Wednesday, 1 April 2020

Books read in March

So, I read seven books in March, four down on February but seven is much more the norm for me. Plus, I've been jigsawing and knitting and there's only so much time, even now.

The books:

18. A Sense of Place edited by Roly Smith.

An antholgy of favourite places in the British Isles by writers who're members of the Outdoor Writers' Guild. I think they must consist mainly of mountaineers because the choice of essays is very much slanted towards mounteering and hill climbing. Scotland, with its many mountains, features a *lot* but also Cumbria, Dartmoor, The Peak District and so on. I thought it was a bit patchy to be honest, some offerings very good, others not so interesting. One for the charity shop box.

19. Castle Skull - John Dickson Carr

20. Then She Was Gone - Lisa Jewell

21. Dashing for the Post - Patrick Leigh Fermor

22. The Mapping of Love and Death - Jacqueline Winspear.

23. Fell Murder - E.C.R. Lorac

Garthmere Hall is a large farm in an area south of the Lake District known as Lunesdale. It's been farmed by the Garth family for generations and 82 year old Robert Garth, cantankerous but fair with his tennant farmers, is head of the household, although his daughter now runs the farm. His eldest son who should inherit left for Canada after a row with his father. When Robert is found dead, shot in the head, in an old cow barn, the whole household comes under suspicion, even the missing son. Chief Inspector MacDonald from Scotland Yard is brought in to solve the murder but has his work cut out getting past the locals' natural suspicion of strangers. The sense of place in this one is wonderful, I gather the author loved the area and it certainly shows. It's quite an insular story, very much centred on the farm and the family who live there, a few neighbours etc. It means you get to know them all very well. The detective, MacDonald, doesn't appear until half way into the story and that alters the dynamic somewhat. I'd forgotten that a book I read last year, Fire in the Thatch, was also a Chief Inspector MacDonald instalment. In fact there are 46 of them! I'm sure I'll be reading more.

24. The Outsider: My Life in Intrigue - Frederick Forsyth. This was my 4th. book for Bev's Mount TBR 2020 challenge.

British author, Frederick Forsyth has written some very iconic spy/thriller books: The Day of the Jackal, The Odessa File, The Dogs of War and so on. He's also lived rather a colourful life, he was the youngest pilot ever to qualify with the RAF, he was a journalist in East Germany in the Cold War of the 1960s, and he also covered the Biafran War in the late sixties. Returning from that broke and not knowing what to do with himself he decided to sit down and write The Day of the Jackal. The rest is history. Apparently the author didn't want to write an ordinary autobiography so this book takes the form of talks or essays about important parts of his life. I thought it worked pretty well, I found some bits more interesting than others, his spell as a journalist in East Germany was fascinating to read about, we forget what things were like during The Cold War and that brought it all back. I haven't actually read any of his fiction so I downloaded The Odessa File to see if it's the kind of thing I might enjoy.

Not a bad month anyhow. Four fiction - all crime yarns - and three non-fiction. Twenty four books read so far this year, eight of which are non-fiction. Quite content with that. I thought the lockdown would lead to me reading a lot more but that hasn't happened, mainly I think becuase I'm also knitting and jigsaw puzzling, but also I'm taking the opportunity to give the house a good spring-clean.

I hope anyone reading this is taking care and staying safe and coping with the whole 'staying indoors' thing.


Friday, 27 March 2020

Bookshelf Travelling for Insane Times

Crikey, Friday came around again quickly didn't it? Time for another round of Bookshelf Travelling for Insane Times which is being hosted by Judith at Reader in the Wilderness. The idea is to share your bookshelves with other bloggers. Any aspect you like:

1. Home.
2. Books in the home.
3. Touring books in the home.
4. Books organized or not organized on shelves, in bookcases, in stacks, or heaped in a helter-skelter fashion on any surface, including the floor, the top of the piano, etc.
5. Talking about books and reading experiences from the past, present, or future.

Whatever you fancy as long as you have fun basically.

Today I'm just going to showcase the four books I bought while I was away in Cornwall a couple of weeks ago. I bought them at The Edge of the World Bookshop in Penzance which is one of my all time favourite independent bookshops.

I didn't think to take a photo of the outside of the shop so I snagged this off their Facebook page. Assuming that's ok.

