Thursday 29 September 2011

The Small Hand

This next book covers not one but *two* challenges. It's my book five for Carl's R.I.P. VI challenge, and covers a book with 'size' in the title for the What's In A Name challenge which is being hosted by Beth Fish Reads. The book is The Small Hand by Susan Hill.

Adam Snow is an antiquarian book dealer, dealing in the high end of the book market. His business takes him all over the world, and indeed the UK, and one evening he's on his way back to London from Sussex, having decided to take the scenic route, when he gets lost. He finds himself on a bit of a dirt track which leads to a large house. The sign says 'Garden closed' and, assuming that he'll be able to get directions at the house, Adam enters the garden. It doesn't take him long to realise that the house has fallen into disrepair and the garden likewise, but he pushes on to explore his surroundings a bit more.

'I stood in the dim green-lit clearing and above my head a silver paring of moon cradled the evening star. The birds had fallen silent. There was not the slightest stirring of the air.

And as I stood I felt a small hand creep into my right one, as if a child had come up beside me in the dimness and taken hold of it...'

And thus begin some rather strange events. Adam finds that the small hand is now a presence in his life. At first comforting, it suddenly because less so. It seems the hand is trying to force him to jump into water. On a trip to a monastry in France to look over a Shakespeare folio, and lost in the mountains, the hand tries to force him to jump over a precipice.

There is a definite mystery here. Or is Adam having a break-down like his brother, Hugo, some years ago? Slowly Adam unravels some strange facts about the house and its previous owners who renovated the garden and made it world-famous. But will he able to get to the heart of the mysterious events before he is literally killed by a ghost?

Well, this one got some mixed reviews on Amazon and, I seem to recall, mixed reviews in the blogasphere too. Personally, I really liked it. But then I'm a real sucker for a beautifully told ghost story that harks back to another time. Because, although this story is set in the present day, it actually feels almost Edwardian. The style of writing, the bookish, academic sort of background, and the way in which the garden and house are depicted, are all reminiscent of ghost stories written at the turn of the last century. And I particularly liked the section set in the French monastry... so peaceful and calming that I actually wanted to go there.

I can't say the ending was much of a surprise. And for those who like their ghost stories to scare them out of their wits this will not fit the bill. It's atmospheric and creepy, and just the sort of excellent writing you would expect from the author of one of my favourite ever ghost yarns, The Woman in Black, and the Simon Serrailler crime series. I confess I am quite a fan of her writing and, for me anyway, this ghost story more than lived up to my expectations. It's physically a beautiful little book which I'll definitely be adding to my permanent collection of supernatural tales.

Friday 23 September 2011


I seem to be on a roll with Carl's R.I.P. VI challenge at the moment, making the most of some quiet time, even though I'm very busy intermittently. I've just finished my fourth book for it, Eclipse by Stephenie Meyer.

This is book three of the author's 'Twilight' series and I'll keep this fairly brief I think, partly to avoid spoilers for the first two books, but also I imagine most people who want to read this series probably already have and the rest have no interest whatsoever! Less than no interest in some cases. LOL.

Bella is about to graduate from High school. Her and Edward, a vampire, are still an item but things are complicated by her close friend, Jacob, who is part of a Native American werewolf pack. Bella finds herself torn between the two of them but the uneasy truce which exists between Edward's vampire family and the werewolf pack is close to breaking point.

It's suddenly noticed that Seattle is experiencing a string of grisly murders, too many for the normal run of things. Edward thinks it must be a coven of newly made vampires, running out of control. One night Bella discovers that her room has been searched and items of clothing taken. Are these occurrences linked? Bella knows that the vampire, Victoria is still after her, could she be behind the murders?

Bella's friend Jacob is violently opposed to Bella's plans for the rest of her life, which of course intimately involve Edward. She will eventually have to decide between the two of them, but neither are making it easy. Far from it, they seem determined to make her life as complicated as they can. On the other hand both are sworn to protect her and it looks increasingly like their services may well be required in the very near future.

