Thursday, 19 May 2022

The 20 Books of Summer challenge

It's time for the 20 Books of Summer reading challenge again. Well, it will be in 11 days. It starts on the the 1st. June in fact and finishes on the 1st. September and once again I'm up for it.

The idea is pick a selection of 20 books that you want to read over the next 3 months. And read them. That's it. Simples. The challenge is being hosted by 746 Books and more info and the sign-up is HERE.

I was thinking that I would only go for 10 or 15 this year as I only managed 12 in 2021, but the list, like Topsy, growed and growed. So I ended up with 20 and these are they:

1. Waiting for the Albino Dunnock - Rosamund Richardson

2. Into the Tangled Bank - Lev Parikian

3. The Shell Seekers - Rosamunde Pilcher

4. Green for Danger - Christianna Brand

5. A Thousand Miles up the Nile - Amelia Edwards

6. Prospero's Cell - Lawrence Durrell

7. The Mysterious Mr. Quinn - Agatha Christie

8. Married to Bhutan - Linda Leaming

9. The Coroner's Lunch - Colin Cotterill

10. Beach Read - Emily Henry

11. The Camino: A Journey of the Spirit - Shirley MacLaine

12. Death Beside the Seaside - T.E. Kinsey

13. Illyrian Spring - Ann Bridge

14. Mrs. Lorimer's Quiet Summer - Ann Bridge

15. Walloon Ways - Val Poore

16. The Runaway Wife - Dee MacDonald

17. Away With the Penguins - Hazel Prior

18. The Riviera House - Natasha Lester

19. Fur Babies in France - Jaqueline Lambert

20. The Postscript Murders - Elly Griffiths

In reserve:

Death Goes on Skis - Nancy Spain

Dear Hugo - Molly Clavering

What I've done is fairly typical of me really, I've gone with a travelling - holidays - summer book theme based on my passion for armchair travelling. Not 'all' but mostly anyway. I've also combined several reading challenges so about half a dozen will also be read for my Book Voyage challenge and the Classics one. Really looking forward to getting started.

Sunday, 15 May 2022

Birthday books

So, I was really lucky this year and got given some lovely new books for my birthday. Some years there aren't many, others it's the complete reverse, no rhyme or reason. This year I did well. 


From the bottom:

Manderley Forever by Tatiana de Rosnay. I actually bought this as birthday present for myself. I saw it talked about on a Booktube video I think, 'somewhere' anyway and it sounded like a really excellent biography of Daphne Du Maurier. I've only ever read one book about the writer's life and that was the short autobiographical book, Myself When Young, which was delightful. I think it will be interesting reading about her life from someone else's point of view. 

The Wild Isles, edited by Patrick Barkham, is a big compilation of British and Irish nature writing and includes such authors as Gilbert White, Nan Shepherd, Henry Williamson, John Clare, Chris Packham and many, many more. It's a biggish tome with a stunning cover by artist, Angela Harding:


Still Life by Sarah Winman is set in WW2 in Italy and is about a young British soldier and a 64 year old art historian who meet and form a bond. I don't know a lot about the book to be honest, I just know that it seems to be a historical that's been loved by all who read it.

The Girl Who Came Home to Cornwall by Emma Burstall is another book with a pretty cover:

Cover art by Claire Henley. Anyway, I gather this is about a Mexican woman who travels to Cornwall to find her roots, so it's about family history and secrets. It is actually book 5 in the author's 'Tremarnock' series but I suspect it can be read ok as a standalone.

Cornish Short Stories, edited by Emma Timpany and Felicity Notley is a collection of contemporary Cornish writing. More than that I do not know but from the blurb on the back the stories sound interesting and imaginative.

Green For Danger by Christianna Brand is one of the latest BLCC reissues. It's about the murder of a postman and seems mainly to be a medical whodunit based in or around a hospital. Sounds good to me!

