Sunday, 1 October 2023

Books read in September

It seemed to me that September had no sooner arrived than it was gone. I'm sure time is speeding up! And now it really is autumn with leaves dropping and gales coming in from The Atlantic. Love it.

So, books read in September, by me, numbered 7. (Feel free to say that as Len Goodman would have. :-) )

75. Remarkably Bright Creatures - Shelby Van Pelt

76. Everyone in my Family Has Killed Someone - Benjamin Stevenson

77. Legends and Lattes - Travis Baldree 

78. The United States of Adventure - Anna McNuff. (This has an alternate title of 50 Shades of the USA.) I read this for the Read Around the USA challenge I'm doing, this category was 'a book that covers multiple states'. The author, a British cyclist, decides to cycle every state of the USA, taking 6 months to do it. Some states she really just passed into and out of an hour later but others she spent time in properly. I enjoyed this a lot especially reading about the people she met who were so kind to her. But my gosh, what an endeavour! Amazing. 

79. The Belial Stone - R.D. Brady. This was a Dan Brown type mix of adventure, archaeology, paranormal thriller - all life was there. There's an ancient source of power that needs to be found before someone or some'thing' gets hold of it and destroys the world. Enjoyable romp, first book in a series that's already 14 books long. I have book 2 as it's about a hidden library in Ecuador, but how much further I'll go after that I'm not sure.

80. The Mystery of 31 New Inn - R. Austin Freeman.

This is a London based novella published in 1912. R. Austin Freeman wrote a load of books and short stories featuring his detective Dr. Thorndyke, and this one of those. A friend of Thorndyke's, Dr. Jervis, takes a position standing in for another doctor while he's on holiday. He's called out in the middle of the night but the situation is very mysterious as he's not allowed to see where it is he's being taken in the enclosed coach. When he gets there the patient is clearly either suffering from sleeping sickness or an overdose of morphine and the two people whose care he's in are very odd indeed. Something is clearly not right and Jervis needs Thorndyke to help him solve the mystery. I always like the style in which these early 20th. century crime yarns are written, they're always well written with a nice sense of the macabre. The two drs. are very much in the vein of Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson with one of them knowing everything and the other not so much. I enjoyed this but thought it was more of a short story padded out than a book in its own right. Not bad though and I'll read more when I come across them.

81. The Night Hawks - Elly Griffiths.

So, this is book 13 in the author's well known Ruth Galloway series. Ruth is now head of archaeology at the fictitious University of North Norfolk after a brief foray in Cambridge. Metal detectorists who don't abide by the rules are known as Night Hawks, although the group who find a dead body on a beach are not in fact of that ilk, their leader has just called the group that. Alongside the dead body is found a bronze-age burial so Ruth is called in. Meanwhile Nelson is called to a lonely farmhouse where a murder/suicide of a man and his wife have taken place. Eventually, of course, the two cases collide in the middle. So, I loved this as I do every Ruth Galloway book but had the sense that Griffiths was coming to the end of her interest in the series and indeed she has said that book 15 is the last but possibly not forever. I find each instalment strangely addictive, once I start reading I simply can't stop and I think quite a lot of people are the same. Ruth's thoughts have always brought a lot of humour to the books but this time I found that humour to be not quite there. I still enjoyed the ongoing saga of her personal life with Nelson and the cast of extra characters, all different, all with their complicated lives... Cathbad the druid is a favourite and has been since the start. I shall miss Ruth when I have no more books in the series to read. 

So that was my month of September in books. Standouts were Remarkably Bright Creatures, Legends and Lattes, The United States of Adventure and The Night Hawks. I consider it to be a pretty good reading month when you have four really good books out of seven and the rest weren't actually terrible either.

At the moment I'm struggling to decide on another fiction book after setting aside two after 30 or so pages. I am reading this non-fiction though:

Outlandish by Nick Hunt is split into four sections all dealing with various wilderness areas that are sort of in the wrong place, Arctic tundra in Scotland, primeval forest in Poland, the only European desert in Spain and grassland steppes in Hungary. The writing in this is sublime and I'm absolutely 'loving' it. Will look for more books by him when I've finished this.

Happy October! I hope your families are doing better than mine healthwise, it seems to be one thing after another for us. Thank goodness for good books. I hope you all have an excellent reading month.

