Thursday 26 July 2012

Three more books

I've actually read and finished six books this month, which is the first time I've done that since March, so perhaps I'm almost back to normal with my reading. I still don't want anything too heavy or that needs much concentration, so here I am with three more light reads to review.

First up another Daisy Dalrymple book by Carola Dunn - To Davy Jones Below.

This is probably a bit of a spoiler but anyone who's read any of the previous books in this series will not really be surprised to learn that Alec and Daisy are now newly married. Honeymoon over, they're inveigled into a trip to America so that Alec can help an American police force set up a new department. Daisy will take the opportunity to see her American publishers. They go by sea, and hope the voyage will be a nice relaxing time that they can spend together. They're joined by old friend, industrialist, Caleb Arbuckle, his daughter, Gloria and her new husband, Daisy's friend, Phillip Petrie. Also there is a business acquaintence of Arbuckle's, Jethro Gotobed and his new wife, ex-showgirl, Wanda. A storm hits halfway across the Atlantic and Alec has to take to his bed with sea-sickness. A man goes overboard, is saved, but foul-play is suspected. With Alec incapacitated it's left to Daisy to try and investigate. She finds it impossible to find any believable suspects but realises that Wanda is perhaps not what she seems. She's seen two men hanging around the ex-showgirl and when she discovers they might card-sharps her nose for a mystery is alerted. Eventually, Alec recovers enough to help her and together they set about trying to unravel the confusing facts. And then someone really is murdered...

Book nine of Daisy's adventures solving murders. This was not perhaps the best of the series so far - for me that would be Styx and Stones - but it was an enjoyable romp with a good list of quirky characters. Carola Dunn is very good at quirky characters, in my opinion, and it's one of the things that make her books well worth reading. I liked the fact that Daisy and Alec's relationship has moved on, they were very much the newlyweds in this one and for me that was fun and realistic. As always there was plenty of humour and a bit of realism - Daisy's friend, Lucy, insists she go to the new Marie Stopes contraceptive clinic to get sorted as she doesn't want to get 'preggy' (love that term) straight away. I love little details like that. All in all, another fun instalment of Carola Dunn's delightful series - as Daisy would say, 'Spiffing!'

Next, At Sea by Laurie Graham.

Enid and Bernard Finch have been married for over twenty years. He's an academic, an expert in the classics and together the two of them do cruises, Bernard giving talks on all things classical and Enid supporting him. Bernard sounds very English but is in fact an American. Enid, a minor member of the aristocracy and known as 'Lady' Enid, has had quite a loveless upbringing and gradually we learn that her marriage is more or less the same. Bernard is demanding in that he requires his ego to be constantly stroked but is not demanding emotionally or in the bedroom. One night at the beginning of the cruise one of the passengers claims to know Bernard from when he was a child. He claims Bernard is Willy Fink who lived in a small town in New York state: they were neighbours. Bernard denies any such thing but takes to their cabin at mealtimes and then fakes a throat infection. Enid realises Bernard is avoiding contact with this passenger, and also suspects her husband is not the man she thinks he is. What better tool to use to find out more than the world wide web? Having to fend for herself onboard ship, Enid begins her tranformation from 'innocent' to something else entirely...

I read about this book a week or two ago on Elaine's Random Jotting's post. It struck me that it sounded like a really fun read, I checked my local library and there it was, so I grabbed it. 'Fun' is the right way to describe this book. It does have a serious point to make, that of a woman trapped in a loveless marriage and not realising there's another way until circumstances force her into it. But the point is made with such a light touch you don't really realise you're being told about something that's really quite sad. Bernard is a brilliant creation, a self-centred ego-maniac who's been taking advantage of Enid's good nature for years. Her 'revenge' is wonderful as she discovers how caring ordinary people can be, that being a bit brash does not mean 'unkind', that the web can bring you back into contact with old friends, and that it is possible to discover the joys of sex at 55. I laughed my way through this as Enid so subtley puts Bernard in his place, time after time. Joyous. I shall certainly be picking up other books by this author and many thanks to Elaine for the recommendation.

Lastly, Blindsighted by Karin Slaughter.

