Friday, 24 March 2023

Catching up - a couple of crime titles

A couple of crime titles to catch up on today and a couple of good'uns too!

First up, Murder in the Mill-Race by E.C.R Lorac, this is one of the BLCC reissues dating from 1952 so just a little bit older than me. I wonder which of us has aged best. (No need to answer that...)

So, a young doctor, Raymond Ferrens, moves to a small village in North Devon, very close to Exmoor. With him goes his wife of four years, Anne. The village is Milham-in-the-Moor and lies on a hilltop about ten miles from the nearest town. It's a stunningly pretty place but it doesn't take long for the couple to realise how isolated it is and how insular the villagers are. The new neighbours trot along to introduce themselves, among them Sister Monica, the nun who has run a small orphanage for many decades. Anne takes an instant dislike to the woman although she's not really sure why, something about her feels malign. So it's no surprise when, some months later, Sister Monica's body is found floating in the mill-race at the bottom of the hill, below the village. The local policeman, Sergeant Peel, does his level best with the villagers but he's from the local town and therefore 'not one of them'. It's decided to call in Scotland Yard and Chief Inspector MacDonald is consequently dispatched to Devon, along with Sergeant Reeves, to find out who could possibly want a nun, so beloved of the village, dead. And it's no easy task for them either. All they can get out of people is, 'Her come over dizzy, poor soul. That be it. Terrible dizzy Sister's been these weeks past'. That and how wonderful she was, what a saint and so on. But somebody clearly did not agree... So this is actually book 37 of Lorac's Inspector MacDonald books and I have not read the previous 36 in order, I've read 4 or 5 completely out of order. It doesn't matter, MacDonald is not a tortured soul and neither is Reeves, so there's no backstory to keep up with. I love how down to earth both of them are too and most of the humour that runs through the book is down to those two, particularly as regards the villagers and their, 'Her come over dizzy, poor soul'. I laughed quite bit having lived in Devon for many years. The village is a beautiful setting and it jumps off the page at you, and Lorac clearly knew her village mentality 'very' well. Parts of the book are almost creepy, taking place as they do in the dark and one scene near the end in a dark house was really quite edge-of-your-seat. E.C.R. Lorac (Edith Caroline Rivett) was a top-notch crime writer and why she was ever forgotten is as much of a mystery as you'll find in any of her books. A really excellent read.

Next, Camino Island by John Grisham. I thought he only wrote court-room, lawyer type books until Lark mentioned that she might read this for the Bookish Books challenge, back at the beginning of January. Intrigued, I looked it up and then reserved it from the library. It then languished on the shelf and I forgot what it was about and was very pleasantly surprised when I found it was about 'books'. *Head-desk* I'm 70 in May... that says it all really.

Anyhoooo. Mercer Mann is an author who's had one literary book published that did very well and a book of short stories that did not. She's been working in a uni, teaching, but is losing her job due to cuts. She's approached by a mysterious woman who knows all about her, even down to the fact that she spent a lot of her summers as a child on Camino Island off the coast of Florida. Why is that of interest? Well, five valuable original manuscripts of the work of F. Scott Fitzgerald have been stolen from the vaults of Princeton university. The woman, Elaine, works for an insurance company and is conducting her own enquiry into the whereabouts of the stolen manuscripts. She thinks a bookseller, Bruce Cable, who lives on Camino Island has them and she wants Mercer to return to the island on the pretext of trying to finish her next book and of having writer's block, which she actually does have. But really she wants Mercer to infiltrate the writing and book-selling community on the island to try and find out if Bruce actually does have the stolen works. So, John Grisham is not an author that generally appeals to me as I'm not a huge fan of court-room, lawyer types of books (although The Client is a great film so I should probably try the book). This is nothing like that. I wasn't sure what to expect of his writing and found it spare, not many frills, although the island is very real and I could picture it beautifully so the writing is not that spare. I absolutely loved the authors on the island, especially the couple, Myra and Leigh, one of whom writes sexually charged pot-boilers which have made a fortune and the other, literary novels, which have not. It was also an excellent glimpse into the world of rare book selling and the wheeler-dealing which goes on in a very shadowy sort of underworld. The heist at the start of the book was exciting and ruthless and I didn't know I liked that sort of thing so there you go... you never can tell. A pageturner, I read it in two sittings and ignored pretty much everything yesterday until I'd finished it. The end fizzled out a bit weakly I thought but no matter, I thought this was an excellent read and there is a another book about Bruce Cable I gather, Camino Winds. I'll get that as soon as my library reopens after renovations. If anyone has any other Grisham recommendations that are not set in court-rooms I would welcome them.

