Tuesday 28 December 2010

Christmas books

I did well for books this Christmas; some years I don't get many but this year I struck lucky (of course that may have something to do with how many I put on my Christmas list *ahem*...) I pride myself on being the easiest person in my family to buy a present for because I *always* have a list of books as long as my arm that I would like. My first spot was a set of books in The Book People's catalogue. And here be they:

The first eight in the Daisy Dalrymple crime series by Carola Dunn. I'd seen these blogged about in several places as being light, fun reads so I waved the page around in front of my husband and hoped he'd take the hint. He did. Aren't they beautiful? Such gorgeous covers. And one will even do for one of the book challenges I'm doing this year - What's in a Name... a book with travel or movement... Murder on the Flying Scotsman. Perfect.

And these are the other books I was given:

Atlantic: A Vast Ocean of a Million Stories by Simon Winchester. I've no idea where I read about this. I think it might have been an Amazon e.mail - those are of course fatal as they always seem to know what will appeal and this certainly did. My youngest daughter got this for me and earned herself a big hug for her trouble.

A View from the Foothills: The Diaries of Chris Mullin is a political memoir and was a gift from a dear friend who knows exactly the kind of thing which appeals to me. This was even spookier than usual as I nearly bought this a few months ago and for some reason didn't. I gather it's very good indeed.

The San-Antonio Tex-Mex Cookbook by Elizabeth Blakely was also a gift from a dear friend in Ohio who knows I love to try different recipes and this style of cooking is certainly something new for me.

And lastly two books I bought for myself:

Murder Past Due by Miranda James and The Quick and the Thread by Amanda Lee are two cosy mysteries that were also in Amazon e.mails I think, or maybe links on FantasticFiction. Not sure, but whatever, they looked good so I treated myself. And there is actually one more to come, A Cold Day for Murder by Dana Stabenow, which is the first in a crime series set in Alaska. Wooooo! Think I'm going to be doing a bit of armchair travelling next year...

Looking forward to a good year of reading in 2011... hope you are too.

Thursday 23 December 2010

Merry Christmas!

I am reading, just finished The Dead of Winter by Chris Priestley, a YA ghost novel as a matter of fact and it was excellent. But no time for reviews at the moment and won't have until the day after Boxing Day really. All I want to do is wish everyone who pops in to read my bookblog a very Merry Christmas. Hope your Christmas is all that you wish for, that you're happy and healthy and that you're not so snowed in you can't get out of the front door! We have been but I managed to get out, at last, yesterday - and promptly fell flat on my backside, but we won't dwell on that... ahem. We're going to have a white Christmas here, we've had so much that unless we get a sudden heatwave it's not going anywhere. So here are a few photos of the views from our house to accompany my Christmas wishes.


Saturday 18 December 2010

Three short book reviews

As is often the case these days I'm behind with reviews so this is yet another catch-up post with three short reviews. It's the perfect weather for getting on with this sort of thing as outside the garden is covered in six inches of snow. For us in the south west of England this is quite unusual though this is the third winter in a row now where we've had some but this is serious snow! Here're a couple of photos I took first thing *before* we had yet another heavy snowfall, adding an inch or two more...

Looking down onto the garden from the bedroom window.

Our trees.

The town in the distance.

Anyway, enough about the weather (well I am English!) on to books. Starting with The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafón.

When he is ten years old Daniel Sampere's father takes him to the Cemetery of Forgotten Books; Daniel's father owns a bookshop and Daniel has been brought up with books. The Cemetery turns out to be a huge labyrinthine library, a wonderful place, and Daniel is told to choose a book for which he will be responsible for the rest of his life. He chooses The Shadow of the Wind by Julian Carax, takes it home and reads it. From that moment on Daniel is obsessed. It seems all books by this author have steadily been destroyed. But by whom? People show an inordinate interest in Daniel's book, not least a strange man whose face Daniel cannot see. It becomes Daniel's mission to find out more about the author's life and in this time and place - Barcelona just after the Spanish civil war - this turns out to be a lot more dangerous than he had ever bargained for.

I've had this one on my tbr pile for a couple of years and it probably would have remained there if Pat at Here, There and Everywhere hadn't read it for her R.I.P. challenge and piqued my interest. It's an amazing piece of work, quite frankly. Not an easy read, quite a complicated plot with a very gothicky feel to it. (Reminded me of a ghost story that I can't now remember the title of or the author but which was also set in a huge gothicky city of towers and churches.) Thus there is a huge amount of atmosphere here, the city is a character in itself and the dark times add to the feeling of oppressive fear and secrecy. This is not a cheery read but if you're looking for something dark and atmospheric and beautifully plotted you could do a lot worse.

Next up, In the Shadow of the Glacier by Vicki Delany.

Molly Smith is a rookie police woman in the small town of Trafalgar, British Columbia. She finds a body in an alley one night and to her surprise finds herself assisting DS John Winters in the investigation. Winters is a veteran cop and has little patience with Molly's rookie enthusiam or her mistakes. The dead man is Reg Montgomery, a property magnate type who was planning to build a holiday resort outside the town - something which many of the townspeople do not want. The situation is further complicated by plans to build a memorial in the town to American draft dodgers from the Vietnam war, something which Molly's hippy mother is supporting. Suspects for the murder are many and Molly and Winters have their work cut out to solve the mystery and keep the peace.