Wednesday, 13 September 2023

I have been reading...

Several books to talk about today, all of them to some degree 'hyped' books that I've seen around the blogging world and Booktube a lot. But did they live up to the hype?

 I'll start with, Remarkably Bright Creatures by Shelby Van Pelt.

Tova Sullivan, an elderly woman of Swedish descent, lives in the town of Sowell Bay, a couple of hours north of Seattle, WA. She's a widow who likes to keep busy so has a job as a cleaner at the local aquarium. It gets her out of house and also takes her mind off the loss of her son, Erik, some 30 years ago. He was 18, his body was never found and no one really knows what happened to him. Tova loves all of the sea creatures in the aquarium but has a special affection for Marcellus, the giant Pacific octopus. She stands and talks to him every day and can actually see him listening to her. One evening she finds him almost dead on the floor, and helps him back to his tank. Thus begins a unique friendship wherein Marcellus is instrumental in finding out what happened to Erik. This is one of those much hyped books that a lot of people seemed to have been reading lately, and no wonder as it really is a delightful read. I like books with older protagonists and lots of ordinary folk in them and this book has a nice interesting cast of characters. My favourite by far was Marcellus the octopus and I loved the chapters penned by him. My least favourite was Cameron, the young man drawn north to look for his unknown father in Sowell Bay: for at least half the book he was entitled and annoying. There was a lovely sense of a faded resort on Puget Sound and thus a good sense of place... it sounded wonderful to me anyway! An excellent read, lived up to its hype.

Next, Everyone in My Family Has Killed Someone by Benjamin Stevenson.

Ernest Cunningham has been summoned to a family reunion in the mountains, somewhere in Australia. He's somewhat surprised as he doesn't have a lot to do with them having turned in his brother, Michael, for murder. The brother is now out of prison and due to meet them all in the mountains. Ernest has no idea what his reception will be. What he doesn't expect is a dead body in the snow, and for nobody to know who it is. The lone policeman immediately arrests his brother when he finally arrives, it seems he was out of prison earlier than they were told. Michael decides that Ernest should be the one to investigate and try to prove him innocent... but does Ernest himself believe that? So this was one of those tongue-in-cheek books, written in a style where the narrator - Ernest - chats away to the reader of the book telling her or him how it is that his family are a bunch of killers, be it by accident or intent. There wasn't a single person in it I liked and I must admit to finding the writing style tiresome. I thought the author was trying too hard to pay homage to Golden Age crime yarns. I did like the mystery itself and that's what kept me going until the end, which I thought was quite clever. One thing that did surprise me was the absence of any sense of 'Australia', it really could have been anywhere. I gave it 3 stars on Goodreads so it was 'OK' but it should be said that a lot of people like it a lot more than I did. Did not, for me anyway, live up to the hype.

Lastly, Legends and Lattes by Travis Baldree.

So, 'Viv' is an adventurer, an Orc in fact, who has tired of adventuring. She needs a new career so lands up in the city of Thune with a plan to bring coffee to the masses. Coffee is not known here, it's  Dwarfish thing Viv discovered while in one of their cities. She fell in love with it and thinks there must be a gap in the market and the possiblility of a new life here in Thune. She finds a shop to convert, a Hob for a carpenter, a Succubus as a barmaid and a genius baker in the shape of a Rattkin. Slowly but surely people are drawn to the new coffee shop. But all is not plain sailing, there's a protection racket going on and Viv has to decide whether she's left her former violent life behind her or not. I was reminded quite strongly of Terry Pratchett while I was reading this although his trademark humour and way with words is not present in this book. It's described as 'cozy fantasy' and that's pretty accurate. I thought it was absolutely charming and the cast of characters delightful. Not a lot happens  (that could be said of a lot of books) but somehow the author manages to make the setting up of a new business absolutely rivetting and that's quite clever in my opinion. Loved it and happily gave it 5 stars. Definitely lived up to the hype! 


So, I'm currently reading this:

The United States of Adventure charts the author, Anna McNuff's, cycling trip through every state of the USA (and part of Canada at the beginning). This is for The Bookgirls' USA challenge I'm doing and so far it's excellent. (NB this has an alternative title, Fifty Shades of the USA but I don't know if that's the American title or the British. The UK Kindle title is the former version, which I prefer.)