Saturday, 18 March 2023

I have been reading...

I fully admit I've been a bit AWOL lately but thankfully it's not down to anything nasty... I've been reading a book that's 900 pages long and concentrating on it fully rather than reading something else alongside it, as I would normally do. So, lots of reading going on but no posts so I'll try to make up for that today.

So, after A Killer Read by Erika Chase I finished off A Year of Living Simply by TV presenter, Kate Humble.

The author is quite famous in the UK as a sort of wild-life TV person who also did travel docs on the side. She used to present programmes such as Springwatch, but over the last few years she's taken more to documentaries about walking stretches of UK coastal paths and about people who've upped sticks and gone to live in the wilds of, say, the Welsh countryside or Orkney, to start small holdings or holiday lets. She's very personable and I thought this book, with ideas of how to simplify your life and live greener, might be interesting. And it was, to an extent. She talks a lot about going out walking for your mental health, starting a garden, moving to a quieter area, in her case rural Wales. She's also bought a house in a remote part of France. These are not things most of us can do to be frank. Even going out for a walk is not easy for some. The other thing is that I'm not sure jetting off to New Mexico to look at Earthship houses is particularly carbon footprint-friendly. All that said, I did find this gentle book, about simplifying your life, quite interesting, and Kate Humble's writing is delightful: I've already bought her book about walking, Thinking on My Feet, for my Kindle. 3.5 stars upped to 4 for the writing. 

My fourth book for March was a 900 page door-stopper of a book, The Mad Ship by Robin Hobb. This is book two in her 'Liveship Traders' fantasy trilogy: I reread book one last month.

Not sure how to make this spoiler free, it being a second book in a trilogy. Basically this continues all of the stories featured in book one, Ship of Magic, which concentrated heavily on the doings of the Vestrits, a family of Traders based in Bingtown on The Cursed Shores. Ronica is the matriarch, when she lost her husband it was thought his live-ship, The Vivacia, would go to Althea, their youngest daughter, because she's been sailing with him for years. But it doesn't, it goes to her sister and her horrible husband, and Althea goes off to prove herself elsewhere. She's back in Bingtown in book two, for a while, patching things up with her family. The ship, meanwhile, with Althea's nephew, Wintrow, a novice monk, aboard, is having plenty of adventures of its own. And then there's Malta, Althea's neice, whose antics in book one brought her all kinds of trouble especially with the Rainwild Traders who live up river in a city in the trees where the water is so poisonous it has 'changed' these humans in some very odd ways. Very hard to describe these epic saga type books in a cohesive manner, but I can assure you they're not hard to read, in fact quite the opposite. 900 pages fair cracks along, I had it read in 8 days and loved every single page. This is very much a book about family, what people will do to protect them and also how certain members are prepared to sacrifice other members for gain or as a result of jealousy. Hobb's first connected trilogy, 'Farseer' is about Fitz, a royal bastard, and his life is all you hear about - the Liveship Traders trilogy is a sea-going romp and you get all kinds of points of view, even down to sea serpents and dragons. It's suspenseful, wierd, political, completely adventurous, one heck of a journey to be honest. And the writing is sublime. A five star read for me, no question whatsoever. I want to read book 3 very soon but think I should give myself a couple of weeks to get my breath back first!

