read_warbler

Saturday, 7 September 2019

Melmoth


I'm going to struggle with this review. Why? Well, it's that thing that happens sometimes... you read a book, get to the end, close it, and think to yourself, 'What the heck was that all about?' The book in question is Melmoth by Sarah Perry. It's my 19th. book for Bev's Mount TBR challenge and my 8th. book for the European Reading challenge 2019, covering the country of The Czech Republic.



Helen Franklin is an English woman living in Prague. She has shut herself off from a normal life, is punishing herself in fact, for something in her past. Being a very reserved person she has few friends but one of them, a Czech named Karel, asks to meet up with her. He looks haggard and is twitchy and constantly looking around him. After a lot of rambling he fobs a manuscript off onto Helen, seemingly relieved but also looking crafty at having got rid of it.

The manuscript came from a man Karel met in the library, later found dead, slumped over the desk. It charts sightings of a supernatural being, Melmoth. This being is condemned to wander the Earth, lonely and friendless, because in the Bible story she lied about Jesus's empty tomb. It's said she watches people who have guilty secrets, which every person in the manuscript has of course, and then lures them away to their death.

But so does Helen have a guilty secret and, after having read this unpleasant manuscript, she too begins to think that she's seeing a strange apparition and that the apparition is actually following her. Then Karel disappears leaving his disabled wife, Thea, to fend for herself. Helen must come out of her shell and start to live again, but can she do it?

Melmoth is a beautifully written book but it is, quite honestly, unrelentingly grim. I can easily see why the author made Helen so colourless and not terribly likeable but because I couldn't relate to her on any level the book did not work for me I'm afraid. I was expecting a good Gothicky, supernatural yarn but what I actually found was much more of a psychological study. Don't get me wrong, I quite like that in crime stories, secrets, motivations and so on, but it wasn't what I wanted this time. I'm sure others will love this book, this is just me and my expectations not being quite fulfilled.

I will say that the city of Prague in The Czech Republic is very well portrayed. Not that I've been there but I've heard it's very beautiful and untouched by modern developers and that certainly comes across in this book. It's a good city for a book like this. I do so enjoy reading books set in the former iron curtain countries that we still don't know heaps about, so will be on the look out for more, despite this one not quite living up to my expectations.

~~~oOO~~~

Tuesday, 3 September 2019

Books read in August


Not sure what I did in August but it appears it did not include heaps of reading. Just four books read last month and these are they:


50. Black Roses - Jane Thynne

51. Superfluous Women - Carola Dunn

52. The Case of the Gilded Fly - Edmund Crispin

53. The Grave Tattoo - Val McDermid


All four were fiction and crime yarns which probably indicates I was looking for escapism as opposed to serious reading. I did read one non-fiction through August, Blue River, Black Sea by Andrew Eames, but have only just finished it so that will go on the books for September list. Anyway, all four of these books were very good, equally 'very good', so I can't really choose a favourite although I must say I did really enjoy this:




These are the two books I'm about to start:



It now being September (yaaay!) I'm in the mood for something a bit Gothicky and I'm hoping Melmoth will fit the bill. I enjoyed Sarah Perry's The Essex Serpent very much at my second attempt to read it. (Couldn't get on with it on the first try.) And this one sounds pretty good too.

And here's a 3000 piece jigsaw puzzle I did in August, which probably partly explains why in June and July I read 9 books, and in August, 4.


Happy autumn reading... I do love September.

~~~oOo~~~

Monday, 26 August 2019

Catching up


Two quick catch-up reviews today. Having rather a slow reading month due it being August and the school hols and so forth.

First up, The Case of the Gilded Fly by Edmund Crispen. This is my 25th. book for Bev's Calendar of Crime challenge, qualifying under the September category of 'Setting = Place of Employment'.

A group of actors are putting on a play at the Oxford Repertory Company. The play's author is a famous writer and actor, Robert Warner, the rest of the company are a motley crew, currently coverging on the city to start rehearsals. One of their number, Yseut Haskell, whom no one likes, is a nasty piece of work, given to wreaking havoc wherever she goes. Thus, no one is much surprised when she's found dead in the room of one of the professors at the university. Gervase Fen, himself an Oxford don, lends the police a hand in finding the murderer but it's tricky as it seems as though no one could have done it but everyone had a motive. Somebody did the deed though, but who?

