Tuesday, 13 November 2018

Mount TBR reading challenge, 2019

I had a break from Mount TBR this year but the tbrs have mounted up quite badly, despite my efforts, so I thought I'd do the challenge next year as all the books I bought *this* year will qualify of course. So here we go.

As usual the challenge is being hosted by Bev at MY READER'S BLOCK.

Challenge Levels:

Pike's Peak: Read 12 books from your TBR pile/s
Mount Blanc: Read 24 books from your TBR pile/s
Mt. Vancouver: Read 36 books from your TBR pile/s
Mt. Ararat: Read 48 books from your TBR piles/s
Mt. Kilimanjaro: Read 60 books from your TBR pile/s
El Toro: Read 75 books from your TBR pile/s
Mt. Everest: Read 100 books from your TBR pile/s
Mount Olympus (Mars): Read 150+ books from your TBR pile/s

For the various rules please visit Bev's sign-up post here. (I like the fact that rereads now count.)

At first I thought I'd just go for Pike's Peak - 12 books - and then I thought, 'Don't be such a wimp.' So I'm going for Mont Blanc, which is to read 24 books. As I have actually read almost 30 of my own books this year that ought to be achievable. In theory...

Looking forward to starting this, partly because it'll be the start of a new year and I always feel enthusiastic about what books I want to read. Right now, coming to the end of the year, my enthusiam is waning slightly. It will return.


Friday, 9 November 2018

More crime fic

Two murder mysteries to review today... it's all I seem to be reading at the moment, not that I see that as a 'bad' thing.

First up, Swiss Vendetta by Tracee de Hahn.

Agnes Luthi is an inspector with the Swiss police, but she has dual nationality, she's actually American who was born in Switzerland. She's just changed departments within the police, moving from financial crime to violent crimes. She's the sole parent of three boys as her husband has recently died. The storm of the century is almost upon Lausanne when the police get a call to say that a body's been found in the grounds of a local chateau. Agnes only just manages to get to the place before the storm hits and the group of police officers who made it with her are to be cut off for several days while they investigate the murder of Felicity Cowell, who worked for a London auction house. The Vallotton family who own the chateau are a very old, traditional Swiss family and are not giving very much away. Agnes has her work cut out to solve this one, not only because of the family but the elements are also very much against her.

I was ever so slightly underwhelmed by this. The first half of the book was really slow and I might have given up if I hadn't been reading it for a couple of challenges. As it was it did improve, more began to happen, and I did become interested in the case. But I still found the characters a little bit flat. There's a back story that concerns how Agnes's husband died and why, I found this distracting to be honest, although the truth when it came out was a surprise. The setting for the book was excellent and there is a strong feeling of Switzerland in a snowstorm and the aftermath - that I very much liked. All in all, this book was a bit hit and miss for me but that's OK, it's impossible to love everything.

Swiss Vendetta is my 5th. book for the What's in a Name reading challenge and covers the category, 'A Nationality'. It's also my 7th. book for The European Reading challenge, covering the country of Switzerland.

Next, Wash this Blood Clean from my Hand by Fred Vargas, book six in the Commissaire Adamsberg series.

No one on Adamsberg's team has any idea that he had a brother, Raphael. Years ago the brother was the main suspect in the murder of a young woman in the village in the Pyrenees where the family lived. The murder weapon had been some kind of trident, a fork for digging, and Adamsberg has, over the years since this happened, done some digging of his own, convinced as he was that his brother was innocent. His conclusion was that a serial killer is on the loose and that it is a famous judge who lived in the village. He comes to think of the killer as The Trident. No one, of course believes him - the judge is well respected - and when the judge dies that seems to be the end of that for fifteen years. Until Adamsberg spots a murder in the paper, a woman killed in exactly the same way as all the others. But the judge is dead... Various members of the team are off to Quebec on a DNA course. Adamsberg can forget about his dead serial killer while over there can't he? Well no, of course he can't.

Oh my goodness, how can Fred Vargas possibly manage to maintain the quality of this series like she does? This was so complicated, so many layers going on, the historical case or cases, the DNA course, Adamsberg's personal life interfering with those two things - his own stupidty, which is a bit mind boggling to be honest. You want to give him a shake at times. The Quebec setting is beautifully done, the cultural differences between the local Quebecois and their counterparts from Paris was beautifully illustrated and very funny. Every single character is so real, all with their different quirks and habits and failings. I love Clémentine and her friend Josette, the eighty year old computer hacker. Hilarious. I've loved every single book in this series and hate the thought that eventually I'll finish them all and have to wait for a new book to be written.

Wash This Blood Clean From My Hand is my first book for the 12th. Annual Canadian Book challenge which is being hosted by The Indextrious Reader.


