Read-warbler

Thursday, 20 January 2022

The Winter People

The Winter People by Jennifer McMahon is another one of those books that I've seen around a lot but am not exactly sure where or who. I thought it would do quite nicely for the Book Bingo challenge I'm doing, under the category, 'Seasonal'.

 


It's 1908 and Sara Harrison Shea lives with her husband, Martin, and daughter, Gertie, on a farm near the village of West Hall in the mountains of Vermont. It's an isolated region, bleak and cut off in the winter snows but also the place is rife with rumours of strange, supernatural goings on. Especially in the area where Sara and Martin have their farm. The woods and rocky outcrops around are places where people just don't go and that includes Sara.

A hundred years later and 19 year old Ruthie lives on the same farm with her mother, Alice, and 6 year old sister Fawn. She's desperate to go away to college but her mother can't afford it so Ruthie is basically running a bit wild with her flying saucer obsessed boyfriend, Buzz. Getting back very late one night, Ruthie finds all the lights in the house on and her mother gone. Alice has always been a bit odd, insisting that the girls keep out of the woods at all costs, but Ruthie knows she would never willingly leave them like this. 

Katherine has just moved to West Hall. Her husband, Gary, died in a motor accident on the roads around the village when he was not supposed to be up in Vermont: he'd told her he was going somewhere else. Recently he'd become obsessed with some photos he'd picked up in a shop somewhere and was not at all himself. Katherine feels the only way to find out what happened to Gary is to move to the area where he died and investigate.

So, three women whose stories will eventually merge and the story deals with how that comes to pass. I have to admit that I nearly abandoned the book after the first 50 or so pages because Sara's story was so deeply depressing and gloomy. Then along comes Ruthie and although she too is experiencing some trauma the writing becomes more upbeat and the story picks up pace and takes off. A 19 year old girl and her 6 year old sister might seem like an odd pairing to be investigating a disappearance but it works a treat. Luckily, Sara's story then takes the form of diary entries which I found myself more able to cope with, especially as the book is then concentrating more on Ruthie and Fawn's problems and their delvings into the history of the farm.

The setting of Vermont in the depths of winter is beautifully depicted. The endless snow, the storms, the isolation, it all felt very real. I wasn't so sure about the supernatural element. I didn't feel like it was fully explained and the whole thing felt 'unlikely'. OK, I know that 'unlikely' is very much the idea behind a paranormal book but I just felt unconvinced about it all. And a decision made at the end of the book by one of the characters had me thinking, 'What?! No!!!'

So, all in all a decent read. I'm glad I didn't abandon it 50 pages in but the book is not without its frustrations in my opinion (yours may vary). But winter in Vermont? What's not to like?


Monday, 17 January 2022

Just finished and currently reading

So, January continues to be a good reading month for me - four books read and I've liked all of them. 

Book three was Percy Jackson and the Lightning Thief by Rick Riordan.

I'm late to this party. And only here really because I want to read more about Greek myths this year and I thought Percy would be a really fun way to find out some more, 'plus' I have all five books in the house as they belong to my grand-daughter. Most people will have seen the movie or read the books so know that Percy is the son of a human woman and a God. I won't say which as that's a spoiler. He knew something wasn't right as he's never managed to fit in to any school he's attended. When he kills a Fury in a NY museum and gets whisked off to a school for others like himself, it all slots into place. Not that he's particularly thrilled about any of it. How Percy ends up crossing the USA with two companions, a girl who is also a demigod, and a centaur, and being pursued by just about everybody makes for quite a ride and is a tremendously fun read. The book is well written and full of humour and I can see why it's so popular. I saw on a vlog last night that the series really takes off from book three so I look forward to getting there. 

 

Next up, An Elderly Lady Is Up To No Good by Helene Tursten, translated by Marlaine Delargy.

Another case of me being late to the party as this has been all over the place for several years and I think there is even a second volume now. The book comprises a series of short stories, translated from the Swedish into English, about an 88 year old lady, Maud. She lives rent free in an expensive appartment in Gothenburg. She's alone now after the death of her father and sister and spends her time either away on holiday or on her laptop investigating people. It tends to be people she's in conflict with in real life, people who have upset her or are trying to get the better of her, by foul means usually. And she always has ways of dealing with these individuals... 

