Saturday 31 October 2009

Tales of Terror from the Black Ship

Happy Halloween to all those who celebrate it!

The perfect accompaniment to Halloween is a creepy book for the RIP IV challenge and my final book for that was Tales of Terror from the Black Ship by Chris Priestley.

The storm of the century is raging. Cathy and Ethan live with their father in The Old Inn which perches on top of a cliff, attached to the mainland of Cornwall by only a very narrow path. In a storm like this they are, to all intents and purposes, cut off. Which presents a problem. Both children are very sick indeed and need a doctor. Their father goes out into the tempest to fetch one, leaving the children alone. He's gone for a very long time and Cathy and Ethan become well enough to get up. They want to go and find him but the storm is still raging. Suddenly, there is a loud knock on the door - they have a visitor, one Jonah Thackeray, a sailor.

Thackeray keeps the children company through the night, regaling them with macabre stories of a very grisly nature. They hear about vampire passengers, sea snails on the march (ugh, ugh UGH!), murders, ghostly black ships, a strange child cast adrift in a dinghy and picked up by the crew of a ship, a weird piece of scrimshaw carved with a scene that changes according to where the owner is, and so on. And then there's the final twist involving the two children listening to the tales...

I think, for me, that author Chris Priestley is one of my discoveries of the year. His simply told but creepier than creepy stories are just fantastic. There are no happy endings here, these stories are meant to chill, and chill they do. I loved the first book in his ghostly series, Uncle Montague's Tales of Terror, but this one is even better. Possibly that's because I do love a sea-faring story, I'm not sure, I just know that I was blown away by this group of stories, beautifully written in the best tradition of ghost story telling. I already have his third book, Tales of Terror from the Tunnel's Mouth and like Black Ship it's calling to me and I'm having trouble resisting. It would make brilliant Christmas reading but I'm not sure if I can hold out that long.

And because it's Halloween... more gargoyles from Knightshaye's Court near Tiverton:

October 2009.


Friday 23 October 2009

The Coffin Trail

I'm fairly certain - though not completely sure - that the first place I saw The Coffin Trail by Martin Edwards blogged about was on Kay's blog here. The book then slipped my mind until a couple of weeks ago when I came home from the library with The Arsenic Labyrinth, discovered it was book 3 in Edwards's Lake District series and that the first book was, in fact, The Coffin Trail. I reserved that one immediately as I do prefer reading crime series in the order they were written in.

Holidaying in the Lake District Daniel Kind and his girlfriend, Miranda, visit the village of Brack where Daniel stayed as a teenager with his family. Back then he had been friends briefly with Barrie Gilpin, a mildly autistic boy. Some years later a woman, Gabrielle Anders, was brutally murdered and her body laid out on a rocky outcrop above the village, the sacrifice stone. The next day Barrie's body had been discovered in a nearby ravine and it had been assumed that he was the murderer - although the police officer in charge of the investigation, Daniel's estranged father, Ben, had never been convinced.

Daniel and Miranda discover that the cottage where Barrie lived with his mother is for sale and, completely on impulse, they buy it with a view to a complete life change for them both. Daniel gives up his job as an Oxford professor and Miranda her journalism job and they move to the Lake District. But the events surrounding the murder start to prey on Daniel's mind. He never thought his friend was guilty and begins to ask questions in the village.

Within the Cumbrian police force a new cold case department has just been started and the detective heading it is DCI Hannah Scarlett. One of the first crimes to be reinvestigated is the Gabrielle Anders case and it's not long before Hannah, who worked under Daniel's father in the original case, comes into contact with Daniel. The two begin to join forces to solve the mystery, which is complicated and difficult and not helped by their various personal problems getting in the way. Between them can they manage to break down the wall of silence that the people of Brack have erected?

I couldn't put this down. I've had a couple of quiet days while my husband's been ill so have been able to indulge my wish to read this straight through, almost without stopping. It was rivetting. Martin Edwards has created well rounded characters in Hannah Scarlett and Daniel Kind, and left it so that the reader wants to read the rest of the books to see how their relationship develops. I like the fact that we weren't given everything in the first book so that there is plenty more to look forward to.

Plotwise I thoroughly enjoyed the mystery. There were so many twists and turns that I couldn't guess who had done the deed - my actual guess was wildly out - and I liked the way secrets unfolded and unexpected connections were slowly revealed.

