Wednesday 31 December 2008

Bookish thoughts for 2008

I can't believe another year has come and gone so quickly. I'm sure time speeds up as you get older! Anyway, I've been looking at the list of books I've read this year - a grand total of 64, which for me is fairly average. Not a huge number, many people read twice this amount, no problem. But I decided this year not to fret about numbers of books and more or less succeeded. (If I'd completely succeeded I wouldn't actually *know* how many books I'd read would I? ;-))

I don't think I'll list every single one of the 64, instead I'll just list those that were, for me, standout titles.

The Poisonwood Bible - Barbara Kingsolver

The Camel Bookmobile - Masha Hamilton

Gentlemen and Players - Joanne Harris

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society - Mary Ann Shaffer

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn - Betty Smith

Monstrous Regiment - Terry Pratchett

The Various Haunts of Men - Susan Hill

Myself When Young - Daphne du Maurier

All Quiet on the Western Front - Erich Maria Remarque

The thing is, it might have been an average year number-wise, but it wasn't average quality-wise. I could easily have listed another 20 superb reads. The fact is it's been a terrific year for me book-wise. 95% of what I've read I've really enjoyed and I certainly could not say that about every year.

Choosing a book of the year is very hard but if I absolutely *had* to choose, it would be A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith. I loved, loved, loved it.

Apart from my 64 books I've also read over 100 short stories this year. Not all of them were complete books so haven't featured in my list. Of the complete books I'd say my favourites were:

Dreams Underfoot by Charles de Lint
Minnie's Room: the Peacetime stories by Mollie Panter Downes
The Ghost Stories of M.R. James

I've also read several series this year. The best of those:

The Hollow Kingdom trilogy by Clare B. Dunkle
The Wee Free Men trilogy by Terry Pratchett

But I've also loved continuing with the Mary Russell/Sherlock Holmes series by Laurie R. King and starting the Mortal Engine series by Philip Reeve.

All in all, quite a memorable reading year for me. I only hope 2009 will be as good.


And to finish this post off - a couple of pics of books I got for Christmas.

Three books from folk who know my reading tastes perfectly. Stephen Fry in America was a Christmas gift from my youngest daughter, the book is based on his TV series of the same name of course. Nation by Terry Pratchett was from an online, and now RL, friend of about eight years, a big Terry Pratchett fan too. And Here, There be Dragons was from from my lovely friend, Deslily.

These two came from a friend in Ohio. A gorgeous cookbook based on recipes used by the governors of Ohio through the centuries. Love it to bits. And the other is full of pics of Lake Erie, a lake we've been lucky enough to visit twice, the last time spending time at Put-in Bay, which is featured in the book. Fond memories.

Wednesday 24 December 2008

Merry Christmas

I had absolutely no idea, until Deslily reminded me, that it'd been nearly four weeks since I posted here. I haven't been reading, or rather I've started several books and got nowhere with them, so haven't had any books to post about. Add that to it being Christmas and thus, extra busy for me, plus I've been ill, and you get a long drawn out silence. Apologies. Once the Christmas madness is over I'll hopefully find something decent to read and get back to this blog. I'll certainly be doing a 'books I got for Christmas' post. Plus I still need to make a list of books about snow.

I had such a thrill a couple of hours ago. The phone rang and a lovely American voice said, 'Hi Cath, this is your sis from across the pond'. It was Deslily! You can't imagine how thrilled I was to hear her voice and to chat with her for about half an hour. It whizzed by - we had such a lot to say. It was truly wonderful and thank you, Pat, for absolutely making my day. :-)

And so I just want to wish the people who stop by this blog on regular basis, a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year with this lovely vid of Enya singing Silent Night in Gaelic. I hope everyone has the Christmas that they wish for.

Friday 28 November 2008

Series addict

This post is really for my own records. I wanted to list the various series I'd started just to get some idea of which ones I was reading and how far I'd got with each one. Once I began I was absolutely horrified at the sheer number, not only of those where I'd read only one or two, but of the number I plan to read! Hopefully this post will help me keep track of them and maybe inspire me to finish some.


Fantasy and horror:

The Twilight series – Stephenie Meyer (read 2)
The Mortal Engines series – Philip Reeve (read 3)
The Women of the Otherworld series – Kelley Armstrong (read 1)
The Mercy Thompson series - Patricia Briggs (read 2)
The Black Jewels trilogy – Anne Bishop (read 1)
The Dark is Rising sequence - Susan Cooper (read 2)
The Spooks series – Joe Delaney (read 3)
The Rogue Agent - K.E. Mills (read 1)
Skulduggery Pleasant - Derek Landy (read 1)
Nicholas Flamel – Michael Scott (read 1)
The Sea of Trolls - Nancy Farmer (read 2)

The Pern books – Anne McCaffrey (read many, need to continue)
The Newford books – Charles de Lint (read 1)
The Darkover series – Marion Zimmer Bradley (read 1)


Mary Russell/Sherlock Holmes – Laurie R. King (read 4)
Mma Ramotswe - A. McCall Smith (read 7)
Isabel Dalhousie - A. McCall Smith (read 1)
Armand Gamache – Louise Penny (read 3)
Amelia Peabody – Elizabeth Peters (read 1)
Lake District series - Martin Edwards (read 2)

Simon Serailler – Susan Hill (read 1)
Mathew Shardlake – C.J. Sansom (read 1)
Inspector Ghote - H.R.F. Keating (read 1)
Brother Petroc - Pip Vaughan-Hughes (read 1)


