Thursday 20 June 2024

Time for a catch-up

How on earth can it be mid-June already? I feel like the year is flying by and before you know it we'll be into autumn, especially as it's the longest day tomorrow. Summer's not my favourite time of year, I hate too much heat, and so far this year we've been lucky and Spring into Summer has been really nice with temps. in the high 60s, low 70s. That suits me very nicely.

Apologies for being AWOL for a few weeks. I've not been reading as much as usual, fueled by a strange inability to settle to anything. I'm assuming this is quite normal after a serious loss but I'm getting there, albeit slowly, and actually have some books to talk about today.

So, I started June with The Bordeaux Book Club by Gillian Harvey. 

There's an awful lot of bookclub themed contemporary fiction around these days, this one being slightly different with its setting of Bordeaux in France. As usual, a motley group come together to discuss books. Grace is the instigator of the group, she's an older, single lady with a finger in a lot of pies. She ropes in her friend, Leah, who lives on a small holding with her husband and daughter and is finding out the hard way that The Good Life is not all it's cracked up to be. Add to them Monica, a young mum, husband away a lot and struggling with a new baby, George, a builder, and Alfie, very young and clearly harboring a secret and you have a new bookclub for Brits in Bordeaux. This was a bit formulaic, the usual problems to be solved with everyone coming together to help, or not. I enjoyed it a lot but didn't feel the setting of Bordeaux came very much alive, it could've been anywhere but it was a very decent 'people' sort of read. 


I've been reading The Wild Isles: An Anthology of the Best of British and Irish Nature Writing, edited by Patrick Barkham for a couple of months and finished it last week. It was a bit hit and miss for me. There were dozens of authors (it's a huge book) such as Dorothy Wordsworth, Kathleen Jamie, Roger Deakin, Nan Shepherd, Horatio Clare, Kenneth Grahame and so on. Some pieces were excellent but quite a few were just a bit tedious. I see from reviews on Goodreads that I'm not alone in this opinion. 

A Charmed Life by David Essex is pretty much what it says on the tin - an account of the singer and actor's rather charmed life in showbiz. Fascinating, I enjoyed it a lot but it's not a kiss and tell sort of account, he's clearly a really nice chap.

What Would Jane Austen Do? by Linda Corbett was next.

Maddy Shaw has her column in a magazine cancelled and is jobless until she discovers a 'black sheep' uncle has left her a huge house in the Cotswolds (which, as we all know, often happens.) Off she goes to live in it for a year as the will stipulated, but will she then sell up? The locals welcome her to the point where she suddenly finds herself in charge of the village literary festival. She's also met a local crime writer, Cameron Massey, nice dog but very grumpy owner. Can she persuade him to come and give a talk at the event? This was fun. I mean the outcome was never in question but I liked Maddy's Jane Austen obsession and the grumpy author with a bit of a superiority complex was well written. As was the village and the locals who lived there. A fun read.



I seem to be in mood for fluff because I then moved on to a couple of novellas by Cressida McLaughlin, set on a canal boat, the canal itself being next to a small village and pub etc. All Aboard is book1.

Summer Freeman, an artist specialisng in sign writing, is returning to her mother's canal boat cafĂ© nine months after she died. A friend has been keeping it going but it's struggling. Summer takes it over but it's hard with so many memories closing in on her and antipathy from the local owner of the pub. Eventually her bacon butties and delicious brownies win people over and a growing friendship with another boat owner, Mason, a wildlife photographer, doesn't do any harm. This had a lovely sense of the British countryside about it, the canal and surrounds feeling very real. Summer's indecisiveness and inability to put her foot down with certain people slightly annoyed me, more than slightly, but I liked the dogs and the birds and it was charming enough for me go straight on to book 2, Casting Off, which I've already finished but can't say anything about as it would involve spoiling the end of Book 1. 


So, my current read is this:

Death in the Sunshine by Steph Broadribb is set in Florida in a retirement complex. Moira is an ex-police inspector from the UK who discovers a body in a swimming pool. She gets together with several other retired folk to solve a murder that the police don't seem very interested in. Very good so far. 

Next month is Jane Austen July and I'm planning to try to get a few Austen related titles under my belt. I've never read Sense and Sensibility so would like to get to that and then I have a whole heap of other possibilities as I do enjoy anything related to Jane Austen and her writing.