I liked this a lot! The BC 'mountain' setting is delightful and made me wish I had the chance to go to the Kootenay region of the Rockies. I liked the two main characters, Molly and John Winters - an unlikely police pairing if ever there was one. Winters was wonderfully grumpy and middle-aged with no patience whatsoever. And Molly so terribly excited about her first proper case that she blundered about all over the place driving her boss mad. The plot was pacey, I didn't guess who done the deed, and all in all I found this an excellent new (to me) crime series. Annoyingly, my county library catalogue has no books whatsoever by Vicki Delany so if I want to read more I will have to buy the series... which I doubtless will at some stage.

Lastly: The Comfort of Saturdays by Alexander McCall Smith.

Isabel Dalhousie is asked to help in the case of an emminent doctor whose reputation has been ruined over a new drug he supported but which turned out to be dangerous. Ever concerned about miscarriages of justice Isabel 'interferes' as her family and friends call it. At the same time Cat, her niece, asks her to run the deli for her while she goes to Sri Lanka and there is what Isabel sees as rival for Jamie's affections in the shape of an orchestrial conductor. With a small son to look after, Isabel's insecurities about the ten year age gap between her and Jamie come to the fore and Isabel does much mental agonising before her problems are solved.

Wonderful. Loved it. This is book five in the Sunday Philosophy Club series and I hope it goes on and on. Isabel is so real with her agonising and worrying and changing her mind constantly about decisions. I always think that Alexander McCall Smith writes women better than any male author I know apart from possibly Terry Pratchett. Most don't get us at all but he clearly does and his books are a joy to read providing you're not looking for hard hitting or gritty plots with blood and gore. 'Gentle' is McCall Smith's forté and long may it continue to be so.

Friday 17 December 2010

Another challenge

What? Another challenge? Even after I said I would really limit them next year (to myself anyway)? Yep. I just couldn't resist one called Foodie's Reading Challenge! Not with my addiction to TV cooking programmes and love of TV chefs and cooks such as Nigel Slater, Jamie Oliver, Nigella, Rick Stein, and The Hairy Bikers. Never miss any of them. So anyway, the Foodie's Reading Challenege:

The challenge is being hosted by Margot at
Joyfully Retired and there is a special blog with all the details here.

Here’s how it works:

1. Decide how many food books you want to read in 2011 and choose your level of reading. Keep in mind this is a challenge – a thrown-down. Go a bit beyond what you think you can really do. Levels:

Nibbler: 1 to 3 books
Bon Vivant: 4 to 6 books
Epicurean: 7 to 9 books
Gourmet: 10 to 12
Glutton: More than 12

2. Grab the challenge button and write a post on your blog so we can spread the word. No blog? That’s okay. Sign up in the comments section.

3. As you read each book for the challenge, come back here and tell us about it. On January 1st I’ll provide pages so you can post links for your reviews. Non-bloggers will use the comment section.

I'm going to try for 'Bon Vivant', 4 to 6 books. My first inclination was to do 'Nibbler' but, well, nothing ventured etc. What I decide to read will probably change through the year but five possibilites already on my tbr mountain are:

Eating for England - Nigel Slater
Cook's Delights: An Anthology of Food Fantasy and Indulgence edited by Helen Saberi and Madeline Swan
Humble Pie - Gordon Ramsay
The Nasty Bits - Anthony Bourdain
Food: True Stories of Life on the Road edited by Richard Sterling
Garlic and Sapphires - Ruth Reichl
Thyme Out - Katie Fforde

Plus, I noticed yesterday that my library has quite a few possibilities too.

So there we go. Sounds like a lot of fun to me and I'm really looking forward to it.


Monday 6 December 2010

My 2011 challenge

Well, my record for finishing challenges this year has not been all that great but, nothing daunted, I'm still going to try another year long challenge for 2011. This year what's taken my fancy is one one I saw on Yvonne's blog at Fiction Books and that is the What's in a Name 4 challenge. It's being hosted by Beth Fish Reads and here are a few details:

Between January 1 and December 31, 2011, read one book in each of the following categories:

1. A book with a number in the title: eg. First to Die, Seven Up, Thirteen Reasons Why
2. A book with jewelry or a gem in the title: eg. Diamond Ruby, Girl with a Pearl Earring, The Opal Deception
3. A book with a size in the title: eg. Wide Sargasso Sea, Small Wars, Little Bee
4. A book with travel or movement in the title: eg. Dead Witch Walking, Crawling with Zombies, Time Traveler's Wife
5. A book with evil in the title: eg. Bad Marie, Fallen, Wicked Lovely
6. A book with a life stage in the title: eg. No Country for Old Men, Brideshead Revisited, Bog Child

Other things to know:

Books may be any form (audio, print, e-book).

Books may overlap other challenges.

Books may not overlap categories; you need a different book for each category.

Creativity for matching the categories is not only allowed but encouraged.

You do not have to make a list of books before hand.

You do not have to read through the categories in any particular order.