Anyway, these are the books I bought:

As you can see, I like the colour blue.

From the bottom:

The Cabin in the Mountains by Robert Ferguson recounts how the author bought a piece of land in Northern Norway and built a cabin on it. Sounds like everything I ever wanted to be honest!

Wakenhyrst by Michelle Paver is a supernatural story about a manor house in The Fens of East Anglia. I loved her Dark Matter and am hoping this is as good.

The Path to the Sea by Liz Fenwick is another Cornwall based novel about a house called Boskenna, on the Cornish cliffs, and the women who have lived there.

Crimson Snow, edited by Martin Edwards, is a book of Winter and Christmas based vintage crime short stories.

What stunning covers these have all got, so funny that they're all blue, but very pleased indeed with my purchases.


Tuesday, 24 March 2020

Bookish things & knitting

I just knew Judith's new meme, Bookshelf Travelling for Insane Times would increase my tbr pile. I like the sound of this, that she recommended:

A book of letters by Arthur Conan Doyle. I'm not buying physical books at the moment, obviously, but it's available on Kindle for £9.99. Which is not terrible but I tend not to pay much more than £5 for Kindle books so I'll think on that (and likely as not cave in sooner rather than later.)

And this I saw mention of on Tracy's blog.

Iron Lake by William Kent Krueger is book one in a crime series (she talks about book two) set in the northern woods of Minnesota. This I did buy as it was only £2.99 and who can resist such a setting?!

I really need another new crime series to start... LOL

I finished a couple of books which I haven't reviewed so I'll give them a quick mention.

Firstly, Dashing for the Post a book of letters by Patrick Leigh Fermor, this is my 3rd. book for Bev's Mount TBR read challenge, 2020

The author is of course one of the most famous travel writers of the 20th. century having walked across Europe as a young man in the late 1930s. He knew all kinds of people and kept up a prolific correspondence with all of them. People like Debo Devonshire, the youngest Mitford girl and the person responsible for bringing Chatsworth House back into the public domain. Ann Fleming who was married to Ian Fleming, the author, and was apparently a fascinating woman. Ditto Lady Diana Cooper, a famous socialite and wife of politician and diplomat, 'Duff' Cooper. Leigh Cooper liked women very much and was very attractive to them and attracted 'to' them despite being in a long term relationship with eventual wife, Joan. He also knew and wrote to authors such as John Betjeman, Lawrence Durrell and John Julius Norwich. This was a fascinating insight into the author's life, his writing, relationships and the various times he lived through.

Next, The Mapping of Love and Death by Jacqueline Winspear.

This, book six, of the Maisie Dobbs series has her dealing with the fate of a young cartographer during WW1. His parents in America knew he had probably died but his body has just been found and there is a suspicion that he was murdered before the dug-out was destroyed by a shell. They also think there was a woman in his life and they want Maisie to find her. Another excellent instalment of a series that never fails to fascinate me. Jacqueline Winspear never fails to find yet another aspect of the conflict that I hadn't really thought about and thus knew nothing about. This one is one of those 'milestone' books in the series, lot going on and a lot of surprises at the end. I've managed to secure the next two to read before lockdown started so am quite chuffed about that.

Progress on the scarf also continues apace. (Click on the photo for a much better look at it.)

It's now 3ft in length but will probably need to be 5 or 6 by the time it's finished. Quite pleased with how it looks and am thoroughly enjoying knitting again after so many years.


Saturday, 21 March 2020

A new meme: Bookshelf Travelling For Insane Times

These are difficult and challenging times we find ourselves in so to provide some entertainment for us bookish folk Judith at Reader in the Wilderness has started a new Friday meme. (I know it's Saturday :-) I was rather busy yesterday.) She's calling it 'Bookshelf Travelling For Insane Times' and here are a few details:

This meme involves books that are currently in your house or apartment or the abode where you reside. The books do not have to belong to you necessarily.

1. For each Friday post in the coming weeks while we endure the impossible, select a book shelf, or maybe two shelves, or a bookcase, or maybe a pile of books standing high upon the floor of your bedroom or living room. Or select any other random selection of books. Please don't be hemmed in by spatial constraints or parameters. Do it your way by all means!