So that's my June reading so far. I hope you're all keeping well and enjoying some good books.  

Thursday 23 May 2024

I have been reading...

 Again, I meant to post a bit sooner than this but I'm still not quite back in the swing of things and suspect that might continue for some time. The oddness of it all is very hard to shake. I have been reading though and thought I would a do brief rundown of the books I've been reading this month.

I finished this BLCC collection, Guilty Creatures, edited of course by Martin Edwards. The theme in this one is 'animals', each story has a connection to wildlife or pets. So we have a chap with a fear of earthworms, a yarn about nobbling racehorses, there're gorillas, parakeets, slugs, all life is here. Authors include G.K. Chesterton, Christiana Brand, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Josephine Bell, Edgar Wallace and so on. Overall, I thought this was a better than average collection, only a few failed to please and the rest were top notch. I didn't jot down my usual notes so I can't name any favourites, other than remembering that the Father Brown was good and so was the Christiana Brand. And what a glorious cover!

The Wheel Spins by Ethel Lina White is a novel published in 1936, and subsequently made into a Hitchcock film, The Lady Vanishes. I'd seen that years ago, so the plot was slightly familiar, but I couldn't remember the outcome, so it was fine. Socialite, Iris Carr, is travelling back by train from a holiday somewhere mountainous (they don't say exactly where but I think northern Italy) in Europe. An English governess, Miss Froy, takes her under her wing, but the next day the woman has disappeared and no one in the carriage can remember her being there. Is Iris suffering the results of sunstroke  or is there a conspiracy of silence. Excellent read this one, a little too heavy on the surreal, 'am I going crazy?' aspect but nevertheless, a real pageturner and not a little creepy, to my mind anyway.


The Man by the Sea by Jack Benton is book one in his 'Slim Harding' series. Slim is a private detective, ex-army and an alcoholic. He's hired by a woman who thinks her husband is having an affair. Slim duly sets about following the husband only to discover that what he's actually doing is driving to an isolated cove and reading something aloud to the incoming tide. Slim thinks the man might be mad. Delving a bit deeper, the case ends up being connected to a woman who went missing just before her wedding. Is she dead and haunting this part of the wild Lake District coast? And what does she have to do with a man reading to the waves? I liked this a lot despite not being all that enamoured of the detective, Slim Hardy. As is the nature of the beast, his alcoholism rules and that was hard for me to identify with. That said, the story has a huge sense of place and is really atmospheric. I also found the plot intriguing enough to carry me through the book without any wish to abandon it. I will probably, at some stage, continue on with the series.

So, my most recent book, I finished it yesterday, is Illyrian Spring by Ann Bridge. Lady Grace Kilmichael  is leaving her husband and grown-up children behind and going off on a European trip. Only they don't know. She thinks her husband might be having an affair and the children are not really interested in her nowadays. She does leave a letter to her husband however, telling him she's off to Greece to paint as Grace has recently become quite a well-known artist. She doesn't go to Greece. She starts in Paris and then on to Venice where she comes across Nicholas, aged 23, half Grace's age, who wants to be a painter but whose parents won't hear of it, they want him to be an architect. She takes him on to mentor him, and the pair travel together along the Dalmatian (present day Croatia) coast, not just painting but learning a lot about life from each other. So this sounds like a fairly simple plot and indeed it is. If I'm honest the whole thing is more of a travelogue and homage to the Dalmation coast and, in fact, I read that the impact of this book when it was first published in 1935 was to up tourism in the area and even Edward and Mrs. Simpson took a cruise down the coast to see what all the fuss was about. Fascinating. 'And' I have no problem understanding it because that was exactly what the book made me want to do... pack my bags and set off! It has quite an introspective sort of narrative and this might not be everyone's cup of tea. I was reminded of Absent in the Spring by Agatha Christie writing as Mary Westmacott, or Enchanted April by Elizabeth Von Arnim, they too have older ladies looking for a break from humdrum life or difficult relatives and trying to find a way to make life work for them now they're older. It's not often I finish a book and find myself wanting to go back to the beginning and start again but I did with this. A five star read and certainly a book that will be in my top ten for this year.

So, that's me, up to date. I hope you're all well and finding lots of good book to read this spring.

