Tuesday 28 February 2012

What to read next?

I'm having one of those episodes, quite common for me, in which I can't decide what to read next. The reason is the usual: too much choice. And I don't help myself with this dilemma at all... browsing Amazon for free Kindle books for instance. I've just downloaded Hardy's Wessex Tales and The Return of the Native, purely because I've, shamefully, never read any Hardy and want to *sometime* this year. Ha! Even I think that's funny. If I actually do, it'll be a miracle of biblical proportions...

The other thing I ought to try a lot harder to resist, is trolling round Amazon late at night. The novels of Robert Silverberg are my latest thing and I spotted this apparently 'classic' sci-fi collection of his:

I did stop to read a bit about the stories, I really really did, but to tell the honest truth - I took one look at that cover and that was it, I had to have it. It's in the post as we speak.

And I've just finished this:

I'm Half Sick of Shadows by Alan Bradley, book four in his Flavia De Luce series. It was huge fun but I don't feel likde doing a long review so will probably just mention it in my monthly round-up post. I do recommend this series to anyone who likes a fun crime series though. Flavia is completely wonderful and the books just get better and better.

Another way in which I don't help myself in my 'what to read next' quandaries is the library. Two more books on reserve have just come in - Miss Read's Thrush Green books as a matter of fact. I haven't read any Thrush Green since this time last year and I was feeling the lack. And while I was there I spotted an anthology edited by Neil Gaiman and Al Sarrentonio, simply entitled, Stories. Loads of interesting authors in this: Joanne Harris, Peter Straub, Diana Wynne Jones, Gene Wolfe, Lawrence Block and so on. Of course I couldn't resist and now it's on my library shelf...

But I was still dilly-dallying about what to read next, and so... browsing my own shelves I came across this:

America Observed by Alistair Cooke. Anyone of a certain age in the UK will remember Cooke's Letters from America on the radio. I remember listening to them as a child and being fascinated by this country far across the Atlantic that I was sure I would never get to visit. But Cooke was also a newspaper man and from 1946 to 1972 wrote columns for The Guardian about life in the USA. I started to read, the first one was a little piece from 1946 about Christmas...

Up from Florida comes a postcard containing the gentle sneer of a friend, naked under a coconut palm. Down from Vermont the apologies of an invited guest, buried in his farm under thirty inches of snow. From Hollywood we hear the alarmingly modest confession that it would be nice once in a while to see some of God's own snow, as distinct from the usual studio product of sand and limestone with a coating of cornflakes. Only New York, suspended precariously between the American Arctic and the American tropics at about the latitude of Madrid, can keep up its chronic conceit that everything about it, including the climate, is typical of the best and brightest in American life. This, on Christmas Eve, means a temperature in the low forties, 'considerable cloudiness and shifting winds'.

And this (still 1946 remember):

Down in the Carolinas, Federal agents were still hunting the hills for moonshiners, one of whom this week, caught working an illicit still on a mountainside, was reported not to have heard that the Prohibition Act had been repealed. 'Wait until President Harding hears about this' is the uncomfirmed report of what his brother said.

And to finish:

To Americans with friendships in England there was a further last-minute cause for rejoicing, for the New York Times reports that 'Britain rejoiced today when a thaw set in after the coldest night of the year'. Sympathetic readers who imagined Minnesota's twenty below zero, or even New York's fourteeen above ten days ago, were puzzled by the news that the thermometer was only in the twenties. However, The New York Times charitably explains that 'Britain is always ill-equipped for cold spells because of the lack of steam heating and the faulty construction of windows in most houses'. A murrain on you, British builders, a chattering New Year to you, members of the National Glaziers and Plasterers union!

Joyous, absolutely 'joyous'! I'd forgotten what a wonderful writer Alistair Cooke was, and how funny. By the way, I had to look 'murrain' up... it has a few meanings but in this context it means 'a plague'. I'm still not sure what I'm going to read next but what I am going to do, along with my current enjoyment of Debo Devonshire's various fascinating thoughts in All in One Basket, is enjoy some of these wonderful American dispatches from Alistair Cooke.

