Saturday, 18 January 2020

Currently reading and just finished

So I seem to be reading five books at the moment. (I know.) But then this is the kind of reading year I decided upon at the beginning of January. A more casual, dip into this, dip into that sort of year. Less number orientated, less pressure: more enjoyment I hope.

Anyway, I finished, Saturday the Rabbi Went Hungry by Harry Kemelman several days ago.

It's Yom Kipur and Rabbi David Small is trying to eat his last meal before fasting begins, but the phone keeps ringing. One of the calls leads him into an investigation concerning a man found dead, presumably asphyxiated, in his car, in his garage. Suicide is pronounced but it doesn't feel right to Rabbi Small and because there's an issue over the burial of a suicide in a Jewish cemetary he's obliged to look into it. When he starts to tread on the toes of various bigwigs on the Jewish council and their interests then, naturally, things become complictated. This was such a good read. Yes, it's a mystery and a good one, but all human life is here, especially the self-interest of people with money and influence who want their own way and will do anything to get it: including trying to get rid a rabbi sacked. Nan at Letters From a Hill Farm recommended this series to me and I'm so glad she did. It's taken me a while to get around to book two but it won't be as long before I read book three.

So... five books.

The Cure of Souls by Phil Rickman. This is book four in his Merrily Watkins series. Merrily is a Church of England vicar who is also the diocesan deliverance consultant, conducting exorcisms etc. This instalment centres around a ouija board incident and involves Merrily's daughter, Jane. At the moment I'm quite liking it but I can also see why it's been nearly eight years (honestly, where does the time go?) since I last read an instalment of this series. We'll see...

The First Cadfael Omnibus by Ellis Peters. Loving this. Two books read, one to go.

The Penguin Book of the British Short Story: Volume one edited by Philip Hensher. Thirty six stories from Daniel Defoe to John Buchan. I've read six and can't honestly say I was very taken by any of them. Excellent writing of course, you wouldn't expect anything else from the likes of Daniel Defoe (an OK ghost story) Henry Fielding (a diatribe on the perils of lesbianism) and Mary Lamb (two sisters who live in London go to live in the country with their grandmother, we're not told why.) I rather suspect this volume will improve.

The Morville Hours by Katherine Swift. This is gorgeous but Spring is approaching in it so I thought I'd wait until Spring is approaching here before I read on. So I needed another bedtime read and naturally I picked up:

Howards End is on the Landing by Susan Hill, for the third or fourth time, I've honestly lost count how many times I've read this gorgeous book and its sister volume, Jacob's Room is Full of Books. I 'really' hope Susan Hill is writing another book about books.

Would love to hear what you're reading in the comments.


Friday, 17 January 2020

Life According to Literature meme

This book meme has been all over the place and has actually been going around for years in one form or another. This year though I saw it on Pam at Travellin' Penguin's blog, but you can follow links from there back to the dawn of time.

THE RULES: Using only books you have read during the year (2019), answer these questions. Try not to repeat a book title.

Describe yourself: 21st. Century Yokel (Tom Cox)

How do you feel: Head in the Sand (Damien Boyd)

Describe where you currently live: In the Garden of Beasts (Erik Larson)

If you could go anywhere, where would you go: Schlepping Through the Alps (Sam Apple)

Your favourite form of transportation: Aoife's Chariot (Katherine Pathak)

Your best friend is: Among the Mad (Jacqueline Winspear)

You and your friends are: Birds of a Feather (Jacqueline Winspear)

What’s the weather like: Hot Sun, Cool Shadow (Angela Murrills)

You fear: Lost in a Pyramid (ed. Andrew Smith)

What is the best advice you have to give: Cheerfulness Breaks In (Angela Thirkell)

Thought for the day: Bon Voyage (Michael Kerr)

How would I like to die: Unnatural Death (Dorothy L. Sayers)

My soul’s present condition: State of Wonder (Ann Patchett)

So who else is going to do this?


Tuesday, 14 January 2020

Six Degrees of Separation

I've fancied doing Six Degrees of Separation for a long time, just never got around to it. It's hosted by Books Are My Favourite and Best and is a monthly meme.

Books can be linked in obvious ways – for example, books by the same authors, from the same era or genre, or books with similar themes or settings. Or, you may choose to link them in more personal ways: books you read on the same holiday, books given to you by a particular friend, books that remind you of a particular time in your life, or books you read for an online challenge.

A book doesn’t need to be connected to all the other books on the list, only to the ones next to them in the chain.

I decided to try and use books that I've either read or are on my to be read pile.