Mapp and Lucia – E.F. Benson (read 2)
Diary of a Provincial Lady – E.F. Delafield (read 1)
The ‘Anne’ books – L.M. Montgomery (read 1)
The Little House series – Laura Ingalls Wilder (read 1)

SERIES I WANT TO READ: (mainly fantasy)

The Wit’ch series – James Clemens
The Priestess of the White trilogy – Trudi Canavan

The Keys to the Kingdom series – Garth Nix
The Liveship Traders and Tawny Man trilogies – Robin Hobb

The Soldier Son Trilogy – Robin Hobb
The Pellinor series – Alison Croggon
The Temeraire series – Naomi Novik
The Coldfire trilogy – Celia Friedman
The Fionavar Tapestry trilogy – Guy Gavriel Kay
The Gardella Vampire Chronicles – Colleen Gleason
The Tamir Triad – Lynn Flewelling
The Gregor series - Suzanne Collins

And the awful thing is? I just know this isn't all of them...

Sunday 23 November 2008

Predator's Gold

I didn't need to start another YA fantasy series, I really didn't. I have more than enough on the go - 18 at the last count - though not all YA. It was just that the first in this particular series, Mortal Engines by Philip Reeve, was on offer for 99p in Waterstones and me not being physically capable of resisting a book bargain, I had to buy it. And it turned out that I liked it a lot and set about reserving the sequel from the library, Predator's Gold... which I probably would not have read as quickly as I did but when I got the thing home I checked online and found that someone else had reserved it and it couldn't be renewed. So rather than lose it, I read it. And I'm glad because, if anything, it's even better than the original.

At the end of the first book Tom and his girlfriend, Hester Shaw, head off into the sunset in their airship, after many troubles with traction cities and the anti-traction league. We meet them again two years later, heading north to the Arctic where they encounter the moving city of Anchorage. It's practically deserted after a plague wiped out most of the inhabitants, including its leaders - and it's their teenage daughter, Freya, who is now in charge of this 'ghost' city. Tom recognises a kindred spirit in Freya who, although somewhat spoilt, is a history buff like him. They become rather too close for Hester's liking and when, one night, she catches them kissing she takes their airship and betrays the city to Arkangel, the worst kind of predator city. Things go from bad to worse and Tom is captured by The Lost Boys who live in the underwater city of Grimsby and are led by a Fagin-like character known only as 'Uncle'. Tom is in deep trouble and so is Hester who now regrets her hasty actions and has to shift heaven and earth to put things right again. Not only that, there is one very serious war looming...

I'm so impressed with this series. The plots are imaginative and pacey but most of all there's very little that's cosy here. The world these people inhabit is dangerous and getting more so by the minute: nowhere is safe. Reeve's writing style has you on the edge of your seat, wondering what on earth will happen next. And his characters are complex... the good guys do bad things or are guilty of bad judgement or of fancying someone they shouldn't. The bad guys have their reasons and sometimes surprise you, and things are not always what they seem, which keeps the reader guessing. It's very refreshing to find this kind of ambiguity in young adult writing - refreshing but very, very pleasing. I wouldn't hesitate to recommend this series to anyone who enjoys YA writing that is not formulaic. Not that I have anything against formulaic, I like it in fact, but there are times when it's good to be taken by surprise and this is one of them. An excellent read.

Thursday 20 November 2008


So I've been thinking about snow. Not because we have some today, it's actually a mild, breezy, pleasant day, but partly because it's due to get a lot colder by the weekend and the forecast is for 'wintery showers'. Of course, that could mean anything in this country, ranging from nothing at all, to half a dozen snow flakes, to this, from our winter of 2005:

Somehow or other I'm not expecting that this weekend.

Anyway, the other reason for me thinking about snow is that the book I'm reading now, Predator's Gold by Philip Reeve, and the book I read before it, Dead Cold by Louise Penny, are both books that have snowy settings. The former is set in the Arctic of the future and the latter in Quebec in winter. And they made me realise just how much I love reading books with winter-wonderland settings. So that, of course, started a book hunt around the house. Does anyone else love doing this or is it just me?

Here's what I came up with:

Hmm. I don't know why but I would have expected more. So I tried to think of more, but other than the wonderful first chapters of The Wind in the Willows nothing much came to mind. Although one of Ellis Peters's Brother Cadfael books, The Virgin in the Ice, has a very cold winter setting too, if memory serves, and is my favourite of the twenty or so books.

I did find a list of sorts here and that does provide a few interesting alternatives but nowhere else could I find a recommended list of 'snowy' books. Not even on Amazon's listmania.

So I was wondering... do any of you have any favourite books that have snow settings? Or even just 'wintery' settings - I'm not that fussed - just really in the mood for sitting indoors by the fire and reading about winter.


Sunday 16 November 2008

Library challenge

I'm going to be careful about the book challenges I take on next year, only doing those that are flexible and that really suit me. Obviously, I will probably do Carl's challenges as those are a 'must' for me. Other than those though I have two finishing at the end of this year... and then only have one left - the Awards challenge which finishes in June. When I read about a new challenge that BooksPlease is doing for 2009 I considered several things; does it suit me? Have I time for it? Is it flexible? Answering 'yes' to all of those questions I really think I must take this one on.

Yes... it's a library book challenge! And it's being hosted by J. Kaye's Book Blog.