I hope you're all having better luck than me in deciding what to read?


Saturday 25 February 2012

Saturday snapshot

Two Saturday snapshots in a row! Goodness, what are things coming to!

This week I was in a mountains and forests kind of a mood after finishing and reviewing Love and War in the Apennines by Eric Newby. The UK is not famous for its mountains and forests, although Scotland has a few. My best ever experience of those two wonderful natural features was this:

Sometimes I have to pinch myself to make myself realise that in September 2005 I was actually in the USA, standing in this spot in the Shenandoah National Park, on the Skyline Drive, looking at this stunning view. I hope I get to go back one day.

More Saturday snapshots can be viewed here on
At Home With Books.

Friday 24 February 2012

Three book post

It's high time I did a book post here as I have three books that have not been reviewed. I'll do my usual thing when this happens of a brief chat about all three. Starting with a crime story, A Cold Day for Murder by Dana Stabenow.

Kate Shugak is an ex-detective with the Anchorage DA department. She left after a particularly nasty case and is now living alone within 'The Park', a huge national park in Alaska. But two investigators have gone missing in the park, the second when he went to look for the first, and Kate, being a native Aleut, born and brought up there, is the the one her ex-bosses turn to to find them. Kate is extremely reluctant to work for the DA department again but as the second missing man was someone she was involved with, she has no choice. Kate's search involves close friends and family that she hasn't seen for a while. It brings back memories she'd rather not delve into and makes her face again the harsh realities of life for the native population in modern Alaska.

This is a series of books I've been meaning to start for a while. I did actually buy the slim paperback a couple of years ago but when I saw it was free for Kindle I downloaded it and read it that way. I'm a little ambivilent about it to be truthful. I did really like the character of Kate Shugak: she's thoughtful, honest and strong. But where the plot was concerned I suppose I expected a mystery in which Kate took off into the NP and there would be loads about the gorgeousness of the Alaskan landscape. It wasn't really like that at all. There was far more about the problems of the Aleuts... no jobs for young people, the temptations of drink and drugs and so on. To the extent really that the mystery took second place. And while I feel I learnt a fair bit about the problems of the state, and that's *good*, I also would really have liked more about the mystery itself. It just seemed to me that she didn't have to do much to solve it. I rather suspect these books get better as they go along as I know they have some dedicated followers among my blogging friends. My library doesn't have them so I'll watch out for cheap Kindle downloads to continue with the series.

Next: Look Back With Love by Dodie Smith.

This is the first of four autobiographies written by Dodie Smith, the famous author of 101 Dalmations and I Capture the Castle. Dodie was born in the late 1800s, her father died young and Dodie and her mother, Ella, went back to live with her parents, William and Margaret Furber. Already living with the grandparents were various of Ella's brothers and sisters, so what you had was one huge, happy household in which Dodie was doted on and never short of someone to talk to. They moved several times so there are delightful descriptions of the enormous houses they lived in, in and around Old Trafford in Manchester. Gradually the aunts married and moved away but the uncles never did and their prime function it seems was to tease Dodie and keep her grounded. She had young friends from families who were close friends of the Furbers and we have lovely details of how they all passed the time... often involving performing of some kind or visits to the theatre. Dodie was a natural performer and it was her ardent wish be an actress when she grew up. Her mother eventually remarried and the small family moved to London where the book ends and the next one, Look Back With Mixed Feelings, presumably begins. I found this a delightful read, very evocative of the times and full of a sort of zest for life. Though Dodie describes herself as not a particularly happy child, taking things such as the treatment of animals rather too seriously, that isn't really backed up by the atmosphere in the book. She was surrounded by love and it shows. Will definitely read more of these.

Lastly: Love and War in the Apennines by Eric Newby.