Friday, 2 November 2018

Books Read in October

October was a pretty average reading month for me. Seven books read, all enjoyed, you can't ask for more than that.

The books:

50. A Discovery of Witches - Deborah Harkness

51. Hickory Dickory Dock - Agatha Christie

52. From the Depths edited by Mike Ashley

53. Hunter's Moon - Dana Stabenow

54. Black Diamond - Martin Walker

55. A Trick of the Light - Louise Penny

56. A Swiss Vendetta - Tracee De Hahn. To be reviewed.

The thing that sticks out for me is that there's no non-fiction this month and the one I'd just started I've put aside for the time being. Will have to do better than that next month. I've more or less majored on crime novels, surprise, surprise... five of those and two supernatural themed books. Sometimes you just have gorge on your favourite genre because nothing else will do, this is possibly because I've had a cold for a week and needed some comfort reading.

Favourite book? Well that would have to be this:

A Trick of the Light by Louise Penny. Superb, the series just gets better and better. I've already reserved the next book from the library.

And here's what I've been doing apart from reading:

2,000 pieces, Van Gogh's 'Starry Night' of course. Quite tricky. Make that very tricky...

And this one was a 1,000 piece American puzzle entitled 'Hummingbirds'.

I'm hoping November will be a quiet month. I don't mind if the weather is bad because settling down in my favourite chair in front of the open fire with a good book is sheer luxury. I call it 'hibernating'. Happy reading.


Tuesday, 30 October 2018

The 12th Annual Canadian Book challenge

Inspired by Tracey at Bitter Tea and Mystery I'm joining the 12th. Annual Canadian Book challenge. I had a feeling that I had done this before but I can't find any record of it so maybe I'm imagining it. Anyway, some details:

The challenge is being hosted by The Indextrious Reader.

1. What is the Canadian Book Challenge?

Created by John Mutford at the Book Mine Set a decade ago and hosted by him for its first 10 years, the Canadian Book Challenge is an annual online reading challenge in which participants from Canada and around the world aim to read and review 13 or more Canadian books in a one year span: Canada Day to Canada Day. Reviews must be posted online and participants are asked to share links to their reviews with other participants. More on reviews below.

(It's also a lot of fun and collectively we've read and reviewed thousands of Canadian titles)

2. How do I join?

Send me an email (mkindrach (at) gmail [dot] com) with the subject line "Sign Me Up for the Canadian Book Challenge!" and I'll add you to the list. Consider yourself a participant even if you don't get a response from me right away. Come July 1st you can get started right away. As soon as I get your first link (see below), I'll add your name to the participant list on the sidebar of this blog.

3. Oh no, it's past July 1st, can I still join?

Of course! In the past people have joined even in the very last month. If you think you can realistically read and review 13 books in the time remaining, then why not? To join, just follow the exact same instructions as above.

4. What constitutes a Canadian book?

Canadian books can include any genre or form (picture books, poetry, novels, non-fiction, plays, anthologies, graphic novels, cookbooks, etc), can be written by Canadian authors (by birth or immigration) or about Canadians. Ultimately, participants must decide for themselves whether or not something fits the description of Canadian: however, if it isn't clear in your review as to WHY you are counting your read as a Canadian one, please add a line or two to explain :)

More details about the challenge are here.


The challenge runs from the 1st. July of this year to the 30th. June 2019, so I'm rather late to the party but that's OK, I'll read what I can, have fun and see where it leads me.

I have many ideas of what to read, More of Louise Penny's Armand Gamache series, Mary Lawson, Entry Island by Peter May (thanks, Kay!), Fred Vargas (book 6 of her Adamsberg series is set in Quebec), Kelley Armstrong, L.M. Montgomery, Vicki Delaney, Tanya Huff, Guy Gavriel Kay, Jo Walton, and I'm certain there are many more options which I will look into. Feel free to suggest any to me.

Non-fictionwise I have these:

I've started a Goodreads shelf of Canadian books HERE. (The ones I've already read won't count for the challenge of course.)

There's also a Goodreads list of Canadian non-fiction HERE.

And a fiction list HERE.

Looking forward to getting started on this and the nice thing is... I can!


Saturday, 27 October 2018

Some crime fiction

The last week or two has been for reading from my ongoing series, ones I haven't touched for many months so it's been huge fun revisiting characters that feel like old friends.

First up, Hunter's Moon by Dana Stabenow - book nine of the author's Kate Shugak series.

