Tuesday, 19 November 2019

A couple of crime titles

Catching up on reviews with a couple of crime titles today. First up, The Pale Horse by Agatha Christie.

Father Gorman is called in to minister the last rites to a dying woman: she has something she wants to tell him before she dies. On the way home he stops at a coffee shop for a drink and writes a list of people's names down on a piece of paper. Before he can reach home he will be dead. Several people on this list are already dead, supposedly of natural causes. The godson of one of them, Mark Easterbrook, becomes suspicious and starts to investigate with the occasional help of author, Ariadne Oliver. Investigations lead to a village with an old pub by the name of The Pale Horse, although it's no longer a pub but is lived in by three single women. Village gossip has them down as witches but surely this is nonsense? When people start to die almost by remote control, Easterbrook takes matters into his own hands, putting himself and, more importantly, his girlfriend, into extreme danger. Fantastic Fiction lists this as an Ariadne Oliver book but to be honest she's not really in it a lot. It's really a standalone and as such I found it works very well and I enjoyed it a lot. It has a nice supernatural bent, a bit of romance which doesn't interfere with the plot, and I had no idea who the culprit was or how it was done. It also has an excellent sense of both London and the gossipy, insular atmosphere of an English village in the early 1960s. I had no idea until Jo at The Book Jotter left a comment on my last post that the BBC has dramatised it for showing over the Christmas. To be honest I haven't liked their recent adaptations but will give this a go and hope they haven't modernised the life out of it.

Lastly, The Cornish Coast Murder by John Bude. This is my 28th. book for Bev's Calendar of Crime challenge covering the March category of 'Primary action takes place in this month'. It's also my 23rd. books for Bev's Mount TBR 2019.

Reverand Dodd is the vicar of the village of Boscawen on the north coast of Cornwall. He likes the quiet life and enjoys good food and evenings by the fire reading detective novels. When a local magistrate, Julius Tregarthen, is found dead in his home, shot through the head, Dodd is horrified but also intrigued and can't stop himself helping the police in the investigation. Luckily, Inspector Bigswell of the local force does not mind, in fact welcomes the help as the case is very complicated. The dead man's neice, Ruth, who lived with him, has been seeing a local author and Tregarthen had objections to the relationship. Did the author kill him? Dodd thinks not but all the evidence points that way so Bigswell is obliged to follow that line of enquiry. Which of them is right?

This was quite a good yarn. I loved the setting. The dead man's home is described as being on a 'ness' (a cape or headland) and practically surrounded by the Atlantic, a fantasic setting for a crime story like this and I absolutely loved it. I'm sure this is possibly because I know that region very well and am biased but even so, it was beautifully done. And the whys and the wherefores of how the murder was committed were equally complicated and interesting, 'different'. My only grouse is with the revelation of who did it. My reaction was, 'Eh?' And that's all I'm going to say apart from: 'lovely cover'.


Monday, 11 November 2019

Currently reading and new books

Nice to be home again after a flying visit to Cornwall. The county was looking good in its autumn colours but everywhere in the UK is wild and woolly at the moment, high winds, lot of rain, floods in the north, awful to see rivers in flood on the news and people's homes ruined.

Anyway, books. As a bit of light relief from this:

I'm reading this:

A random grab from the library, the large print section in fact. Not somewhere I make a make beeline for as a matter of course but just occasionally it occurs to me to take a gander at what's over there. When I got home with The Pale Horse by Agatha Christie I looked at it on Goodreads because I'd never heard of it before and lo and behold three or four of my friends on there really liked it. And so do I. I'm about one third in and already it's full of mystery, a dead woman, followed by a dead priest who came to minister the last rites to her. A list of people found hidden on the priest, three of whom recently died, apparently of natural causes. Three women living together in a village who have the reputation of being witches. What's the connection?