So that was a great birthday haul and I feel very blessed to have people in my life who give me wonderful books like these.

Wednesday, 11 May 2022

Catching up

I seem to have been AWOL for months but in fact it's only been two weeks, one of which I spent in Cornwall on my hols... 'reading'. Well not just reading, we met up with lovely relatives and mooched around the cliffs and gardens of west Cornwall and generally had a nice time. I zoomed through three books too so I'll do a quick catch-up in this post.

First up, The Search by Nora Roberts. 

Fiona Bristow lives on the island of Orcas off the coast of Washington State. Her life and business revolve around training dogs, although she always says it's as much about training their owners as it is about training the dogs. She and her own three dogs are also an important part of the region's canine rescue centre. Fiona is also a survivor. Some years ago she was kidnapped by a serial killer but managed to escape and it was down to her that he was eventually caught. But it came at a dreadful price and all she wants to do now is live a quiet life and forget what happened.  But someone does not. A woman is killed using the original killer's trademarks but it can't be him as he's safely locked up in prison. When more murders follow, the FBI and Fiona realise that he is moving up the coast towards her and the safe life she's constructed for herself could be destroyed forever. Well, this was an excellent thriller type book. But it was a lot more than that. I learnt so much about dog training from this book and although that's not really my thing I thoroughly enjoyed it. Fiona's dogs, all named after movie stars from way back, were great characters in the story, every bit as much as the people. There is some romance, I wasn't mad keen on the love interest but that's ok. And the setting of coastal Washington State was absolutely 'wonderful'. Nora Roberts continues to impress with her standalone thrillers. I like how the books are not all about the killings, they concentrate a lot on people's lives and families and what makes them all tick. Pleased to say I have several more from her on my library pile.

Next, The West Country Winery by Lizzie Lovell. A lovely cousin gave me a bag of books while I was visiting and these next two are from that selection.

Chrissie and her family, husband and two girls, both from previous relationships, live a busy life in London and Chrissie likes it that way. She's an events manager and constantly juggling family life and career. She thinks they're all happy with life as it is but her husband, Rob, drops a bombshell one day. He says he's always wanted to cycle from Cape Town to Cairo, which is news to Chrissie, but Rob is adamant and plans to do it. Soon. Then Chrissie's parents, who own a winery in Devon, call for help. The grape harvest is ready but they can't manage alone, they need assistance. Chrissie decides to take the two girls to live in Devon while Rob is away for a year, but is she doing the right thing? There are thousands of these sorts of contemporary lit books around these days. I don't read them all the time but occasionally they're just what I'm in the mood for and this one was great fun. The author does a lovely line in gentle humour as the only adult in the room, Chrissie, deals with the demands, quirks and tantrums of just about everyone else in the story. I loved the Polish cleaner, Melina, who ends up going with them and turns out to know all about wine production. Priceless. Nicely written and I'll read more by this author as and when she writes it as I believe there are only two books available by her so far. 

Lastly, Thursdays at Eight by Debbie Macomber.

Four women meet every Thursday morning at 8am to talk about what's going on in their lives and support each other. (I forget how they met but it came to an end and they wanted to continue meeting.) Liz is in her late fifties, widowed a few years ago and has a responsible job in a hospital. She's wondering whether or not start on a new relationship with a doctor. Clare, is very recently divorced, her husband having left her and their two older teenage sons for a much younger woman. Then something happens to him. Julia, happily married with two teens, a boy and a girl, suddenly finds she's pregnant. This is not necessarily welcome news... Karen is the youngest of the four, she's in her twenties and wants to be an actor. Her family are against this, parents and married sister, so life is a constant battle for her. Basically, we follow these four women for about a year as life happens to them. It was a good book, Macomber always concentrates on people and their stories and always has so much happening that you're on the edge of your seat a bit, wondering what's going to happen next. I didn't really feel I had a lot in common with any of the characters but that was fine, a good storyteller can make a reader interested in people no matter who or what they are. And our human problems are universal after all. This is set in California but that didn't really come over for me, I felt like it could've been anywhere apart from the acting mad Karen who I think might be quite typical of California. But not a bad read, all in all, I find I quite enjoy these contemporary stories, usually written by women and about women's lives. Makes a change from heaps of dead bodies and carnage all over the place. :-) 

And it's now May already and I have no idea how we can be a third of the way through 2022. I turned 69 on Sunday too and am also wondering how that happened! I hope all is well with you and that you're finding some good books to read.