Eric Newby is well known amongst travel writing fans as one the best there is. What's less well known is that he served in the Special Boat Section during WW2 and was captured in 1942 off the coast of Sicily, during a secret raid. Love and War in the Apennines decribes what happened to him in Italy after that capture. At first he was held in an Italian POW camp, which was really a converted hotel, in Fontanellato, near Parma, close to the Apennine range of mountains which run the length of Italy. Life there was not that terrible, certainly not in the league of German POW camps, boredom was the chief enemy it seems. The real problems began with the Italian Armistice and The Allies were caught on the hop. The Germans took over the country and the prisoners in the camp decided their best bet was to go on the run. Eric's difficulty was that he was in the prison hospital after breaking his ankle. What follows is the story of his escape, his meeting with his future wife, and the Italians - those who helped him get up into the mountains and those who sheltered him.

I finished this book a couple of days ago and the atmosphere of it is still with me. It's hard to say why. I think partly it was *such* a ripping yarn, not exactly edge-of-your-seat stuff but certainly exciting enough to keep me happy. Also it was about an episode of the war that I knew about, but knew nothing about, if that doesn't sound silly. It was fascinating quite honestly, to read an account of it by someone who witnessed events. But most of all I think I loved the book for two reasons. Firstly, because of Newby's beautiful descriptions of the forests and mountains in which he was forced to hide for almost a year. It was clearly stunningly beautiful but also an atmospheric, at times frightening place. Newby's writing is up to the challenge though:

Now the tunnels under the trees were as damp and vaporous and foetid as the passages in a workhouse, and everything had an air of decay. The moss which had been so brilliantly green now had a dull, brownish tinge and gave off a disagreeable, sickly smell; and the fungi which had appeared so beautiful and strange with the sun slanting down on them, now seemed possitively evil, the fruits of corruption, even the ones that I knew to be edible because, having eaten them, I was still alive. Now after the rain, there were fresh, and to me even more monstrous-looking growths, although, no doubt, they were edible too, enormous puff balls, which had emerged in the clearing of the charcoal burners, the size and shape of human skulls, some of them dead white as if they had been picked clean by birds on a battle field and left for ages in the sun and the rain, some darker, the colour of old ivory; and where a number of them grew together it was as if the buried dead were trying resurrect themselves, by forcing themselves, head first upwards through the earth.

It's not often I'm bowled over by good writing but that did it for me and this book is full of amazing scenes like that. My second reason for loving this book was that the indomitable spirit of the Italians who harboured Newby, despite the very real peril of doing so, shines in this book. They would not have considered themselves to be heroes, but heroes they were... ordinary farming families who had nothing, still found it in their hearts to take him in, feed and clothe him, and hide him from the authorities. It brings a lump to my throat just writing about it to be honest. What a wonderful testament to the human spirit.

I will definitely be reading more by Eric Newby and already have another book lined up, A Traveller's Life, autobiographical essays about his lifetime of travelling. Can't wait to get to it.

Thursday 23 February 2012

A meme and photos of Dunster in Somerset

I was tagged in a meme by Pat at Here There and Everywhere. It's fun but I honestly don't think I know 11 more people to tag and ask 11 more questions of. What I'll say is that if anyone feels like doing it, let me know and then I'll think up some new questions.

1. Post the Rules

2. Answer the eleven questions that were asked of you by the person who tagged you.

3. Make up eleven new questions and tag eleven new people to do the meme!

4. Let them know you tagged them!

So here are Pat's question for me:

1. What are your most favorite books that you have read more than once.(name at least two)

Hmm. Well there aren't all that many as I'm not a huge rereader. But here're a few:

The Wind in the Willows - Kenneth Grahame (must be due a reread of that soon.
Howards End is on the Landing - Susan Hill
The Harper's Hall trilogy - Anne McCaffrey
Sylvester - Georgette Heyer
Frenchman's Creek - Daphne Du Maurier (due a reread as it must be 40 years since I last read it.)
The Uncommon Reader - Alan Bennett

2. Who is your favorite male character from a book?

I don't think I can name just one!

Robinton from Anne McCaffrey's Pern books.
Adam Hauptman from Patricia Briggs' Mercy Thompson series.
Matthew Shardlake from C.J. Sansom's books.
Sherlock Holmes

3. Who is your favorite female character from a book?

Again I can't just do one.