Tuesday 7 May 2024

A bit of catching up

 It's several weeks since I posted, I did mean to post again sooner but, as I'm sure you'll understand, with the loss of my husband and the funeral last week, I felt like I was existing in a strange kind of limboland. The funeral, I felt, went well and was a nice celebration of his life. We cried but also laughed, and I did enjoy catching up with family and friends afterwards. What was also nice is that these days funerals can be live-streamed so those who couldn't make it were able to attend that way. Technology has its faults but there are occasions when it's a wonderful thing.

This won't be a very long post as I'm doing it on my Kindle Fire. My computer decided it didn't want to speak to my monitor any more and it seems it's the pc not the monitor and my family computer boffins say there's no easy fix (one could but hope). I now have to decide what to do and as I can prevaricate for England I've warned folk not to hold their breath...

So, books. I read seven in April.

26. Silent Creed by Alex Kava. Book two of her Ryder Creed series. It was 'excellent ' but the theme of secret laboratories doing uncontrolled experiments I found quite alarming.

27. Agatha Christie: A Very Elusive Woman by Lucy Worsley. This was a superb biography on the world's most famous crime writer. A lot of interesting comments and reflections from the author. Highly recommend!

28. Murder in Tuscany by T.A. Williams. Murder at a writing retreat for erotic fiction writers, the narrator did not know it was such before he arrived. Huge fun and I loved the dog.

29. How to Find Love in a Bookshop by Veronica Henry. Father who has been running a bookshop in The Cotswolds dies and his daughter comes home to take it on and save it. Nice cast of characters. I enjoyed this light read.

30. The Murderer's Ape by Jakob Wegelius, translated by Peter Graves (hopefully not a Mission Impossible!) YA fantasy type yarn about a gorilla, Sally Jones, who is a ship's engineer. When the captain is accused of murder and locked up, she sets about trying to prove he didn't do it.  A bit overlong I thought but nonetheless a decent, unusual read. 

31. Ranger Confidential by Andrea Lankford. I think this is another one that Lark is responsible for. LOL! Fascinating look at the lives of American NP rangers and what they have to deal with on a regular basis. Sobering.

32. No Life for a Lady by Hannah Dolby. Hugely fun yarn about Violet, a young woman whose mother disappeared ten years ago and how she sets out to hire a private detective to find her. Great fun and I've already preordered book two which I think is out in early June.

So that was my reading month. A good lot of escapism, gentle reads and interesting non-fiction. Since then I've DNFed one book, a BLCC vintage crime story, The Port of London Murders by Josephine Bell, because it was thoroughly unpleasant. I'm now reading these three:

All interesting and entertaining, which is all I'm asking of a book at the moment. I hope you're all keeping well and finding lots of good books to read this Spring.

Wednesday 17 April 2024

Reading as a retreat from reality

I've been so grateful to be a reader since my husband passed away, just over a month ago. Not that I wasn't before of course, but having somewhere to escape to, where reality doesn't intrude, has been a huge comfort. For a few days even books didn't help but slowly I managed to get back into a book and the author I turned to was Agatha Christie. I have no idea why but she worked for me and the couple of books I read by her were a real escape.

I'll quickly list the books I read in March with one longer review that I had already written weeks ago.

18. The Last Bookshop in London - Madeline Martin

19. A Death in the Parish - Richard Coles

So, this is book two in the author's fairly new 'Canon Clement' mystery series. A new associate vicar is on the scene, Chris Biddle. He's taking over a couple of churches in Daniel Clement's parish so Daniel will have to work with him. But it's not easy as their views on church matters are opposing, Chris being of a more fundimental bent and Daniel, not. All this has to be put to one side though when the ritualistic murder of a teenage boy is discovered on a disused airbase. Policeman and friend of Daniel's, Neil Vanloo, is brought in to investigate and Daniel, as in the first book, helps him to solve the crime. Running alongside this are a couple of other issues including an elderly woman, nearing death, being preyed on by a couple who make it their business to insinuate themselves into death-bed families like this, hoping to pick up a legacy. (I'm assuming this is a 'thing'.) I thoroughly enjoyed this second book about Daniel and his parishioners. I like his mum, Audrey, far from any perfect vicar's mother, judging by what she was up in this instalment. There is some personal stuff which took rather an unexpected twist right at the very end. A genuine 'Wut?' moment. I hesitate to call this a 'cosy' because it has a slight edge in that some of the situations feel very real and quite gritty, but they're not written in a gritty manner. Coles writes in a gentle, non-judgemental, way about human foibles and mistakes and it's actually really well done. There is plenty of humour too. I suspect some situations are based on his personal experiences or that of people he knows and I found some of his theological explanations really interesting too. I gave it five stars on Goodreads, no agonising required.  I gather the next book is based in a monastery and as I love a good monkish murder story I can't wait for that. Murder at the Monastery is out in June I think. 