Wednesday, 27 April 2022

Maigret Goes to School #1954Club

I'm a bit late but my second and final book for the 1954 Club challenge, which was hosted by Karen and Simon, was Maigret Goes to School by Georges Simenon.



In the police station in Paris where Maigret works, the room where people wait, hoping to be seen by a police officer, is known as Purgatory. And wait they do, sometimes for hours, depending really on the whim of the officers concerned. This is precisely what happens to teacher, Joseph Gastin, who is running from a small village near La Rochelle on the French Atlantic coast. An elderly woman has been shot and killed and it seems Monsieur Gastin is the prime suspect. Fearing he will not get a fair hearing in the village, the teacher has headed for Paris hoping he can persuade the famous Maigret to come back with him and help prove his innocence. 

Spurred on by he knows not what, possibly the approach of summer, possibly the promise of oysters, Maigret decides to go. It's not his patch so he has no jurisdiction... luckily the officer in charge in La Rochelle doesn't mind, but the minute they arrive he nevertheless arrests Gastin. Maigret is left to settle into the village, look at what's going on and try somehow get beneath the front the villagers have errected to keep the truth to themselves.

These are my favourite Maigret yarns... those where he leaves Paris and takes up residence in what is often a coastal area, cut off from civilisation in a manner in which we find hard to fully understand these days with our motorways and instant communication. It does mean we lose the presence of his other officers, Luca, Le Point, Janvier etc. and that's a shame but it's made up for in my opinion by Simenon's brilliance at depicting these insular regions. 

Because insularity is what's damning the school teacher of course. He's not local, not 'one of them', so they have no compunction whatsoever in letting him go down for a murder he may or may not have committed, just as long as it's not 'one of them'. Luckily Maigret, coming from another such village himself, understands this very well. He also knows about the secrets that lurk behind the front doors of these places, who's sleeping with whom, who drinks too much, who likes guns...

I enjoyed this very much but I do sometimes wonder if they present better on-screen than they do on the page. We've recently been watching one of the original Maigret series from the 1960s, starring Rupert Davies, on one of the obscure Freeview channels. I think I saw somewhere that his was a portrayal that Simenon himself enjoyed, and I'm not surprised as each episode has been really excellent. I'm actually old enough to have watched this version as a child, it was 'must watch' TV, so I was a big crime fan even that far back. In fact, I've enjoyed all of the various series I've seen with actors, Michael Gambon and, more recently, Rowan Atkinson, and it does seem to me they translate very well onto the small screen. Some of the books are better than others but all of the TV episodes are enjoyable. 

I should add that I know the area this book was set in as we had family who lived near La Rochelle for a while, so it was quite nice to be transported back there while I read the book. I gave it 3 stars on Goodreads and am now thinking I might've been a bit mean as Maigret Goes to School really was very readable indeed.

Tuesday, 19 April 2022

Because of Sam by Molly Clavering #1954Club

Because of Sam by Molly Clavering is my first book for the '#1954 Club' which is running all week and is being hosted by Simon and  Karen.


Millie Maitland has been a widow for many years, her husband having died only three years after their marriage, but it was long enough to produce a daughter, Amabel, who is now in her late twenties. The two live together in the Scottish Borders in fairly straightened circumstances because Millie's husband left her with no money, although they're fortunate in that they do have a home in a lovely little village.