Here's a brilliant graphic showing all of the Realm of the Elderlings books in order of pubication, which is how I'm reading them:



 So, my current read is this which is slightly less of roller-coaster ride.

Murder in the Mill-Race by E.C.R. Lorac is set in a very small, isolated village in North Devon, close to where I live as a matter of fact. A young doctor and his wife move to the village and, although friendly enough, find it ruled over by Sister Monica, the nun who runs a small orphanage. They don't like her one little bit and they're not alone... but most of the village inhabitants call the woman 'wonderful', 'a saint'. But is she? I love E.C.R. Lorac's murder mysteries, so well written and convoluted.

Anyway, I hope you're all well and finding loads of good books to read.

Wednesday, 8 March 2023

A Killer Read by Erika Chase

So, I would not call myself a cosy mystery fan. When it comes to murder and mayhem I fall somewhere in the middle between cosy at one end and gritty at t'other. Authors such as Louise Penny, Elly Griffiths, Nevada Barr attract me, not too much grimness in there to disturb my equilibrium but enough to thrill me a bit. That said, occasionally I do read a cosy and occasionally I get a surprise. 


Lizzie Turner lives in Ashton Corners, Alabama, where she was born and grew up. She's a reading specialist at a local school, helping teachers and helping pupils who're struggling  to read and not interested in books. Along with Molly, an elderly lady who's connected to Lizzie by being a friend of her mother's, she decides to start a new book club in the area - The Ashton Corners Mystery Readers and Cheese Straws Society. Joining the club is Bob, a retired police chief, a lawyer friend of his, Jason, Sally-Jo, a teaching friend, several of the reluctant teen readers Lizzie's been coaching and so on. 

On the night of the first meeting at Molly's home all goes well until Molly and Lizzie suddenly realise they have an intruder. They go out into the hall and a man is there having just walked straight in. He asks to use the phone because his car has broken down. Neither of the women feel comfortable having him in the house as his behaviour is odd and this is borne out when he's killed within ten minutes of leaving - shot dead with a pistol. 

Chief of police in Ashton Corners is Mark Dreyfuss, he was Lizzie's crush at school and this makes her feel rather awkward. She has to get over it though as he's assuming a connection between the dead man and the book club, or, because it's Molly's house he came to, 'her' and the deceased. Lizzie doesn't think this is so and decides to move the investigation along by making enquiries of her own. Which of course makes her a target as she starts getting anonymous phonecalls in the middle of the night, asking her if she knows what story her journalist father was working on when he was killed years ago. And then someone starts to leave parts of a manuscript in her mailbox and the story therein reads like a memoir and is a real tragedy. What's going on? How can Lizzie and the group draw the threads of this complicated enquiry together and get some answers?

Ok, so A Killer Read  is my second book for March. I expected to love the first book and didn't, it was dull. So coming out of that I was looking for something with lots of characters of both sexes with different life experiences, different points of view and of varying ages. Real life! And I got it when I wasn't sure I would. 

How refreshing to have a main character whose love of books leads her to a career with books and young people. Her life is settled but not perfect, after her father died her mother went into a decline, neglecting Lizzie, still a child, and is now in a nursing home with dementia. The scenes where Lizzie and Molly visit are touching. So there is sadness in this book, and challenges. One of the teens Lizzie is trying to help is pregnant and clearly very afraid of something. Lizzie's male neighbour and landlord is clearly lonely, baking and looking out for her, and she realises this and is kind to him. It's nice. 

There's romance, a couple of them actually, but they don't overwhelm the main plot of the search for answers as to who the dead man was and what his connection to the town was. The dialogue is snappy and amusing, I loved all the baking going on and just the sense that these people supported each other and were trying to make life better for everyone. Uplifting, I would call the book. And I liked Lizzie and how she interacted with her friends, trying always to do her best but not always succeeding.