So that's it! I'm not planning to make a list that I must stick by but I did have a look at my tbr pile and found a few possibilities:

1. Number: Twenties Girl - Sophie Kinsella

2. Jewelry or a gem: City of Pearl - Karen Traviss

3. Size: The Small Hand - Susan Hill.

4. Travel or Movement:

5. Evil: Wicked Appetite - Janet Evanovich

6. Life Stage: The Good Husband of Zebra Drive - Alexander McCall Smith.

Funny how the categories I thought would be easy, were not, and the hard ones - a life stage etc - it turned out I had loads of options. And the truth of the matter is that it's likely I'll not end up reading many of these but will find alternatives that I want to read instead! But then... that's half the fun. Looking forward to this one immensely.

Saturday 4 December 2010

Pratchett challenge wrap-up

I'm a few days late with this but as I've had yet another week of illness I'm going to excuse myself. ;-) The Terry Pratchett challenge which has been taking place over the last year and hosted by Marg, came to an end on the 30th. November.

I had my doubts, towards the end, that I would manage to complete it, but pulled out all the stops in the last week or two and actually managed to read the 6 to 8 books I signed up for.

My final 2 books were Thud! and Sourcery:

There was an eighth son of an eighth son. He was, quite naturally, a wizard. And there it should have ended. However (for reasons we’d better not go into), he had seven sons. And then he had an eighth son… a wizard squared…a source of magic…a Sourcerer. SOURCERY SEES THE RETURN OF RINCEWIND AND THE LUGGAGE AS THE DISCWORLD FACES ITS GREATEST – AND FUNNIEST – CHALLENGE YET.
(From Amazon)

Very enjoyable. So strange that I only decided to give the Rincewind books a try for this challenge and now I really like them and am glad I still have a good handful to read, including the beautifully illustrated, Last Hero.

There's been a murder amongst the dwarves in Ankh-Morpork, but the dwarves don't seem to want to admit to it. And the aniversary of the battle of Koom Valley is fast approaching, where the trolls fought the dwarves, and it's unsettling both modern day factions in the city. They're spoiling for a fight and it's complicating Sam Vimes's investigations into the murder that may or may not have been committed. Add to that Sam's other committment, which is to read Where's my Cow? to his one year old son every night without fail, the Patrician's insistance than he take on a vampire constable, an impending inspection of the force, and Sam's life is suddenly far more complicated than he would like it to be...

Wonderful. Loved it to bits. There's the usual wonderful group of characters that inhabit the Vimes books, Captain Carrot, the rightful king of Ankh-Morpork, Angua, the were-wolf, Nobby Nobbs (who I just can't picture as anyone other than Tony Robinson) and several new ones including 'Sally' the new vampire officer and A.E. Pessimal, the inspector. I adore this series within the Discworld series and am crossing my fingers that there will be more.

Anyway, so those were my last two books for the challenge. In total the books I read were as follows:

The Colour of Magic
The Light Fantastic
The Nightwatch

I enjoyed all of them without exception and would like to thank Marg for giving me the opportunity to catch up a bit with Terry's books and, of course, for hosting the challenge.


Wednesday 17 November 2010

Library Loot

Because I've just put a huge preserving pan of apple chutney on to cook, which will take ages therefore giving me some free time today, I thought I'd do a library post. Haven't done one in an age and having chatted to Marg on Twitter, the other night, about the weekly Library Loot event, I thought I would add my post to that.

Library Loot is a weekly event co-hosted by Claire from The Captive Reader and Marg from The Adventures of an Intrepid Reader that encourages bloggers to share the books they’ve checked out from the library. If you’d like to participate, just write up your post-feel free to steal the button-and link it using the Mr. Linky any time during the week. And of course check out what other participants are getting from their libraries!

So anyway, here's a photo of my current library pile:

The top five books are ones that have been on my library pile for a few weeks. From the top then:

Soup: Hot and Cold Recipes for all Seasons - Pippa Cuthbert. I adore soup and this one has a few recipes, such as split pea and ham, that I want to try.

Red Bones - Ann Cleves. Book three of her Jimmy Perez/Shetland Isles series that I like so much.

A Darker God - Barbara Cleverly. This was a random grab and now that I've checked it turns out it's 'book 3' in her Leaticia Talbot series, set in the late 1920s. I'll have to decide whether to read it out of turn or try to get hold of the first book.

The Comfort of Saturdays - Alexander McCall Smith. Book 5 in the Isabel Dalhousie series. I'm sure this will be as lovely as all the rest.

Adventures of a Gentleman's Gentleman - Guy Hunting. The author was apparently butler to Noel Coward and the Queen back in the day. This was also a random library grab.

The last four books are my actual library loot for this week:

Dead of Winter - Chris Priestley. He wrote the 'Tales of Terror' ghost series of course, and I think this his latest full length ghost novel.

Days From a Different World - John Simpson. Simpson is a news correspondant for the BBC - a well respected journalist I believe, currently in Burma. I have his A Mad World, My Masters on my tbr mountain but was tempted by this account of his childhood when I saw it. I always assume jounralists will be good and interesting writers.

Hugh Fearlessly Eats it All - Hugh Fearnley-Whitingstall. I love his cookery programmes from his cottage in Dorset but this is one of his early books (possibly based on a TV series) which I spotted and thought I'd try.