Well, this series doesn't get the best press. All kinds of accusations of poor writing, clich├ęd plotting, unrealistic morals and goodness knows what else are bandied about. I must be a lot less picky than most as I actually quite like the books. They're not perfect by any stretch of the imagination. I dislike the way Bella's life is completely ruled by the two men in her life. Her every thought and action revolves around them and that's unhealthy, imo. Girls these days have many options, that of being a girlfriend being just one thing to be included in a well rounded life. That said, her situation is rather unique...

But really, I don't think these books are read by anyone because of their literary merit. They're escapism pure and simple. My youngest daughter is reading them at the moment while she waits for her surgery and they fit the bill very nicely. She's loving the whole series and escaping from a reality that isn't too great just now, so I'm actually very grateful to Stephenie Meyer!

I enjoyed this third book anyway. It was an easy, well paced read, a bit silly but then there's no harm in that as I can tell the difference between a well written, excellent book and one that's just written for escapism. And honestly? I think the vast majority of people can too. Looking forward to reading the fourth and final installment to see what Bella actually does...

Monday 19 September 2011

The Blood Detective

Autumn is well and truly with us now and thankfully things are quieter at the moment so I'm able to catch up a bit on my reading. I finished Barchester Towers *at last* (loved it but more on that at a later date) and have read another book for Carl's R.I.P. VI challenge. It was my third book and was The Blood Detective by Dan Waddell.

The mutilated body of a man is found in a London churchyard. His hands are missing and then DCI Grant Foster also discovers some numbers and a letter scratched onto the body. The police team have no idea what this means until DS Heather Jenkins suggests it might be the index number required when certificates are ordered for tracing your family history. Her mother traced hers recently and it reminds her of that. They contact the researcher her mother used, Nigel Barnes, and he and the team set about investigating at various archives.

Another murder is committed with the same thing scratched onto the body and then it's discovered that a tramp who died before all this started was also a victim of what appears to be a serial killer. But what is it all about? Through some patient research Barnes discovers a link with five murders back in 1879. Are these copy-cat killings? There has to be a reason that someone is doing this. And the most pressing question, who will be the next to die? Can the team solve the riddle in time to save the lives of two more potential victims?

Reading this book was quite like watching an episode of the family history TV series, Who Do You Think You Are?, which is appropriate as Dan Waddell wrote a book of that title, presumably connected to the TV programme. I'm a great fan of the programme so that was fine by me, I found everything about the plot fascinating and and couldn't put the book down.

At first I wasn't sure if it was suitable for R.I.P. but then the connection with some very macabre killings in Victorian times appeared and I realised it very much was. Most of the book takes part in the present day but there are occasional flash-backs which are atmospheric and creepy and very well done. The author clearly knows London very well and as he almost takes you on a tour of the city's streets, not only as they are now as but they once were.

I loved all the family history stuff. Some might find all the details of the research a little tedious but to me it was fascinating. I had no idea that some of these archives are so popular and busy and that arguments break out over books of records. Genealogy is obviously a really popular pastime now!

Character-wise I suppose I found the book 'so-so'. Maybe the author could have delved a little deeper. We're given some background information about the various investigating officers and Nigel Barnes but it was a trifle sketchy. But then this is a book about a series of horrifying murders and as such it's appropriate really that the author concentrated on that. Plus there is another book - and maybe more after that, I don't know - so presumably we'll find out more as the books progress.

I own the second book, Blood Atonement, and will certainly be reading that at some stage. Book one was an easy, quick read, well plotted - I didn't guess the culprit until near the end when it became obvious - and is what one would term 'a real pageturner'... perfect for R.I.P.

Tuesday 13 September 2011

The Gates

I seem to be having a slow reading month, I suppose for obvious reasons, but only to have read two books by the middle of the month is slow even by my 'not very quick' reading standards. Oh well, it's not a race to see who can read the most books in a year... if it was I would surely lose anyway! LOL. *And* the two books I have read were both for Carl's R.I.P. VI challenge so that's progress in itself because it means I'm already halfway through the challenge, although I do actually hope to read more than four books for it.

Anyway, my second book for Carls' R.I.P. VI challenge is The Gates by John Connolly.

Samuel Johnson is eleven years old and lives with his mum and beloved dog, Boswell. Until recently his dad lived there too, but he left them to go and live with a younger woman.