Jane Rizzoli from Tess Gerritsens' Rizzoli and Isles series.
Ruth Galloway from Elli Griffiths' series of the same name
Anna Pigeon from Nevada Barr's series of the same name.
Flavia de Luce from Alan Bradley's series of the same name.
Merrily Watkins from Phil Rickman's books.
Shan Frankland from Karin Traviss's W'ess'har sci-fi series.

4. What is the last book that you read that is out of your comfort zone, and did you enjoy it?

I feel quite ashamed to say that I rarely read out of my comfort zone. The last one was probably Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Zoer, which I read in Feb 2011. The background to it was the 9/11 tragedy and although I couldn't say I *enjoyed* it, it was a brilliant book... just been made into a film I believe.

5. If you could have gone on the movie sets of any movie and watched it being made, which movie would you choose, and why?

Oooh... hard one. Um. I think the sets of the new Sherlock Holmes movies, filmed in London, would have been fun to visit. Just to see how they do all the Victorian stuff, not because I like Robert Downey Junior you understand...

6. What food is your most guilty pleasure?

Crisps (potato chips). I probably eat too many and they're not great for you, but according to a recent programme I was watching, lots of things have more salt than them (including sliced bread) and they're high in potassium so I've stopped beating myself up over it so much.

7. If you could travel somewhere (money is no object) where would you go?

Definitely back to America. I'd like to spend a couple of years going all around the USA and Canada too. Trouble is I'd probably miss England at some stage.

8. If you could change one thing in our world, what would it be?

The lack of tolerance displayed by so many people towards the old, the disabled, different sexualities and religions, and so on and so on. Lack of tolerance or lack of open mindedness: I hate it.

9. What is something that you'd like to accomplish this year?

At the start of the year I decided I wanted to read more non-fiction this year. I'm happy to say that I'm doing exactly that. :-)

10. What are 3 things that are very important to you?

Family. Books. My own space.

11. If you could go back in time, where and when would you be?

Oooh, good one. I read somewhere that the ancient Egyptians had a wonderful library - their scientists or physicians had control of it I seem to recall. And then it was lost when their civilisation declined. I'd like to go back and take a look at that library, even if its contents would be right over my head.


I recently came across this post from Cathy at Kitling Books: A Sunday Stroll in Somerset. Over here we see these lovely nostalgic paintings by A.R. Quinton a lot on calendars and such and they are so pretty. This one struck a chord with me as we used to live not far from the beautiful village of Dunster on the Somerset coast, and it's quite unusual as Dunster is one of those villages which has hardly changed since this painting was done. I thought Cathy and a few others might like to see several photos I took a few years back. Double-click for a larger view of the photos.

This is a similar view to that in the painting. The National Trust were working on the castle at the time but that work is all finished now. Dunster is extremely popular with tourists for obvious reasons.

A closer view of the yarn market, built in 1590 for the purpose of selling textiles.

The Luttrell Arms, seen to the left of the painting, is a 14th. century inn, named after the family that owned the castle for many centuries, and is still a hotel and restaurant to this day.

Dunster Castle of course. Not a terribly good shot of it to be honest. I'll have to see if I can get some better ones in the spring.

So there you go, some things never do change, and thank goodness for that.

Saturday 18 February 2012

Saturday snapshot

I haven't done a Saturday Snapshot post in ages, mainly because I haven't really been very far in months. But we popped down to Teignmouth, on the South Devon coast, on Wednesday and the few photos I took turned out okay so I thought I'd post them today.

To participate in the Saturday Snapshot meme post a photo that you (or a friend or family member) have taken then leave a direct link to your post in the Mister Linky below. Photos can be old or new, and be of any subject as long as they are clean and appropriate for all eyes to see. How much detail you give in the caption is entirely up to you. Please don’t post random photos that you find online. More photos can be found here at Alyce's blog, At Home with Books.

It wasn't really this dark in Teignmouth that day, which is why the 'purpliness' of a couple of the shots surprised me:

This is what the light was really like:

A bit darker:

But 'dark' is so much more atmospheric...

And Pat at Here There and Everywhere wanted to see a photo of the jig-saw puzzle I've been doing for the past few weeks. It's 2000 pieces and is a painting of the Bodinick to Fowey Ferry, in Cornwall, as it was, probably 100 years ago. It was very hard! LOL.