There will be three sizes of challenges.

** The first is to read 12 books from your local library in 2009.
** The second is to read 25 books from your local library in 2009.
** The third is to read 50 books from your local library in 2009.

You decide which one of the three challenges is best for you.

Here are the guidelines:

1) You can join anytime as long as you don’t start reading your books prior to 2009.

2) This challenge is for 2009 only. The last day to have all your books read is December 31, 2009.

3) You can join anytime between now and December 31, 2009.

My aim will be to read 25 books. So far this year I've read 18 books from the library so a total of 25 in 2009 should be achievable. Really looking forward to this fun challenge.

Books read for this challenge:

1. In the Woods - Tana French
2. The Jewel of Seven Stars - Bram Stoker
3. Runemarks - Joanne Harris
4. The Valley of Secrets - Charmian Harris
5. Remember Me? - Sophie Kinsella
6. Larklight - Philip Reeve
7. The Graveyard Book - Neil Gaiman
8. The Sedgemoor Strangler - Peter Lovesey
9. Morrigan's Cross - Nora Roberts
10.The Good Thief - Hannah Tinti
11.Touchstone - Laurie R. King
12.The Circle - Peter Lovesey
13.Last Rituals - Yrsa Sigurdardottir
14.Snow Blind - P.J. Tracy
15.Grey Souls - Philippe Claudel
16.Trains and Buttered Toast - John Betjeman
17.Skulduggery Pleasant - Derek Landy
18.The Terracotta Dog - Andrea Camilleri
19.Endless Night - Agatha Christie
20.Inspector Ghote's First Case - H.R.F. Keating
21.A Christmas Journey - Anne Perry
22.Good Behaviour - Molly Keane
23.Relics - Pip Vaughan-Hughes
24.The Coffin Trail - Martin Edwards
25.No Such Thing as Dragons - Philip Reeve


Saturday 15 November 2008

Mortal Engines and Dead Cold

Two shortish book reviews today. The first is Mortal Engines by Philip Reeve. This YA book was a 'gold' winner in the Nestlé Book Prize, won the Blue Peter book of the year award, and was shortlisted for the Whitbread Children's Book of the Year award. All in all I think that's enough awards for me to include it as a title in the list of my books for the Awards challenge being hosted by

Tom, an orphan, is an apprentice to the Guild of Historians in London. But this is no ordinary city of London. This is London centuries after the sixty minute war and this London, like many other cities and towns in the world, travels - on wheels or tracks. And it eats other, smaller towns in order to keep going. One momentous day Tom prevents the murder of his idol, Valentine, head of the Guild of Historians and famous archaeologist. The would-be murderer, a teenager like himself, is Hester Shaw, grossly disfigured in the face and out for vengeance. Instead of being lauded as a hero, circumstances intervene and Tom suddenly finds himself falling down a waste-chute. When he comes to, he is alone with Hester Shaw in the Out-country and London, his home, is disappearing into the distance. Disenchanted as he was with his life, this is not what he wanted. Who is this girl and what is her reason for wanting Valentine dead? And, more importantly, how can he possibly return home?

Quite easy to understand why this one won all its awards - it's a cracking tale! I think it's described as YA fantasy but, to my mind, its post-apocalyptic setting is more akin to sci fi not fantasy. Whatever its label, it's an excellent, pacey read. Very imaginative - who would have thought of moving cities? - with good characterisation and many twists and turns. And, like J.K. Rowling, Reeve doesn't hesitate to kill off his characters when necessary... quite shockingly in some instances. Be warned! I've just started the second book in the series, Predator's Gold, and there are two more after that.


Next up, Dead Cold by Louise Penny, the second book in her CI Armand Gamache crime series.

The setting is, as with the first book, the village of Three Pines in Quebec, about an hour and half from Montreal. During a curling match, out on the frozen lake, with the whole village in attendance, CC de Poitiers is murdered - electrocuted to be exact. No one is terribly sorry, her husband, daughter and residents of village all hated her. So the list of suspects is as long as your arm - and who is this woman anyway? Why are there no records of her childhood anywhere? Gamache is pleased to be back in the village of Three Pines and, along with his assistant, Beauvoir, and various officers, one of whose loyalty could be questionable, sets about solving this most complicated of mysteries.

Hard to emphasize enough how much I enjoyed this book. It takes place around Christmas, with an extremely snowy setting, so I'm thinking that this atmosphere is probably what appealed to me most about it. It's wonderfully done to the point where you can almost feel the intense cold. That said, the plot is nothing to sniff at either. The twists and turns keep you turning the pages, wondering what will happen next. I changed my mind about whodunnit around six times and up to the end didn't really know for sure. There's also quite a nice background story going on with a conflict between the charismatic Gamache and one of his superiors; I'm assuming that will continue in the next book which is The Cruellest Month, set in Spring. The first two were Autumn and Winter, the fourth book, The Murder Stone, is just out and set in Summer. Great read for crime buffs... and even though I'm not one (although I am starting to rethink that), I absolutely loved it.


Tuesday 11 November 2008

Bookish meme

My lovely friend Deslily at Here, there and everywhere said she hoped I would do this meme - '7 random bookish things about me' - and as I'm always happy to natter about books, here goes.