2. From that shelf or bookshelves, choose a number of books that you would like to share with us whether you have read them or not. Some of them you may have read long ago and would like to revisit in memory or revisit the experience and time and place of reading the book. If you wish you could share a bit about what you liked or disliked or whatever else you would like to say.
Or select books you hope to read in the future and tell us about a few of them, as many as you like. And do this however you like. Jumble it up however you like.

3. If you'd like and if you're able to, share a photo of either the books, the shelf, the shelves, or whatever you'd like, but this is just a suggestion.

4. Feel free to ruminate and ramble in your discussions, because this is strictly for FUN, and I hope to have a lot of fun when I participate. Do delve into the shelves of your significant others, if that sounds like fun.

5. If you can't do it on a Friday, please feel free to participate on Saturday, Sunday, or Thursday.

A few concepts you can use:

1. Home.
2. Books in the home.
3. Touring books in the home.
4. Books organized or not organized on shelves, in bookcases, in stacks, or heaped in a helter-skelter fashion on any surface, including the floor, the top of the piano, etc.
5. Talking about books and reading experiences from the past, present, or future.

Please visit Judith's blog here and here for more ideas and info.

And here is her first post.


In other words this is a very flexible meme that we can all have fun with.

So, inspired by Judith who mentioned a book of letters she has by Arthur Conan Doyle and because I've not long finished a book of them by Patrick Leigh Fermor, I thought I'd photograph my own tbr pile of books of letters.

From the bottom:

Speaking for Themselves: The Personal Letters of Winston and Clementine Churchill edited by Mary Soames. I've been interested in the life of Winston Churchill for several years now and have read several books already. This one is 'huge' because they wrote to each other every day, so this is probably a good time to read it given I'll be spending more time than usual at home.

Over the Rim of the World: Selected Letters of Freya Stark, edited by Caroline Moorehead. Freya Stark was one of the most famous travellers and travel writers of the 20th. century. She knew and was friends with Patrick Leigh Fermor, in fact he's written the forward to this so I can't wait to read it.

Canada A Portrait in Letters 1800 - 2000 by Charlotte Gray. This is a portrait of a nation through a collection of letters as it says on the cover. Letters from many, many people included in this, suspect it's going to be fascinating.

Africa in my Blood: An Autobiography in Letters by Jane Goodall and edited by Dale Peterson. These are letters from the early years of naturalist, Jane Goodall, who lived on a wildlife preserve by the shores of Lake Tanganyika and studied chimpanzees.

Selected Letters of Robert Louis Stevenson edited by Ernest Mehew. This is taken from eight volumes of his letters apparently. Wow. That's a lot of letters but then he must've been an interesting man, he certainly wrote some of the most iconic books in the English language.

The Letters of Nancy Mitford and Evelyn Waugh edited by Charlotte Mosley. Two more authors who knew and wrote to Patrick Leigh Fermor. I think this might be the next volume of letters I read given my interest in the Mitford girls. And I wonder if it will lead me to read something fictional by either of them?

So, those are the books of letters I have on my tbr pile at the moment. I have a Goodreads shelf devoted to book of letters here as well so I think it can be said that I like to read volumes of letters by famous and not-so-famous people. It's become a bit of a lost art and I'm not one to point the finger as I used to have dozens of penpals all over the world and wrote endless letters myself during the 1970s, 80s and 90s.

So I hope others will now have a go at this lovely new meme. It's very flexible and unstressful and lots of fun. Go on... you know you want to.


Thursday, 19 March 2020

A couple of murder mysteries

I'm just back from four days in Cornwall, had a lovely time seeing my Cornish family down there and made the most of it because it's clearly going to be a while before we can go again. My husband is 'at risk' from the corona virus, with a heart condition and diabetes, and as such we'll have to isolate ourselves for the duration. I won't be bored... books and book blogging, jigsaws, knitting, cooking, the garden, social media... but I will badly miss my daughters and grandkids. We're a close knit family who support each other in everything and that will be a loss. Still, it's necessary and this too shall pass.

I have a couple of crime book reviews to catch up on, first up, Castle Skull: A Rhineland Mystery by John Dickson Carr. This is my 3rd. book for the European Reading challenge covering the country of 'Germany'.