Sara Linton is a paediatrician and medical examiner in the town of Heartsdale, Georgia. She's divorced from Jeffrey Tolliver, a local detective, he cheated on her but she still loves him and the feeling is mutual. Lunching with her sister, Tess, in the local diner, Sara goes to the ladies and discovers the brutally mutilated, murdered body of Sibyl Adams. Sibyl is the twin sister of a junior detective, Lena Adams, which further complicates the case for Jeffrey. Lena is awkward and prickly in the extreme, really she shouldn't be allowed anywhere near the case but Lena has other ideas. The investigating detectives have no idea why Sibyl has been the victim of this brutal murder - is it because she's a lesbian in a conservative area? Then a student from the local university campus goes missing. Again Sara discovers the body, pinned to the bonnet of her car. A serial killer is on the loose - who will be his next victim?

Well now, I wonder should I be concerned at my taste for these really quite shocking murder mysteries. This one was very gory, shocking, even sexually explicit. Very much in the vein of Tess Gerritsen and John Connolly to be honest... and I'm actually pleased to have discovered yet another author like them to read! The book was a real page-turner, I devoured it in just over a day, really not wanting to put it down at all. I liked the suspense aspect of course - edge of the seat stuff, especially the final few chapters. But also, I really liked Sara. She's independent, intelligent, not always easy to understand. She has something in her past which affects her badly and this is slowly revealed through the book. I also liked Jeffrey a lot, despite his indescretion. It was clear he was really a decent man, how much he regretted his mistake, and how much he wanted Sara back. Stick a bit of angsty romance in any book and I'm lost and gone forever. LOL. This book, as anyone will judge from what I've said, is NOT for everyone. Many will hate the graphic detail, the blood and the explicitness. If you're okay with that it's a 'must read'. If you're not, don't touch it with ten foot bargepole. Looking forward to reading more and have book 2 on reserve at the library.


Thursday 19 July 2012

Blog anniversary & a review

Well, it seems today, the 19th. July, is my five year blogging anniversary. Who'd have thought, way back in July 2007, that I'd still be here (more or less) doing my book reviews and chatting away to old friends and new. I took a look to see who was commenting back then and was surprised to see a number of people who are still here with me and that I regard now as friends. Amazing. And wonderful.

Okay. Well, I finished another book (don't faint)... read it rather quickly as a matter of fact as it was one of those page turning stories that gripped you by the throat and wouldn't let go - The Killing Kind by John Connolly. It's book three of his hugely popular 'Charlie Parker' series.

Charlie Parker is of course a private detective in the state of Maine in the USA. Two years before this book takes place his wife and daughter were callously murdered by a psychpath: Charlie tracked him down to Louisiana and killed him. After the events in book two where Charlie tracked down another serial killer, he is now trying to live quietly in Maine, taking only corporate cases that hopefully mean he might live into old age.

Others, unfortunately, have different ideas. US senator, Jack Mercier, wants to hire Charlie to investigate the death of the daughter of an ex-business associate, Grace Peltier. The young woman was shot in the head, in her car, and the death was supposedly suicide. But there are suspicious circumstances, not least of which is that Grace Peltier was investigating a secret religious sect, known as The Fellowship. It's not long before Charlie discovers links with a group of people known as the Aroostock Baptists who set up a small commune in rural Maine in the 1960s, stayed there for six months and promptly disappeared off the face of the earth. Then a mass grave is discovered... Someone leaves a nest of killer spiders in his mailbox... and thus another connection is made with the death, in Minnesota, of an abortionist doctor who was killed in her car by poisonous spiders. Charlie realises he's opened a can of worms... or is that a can of spiders?

It seems that before she died Grace Peltier took something from The Fellowship and they want it back. Charlie has no idea what it is and a prime witness has gone to ground. Charlie is intimidated by the frightening arachnophile, Mr. Pudd. Who is he? He's also haunted by the ghosts of a small boy with a wooden sign around his neck and a woman in a summer dress. Louis and Angel, his genial killer friends, help him unravel this frightening mystery but in doing so they put themselves into extreme danger and, worse for Charlie, the life of Rachel, the new woman in his life, is also threatened. People start to die horribly and Charlie knows it's a race against time to find the missing witness before everyone he loves is wiped out.

