Wednesday 29 August 2007

Mistress of the Art of Death

At last a new review. I've been so busy recently that though I've managed to find a little time to read, I haven't found enough time to review the book I've been so immersed in. And that book is:

Ariana Franklin is actually Diana Norman an author whose books I've enjoyed for years - my favourite being The Vizard Mask. She writes historicals and Mistress of the Art of Death is no exception apart from the fact that it is also a crime novel. Think Cadfael or the Shardlake novels by C.J. Sansom and you have it.

The story concerns Adelia who is something very rare indeed in the year 1170, a doctor. In fact she is a doctor trained in autopsies, a 'Mistress of the art of death'. Children are being abducted and murdered in Cambridge and the Jewish quarter is suspected. In fact they've been interned in Cambridge castle, which means that Henry II is losing revenue and is not a happy bunny. The King of Sicily arranges for Adelia to travel from Salerno with an investigator and a eunoch to find out what's going on and solve the crime. What Adelia finds when she eventually arrives in a land very foreign to her, shocks her, and it takes every bit of her resolve and then some to get to the bottom of events.

Almost without doubt this is going to be one of my favourite reads of 2007. Everything about it was perfect from the setting, to the less than perfect characters, to the genuine creepiness Franklin instils into the plot. I found myself actually holding my breath on several occasions, the suspense was so effective. Flawless writing helps of course - Franklin's writing is at times spare, at other times, not at all, but always appropriate. And her gift for local dialect is spot on. I can't think of anything derogatory to say about it to be honest - the only thing perhaps is that I did guess 'whodunnit' fairly early on but that in no way detracted from my enjoyment. I do so hope this is going to be a series as I would love to read much more of Adelia's struggles amongst the heathens of 12th. century England.

Wednesday 22 August 2007

RIP II challenge

Okay well, another day, another er... book challenge. I'm a bit of a fan of horror books, old ghost stories etc., have been for years, even though I don't read that many these days, so the R.I.P. II challenge is right up my street.

The Challenge is here. And I will be doing Peril the first which is:

"Read Four books of any length, from any subgenre of scary stories that you choose."

These have to be read between the 1st. September and the 31st. October.

I've chosen a pool of books from which my four will be picked. My list is:

The Haunting of Alaizabel Cray by Chris Wooding. (YA)
The New Lovecraft Circle edited by Robert M. Price. (Horror)
Wolf Moon by Charles De Lint (Horror)
Living Dead in Dallas Charlaine Harris (Vampire mystery)
Jamaica Inn by Daphne Du Maurier (Gothic)
Tales of Unease by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. (Chilling tales)
Ghosts in the Snow by Tamara Siler Jones (Creepy mystery)
A Coven of Vampires by Brian Lumley (Vampires)
The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova (More vampires...)
The Book of Lost Things by John Connolly
Smoke and Mirrors by Neil Gaiman

I may also my indulge in a few Short Story Sundays and read

The Mystery of the Sea by Bram Stoker

as my additional book as and when I can get hold of a copy.

All of these are on my tbr pile and all are new reads except one -
Jamaica Inn - which I read so many years ago I can remember little about it so it will feel like a new read.

Edited to add: The Mystery of the Sea is on the way and The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova has been added to my pool of books.

Tuesday 21 August 2007

A bookish meme

After a busy day looking after my ten month old grandson I ought to be heading for bed... so of course I'm doing a meme that I pinched from Bookgal. 8-]

What are you reading right now?
Mistress of the Art of Death by Ariana Franklin after abandoning my last read.

Do you have any idea what you’ll read when you’re done with that?
LOL!!! No. Ideas include two from the library pile - Made in Heaven by Adele Geras or Plain Truth by Jodi Picoult. Or I could start the 'books to movies' challenge with To the Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf. Or there's any one of about 300 other choices on the tbr pile...

What magazines do you have in your bathroom right now?
None, I don't keep magazines in the loo - I can think of more comfortable places to curl up with Waterstone's book review mag. :-)

What’s the worst thing you were ever forced to read?
Um, I really didn't enjoy Paradise Lost when we had to read it for A level.

What’s the one book you always recommend to just about everyone?
It very much depends on the person. Most RL people I know don't read much or are firmly entrenched in their favourite genres. Online I tend to recommend The Black Magician trilogy by Trudi Canavan and The Abhorsen trilogy by Garth Nix to fellow fantasy fans who tend not to have heard of these Aussie series. Both are excellent.

Admit it, the librarians at your library know you on a first name basis, don’t they?
No, not here in this town but they did in our previous town because my youngest daughter worked there.