And here's the thing... I've always fancied living in an old vicarage. Well who hasn't? By all accounts they were actually cold and draughty and very uncomfortable, but still the idea has always appealed and I think Agatha Christie knew the appeal was shared by a lot of people. So she comes up with this:

The Vicarage sitting room was big and shabby. It was much shaded by a gargantuan Victorian shrubbery that no one seemed to have the energy to curb. But the dimness was not gloomy for some peculiar reason. It was, on the contrary, restful. All the large shabby chairs bore the impress of resting bodies in them over the years. A fat clock on the chimney-piece ticked with a heavy comfortable regularity. Here there would always be time to talk, to say what you wanted to say, to relax from the cares brought about by the bright day outside.

I wonder how long it took Christie to get that description just right? So that all of us with a fancy to live in an old vicarage would be foaming at the mouth to go and find this room and settle down in one of those 'large shabby chairs' with a good book and a cup of tea. Incredible to me that there are people who are snooty about the writing ability of this amazing author.

Of course, while I was in the Penzance area I just had to visit The Cook Book shop in St. Just. Here you can browse the second-hand books and have a coffee or lunch or whatever you like. It's delightful. I came away with the bottom two of these books:

The Oatmeal Ark by Rory MaClean tells of the Reverand Hector Gillean who apparently built a ship in the early 1800s and sailed from the Hebrides to Canada to find the promised land. Couldn't leave that on the shelf, could I? Eight Feet in the Andes by Dervla Murphy is a book I've been after for a while so was glad to nab that for a couple of quid. The other two books are, Watersteps Through France by Bill and Laurel Cooper, this covers two of my bookish loves, canals and France; and the other is Beyond Time edited by Mike Ashley, time travel stories, sent to me by The British Library. Great cover on the latter:

Many thanks to The British Library for that and it's been added to the pile for next year's reading.


Tuesday, 5 November 2019


Off to Cornwall for a flying visit from tomorrow, just two nights, but before I go I just want to thank the folks who left such thoughtful comments on my last post, here. It turned into a real conversation on challenges and blogging in the comments section and I always think that's wonderful and really appreciate it. Thank you.

At the moment I'm reading these two books:

As I said in my previous post, I'm 'doing' Moby-Dick in small chunks, taking my time, partly so that I can appreciate it properly but also 'it's not a race' and there's no reason at all to rush through it just to get it read. It's a lesson I need to learn about reading and next year I may even concentrate on reading less in the way of numbers and more in the way of quality. And as a 'by-the-by' I really am enjoying the richness of Moby-Dick... I'm also sure I'll have no idea how to review it when I've finished.

Bon Voyage, edited by Michael Kerr, is an anthology of travel stories printed over the years in one of our national newspapers, The Telegraph. It's another one to take slowly. I'm 80 pages in and already I want to read biographies of Henry Stanley (of Stanley and Livingstone fame) and Arthur Ransome. One of the most affecting pieces was by Martha Gellhorn, an American journalist who stowed away (in the loo!) on a hospital ship during the D-Day landings and witnessed some heart-rending things. I want to know more about that and about her. I love it when books lead to more books and then more books... bit like the spider's web in my header.

These two books are, of course, slow going. Thus I can't see any reviews here for a while although I will probably take an eReader to Cornwall and read something crime based for entertainment, a Dana Stabenow perhaps as I haven't visited Kate Shugak for a while, or something else. We'll see.

And just because I can here's the jigsaw it took me most of September and October to complete. A world map from 1594, 3,000 pieces and really quite tricky.


Monday, 28 October 2019

This and that

I've had to enable 'comment moderation' on here due to a recent increase in spam... at least, I'm trying to enable it, still waiting for email confirmation and am now wondering if I've done it correctly. Oh, to be technically savvy! And why the hell can't these morons find something better to do with their time like ... you know... read a book!

I know it's early to be thinking about 2020 reading but I've already decided that I'm cutting right back on challenges next year. I get all enthusiastic at the beginning of the year because they all sound fun and interesting and I have books on my tbr pile that fit perfectly. Then I find I have tons of books to review, which is fine, but sometimes I don't feel like it or I've not got time, but if I don't review it the book won't count. The other thing is, I kid myself that the challenges will take books off my tbr mountain. They don't. Or rather they do but the number doesn't decrease because I keep adding new ones! And I'm not very good at book buying bans... So anyway, I will probably limit myself to two, definitely the European one, which I love, and one other, possibly Mount TBR but keep the number small and target specific books, possibly 12 chunksters or non-fictions. We'll see.

