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.


DesLily said...

well, your reading hasn't slowed down any lol.. I see you are on a mystery kick!

I have come to the conclusion that YA authors come up with some of the best character names! I love the name Horatio Lyle.. that name alone would make me pick up the book and check it out.

I finally finished Inkdeath .. all I can say is Cornelia Funke is really a fantastic story teller!

Cath said...

Hi Pat. Yep, I am reading a few mysteries at the moment. Also have a couple of books left over from my RIP challenge that I still want to read - The Thirteenth Tale and Jamaica Inn. The weather's good for that kind of reading. LOL.

Isn't that a wonderful name? I would never have dreamt that up in a million years.

Will keep an eye out for your review of Inkdeath... hoping to read the second book before Christmas *and* see that film before they bury it forever!

Nan said...

This is what drives me crazy about libraries and bookstores. It's all about new. Clear out the old because no one has read them in a long time. But at least where I live, no one gives readers a chance. They are hidden far, far away just as you noted. Who is going to go way down cellar when they don't have time, or inclination, or knowledge of the treasures which await them? I'd have a table out front of the main desk, with a rotation of older books, if I ruled the world. And I'd cull the new books!

Ana S. said...

I love the sound of all three books! I've been seeing Susan Hill's name around a lot lately...I really want to try her. I think I'll start with The Woman in Black. I'd heard of Catherine Webb too, but I had no idea she'd started writing so young!

It's always so sad when a good book becomes nearly impossible to find. Which was why the news about this deal between Google and publishers is so exciting. Hopefully before long all those almost forgotten out of print titles will be available as e-books.

DesLily said...

nymeth: for very old, out of print and copywrite, this sounds fantastic!.. however, like just about everything else, it would worry me to scan in any books that aren't way past publishing years. Someone always finds a way to hack or get a hold of things, make them public and then the writer has lost his income. It could turn into disaster.

Tara said...

I've added the Susan Hill book to my amazon cart - it sounds great! Thanks for the review.

Cath said...

Nan: I completely agree with you about having a table in the library with older books that people have perhaps forgotten. Think what treasures there might be.

Nymeth: The Woman in Black is so worth reading! An absolute classic in the ghost story genre and written in the style of the Victorian supernatural writers.

Tara: I hope you enjoy The Various Haunts of Men when you get to it. I certainly thought it was an excellent start to the series and can't wait to read more. Have you any idea what has happened to Susan Hill's blog?

BooksPlease said...

Cath, I've read the Simon Serailler books and I like the way I get involved with the characters too.

Most of the books I borrow from the library are in the Reserve Stock and yes they're down in the basement!

I read on DoveGreyReader's blog in the comments on one post that Susan Hill has given up blogging. Such a shame that she has removed all the posts as well. It's always a puzzle when blogs just stop.

Cath said...

Booksplease: thanks for enlightening me about Susan Hill's blog. One minute it was there, the next gone! It's curious, you'd have thought she'd have said 'something'.

I'm really looking forward to reading the rest of Her Simon Serailler books though.

Tara said...

I really liked the Susan Hill book and just wrote about it! Thanks.