystery story to be honest, a slightly obvious one if you read a lot of crime fic as I do, but that didn't matter a jot, the air of menace as the book proceeds and things turn nasty is quite tangible and the change of atmosphere is depicted very cleverly by the author.

Everything about the book is slightly unusual, it's written with a very light hand, Edmund Crispin springs to mind in regard to the humour that's very prevalent at the beginning of the book. I loved Mrs. Bertram, Freddie Usher is straight out of P.G. Wodehouse and Edwin Carson and his rather strange staff fitted into it all very neatly as traditional villains. It even felt a trifle Ealing Comedy-ish... all a bit bonkers... slightly like one of those Brian Rix farces we used to see on the telly, only with a menacing atmosphere.

This was recommended to me by a couple of people and I'm grateful to them as it was definitely one of the best BLCC books I've read. I think Alan Melville wrote quite a few more crime books including Quick Curtain and Death of Anton, both available from the BLCC.


~~~oOo~~~

Thursday, 28 February 2019

Maisie Dobbs


I posted this brief review in my 'Books Read in February' post earlier today, but when I tried to list it on the Calendar of Crime review page it gave me every pic in that post to choose from except 'Maisie Dobbs'. So I'm blogging it separately and hopefully it will now work.




This book was a reread for me from at least ten years ago. I hadn't been all that smitten with it back then but during a blog chat with Judith from Reader in the Wilderness about the series I decided to give it another go, given how popular it is with a lot of people. Basically, Maisie Dobbs has set up a private detective agency after serving in WW1 as a nurse and going to Cambridge university. She has a very humble background but was sponsored by Lady Rowan Compton when she was caught reading in the library in the middle of the night, something maids were obviously not supposed to do. The Great War interupts her studies at Cambridge. Maisie goes to The Front to be a nurse where she falls in love with a doctor. What happens there, how Maisie subsequently sets up her agency and conducts her first case is the subject of the book.

I have to say I enjoyed it much more than the first time around. So much seemed unlikely back then, such as a member of the peerage sponsoring a maid, but perhaps I'm less critical these days: more accepting. Whatever... I'd forgotten how good the book is on nursing in WW1, the full horror is there, particularly as regards the facial injuries of some wounded soldiers. I wouldn't call this a murder mystery. This is more social history with a mystery thrown in and as that it works very well. Looking at some of the upcoming books, there are 15 altogether, I find myself eager to find out what happens to Maisie so have reserved book 2, Birds of a Feather, from the library.

Maisie Dobbs qualifies for Bev's Calendar of Crime under the May category 'Military figure has major role'... in fact there are two or three in the book. It also qualifies for Becky's World at War challenge under the category 'A fiction book set in the 1920s'.

~~~oOo~~~

Books read in February


For the last week or two we've had record temperatures here in the UK. Parts of the country saw 20C yesterday, these are not just spring temps, they're summer ones! Doesn't feel right, I much prefer a proper winter and indeed, it is due to get colder from the weekend I think. Not that the daffs don't look lovely...


Anyway, enough weather and gardening news, February was a quiet reading month for me, five books read and these are they:

8. The Risk of Darkness - Susan Hill

9. To Oldly Go: Tales of Intrepid Travel by the Over 60s - A Bradt Travel Guide

10. Aiofe's Chariot - Katherine Pathak

11. The Mitford Girls - Mary S. Lovell

12. Maisie Dobbs - Jacqueline Winspear

This book was a reread for me from at least ten years ago. I hadn't been all that smitten with it back then but during a blog chat with Judith from Reader in the Wilderness about the series I decided to give it another go, given how popular it is with a lot of people. Basically, Maisie Dobbs has set up a private detective agency after serving in WW1 as a nurse and going to Cambridge university. She has a very humble background but was sponsored by Lady Rowan Compton when she was caught reading in the library in the middle of the night, something maids were obviously not supposed to do. The Great War interupts her studies at Cambridge. Maisie goes to The Front to be a nurse where she falls in love with a doctor. What happens there, how Maisie subsequently sets up her agency and conducts her first case is the subject of the book. I have to say I enjoyed it much more than the first time around. So much seemed unlikely back then, such as a member of the peerage sponsoring a maid, but perhaps I'm less critical these days: more accepting. Whatever... I'd forgotten how good the book is on nursing in WW1, the full horror is there, particularly as regards the facial injuries of some wounded soldiers. I wouldn't call this a murder mystery. This is more social history with a mystery thrown in and as that it works very well. Looking at some of the upcoming books, there are 15 altogether, I find myself eager to find out what happens to Maisie so have reserved book 2, Birds of a Feather, from the library. Maisie Dobbs qualifies for Bev's Calendar of Crime under the May category 'Military figure has major role'... in fact there are two or three in the book. It also qualifies for Becky's World at War challenge under the category 'A fiction book set in the 1920s'.

Very pleased with this month's books. Five might not seem like a lot but two of them were over 500 pages so those took a while to get through, particularly The Mitford Girls, not that it wasn't well worth it as that was a brilliant book. In fact, every book this month was good, no complaints at all.


These are the two books I'm reading at the moment:




They have something in common, a lovely vein of gentle, dry humour running through both of them.


And after those I'm not sure what I'll read. Possibly one or two of these:




And as well as reading 5 books this month I also completed this:



3,000 pieces, Alesund in Norway. Happy reading in March!

~~~oOo~~~