The setting was magnificent. I have visted the Lake District on holiday and Edwards has evoked the wild beauty and isolation of the area perfectly. Nice little local details made it very real too - referances to the famous walker, Alfred Wainright, for instance. The title, The Coffin Trail, refers to centuries ago before small villages had their own church and graveyard to bury their dead. The body would have to be taken by horse over the hills to the nearest town and the route taken was known as the coffin or 'corpse' trail.

I can wholeheartedly recommend this to crime fans. It's not a cosy mystery but neither is a hard-nosed one, it's pitched just nicely, imo. I'm off to the library today to grab book two, The Cipher Garden.

Book 24 for my Support your local library challenge which is being hosted by J.Kaye.

Monday 19 October 2009


I honestly did not intend to start a new series. Relics by Pip Vaughan-Hughes was a random library grab, a book that I thought sounded like a lot of fun. But after I'd started it I checked the author out on FantasticFiction and found the book I was reading was in fact part one of his 'Brother Petroc' series. Typical. Even when I try not to start any new series, I end up doing just that...

The year is 1235. Brother Petroc is a novice monk, a scholar studying in the city of Balecester. He hails from Dartmoor, his parents having given him to the monastry at Buckfast in Devon because he showed academic promise. Petroc's life is one of scholarly pursuit, heavy drinking and trying to avoid the sins of the flesh until, one night, he encounters Sir Hugh de Kervezey at an inn. Petroc immediately senses the man is trouble and is tragically proved right when, a few nights later, Sir Hugh tricks him into a taking a holy relic from the cathedral. Right in front of his eyes, Kervezey brutally murders a church offcial and promptly frames Petroc for the murder.

Petroc goes on the run, back to Buckfast Abbey, but he is not even safe there as Sir Hugh is there ahead of him, victimising Petroc's friend and mentor, Brother Adric, to get information about the young novice. Adric sends Petroc to Dartmouth to meet with a ship to take him out of the country. The journey is long and arduous, with Sir Hugh's men close on his heels, but he eventually meets up with the enigmatic Captain de Montalhac, a Frenchman and collector of relics. Petroc sets sail on the Cormaran and thus begins a series of adventures in countries such as Greenland, Ireland, France and Greece that will change the course of Petroc's young life.

Even though I didn't mean to start yet another series I'm actually quite glad that this book turned out to be the first part of one because I rather enjoyed it. I've always quite liked any historical book that took me on a trip around Europe, or out on the high seas, and this one covers both of those so it's a 'win, win' situation really. Pip Vaughan-Hughes writes in a bit of a swash-buckling style, the story is really a bit of a boys-own yarn with lots of chases and fighting and adventures galore. There's also some romance and misunderstandings therein... to be honest there's something for everyone and if you fancy a light, fun read you could do a lot worse than Relics. I certainly plan to grab book 2 from the library at some stage.

And having enjoyed this 'high-seas' story I'm now thinking of making a sea-faring list of books - pirates, sea voyages, fantasy, historical, anything really, so if anyone can think of any, feel free to leave a comment.

This was book 23 out of my 25 for the Support your local Library challenge which is being hosted by J.Kaye.

Wednesday 14 October 2009

Year of the Historical challenge

I know I said I wouldn't do another year long challenge next year, but I'm nothing if not contrary, not to mention liable to change my mind at the drop of the hat. And it doesn't take much. I spotted a nice button on a book blog I read on LJ, saw that it was a challenge involving historicals, and that was me - sold. I either have the attention span of a fruit fly or I'm just a complete walk-over, I'm not sure.

Anyway the challenge is called, Year of the Historical and it's being hosted by Lurv A La Mode.

The idea is to read one or more historicals per month throughout the year:

Books can be older, just published or previously read. Authors can be old favorites or new-to-you. I didn’t want to specify specific requirements for each month – though I contemplated it. Write those reviews any way you please – you’re blogs, your styles, dudes. This way you, the reader, are free to pick and choose what works best for you. This might be a challenge, but who says it needs to be difficult? The main thing is to enjoy yourself.

We’re talking straight historical (English, French, Ancient History – The Clan of Cave the Bear, etc.); and historical romance (Regency, Georgian, Medieval, American, paranormal historical…). If the book takes place in a notable, or even a more obscure, history in time, it’s game. These can be adult themed or young adult. They can be rereads or new-to-you authors. They can be ones you’re reading for other challenges too.