Sympathising with a killer is not what we should be doing but you can't help it as you read about her reasons and what these people are doing to her or, in one case, to someone she once loved. She certainly plays on her situation of being a 'helpless' old lady but then society has a habit of underestimating the elderly and also dismissing them as senile or half deaf and so on. You feel like she's just getting her own back for these slights. I thoroughly enjoyed this one.

I'm still reading this:


Future Crimes, an anthology of science fiction stories based on crimes, murders and so on, edited by Mike Ashley. So far it's a bit patchy. I've read three stories, all quite long. The first two were average and the third absolutely excellent (Legwork by Eric Frank Russell).

I've also started this:


The Winter People by Jennifer McMahon is set in Vermont with two timelines, 1908 and 2008. The first fifty pages were set 1908 and were so depressing and gloomy I'm in two minds about continuing. Anyone read this and can say whether it gets a bit more cheerful?

Anyway, I hope your January reading is going well and you're finding lots of good books to read.


Tuesday, 11 January 2022

First reads of 2022

I started 2022 with two very good books and you can't ask for more than that. First up, Northern Lights by Nora Roberts. This is my first book for the Read Around the World reading challenge, the category for January is, 'Arctic and Antarctic'. I picked this book from their list of titles but I could equally have chosen my own and may do so next time as I have a 'lot' of books for February's category, Western Europe.

Nate Burke is an ex-police officer from Baltimore. He lost his partner in a shooting incident a year ago, an incident which he believes was of his making and therefore he considers his partner's death to be his fault. He's suffered badly in the intervening months and needs a complete break from the past. Which is how he finds himself in Lunacy, Alaska having taken on the role of chief of police. It is of course a 'massive' culture shock. And not everyone is thrilled to have a 'Cheechakos' - an outsider from the Lower 48 - come in to take charge of law and order in a very isolated town which likes to do things its own way. But when a couple of kids find a body in a cave out on the mountain, Nate's long experience of homicide comes in handy because he can handle things dispassionately. Other things, like his newly blossoming love-life, he's not so cool about. 

Well goodness me, I didn't expect to like this as much as I did. My previous experience with Nora Roberts is a couple of her Irish supernatural efforts - I didn't like them as much as wanted to and have not really bothered with her since. But this standalone was 100% better than those. Of course, Alaska is always a draw for me (I'm a keen fan of Dana Stabenow's 'Kate Shugak' series) and lots of people on the challenge FB page said how good this was, so I thought I would give her another go. Oddly, when I texted my daughter to see if she owned the book (she's a keen NR fan) it turned out she was reading this exact book right then. I must point out that this is a mystery book with an element of romance, I know some people are not keen on that, but the romance doesn't overwhelm the book and to be honest I really liked Meg the very independent pilot. Alaska loomed large as a presence and felt very well depicted to me but then I've not been there. The other characters were interesting and quirky without being over the top nutters, if you know what I mean. All in all, excellent, and I gave it 5 stars on Goodreads because even when I wasn't reading it I was thinking about it, which for me is the sign of a Good Book. 

Next up, Dear Me, an autobiography by Peter Ustinov.

How many people these days remember Peter Ustinov I'm not sure. I'm not even sure how far back I can go with remembering him but he seemed to be the sort of performer who did appearances on the Royal Variety Show or Sunday Night at the London Paladium in the 1960s and 70s. I thought he and Danny Kaye were the two funniest men in showbusiness. At the time I thought he actually 'was' a comedian, unaware that he was firstly a writer of plays, an actor, a director, and a writer of books. Comedy appearances were more of a sideline. Anyway, I liked the first half of this book more than the second. His childhood and school days, his strange relationship with his German/Russian father and so on was all very interesting. Ustinov seems to have had an odd heritage, being mainly of Russian descent but German too with some French and an Ethiopian lady in there also. But he was born and grew up in England where his parents eventually ended up after WW1 and I always think of him as English, although I don't think he did. His experiences in WW2 seem to tally with many others in that there was much in the way of absurdity and that was very funny to read about. What I found less interesting was the same as with the Noel Coward biography I read last year, and that was when he was listing one play after another that he'd written and acted in, although anecdotes about very famous Hollywood stars were very revealing. All in all, I enjoyed this a lot, Ustinov's talents as a raconteur definitely come over and his writing is sublime. I have read a couple of his history books many years ago (one about Russia I think) so I might see what else he wrote as he was quite a prolific writer of fiction and non-fiction and I'm sure he had many other interesting things to say.