1. I have this fantasy whereby I go somewhere totally peaceful for a holiday and do nothing but read. My ideal location would be a log cabin by a lake. England isn't exactly famous for such places so I'm thinking it would have to be somewhere in America or Scandinavia. It sounds idyllic, sitting outside the cabin with a lovely view over the lake and mountains just reading and snoozing and cooking something nice on BBQ for meals. Dream on.

2. Fantasy number two is being snowed in, in the middle of winter, in a cabin in the mountains, with Harrison Fo... I mean, um, 'loads of books' and nothing to do except read beside a roaring log fire, and make soup.

3. My tbr mountain is massive. I'm not that young any more and it seems I share with a few other bloggers the worry that I may not live long enough to finish my tbr pile but also, in my case, to read all of the books I want to read. I should stop buying books really so that the first worry might diminish a bit. Naturally, I won't or perhaps 'can't' because it is an addiction this book buying thing. Here's the current state of my tbr pile:

As you can see I'm having to shove them in between the books and the shelf above now. (Some of these have been read I should add.)

4. Which leads me to 'why' this addiction. It's a tough one to answer. I think possibly I have this inate curiosity about other people and their lives, the stories they have to tell etc. And books, fiction and non-fiction, feed that because that's what they are - people's lives between the covers of a book. I truly believe that all bookworms have this too and that's why we connect so well. We're all naturally curious and have, imo anyway, a special kind of intelligence and an enthusiasm for knowledge.

5. One of the real pleasures of my life these days is discussing books with my eight year old grandaughter. She is now reading some of the YA books that my daughter and her husband read and feel are suitable for her age group. At eight a little care still needs to be taken about content but she gobbled up the Narnia books for instance and adored them. I have a feeling that this little pleasure of mine is only going to increase as she gets older.

6. I'm really bad at starting new series of books. By that I mean that I have far too many on the go. I did a list the other day and found that I have 18 series started (fantasy, crime, novels) and 14 that I want to start at some stage. It's ridiculous. I have to blame someone so I blame partly my eldest daughter who reads YA fantasy and is always recommending new series, but also bloggers like Deslily, Nymeth and Darla who do exactly the same thing! Not to mention Danielle at A Work in Progress, with her wonderful crime and novel recs, and Booksplease, and Tara at Books and Cooks, and Elaine at Random Jottings who's responsible for the Mapp and Lucia thing and well... many others too numerous to mention but you'll know who you are I'm sure. Of course, it's mainly my own fault for not having the willpower to ignore these wonderful bookish posts...

7. And then there are charity shops of course. It seems I can't go anywhere without 'just popping in' to one or two to see what treasures they're concealing within. If Hubby is with me I just do one or two to prove I have some restraint. (HAHA) If, like yesterday, my eldest daughter is there in his place, we do every one we come across. I think we did every charity shop in the Exeter shopping centre and actually, I wasn't that bad because I *only* came away with three books:

For £3.50 I got a book of ghost stories by Sheridan le Fanu, a crime book I saw reviewed somewhere and have been looking for for a while now - Miss Smilla's Feeling for Snow by Peter Hoeg and, best of all, this lovely hardback book of creepy stories by Daphne du Maurier. I mean... how could I possibly leave that behind???

And because I can I'll do an 8th. bookish thing about me.

8. I really, really, really do not understand people who never read. When I hear people say, 'I've never read a book in my life' I am totally flabbergasted and can't imagine how they ever manage to cope.

Monday 10 November 2008

Holiday snaps

It's about as wet and miserable as it could possibly be today, 'soup' weather, so I spent the morning making Tara's lentil soup. We had some for lunch and it was absolutely delicious. There's plenty left for another day and it's a definite 'make again' recipe.

It's 'indoor' weather as well as 'soup' weather so I got going with our Cornish holiday photos from several weeks ago and am posting a few here. This first lot are of Sennen Cove which is on the same stretch of coast as Land's End, facing the Atlantic Ocean - next stop Newfoundland if you're mad enough to jump in. This wasn't a day for jumping in though... we'd had a real Autumn gale the day before and, knowing the area as I do (born and brought up here), I realised that Sennen was the place to go to see some good, rough seas.

Two views from the car park. That's Cape Cornwall in the distance in the first one, the only cape in England. Closer photos of that next time.

The little harbour at Sennen.

I love all the nets and floats piled up for the winter.

The sea was crashing over this break-water in huge waves and cascading down like a water-fall.

More of the coastline.

Two of the bay itself... very popular surfing area in the summer.

It was quite a cold day - our youngest daughter, our grandson (aged just two) and my husband, all wrapped up against the biting wind. I want a Thomas the Tank Engine hat like my grandson's!

Reading-wise I've just finished a YA fantasy, Mortal Engines by Philip Reeve, and liked it so much I'm off to the library to try and get part two this afternoon. More on that book later in the week. Now reading Dead Cold, the second in the CI Armand Gamache books by Louise Penny.

Sunday 9 November 2008

All Quiet on the Western Front

One of the things you hear concerning the novel, All Quiet on the Western Front, by Erich Maria Remarque, is that it is the definitive book about WWI and that everyone should read it. I've always felt slightly ashamed that I never have - how can I say that I have an interest in books about that conflict when I've never read All Quiet on the Western Front? Ludicrous. So, this year I was absolutely determined to put that right, despite having pulled out half a dozen other WWI and 2 books that I also wanted to read - this library book was coming first. And it did, and I'm so glad I made the effort at last.