Is there a book you absolutely love, but for some reason, people never think it sounds interesting, or maybe they read it and don’t like it at all?
Yes, I recommended Fingersmith by Sarah Waters to a friend and she absolutely hated it. It was too dark for her, whereas I kind of like dark from time to time. I should have known she wouldn't like it and am more careful when reccing books to people now.

Do you read books while you eat? While you bathe? While you watch movies or TV? While you listen to music? While you’re on the computer? While you’re having sex? While you’re driving?
No to most of those! I'm very boring. I sometimes read when I eat but only if I'm alone. Not while the TV is on because I prefer quiet reading time. I think reading while you're driving would be an extremely dangerous exercise...

When you were little, did other children tease you about your reading habits?
Not until I was 15 or 16 and then it wasn't teasing. Rather I was thought a bit odd for enjoying Jane Austen and The Bronte sisters. This was because I was at a secondary modern school not a grammar (the English system has since changed) and we weren't supposed to be bright enough to read classic authors. Plus, I had a taste for science fiction which my teachers thought very odd in a girl. (This was the 1960s.)

What’s the last thing you stayed up half the night reading because it was so good you couldn’t put it down?
Much as I hate to be predictable - Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. One thing I really hate is to be within a dozen pages of finishing but you just can't keep your eyes open long enough to finish this fantastic book. It's never the same the next morning.

Monday 20 August 2007


When it comes to books I don't tend to be a quitter. I plod on to the bitter end even when the book is a real turkey. But I've started to think this is stupid. Life's too short to spend precious reading time on something that's not worth my attention or maybe is but just doesn't suit my mood at the time.

So I've turned over a new leaf (groan). I've been struggling with a book called Captain Hatteras by Jules Verne for four days now. I grabbed it from the library when I saw it was both nautical and about the arctic - both of those things being right up my street. Also I'd never heard of this particular book by Verne but had enjoyed others by him... admittedly many years ago. Anyway, it took me four days to read eighty pages and yesterday I finally conceded defeat and abandoned the thing. I've no idea what the problem was but it was boring me stupid. I think I was hoping it would be along the lines of Redburn by Herman Melville which I read a couple of months ago and thoroughly enjoyed. It wasn't. Not even remotely. I suppose if I like Herman Melville I should read Herman Melville... and not Jules Verne! And I also need to learn that it's okay to stop reading a book if it's not engaging my interest - as Oscar Wilde said, 'Life's too short to stuff a mushroom'.

So then it was time to choose something else to read. I'm so bad at this. The reason being that I buy so many books and thus my tbr pile is massive. I also use the town library on a regular basis so nearly always have 6 to 8 library books to choose from. And I'm nothing if not indecisive... choosing my next read causes me agony. Again the problem is with me in that I enjoy too many genres and am never quite sure which I'm in the mood for... fantasy, travel, cosy crime, historical, a Persephone, an autobiography; life would be so much simpler if I just read crime books or romances!

Anyway, to cut a long story long I chose in the end. I'm eighty pages into this one in one day and it's utterly brilliant. It's Mistress of the Art of Death by Ariana Franklin... a favourite author of mine under her other writing name of Diana Norman. She usually writes historicals and this too is an historical but also a crime story - set in 12th. century Cambridge. There are shades of Ellis Peters' Cadfael and the feel of C.J. Sansom's Shardlake novels and the writing is, as always from this author, fabulous. I love it already and am looking forward to a really good wallow while my husband is away this week.

Thursday 16 August 2007

Tales of the City

This is one of those legendary series of books that I always thought, for some reason, were heavier reads than they actually are - if this first one is anything to go by anyway. Not sure why I thought that. But it turns out it's rather like 1970s chicklit. And why 'legendary' I'm not sure either - it was fun but nothing spectacular, imo.

Briefly, it starts with Mary Ann, a PA from Cleveland, deciding to settle in San Francisco. She's rather green but soon settles into Mrs. Madrigal's boarding house, gets a job and meets all kinds of people. That's it basically.

It's interesting the way Maupin ties a large cast of characters to each other without the others knowing, bit like the Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon game. And I liked the small chapters dealing with different people. One thing that did surprise me was how gay San Francisco was in the 70s - I thought that was a later thing. Certainly then this is a pre-AIDS city - if you get my drift. A fun read - there are at least half a dozen more but whether I'll bother I'm not certain; only if I happen to see them in the library (where I found this one) I suspect.

Tuesday 14 August 2007

Books to movie challenge

Two posts in one day! Dunno what the world is coming to...

Anyway, I've decided to participate in one of the challenges that Blogger seems to specialise in. They look a lot of fun but the *challenge* where I'm concerned is not in reading the books, it's to get all the linky stuff right when signing up; things are so different here on Blogger. Righty ho then. Here's the picture thingy (hopefully)...

This is the challenge.