And if you have 50 minutes to spare, at any time, you could do a lot worse than to spend it watching, An Audience with Peter Ustinov from 1988, on Youtube. Hugely entertaining.

I currently have several books on the go, Under the Sea Wind by Rachel Carson, an American writer who wrote about nature and the environment back in the 1940s, 50s and 60s, Future Crimes, an anthology of science fiction crime stories edited by Mike Ashley, and Deep South by Paul Theroux... I'm now ready to read the 'winter' section of that. Also this:


This is The Lightening Thief by Rick Riordan, the first in his Percy Jackson series of books for young adults. I thought it might be fun to read this series as part of my mission to know a bit more about the world of Greek myths and it certainly is working, I'm picking up a lot and it's a fun read.


Sunday, 9 January 2022

Back To The Classics challenge 2022

For several years running I've thought about doing the Back to Classics challenge which I've seen several of the blogs I follow participating in. This year I thought I'd jump in and give it a go.

 

The challenge is hosted by Books and Chocolates and the sign-up post is HERE where you'll find a lot more detail.

There are 12 categories to fill and the challenge lasts all year. I've put in a few suggestions for myself but those could very well change and probably will.


1. A 19th century classic. Any book first published from 1800 to 1899 
 
Possibly Persuasion or Mansfield Park by Jane Austen. Or something by George Elliot.

2. A 20th century classic. Any book first published from 1900 to 1972. All books must have been published at least 50 years ago; the only exceptions are books which were written by 1972 and posthumously published. 
 
Little Big Man - Thomas Berger?

3. A classic by a woman author.  
 
The Age of Innocence - Edith Wharton?

4. A classic in translation.  Any book first published in a language that is not your primary language. You may read it in translation or in its original language, if you prefer. 

5. A classic by BIPOC author. Any book published by a non-white author. 
 
The Count of Monte Cristo - Alexander Dumas?

6.
 Mystery/Detective/Crime Classic. It can be fiction or non-fiction (true crime). Examples include Murder on the Orient Express, Crime and Punishment, In Cold Blood. 
 
 (I have 'too' much choice for this category!)

7. A Classic Short Story Collection. Any single volume that contains at least six short stories. The book can have a single author or can be an anthology of multiple authors. 

(I have the Persephone book of short stories but I'll have to check the age of some of the stories as they might be less than 50 years old.)

8. Pre-1800 Classic. Anything written before 1800. Plays and epic poems, such as the Odyssey, are acceptable in this category.

9. A Nonfiction Classic. Travel, memoirs, and biographies are great choices for this category. 

 A Thousand Miles up the Nile - Amelia Edwards?

10. Classic That's Been on Your TBR List the Longest. Find the classic book that's been hanging around unread the longest, and finally cross it off your list! 

No idea which classic I've had the longest but I've had Our Mutual Friend by Dickens for eons and I want to read it.

11. Classic Set in a Place You'd Like to Visit. Can be real or imaginary -- Paris, Tokyo, the moon, Middle Earth, etc. It can be someplace you've never been, or someplace you'd like to visit again.

12. Wild Card Classic. Any classic you like, any category, as long as it's at least 50 years old!

I won't be trying to do all 12 prompts. If it happens, fine, but I doubt it very much, 6 is much more likely. My aim really is to just to read some classics this year because last year I hardly read any.