I hope you'e all well and enjoying some good autumn reading!

Sunday, 3 September 2023

Books read in August

Despite all that's been going on this last month, I still managed to read 10 books. Of course, it could be 'because' of it all I've read 10 books... they do make a good escape from reality!

Anyhow, the books:

65. My Sister's Grave - Robert Dugoni

66. The Murder of Mr. Wickham - Claudia Gray

67. The Murder of Roger Ackroyd - Agatha Christie (a reread and very good) 

68. The Left-handed Booksellers of London - Garth Nix

69. A Murder of Crows - Sarah Yarwood-Lovett 

70.  The People on Platform 5 - Clare Pooley. I've nabbed the synopsis from Goodreads for speed.

Every day Iona Iverson, a larger-than-life magazine advice columnist, travels the ten stops from Hampton Court to Waterloo Station by train, accompanied by her dog, Lulu. Every day she sees the same people, whom she knows only by nickname: Impossibly-Pretty-Bookworm and Terribly-Lonely-Teenager. Of course, they never speak. Seasoned commuters never do.

Then one morning, the man she calls Smart-But-Sexist-Manspreader chokes on a grape right in front of her. He’d have died were it not for the timely intervention of Sanjay, a nurse, who gives him the Heimlich maneuver. This single event starts a chain reaction, and an eclectic group of people with almost nothing in common except their commute discover that a chance encounter can blossom into much more. It turns out that talking to strangers can teach you about the world around you--and even more about yourself.

I enjoyed this immensely. I'm rapidly developing a taste for this kind of character-based contemporary fiction. It's a 'found family' tale of unlikely people who slowly become friends and form a real support network. Secrets abound and personal decisions and discoveries need to be made. It's well written and I felt very involved in the lives of all of the characters. Nice one.

71. Holy Ghosts - edited by Fiona Snailham is another of the British Libraries' weird collections. There were several stand-out stories in this but quite a few others I'd already read or weren't that great so overall a bit disappointing but fine for anyone who hasn't read 'any' churchy weird fiction at all. 

72. Lady Susan by Jane Austen is not one of her main six novels of course, it's an epistolary novella about a woman who is pretty awful. She foists herself on family for long visits and then sets about scheming to make husbands fall in love with her, thereby causing as much chaos as she can. It was very, very good. 

73. Childhood's End - Arthur C. Clarke. 

This is classic science fiction, published the year of my birth, 1953. 

When the silent spacecraft arrived and took the light from the world, no one knew what to expect. But, although the Overlords kept themselves hidden from man, they had come to unite a warring world and to offer an end to poverty and crime. When they finally showed themselves it was a shock, but one that humankind could now cope with, and an era of peace, prosperity and endless leisure began.

These older, classic sci-fi yarns don't always work for me but this one did. I thoroughly enjoyed this speculation on what would happen if an alien race suddenly appeared and demanded we stop warring with each other. Things begin to happen of course and it's intriguing and makes you think. I wasn't mad about the outcome but there you go. Well written and very readable indeed.

74. The Accidental Detectorist - Nigel Richardson.

This, my only non-fiction read for August, was just delightful. The author, a travel writer, decides to take up metal detecting during lockdown. He joins other detectorists to learn what to look for, which equipment he needs, where to search (nowhere where you haven't got the relevant permissions in place) and so on. It was so fascinating to read about the various people he meets who do this, how welcoming they are are and how they go about the countryside digging it up. You can't say you're a detectorist unless you've found a 'hammered' appparently - this is a sort of handmade coin from before they started minting properly. Poor Nigel has awful trouble finding one while all around him are digging them up by the ton. There's a nice amount of history in the book, interesting facts about hoards that have been discovered, that sort of thing. This was my favourite read of the month and made me head to the BBC's iPlayer to try their series 'Detectorists' starring Toby Jones, Mackenzie Crook and Rachel Stirling (Diana Rigg's daughter). It's charming and very British. This is a book I highly recommend if you like 'quirky British'.

Anyway, it' nice to be back after a two week blogging break and an odd two weeks it's been. When the medical profession describes something you have as 'interesting' it's never a Good Thing. Hubby's leg is now on the mend but although he had cellulitis we have no idea what caused it or where the open wound came from a week after he was diagnosed or why he needed 3 lots of serious antibiotics to rid himself of it. The theory is some kind of insect bite on the cellulitis area but, all in all, he feels like being 'interesting' is vastly over-rated and I'm inclined to agree!