I do like this series, I find the books beautifully written with a nice vein of humour running throughout each one. I suppose Gervase Fen reminds me a bit of Lord Peter Wimsey in his eccentricity and speech and perhaps that's why I like the books so much. This is the first book in the series and I must admit I did get bogged down a bit with the first few chapters, so many characters and rather a lot of waffle I thought... plus, I'm not a theatre buff and it probably helps if you are with this one. Nevertheless, it's an entertaining read and very hard to work out who the culprit was and indeed I did not. Had no idea and the reveal was a surprise, but then it was rather a 'locked room' sort of plot and I'm never good at solving those.


Lastly, The Grave Tattoo by Val McDermid.

Jane Gresham who lives in run-down part of London but is from a farm in the Lake District, is a Wordsworth scholar. She's had a theory for a number of years that Fletcher Christian - he of the Mutiny on the Bounty notoriety - was not killed on Pitcairn but instead returned to his birthplace in Cumbria. He apparently knew Wordsworth growing up and Jane thinks he came back in order to get his friend Wordsworth to write down the truth of what happened on The Bounty for him. She also thinks Wordsworth may have turned the tale into an epic poem and that it was suppressed and hidden amongst the poet's numerous papers. A peat-bog body is discovered on the fells so Jane gets leave from work to investigate, theorising that it could be Fletcher Christian due to some unusual tattoos but a killing in London concerning a young friend of hers, Tenille, grossly complicates matters before she can set off. In The Lakes at last and suddenly everyone is interested in Jane's research. The problem is, who on earth can she trust?