In essence this is quite a simple book. It concerns a class of German students, aged around 18, whose over zealous, jingoistic school master practically forces them to sign up to fight in the war. Some are more eager than others but none feel able to refuse. The narrator is Paul Baumer an academic, thoughtful boy from a poor background, and the book follows his and half a dozen of his friends' experiences as they try to stick together throughout the war.

Their basic training is brutal, made worse by Himmelstross, the monster who is in charge of their unit. He is cruel beyond words and develops a real hatred for Baumer's group of friends. After that they are sent to the front and most of the book deals with conditions...

"They [the rats] seem to be really hungry. They have had a go at practically everybody's bread. Kropp has wrapped his in tarpaulin and put it under his head, but he can't sleep because they run across his face to try and get at it. Detering tried to outwit them: he fixed a thin wire to the ceiling and hooked the bundle with his bread onto it. During the night he puts on his flashlight and sees the wire swinging backwards and forwards. Riding on his bread is a great fat rat."

...going over the top, how it feels being under fire and the part 'chance' plays in whether they live or die.

"It's this awareness of chance that makes us so indifferent. A few months ago I was playing cards in a dugout; after a a bit I got up and went out to go and talk to some men I knew in another dugout. When I got back, there was nothing left of the first one, a direct hit from a heavy shell had flattened it. I went back to the other dugout and got there just in time to help dig the men out. While I was away it had been buried."

At one stage Paul is sent home on leave for two weeks. The sense of alienation he feels from his family, friends and various townsfolk, who have no idea what he and thousands of other young men are going through on the front, is intense and heart-breaking. He ponders whether an entire generation, those who survive, will ever be able to live a normal life again. The men who are fighting have become like machines, hardly capable of thinking like human beings anymore. All that matters is staying alive, where the next meal is coming from, and supporting their comrades.

There is much more to this book of course: I could go on and on. In my opinion it *is* the definitive book on the Great War. Some might say that it is written by 'the other side', the enemy we were fighting and yes, this is true. But the odd thing is that you forget that when you're reading it. Remarque makes hardly any mention of British, French or American troops, referring to them as 'the others' most of the time and the narrator and his friends just become human beings caught up in terrible events that they have no control over.

There was a comment in the paper this weekend to the effect that with most wars people know what they're fighting for and know there's a good reason for being there. But with WWI hardly anyone actually understood why exactly they were risking their lives and certainly this is made very apparent in the book. The futility and waste, the human suffering and appalling conditions are really brought home to the reader. It is the definitive book because in it I can see other books that have been written since where the author has clearly used this work as a reference point. So, do I agree that everyone should read All Quiet on the Western Front? Yes, absolutely. Millions died in this futile conflict, believing it was the war to end all wars. We should never forget their sacrifice.

Wednesday 5 November 2008

Daphne du Maurier

I'm currently reading All Quiet on the Western Front as my WW1 'remembrance' read leading up to the 11th. November - Armistice day. It's brilliant but hard going so for light relief I started Myself When Young, Daphne du Maurier's autobiography of her life as a child (born 1907), teenager and young woman, up to when she married in 1932.

The idea was to read this slowly, interspersed with the other book, and I'd probably take a week or more to read it. Ho ho... I didn't bargain for an absolutely wonderful little book, so beautifully written that I wouldn't be able to leave it alone. Daphne du Maurier's background is not one I should have been able to identify with much. She was born into a privileged family, her father, Sir Gerald du Maurier, was a famous and successful actor, her grandfather, George, a famous novelist (author of Trilby) and artist. So money was no object. The three girls, Angela, Daphne and Jeanne, were educated privately and at home and then sent to finishing school in France. Throughout all this though, Daphne never really felt that she fitted in. She was a loner, an avid reader. She disliked the social whirl so intensely that she longed to be free of it all, resenting the fact that because she was born a woman this might not be possible. Eventually, of course, the family discovered Cornwall and Daphne realised that that was where she was at her happiest, dressed any old how and messing about in boats or walking the cliffs - which is how she discovered a certain house called Menabilly...

I'm not usually one of these people who keeps checking to see how many pages are left till the end of a book because I dread it ending. The end is the end as far as I'm concerned - I don't generally hanker after more. I did in this instance though. When I read in the introduction that Myself When Young was meant to form part of a much longer autobiography that never got written, I felt bereft. I really, really want to know a lot more about this wonderful author's fascinating life. Luckily, there is what I gather to be an excellent biography by Margaret Forster, plus Daphne wrote other books about her family and in particular her father, Gerald, not to mention Vanishing Cornwall and Rebecca Notebook: And Other Memories both of them highly autobiographical I believe. I hope so, I really do. And I recommend this lovely book to anyone who has read and enjoyed any of Daphne's other titles - I can't imagine anyone not being delighted with it to be honest.

Tuesday 4 November 2008

RIP challenge wrap-up

Well, Carl's RIP challenge is over for another year and it's time to wrap mine up.

I chose 'Peril the First' which was to 'Read Four books of any length, from any subgenre of scary stories that you choose' between the 1st. September and the 31st. October. I chose a pool of twelve books and from those I managed to read six, which was more than I expected, so I'm quite pleased. The books were:

The Ghost Stories of M.R. James - selected by Michael Cox
The Vampire Tapestry - Suzy McKee Charnas
The Vanished - Celia Rees
Twilight - Stephenie Meyer
The Moor - Laurie R. King
Tunnels- Roderick Gordon and Brian Williams

I enjoyed them all, every single one. Hard to choose a favourite but if pushed it would probably be between The Ghost stories of M.R. James and Tunnels. But I also loved The Moor and Twilight... Let's face it, I'm likely to love anything that comes under the heading of 'supernatural'!