The Virago Book of Food: The Joy of Eating edited by Jill Foulston. Women through the ages writing about food. How perfect could a book get?

I'm currently reading Sourcery by Terry Pratchett for Marg's Pratchett challenge but I'm hoping to finish that later today and will then move on to one of these. Probably the John Simpson as the minute I got home I found someone else had reserved it from the library so I won't be able to renew.

Monday 15 November 2010

The Meaning of Night

Author, Michael Cox, died last year at the age of 61. I knew him from my copies of Victorian Ghost Stories and The Oxford Book of English Ghost Stories both of which he edited with R.A. Gilbert and are two of the best ghost story anthologies available in my opinion. Until he died I had no idea that he'd written a full length novel. Apparently it took him 30 years to write - which doesn't really surprise me - and was eventually published in 2006. My good friend Deslily read it for her R.I.P. V challenge and enjoyed it so much that I was spurred on to nab it from the library and give it a go.

The first sentence of this book informs you that the narrator, Edward Glyver, is a murderer. And the whole point of this story is to explain why. Edward has been brought up in Dorset, in the mid 1800s, by two people he believes to be his parents. His father is a wastrel, his mother writes romantic fiction to keep the family fed. She is overworked and mentally exhausted. Occasionally the family is visited by a woman Edward knows as Miss Lamb and all he knows about her is that she is his mother's best friend. Eventually he is sent to Eton to complete his education and here he meets one, Phoebus Daunt, who will have an unimaginable impact on his life.

Phoebus lives at Evenwood, a large stately home, where his mother, a cousin to the owner, Lord Tansor, has been busy ingratiating herself with him with a view to persuading him to make Phoebus his heir. When Phoebus conspires to get Edward expelled from Eton, it sets Edward on a lifelong course of revenge... and discovery. What is his own connection to Lord Tansor's dead first wife? Why does Evenwood seem familiar? And who actually was the woman who visited him as a child? Edward tells Phoebus as he leaves Eton that 'Revenge has a long memory' but does not envisage exactly how long and what he will have to go through to exact his revenge.

Wow. Just 'wow'. How can you sympathize with a murderer? Because a murderer is just what Edward Glyver is. He tells you what he did to an innocent man within the first few pages and you're horrified, but something tells you he has his reasons. And while you remain horrified, as you read on you can see the logic and can understand his motives. He is not the nicest of people himself. He's a manipulator, a bit of a womaniser, and indulges freely in the seedy underbelly of Victorian London. But still you realise that he has been unfairly treated by persons known and unknown and can't help but have some sympathy for his predicament. That's the work of a very good author, imo, when you can be made to feel sorry for a narrator who is not himself that pleasant a person.

I can well understand how this book took thirty years to write. It's a work of such cleverness and long research, and clearly a labour of love. The plot is intricate and twisted and the story so beautifully written; never a word out of place, it feels as though it's been written by someone of the Victorian age, when of course, it hasn't. Michael Cox was of my own generation! This is how to write a Victorian novel... I feel like flinging it at a few authors I could name who've made such a travesty of their attempts, but I won't go there. If you like a Victorian novel with a gothicky feel to it, secrets, a mystery that needs to be solved and excellent historical detail then look no further. And there is a sequel. The Glass of Time, published in 2008, before the author's death, picks up the story 20 years later. I can't wait to read it.

Thursday 4 November 2010

Throne of Jade and R.I.P. wrap-up

It's high time I wrote something here but it's been a hectic couple of weeks with grandchildren visiting and various bugs afflicting us all, so something had to go and reading and bookblogging was it. I'm hoping now for a nice quiet November, at the end of which we're away for several days holiday in South Wales again. Can't wait.

Anyway, because it's been so busy I've not read much and it took me two weeks to read Throne of Jade by Naomi Novik when it should have taken three or four days. No matter, if I prod myself often enough I might even come to realise that this reading thing I love so much is not a race.

Throne of Jade is book two in Naomi Novik's Temeraire fantasy series. In book one we saw how William Laurence, a captain in the navy at the time of the Napoleonic wars, became the companion of a Celestial dragon, Temeraire. By the end of that book the two are a fighting unit and this is the situation at the beginning of book two. But all is not well. Temeraire was seized as an egg from the French, the Chinese having given the egg to Emperor Napoleon. The Chinese want their dragon back and have sent a delegation. Against his better judgement Laurence and Temeraire embark on the sea voyage back to China to sort out the mess and try to ensure that the two can stay together. The voyage is hardly uneventful though and Laurence has his work cut out, not only communicating with the Chinese but in deciding which of them he can trust. And this is without the age-old friction between the dragon corps and the navy. And hanging over all is the reality that once dragon and companion get to China they could be separated forever.

This is such a good series. You might be forgiven for thinking that dragons and the Napoleonic war are scarcely a good mix but you would be mistaken. It works wonderfully - a sort of mix between Anne McCaffrey's wonderful Pern books and Hornblower. I like Laurence as a character but for me the star of the show is definitely the dragon himself, Temeraire. I love his mix of child-like wonderment at the world and high intelligence and the author seems to be working on creating a well rounded and attractive personality in him. But really it's the togetherness of dragon and companion that is the crux of these books, their utter faithfulness to each other; I really like that I have to admit.