Samuel has decided, for one reason or another, to start his trick or treating several nights before the 31st. October. He knocks on the door of number 666 Crowley Avenue, the home of a couple called Abernathy, and gets told to hop it. Only Samuel doesn't hop it: he hangs around. What he sees through the window of the basement of the house, involving the Abernathys and their friends, the Renfields, scares him half to death. He needs desperately to tell someone but when he tries to tell, first his father on the phone, and then his mother, that the Abernathys have been taken over by demons and the gates of hell will soon be opened to release the devil into the world, no one takes any notice and when they do they think Samuel's been playing too many computer games.

Things start to happen... a demon is sent to occupy the space under his bed and then a dark shadow nearly destroys him and Boswell one night... and Samuel realises that Mrs. Abernathy - the chief demon - knows that he was a witness to what happened in the basement. So far, Samuel has dealt with these attempts on his life efficiently but he knows he needs help. He happens to see something on the news about the Large Hadron Collider and realises that there might be a connection between his problem and one that the scientists in charge of that are having, so Samuel drops them an e.mail. In the meantime he has two good school friends to help him deal with the demons but the reality is that Mrs. Abernathy will stop at nothing to destroy Samuel...

John Connolly is probably best known for two things, his Charlie Parker series of crime/mystery books, which I haven't read but my husband loves, and a book that was really popular a couple of RIPs ago, entitled The Book of Lost Things which I have read. I've also read his Nocturnes... a book of weird tales that are among the best I've ever read. I had no idea what to expect from this which he states is 'A strange novel for strange young people'. Well it's obviously perfect for strange grandmas too, as I really enjoyed it.

And I mean 'enjoyed' as the book quite simply, is great fun. Although this is definitely a book that features hellish things, the emphasis is really on humour of the Terry Pratchett variety. There are humorous foot-notes and lovely comments about the absurdity of life and grown-ups. And problems are solved bizarrely such as Samuel's friend, Tom, using his cricketing skills to bat flying demons to death. Or Samuel discussing the situation with the demon under his bed, who isn't very good at his job, and them deciding that Samuel is just not scared of him so he may as well go...

There are references or little nods all through the book to other authors and works, Samuel's name, for instance, and his dog is called Boswell; Samuel goes to Montague Rhodes James Secondary school; there's a Reverend Ussher and so on. It's fun spotting the references. There's also quite a lot of science info along the way, I learnt quite a lot about the Hadron Collider, all interesting to me but maybe not to everyone.

What else? I think I've said most of it... the characterisation is good, the demon 'Nurd' is probably my favourite of the lot, the demons are fun rather than terrifying and the plot fair whips along. I love the cover of this edition which states the title, The Gates, and underneath says... 'of hell are about to open... mind the gap'. (London underground reference... well *I* laughed.)

And it turns out this is book one of a series. And what did I find in the library this morning? Book two, just out, which I'll definitely be reading for the challenge in a few weeks.

Sunday 11 September 2011

R.I.P. short stories

One of the most pleasurable part of Carl's RIP challenges for me is the short story option.

I feel some of the best ghost writing of all was written in short story form and it's staggering how many famous authors dabbled in the genre even though supernatural writing may not have been their usual fare. It's also staggering how very very good they were at it and how beautiful the writing was even on the rare occasion that the story might not have been that great.

Anyway, I probably have a busy weekend coming up so my short story weekend is a bit premature, but I wanted to take part, so I'm reading yesterday and today but will probably not post until Sunday or Monday.

These are several of the books I've been reading from:

The first story I read was from Collected Ghost Stories by M.R. James and is entitled A School Story.

Two men sit by a roaring fire discussing ghost stories that might have revolved around private schools. I particularly like this as an illustration of the way school boys scare the living daylights out of each other:

'Then there was the man who heard a noise in the passage at night, opened his door, and saw someone crawling towards him on all fours with his eye hanging out on his cheek. There was besides, let me think - Yes! the room where a man was found dead in bed with a horshoe mark on his forehead, and the floor under the bed was covered with marks of horseshoes also; I don't know why. Also there was the lady who, on locking her bedroom door in a strange house, heard a thin voice among the bed-curtains say, "Now we're shut in for the night." None of those had any explanation or sequel. I wonder if they go on still those stories.'