I gather the author, Erika Chase, is Canadian. How someone from Alabama would view the dialogue and its accuracy I wouldn't like to say. But as I'm not, I couldn't tell the difference and thought it was fine. I thought there was a decent but not strong sense of place, enough that I was content though. It did start rather slow and it wasn't until I was about a quarter of the way in that I thought, 'Oh... this is actually not bad!' I liked the mentions of other crime series, some of which I will look up, and I liked how each chapter started with a quote from a crime book by another author.

Of course, A Killer Read  being a book about books never harms and this is my fourth book for the Bookish Books Reading Challenge which is being hosted by Susan at  Bloggin' 'Bout Books. Book 2, Read and Buried, is already on my Kindle, it's set just before Christmas so that's probably when I'll read it. 

I hope you're finding some good books to read in March.

Wednesday, 1 March 2023

Books read in February

It's amazing how your reading months can vary. In January I was up and down like a yo-yo, anything from 2 star reads to 5. February has been much more on an even keel, mainly 4s and certainly no 2s! 

Anyway, the books. I read 11 last month - given February is a short month that's quite surprising for me but there you go, if life actually made sense where on Earth would we be...

9. The Pavilion in the Clouds - Alexander McCall Smith

10. Midwinter Murders - Agatha Christie which I briefly spoke about in that link. 

11. Blind Descent - Nevada Barr

12. To Be Taught if Fortunate - Becky Chambers 

13. The Willows in Winter - William Horwood. Delightful sequel to The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame

14. Murder Before Evensong - The Reverand Richard Coles

15. Letters to Alice on First Reading Jane Austen - Fay Weldon. This novella length non-fiction book features letters Fay Weldon sent to her, non-existant niece, Alice, after said niece had told her she found Jane Austen 'boring'. I must admit I thought Alice was a real person, but she's not, so it's a bit confusing. Regardless, I enjoyed these essays on Jane and her life, there's a lot of background on what life was like for middle and upper-class women in the early 1800s and I found it fascinating. 

16.The Nonesuch - Georgette Heyer. This was a reread of one of my favourite Regency romances by Heyer, this is probably my third reading of it but it still felt fresh and delightful.

17. Washington Black - Esi Edugyen

18. Red Sauce Brown Sauce - Felicity Cloake. Non-fiction about a journalist who cycles around the UK looking at what we Brits eat for breakfast, regional variations that kind of thing. Very enjoyable, I have another book by her where she goes to France for the same reason so I look forward to reading that. 

19. Ship of Magic - Robin Hobb. A reread of book 1 of Hobb's 'Liveship Trader' series which I read 10 years ago. I want to read book 2 and didn't think I'd remember enough about it to understand what was going on. Loved it all over again and can't wait to start on book 2 now. The review I did of The Ship of Magic, back in 2013, is HERE.

So those are my 11 books... 9 fiction, 2 non-fiction. There was one 3 star (Washington Black), seven 4 stars, and three 5 star reads (Blind Descent by Nevada Barr, The Nonesuch by Georgette Heyer, and Ship of Magic by Robin Hobb). I mainly stayed in the UK this month but did several forays to Sri Lanka, New Mexico in the USA, and Barbados, Canada and Morroco in Washington Black. So that's not bad really. 

Favourite book? Not easy when I consider February to have been an excellent month for books, much better than January. But if pushed it would be this:

Blind Descent by Nevada Barr had me on the edge of my seat following claustrobic Anna Pigeon into the depths of the Carlsbad Caverns in New Mexico. Fantastic. Honorable mentions, well both of my 5 star rereads, but also Murder Before Evensong by Richard Coles, To Be Taught if Fortunate by Becky Chambers and The Pavilion in the Clouds by Alexander McCall Smith. 

I hope February was a good reading month for you, and that you're keeping well and staying sane in these crazy times. 


Wednesday, 22 February 2023

A couple of short reviews

So, two short reviews today, and the first of those is Murder Before Evensong by The Reverend Richard Coles. This is the first book in his new 'Canon Clement' series of murder mystery books.