I hope you had a good reading month in August? I'm delighted to welcome in September. Although it's not officially autumn until the 21st. I do think that once September arrives summer is more or less behind us and that's fine with me. Not a fan of summer. 

Happy September reading! I shall be thinking about what I want to read this autumn and perhaps do a post about it soon.

Tuesday, 22 August 2023

Blogging break

I've decided to take a blogging break for a couple of weeks while my husband's cellulitis heals. He has a nasty open wound on his leg now, it's worrying but he's on a second lot of antibiotics so hopefully those will do the trick. It doesn't help that diabetics don't heal as quickly as the rest of us of course and I can worry for England which also doesn't help. I will still probably be around commenting on blog posts but am just not in the mood at the moment to do book reviews. Take care and enjoy the rest of August!

Monday, 14 August 2023

I have been reading...

Yet another catch-up post from me. I've been reading but not enthusiastically for some reason. Possibly not finding books to suit my mood right now. 

I was almost halfway through The Murder of Roger Ackroyd by Agatha Christie before I realised I'd read it before. Checking Goodreads, it was 2016, long enough for me to have forgotten whodunit so I carried on. Good book, even on the second reading.

Then I read a YA fantasy, The Left-handed Booksellers of London by Garth Nix, my 12th. book for  Susan's Bookish Books Reading challenge.

Susan Arkshaw has just turned 18. She lives with her airy-fairy mother in Somerset, a mother who will not talk about who Susan's father is. Longing to get away, she gets a place at an art college in London but sets off early with the idea of starting a search for her father. Going to see an uncle she's just in time to see him turned to dust by 'Merlin', a young man who is a member of a secret organisation, The Booksellers of London. They are guardians a of a sort, protecting the world from the dangerous creatures of myth and legend of The Old World. The Booksellers fall into two categories, left-handed or right and thus have different skills and abilities. It soon becomes apparent that there's something different about Susan and someone sees her existence as dangerous. Who, from The Old World, is after her? It's quite clear that her father really must be found. So, this was a fun read. A bit sort of 'Chosen One' in theme, but that's fine as I quite like that. I thought the world building - an alternate 1983 - was very good: Garth Nix is a seasoned author with a lot of experience of that, witness his 'Old Kingdom' series, which is terrific. There're a lot of bookish references in the story, so that's fun. I enjoyed the dash across England to The Lake District too. So, not a bad start to a new series, I think book 2, The Sinister Booksellers of Bath, is already out so I'll read that at some point. 

Lastly, A Murder of Crows by Sarah Yardwood-Lovett. This was free with Prime Reading, along with the next two in the series.

Dr. Nell Ward is an Ecologist. Bats are more or less her life apart from the secrets she doesn't share with her colleagues. She's surveying a tunnel that runs under a house when she hears an odd noise and leaves because it unnerves her. Next thing she knows she's a suspect in a murder case because a woman is found dead not far from where she was... the woman she was supposed to meet at the house a bit later in fact. She didn't know her but the police thinks she did and things begin to spiral out of control very quickly. Because she knows the police are barking up the wrong tree and that there's a murderer on the loose, Nell and her colleague, Adam, begin to investigate. It's not long before Nell begins to suspect she's been set up. So, this was another quite enjoyable crime yarn. The ecological aspect was different but I did feel the author wanted us to know how much she knew about bats. I felt like quite the expert by the time I'd finished the book. I also felt the triangular love interest thing was rather a distraction, two men after one woman is ok for a bit but I got the feeling this was going to drag on into subsequent books and could quickly become old. (I completely agree that I'm ancient and thus not the target audience for this kind of thing.) Anyway, not a bad first book, different enough to keep me reading the Prime Reading instalments but possibly not enough to buy a load.

Having talked briefly last time about my husband's various illnesses, he caught me on the hop last week and found a new one: Cellulitis. We've no clue where it came from but the angry, red inflammation on his leg turned out to be just that and I'm so glad we nipped to the doctor sharpish and caught it early. A lot of people worry about bothering the dr. unnecessarily, including 'me'. My advice is 'don't'. If something's doesn't look right, it probably isn't - get it looked at. Here endeth the first lesson...