And here on Wiki is a photo of how it looks now... not that different really.

Hope everyone has a nice weekend.

Tuesday 14 February 2012

Two sci-fi books

It's half-term holiday here and our grand-daughter is staying but she's off elsewhere at the moment so I thought I'd try to do a couple of short reviews of two classic science fiction novels I read last week. The trouble is, I really ought to do these reviews a lot more promptly as I have a weak memory when it comes to remembering the exact details of the books I read. Never mind, I will do my best. Both of these are for Carl's Science Fiction Experience.

First up Downward to the Earth by Robert Silverberg.

Gunderson is returning to a planet previously known as Holman's Planet but now known as Belzagor. It was once owned, or run, by the huge mining corporation that Gundersen worked for as an administrator. He has events in his past, that happened on the planet, that he regrets and is here to try to make amends. The planet has been handed back to the indigenous species as it was realised that they were sentient beings and intelligent enough to run their own affairs. There are two sentient species in fact. The nildoror are very similar to elephants in appearance, they live in the more temperate zones around the equator. The 'sulidoror' live in the northern mist country, are bipeds and much more secretive than the nuldoror. What Gundersen wants is to gain access to the mist country to view the mystical rebirth ceremony. He needs permission from the nuldoror to do this but they may be bearing a grudge against him. Setting out on his journey of discovery Gundersen can have no idea what's in store for him.

This is why I took up reading science fiction in my teens. Sadly I missed this one, it was published in 1970 and I never saw it anywhere - library or bookshops. It's a shame, I would have loved it. In fact I don't actually remember reading anything by Robert Silverberg, but suspect I must have at some stage. No matter, I'm making up for it now. Part of the attraction for me is that Silverberg never shrank from the task of imagining new planets: boy can he do some inventing. Three books I've read by him now and every new planet in each book is unique. Belzagor was a stunning place, clearly very beautiful but also dangerous. Things happened to ex-pats still living there which made my eyes stick out on stalks... but I'm weird... I love that kind of thing. I also love it when a book makes me think about my prejudices and values. The huge question in this book is sentience and our human attitude to appearance. Can a being that looks so much like an Earth animal - in this case an elephant - really be treated by humans as a fully sentient and intelligent being? How do we overcome the temptation to use them as we use elephants on Earth... ie: beasts of burden, fit only to do our heavy work. Especially as their intelligence is different to ours. They're not city builders or competive in the way of wanting to conquer other lands or planets. Do we still respect them in the way we ought? Is it possible to understand these people without trying to rule over them or at the very least feel superior. And of course the same questions can be applied to expansionism on our own world where plenty of peace loving indigenous peoples have been shoved aside or even wiped out by expanding populations from other parts of the world. Fascinating questions which I have to admit to finding very complicated. Easy to think the right thing in the comfort of your own armchair where your thoughts and decisions make no difference to anyone.

Robert Silverberg is my discovery of Carl's sci-fi experience and I plan to keep on reading his books throughout this year. I've just ordered two more from Amazon Marketplace in fact - Tower of Glass and Nightwings. Plus I have several others on my sci-fi tbr pile.

Next up, Time for the Stars by Robert Heinlein.

Earth is a very over-crowded place in 2200 and space is the only place to go. The Long Range Foundation is sending a dozen or so ships out into the unknown and for instant communication it's been decided to find telepathic twins, one staying behind on Earth, the other going on the spaceship. Tom and Patrick Bartlett are two such individuals. Pat is the twin who tends to get his own way and even though Tom would like to be the one to go, Pat as always gets his way and is going. Until he has a skiing accident and, at short notice, Tom boards the craft with 200 other explorers, scientists, telepaths, and sets out on the voyage of a life-time.