Well, I have to say that I wouldn't like to live entirely on a diet of books consisting of just these Charlie Parker stories. LOL. They are intense, frightening, roller-coaster, type reads and at the end of them you need something like a Daisy Dalrymple yarn to bring back some normality. John Connolly writes horror very well indeed. His short story collection, Nocturnes, is one of the best horror collections I've ever read. He brings this startling talent for the macabre to bear in this series. They're unlike anything else I read. The crimes and the killers remind me slightly of Tess Gerritsen's Rizzoli and Isles books. She pulls no punches when it comes to depicting the sheer horror, sickness and intelligence of the serial killer that can't be caught. But Connolly adds an extra dimension... a supernatural, macabre element which scares the reader witless. I can't read these books in bed at night, I'd never be able to turn out the light. And they are *not* for everyone. Not by a long chalk. I would say, think carefully before you pick one up, be warned! On the other hand if you really like a bit of gritty crime laced with horror, then by all means, 'go for it!' You won't be sorry.

One interesting thing, John Connolly has a new book out next month. It's entitled, Books to Die For and is a book of essays by popular crime writers recommending their favourite crime authors and books. The FantasticFiction link is here. I'm pretty sure I'm going to be wanting that.

Thursday 12 July 2012

Two book post

Goodness, if the UK weather doesn't change over the next fortnight I wonder how The Olympics will fare. Heaving it down again today. Mid-July and I'm sitting here with two fleeces on. My husband's written off the garden this year. We have a good crop of peas and mange-tout, a decent crop of shallots and the tomatoes in the greenhouse look ok, though not as far advanced as they might be. Everything else has been eaten by a plague of slugs or simply not grown because it's too cold and wet. I rather think we may have had summer in March this year.

Anyway, I seem to be back reading normally again, albeit light, easy reads. But that's fine, sometimes that's all you want and there's nothing at all wrong with that. in my opinion. So, I have two books to do quickish reviews of and the first of these is Wild Designs by Katie Fforde.

Althea is a primary school secretary, about to lose her job when two schools are merged. This is not good under most circumstances but Althea has three teenage children to feed and clothe, one of whom is a Buddhist. Her life is rather complicated. Her husband left her for a younger woman when the children were young and is now living in Hong Kong, but part of the house she lives in is his of course, so he feels he has the right to interfere in her life. Althea decides that maybe she can make a living at garden designing but more bad news comes when she's told that the empty house that houses the greenhouse she's been using illegally, has been sold. The new owner is the very attractive, Patrick Donahugh, an architect, who himself has a younger woman in tow. Althea asks him if she can continue using the greenhouse until she finds somewhere else, and he agress, but finding somewhere is not as easy as it sounds. Then Althea wins a prize of creating a wild garden at The Chelsea Flower show. She has no money and worse still Patrick's girlfriend wants her out of their garden so she can build a swimming pool. Could life get any more complicated? Well yes... her husband, Frederick, could come home from Hong Long hoping to patch things up with Althea...

Like all Katie Fforde books Wild Designs was great fun. Lots of humour, a very pacey plot, very readable. I loved the children... she had the reality of living with teenagers spot on and the Buddhist son was amusing. I loved too all the gardening details, Althea knew her plants and I enjoyed reading about plants I knew and some I didn't. The Chelsea Flower show details were interesting and huge fun. Althea's house too sounded delightful... an old Cotswold house... I could just imagine it to be honest. Is there a 'but'? Yes, I have to admit I did have a 'but'. It's not a terrible whinge... I just didn't care for all those predatory women in this story. I know they're around, in reality, but *so* many in one person's life? Gosh! Practically every woman in the story had her eye on Patrick, poor Althea didn't know where to turn for women throwing themselves at him. Also, certain things connected with Patrick and his younger girlfriend, Topaz, didn't sit well with me. Perhaps I'm old fashioned in that I like my romance books a bit more straightforward than this. But, as I said, I did enjoy the book, Katie Fforde doesn't write bad books, but this is not my favourite - that honour, so far, goes to Living Dangerously.

Book number two is Rattle His Bones by Carola Dunn, book eight in her Daisy Dalrymple series.

Daisy is taking her fiancé's daughter, Belinda, and her sister's son, Derek, to the Natural History museum in Kensington. She plans to let them explore while she gathers information for an article she's writing on the museum for an American magazine. She meets various curators and makes plans to go back with a idea to do a much more in depth article which she might be able to sell elsewhere. It's on one of these return visits that one of the currators is violently murdered with a flint weapon, and Daisy is almost a witness. Her fiancé, Alec, a Scotland Yard detective, is by now resigned to Daisy falling over dead bodies. And if not exactly happy about it, allows Daisy to continue with the interviews for her article and uses any relevent information to help with his enquiries. The big problem really is that there are so many suspects. Not just curators of the museum, but other staff and, weirdly, a dethroned German count wanting to get back a ruby the museum owns, but that he feels is his, so he can raise an army to throw the Russians out of his small country. It's a tangled web and even Daisy's bent for finding things out is put severely to the test.