I thoroughly enjoyed the challenge and would like to thank Carl for hosting it once again. Looking forward to The Once Upon a Time one now. :-)

Wednesday 29 October 2008

Three short reviews

In some ways October has turned out to be just as I thought, in other ways - not. I thought I would have hardly any time to read but that was nonsense. I generally average six books a month and that's exactly the number I've read this month too. I also thought I would be very busy and that has turned out to be correct. We got back from a nice relaxing time in Cornwall on Saturday (yes, I have photos to share but they'll have to wait until next week) and I don't seem to have stopped running around since - our next visitors, my eldest daughter and her family, arrive for three days on Friday. After that I can collapse... hopefully with a good pile of books!

I have three books I haven't reviewed so I'm going to do quick ones of each in order to get caught up *again*.

First up, The Various Haunts of Men by Susan Hill. In the small cathedral city of Lafferton a woman has gone missing. Her employer tells police that this is out of character but nothing much is done except that a young police officer, Freya Graffham, new to the area, takes the case on in her spare time. She senses this is a serious case and is proved right when others start to go missing, even a dog. The common denominator in each case turns out to 'the hill' an area used by all kinds of people - walkers, runners, dog owners etc. Freya and Chief Inspector Simon Serailler set about finding out what is going on in their beautiful old city.

The thing I liked about this book was how involved I got with the characters. It's quite a long book and Susan Hill uses that length to give a lot of background information on not only the main police characters but also the victims of the crimes. You feel as though you know them and thus the shock when various of them die is quite profound. Interspersed with the normal narrative are short chapters written in the first person by the killer. This added to the suspense and although I did guess who the culprit was quite early on, it in no way ruined my enjoyment. I found the book atmospheric, well written, and even creepy in places and thought it a superb beginning to the Simon Serailler crime series; I already have the second one on my library pile.


Next, The Extraordinary and Unusual Adventures of Horatio Lyle. The scene is London, 1864. Horatio Lyle is a scientist, inventor and special police constable. He's called on by the government to recover a Chinese plate that has gone missing - an embarrassment to one and all. Aided and abetted by Tess, a street urchin and thief, and Thomas, heir to Lord Elwick, Lyle sets about finding the plate which appears to have rather strange characteristics. The problem is, two other sets of people are also desperate to find it: a group of Chinese who, it seems, will stop at nothing and some strange individuals with hypnotic green eyes who might not even be human. Will Lyle succeed in his mission?

I read this YA book while away on holiday and as such it fitted the bill of being a light, humorous read. The author, Catherine Webb, wrote her first book at 14 and this is her fifth, written when she was 20 in 2006. Two more books about Horatio Lyle have already been written. I find this impressive and the young lady obviously has quite a future ahead of her. I would say the books are very much aimed at young adults and perhaps lack a certain depth that you might find in books for older people. But that's fine and I rather enjoyed this easy, undemanding, holiday read.


No pic of Miss Mapp by E.F. Benson as the copy I've just finished is an ancient old library book. Devon library services only had one copy in the whole of Devon - that was in Exeter and the library assitant had to go down into the bowels of the building to get it for me. What a shame that *apparently* no one is much interested in these delightful Mapp and Lucia books any more.

Anyway, this is book two in the series set, and written, in the 1920s. The first was about 'Lucia', living in the village of Riseholme and in this one we meet 'Miss Mapp', living in the village of Tilling. Miss Mapp is a busy-body. She keeps an eye on the comings and goings in the village from the window of her garden room. She also interferes in the lives of her friends, none of whom are very much better than her to be frank. All live off gossip and speculation and this is basically what the book is all about... the day to day happenings, relationships and petty feuds with friends and neighbours.

Delightful. Benson was clearly a very good observer of the foibles of his fellow human beings - these people are very real, good hearted some of them, but often with selfish motives. Issues such as food hoarding before the coal strike, drinking to excess, and how to clothe oneself when money was short are dealt with in a sympathetic and humorous way. I think I have one more book to read, Lucia in London, and then the two finally meet. Can't wait.

Friday 17 October 2008


I'm away for a week from tomorrow but before I toodle off I thought I'd share a few photos. Autumn is my favourite time of year and part of that is because you get such good cobwebs. We had an excellent fog one morning last week so I popped out into the garden to get a few shots. These photos are not fantastic but I had fun finding the webs. Click on the pic for a much larger view.

This is what the day was actually like:

I tried to find a normal shot of the view from our house but this was the most normal I could find. The late sprinkling of snow in April of this year.

Hopefully my home county of Cornwall will provide a few decent photos next week.

Thursday 16 October 2008

Tunnels and Mister Pip

Two short reviews this time, in order to catch up properly before I go away on holiday on Saturday. (We're off to Cornwall for a much needed break.) I didn't think I'd have much time to read this month but, in fact, it's turned out to be not so bad after all. So my sanity has been saved, though some might say that's debatable. ;-)

First up it's another creepy read for Carl'sRIP III challenge - Tunnels by Roderick Gordon and Brian Williams.