Happy reading, August here in the UK continues to feel just like autumn and that's fine by me but I do feel for people around the world who're going through awful things at the moment, the island of Maui for instance. We live in challenging times. 

Thursday, 3 August 2023

Books read in July

I seem to have been a little AWOL recently. No particular reason, just busy, July seemed to be full of routine medical appointments for my husband, he's diabetic with heart problems, a newish tendency towards pneumonia and now cataracts that need operating on. Fun, fun. In better news it's our Golden wedding anniversary tomorrow, I'm not certain where 50 years went but 'went' it did... We'll be celebrating over the weekend with the family.

So, I have been reading but not as much as usual: I read just six books in July, although I've just finished two others started last month too, so it's more than 6 really but I will count those for August as it makes no difference whatsoever. 

These are the books:

59. The Fatal Flying Affair - T.E. Kinsey

60. A Truth Universally Acknowledged: 33 Reasons Why We Can't Stop Reading Jane Austen, edited by  Susannah Carson. This is pretty much what it says on the tin - 33 essays by all and sundry about Jane Austen's books, characters, the settings and of course Austen's life. I've been reading this slowly for months and it was well worth the effort, very interesting indeed.

61. Emily Wilde's Encyclopaedia of Faeries - Heather Fawcett

62. The Southern Book Club's Guide to Slaying Vampires - Grady Hendrix

63. Every Dead Thing - John Connolly. I've read 13 of Connolly's 'Charlie Parker' books but never read book 1... now I have. Parker's wife and small daughter are brutally murdered and policeman, Parker, follows the trail to New Orleans to root out the culprit. Truthfully, I don't think I learnt anything I didn't already know but I'm glad I've now read the first book. I fancy subsequent books are better though.

64. Jane Austen: A Life - Claire Tomalin. An absolutely superb biography of Jane Austen. I learnt *so* much and found knowing these things helps make more sense of her books . Highly recommend.

Looking at Goodreads I see I gave every book I read 4 stars apart from Jane Austen: A Life to which I gave 5. So it was clearly a pretty good reading month despite being a bit on the slow side.  

Quick reviews of the two books just finished.

First up, My Sister's Grave by Robert Dugoni.

Tracy Crosswhite is a police officer working in Seattle but back on her home turf of a small town in the Cascades in Washington State. It's where her sister, Sarah, disappeared  20 years ago, driving home after a shooting match on a lonely road. Tracy has never forgiven herself for allowing Sarah to drive home on her own, in a snowstorm, while she went with her fiancĂ©. A man is in prison for the murder, despite the lack of a body. Tracy, however, feels the conviction was unsafe and convinces a childhood friend, now a lawyer, to reinvestigate with the aim of reopening the case. Of course, what she doesn't realise is that she'll also be opening a brand new can of worms. For those who like their crime books with a good dose of winter, lots of snow, mountains, back roads and so on, this is a perfct read. I enjoyed it despite the fact that there were a lot of courtroom scenes, which is not a favourite 'trope' of mine in murder mysteries. There was enough other action to keep me hooked and reading and not wanting to put the book down. I was sort of expecting the outcome, but that's fine, I'm always more interested in the journey than the destination and I loved the setting to bits. This is book one in the author's 'Tracy Crosswhite' series and I'll read more if I come across any. 

Lastly, The Murder of Mr. Wickham by Claudia Gray.

Mr. Knightley and Emma (from Emma of course) are having a house party and invited are various heros and heroines from Jane Austen's other books. Darcy and Lizzy for instance, plus their son, Jonathan, Captain Wentworth and Anne, now married, Marriane and Col. Brandon. Halfway through dinner one night they're interrupted by a new arrival, Mr. Wickham who ran off with Lizzie's sister, Lydia, in the plot of Pride and Prejudice. Absolutely no one is pleased to see him. It seems Wickham has involved some of the people present in some financial scheme that has failed and money has been lost. When he's found battered to death in the long gallery, the list of suspects is as long as your arm. Only two people have no motive and are likely innocent, Jonathan Darcy and Juliet Tilney, daughter of the Tilneys from Northanger Abbey. Naturally the two set about trying to find out who's responsible for the murder of Mr. Wickham. If you're not keen on your favourite characters from favourite classics being mucked about with then this book is likely not for you. It does involve a bit of suspension of disbelief not least because I couldn't understand why anyone would trust George Wickham enough to plough money into his schemes. Regardless, I did enjoy this romp, daft as it is, it was fun to imagine what has happened to the various married couples after the books they appeared in, finished. The author created a timeline, working out how old people would be, so some are not long married, others middle-aged with older children. Jonathan and Juliet worked well together despite the difficulties and manners of the day and I gather their adventures continue in book 2, The Late Mrs.Willoughby. I plan to read it.