And the three books I've chosen are:

A Passage to India by E.M. Forster

David Copperfield by Charles Dickens

To the Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf

These three have been on my tbr pile for quite some time so this'll encourage me to read them. Now to check if I have everything right...

I didn't but luckily I knew exactly what was wrong so hopefully it's now okay. Fingers crossed...

The Hobbit & Out Stealing Horses

Who can say what strange urges come upon you when you suddenly *have* to reread a certain book? And it's no use ignoring them - not even chocolate drives them away! With me, last week, it was The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkein that demanded my attention.

I can't actually remember how many times I've read it to be honest and it may even be just once as a lot of it was strangely unfamiliar. But this copy of it, dated 1971 (I do have another very posh boxed edition bought for me one Christmas by my youngest daughter), is looking rather ratty. So, either I've read it more than once or someone else has. :::Points finger of suspicion at Eldest Daughter::: I do know that this was one of the very first books I treated myself to when I got my first job - in a bank as a matter of fact, where I met my future husband, but that's a whole 'nother story as they say...

Most people know the plot so I won't go into loads of detail - Bilbo Baggins is *chosen* by Gandalf the Grey to go on an adventure with thirteen dwarves. The mission (should he choose to accept it) is to retrieve the dwarves' treasure from the clutches of Smaug the dragon, who has taken possession of it inside The Lonely Mountain. Lots of fun this one... my favourite bit being the rather creepy section where they travel through Mirkwood and encounter the wood elves. A good, enjoyable read leading to a reread of The Lord of the Rings, next year maybe.


Sometimes a book is so good you've no idea how to do the thing justice. I read Out Stealing Horses by Per Petterson (translated by Anne Born) for a 'Book-in-a-day' challenge on Live Journal. So it's not very long - 266 pages - or I would never have been able to finish it in a day. But the impact it packs into those few pages is immense.

The book is in set in Norway in the present day but there are flashbacks to 1948. 'Trond' is now sixty seven and has moved to a small village on the edge of the forest to be alone. He then discovers that a near neighbour is someone from his childhood, from a summer he spent with his father, in 1948, in another small village near the Swedish border. It brings back memories of traumatic events and we are fed information very slowly because that's what the book is - an unhurried recollection of certain happenings, some concerned with WW2, some just after, and some simply about a boy growing into manhood.

The writing here is just fabulous - I'm sure some credit should go to the woman who translated but it is honestly beautiful, so descriptive and at the same time gentle and unhurried and not at all spare. I liked this novel a *lot* - I don't read a great deal of modern literature of this type so this is praise indeed coming from me. Judging by this I should definitely read more.

Thursday 9 August 2007

I say tomatoes, you say...

"Is this big enough?" said my husband when I asked if we had any tomatoes in the greenhouse for lunch.

It weighed in at 15ozs and just one slice covered a bread roll. And, just for the record, it was delicious.

Monday 6 August 2007


I was inspired to seek out Lighthouse by Tony Parker after reading Stargazing by Peter Hill, last month. It kindled an interest in lighthouses or possibly *re*kindled as it's always been there - me being a good Cornish girl. ;-) Anyway, Amazon threw up this book when I searched the other as being something along the same lines to read. I then searched Devon's library catalogue and found they had a copy in Dawlish so off I went to claim that. And I'm glad. It's taken me a while to read but it was a fascianting book and I'm pleased I made the effort.

The book itself basically catalogues the lives of various lighthouse keepers and their families around the coast of Britain in the 1970s - before automation. Parker's method was take a tape recorder and record and then transcribe the interviews he had with people. So many different characters, lives, reasons for being there. All were so different it was amazing. Some sad, some uplifting, some of it made you want to weep. Some of them were quite happy on the land lights, some could only cope with rocks or towers. Everyone had a different story to tell. And then of course there are descriptions of the sea's power:

"It's not one gale, it's not two gales, it's not twenty gales tied together by their tails that frighten you. It's what comes after, when the wind's had two or three days to put a thousand miles of ocean into motion and turn it into what's called a heavy ground sea. That's what it is makes you afraid. It rolls the boulders along with it that are down there on the sea bed; and when it strikes them against the base of your tower the whole place quivers from top to toe. You can hear them, you can feel them: thump, thump, thump, being thrown like that under the water against the foundation, rolling into it one after the other and making the tower shake: and you shake with it too, like all your teeth are going to be rattled out of your head. On and on it goes, on and on. And each one you feel you think it can't take one more thump like that, the next one for certain will be the one that brings the place down with a crash, and that'll be the end. He'll have to have that experience to teach him to know the meaning of fear."

I don't know about you but I could actually feel those thumps...

Anyhow, an excellent read - I very much enjoy stories of people's lives simply told. I'm planning to seek out more lighthouse books, maybe something about the history of them next... and possibly some fiction if I can find any.