One of the reasons I want to do this challenge is because it ties in nicely with what I want to read next year, which is a few lengthy historical books. I have so many on my tbr mountain that a challenge like this will really help reduce the pile. We don't have to make a list but I'm pretty sure the first book I'll be reading for the challenge will be Drood by Dan Simmons. Others that I'm hoping to include:

The Needle in the Blood- Sarah Bower
Fixing Shadows - Susan Barrett
David Copperfield - Charles Dickens
People of the Book - Geraldine Brooks
Temeraire - Naomi Novik
Ratcatcher - James McGee
An Accomplished Woman - Jude Morgan
Moby Dick - Herman Melville
Oscar Wilde and the Candleight Murders - Gyles Brandreth
The Cater Street Hangman - Anne Perry

But we'll see how it goes. Likely as not I'll end up reading none of those at all! Whatever happens though, I'm greatly looking forward to this challenge.

Tuesday 13 October 2009

The Alchemyst

I first read about the Nicholas Flamel YA series of books, by Michael Scott, on Deslily's blog - Here, There and Everywhere. She's been recommending them for years and for years I've been studiously ignoring her as I have enough series on the go. But book series are like salted peanuts - you can never have too many and, in one of her recent posts I took one look at the beauty of the covers and caved in and bought the first two.

The first one is The Alchemyst.

While their parents are away on a summer archeological dig, fifteen year old twins, Josh and Sophie, stay with their aunt in San Francisco. They have summer jobs in the same street, across the road from each other, Sophie in a coffee shop, Josh in a bookshop. The bookshop's owner is Nick Fleming a rather enigmatic figure that Josh has grown to like and admire.

One day the bookshop is attacked by one, Dr. John Dee, and three golems, intent on capturing an ancient book that Nick owns, the Book of Abraham the Mage. Using magic,they get hold of all but two pages, Nick's wife is kidnapped, and Nick and the twins are forced to flee. They collect a 'young woman' along the way, Scatty, and end up in a Shadowrealm, guarded by some very strange creatures, which takes the form of an immense tree. The realm is ruled over by an Elder, thousands of years old: Hekate.

It seems that Nick Fleming is actually seven hundred year old, Nicholas Flamel and, from what the adults are saying, there are things the twins might not know about themselves. They are bewildered and frightened and try to escape, but escape from this nightmare is no longer possible. Their lives will, literally, never be the same again.

I'm pretty pleased that I picked this series up at last. I really enjoyed this pacey romp around the Californian countryside with Nicholas Flamel and his cohorts. It's full of excitement and imagination with many nods to ancient myth and ordinary history... or should I say *extra*ordinary history! I think there's room for a little more fleshing out of characters, I didn't feel I got to know the twins all that well for instance, but I'm sure that will come in the next books. Deslily tells me they get better and better and that wouldn't surprise me at all. I have the next one, The Magician, on my tbr pile and once I've knocked a few books off the library pile I'll get to it. Thanks to Deslily for the rec.

Sunday 11 October 2009

An award

The very lovely Booklogged at A Reader's Journal listed me among her newly discovered blogs, recently, and gave me this award:

Truthfully, I'm not a great one for blog awards as I really dislike having to choose 'favourites' from my blog roll; anyone who is on my blog roll is a 'favourite' or they wouldn't be there. I feel it's hurtful to those not chosen for the awards and I don't believe book blogging should be about who's popular and who isn't; it should be about nice people and good books. That said, this is not that kind of award. You just have to list a few new blogs that you've recently discovered, so that's fine and dandy and I'm happy to do that.

Here are the rules of the "One Lovely Blog Award":

Accept the award, post it on your blog together with the name of the person who has granted the award, and his or her blog link. Pass the award to 15 other blogs that you’ve newly discovered. Remember to contact the bloggers to let them know they have been chosen for this award.

I don't think I can do 15 but here are a few blogs I've recently discovered and like.

Book Psmith
Caitlin at Chaotic Compendiums
Diane at Bibliophile by the sea
Geranium Cat
Paperback Reader
Sharry at xalwaysdreamx
Bookpusher at The Genteel Arsenal
Verity at Verity's Virago Venture

See, now I'm worrying that I've forgotten someone... and knowing my middle-aged, addled brain, I probably have.

Anyway, thank you to Booklogged for this award, if you've never visited her lovely blog then you really should... she's just started a state by state list of bloggers and is currently on West Virginia, a state I've visited a couple of times and absolutely love.