Another hugely enjoyable instalment of Daisy Dalrymple's adventures with dead bodies. The Natural History museum is a huge presence in this, luckily I've been there so had no trouble picturing it. For those that haven't there are a couple of floor plans at the front of the book. It was fun reading about the competition between the various curators, how they want to pinch artifacts off each other, the petty jealousies. I wouldn't mind betting this is very realistic for museums in general. One thing I did have trouble with was remembering all their names, who was who and what they did, but that's probably my middle-aged brain failing me. Daisy was in fine form as always... talking to people she shouldn't be talking to, but getting things out of them that the police never could. I like the development of her private life, her efforts to form some kind of working relationship with her rather difficult, soon to be mother-in-law for instance, and the way her working life is progressing. I was pleased to read that Alec had no intention of stopping her working when they were married, as I'm certain that did happen back then. All in all another excellent instalment of this series. I have the next three books on my Kindle and look forward hugely to reading them.

Tuesday 10 July 2012

Six books Six months

Ever a sucker for a book meme, I saw that Jo at The Book Jotter has created a new one, and I simply couldn't resist nicking it. She says:

It occurred to me (whilst drying the dishes) and thinking about my June Roundup post of the fact that we are half way through 2012. In those six months what six books or authors have had an impact good or bad. So it got me thinking and then I decided to come up with this post – Six Books Six months. Broken down into the following Six categories;

1. Six new authors to me;

2. Six authors I have read before;

3. Six authors I am looking forward to reading more of;

4. Six books I have enjoyed the most;

5. Six books I was disappointed with;

6. Six series of books read or started. Here I mean books read that are part of a series e.g. M.C. Beaton and Agatha Raisin.

So anyway, here are my results. I'm going to tweak mine and do fiction and non-fiction for 'Books I've enjoyed the most'.

Six new authors to me:

1. Robert Barnard,
2. Steve Hockensmith
3. Katherine Langrish
4. Lavie Tidhar
5. John Connolly

Six authors I have read before

1. Miss Read
2. Tess Gerritsen
3. Alan Bradley
4. Phil Rickman
5. Anne McCaffrey

Six authors I am looking forward to reading more of

1. Carola Dunn
2. Katherine Langrish
3. Phil Rickman
4. Robert Silverberg
5. John Connolly

Six books I have enjoyed the most


1. Down Under - Bill Bryson (Funny, funny, funny)
2. The Political Animal - Jeremy Paxman (Informative and funny)
3. Wait For Me! - Deborah Devonshire (Wonderful autobiography)
4. Love and War in the Apennines - Eric Newby (Fantastic war memoirs)
5. Look Back With Love - Dodie Smith (Heart-warming)


1. Downward to the Earth - Robert Silverberg (Classic and brilliant sci fi)
2. Living Dangerously - Katie Fforde (Huge fun)
3. West of the Moon - Katherine Langrish (Wonderful YA fantasy)
4. Dark Hollow - John Connolly (Scary, scary, scary)
5. Styx and Stones - Carola Dunn (Joyous)

Six books I was disappointed with (Hmm, not easy...)

1. The Bookman - Lavie Tidhar (Actually not terrible...)
2. Stories - ed. by Neil Gaiman and Al Sorrantonio (Patchy)
3. Partnership - Anne McCaffrey (Not as good as I'd hoped)
4. A Cold Day for Murder - Dana Stabenow (Again, not quite as good as I'd hoped but not actually bad.)
5. Wild Designs - Katie Fforde. (Far from a bad book, but aspects of it were annoying.)

Six series of books read or started

1. Daisy Dalrymple - Carola Dunn (continued)
2. Charlie Parker - John Connolly (started)
3. Flavia de Luce - Alan Bradley (continued)
4. Merrily Watkins - Phil Rickman (continued)
5. Holmes on the Range - Steve Hockensmith (started)

So those are my choices for the first six months of 2012. What are yours? Please credit Jo if you decide to join in.

Monday 2 July 2012

Three Daisy Dalrymples

Well gosh, long time no see. Many thanks to those who've been wondering where I am. I know it's been three weeks since I posted, really I've just been a bit busy with things like decorating, de-cluttering, and family bits and pieces. The other thing is that though I've been reading a bit, it's been three books in the same series - Daisy Dalrymple to be precise - and it felt a bit silly to blog about every one separately. So here I am with three quick reviews of books 5, 6 and 7 of the crime series by Carola Dunn.