The chain begins this month with Daisy Jones and the Six, a book I'd neither read nor even heard of. (Good start!)

I gather it charts the rise and fall of a 1970s rock band and centres on a female songwriter connected to them, Daisy Jones. It doesn't sound like a book I'll be rushing to read but I assume young Daisy is an independently minded young woman who went her own way and so is another 'Daisy', one of my favourite characters from the crime genre, Daisy Dalrymple.

Superfluous Women is one of the best in the series as it deals with the serious subject of the two million 'superfluous' women left without any hope of marrying after the carnage of World War One. Three of these women have moved in together in this book and are unfortunate enough to find a body in their cellar. Which is also what ex-Chief Inspector Wexford has to deal with in my next book.

Wexford has retired in The Vault, and is spending quite a lot of time in London. He has his books but it's not quite enough so he walks the streets of the city every day discovering new places and eventually comes across an ex-colleague. The colleague asks him to help solve a case he's on where the remains of three bodies have been found in an underground coal-hole. Also walking the streets of London was author, Mark Mason.

In Walk the Lines the author decides to walk the entire length of the London Undergroud, or 'Tube', but not down there (because... you know... 'dangerous') above ground on the streets, taking in all of the stations. And stations are the main theme of my next book.

I haven't read Station to Station by James Attlee yet but it's on my TBR pile. The author focusses on the London to Bristol railway line and explores what lies around it... various towns, The Thames Valley, many different people with amazing stories. And ghosts. Charles 1, Oscar Wilde, Charles Dickens, Lawrence of Arabia, Diana Dors (!), the spooky list is endless apparently. And it seems the railways are very good hunting (or should that be 'haunting'?) grounds for your average ghost, which leads me to my next book.

The Ghost Now Standing on Platform One edited by Richard Peyton is one of my all-time favourite ghost anthologies. It's full of fictional ghost stories and real life experiences and is beautifully illustrated. A real gem.

Well that was fun! From the first book I moved on to murder in dark undergroud places, to strolling around London, to railway stations and thus to the ghosts that haunt them. Quite a journey! Will definitely have another go at this meme at some stage.

Next month's Six Degrees will start with Fleishman is in Trouble by Taffy Brodesser-Ackner, another book I've not heard of.


Monday, 13 January 2020

Travelling Light - Alastair Sawday

Travelling Light by Alastair Sawday is my first book for Bev's Mount TBR 2020 reading challenge.

I've nabbed the author's Goodreads biography as it says in a few words what I would struggle to say in hundreds:

A pioneer in the environmental world, Alastair Sawday has had a remarkably miscellaneous and varied career, which has taken him to the most far-flung corners of the globe: he headed up a VSO programme in Papua New Guinea, ran a disaster relief team for Oxfam in Turkey, and has run a small travel company, conducting walking tours throughout Europe. It was this that inspired him to publish his first travel guide, French Bed & Breakfast, after discovering various ‘special’ B&Bs and the extraordinary people that run them

And this is he:

(Photo from various sites online and is the one used in the author bio at the back of the book.)

So, the book is very much an autobiographical account of Alastair Sawday's life but not in the manner of a traditional autobiography. It's anecdotal, meandering, philosophical and great for the armchair traveller such as myself in that it covers a lot of countries and is very entertaining. The author is a huge enviromentalist, very opinionated, I didn't always agree with his opinions (although mostly I did) but that's fine, I like reading books that take me out of my comfort zone a bit.

To be honest I don't think I've come across anyone who has led a more varied life, done more jobs, been to more places and done such interesting things. I had to read it in fits and starts because taking it all in and remembering it became quite a challenge. (I took notes in the end.)

He starts by briefly talking about his happy childhood, his private education (not so happy), holidays in France with his parents, and moves on to tell us about teaching French in St. Lucia. After that a delightful section on his love and visits to France. It leads him to setting up his own travel company specialising in unusual places to stay in that country and thus their first travel guide, the first of many. Sawday's first love is old French farmhouses. I can understand that as on one trip to France to visit my late sister-in-law I actually visited one belonging to her neighbour and was enchanted. He also loves French chateaux, gardens, music, and talks lovingly of them all.

Canal barging in Wales came next, followed by a chapter on his home county, Suffolk, and his love for said county... it is a very beautiful area. Then the South West, my home turf of course, he says it attracts more eccentrics than anywhere else in the UK. Well there ya go.......