It's 1988 and Canon Daniel Clement has been the Rector of St. Marys in the village of Champton for eight years. He lives with his mother, the acerbic Audrey, and two dachshunds. The patron of Champton is Bernard de Floures who lives in the stately Champton House along with his son and daughter; living nearby is a cousin, Anthony, down on his luck a bit who is doing historical work in the archives. Life is never simple for a vicar and the battle he's presently fighting is his project to install toilets in the church for the use of parishoners. Various factions are for and against and things are about to turn nasty. When Anthony is found dead in the church, viciously stabbed with a pair of secateurs, the police look to Daniel for information about the village and villagers. Who on Earth would want this rather sad and blameless man dead in such a horrific manner? So, Richard Coles is a bit of a media personality. He broadcasts on the radio I believe and is seen regulary on TV, a couple of years ago he was a contestant on Strictly Come Dancing for instance. He comes over as a very amiable, gentle person and a very good communicator. (He's actually famous twice over because he had a number one hit with a group called The Communards back in the 1980s.) All this he brings to his writing, even though the book is about dead bodies galore! I hesitate to call this a cosy crime novel even though it probably is. There's a delightfully rich strain of humour running right through the book, some excellent observations on human behaviour and I loved the various anecdotes slotted in and wondered if they came from personal experience as a vicar or perhaps those of friends. If you like old fashioned 'English villagey' type crime stories then this might be up your street. I found it well written, rich in background detail, and fun to read: I didn't guess the culprit. So, I think book two is out this year and I'm sure I will read it at some stage because I do have rather an inexplicable weakness for churchy crime books.

Next up, Washington Black by Esi Edugyan. This book was short-listed for the Man Booker prize in 2018.

George Washington Black, known as 'Wash', is a young slave on a plantation in Barbados in the 1830s. The plantation is run by two brothers. The elder, Erasmus, is a cruel man whose word is law, the younger brother, known as 'Titch', is a scientist trying to perfect a flying machine. For this he needs an assistant and he chooses ten year old, Washington Black, from the slaves on the plantation. The boy's life changes completely as he comes to terms with not being treated as property, because Titch is an Abolutionist. He begins by teaching Wash to read but where the boy's real talent lies is in art, he is an amazing artist able to reproduce plants and animals beautifully. But Titch's main interest is in flying machines and he's busy building one atop a hill on the plantation. Things come to a head when a tragedy occurs. It's not Washington's fault but Titch knows he will be blamed. And so the adventure begins: the two put their trust in the flying machine and take off into the wild blue yonder. Ok, so this was one of those books which sounded fascinating, full of potential, but which didn't quite live up to that promise. The first third takes place on the plantation and is quite gruelling as you will imagine. The elder brother is appalling and it's hard to square his treatment of slaves with that of his brother's. After that it became a reasonable adventure story, ending up by the side of Hudson's Bay in the winter. But then I found Titch's behaviour towards Wash extraordinary and didn't buy it. Then we have a whole section about Wash's time in Nova Scotia. I think my problem was that everything about the novel was 'OK'. Not fascinating or intriguing or anything else, just 'all right'. For a book about slavery, friendship, abandonment, coming of age, it lacked real depth for me. I never really felt completely invested in the characters. But that's just me, Your Mileage May Vary as they say and it 'was' short-listed for the Man Booker Prize so what do I know? LOL!


Sunday, 12 February 2023

I have been reading...

It's been a week or so since I last posted, which isn't a lot but I still seem to have four books to mention or review. So let's crack on...

First up, a short story collection, Midwinter Murders by Agatha Christie. I actually started this before Christmas when I was reading a few seasonal short stories and had I picked a couple from this book. It's a very good collection of wintery and Christmas tales which feature Hercule Poirot, Miss Marple and Mr. Quin and there're also couple of standalones. I liked the Miss Marple stories best, The Christmas Tragedy and Sanctuary but also a Tommy and Tuppence story, The Clergyman's Daughter, which I talked about  HERE. But really this is a very solid collection of excellent stories. 