Fourteen year old Will Burrows lives in London with his family. They're a strange lot - his father digs underground tunnels for a hobby, his mother never shifts from in front of the TV and his twelve year old sister is rather emotionless but is the one that keeps the household running. Will is a tunnel digger too and introduces his one friend, Chester, to his underground world. But there are some odd looking people wandering about and possibly following them. Why? When Will's father suddenly goes missing Will discovers that he was digging a tunnel he hadn't told his son about and it descends from their cellar. Chester is coerced into accompanying him on the adventure into the subterranean depths to find Will's father. What they find there will change everything Will has ever known about himself, his family, and even the history of the human race.

This pacey, imaginative story for young adults really pandered to my love of books that go underground. (The Hollow Kingdom series by Clare B. Dunkle did likewise.) I found it gripping and really quite scary in a 'what if?' sort of way. The race of beings that Will and Chester go up against are not pleasant in any way, shape, or form and full marks to the authors of this book for creating a universe that is both believable and at the same time not remotely cosy. In short, I loved this book and would especially recommend it for teenage boys or anyone like me with a love of underground stories. The sequel, Deeper, is already available and I'll be searching that out as soon as I can.


Next it's Mister Pip by Lloyd Jones, a book that won the 2007 Commonwealth Writer's Prize and was also shortlisted for the 2007 Man Booker prize, so I read it for my Book Awards Challenge that's being hosted by 1more

Matilda is a young girl living with her mother in a small village on a tropical island. Her father left the island some years ago, to work elsewhere, he sends money home occasionally but basically he is out of their lives at the moment. A civil war is looming on their island involving a big company and the young men of the island. Suddenly the war starts and the island is cut off from the rest of the world. Life becomes a question of survival for the village. Mr. Watts, the only white person on the island, takes on the task of teaching the children using a copy of Great Expectations by Charles Dickens. The book rapidly becomes one of the most important things in Matilda's life, even though the place and time it was set is a million miles from her experience. Unfortunately, the book also plays its part in later misunderstandings with soldiers from both sides of the war, with completely unforeseen results.

It's hard to describe my feelings about this book because they're mixed. To say I *enjoyed* it would be wrong. I did enjoy a lot of it, the teaching with the book, the bits about the islanders lives etc. But some - much smaller - parts of the story are quite brutal, to be honest, and rather hard to take. I'm glad I read it, I like to read stuff like this from time to time to give myself a good dose of the reality of some people's existences. And the quality of the writing makes the book worth reading too. It also reminded me that I would like to read Great Expectations again sometime soon - I last read it in my teens and am almost positive I would get a lot more out of it now I'm older.


There! I'm up to date with reviews at last. I'm halfway through The Various Haunts of Men by Susan Hill, which is fantastic, but I'm pretty certain I won't manage to finish it before Saturday, so that review will be for when I get home the week after next.

Monday 6 October 2008


I think Twilight by Stephenie Meyer is probably one of the most famous books around at the moment. Almost on a par with Harry Potter - everyone I know seems to have read one or two in the series and usually all of them. My visitor from Memphis is with me now and what's she reading? The third book in the series, Eclipse. So of course I had to see what all the fuss was about and happily added it to my pool of books for Carl's RIP III challenge.

For reasons not stated at the beginning of the story Bella Swan has decided to leave her home in Phoenix, Arizona, where she lives with her mother, to go and live with her father in Forks, in Washington state. It's awkward at first, her father Charlie is pleased to have her there but Bella has always disliked Forks and is not at all sure she'll be able to settle. He's bought a truck for her from an Indian friend, so at least she has transport, and with that she starts at her new school.

Bella doesn't consider herslf to be a particularly 'cool' kid, or particularly pretty but is surprsied to find herself the object of attention of a couple of boys. She's never had many friends but finds that here in Forks she does actually have some, they may not be the cool kids, but that's fine. One day in the canteen she notices a group of teenagers sitting apart from the rest of the school. This is the Cullen family and it's explained to her that they are different and always keep themselves aloof from everyone else. Amongst the Cullens is Edward, absolutely the most gorgeous boy Bella has ever seen and it's not long before Bella realises that he has noticed her. After a shakey start they begin to communicate. Then Edward saves her from certain death under a runaway truck and Bella can't figure out how he got there fast enough to save her. Something is definitely peculiar about Edward. Bella sets out to find out what it is exactly and it's not long before she realises she has fallen in love with a vampire.

Most people, I have to say, seem to love this series. Those that don't seem not to like the fact that mostly it's just a teenage romance book with vampires. And this is true, it is. Three quarters of the book is about how Edward and Bella get together, their life at school, and not a lot else. I'm trying to work out why that didn't bother me and I can't. Yes, I liked the two main characters, I also liked the forrested setting of Forks, WA. Most of the book really isn't *about* very much to be honest but despite that I really did like it an awful lot. And when it suddenly took off, a hundred pages from the end, with the arrival of a rogue group of vampires, it was suddenly unputdownable! Superb. If I was going to be really nit-picky I would say that sometimes Edward's resemblance to a Mills and Boon (Harlequin in the US) hero did grate a tiny bit. He is ever so slightly *too* perfect. But I can live with that quite happily, although I probably won't be handing it over to my husband to read. He reads Kelley Armstrong but I'm thinking Stephenie Meyer might not be for him. I have the next book, New Moon and will read it probably next month when I can devote more time to it.

This is my fifth book for Carl's challenge so I'll list it as an extra book or something as I've already read my four books for Peril the First.