Luckily, Millie discovered, by accident really, that one way to make money was to take in dogs as boarders for people going away on holiday. Now though, Amabel has a good job in Edinburgh and things are a bit easier. Unfortunately, Amabel was never an easy, amenable child and she's carried this obstreperousness into adulthood. She has a spiteful tongue and never ceases to criticise her mother for anything and everything. Millie copes with this with tolerance and fortitude but her life pretty much revolves around what pleases Amabel, or what Amabel will say about this or that.

The village they live in, Mennan, is peopled with the usual suspects as regards types of people. There's the overbearing, organising woman, the vampish woman who seems to be after everyone's husband, there are young couples and bachelor farmers and so on. Small things cause loads of gossip because there's not a lot else going on and people are thus very wary of village 'talk'. A bachelor farmer, Martin Heriot, decides to ask Millie to board a black Lab, Sam, that belongs to his cousin but there seems to be no end in sight, and Millie's solicitor in Edinburgh, Mr. Ramsey, starts coming to stay at weekends. It doesn't cause gossip but Millie's ordered life starts to become a bit less ordered, especially when she gives some advice to the young couple with the new baby...

I have to say straight off that this is a novel where nothing 'momentous' happens. It's very much a story of very ordinary folk, doing very ordinary things, just like we all do every day of our lives. If you like to read books that're non-stop action where you hardly have time to draw breath before the hero or heroine is off again, hotly pursued by murderers, spies, the police, tripods from the planet Mars, whatever, this is not the book for you. 

This is what I would call a 'quiet' novel and I loved it (even though I quite like a pursuit novel from time to time). Millie is a survivor despite being financially poor. She's a genuinely nice person who would do anything for anyone. I felt extremely aggrieved for her when a certain will was read (not her husband's) and her difficulties did not improve. She, on the other hand, accepts whatever life throws at her with equanimity, only occasionally being sharp with people when they go too far. I had the feeling that although she's 'nice', even she has limits. She's no walk-over and just occasionally even shrewish Amabel had to acknowledge that and take a step back. I liked that. 

I also like how unashamedly domestic Millie is. For instance she's a wonderful cook, back in the fifties of course domesticity was not seen as a questionable talent the way it might be today. Perhaps 'questionable' is the wrong term, I mean in the manner in which being capably domestic is not valued as much today as it was in the 1950s. And although this book is 'of its time' some things never change and various traits in people, being too organising, overbearing, flirtatious, totally oblivious, selfish, not wanting to give offence to the point of doing something you hate, well that never changes no matter what the year. 

I haven't been lucky enough to visit the Scottish Borders, the closest I've managed is a visit to Hadrian's Wall which is a few miles short. Judging by this book I think it must be incredibly pretty and I shall put it onto my 'Hope to go there one day' list. A superb start to the 1954 Club week and I unhesitatingly gave it 5 stars on Goodreads.

Monday, 18 April 2022

The 1954 club

I've not been able to join in with this challenge before, which involves the choice of a particular year and asking people to read books from said year. But this year I'm free to do it! 

The challenge is run by Simon and Karen, it will last all week and the year that's been chosen is 1954. 

So, I've just started this:

Because of Sam by Molly Clavering is set in the Scottish Borders and is about a widow, Millie Maitland, and her adult daughter, Amabel. Millie boards dogs to scrape a living, life is good but the daughter is an awkward, difficult character. It's gentle in the manner of D.E. Stevenson, everything is in the detail and the circumstances and I love it already.

Other possiblities if I manage to finish this by the end of the week, which I should do:

Maigret Goes to School - Georges Simenon

The Caves of Steel - Isaac Asimov

The Fellowship of the Ring - J.R.R. Tolkien

The Toll-Gate - Georgette Heyer

If you're joining in as well do tell what you're planning to read.

Tuesday, 12 April 2022

A bit of catching up

I'm several books behind with reviews so I thought I'd do a 'brief review' kind of catch up. Well that's the plan...