While out motoring, Daisy's friend, the Honourable Philip Petrie, meets American, Miss Gloria Arbuckle and her millionaire father, and falls head-over-heels in love with Gloria. Unfortunately, it's not long before Gloria is kidnapped. Her father doesn't want to involve the police so Philip enlists Daisy to help her find his love. It seems Gloria is being held close to where Daisy was brought up so Daisy invites herself to stay at her old home, now lived in by her cousin and his wife, but she can't tell them what's going on. She manages also to invite several trusted friends to the house to help her in her search. Her boyfriend, Alec, is of course a Scotland Yard detective, so Daisy can't tell him either. Things are very complicated and get even more so when Daisy at last finds where Gloria is being held and ends up being held captive herself...

Daisy has been asked to cover The Henley Regatta by an American magazine. She goes to stay with an aunt, her mother's sister, and their family, the son of whom is rowing in the Oxford team. In fact, the house is full of rowers and Daisy shares a room with her younger cousin who is in love with a member of the team. Two other team members are at logger-heads. Horace Bott is a scholarship student, a shopkeeper's son, and looked down on by the others because his background is so humble. Worst of his tormentors is Basil DeLancy, an arrogant young man that no one really cares for. DeLancy publicly humiliates Bott and Bott swears revenge. When DeLancy keels over, dead, in the middle of a race it seems Bott has kept his promise. But Daisy is not at all convinced. Alec arrives, thinking he and Daisy are going to spend a delightful weekend together. Instead, he finds himself embroiled in yet another murder investigation involving Daisy and he is not best pleased...

It's an unbearably hot summer, Daisy, lunching with her brother-in-law, John Frobisher, feels there is something bothering him. Eventually he tells her why he's invited her to lunch: he needs her help. He's been the victim of a poison-pen crusade... on coming back from the trenches a few years ago, his wife being away, he spent the night with a female neighbour. Daisy goes to stay with her sister's family in Kent, taking Belinda, her fiance's 10 year old daughter. Her sister, Violet, has a boy of the same age, Derek, and Daisy feels the holiday will do Belinda good, and she can investigate further at the same time. Daisy soon discovers that John is not the only recipient of these vile letters; half the village seems to fallen victim. But who could be writing them? There are so many suspects that Daisy is thoroughly confused. Things come to a head when Daisy finds a body in the graveyard while the children are in the vicinity. Alec, Daisy's fiance, finds out what's happening and heads down to Kent, thoroughly alarmed and worried about his daughter. Daisy, on the other hand, has more than enough problems to cope with... chief of which is finding herself, for the first time, a suspect in a a murder case.

Well now, I've gone from 'liking' these Daisy Dalrymple books, after I'd read the first three or four, to loving them now I've gone as far as book seven. Possibly the author is now into her stride, I don't know. They certainly seem more accomplished, a bit deeper somehow. I think the thing I really like about them though, well two things... the first is the humour and the second is the relationship - the romance if you like - between Daisy and her Scotland yard detective, Alec Fletcher. It's complicated by the fact that she's upper-class, an 'honourable', being the daughter of a lord. Of course, to her that makes no difference, partly because she isn't in the least bit snobby, but also because she has to earn a living after her father died and the house and title went to a cousin, her brother having died in The Great War. Alec is middle-class, a highly respected detective, and doesn't actually feel the difference in their stations acutely... only slightly. He's shocked, for instance, to discover the size of the house she grew up in, isn't always impressed with the kind of men the upper-classes seem to produce etc. It all adds an extra bit of frission to the relationship. And it's very interesting. Add to that Daisy's propensity for falling over dead bodies, which he tries to be tolerant about but doesn't always manage:

'Daisy, how is it you keep falling over dead bodies? Do people see you coming and promptly decide to do someone in?'

In the final book here, Styx and Stones, Daisy has Belinda, his daughter, with her when the body is found and Alec is furious that Daisy took her to Kent knowing things might get dangerous. That made for one or two interesting scenes which I won't go into, but were thoroughly enjoyed by the romantic in me.

As I said, the books have become far more interesting than they were at the beginning and, for me anyway, I find once I start one, I can't put it down. I'm up to book seven and there are now twenty I think, so I'm quite happy that I still have loads more of this thoroughly charming series to read.