Thursday 2 October 2008

The Moor

Having made a complete pig's ear of this post this morning, five minutes before I was due to go out and no time to correct it, I'm trying again this afternoon. Ever get the feeling you don't belong in this century...

I'm going through one of those busy periods at the moment - my husband had a knee operation the week before last so that's involved a lot of coming and going, next week I have a friend from Memphis coming to stay for 10 days so of course that means lots of housework and careful planning, and after that we're off on holiday to Cornwall for a week. So basically October is going to be something of a washout as far as reading is concerned; it'll probably come down to reading in bed for ten minutes last thing at night. The book I'm talking about here, The Moor by Laurie R. King, took me ten days to read and that's no reflection on the book - it was an excellent read. It is in fact the fourth and final book for my Peril the First challenge for Carl's RIP III Halloween challenge.

This the fourth book in the celebrated Mary Russell/Sherlock Holmes series. It begins with Mary, busy with her studies at Oxford, receiving a telegram from Sherlock Holmes. He's on Dartmoor, staying with a friend, The Rev. Sabine Baring-Gould. He needs Mary's help but doesn't say why and, albiet reluctantly, Mary hotfoots it down to Dartmoor immediately. She arrives in the middle of nowhere, isn't met, and has to walk the two miles, at night, in the pouring rain, through muddy lanes. She arrives wet, muddy and dishevelled and isn't best pleased at the rather snotty reaction she gets from the men of the house. Worse still the house is freezing and the food appalling: Mary is more than a little bit inclined to return to Oxford the next day. Instead she allows Holmes to tell her about a strange death that has occurred on the moor and about a ghostly coach accompanied by a large black dog that has apparently been seen in several parts of the moor. Russell and Holmes set out to travel the moor, gathering as much information as they can about the dead man and the apparitions people have seen. Baskerville Hall, the scene of one of Holmes's most famous cases, has new residents, Americans, Richard Ketteridge and his secretary, David Scheiman. Holmes and Russell get to know them and then suddenly the mystery deepens when a man is found dead - floating upside down in a quarry pool. Can The Moor be persuaded to reveal some of its secrets to the two sleuths?

I think this is probably my favoutite Holmes/Russell mystery so far. I live not far from Dartmoor and visit occasionally, so some of the locations were quite familiar to me. That could explain why I like this one so much but I think too the air of mystery and suspense is quite strong. But really, I think it is all down to Dartmoor itself. The author describes the wildness of Dartmoor very vividly, it's as though the moor is an important character in its own right, so strong is the atmosphere of wild but slightly menacing beauty. I've fished out a few photos I've taken in the past which I thought would go quite nicely with this post.

Two general views first, illustrating quite well the wildness of Dartmoor.

Next, two views of Hound Tor:

Cornerstone Tor:

The softer face of Dartmoor - this is the village of Buckland-in-the-moor.

And this is Widecombe-in-the-moor of Uncle Tom Cobbley fame.

Anyway, an excellent read. Officially my challenge is finished I suppose but I intend to continue with the books on my list as there are several I still really want to read - depending on time of course.

Thursday 18 September 2008

Holmes and Lucia

Things have been busy so I'm a bit behind with book reviews. Thus, I'm just going to do two quick ones to catch up. The first is The Sign of Four, by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle - a Sherlock Holmes mystery of course.

It's a couple of weeks since I read this and it's hard to remember the details. Basically, Holmes is bored and taking drugs when suddenly a Miss Morstan appears with a problem. Her father died under suspicious circumstances some years before and suddenly someone is sending her pearls and apologising for the way life has treated her. Why? Watson is smitten and Holmes investigates.

Wonderful, as always. The back story concerning warfare in India and skulduggery and deception with treasure is most fascinating. I love the scene where Holmes and Watson go in hot pursuit of the villain in a boat on the Thames. Great stuff and I'm all ready now to read my next Laurie R. King novel - The Moor.


The Mapp and Lucia stories by E.F. Benson seem to be beloved of various friends and bloggers so I thought I'd try them for myself. Queen Lucia is the first in the series.

The story is set in the sleepy village of Riseholme. Mrs. Lucas, known to all as 'Lucia' (pronounced in the Italian manner), is queen of the village and everyone follows her lead in all things artistic. We're introduced to various characters, Georgie, Lucia's effeminate second in command, The Quantocks, Mrs. Weston, Col. Boucher etc. It soon becomes apparent that though they all follow Lucia's lead there is in fact quite a bit of rivalry to be the first with a new fad or with news. And the latest thing is that Daisy Quantock has an Indian Guru living with her and her husband. Lucia is green with envy and furious that Daisy has done this without consulting her. Next thing we know there is a famous opera singer, Olga Bracely, staying in the village and Lucia is again the last to know. What's happening and how will Lucia cope with what appears to be a fall from grace?

E.F. Benson's writing is not new to me - I've read probably all of his superb ghost stories and think he was one of the best supernatural writers around in the first half of the 20th. century. I hadn't tried his Mapp and Lucia books though, not sure why, just wasn't the right time I think.

I have to say that all the people who love this book are quite justified in doing so. It's funny, beautifully observed and actually has quite lot to say about the nature of friendship. We all know someone like Lucia, although maybe not quite as extreme, and I think that's why it all felt so *real* to me. Benson must have been a brilliant observer of people, but he's never cruel, it's all done tongue-in-cheek and with a great deal of humour. Wonderful. I was hoping to find the next book, Miss Mapp, in Waterstones this morning but no such luck. Amazon here I come...