Thursday 8 October 2009

The Man in the Picture & Good Behaviour

I'm falling behind with book reviews once again. So, as my cold is making me feel thoroughly unenthused about anything other than sitting in a chair and reading, I think I'll do two shortish reviews to catch up. First up, The Man in the Picture by Susan Hill.

'Oliver' is staying in rooms at his old university in Cambridge, during school holidays, so that he can visit and spend time with his old professor, Theo Parmitter. Theo is very elderly now and retired but used to dabble a bit in the buying and selling of works of art. He points out a particular piece he has to Oliver, a piece that Theo has hung in a corner out of the way. It's a depiction of a carnival scene in Venice and Oliver is strangely drawn to the painting but repelled by it at the same time. Over the space of a couple of evenings, ensconced by the fire, Theo recounts the manner in which he came across the painting and the sinister effect it has had on life ever since.

To my mind Susan Hill writes her ghost stories very much in the style of M.R. James. They tend to be written in that same old-fashioned 'academic' style which is such a pleasure to read - her The Woman in Black is one of my all-time favourite supernatural tales for instance. Thus I had expectations of this book and I was not at all disappointed. Hill sets a very cosy scene to start off with but an air of menace quickly builds. There are stories within stories too - Theo describing how he went to Yorkshire to meet a previous owner of the painting for instance - that chapter so reminded me of a recently read book, The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield. For me this is a classic little ghost story. I liked everything about it, the setting, the atmosphere, the nice twist at the end. Great stuff - and even better... I picked this hardback up in a charity shop for 80p!

Book 5 for Carl's RIP IV challenge.

Next up, Good Behaviour by Molly Keane.

Aroon is the product of Irish/British aristocracy from just before WW1. She, her parents, and brother, Hubert, once lived at Temple Alice, a crumbling mansion somewhere in Ireland. They lived the high life, hunting, shooting, fishing, money no object. But the story begins with Aroon, her sick mother, and Rose, a sort of house-keeper living in a small house and fighting over whether the invalid should be given rabbit to eat. It's clear they are in very straightened circumstances. The narrator, Aroon, goes right back to the beginning to tell us all about her life...

I didn't realise this was a Virago Modern Classic until I had finished it, as of course the old green covers are no more. I probably would have had more of an idea what to expect if I'd known. This is not a cheerful story. Aroon's history is one of real sadness. She's tall and ungainly - on the big side as grows into womanhood. She doesn't realise it but from everything she says it's quite clear the rest of the family regard her as a bit of a joke. They keep things from her on a tragic scale - the family finances, her brother's sexuality, even her own sexuality is a complete mystery to her. At the same time they fill her head with that sense of upper-class superiority that will make her totally incapable of coping with the realities of life once the inevitable happens. The whole thing is quite appalling.

This is a brilliantly written novel. I know very little about Molly Keane other than this was one of her later books, written after she'd given up writing for many years. The sadness of the story is almost overwhelming - a couple of times I had to set it aside as I didn't want to read what was coming next. It's an odd kind of story where the narrator is completely decieved as to events but the reader is as privy to them as the other characters. I don't know much about it but this seems to me to be very clever writing indeed. At some stage I would like to read more of Molly Keane's work, but perhaps not just yet.

Book 22 for J.Kaye's Support your local Library challenge.


Sunday 4 October 2009

A Christmas Journey

I spent the day with my daughter on Thursday and this next book is a library book that she handed me saying, 'You'll like this one, Mum'. It was A Christmas Journey by Anne Perry. Now Anne Perry is an author I've been aware of for a while. I've been told she writes cracking good historical crime of the Victorian variety and I think there's a WW1 series too, but I'm not sure if that's a crime series or not. So, when my daughter handed me this novella by her, I took it happily and have been reading it over the last couple of days.

Lady Vespasia Cumming-Gould is at a weekend house party, their host, Omegus Jones, is a man greatly respected by Vespasia. There are sundry other guests, including attractive young widow, Gwendolen Kilmuir, who is hoping soon to become engaged to another of the guests, Bertie Rosythe. But Vespasia's friend, Isobel, another widow, is jelaous of Gwendolen and doesn't mince her words. She makes a cruel remark to Gwendolen, resulting in the woman's suicide later that night.

Omegus and Vespasia decide to find out what happened and the assembled group agree that if Isobel is culpable then she should seek 'forgiveness and expiation' by delivering the news, along with Gwendolen's last letter, to her mother in Scotland. Vespasia offers to go with her and thus a long and arduous journey to, and around, Scotland begins... just a week or so before Christmas.