The other thing I like is the armchair travel aspect. I thoroughly enjoyed the sea voyage part as I like books about sea voyages. The Chinese part was excellent too and felt realistic to me, but then I'm no expert. The travelling continues I believe as I know book 4, Empire of Ivory, is set in Africa.

Hopefully this is to be a long running series. According to the FantasticFiction page for Naomi Novik there should be six books out by now but I'm not sure this is the case. But anyway, I have the first four which is enough to keep me going for a little while. This is a good series if you love dragons or something a little different in your fantasy reading.


The last two months have flown by and with it Carl's
R.I.P. V challenge.

I was doing:

Read four books, any length, that you feel fits my very broad definition of scary. It could be Stephen King or Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Ian Fleming or Edgar Allan Poe…or anyone in between.

I read four books... was hoping to read more but it didn't happen and I have actually completed the challenge which, for me, this year, is a plus as my reading has been slower than normal. The books I read were:

Footsteps in the Dark by Georgette Heyer
Tales of Terror from the Tunnel's Mouth by Chris Priestley
Blood Sinister by Celia Rees
The Enchantment Emporium by Tanya Huff

I enjoyed them all. Couldn't pick a favourite really but if one was slightly (ever so) less enjoyable it would be Blood Sinister. If I have any regrets it's that I didn't manage to read anything really meaty for the challenge... the likes of The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova or The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield. Oh well, there's always next year and I do have a likely candidate on my current library pile - The Meaning of Night by Michael Cox. Too late for the challenge but no matter.

Anyway, thanks as always to Carl for hosting the R.I.P. challenge again this year.

Monday 25 October 2010

Three books in brief

As seems to be the case more often than not with me these days, I'm three books behind again. So here goes with another three book post.

First up: The Arsenic Labyrinth by Martin Edwards.

Some ten years ago a young woman, Emma Bestwick, disappeared in The Lake District and a journalist is pestering DCI Hannah Scarlett and her cold case team to reopen the case. Hannah is reluctant because it could be a simple case of the woman wanting to disappear, not a murder case, until someone starts calling the journalist with new information. Hannah reopens the case and is brought into contact with Daniel Kind again, as it was his father who headed the original case ten years ago. The attraction is still there and not helped by the fact that both of them are having troubles with their relationships with their partners. Hannah needs to employ all her skills as a detective to sort this one and keep Daniel out of her thoughts.

Brilliant. The first two books in this series were excellent and I think this one was even better. Fast paced, full of twists and turns, I just couldn't put this down. I like the use of an unknown narrator in parts of the book; that kept me guessing. I love the Lake Distrist setting but most off all I'm fascinated by Hannah and Daniel's relationship, and certain aspects of that move on apace in this instalment. Loved it and hope there are many more to come.

Next - A Beautiful Blue Death by Charles Finch.

Charles Lennox is an amateur detective in Victorian times. His neighbour and friend, Lady Jane, calls him in to investigate the murder of a former maid who left her service to work for the employer of her fiance. There are many suspects in the house and many secrets that Charles simply cannot fathom. Someone else dies during a ball and Charles has his work cut out to untangle the web of deceit and lies surrounding these murders.

Well, I made it to the end so that says something but 'oh dear'. So many factual errors, implausibilities and lord knows what else really annoyed me about this one. The jacket proudly announces that the author went to Cambridge and (I think) Harvard or Yale. Goodness, if that's the case you would have thought he could have done some decent research into the period and got his facts right. Best sentence, from a British, Victorian, peer of the realm: 'He must've gotten it from the maid!' I actually laughed out loud. Which is a shame because there was a decent mystery here, trying to get out, which is why I did actually make it to the end.

Lastly - Over the Gate by Miss Read.

More about the village of Fairacre and its village school mistress, Miss Read. Includes a ghost story, strange tales of the history of the village and its inhabitants, harvest festival, Christmas, the annual outing to the seaside and much more. Perfect bedtime reading, gentle, evocative, delightful. Bought for a quid in the market in Carmarthen - bargain!

Thursday 14 October 2010

Blood Sinister

It's getting colder here in England. Almost cold enough to put the heating on and certainly cold enough for spooky, autumnal reads. Thus, I've just finished my fourth book for Carl's R.I.P. V challenge and that book was a YA horror story, Blood Sinister by Celia Rees.

It (the graveyard) was a wild place, strange and dangerous. Public notices barred access for good reason. There were no real pathways left, it was easy to get lost, and the ground was honeycombed with crumbling vaults and passages. In some places huge holes yawned under a thin disguise of grass and brambles. In others one step was enough to break through rotten brick to a pit deep enough to hide a house. Besides, even on the brightest day, it was a place of shadows. Crowded on all sides by streets and houses, it remained an island of eerie silence.

Sixteen year old Ellen is ill. Very ill. Fading away in fact and her family and the medical profession have no idea of the cause. She is sent to stay with her grandmother in London to be closer to the best medical help and an old childhood friend, Andy, is brought in to try and cheer her up.