This was my first Heinlein book, my daughter was a huge reader of his books as a teen but for some reason I never got around to them. This one I gather was written for young adults... specifically, it says on the cover: 'boys'. As it was written in the 1950s that kind of sexism (perhaps too strong a word) is understandable for the times. Really, it's a ripping yarn that I quite enjoyed. It explores the nature of telepathy very thoroughly, also the nature of long-distance space-travel, especially the implications of the theory of relativity, whereby if you set off into space you age normally but your relations back on Earth will be old by the time you get back, if not dead. Most of the story takes place on the ship and explores the various relationships between those aboard. This was quite good, interesting, but for me the book really took off when they reached the alien planets and described events there. That didn't happen until the about the last third of the book and honestly I would have been happier with more of that... perhaps a longer book rather than less detail about the journey. I know the author wrote many longer books (this was less than 200 pages) so possibly I need to try those in order to get a better idea of his work. There must be a good reason why Robert Heinlein was, and remains, such a hugely popular science fiction writer.

Having written all that I just checked FantasticFiction for something and see that I have actually read one other Robert Heinlein book: The Puppet Masters. I remember thinking at the time that it was excellent and I still own it.

Thoroughly enjoying this foray into classic science fiction at the moment. I am reading other things... halfway through Look Back With Love, Dodie Smith's autobiogrpahy of her younger years in Manchster in the early 1900s. It's lovely but I'm yearning for something more meaty which I will grab when our grand-daughter goes home. She's reading one of my Chris Priestly anthologies of weird stories at the moment. Oddly enough he was on the BBC's breakfast show this morning (my grand-daughter rushed to get me) talking about how modern children 'supposedly' scare more easily than children used to. He said it was nonsense and I completely agree and so did my grand-daughter. It's more of a pity, imo, that more kids don't read classic sci-fi for youngsters or authors such as Chris Priestly, Roald Dahl and so on. But that's 'a whole other story', as they say and I'll leave that for now.

Wednesday 8 February 2012

Holmes on the Range

Talk about a strange mix... cowboys and Sherlock Holmes? Shouldn't work should it? Well here's the odd thing: it really, really does.

Holmes on the Range is by Steve Hockensmith and it concerns two brothers, Gustav and Otto Amlingmeyer. Gustav, known as Old Red, (the boys are red-heads) is the elder of the two, he has a good brain but is illiterate. Otto, known as Big Red, is taller and heavier than his brother, one might say the 'brawns' of the duo but in actual fact it is Otto who is the more educated of the two, being able to read and write competently. The two men are alone in the world, various tragedies having befallen their parents and siblings some years ago. And thus they stick together, 'look out for each other' in an existence which is both unpredictable and violent. They are cowboys 'out west' in the USA in the 1890s.

The boys are in a bar in Miles, Montana with no jobs when the McPherson brothers stroll in. They're currently running a ranch for some English landowners, the Cantlemere ranch or the Bar VR as it's known locally. The ranch has a secretive and unsavoury reputation but the McPhersons are hiring and before Otto knows what's happened Gustav has volunteered them both.

Arriving at the ranch with a motley group of other hands it's clear that they haven't been hired to be proper cowboys. Renovating the buildings on the ranch is the priority and intimidation is the way things are done. It's quite clear that there is something going on and Otto realises that that is why his brother has signed them on. Gustav is a huge fan of the Sherlock Holmes stories which have filtered their way across the Atlantic to the US. Otto reads them aloud and Gustav has become a follower of Holmes and a studier of his methods. It seems that Gustav has decided to investigate the Bar VR.

Already bad enough, things become much nastier and more dangerous when a mutilated body is discovered out on the range. It's Perkins, the English manager of the ranch, a strange individual who, it was clear, has recently had problems of some sort. The English owners of the ranch arrive to check on the ranch and its profitablility. The Duke of Balmoral, his daughter and two hangers on are like fishes out of water and a real diversion from the harsh realities of life on the ranch. And then another murder is committed. The circumstances are peculiar and its assumed the man has killed himself but Gustav thinks otherwise. Most are sceptical but, using the 'deducifyin'' methods of the great Sherlock Holmes, Gustav sets out to prove them all wrong.

As I said at the start, none of this should work, but it actually does. I think the thing that makes the book a success is that it's written in the first person, from the point of view of Otto, the younger brother. He's a great narrator... long suffering, loyal, totally befuddled at times and not afraid to say so. He has a wonderful 'tell it like it is' sense of humour, pulling no punches and sparing the reader no gory details. I thought he was delightful.