And, for lovers of Agatha Christie's short stories, another seasonal collection has been compiled for publication on the 2nd. March, Sinister Spring.


Next up, Blind Descent by Nevada Barr. This is my book for this month's 'Read Around the USA challenge' which is to read a book set in Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico, Utah or Wyoming. 

This is book six in the author's 'Anna Pigeon' series of crime novels. Anna works as a National Park warden and doesn't seem to be able to avoid murder and mayhem wherever she goes. (And don't us avid crime readers just love these people?) This time she's sent to New Mexico's Carlsbad Caverns NP to help rescue a friend of hers, Frieda, who is trapped, injured, in a mainly unexplored part of the cave system called, Lechuguilla. There's only one problem with this: Anna suffers from claustrophobia. It takes a while for her and the guides to get to her friend, when she does Frieda tells her that she thinks her injury was not an accident and that someone has tried to kill her. It not Good News. Now Anna is faced, not only with the trials of getting an injured person out through some very tight spaces, she also has no idea who she can trust any more. Well goodness me, I think if you're claustrophobic yourself you might want to think twice before reading this. I'm not particularly but it certainly gave me the shivers in a lot of places. The atmosphere of suspense and danger in the underground scenes was superb and nothing goes well so this is not a cosy mystery! I think this might be my favourite of this series so far, although they have all been good and I always love the NP settings and learn a lot about areas I had not previously heard of. I happily gave this 5 stars on Goodreads because I thought it was fantastic.

Next, To Be Taught if Fortunate by Becky Chambers.

This is a science-fiction novella by an author who is very popular at the moment, one of the new breed of sci-fi authors who have suddenly come to the fore. It's about four astronauts surveying four planets fifteen light years away from Earth. They've been put to sleep before they arrive at the first planet and once they finish with each planet they are put under again. This of course means that when they get back to Earth eventually, many years will have passed and their loved ones will no longer be alive. The book charts what they find on each planet, how they interact with each other and how they deal with communications from Earth. Many years into the project they start to realise all is not well with their home planet. That's all I'm going to say. For a book that's only 135 pages long this packs a punch. To start off it's full of the science of the flora and fauna they find on the planet. It tells how their bodies are subtly altered with supplements to cope with different environments as they sleep. It sounds dry but it's not, it's fascinating. Quite character-centric too. Ariadne is the narrator and she has with her two men and another female and it was really interesting to read about their relationship to one another and how they supported each other in times of stress. I liked this a lot. I haven't loved everything I've read by Becky Chambers but I think she's a very talented new name in the science -fiction genre. 

And the last book I want to mention today is The Willows in Winter by William Horwood. This is the author's first sequel to The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame. All of the characters are back, Mole, Ratty, Badger, Toad of Toad Hall and are joined this time by Mole's nephew who is staying with him. Mole gets himself lost in a blizzard while on an errand of mercy and they all think he's dead. Meanwhile Toad has a new hobby, planes, and that leads to all kinds of craziness. Great stuff and I'll be reading the next book, Toad Triumphant, in May when the actual book begins. 

So that's what I've read. The books I'm reading at the moment are these three:

Murder Before Evensong by the Reverand Richard Coles is a church based murder mystery set in 1988. Red Sauce Brown Sauce by Felicty Cloake is a travelogue charting the author's cycling odyssey around the UK looking at what we Brits eat for breakfast. And Letters to Alice on First Reading Jane Austen  by Fay Weldon is a novella length chat to her niece, Alice, (I presume she actually existed) about Jane Austen, her life and her books. All three of these are, so far, excellent. 

So, that's me up to date bookwise. I hope you're all keeping well and enjoying lots of good books.

Saturday, 4 February 2023

A couple of library books

I'm the first to admit that my library usage dropped drastically during Covid, as it did for a lot of people, but for me it hasn't really recovered. So this year I thought I'd make an effort to use the library a bit more and see if I can up the number I read, which has been pretty poor (12 to 15 a year) for several years now. 