Then Ellen discovers her great-grandmother's diaries from when she was Ellen's age, in the attic, and begins to read. Her great-grandmother, also called Ellen, lived with her father who was a famous blood doctor. A man had come to stay, Count Franz Szekelys, his family known to her father while in Europe, but a stranger to Ellen. She doesn't like him, or his female companion, but her father seems strangely in thrall to these people.

Meanwhile, Andy, is proving a welcome diversion for the modern Ellen and they share the exicitement about the diaries. But her condition is not improving - if anything it's worsening and things come to a head when Ellen is admitted to hospital...

I wondered, while reading this book, what it would have been like if it had been written for adults. I decided it would have a lot more meat on its bones and imagined something like The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova. As it is, it's a Young Adult book and none the worse for that and I'm sure teens will enjoy it, but for me it lacked a bit of depth.

I liked the idea of Ellen discovering the diaries and that part was the most interesting for me - probably because I find Victorian Britain more interesting to read about in vampire yarns than modern. As can be seen from the quote above, there was a wonderful disused graveyard opposite Ellen's grandmothers's house but hardly any use was made of it in the book, even though it was quite important to the plot. (Two wonderful 'graveyard' books to my mind are Falling Angels by Tracey Chevalier and The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman.)

This is not a vampire yarn the like of which fill our bookshops at the moment. I quite like some of those but this made a nice change and was, in places, genuinely scary. Character-wise, I didn't really connect with Ellen or Andy, although the villain of the peace was pretty disturbing. That said, there was enough about the book to keep me reading to the end.

Not bad, a quick easy read... maybe get it from the library or nab my copy if you're really interested as it's going spare and will go back to the charity shop otherwise.

Wednesday 13 October 2010

Pam Ayres

For those of us with husbands who have decided opinions. ;-)


Sunday 10 October 2010

I am...

My lovely friend, Pat, at Here, There and Everywhere devised this meme/game from a book she was reading, and I thought I would give it a go. It turns out to be not as easy as I thought.

Make a list of 20 things beginning with "I am". Do not drop the "a".. it must read: I am a...)

1. I am a woman, wife, mother and grandmother.
2. I am a person who questions things.
3. I am a reader.
4. I am a lover of soup.
5. I am a TV fan.
6. I am a gardener.
7. I am a good listener.
8. I am a collector of jazzy socks.
9. I am a person who likes to please.
10. I am a person who is not good at saying 'no'.
11. I am a person who tries to tolerate fools but has limited success.
12. I am a fan of winter.
13. I am a person who loves the sea.
14. I am a person who sometimes needs to take a deep breath and ignore a slight or something that has nothing to do with me.
15. I am a cook.
16. I am a person whose closest friends are online.
17. I am a KFC junkie.
18. I am a person who survives on 5 to 6 hours sleep a night.
19. I am a person who can be, as my grandma used to say, 'daft as a brush'.
20. I am a citizen of the planet, Earth... and isn't it beautiful at this time of year:


Saturday 9 October 2010

White Nights

Crime writer, Ann Cleeves, is a newish discovery for me. I read about her Shetland series on several blogs before trying the first book, Raven Black, in May. I liked it a lot and, on a recent trip to the seaside town of Teignmouth, grabbed a copy of book two, White Nights, from their library.

The 'white nights' the title of this book refers to revolves around the fact that the Shetland Isles, where this series is set, is very close to the Arctic Circle and thus experiences hardly any hours of darkness during the summer. Instead there's a kind of permanent dusk all night, referred to as 'white nights'. Residents of the isles feel that this unnatural light almost causes a kind of madness amongst the population.

Jimmy Perez is at an art exhibition, publicising the work of his new girlfried, Fran, (who featured in the last book) and local artist, Bella, when a complete stranger has a breakdown. He professes to have amnesia but Jimmy is suspicious for some reason he can't put his finger on. The man disappears when Jimmy's back is turned and Jimmy returns to the exhibition. Next morning a body is found in a fishing hut and it is the unknown Englishman who caused the scene the night before.

Who is this man? And what did he know about about the inhabitants of the small coastal hamlet of Bidista? Specifically, four people in their fifties who have grown up together, Bella, the famous artist, Aggie, Kenny and his wife, Edith. It doesn't take Jimmy long to realise that there are secrets, not only amongst these four but also amongst their children and Bella's nephew, Roddy. It's a can of worms and Perez is not helped by the fact that, once again, he has to wait for a more senior officer to come from the mainland to help solve the case *and* by the fact that when Taylor arrives he has a hard time coping with the 'white nights'.

I think I enjoyed this more than Raven Black and Raven Black was not at all a bad book. I would call this a pageturner. Ann Cleeves's writing is very readable and pacey with a lot going on plotwise and the reader can't help but keep on turning the pages. Perhaps a lot of crime yarns are like this... I don't know as I'm fairly new to the genre... I just know that some of the crime authors I've come to love seem to write these kind of compulsive reads!

One of the things that appealed to me particualarly was the use of secrets in the plot. I do love a story where all is not as it seems and the characters have deep dark secrets that the reader has to try and guess at. I have to admit that I guessed who'd done the deed very early on. It didn't spoil my enjoyment because, of course, I had no idea if I was right, but I also wanted to know the background and reasons for the crime. Sometimes that can be more interesting than who the culprit actually is and the whole thing was skilfully handled, in my opinion.