20. The World's Greatest Sea Mysteries - edited by Michael and Molly Hardwicke. What it says on the tin, an anthology of mysterious happenings on sea voyages etc. Entertaining in places but not fantastic. 

21. Lending a Paw - Laurie Cass.  Book one in the author's cost mystery series: 'Bookmobile Cat Mystery'. This is set in Michigan and revolves around a mobile lending library. There's a murder and a cat and lots of books so what's not to like? I loved it.

22. The Hairy Bikers, Blood, Sweat and Tyres - Si King and Dave Myers. This is a biography of the TV British cooking duo who're household names in the UK. Particularly poignant now of course because Dave Myers died of cancer about 2 months ago. A really enjoyable biography of two lovely men.

23. Best Detective Stories of Cyril Hare. I've been reading this vintage collection for several months and can't recommend it highly enough, it has some really excellent crime short stories in it.

24. Crooked House - Agatha Christie. Terrific story about a family living in a huge house and the death of the patriarch with all the money. Who, amongst the dozens of suspects, knocked him off? Agatha Christie at her best.

25. Passenger to Frankfurt - Agatha Christie. This spy type yarn didn't work quite so well for me and is known as one of her odder books I believe. But I still enjoyed it and noted that, as they say, 'the more things change, the more they stay the same' because much of what Christie worries about in this book are things which are still worrying us now. 

So that was my March reading. Six fiction books, two non-fiction, eight books in all. Personally, one of the strangest and most unsettling months I've experienced in my life and April is not much different if I'm honest. Books continue to be the place I retreat to and so far this month I've finished just two.

Silent Creed by Alex Kava is book two in her 'Ryder Creed' K9 series of crime novels. Quite gritty and scary in its background premise of experimental labs where we have no idea what's goes on inside and what happens when one is destroyed in a landslide. Really good.

Agatha Christie: A Very Elusive Woman by Lucy Worsley. This is a really excellent biography of the iconic crime writer. Having read Christie's own autobiography I thought it might be just a rehash of that but it wasn't at all. There was a lot more comment than I expected and clearly heaps of research done. A really good read and I also highly recommend the accompanying BBC documentary Lucy Worsley made. 

My current read is this:

A cosy murder mystery set at a writing weekend for authors who write erotic fiction: the narrator is there by mistake. The setting of Tuscany is gorgeous, the writing style is gently funny, and I'm really enjoying it.

I hope you're all doing well, enjoying the spring when it's not pouring with rain, and finding lots of good books to read.

Wednesday 27 March 2024

Thank you

I just wanted to thank everyone who left such heartfelt and touching messages in reply to my post last week about Peter passing away. I read them all and feel so blessed to know each and every one of you through our mutual passion for reading. I'm doing ok. The sense of unreality and disbelief is still quite overwhelming as is the 'empty chair' syndrome - 50 years is a long time to be with someone. But I'm getting there and I'm so lucky to have two wonderful daughters and grandchildren who are looking after me, I couldn't ask for better to be honest. I will be back, probably in a few weeks, in the meantime I hope to catch up on a few of your blog posts I've missed and start to comment again. I miss it and feel it might comfort me to get back to what I love and I know Peter, a keen reader like myself, would want that. 

Thanks again and take care, all of you. xxx

Thursday 21 March 2024

Personal news

I'm sure some of you have noticed that I have suddenly disappeared and am not around commenting on posts or posting myself. The reason for this is that my husband, Peter, died suddenly of a heart attack on Sunday evening. Although he did have plenty of health issues to do with his heart, lungs, diabetes etc. there was absolutely nothing to suggest this was about to happen so of course myself, my daughters and their families are in deep shock. Peter and I were married for fifty years and that's a huge chunk of your life to be with one person. He was my rock and life will never be the same again for me. Time will heal I'm sure but for a few weeks I will be away from blogging and I know you'll all understand. 