 

Thursday, 6 January 2022

Best fiction reads of 2021

So, on Sunday I did a post about my favourite non-fiction books of 2021. HERE I meant to be back before now to do my fiction favourites but things went a bit pear-shaped on Sunday night when my youngest daughter's place of work (she's their finance manager) had a huge fire and everything was lost. Fortunately, it was still Christmas break and no one was hurt or killed. As you can imagine it's knocked us all for six, if anyone had told me that 2022 would begin with something like this happening I simply would not have believed them. I've heard of 'Expect the unexpected' of course, but 'that'? No. Luckily, it's a strong company and they are picking themselves up, dusting themselves off, and moving forward again. 

I wrote that a couple of days ago and they now know the fire was caused by arson, the case is now in the hands of the police and two people have been arrested. I don't know what else 2022 has in store but I'm rather hoping it doesn't get any weirder than this.

So, on to something less horrible. Books and favourite fiction reads from last year. I read 60 I think. Yes. And, oddly, it wasn't a case of just going through the 5 star reads on Goodreads, many of these are 4 stars that have stayed with me over the months and jumped out at me when I went through the 2021 list.

I ended up with 15 which I'll list belown and then 'try', ha ha, to pick a favourite 3.

Middlesex - Jeffrey Eugenides (modern fiction)

Gardens of Delight - Erica James (contemporary fiction)

Brat Farrar - Josephine Tey (vintage mystery)

The Abominable - Dan simmons (historical fiction)

Emma - Jane Austen (classic)

HMS Surprise - Patrick O'Brian (historical sea-faring)

A Borrowing of Bones - Paula Munier (modern crime)

A Dangerous Place - Jacqueline Winspear (historical crime)

The Collected Ghost stories of E.F. Benson (vintage ghost stories)

Death Around the Bend - T.E. Kinsey (historical crime)

The Stranger Diaries - Elly Griffiths (modern crime)

A Distance too Grand - Regina Scott (historical crime)

And Only to Deceive - Tasha Alexander (historical crime)

The Villa - Rosanna Ley (contemporary fiction)

Murder on Christmas Eve - edited by Cecily Gayford (crime short stories)

The list includes 8 murder mysteries so my enjoyment of crime fiction endures apparently. And it seems I like all kinds of crime yarns, historical, Golden Age, modern, short stories, folk traipsing 'round Vermont...

Now to pick my actual favourites. I think it boils down to these 3, but it wasn't easy.

 


I absolutely loved A Borrowing of Bones by Paula Munier for it sense of place (Vermont), interesting protagonists and yes... Elvis the dog!


Middlesex was such a wonderful saga of Greek immigration into the USA and, as an individual, what it feels like to be very different indeed. 

 

The Abominable wasn't quite what I was expecting but I loved this very long fictional account about mountain climbing and the machinations of men. But don't expect yetis...

So that's 2021 all wrapped up and put to bed. Onwards into 2022 but to be honest, I feel a bit like this about it:


Sunday, 2 January 2022

Wrapping up 2021

And good riddance really, I think everyone's hoping 2022 will be an improvement so fingers crossed. I'm just grateful for the joy of books and my blogging friends here who never cease to come and comment and cheer me up no end. Thank you to all of you.

Well, I read 88 books this year. So I'm nothing if not symmetrical. I feel like I should always aim for that. Let's see... 28 of those books were non-fiction, therefore 60 were fiction. That's ok, I'm happy with that. I read 51 books by female authors and 37 by male writers. Also ok about that. I like to be pretty much 50-50 so I was slightly off last year but not by heaps. Everyone's different, I personally like to get the male perspective on Life, the Universe and Everything, as well as the female. 

One thing I 'always' want - even crave - is a journey around the world in books every single year. I'm not someone who craves actual travel but I need it in my reading. So where have I been this year? Well, all around the oceans of the world with Jack Aubrey and Stephen Maturin, which was a joy and I intend to read more of those this year. I've explored underwater caves and underground in general several times. I've been to France, Italy, Spain, Greece, Ireland, Gibraltar, Russia, travelled the world by bike, experienced volcanoes twice, climbed mountains, been to Vermont, Texas, Arizona, California, and searched for missing people in American national parks. 