I've just finished this:

I have to thank Judith at Reader in the Wilderness for encouraging me to revisit Maisie Dobbs. If it wasn't for her I never would have gone back to it after reading book one, feeling a bit so-so about it, and thus not bothering with any more for years. The series is both thoughtful and thought provoking, making you consider issues about World War One that would never otherwise occur to you. In Among the Mad Maisie finds herself 'invited' (ie. not given much choice in the matter) to work with Scotland Yard and Special Branch on a case where a possible WW1 veteran is making a toxic gas which he intends to use to kill hundreds in London. He writes letters to the government demanding better treatment for veterans who, of course, returned from the battlefields scarred forever, not just physically, but also mentally which is the issue in this book. War veterans were very poorly treated, not looked after, pensions were not at all automatic, and there were very few jobs. Many ended up on the streets begging. This was an absolutely superb book. I didn't mean to read it in two days but that's what happened, I just couldn't put it down. Jacqueline Winspear, in this book, somehow managed to make you feel sorry for the perpetrator of a potentially horrific crime, via Maisie and her understanding of human nature and of the horrors inflicted on men who fought in WW1. Also featuring strongly in the book are women's mental health issues connected with the death of a child, a common occurence in those days, in fact my own grandmother lost a young son in the 1920s. An amazing book, gave it 5 stars on Goodreads, no dithering at all (and I can dither for England over Goodreads' ratings). Among the Mad is my book 27 for Bev's Calendar of Crime challenge, covering the December category of 'Primary action takes place in this month'.

Currently reading this:

Which is all about sailing and the sea and how daunting it can be crossing the Atlantic in a yacht. For people who like 'sea-voyage' travel fiction I can't recommend this series of books by Sandra Clayton enough. The first two books are Dolphins Under My Bed and Turtles in My Wake and there are now two more books I gather, making, I think, five altogether.

Not sure how that led me to this, Moby-Dick, apart from the fact that it also has a strong 'sea' theme, but I thought after years of procrastinating, I'd give it a go. All 600 pages of it.

I foresaw it taking me months to read, 'into infinity and beyond' sort of thing. But when I did the Maths I realised that if I read 10 to 20 pages a day I should be at the end by the New Year. Not sure how I'll get on, naturally it's a book that divides opinions... it's wonderful 'the best book ever written'... or it's so tedious people can hardly stand it. I reckon if I go into it knowing it rambles on a bit I am forewarned and thus forearmed. Works for me. Well, hopefuly it will.

Happy autumn reading!


Thursday, 24 October 2019

Books read so far this month

I have been reading, in fact am back to normal with it now, but due to personal events of the past month or two I've been rather slow to get any reviews done here. Hopefully I can pick it up a bit now but in the meantime a few quick reviews to get myself caught up.

First up, Backpacks, Boots and Baguettes by Simon Calder and Mick Webb. This is my 20th. book for Bev's Mount TBR 2019 challenge.

The two authors have known each other for years and been on many trips together away from their respective families. They decide to walk the length of the Pyrenees which form the border between France and Spain, from the Atlantic to The Med. They do it over a number of years, going back to do set routes of the GR10 walking path. This was an enjoyable travelogue, the two authors take turns in writing each chapter, both having fun at the other's expense, Simon Calder, for instance, is terrified of heights (as am I) so a great deal is made of that. I enjoyed hearing about the vaguaries of hotels and their owners, great food, other walkers they met along the way, mistakes made when choosing a path, leading to getting lost, the weather and so on. Not a bad read.

Next, (The) Man in the Brown Suit by Agatha Christie. This book qualifies for Bev's Calendar of Crime challenge covering the March category of 'Book has title starting with 'M'.