Take care, be kind to yourselves and hug your loved ones like there's no tomorrow because sometimes there isn't.

Friday 8 March 2024

Catching up

I'm waaaay behind with my reviews - nothing new there - so I'll do one of my 'quick catch-up' posts because otherwise I'm never going to be up to date, and books that deserve talking about will not get any mention at all. Which would be a shame.

First up, Murder on Liberty Bay by Dennis Shock, which is a cosy mystery book that Margot spoke about in this video. 

Lily Pine is newly widowed, her husband, Marty, died about 12 months ago. It had always been his dearest wish to open a restaurant in the Pacific North West and to that end he had actually bought a place in the town of Poulsbo on the coast of Washington State. Now Lily feels up to going there to sort things out and actually make Marty's dream come true by getting the business going. What she doesn't bargain for is finding a dead body on the premises on her first day there. Wanting to get her business going as soon as she can, Lily gets involved in the solving of the murder and also finds herself with a couple of new admirers. So this was a fun, cosy mystery in an absolutely wonderful setting - coastal, mountains behind etc. what's not to love? I'm not the biggest cosy mystery fan, preferring my murder stories with a bit more edge, but I liked this a lot with its touch of romance, interesting characters and a plot where I had no idea until the end who had done the victim in. Recommend for cosy fans.


Next, Breaking Creed by Alex Kava. I'm not sure where I heard about this series but feel it has to be on Lark's blog. Anyway, this is book 1 in an 8 book series and there's also a previous series about Maggie O'Dell, an FBI agent who also features heavily in Breaking Creed.

Ryder Creed is a US army veteran who owns working dogs. He and his business partner hire them out for various jobs such as searching for drugs at airports and ports or at sea. On one such trip he takes Gracie, his Jack Russell terrier, and discovers a boat with hold full of trafficked children. Not long after, he rescues a panicked 14 year old girl at an airport and gives her shelter. What's the connection? It's not long before Maggie O'Dell, a previous associate who works with the FBI, becomes involved and Ryder and his dogs are called upon to do more than search for drugs and then walk away. I 'really' liked this first book in a new to me K9 series. It's quite hard hitting. Be warned, there's quite a bit about drug mules and it's not pleasant. A cosy this is 'not'. I liked Ryder a lot, Maggie too and the dogs were great, especially Gracie. I feel this could become a very good series and felt very lucky when I popped to the library last weekend and was able to grab the next few books. Happy Camper! 


Lastly, not a crime book but historical fiction this time. The Last Bookshop in London by Madeline Martin was amongst several left for me by Constance from  Staircase Wit when she visited us a couple of years ago. 

Grace Bennett has moved to London from Norfolk with her friend, Viv. It's August 1939 and everyone knows another terrible war is imminent. They move in with a friend of Grace's late mother, Mrs. Weatherford, and her son, Colin who is in his early twenties and of fighting age. Viv gets her dream job working in Harrods because she fakes a letter of recommendation. Grace's mean-spirited uncle would not give her one so Mrs. Weatherford arranges a job in a bookshop her. The owner of the bookshop, Mr. Evans, doesn't really want her there but she makes the best of it and starts to bring in changes which bring new customers. And then war with Germany is declared. I wasn't sure about this one at first. It seemed rather pedestrian. But then I got sucked into Grace's life at the bookshop, her relationships, the people who find the shop, how she 'does her bit' for the war effort and so on. The book is quite strong on the devastation of the The Blitz (if you want really strong I would recommend Life After Life by Kate Atkinson or Dear Mrs. Bird by A.J. Pearce) and what it did to people. Unimaginable for those of us lucky enough not to have lived through it. It's very much a 'found family' story, which is one of my favourite 'tropes'. To be honest, this is a 3.5 book which I upgraded to 4 because it brought me to tears a couple of times, despite the writing being a tiny bit average. One for my personal challenge of reading half a dozen 'world war' books this year.

So that's it, up to date, except that I've nearly finished another book which is A Death in the Parish, book 2 in the Reverand Richard Coles' 'Cannon Clement' series. Enjoying this a lot. Hope you're well and enjoying some good books this month.