Kate Shugak and her boyfriend, Jack, are acting as guides on a hunting expedition in the wilds of Alaska. Kate is an experienced guide. The hunters are a group of Germans from a German company that is in trouble financially in Europe. They're not a particularly pleasant group of men, plus one woman, and Kate has a bad feeling about them. This feeling is reinforced when one of their number is accidently shot dead. But was it an accident? I wasn't very enamoured of this one until about halfway through. The hunters were particularly obnoxious and I'm not great with situations where animals are killed for sport. But it really picked up later in the book and actually became rather exciting, plus, massive shock occurrence, *massive*, was not expecting that, so it got four stars on Goodreads instead of three.

Next, Black Diamond by Martin Walker, book three of the author's Bruno, Chief of Police series.

The Perigord region of France is famous for its truffles and large amounts of money change hands during the season in autumn and early winter. Bruno gets word that someone is interfering with the Perigord truffle when it's being sent off to restaurants in Paris and suchlike, inferior Chinese truffles being exchanged for the genuine article. One of Bruno's closest friends is found brutally murdered in the forest but is it to do with the truffle smuggling or his links to the French wars in Algeria and Vietnam? I quite like this series but in this book felt Bruno was bordering on too good to be true. But the plot concerning truffle shenanigans and tensions between the Vietnamese and Chinese communities in France was quite gripping and fascinating... I had no idea that the latter problems existed to be honest. Bruno's private life continues to be complicated but that's fine, the lovely details of life in Perigord continue to engage and I will definitely carry on with this series.

Lastly, A Trick of the Light by Louise Penny, book seven in her Armand Gamache series.

Clara Morrow has the first ever exhibition of her artwork in Montreal and Chief Inspector Armand Gamache goes to the vernissage with his wife and a couple of police colleagues. A BBQ party takes place in Three Pines, after the event, and a lot of people from the exhibition and village attend. The next morning the dead body of a woman is discovered in Clara and her husband Peter's garden. It's revealed that the dead woman is Lillian Dyson, a childhood friend of Clara's whom she fell out with in her early twenties. But Clara is not the only person who knew Lillian it seems. The dead woman had been an art critic, specialising in scathing reviews which ruined the careers of budding artists. Who among the guests at Clara's BBQ hated Lilian enough to kill her? Words can't express how much I like this series. It has improved with each book and reached a degree of excellence which many series never achieve. This one told me probably more than I thought I wanted to know about petty wars and alliances in the art community in Montreal. Whether this is true to life or not I don't know, but I suspect it's close... it's not at all my world but I was fascinated by it. And of course all the regular characters are so well drawn, all of them a mix of good and bad but growing and changing all the time. I particulary like the mad poet, Ruth, in Three Pines and her relationship with Jean-Guy Beauvoir. I feel like I haven't had enough of Three Pines to quell my thirst for it so have reserved book eight, The Beautiful Mystery, from the library... it's about a monastry in Quebec, can't wait.

It just occurred to me how much travelling I've done with these three books... Alaska, Perigord in France and then Quebec in Canada. And now I'm off to Switzerland!


Sunday, 14 October 2018

Catching up

A couple of books to catch up on today because, as usual, I'm behind with my reviews.

First up, Hickory Dickory Dock by Agatha Christie.

Miss Lemon isn't her usual efficient self. Hercule Poirot notices that she's making mistakes when she's typing his letters and this is something that never happens. It seems her sister is the house-keeper at a students' lodging house in London and things there are not quite what they ought to be. There has been some pilfering, odd things disappearing and then reappearing. A rucksack is hacked to pieces and hidden, a student has green ink poured over her work, thereby ruining it. Poirot is intrigued... and worried. He feels this may just be the start of something much more sinister. And so it proves to be when a female student is found dead in her bed. Suicide is assumed, but is it? Poirot thinks not.

This book was written in 1955 (I was two!) and aside from some attitudes in places being 'of the time' it could've been written yesterday. They say, 'The more things change, the more they stay the same' and it's so true. *SPOILER ALERT* I had no idea drug smuggling was such a problem in the 1950s. That people went to great lengths to establish smuggling rings or the tricks they got up to... exactly as they do now of course. Poirot doesn't actually appear in this one a great deal. It concentrates more or less exclusivly on the students living in the lodging house, their lives, their attitudes... especially towards students from foreign countries or who're less well off. It made for very interesting reading. You can learn as much about social history by reading something like this as you can by reading text books in my opinion. Thoroughly enjoying these occasional Agatha Christie reads, my respect for her has grown and grown.

Lastly, From the Depths and Other Strange Tales of the Sea edited by Mike Ashley.

This is another volume of short stories from The British Library. These days they're more famous for their reprinting of vintage crime classics, both novels and short stories (those're usually edited by Martin Edwards), but they do have a sideline now of supernatural tales and also science fiction. Mike Ashley seems to edit quite few of them, I gather he also edited quite a lot of those 'Mammoth book of...' that used to be around a few years ago. He does a good job with these, the introduction to the author at the start of each story is always interesting, amazing how many hugely popular authors in their time have now been completely forgotten. All power to elbow of the British Library for returning these people to public awareness.