I particularly like that last one! Of course, as is the way with the raconteur type of ghost story, one of the men goes on to tell of the one and only strange happening at his school. It involves a teacher who arrives to teach Latin, boys who unknowingly write strange Latin sentences when set exercises, which scare the teacher for reasons unknown, and what then happens to said teacher. I don't think this was one of James' best ghost yarns but it was nicely written and absorbing all the same. You can actually listen to it here on YouTube if the fancy takes you:

The next one I read was another by M.R. James, An Episode of Cathedral History.

A Mr. Lake is employed to examine and report on the Cathedral of Southminster's archives. He stays with the head verger, a Mr. Worby and said verger, as usual in front of good fire, recalls an event in the cathedral when he was a young lad. It seems the Dean was greatly into the new gothic style and decided to rip up the choir stalls and pulpit area. A tomb is revealed and then strange things start to happen at night in the cathedral close... A very good story this one. James uses the word 'cathedraly' to describe the verger's house and I think it's also a perfect word to describe the story. It reminded me of Trollope's Barchester stories to be honest. Beautifully written and nicely creepy.

My next story was one by E.F. Benson, Sea Mist from the anthology, Desirable Residences. Benson is probably best known for his Mapp and Lucia books, but he was also a darn good writer of excellent ghost stories.

This one concerns a John Verrall who owns a grocery shop in a seaside town, but is also a town worthy... councillor, alderman and now mayor. His wife, Caroline, is ten years older than him and they have no children. Their main hobby is to go walking along the marshes... the husband collecting butterflies and the wife studying the plantlife. One night Verrall gets home from one of these walks to report that his wife has gone missing. Eventually, in the ruins of an old castle, they find her body: she's fallen forty feet from some ruined steps and been killed. The story then follows what happens to the mayor. I'm not going into it as it's a beautifully told story where the reader becomes very involved and the suspense slowly builds. Just the kind of thing you would expect from a writer of Benson's quality. Excellent!

My fourth and final story for this weekend session was The Ghost of Massingham Mansions by Ernest Bramah, and comes from The Shadows of Sherlock Holmes edited by David Stuart Davies, a book of detective stories written at the time Holmes stories were being penned.

Bramah apparently wrote crime fiction around a blind detective by the name of Max Carrados. This story concerns Carrados and private detective friend, Carlyle, investigating a mysterious occurence at a local block of appartments. It seems an empty flat with no gas supply and the water cut off is showing gaslight late at night and the neighbours keep hearing baths being run. When the flat is approached by anyone investigating all activity ceases. Great fun this one with one of the most unusual outcomes I've ever come across. I gather Carrados usually solves crimes with his Butler, Parkinson, and that sounds unusual enough for me to look into these books at some stage.

I have loads of other stories I want to read including, Mr Jones by Edith Wharton and a freebie from Neil Gaiman that Susan of You Can Never Have too Many Books put me onto. I've downloaded both of these to my Kindle, so perhaps next weekend my short stories will all be Kindle reads.

Thursday 8 September 2011

Bone Crossed

I finished my first book for Carl's R.I.P. VI challenge a few days ago but not had a chance to review it... things being rather stressful and busy here at the moment. But I have a free afternoon, almost, so thought I'd have a go at a brief review of Bone Crossed by Patricia Briggs, which is book 4 in her Mercy Thompson series of books.

Mercy Thompson is a car mechanic, but she is also a 'walker'... a human who can turn into a coyote. Not only that she is mated - in name but not in fact - to Adam Hauptman who is the alpha male of the Tri-cities werewolf pack. Mercy has discovered that her kind have a talent for slaying vampires and were almost olbliterated by European vampires when they moved to the North American continent some centuries ago.

The problem for Mercy is that she has upset Marsilia, the queen of the local vampire seethe, by killing one of her own, a vampire who was constructing monsters for a pastime. One night her garage is vandalised and some weird crossed bones are painted on the doors. Realising it might be best to make herself scarce for a while, Mercy goes to visit Amber, a school friend, who has asked Mercy to check her house out as her son feels it's being haunted by a vindictive ghost. What may or may not complicate matters is that the area where Amber and her family live is ruled over by a lone vampire who is very powerful and very territorial... one, James Blackwood.