Anne Beddingfield has lived a rather dull life as the daughter of an archaeologist. She never gets to go anywhere so when her father dies unexpectedly she sets off for London in search of adventure and excitement and finds it when a man drops dead in front of her on an underground station platform. It turns out he's been murdered and, determined to be the one to investigate, Anne ends up on a ship bound for South Africa with a motley bunch of industrialists, spies, and a rich bored wife who takes to Anne's youthful sense of adventure. The trouble is, she has no idea who she's meddling with and is soon in fear for her life... but who, out of all these people, should she really fear? This was fun, if a trifle far-fetched... I think I might have enjoyed this more when I was in my twenties when I was a bit less cynical. I did really enjoy the sea voyage though and the subsequent setting of South Africa in colonial days. I am ever an armchair traveller.

Next, State of Wonder by Ann Patchett.

Dr. Marina Singh works on developing statins for pharmaceutical company, Vogel, based in Minnesota. A close colleague, Anders Eckman, was sent to the Amazon rainforest several months ago to check up on the progress of another scientist, Dr. Annick Swenson, whose research Vogel is funding. The company is getting anxious that it hasn't heard from her and wants to know that their money is being spent wisely. Dr. Swenson is developing a new, top-secret, drug connected with human fertility. A letter is received notifying them that Dr. Eckman has died, very few details of what happened, just 'he died of a fever'. Anders' wife wants to know more and begs Marina to travel to Brazil to find out what happened to her husband. Reluctantly, Marina embarks on the long and hazardous trip. This was quite a different read for me as I tend towards genre reading such as crime-fic or science-fiction and fantasy rather than contemporary fiction. As such I had to get used to a slower pace of narrative and I did struggle a little with this I have to confess. I found the weeks Marina had to spend in Manaus dragged for me almost as much as it did for her. Once the story reached the rainforest it picked up and I was fascinated by the Lakashi tribe and their way of life. Marina has a lot of adjustments to make to fit in and struggles to be taken seriously by Dr. Swenson, although her friendship with a young boy, Easter, helps. The forest pervades this part of the book like an extra character, and so does the river, a tributary of The Amazon. One scene completely blew me away, that of the killing of an anaconda in a small boat and the deadly peril it placed the occupants in. The book is beautifully written, I don't know why I've never read anything by Ann Patchett before as I have heard of her, just never got to it I suppose, but I will definitely read more at some stage.


Wednesday, 23 October 2019

Cobwebs in October

I love this quote from Anne of Green Gables:

And to go with this celebration of the month of October here are a few pics of cobwebs I took in the garden this morning when the dense fog had cleared a bit. As always, click for a bigger view.

Some book reviews to come soon!


Tuesday, 15 October 2019

Cornish beaches

We were down in Cornwall for the first week of the month and took some time off from personal stuff to take in a few local beaches. It wasn't the weather for swimming, unless you own a wetsuit and a surfboard, which I most definitely do not, so picture taking was the order of the day (and cups of hot tea and pasties in little caf├ęs of course). Anyway, I thought I'd share a few Cornish beaches here because how can you ever have enough pics of the Atlantic in all its moods? As always 'click' for a much bigger and better view of the pics.

First up, the St. Agnes life saving club (we think) was having a practice.

And a lovely Golden Lab was having so much fun.

The beach and village of Porthtowan from the hill.

Storm clouds at The Lizard.

The lovely beach and village of Coverack on The Lizard peninsula.

The harbour:

Porthleven next. This is the church in the iconic 'stormy Cornwall' pic you see so often, with the massive waves washing over the top of it. But not that day...

On our last day in Cornwall we just had to go to Cape Cornwall. We always do it, I don't know why, family roots and memories I suspect.

And lastly, from Cape Cornwall Sennen Cove is but a 15 minute drive.

Looking back at The Cape from Sennen.

From these photos it looks like the weather was lovely all week. It wasn't, it was rough and stormy and wet a lot of the time, we just picked our moments to get out, mainly the mornings, and spent wet afternoons mooching or with family.