My last read of March was Voices in the Ocean by Susan Casey. This was a random Kindle buy after I'd enjoyed the dolphin section of James Nestor's book, Deep.

The author, Susan Casey, has a surprise encounter with dolphins off Hawaii which she can't get out of her head and this leads to all of the investigations within the pages of this book. It's thought that as humans we share a unique bond with dolphins, people swim with them and find it life-changing but no one can really explain why. They're vastly intelligent of course, in fact in one section of the book it's speculated that when scientists are interacting with them they often get the feeling that the dolphin is finding them mentally slow. I love the idea of that! The tragedy about dolphins though is how certain people in certain countries (Japan, Norway, The Solomon Islands etc.) treat them. There are some awful things recounted in this book and I mean truly appalling. Brace yourself if you want to read this. It's 'well' worth it though as I think we all ought to know what goes on but also there's much that's fascinating and wonderful. Dolphins are one of the few species who recognise themselves in mirrors for instance. There are even people who think that dolphins know how to travel between dimensions and it's thought that the author, Douglas Adams, must've been aware of this when he wrote Hitch-hiker's Guide to the Galaxy... 'So long and thanks for all the fish' and all that. Excellent book. I want to read more about dolphins now.

Next I read, Stop Worrying, There Probably is an Afterlife by Greg Taylor. I'm blaming Diane at Bibliophile by the Sea for this current fascination of mine as she started it by reviewing After by Bruce Greyson (who does actually get mentioned in this book) which I read and was instantly hooked. I love the mysterious and unexplained (thus, one of my favourite books last year was The Cold Vanish by Jon Billman) and am always looking for serious discussion on these strange topics. This one was an excellent exploration of Near Death Experiences, Death Visions, Mediums and so on. Not everyone's cup of tea but I enjoyed it.

After that I read The Other Bennet Sister by Janice Hadlow of course. (Read this book!!!)

And then, Endangered Species by Nevada Barr which is book 5 in her 'Anna Pigeon' series, wherein Anna is a US National Park ranger who moves around to various parks and ends up solving murders. As you do.

This takes place on Cumberland Island NP which is just off the coast of Georgia. Anna is there protecting the island as part of the fire crew but also does other things such as being present to help when turtles come ashore to lay their eggs. She's there with, as always, as motley a bunch as you could imagine including an eccentric scientist, other rangers and crew, their wives and various other volunteers. A light aircraft that's there to patrol for drug inforcement comes down in the forest on the island and the two men aboard are killed. It's thought to be an accident but naturally they soon find out it wasn't - Anna shouldn't get involved but then there would be no book so of course she does. All manner of secrets come out of the woodwork and life gets exciting and dangerous for her. I've liked all these books so far and this one is no exception. Anna is an interesting 'detective' character, a loner really, she lost her husband years ago but has never really got over it. I like that she's not girly and is very independent and able to look after herself. Good series. 


So, I'm currently reading two books. First, True Crime Addict by James Renner.

Not being American I'd never heard of the strange disappearance of Maura Murray in New Hampshire in 2004. The author is an investigative journalist who specialises in unexplained disappearances and starts looking into this case in 2011. I'm finding the book fascinating but am not sure how I feel about the author. Plus, the seedier side of humanity is very much on display here and I always find that a little hard to take. I don't 'think' I'm about to become addicted to True Crime books, but we'll see... I'm very odd. LOL!

And the second book I'm reading could hardly be more different. 

The School at the Chalet by Elinor M. Brent-Dyer was written for girls in 1925! Heavens above, that's nearly 100 years! Wow. For some reason I didn't read these when I was a young teen but I know they're popular with women now because I've seen them talked about on Youtube and blogs. Finding a couple that must've belonged to one of my daughters I thought I'd give them a go. Enjoying it so far.

So that's my reading for the first 12 days of April. I hope you're all well and finding some good books to read.