The book is full of very colourful characters in fact. From the menacing McPherson brothers and their cohorts, to the ranch hands with wonderful names such as Swivel-eye, Crazy Mouth (English cockney so no-one has a clue what he's talking about), Anytime, and so on. If there's a weak spot in the novel it's perhaps that the English aristocratic owners were a trifle cliched... more caricatures than perhaps was strictly necessary... the Duke for instance is an arrogant, short-tempered man who'd gambled away the family's money. On the other hand the story would not have been as entertaining without them, so you pays your money and takes your choice.

I found it very interesting to read about ranching in Montana in the 1890s. It was clearly a hard, unforgiving life and life expectancy was not high. If the tough conditions or illness didn't get you it seems you had a pretty good chance of being gunned down by someone. Violence was never far from the surface. I had no idea that a lot of the landowners in Montana during that time were English aristocracy. I don't know who I thought they might have been, but English had not occurred to me. I had also never heard of a cattalo before. It seems it's a cross between buffalo and cattle. The resulting offsping were high in meat yield and withstood the hard winters, but they were unpredictable and foul tempered. Plus the calves with their buffalo humps were hard for the cows to deliver. I gather the practise is still continued and the animals are now called beefalo, instead... but the market is hardly flooded with the meat so I'm assuming the procedure still has its difficulties.

Anyway. A good fun read, with quite a complicated plot... I had no real idea of what was going on until the end... and memorable, entertaining characters. I was shocked to find that since I bought this one, four more books in this series have been written, so I'll be getting those from the library at some stage. I'll be entering this one under 'Montana' in my American challenge list, although I think proceeding books take place all over the USA. A good new series to add to my ever-growing list!

Friday 3 February 2012

This and that

I've disabled the comments word verification thing as one of the lovely people who regularly visits my blog and comments, Penny from Lifeonthecutoff, said she was having trouble commenting and the word verification thing was what seemed to be the problem. Is anyone else finding this? I hate the thought that anyone might not be able to comment so I've switched it off for the time being to see how it goes. I never got loads of spam anyway, so hopefully it'll be all right.

My decision to try and not read as many library books this year is not going swimmingly. Surprised? No, I didn't think so somehow. I thought I would try to keep the number down to 3 - 5. This is my current pile:

Eight books, twice as many as there ought to be, *plus* I have 4 more on reserve. Hopeless.

From the bottom:

Last Post by Robert Barnard. I thought I'd try something else by him and this is what the library had.

I Am Half Sick of Shadows by Alan Bradley. Book 4 of the Flavia De Luce series. I thought I would leave it a few months before reading this latest book in the series, but there it was and I couldn't resist.

Elsie and Mairi Go to War by Diane Atkinson. Biography of two women who set off for the Western Front, during WW1, to do their bit and set up a first aid camp. Randon grab but will read it for my WW1 challenge.

With Bags and Swags by Wendy Law Stuart. Two women cycling around Australia in the 1940s.

The Churchills by Celia and John Lee. Self explanatory... a random grab.

Decca - The Letters of Jessica Mitford edited by Peter Y. Sussman. More Mitford letters. Yes, I am hooked.

Love Among the Daughters by Elspeth Huxley. Not sure whose blog I saw this reviewed on, I *think* it might have been Danielle at A Work in Progress. It sounded good so I reserved it. It's one of those older books that has that lovely smell.

Downward to the Earth by Robert Silverberg. Loving his writing so grabbed this randomly from the library. It has a good rating on Amazon so I'm hopeful...

Despite my failure I'm very excited by this lot.

I used to be very determined never to give up on a book but since I hit my mid-fifties I've decided that's life is too short to plough on with a book you're not enjoying. So, 100+ pages into a vampire anthology that I thought would be good but was finding disappointingly dull, I abandoned it. Sometimes you just have to concede defeat. I picked up instead one of my own books, Holmes on the Range by Steve Hockensmith. *Dull* it is not. It's about two cowboy brothers in the 1890s, the eldest of whom loves the Sherlock Holmes stories. I've only just started it but it seems they're out to solve some kind of murder mystery on a ranch in Montana. I have a feeling this one might be huge fun.