Other countries and regions covered, Sicily, Venice, Ireland, Catalonia, Turkey, Greece (Mount Athos), India. He tells how 24,000 Indians had to flee Uganda in 1972 (I remember it well) because of Idi Amin of course, and how he went to help them settle at an old RAF base in Somerset. The book is just full to the brim with stories like this - this is a man who actually puts his money where his mouth is and does something concrete to help.

There's also quite a lot of history in the book, lot of things explained, 'why' certain situations around the world became a problem, escalated out of control, that kind of thing. Climate change is a particular focus for the author. I liked the fact that he quotes from some of my favourite authors, Patrick Leigh Fermor, Robert McFarlane, Roger Deakin, Eric Newby.

I enjoyed this one but did find it a bit too 'full-on'... information overload. I couldn't read it without stopping for a breather, if the author leads his life like this - and I suspect he does - he must be permanently exhausted. (It must be said here that I am of the wimpish variety of adult.)

So that's my first book for Mount TBR under my belt. Onwards and upwards!


Friday, 10 January 2020

The European Reading challenge 2019

Time for the final wrap-up post of 2019 challenges. This time it's the 2019 European Reading challenge which was hosted by Gilion at Rose City Reader.

I signed up to do the FIVE STAR (DELUXE ENTOURAGE) which was to read at least five books by different European authors or books set in different European countries.

In all, I read 10 books and these are they:

1. BELGIUM: The Dancer at the Gai-Moulin - Georges Simenon

2. FRANCE: The Riviera Set - Mary S. Lovell

3. ITALY: A Small Place in Italy - Eric Newby

4. ICELAND: The Darkness - Ragnar Jónasson

5. AUSTRIA: Schlepping Through the Alps - Sam Apple

6. SPAIN: Bitten by Spain - Deborah Fletcher

7. GERMANY: Black Roses - Jane Thynne

8. The CZECH REPUBLIC: Melmoth - Sarah Perry

9. The UK: Sir John Magill's Last Journey - Freeman Wills Crofts

10. DENMARK: The Year of Living Danishly - Helen Russell

Well that was quite a pleasant jaunt around Europe. Several countries that I haven't previously been to on this challenge, Austria, The Czech Republic, Denmark, Belgium. Countries I never seem to have a problem finding something for, France, Italy, Germany, Iceland, (and such will be the case for 2020 too). What I need to do is find books for some of the more unusual places. The list is quite large:

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 do often read about them in multi-country books (see my Europe shelf on Goodreads) but those don't count of course. I need to find books that are only about these specific countries. All recommendations welcome!

Anyway, good fun, I love this challenge to bits. As always, many thanks to Gilion for hosting.


Sunday, 5 January 2020

Just finished and currently reading

I always find it exciting to be starting a new year of reading. Ridiculous really as it's only one day from 2019 to 2020 but it still feels like a whole new world of possibilities suddenly opens up, regardless of the fact that these possibilities were there on the 31st. December as much as they are on the 1st. January! So why I'm so excited heaven only knows: easily pleased I think.

Anyway, my first book for 2020 is Kickback by Damien Boyd. This is book three of the author's 'DI Nick Dixon' series of books set in and around Somerset, not too far from here where I live in Devon. I read the first two books in the series last year.

Trainee jockey, Noel Woodman, is found dead in the stalls of one of the horses in the stables where he works. It seems he may have been kicked to death by the dangerous stallion although Noel and the horse were thought to have a special relationship. The brother of the dead man is adamant that Noel was murdered and when he begins to investigate DI Nick Dixon is inclined to agree with him. Thus begins an involvement in the world of racehorse betting and race fixing that Nick was previously completely ignorant of. This he's prepared to do but what he isn't prepared for is the amount of personal danger he suddenly finds himself and his girlfriend, Jane, in. It seems some people will do anything to protect their secrets.

Well, horse-racing is about as far from being an interest of mine as it's possible to be. 'I know nothing' as Manuel used to say. Thus, I thought I might struggle a bit with this one but oddly enough it really didn't seem to matter. A lot is explained as we go along as Nick Dixon is as ignorant of the horsey world as I am. The plot fair gallops along (sorry) and is actually quite the pageturner so I was through it in no time. I enjoyed the first two books in the series, As the Crow Flies and Head in the Sand, but I think this one is even better. Typical case of the author hitting his stride (still sorry) I think. I also remain as fascinated as ever with books set so close to where I live and being so familiar with all of the places mentioned. It really is just plain weird as I do live in a bit of a backwater. Nice one and I've already nabbed book four for my Kindle, Swansong, and it's set in a school which is a setting I actually do enjoy so I'm expecting good things from it.