Arriving at the house Mercy is dismayed to find that the guest for dinner that evening is none other than James Blackwood. Is he in someway responsible for the haunting in Amber's house? When she wakes the next morning and finds she's been bitten by a vampire but can remember nothing of it, Mercy knows she has a problem.

Hard to think of anything to say that I've not already said about this wonderful series. Patricia Briggs is very good at writing engaging characters like Mercy, but also enigmatic ones such as Adam, her mate, or downright dangerous ones such as Blackwood. She injects suspense and humour and makes it seem effortless, though I'm sure it is not. I like the mix of various supernatural beings, werewolves, vampires, the fae... who I think are particularly interesting... and Mercy herself of course. Some of them have come out to the world at large and some have not and it's quite fascinating to see how the author deals with this as regards the plots of her books. I foresee much more trouble ahead. At least I hope so as I love reading about Mercy's adventures and want more! I have one more book to read in paperback and I think another is now out in hardback. Brilliant. Can't wait and will probably read the next one, Silver Borne, for this challenge in a week or two.

Book title meme

I sat late last night having a bit of fun with this meme which I nabbed from Fleur Fisher reads. You have to use the titles of the books you've read this year to answer the questions.


One time at band/summer camp, I played: Battles at Thrush Green (Miss Read)

Weekends at my house are: Lost in a Good Book (Jasper Fforde)

My neighbour is: Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close (Jonathan Safran Foer)

My boss is: The Warden (Anthony Trollope)

My ex was: Crossing the Line (Karen Traviss)

My superhero secret identity is: Dark Fire (C.J. Sansom)

You wouldn't like me when I'm angry because: Our Spoons Came from Woolworths (Barbara Comyns)

I'd win a gold medal in: Eating for England (Nigel Slater)

I'd pay good money for: The House at Sea's End (Elly Griffiths)

If I were president, I would: do Flying Visits (Clive James)

When I don't have good books, I: Vanish (Tess Gerritsen)

Loud talkers at the movies should be: Bone Crossed (Patricia Briggs)


I'm not sure what to say about my replies... as little as possible might be best.

Tuesday 6 September 2011

Books for August

Well, here we are, nearly a week into September and I haven't done a 'Books read in August' post yet. My excuse is that last weekend was rather stressful. Our youngest daughter is on the priority list for spinal surgery - she had a bad weekend and we had to step in to help. *But*, thank goodness, she's now on new nerve suppressant meds and coping much better. Fingers crossed that she gets a date for surgery soon.

Anyway... the books I read in August. An average month for me due, naturally, to being preoccupied with my daughter and grandson, but also having our grand-daughter to stay and harvesting from the garden. The harvesting has slowed down a bit (though I'm still making jam and cooking tomatoes!) as autumn is setting in here and it's very much cooler than it was a couple of weeks back. So, here're my August reads:

52. Miracle at Speedy Motors - Alexander McCall Smith
53. A Wild Life - Dick Pitman
54. Our Spoons Came from Woolworths - Barbara Comyns
55. Howards End is on the Landing - Susan Hill
56. The House at Sea's End - Elly Griffiths
57. Queste - Angie Sage

Every one of them was a good read. Hard to pick a favourite but it would probably have to be The House at Sea's End, Elly Griffiths' latest Ruth Galloway novel. It was just brilliant. Such a wonderful sense of place... the Norfolk coast... and having been there I know the author has it spot on. Fast pacey plot with a lot of development with Ruth and her personal life. Great stuff.

At the moment I'm almost finished with Bone Crossed by Patricia Briggs, my first read for RIP VI. Loving it. And I'm also slowly working my way through Barchester Towers by Anthony Trollope. When Bone Crossed is finished I'll probably read something else for RIP... the trouble is I'm spoilt for choice (see previous post) and I even picked up two library books for the challenge yesterday!! But in my defense, the weather here is perfect for curling up with a good book as it's pouring with rain and really rather autumnal. Happy Reading.