My only other comment is how much I love the setting of the Shetland Isles. I've never been lucky enough to go but, judging from the beauty of Ann Cleeves's descriptions, it's a bleak but hauntingly beautiful place and I would love to visit one day. Maybe not in the summer though...

Sunday 3 October 2010

Three books catch-up post

I'm behind with book reviews again so this is a three book catch-up post, three quick reviews of books I've been reading over the past few weeks.

First up, Footsteps in the Dark by Georgette Heyer which is my book three for Carl's R.I.P. V challenge.

Siblings Celia, Peter and Margaret have inherited The Priory from an uncle. Along with Celia's husband, Charles, and an elderly aunt, they go down to stay for a few weeks. The Priory itself is a rambling old house with the ruins of the old priory in the grounds. The place has an atmosphere and the locals in the village are known to stay away because it's reputed to be haunted: 'The Monk' has been seen in the grounds and in the house. Peter and Charles pooh-pooh the idea that the house is haunted but the women are nervous. Things begin to go bump in the night and weird groans are heard, culminating in a skull falling down the stairs and the discovery of bones in a priest's hole. What's going on? Is someone trying to frighten them away? If so who? There are culprits galore, a drug addicted artist, a moth collector and two dubious looking men staying at the inn. All have been caught wandering in the grounds of The Priory. Can the mystery be solved before someone is seriously hurt or even murdered?

This was great fun. I've read many of Heyer's Georgian and Regency romances and love them to bits but had no idea whether I would like her mysteries. Footsteps in the Dark was written in 1930s so is, of course, of its time. The main characters all speak with clipped, upper class, English accents, such as you might have heard in films of the period. Heyer's trade-mark humour is very apparent in the dialogue and in characters such as the planchette addicted, hard of hearing, old aunt. Someone on Amazon likened the plot to an episode of Scooby Doo... I laughed but yes, they are spot on actually. Personally, I saw Enid Blyton for adults, with secret passages, hidden entrances to the house and all kinds of skulduggery and high jinks going on, plus a bit of romance. Loved it and will definitely read more of Georgette Heyer's mysteries.

Next, Summer by Edith Wharton.

Charity Royall is the adopted daughter of Lawyer Royall. She was originally from the nearby 'mountain', a rather mysterious area where the small population live in abject poverty. Bored and frustrated in the small rural town in Massachusetts, Charity manages to secure a job as the sole librarian in the town library. In walks Lucius Harney, one day, an architect studying local old houses. Charity gradually gets to know him and, seeing her escape route from small town to big city, embarks on an affair, scandalising her father and the entire village.

This is only my second book by Edith Wharton (the first being The House of Mirth) although I have read a few of her supernatural short stories. The writing is always fantastic, readable and beautifully descriptive. The sense of being in the mountains of Massachusetts was atmospheric and overwhelming. But so was Charity's closeted, stultified life - and her desire to get out quite understandable. Edith Wharton clearly understood that vast armies of women were bored stupid by their lives and that this could drive them to reckless actions that, sadly, were often their undoing. This is not a cheerful book but one that teenage girls should read, imo, if only to understand how fortunate 21st. century women are in that they have opportunities girls like Charity could only dream of. Superb read.

Summer is my first book for the Classics challenge. Realistically, I don't think I'll be finishing this one, as it ends on the 31st of this month and I can't see me fitting in three more classics before then.

And lastly, Icons of England edited by Bill Bryson.

I'm pinching the Amazon synopsis for this as it's quite a few weeks since I finished it:

This celebration of the English countryside does not only focus on the rolling green landscapes and magnificent monuments that set England apart from the rest of the world. Many of the contributors bring their own special touch, presenting a refreshingly eclectic variety of personal icons, from pub signs to seaside piers, from cattle grids to canal boats, and from village cricket to nimbies. First published as a lavish colour coffeetable book, this new expanded paperback edition has double the original number of contributions from many celebrities including Bill Bryson, Michael Palin, Eric Clapton, Bryan Ferry, Sebastian Faulks, Kate Adie, Kevin Spacey, Gavin Pretor-Pinney, Richard Mabey , Simon Jenkins, John Sergeant, Benjamin Zephaniah, Joan Bakewell, Antony Beevor, Libby Purves, Jonathan Dimbleby, and many more: and a new preface by HRH Prince Charles.

Delightful, this one. Much of it was various celeb's memories of their childhood haunts, which to me was nice as I have similar childhood haunt memories of my own from 1960s Cornwall. And it seems we remember the same things - running wild in the woods, fields and streams, not getting home until teatime and then out again first thing in the morning. I suppose there must've been rainy days but I don't remember any. Since then, this kind of childhood has all but disappeared and how tragic is that? Of course there are other, more unusual choices. Tony Robinson chooses Mick Aston, the Time Team archaeologist, for instance (I agree!) and one person chose a Victorian sewage works in London. The funniest to my mind was Bill Bryson himself, questioning the point of seaside piers. Very enjoyable, recommended as a bedtime read or for American Anglophiles who will love it.