Fifteen years ago a flamboyant stage magician, Malegar, died when he either fell or was pushed from a moving train. Now an actor friend of his, Myron Alison, has died, set alight and burned to death on the battlements of Malegar's old home, Castle Skull. French detective, Henri Bencolin, and his associate Marle (the narrator of the story) are asked to go to the castle, near Coblenz on the Rhine, to investigate. They stay opposite the castle in the home of the dead man, Alison, which is now being lived in by his sister, Agatha. A whole list of suspects are also staying, along with Bencolin and Marle... can the two men, plus the German police, get to the bottom of this mystery?

There's a lot more to this story than I've outlined, to be honest I found the plot quite hard to follow, overly melodramatic, and was constantly confused as who was who and what happened when. My confusion did clear as the book moved on and I did begin to enjoy it a bit more. But I never did take to the detective, Bencolin, didn't feel that his character was fleshed out at all and mostly the book was inhabited by a large cast of very unpleasant people. What did come over strongly was a sense of the Rhine, the dangers of the river, its moods, the high cliffs and hills on either side, the traffic on it and so on. I enjoyed that aspect more than the mystery if I'm honest and will see if I can see any non-fiction books about the river and its history.

Next, Then She Was Gone by Lisa Jewell, I saw this reviewed on Pat's blog and thought it sounded rather good: it was.

Laurel Mack's teenage daughter, Ellie, went missing ten years ago. The family, Laurel, her husband, Paul, and two older teenage children, basically imploded. The marriage slowly fell apart and the two older children moved out as soon as they could. Ellie disappeared off the face of the Earth that day but Laurel has never given up hope that she will be found alive or at the very least her body found so that the family can have closure. She's having coffee in a café one day when a man walks in and starts to chat to her. He's Floyd, an American, and gradually the two begin a relationship. The odd thing is, he has a nine year old daughter, Poppy, who, shockingly, looks just like Ellie. How can this possibly be?

I read this in two sittings and actually had to make myself stop the first session and go and cook a meal. It really is a pageturner. And different as there aren't any police or private investigators, just Laurel trying to sort her life out and be normal for the first time in ten years, but this question of what happened to Ellie, unsurprisingly, just won't go away. The book is quite agonising to be honest because of course the reader knows or can guess at things that Laurel can't see. There are multiple viewpoints but it's not confusing, very cleverly done in fact. In essence, a scary, psychological sort of book... not always my thing but this one worked very well indeed for me.

I hope everyone who visits and reads this blog stays safe. A few of us have decided to try and post more often during this crisis to keep people's spirits up, please join us! Judith at Reader in the Wilderness plans to start a Friday meme so go and read her initial post about it here. It sounds like a lot of fun and we all need that at the moment. Take care.


Wednesday, 11 March 2020

It seems I can't stop buying books!

As an experiment for this year I thought I'd keep count of the number of new books I acquire. In previous years I've just bought books willy-nilly, I've not kept a record. Consequently, I never have any idea come the end of the year whether I've made any impact on the number of books on my TBR pile or not, suspecting that I may well have bought more new books than I've actually taken off it. So this year I thought I'd change that and monitor it.

So, I created a shelf on Goodreads and every time I buy a new book I add it there. And it makes for interesting reading. I'm a bit shocked to see that the shelf now has 13 books on it... and we're only halfway through March. But the breakdown is interesting, it seems that only 3 of these books are physical... actually adding to the number of books on my shelves. The other 10 are sitting on my Kindle. I think what I've subconsciously done is been happy to to buy ebooks but tried not to add too many real books to my TBR mountain shelves. What I have to work out is whether or not this is OK. Is it cheating when I'm trying not to add too many books to the pile to quietly sneak them onto my Kindle instead and hope no one notices? It's a very grey area. After all, ebooks take up no room and they don't worry me, it's the number of books on my shelves that I'm trying to reduce so that when we downsize in a few years it won't be so difficult when I find I don't have room for as many.

Anyway, just out of interest I checked my '2020-my books read' shelf and counted the number of physical books read or being read off my TBR shelf: they number 12. So that's 3 physical books in, 12 out, now that makes for more cheerful reading. I think. *Tries not to look shifty*

So which ebooks have I bought recently? Let's start with these three crime yarns:

Deep Waters edited by Martin Edwards is what it says on the tin - a selection of short stories all about water, the sea, rivers, even swimming pools I gather. I never can resist these vintage themed anthologies from Martin Edwards.