Anyway, this was rather a good volume of short stories. For me, the stories got better as the book progressed. At the start, several were about being becalmed in the Sargasso sea, stuck in terrible seaweed, that kind of thing. And those were fine, very readable. But story number seven, The Mystery of the Water-logged ship by William Hope-Hodgson, about men boarding a floating wreck and then constantly disappearing, was really creepy and atmospheric and started a run of similarly good tales. I liked the story the title was taken from, From the Depths by F. Britten Austin, a World War Two tale which combined the supernatural and with a sort of spy yarn. Clever. Devereux's Last Smoke by Izola Forrester was a 'tip of a cigar' ghost story, really well written, claustrophobic in atmosphere as it takes place on a fogbound Atlantic liner. The High Seas by Elinor Mordaunt tells the story of twins boys, one big and a bully, the other small and bullied. Really good story-telling in this one and an excellent sense of place in Rye on the south coast of England. But for me, the best story of the whole bunch was The Soul-Saver by American writer, Morgan Burke. A ruthless and cruel captain kills one of his crew and then claims a white mouse that's appeared from nowhere is the dead sailor's soul. Superb story-telling, New England jumps off the pages at you, and I loved the story's wierdness. The final story of the volume, No Ships Pass by Lady Eleanor Smith was also an odd one. Mike Ashley felt it could have been the inspiration for the TV series, Lost and I can see why. A ship-wrecked sailor washes up on an island, where he finds four other people, one of them a pirate captain who has been marooned there for over a hundred years. Odd story and again, well written.

All in all a good, solid anthology, a few average stories but also quite a few really good ones which were very satisfying. I now have The British Library 'werewolf' anthology to read, Silver Bullets, selected by Eleanor Dobson. A happy bunny am I.


Monday, 8 October 2018

A Discovery of Witches

Autumn is well and truly here so a bit of spooky reading seems to suit the mood. I have a collection of books with ghostly or weird themes but none of those appealed so I grabbed A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness last time I was in the library. Members of my family have read the entire All Souls trilogy and recommended them and I did try this one several years ago, abandoning it after 50 pages or so because I couldn't get into it. 'Time to try again', I thought, 'and be a bit more determined this time'.

Diana Bishop is the latest in a long line of witches dating back centuries to the witches of New England. Except that she doesn't want to be a witch and has spent her entire life, up to her mid thirties, ignoring her magic. At least, she thinks she has. She's over from America studying the history of alchemy in Oxford, using the Bodleian libary's reference section on a daily basis. For her it's the perfect life. There are other 'creatures' like herself around, witches, vampires and daemons, but one way or another Diana is able to ignore them.

Then one day she needs a manuscript, Ashmole 782. It's ancient, obscure - Diana reserves it, studies it briefly and realises it is magic and very powerful and sends it back. Later she's caught using her magic to call another book from a shelf. Diana doesn't think trivial uses of her magic count for her personal ban on it but the person who catches her is a powerful vampire, Frenchman, Matthew Clairmont.

It seems a lot of people, including Matthew, have been searching for Ashmole 782. It's hard to obtain and when got it's almost impossible to read. Diana did both with ease. She's now the centre of attention for some very unpleasant members of the witch, vampire and daemon communities. Attention she doesn't want. And it's dangerous attention too, Matthew makes her realise that her life is in jeopardy and she must accept his protection if she's going to survive. Not only that, learn to use and control her much hated magic. But can she trust her new vampire friend?

Well then, my second reading of A Discovery of Witches went a lot better than the first. It's a long book (almost 600 pages), I got to the end, and enjoyed it. I gave it four out of five stars on Goodreads so all is hunky-dory. I'm sure you can hear the 'but'...

There isn't really a 'but' of huge significance, it's just that it was all exactly as I expected it to be... a fairly typical, if lengthy and detailed, paranormal romance. There were no real surprises, I'd guessed at Diana's hidden depths, as I suspect most people would. Matthew Clairmont was the usual romantic vampire lead, dangerous but on the side of the good guys etc. I was not keen on his dominating character traits but I guess that's vampires for you...

I think I was just hoping for a tiny bit *more*. Which is a shame as the writing was good, I loved, loved, loved the chateau in France and Diana's witchy aunts in New England. The manuscript/bookish feel to the tale is excellent. The book really is very readable and if you want a nice long spooky type read that's not too demanding, this would be perfect. But do I want to rush out and read the next two books? I'm pretty sure I will pick up book two, Shadow of Night, at some stage, but I'm not in any tearing rush, although when I do get to it I'm sure I'll enjoy it. Strange, I'm not often this ambivilent about a book but there ya go: it happens.