Very enjoyable this one. It took a while to get going and some of the detail of the plot in London is very sad, bordering on distressing if I'm honest. Once it got to The Lakes it took off and became very much about Wordsworth's life there, family history, and Jane's search for the truth. I also found the little insertions about Fletcher Christian and what happened to him in the south seas rather fascinating... in fact there're quite a lot of books about the mutiny so I might get one to read. (Proof that one book quite often leads to another and another...) This is only the second book I've read by Val McDermid, the first was the first book in one of her series, can't remember which now, but I notice she has other standalones and I might try more. I also rather fancy Naked Came the Phoenix, a book she's co-authored with thirteen other female crime writers... it sounds like a lot of fun and some very famous names there.

~~~oOo~~~

Friday, 16 August 2019

Three crime titles


Three books to review briefly today, all, unintentionally, connected to the two world wars. It'll be interesting to add up, at the end of December, exactly how many war themed books I've read this year.

First up, An Incomplete Revenge by Jacqueline Winspear. This qualifies for Bev's Calendar of Crime challenge under the September category of 'Month related item on cover - people working, picnic scene, means of travel'.


The son of Maisie's sponsor, James Compton, is thinking of investing in some property belonging to the Sandemere Estate near a village in Kent. There has been a spate of petty robberies and arson attacks. James wants to be sure his money will be safe so he asks Maisie to undertake some investigations. The area in Kent is famous for its hop picking and that season has, coincidentally, arrived. Maisie's assistant, Billy Beale, usually goes with his family so she asks him to keep an eye out while he's there for anything that seems amiss. When Maisie herself travels down she finds a village that feels like it's harbouring a secret. No one wants to talk about the fires and the villagers themselves are blaming their current problems on the gypsies who are also there for the hop picking. Maisie feels that she's never been around a village that feels quite so uncomfortable with itself, what's going on?

Yet another excellent instalment of this fascinating series. There's always so much going on in every Maisie Dobbs book, nothing is ever as it seems and the answer is almost always related to something in the past - often the First World War. And that's something that's surprised me a bit - that even 10 or 12 years after the finish of it, the war is still impacting what's going on in the country. It shouldn't surprise me, after all it was an event of massive proportions and also, as a child, in the 1950s and 60s, adults were still talking of what happened to them in World War 2. And the time frame is about the same, early 60s just 15 to 20 years after WW2, Maisies Dobbs, a similar distance from WW1. When I think that the year 2000 feels like yesterday but is in fact nearly 20 years ago, I now understand why my parents' generation talked about the war so much. Noticeably though, it was never the terrible stuff they told you about, it was always the crazy things they got up to, or the ridiculous goings on. Anyway, this series continues to enthrall and, looking at some of the upcoming titles and how interesting they sound, I think I shall have to be strict with myself and not gobble them all up at once.


Next, Black Roses by Jane Thynne. This is my 7th. book for the European Reading Challenge 2019 which is being hosted by Rose City Reader. It covers the country of 'Germany'.

Escaping an unwanted engagement, actress, Clara Vine, travels to Berlin in the hope of a part in a film. It's 1933 and the Nazis have recently come to power in Germany. Things are becoming dangerous for anyone who is Jewish or has Jewish connections. Clara finds herself invited to parties where high-up Nazi officials are present and thus she becomes part of their wives' set, particularly that of Magda Goebbels who wants Clara to model her new Nazi fashion line. Leo Quinn, an undercover spy for British Intelligence, comes into Clara's life and manages to convince her to report back to him on what the wives are involved in and talking about. A secret in Clara's background gives her a reason to agree to this espionage but 1930s Berlin is a very dangerous place and Clara has no experience of this kind of thing. How far is she prepared to go?

Well, this one was certainly a bit different. Not at all your average whodunnit, more of an historical fiction story with intrigue and skulduggery. It starts with a death and then procedes to go back in time and explain the events leading up to it. Some of it is chilling. The story details the beginning of the persecution of the Jews and their powerlessness to stop it. Some dug in and hoped for better times, for the population to come to its senses. It didn't of course and it was interesting how many knew the situation wouldn't improve and got out, heading to Britain and the USA if they could get in. Leo Quinn's official job was at the embassy dealing with the hordes of people trying to leave Germany. It was heart-breaking. This is a very well written and absorbing book, I gather the author is a journalist and that always shows I think. The next book, The Winter Garden or Woman in the Shadows, is set in a Nazi bride school, which I had no idea existed. I'll definitely be reading it. I need another new series naturally...


Lastly, Superfluous Women by Carola Dunn, book 22 in the 'Daisy Dalrymple' series. This is my book 17 for Bev's Mount TBR 2019 reading challenge.

Daisy is recovering from a bad bout of bronchitis and heads off to a hotel in Beaconsfield in Buckinghamshire to recuperate. She has an old school friend, Wilhelmina, living in the town with two other friends, all of them women who lost someone in the Great War and now find themselves alone. In those days they were known as 'superfluous women'... hence the title. Once well enough, Daisy and Alec go to dinner with the three women. A chance comment leads to Alec picking the lock of the cellar and there they find the body of a woman. Her identity is unknown but the police work on the assumption that it might be the previous owner, a Mrs. Gray, recently widowed in suspicious circumstances. Once again Daisy is drawn into a police investigation against the better judgement of her detective husband, Alec.

I felt this was a more serious instalment of 'Daisy's adventures with dead bodies' than most of the previous 20 or so books. This is probably because of the poignancy of the 'superfluous women' issue. It was noticeable how scathing some of the comments were about them and I felt this was uncalled for given how supportive I suspect most women were in the war effort and how many had lost sons, husbands, fianc├ęs, brothers. I think the figure was two million 'superfluous women' which is quite tragic. Bit shocked that the wonderful Tom Tring had retired but excellent to see him still appearing. Nice sense of the English shires too. Enjoyed this one very much.

~~~oOo~~~

Tuesday, 6 August 2019

Garden pics


Our weather has quite an autumnal feel to it at the moment. Fine by me as I heartily dislike summer and am always happiest as it draws to a close. I've just been around the garden taking a few photos of the flowers and thought I would share a handful here.




One sure sign of autumn approaching is when the sedums (some people call them ice plants) start to turn pink. These have not 'yet' but it can only be a week or two before they do. To be honest I really like them at this green stage too, so clean and statuesque.





Lacecap Hydrangeas, and an abundance of Fuchsias and tall thistley things I can never remember the name of.



Spot the butterfly!



I have to admit that this pic makes it look far more autumnal than it actually is...



But this one doesn't... blackberries = autumn in the UK.