Freezing cold here at the moment. It seems we might be about to get the arctic conditions being suffered by those in eastern Europe. There's been quite a death-toll so I hope it won't be quite that bad. My pastimes at the moment are reading, jig-saw puzzles and sudokus and it seems like I might be doing quite a lot of all three over the next week. Stay warm!

Wednesday 1 February 2012

Books read in January

January was quite an interesting reading month for me. Interesting because of the mix of fiction and non-fiction and also the mix of genres in the fiction... horror, crime and science fiction... all big favourites of mine of course.

Let's start at the very beginning (now which song does that come from?) with:

Breaking Dawn by Stephenie Meyer. The last of her Twilight series and a much maligned series it is. I liked them. I will not, as some do, be rereading and re-re-reading... I'm happy that I've read the series and also happy to cross it off my (too long) series list. I will just add that I thought Breaking Dawn was by far the best of the four books and I thought it a cracking good read.

Wait For Me! by Deborah Devonshiire. My review is here. Loved it.

At Winter's End by Robert Silverberg. My review is here. A really excellent sci-fi read.

In Tearing Haste: Letters Between Deborah Devonshire and Patrick Leigh Fermor edited by Charlotte Mosley. My review is here. Adored it.

I'll just add a few words about my last two books of January.

Presumed Guilty by Tess Gerritsen is not one of her Rizzoli and Isles books, it's a stand-alone that she wrote for MIRA a few years before she embarked on her famous series. Miranda has been having an affair with her newspaper editor boss. She decides to finish it but he won't leave her alone. He calls her one night to say he's coming over so she leaves the house. When she returns he's lying dead on her bed having been brutally murdered. The prime suspect is obviously going to be Miranda. Bailed by persons unknown she, along with the murdered man's brother, sets about finding the murderer and clearing her name. This is one of those pageturners. Wonderfully readable, pacey to the point of a headlong gallop, I loved it. It was full of suspense, yes the characters - especially the hero - were a bit Harlequin/Mills and Boonish, but that doesn't worry me if the story is engrossing and it was. I also loved the very strong sense of Maine where the story is set so will be adding this book to my American states challenge. I'll also be picking up more of Gerritsen's stand-alone books when I spot them in the library.

I picked up Fete Fatale by Robert Barnard a couple of years ago after Nan at Letters from a Hill Farm reviewed something by him and said how good it was. It wasn't this book as far as I remember. Anyway, this one involves Helen, the first person narrator, who is happily married to the local vet, Marcus. They live in Hexton-on-Weir, a town in Yorkshire and it's a town which the couple have observed is ruled by women.

...you realised that the dominant tones that you heard were female. It was a woman laying down the law to a shopkeeper, a woman who was haranguing a police constable in the square about dog shit on the pavements, a woman who was exchanging heavy pleasantries with the tea-shop proprietor. And these dominant tones were a sort of Middle-class lingua franca, with only occasional notes of Yorkshire.

All this makes for an awkward atmosphere when a new vicar is apponted and it turns out he is a celibate by choice. Certain women take against this as they believe a vicar should be married, plus it smacks of Catholicism, and they start a campaign of trying to force him to resign. Things come to a head during the church fete when someone is murdered. I'm not saying any more than that as the murder victim was a shock to me and it should be for anyone reading this for themselves. I thought when I picked this up that it was a 'cozy' crime book, and it certainly does have many elements of humour. But there is also quite a dark streak running through this book, human nature sharply observed and some of it thoroughly unpleasant and very true to life. I thought the characterisation was spot on and all of it beautifully written. Highly recommend this to crime readers who maybe want something a little bit different. I loved it.

So here we are in February already. Before you know it it'll be Christmas again. (I'm only half joking.) I'm not sure what my reading plans for this month are. I've just started a book of Victorian vampire stories and will probably choose something else to read alongside it. The only book I really must read this month is Doomsday Book by Connie Willis but only because I want to include it in my list for Carl's Sci-fi experience. Other than that I think I will just please myself. Happy reading!