A Watery Grave by Joan Druett is the first in a historical crime series, set in the 1800s, about 'Wiki Coffin' who goes to sea with The United States Exploring Expedition. I spotted this series on Cathy at Kittling Books' blog.

Lying and Dying by Graham Brack. This is book 1 in the 'Josef Slonsky' series, set in Prague. I'll be reading this for the European Reading challenge.


Winter Cottage by Mary Ellen Taylor is set in Virginia and is a family history and family secrets kind of book. At the princely sum of £1 I thought it was a no-brainer.

A Kilo of String by Rob Johnson. Brits olive farming in Greece. Another one for the European reading challenge.

Why the Dutch are Different: A Journey into the Hidden Heart of the Netherlands by Ben Coates. Another self-explanatory title and another book for the European reading challenge.

And just for the record, these are the three physical books I've bought this year:

The Nine of Us: Growing up Kennedy by Jean Kennedy Smith. A rec from Nan at Letters From a Hill Farm

The Mammoth Book of New Sherlock Holmes Adventures edited by Mike Ashley. Because, obviously, you can never have enough Sherlock Holmes.

The Aeneid by Virgil. Well, I thought I'd give it go...

So what am I? A Lost Cause when it comes to my book-buying habit? It certainly looks like it. But you know what? I don't think I'll fall into a decline over it. Judging by all of your blogs, I'm in very good company.


Saturday, 7 March 2020

Six Degrees of Separation: from Wolfe Island to The Glass Guardian

The Six Degrees of Separation meme is a monthly meme hosted by Books are my Favourite and Best.

Books can be linked in obvious ways – for example, books by the same authors, from the same era or genre, or books with similar themes or settings. Or, you may choose to link them in more personal ways: books you read on the same holiday, books given to you by a particular friend, books that remind you of a particular time in your life, or books you read for an online challenge.

A book doesn’t need to be connected to all the other books on the list, only to the ones next to them in the chain.

This month's chain begins with Wolfe Island by Lucy Treloar.

I haven't read this book and probably won't as I think it's dystopian and I'm not fond of that genre. It's set on an island in Chesapeake Bay, a very beautiful area, I've been there and can vouch for that.

Also set on an island but this time on Lake Superior is, A Superior Death by Nevada Barr.

The island is Isle Royale NP and this is an Anna Pigeon murder mystery, very exciting and informative about the area, I absolutely loved the book. Must get back to the series.

Isle Royale is part of Michigan which borders Lake Superior. Another state which borders that lake is Wisconsin and a book set in Wisconsin is The Little House in the Big Woods by Laura Ingalls Wilder.

This is the very first 'Little House' book featuring the Ingalls family. The narrator of them all is Laura, very young in this book of course but we still learn a lot as we experience a year living in the forests of Wisconsin in the late 1800s. Charming and delightful.

Another book featuring a 'Laura' is Love Letters by Katie Fforde.

This Laura works in a bookshop, a job she loves until the shop has to close. She takes a job organising a Literary Festival and gets into all kinds of trouble with one of the male authors. My favourite bits were the depictions of the romance and chick-lit authors who appeared to be having more fun than anyone. A fun read.

Another book with 'Letters' in the title is Letters From Skye by Jessica Brockmole.

This is a story of letters exchanged between a young writer of a book of poetry who lives on the Isle of Skye and an American who volunteers to drive ambulances at The Front in World War One. The Isle of Skye features very strongly, a beautiful but restricted place to live for a young woman.

Skye is also the setting for The Glass Guardian by Linda Gillard.

This is a delightful book about a woman, a TV gardening presenter, who suffers several deaths very close to her and goes to The Isle of Skye to grieve... to the home of her deceased aunt which has been left to her in her aunt's will. The supernatural plot is complicated but absorbing, for more see the link to my review above.

So, I've travelled from an island in Chesapeake Bay,to Lake Superior and Wisconsin and thus to England (with a quick foray to Ireland in that one), finally finishing on another island, the beautiful Isle of Skye where I have never been but hope to go one day.

Next month's Six Degrees will begin with Stasiland by Anna Funder.