Saturday 25 September 2010

Tales of Terror from the Tunnel's Mouth

Autumn is now officially here, although it's been feeling distinctly autumnal in the UK for several weeks now. This weekend temps have dipped sharply - the prevailing wind coming from the arctic apparently - and now it really does feel like summer is well and truly over and it's time to get warm socks and cardies out again. So it's the perfect time of year for creepy stories and for getting on with reading for Carl's R.I.P. V challenge. Tales of Terror from the Tunnel's Mouth by Chris Priestley is my second book for this challenge.

Robert is returning to boarding school and he's quite pleased about that because, even though he's not popular there, it's better than being at home with his stepmother. His father is away fighting in the Boer War and Robert actually feels he would prefer to be there rather than spend his holidays with his father's 'dreary amd irritating' wife. As they are sitting on the platform waiting for the train his stepmother falls asleep. She wakes suddenly and it seems she has a premonition dream in which something terrible happens to Robert. Robert pooh-poohs her fears and sets off on the train, glad to be rid of her.

Sitting in a carriage with various dinified gentlemen, Robert himself drops off. When he wakes he discovers that the train has stopped in front of a tunnel and a rather strange woman is now sitting opposite him. They get into conversation but try as he might Robert cannot discover why the train has stopped or what the hold-up is. Instead the woman regales him with various macabre tales. He hears about, amongst others, Oscar, whose father is obsessed with growing some very odd tropical plants; about Penelope who hates her stepsister and discovers that she has some magical friends who are not quite what they seem; about Davy whose father takes him off to the Western Isles of Scotland to live and is warned to keep away from the ancient Crotach Stone on the beach, and about Sister Veronica, the devout nun who doesn't see her come-uppance coming...

Robert tries to hide the fact that he's becoming more and more frightened at the tone of the stories. He dubs the storyteller 'The Woman in White'. But who is she and why are the other travellers in his carriage so deeply asleep that they can't be roused. And why does The Woman in White want him to also fall asleep?

As a lover of M.R. James's rather academic and atmospheric creepy stories I find these 'Tales of Terror' books by Chris Priestley to be irresistible. They're written after the style of the Edwardian writer and done so brilliantly that they're impossible to put down once you start reading. As with the first two books, The Tunnel's Mouth is illustrated by David Roberts and the drawings couldn't be more perfect; they complement these weird tales beautifully.

Apart from this book there are two others: Uncle Montague's Tales of Terror and Tales of Terror from the Black Ship (I defy anyone to read 'Nature' from that collection and not be wonderfully revolted and terrified) and all three books stand alone. As with the previous two books, Tunnels is a short story collection linked by a background story. This I find to be a very effective method of story-telling and one I'd not come across before. It adds suspense and cohesion to a form that can be a bit tedious as you work your way through numerous stories... in this format, wanting to know how the background mystery resolves itself keeps you turning the pages. Not that you need a lot of encouragement to do that anyway, but still. Highly recommended but anyone thinking of giving these to very young children should possibly consider how sensitive they are first - there is even a warning to that effect on the back covers. 'Grandmas' like me probably need not worry themselves. Much.

Wednesday 22 September 2010

Wales - Aug/Sept

We were in Wales for a few days at the beginning of the month and as usual I took lots of photos, a few of which I thought I'd share. That particular week we struck gold with the weather and had a glorious few days of sunshine which wasn't too hot for comfort. The following week it poured down and we wouldn't have been half as free to wander as we were. Anyway, August Bank holiday saw us in Cardiff and we discovered a lovely little town called Penarth where they have a wonderful cliff-top promenade area for walking.

The view up-river. If you click a couple of times you can just see the bridge that crosses the Bristol Channel:

Down-river. The view is across to England and the coast of Somerset. The islands are Flatholm and Steepholm. The next indistinct bump is The Quantocks in Somerset, close to where we used to live, and the next bump is actually part of the mainland - Weston-super-Mare.

The next day we took the park and ride into Cardiff itself. Brilliant. Hubby didn't have to drive into the city, find somewhere to park and so on and so on. Recommend it to anyone.

Cardiff Castle. We didn't do the tour as we thought that the charge of almost £10 was a bit steep.

Next, it was onto the open top tour bus and down to Cardiff Bay where we were planning to see the Dr. Who exhibition. There as well is The Cardiff Millenium Centre for all things opera, ballet, musicals and so on. The Torchwood connection is that the lift from The Hub comes up here somewhere but as there were building works going on, it wasn't very obvious where exactly. But the building is amazing:

Inside the entertainment complex, where the Dr. Who exhibition was, I spotted this rather wonderful muriel:

The Dr. Who exhibition... Cybermen, Daleks etc... all great fun:

From there it was but a short stroll to Mermaid Wharf where we saw the Welsh National Assembly building:

A carousel:

A building I can't name but I loved the Victorian tower.

And this view where we sat and ate a picnic lunch along with loads of others out enjoying the end of summer sunshine.

This is across Cardiff Bay to Penarth, on the headland, where we'd been the day before. I have to say we fell completely in love with Cardiff and its beautiful surrounding countryside and coastline. So much to see and do, the people all so friendly - just an all round brilliant city. More photos to come as that's only about half of them!