So the next two reviews are both library books. First up, On Basilisk Station by David Weber. This book is also part of my personal challenge to read more science fiction in 2023.

Honor Harrington is a captain in the Manticoran navy. Her planet is top-dog in a system where there're wormholes that provide easy travel to other places - a sort of hub - but of course all is not well in the state of Denmark. Another planet, Haven, has armed itself to the hilt and is busy trying to increase its influence everywhere, including the primitive planet, Medusa, which is overseen by the Manticoran, Basilisk Station. And this sleepy outpost is where Honor and her new ship, Fearless, are banished after she makes a superior officer and his ship look foolish in a mock battle. When the ship normally in charge of the station returns home for a refit, Honor suddenly finds herself in charge of a system which is broken. Smuggling prevails and everyone has been turning a blind eye. Until now. Honor has no intention of letting this state of affairs continue. Can she put things right while trying to gain the confidence of her disillusioned new crew, especially her second in command? Well, this story is a lot more complicated than I've been able to explain. There's quite a lot of interstellar politics in the region, it's not always clear who's working for whom and it can get a little difficult to keep track. Plus the author, David Weber, does like to go into minute detail about pretty much 'everything', particularly all the tech. The trick is to just go with it and, as others have said in reviews, it doesn't really matter if you're not one hundred percent with it, the basic story is excellent and perfectly understandable. I liked it a lot, especially Honor who is exactly as her name suggests, 'honorable' and determined to do the right thing even if she puts some very powerful noses out of joint. I think this sub-genre is known as 'military science-fiction' which might not be exactly my thing, despite me being a huge Star Trek fan. I probably wouldn't go for anything that was 'hard' military sci-fi but this one hit just the right note for me and I enjoyed it a lot.

And next for something 'completely' different, The Pavilion in the Clouds by Alexander McCall Smith. This was a random grab from one of the library tables. I'm not even sure if it was a themed display, I just saw it there, was attracted by the cover, read that it was set in the former Ceylon, now Sri Lanka, and popped it in my bag.

Bella is eight and lives with her parents on a tea plantation in Ceylon. The year is 1938. Her father, Henry, runs the plantation and her mother, Virginia, tries very hard to occupy herself in this isolated outpost of the British Empire. They hire a governess for Bella, Miss White, who has moved from Calcutta and feels that Ceylon is a real come-down, that she's far more educated than her employers, and doesn't hesitate to let them all know about it. It's an incredibly quiet life, especially for wives. Gossip keeps them going and various women find various ways to stop themselves going crazy with boredom. Bella is too young to understand the machinations of the adult world but can't help but get dragged in, leading to misunderstandings and worse. Well, I've read a fair few books by McCall Smith, The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency and Isabel Dalhousie mainly, but I'm not sure I was aware of his standalone books. Which is daft but there you go. This is a very insulated world he's getting to grips with here and it seems to me he does it very well. The stultifying boredom of British lives in these regions, at that time, oozes off the page, little things assuming massive proportions, small remarks agonised over until something is made of them that isn't there. The writing is beautiful, lyrical and almost as languorous as the lives he's portraying. And also McCall Smith is one of those male authors who do women very, very well, perhaps better than he does men. What the book reminded me of very strongly was Absent in the Spring by Mary Westmacot, aka Agatha Christie. Both books have a great deal of gentle introspection within their pages, allowing the reader to get right inside the head of whoever is narrating at the time. The last couple of chapters take place in Scotland when Bella is grown up and at uni. I found these immensely satisfying as we find out what really happened and finishing off the book perfectly. When I picked this book up at random in the library I had no idea what a little treat I was in for. 

So, this is my current library pile. (Click for a bigger view.)

Quite a preponderance of science fiction but only because they had some new ones when I was in there last week. The top two are to go back and I have three more reserved books to pick up soon. Hopefully I can continue with my plan to use the library more this year.