 I hope you had a good reading month in July and find lots of great reads for August!

Thursday, 20 July 2023

A couple of reviews, one fantasy, one horror.

Two books to review today, an unusual fantasy involving The Fae and a horror story with a nice touch of humour.

First up, Emily Wilde's Encyclopedia of Faeries by Heather Fawcett.

The events of this book take place around 1909 to 1910. Emily Wilde is a Cambridge professor (so we're talking alt. universe here) specialising in faeries, who, in this reality, are very much real. They exist all over the world but there are different races with different ways of life and culture. Emily is utterly obsessed with them. The most secretive race of faeries are The Hidden Ones who live in Norway. Emily travels to an island off the coast of that country in order to try and find out more for their entry in the encyclopedia she's writing. It doesn't go well at first because Emily's independent and prickly nature does not encourage the villagers to be helpful. Things change when someone else joins her... Wendell Bambleby... a colleague and rival of sorts but also one of her few friends. Much to her annoyance he soon sorts out the villagers, freeing Emily to concentrate on her investigations... and get herself into heaps of trouble! So, this was a lot of fun. I adored the snowy Norwegian setting first of all. Also the academic 'feel' to the story as Emily tells us, in diary form, about various kinds of faeries and how they interact, or don't, with humans. I was reminded a bit of Marie Brennan's 'Memoirs of Lady Trent' series where Lady Trent goes about studying dragons. There's a bit of reluctant romance in the book but it's a small part and the book concentrates mainly on what happens to Emily in the frozen wastes of Norway and whether or not she finds her 'Hidden Ones'. This is to be a trilogy, the next book out next January. Can't wait. 

Lastly, The Southern Book Club's Guide to Slaying Vampires by Grady Hendrix.

The setting for this book is a village near Charleston, South Carolina in the 1980s and 90s. Patricia Campbell is married to Carter, a psychologist working in a hospital, and they have two teenage children. Also living in the house is Miss Mary, Carter's elderly and failing mother. Patricia looks after them all, pretty much unappreciated, but just gets on with it. She starts a new book club with four other refugees from another club and they read and enjoy a lot of true crime books. Their regular lives begin to change when James Harris moves into the neighbourhood. When Patricia hires Mrs. Greene to help look after Miss Mary, she discovers that children are disappearing from the black community that Mrs. Greene belongs to. By this time James has insinuated himself into her family's life and is especially close to her young son. Is the book club reading too much frightening true crime, or is there something really terrifying going on in their once safe and peaceful village? So, this one started out really quite light-hearted with a lot of comments and situations which made me laugh a lot. But I also really felt for Patricia whose husband clearly thinks she has too much time on her hands when in reality she never stops. The story slowly shifts from a narrative of 'southern moms' and their busy 'at home' lives to one of real horror. It was doubly shocking as the first few chapters were so benign. I believe Grady Hendrix is an author who is in vogue at the moment and I can see why. The writing is superb and although I don't know any southern moms it struck me that he'd got them down pat. I must emphasize that this is not a book for the faint of heart. There is real humour and real life in the story but gosh is it a scary read. And frustrating too, the husbands in this are not a pleasant lot in that they can't seem to take their wives' concerns seriously, turning this into a 'girl power' sort of book, or, more accurately, 'middle-aged moms' power'. As the author says:

"With this book I wanted to pit a man freed from all responsibilities but his appetite against women whose lives are shaped by their endless responsibilities. I wanted to pit Dracula against my mom.

As you'll see, it's not a fair fight."

I hope you're all well and finding some good books to read in July. I also hope no one is being too affected by the awful heat in places such as southern Europe and the southern USA.