All that and I still wonder if my reading is quite international enough. And that's because 39 of my books were set here in the UK and I honestly had not expected that. There are places I tend not to go very much, the Far East, Russia, The Middle East, Australia and New Zealand... that's a 'lot' of the world. My preferance seems to be to read books set here in the UK, in the USA and Canada, and Europe. So I need to shift my posterior out of its comfort zone, which is one of the reasons why I'm doing the Book Voyage challenge this year, to take me to places I don't normally go. (Actually, all that said, Four Cheeks to the Wind by Mary Bryant did take me to the Far East this year so perhaps the situation is not quite as dire as I think.)

Favourite books of the year. Well, the non-fiction has stayed with me longer this year so I'll feature those first.


The Cold Vanish by Jon Billman was one heck of a creepy journey around some of America's national parks. It read like fiction - I loved it.


Deep by James Nestor... another amazing journey around the world and into the deepest oceans.


Into the Planet by Jill Heinerth was an amazing exploration of something I knew nothing about - cave diving. Superb.

Honorable mentions:

Krakatoa by Simon Winchester

Watery  Ways by Val Poore

Plum, Courgette and Green Bean Tart by Lisa Rose Wright

A Time to be in Earnest by P.D. James

The Volcano, Monserrat and Me by Lally Brown

A House in Sicily by Daphne Phelps

Sicilian Carousel by Lawrence Durrell

Chasing the Dream edited by Alison Sheldrake

40 Memorable Life Experiences edited by Robert Fear

Finding my Voice by Nadiya Hussain

The Salt Path by Raynor Winn

All in all, I read some amazing non-fiction last year and definitely plan to do the same again this year... even more so hopefully.

So, I'm going to leave it at that because this post is already quite long. I will do fiction in another post. 

Happy New Year to one and all, may your year be filled with excellent  and wonderful books.


Thursday, 30 December 2021

Book Bingo 2021 wrap-up post

Time for my first reading challenge wrap-up post. This one is the Book Bingo 2021 challenge which has been hosted by the Unruly Reader. 

If I've counted correctly, I've ended up with six complete Bingo lines, three short of a full 'blackout' -- 22 books altogether. 

The books I read:

1,000 BOOKS TO READ BEFORE YOU DIE: Tales of the City by Armistead Maupin

ANTI-RACIST: Leaving Everything Most Loved by  Jacqueline Winspear

QUEST: Miss Benson's Beetle by Rachel Joyce 

BREEZY: Gardens of Delight by Erica James 

BLACK AUTHOR: Finding My Voice by Nadiya Hussein 

NARRATIVE NON-FICTION: The Salt Path by Raynor Winn

DIY: Breath by James Nestor 

RESTORATION: Krakatoa by Simon Winchester 

IMMIGRANT: Middlesex by Jeffrey  Eugenides

EYE CATCHING: The Villa by Rosanna Ley 

THE WHOLE PACKAGE (final Book): Off the map by Alastair Bonnett

BLURB: A Borrowing of Bones by Paula Munier

RUSSIA: Through Siberia by Accident by Dervla Murphy 

TRIUMPH: The Abominable by Dan Simmons 

NOIR: The Killer Inside Me by Jim Thompson 

DEFIANCE: The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller 

RABBIT HOLE: Emma by Jane Austen

SUGAR: Twelve Days of Christmas by Debbie Macomber 

SURVIVAL: Into the Planet by Jill Heinerth 

THE EXPLORER:  The Cold Vanish by Jon Billman 

QUARANTINE: The Secret Life of Albert Entwistle by Matt Cain 

KNOTTY: Life After Life by Kate Atkinson

So that was my first attempt at the Book Bingo challenge. I thoroughly enjoyed it, in the main because most of the categories were not simple or straightforward. A bit of thinking was required as to which books fitted well with the prompt. I enjoyed it so much that I shall be doing it again next year and can't wait to get started.