And what's that song about the corn being as high as an elephant's eye? Not quite perhaps but it's taller than us and looking good. :-)

As always click for a clearer view.

~~~oOo~~~

Wednesday, 31 July 2019

Books read in July


Doesn't seem 5 minutes since I wrote 'Books read in June'... now I'm writing, 'Books read in July'! Frightening.

Anyway, moving swiftly on, I read 9 books this month - same as last month oddly enough - perhaps I've moved on a bit from my average of 6. Maybe. Regardless, it was a good reading month quality-wise and that's what counts.

41. The Body in the Ice - A.J. MacKenzie

42. The Hog's Back Mystery - Freeman Wills Crofts.

43. 21st. Century Yokel - Tom Cox. Not reviewed as time's been a bit short this month.

Basically, this is a super book about the author's move from Nottinghamshire to the South Hams of Devon where he takes up walking miles every day, particularly up onto Dartmoor. The book is about these walks, the wildlife he encounters, his animals, his neighbours, but also his childhood, family, and involves much cogitating and meandering from subject to subject. I was particularly taken with his father whose speech he quotes in capital letters and whose mantra is 'WATCH OUT FOR FOOKWITS AND LOONIES'. Hilarious.

Wonderful book, written with a lot of love I think.


44. Maigret and the Old People - Georges Simenon. Very underwhelmed by this one so did not review.

45. Desert Noir - Betty Webb.

46. How the Light Gets In - Louise Penny.

47. Perfume from Provence - Winifred Fortescue. Another book not reviewed because of lack of time.

The author and her husband move to Provence in the 1930s to start a new life away from depression Britain. War was rapidly approaching of course but they didn't know that and it doesn't intrude upon events in this charming book. Beautiful writing makes for a very strong sense of the south of France and I really enjoyed hearing about the vagueries of the neighbours, the maid, the gardener, the car, the weather, workmen and so on. Gardening features very heavily and it was interesting to hear about planting according to the cycle of the moon and so on. Also enjoyed the gardener's determination to have the garden as he wanted it rather than as Lady Fortescue wanted. Charming and delightful.


48. Unnatural Death - Dorothy L. Sayers.

49. An Incomplete Revenge - Jacqueline Winspear. To be reviewed.


So 9 books, 2 non-fiction, 7 fiction, all of those murder mysteries. It was such a good reading month, with ony one dud, that it's too difficult to choose a favourite. All but one of the crime stories were excellent and written by my favourite crime writers of the moment. So lucky to have such a good pool of 'go to' authors such as Louise Penny, Martin Walker, Jacqueline Winspear, Freeman Wills Crofts, Dorothy L. Sayers, Elly Griffiths and others that I've just started reading and will probably add to the list soon, such as A.J. MacKenzie, Damien Boyd, Betty Webb, Michael Gilbert. My cup runneth over.

My current reads:


Black Roses by Jane Thynne is a 1930s crime story, the main character being an actress working in Germany during the rise of the Nazi party. Fascinating. Blue River, Black Sea by Andrew Eames is about the author's journey along the Danube by bike, so two books about Germany although the author of the latter has just crossed into Austria. I seem to be reading quite a lot about this area of Europe this year.

Not sure what the plan is, reading-wise, for August, some of these I suspect:



Happy August reading!


~~~oOo~~~

Saturday, 27 July 2019

More book stacks


One of my favourite pastimes is trolling round a few charity shops to see what they have in the way of books and jigsaw puzzles. A lovely tour of some half a dozen or so yesterday, with my daughter and grand-daughter (was something of a military operation...), produced three new books and an absolutely stunning 3,000 piece jigsaw. Here be they:


The books first, this includes two other purchases from AM. (As usual, click for a bigger pic.)



From the bottom:

Down the River - H.E. Bates. (Non-fiction, stunningly illustrated.)
The Oxford Book of Essays chosen & edited by John Gross (AM)
The Librarian - Salley Vickers
Under the Tuscan Sun - Frances Mayes
Voyages of Delusion - Glyn Williams (AM)

A few pics of the illustrations by Peter Partington in Down the River:





So delighted with this book find, I had no idea H.E. bates, the novellist (most famous for The Darling Buds of May I suppose and the wonderful, Fair Stood the Wind for France), had written this. Love how charity shops can often throw up these lovely little gems.


My gorgeous new jigsaw, bought for the princely sum of £2:



Lastly, it's been pretty warm here recently so I though I'd make a new pile of books with a cold theme, Polar exploration, mountains, that sort of thing:


From the bottom:

This Cold Heaven: Seven Seasons in Greenland - Gretel Ehrlich
In the Kingdom of Ice - Hampton Sides
Dancing on Ice - Jeremy Scott
Voyages of Delusion - Glyn Williams
The Magnetic North - Sara Wheeler
Climbing Days - Dan Richards

Happy reading, whether you're hot, cold or somewhere inbetween... it's actually quite pleasant here in Devon today, cooler than it has been and much more comfortable.

~~~oOo~~~