This would make a really good Christmas crime read for anyone that way inclined. There is a crime involved obviously, but also there is a bit of a travel journal of Scotland (I believe Anne Perry lives there), lots of snow and mountains and so on. There is also quite bit of social commentary on the times. The manner in which a Victorian widow became surplus to requirements for instance, and the only way she could re-establish her place in society was to marry again. Also the way in which people were ostracised if they broke the very strict codes of conduct - women especially - men were often forgiven or somehow managed to blame someone else for their misdemeanour. As I'm sure everyone knows, life was hard for women back then, even for those in the more privileged classes.

I liked this slim little volume a lot. It was writen in 2003 and was the first of Perry's Christmas crime novellas, which I think she's now quite well known for. I'll certainly be reading more of her work if I spot it in the library and this is in fact my 21st. book for my Support your Local Library challenge which is being hosted by J. Kaye.


It seems I'm a thief because I loved Nymeth's idea of posting a photo of books she hopes to read in the near future, here, and stole it. My pile is quite a bit smaller as I'm a slow reader who doesn't want to get depressed at her lack of progress! LOL.

A fairly mixed bag there... but of course that's not all because I have what is, for *me* anyway, a fairly large library pile. This is they:

Some of these are random grabs, some are books or authors I saw blogged about or were recced to me - Witch Wood by John Buchan, Molly Keane, Shirley Jackson - and there are also three non-fictions because I'm determined to keep on reading that kind of book even though I've finished the Non-fiction Five challenge.

So there you go... plenty of good reading for the autumn months ahead.

And lastly, we were in the seaside town of Teignmouth on Thursday. I hardly took any photos at all as we are there a lot and I know I've posted photos of the area here before. But I took a couple and was particularly pleased with this one, which I thought I'd share. October on the south Devon coast:


Friday 2 October 2009

The 13th. Tale

*Fanfare* At last I have read The Thirteenth Tale! It's been on my tbr mountain for a couple of years, I've had it on lists for at least three challenges, maybe more, but just not got to it. This year, encouraged by Deslily, I decided it was high time its tbr status was no more. So I added it to my pool of books for Carl's RIP IV challenge for which it is a perfect read.

Margaret Lea is a young woman who is seriously into books. Her thing is Victorian literature, which is lucky as her father owns an antiquarian bookshop and she has helped him with his work since she was a young girl. Her mother has nothing to do with the shop and in fact has problems with depression. Margaret's relationship with her is strained and Margaret has no idea why until one day she discovers a secret about her birth.

Summoned, one day, to Yorkshire by famous author, Vida Winter, Margaret is confused as to why the author apparently wants her to write about her life when so many have tried before and been lied to by Vida. At first reluctant, Margaret decides to go and finds herself on the lonely Yorkshire moors, in a large country house that is hiding many secrets.

Miss Winter agrees to tell Margaret the truth about her life and thus begins a series of stories about the Angelfield family, specifically twins, Adeline and Emmeline, but also their mother, Isabel, and her brother, Charles, their housekeeper, the Missus, and gardener, John-the-dig. There is much to be told and huge secrets that Margaret wants to know more quickly than Miss Winter wishes to tell her. Margaret travels to the ruins of Angelfield House and senses ghosts from the past but also meets some very real people who are connected to the mystery somehow. Will she get to the bottom of it all before Miss Winter's very obvious illness reaches its ultimate conclusion?

To tell the truth this book is very difficult to explain. There are so many twists and turns that it's almost impossible to talk about it without giving away spoilers. I can say the atmosphere is quite gothic without giving anything away. There are nods to authors such as The Bronte sisters, especially books such as Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights, Daphne du Maurier, Wilkie Collins and Henry James and I loved that as it kept me guessing about connections... usually sending me off in the wrong direction but what fun!

This is such a good book, it really is. It would appeal in particular to anyone who likes a good mystery or a ghost story but I'm certain it would also be enjoyed by anyone who just loves a darn good read. It's certainly made me fancy rereading books such as The Woman in White and Jane Eyre, and Rebecca needs to go onto the reading list for next year too. (I can't remember if I've read that book or not.) What better than a thoroughly good read that inspires you to go on to read other really good books?

I can't seem to discover whether Diane Setterfield is writing another book. There's no mention of it anywhere but I sincerely hope she is after the success of The Thirteenth Tale. This is a seriously good writer and it would be an awful shame if all we got from her was one book. Fingers crossed.

This is my 4th. book for Carl's RIP IV challenge.