So anyway, these are the three books I'm reading at the moment:

The First Cadfael Omnibus is a volume of the first three books in Ellis Peters's Cadfael series. I've read them all before; somewhere around the end of the 1980s and the beginning of the 1990s I went through the whole lot from the library, gobbled them up in quick order. Loved them. I decided on a reread because of the third book in the above line-up. Anyway, I've read the first book, A Morbid Taste for Bones, and can't think why I did not remember how very good the writing is in this series. Very strong sense of Welsh country life in the 12th. century. I've now started the next book, One Corpse too Many, which is again excellent but entirely different to the first book.

Travelling Light: Journeys Among Special People and Places by Alastair Sawday is an autobiographical account of some of the author's travels from when he was a boy to the present day. He owns a company that promotes unusual places to stay, I think mainly in France but I'm not far enough into the book to be able to confirm that. It's a very readable and enjoyable book.

The Morville Hours by Katherine Swift is all about the creation of a garden in the Dower House at Morville in Shropshire. It's utterly delightful, so calming and gentle and meandering and informative. There's a lot about monastries as the house was built on the site of one... leading to me wanting to reread Cadfael because of course it's set in a monastry in Shrewsbury which is in Shropshire. I absolutely adore how one book can lead to another in this manner.

To finish I'm just popping this pic up here as this is the shelf of books I'm hoping to make inroads into, mainly for the Mount TBR challenge for this year. I thought if I put it up here I can look back at it at the end of the year to see how far I got. Unfortunately I forgot to put back the three books I'm currently reading which all came from this shelf...

Happy 2020 reading, I hope it's a good reading year for everyone. :-)


Saturday, 4 January 2020

The Calendar of Crime wrap-up post

Time for another challenge wrap-up post, this time it's Bev's Calendar of Crime, 2019.

This is the chart participants had to work from:

Altogether I read 29 books for the challenge and these are they:


#8. Month related item on cover:
A Christmas Secret - Anne Perry


#2. Author's birth month:
The Risk of Darkness - Susan Hill

#7. Book has title starting with 'F':
Friday the Rabbi Slept Late -Harry Kemelman


#3. Primary action takes place this month:
The Cornish Coast Murder - John Bude

#7. Book title starts with 'M'
(The) Man in the Brown Suit - Agatha Christie

#9. Money, fortune, inheritance plays a major role:
Unnatural Death - Dorothy L. Sayers


#2. Author's birth month:
Birds of a Feather - Jacqueline Winspear

#6. Original Publication Month:
The Body in the Ice - A.J. Mackenzie

#7. Title begins with 'A':
Aoife's Chariot - Katherine Pathak

#8. Month realted item on cover:
Fire in the Thatch - E.C.R. Lorac


#3. Primary action takes place this month:
The Body on the Doorstep - A.J. Mackenzie

#9. Military figure or mother has major role:
Maisie Dobbs - Jacqueline Winspear


#6. Original publication month:
Desert Noir - Betty Webb


#3. Primary action takes place this month:
Death in Captivity - Michael Gilbert

#9. Book takes place in USA or Canada:
The Beautiful Mystery - Louise Penny


#3. Primary action takes place this month:
The Dark Angel - Elly Griffiths

#6. Original publication month:
The Devil's Cave - Martin Walker

#7. Title begins with 'A':
As the Crow Flies - Damien Boyd


#2. Author's birth month:
Miss Marple's Final Case - Agatha Christie

#3. Primary action takes place this month:
Pardonable Lies - Jacqueline Winspear

#8. Month related item on cover:
An Incomplete Revenge - Jacqueline Winspear


#3. Primary action takes place this month:
The Hog's Back Mystery - Freeman Wills Croft


#3. Primary action takes place this month:
Head in the Sand - Damien Boyd

#9. Family relationships play major role:
Sir John Magill's Last Journey - Freeman Wills Crofts


#2. Author's birth month:
City of the Lost - Kelly Armstrong

#3. Primary action takes place this month:
Among the Mad - Jacqueline Winspear

#7. Book title starts with 'D':
Dancer at the Gai-Moulin - Georges Simenon

#8. Month related item on cover:
The Mistletoe Murders and other stories - P.D. James

#9. House party/Family gathering important:
Weekend at Thrackley - Alan Melville

So those were my 29 books. It seems I majored on several authors such as Jacqueline Winspear, Damien Boyd, A.J. Mackenzie and vintage crime yarns from the British Library, along with a few 'new to me' authors such as Katherine Pathak, Harry Kemelman and Betty Webb. It was all great fun and many thanks to Bev for hosting such a fun challenge.