Tuesday 31 December 2013

Favourite books of 2013

I wasn't quite sure how to approach my post about my reading in 2013. I've seen all sorts but several people have gone for just choosing a top ten and after some thought that seemed to be the way to do it. So here we go.

If you look at pure numbers of books read by me this year, which is 91, then it would seem to have been a very successful reading year for me. I tend these days though to look more carefully at what I read rather than how many. I'm still pleased. Of the 91, 22 were non-fiction. It could be better but it's twice the amount I read last year. I'd like it be around 30 and therefore a third of what I read so I shall just have to try harder next year.

Another interesting statistic is the library book versus own books one. It seems I read 48 library books which means 43 were either my own or borrowed from family. I had thought that I'd read fewer of my own books, so that's interesting. I'm doing the Mount TBR challenge next year and was aiming for 48 of my own books. Possibly I should have pitched that slightly higher and gone for 60. I'll have to see how I go and adjust my category if necessary.

Anyway, without further ado these are the books I enjoyed the most this year. I've split them into fiction first and then non-fiction.


1. Rendezvous With Rama - Arthur C. Clarke

2. The Help - Kathryn Stockett

3. The Ship of Magic - Robin Hobb

4. Unseen Academicals - Terry Pratchett

5. In the Bleak Midwinter - Julia Spencer-Fleming

6. Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter - Tom Franklyn

7. The Last Runaway - Tracy Chevalier

8. The Dead Secret - Wilkie Collins

9. Helliconia Spring - Brian W. Aldiss

10. Dawn - Octavia Butler

Looking at these, half are science fiction and fantasy and the rest either crime or stand-alone stories. I would have expected there to be more crime but thinking about it I have enjoyed rather a lot sci-fi this year. Picking a favourite is very hard... three stand out as being terrific: The Help, The Ship of Magic and Helliconia Spring. I'm not sure I can choose: the problem being that months stretch between reading these books and the impact wears off a bit. If I read them one after the other it would be easier to pick. I think the prize has to go to The Help by Kathryn Stockett for being such a compulsive, thought provoking, brilliant book. I really could not put it down and was always keen to pick it up whenever I sat down to read. That for me is proof of a wonderful book.


1. Serving Victoria - Kate Hubbard

2. I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings - Maya Angelou

3. Down the Nile - Rosemary Mahoney

4. A Point of View - Clive James

5. Travels With Macy - Bruce Fogle

6. One Man and His Bike - Mike Carter

7. Turtles in Our Wake - Sandra Clayton

8. Walk the Lines - Mark Mason

9.A Dog Abroad - Bruce Fogle

10. The Happy Isles of Oceania - Paul Theroux (Not reviewed but enjoyed nevertheless.)

Another hard decision on which is my favourite. I seem to have chosen 7 travel books. No surprise there as I'm a comfirmed armchair traveller. The other three are a book of essays (Clive James), a history volume (Serving Victoria) and the first book of Maya Angelou's memoirs. They're *all* fantastic and trying to narrow it down is hard. It comes down to I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, Down the Nile and One Man and his Bike. Given that One Man and His Bike by Mike Carter made me want to immediately pack my bags and head off to Scotland, I think it will have to be that.

His wonderful descriptions of the British coast and in particular Scotland - and specifically the Hebridean Islands - stayed with me for weeks. It might seem a bit perverse to choose such an obscure book for my favourite non-fiction of the year, but there you go, sometimes an obscure book will hit you right between the eyes and that one did. Loved it.

I'll leave my thoughts on what I would like to read in 2014 for another post. Suffice it to say that next year is going to be The Year of the Reading Challenge for me. LOL

Last but not least I just want to wish everyone who reads this blog, whether they comment or not, a very Happy New Year. I hope 2014 will be a good year for all and a much better year for those who are struggling at the moment... and I know plenty are. A little bit of peace in the world would go down very nicely too. Surely it can't be too much to hope for.


Monday 30 December 2013

Southern Lit wrap-up

One of the challenges I took part in this year and completed is the Southern Literature Reading challenge 2013, which was hosted by The Introverted Reader.

I chose to read four books for this challenge which was the highest level. The books I read are:

1. I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou (Arkansas)

2. The Help by Kathryn Stockett (Mississippi)

3. Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter by Tom Franklin (Mississippi)

4. Last Wool and Testament by Molly Macrae. (Tennessee)

Without exception I enjoyed them all and would recommend them as good books to anyone. The first three were real insights into the world of the black person in a couple of the southern American states. At some stage I would really like to read more in this vein. My favourite book of the four is hard to choose but I just loved the simple style in which The Help was written, the intrigue in it, and the way it told you of a way of life without banging you over the head with facts. For that reason it was my favourite. I loved doing this challenge and would very much like to do it again someday. Thanks to The Introverted Reader for hosting.


Saturday 28 December 2013

Books for Christmas

If there's one thing I love to get for Christmas it's books. As this is a book blog I suppose a few people might be forgiven for thinking that a rather obvious statement - along the lines of Mary Berry is good cook or Dawn French likes a bit of chocolate... The thing is, it was only a few years ago I let the guilt thing over-rule my preferances, ie. knowing I owned a lot of books already made me think I shouldn't ask for more. Then I had a huge clear-out of books and the charity shops benefitted hugely. I had gaps on my shelves for the first time in ages. At the same time it occurred to me how nice and easy it was for my family when I made a list of books I wanted as presents. They could just pop over to Amazon, choose which ones they liked the look of and Bob's Your Uncle... I suddenly became the easiest person in the family to buy for at Christmas. So now I've stopped feeling guilty about this and happily ask for books at Christmas and for birthdays.

This year I made a list based partly on a few of the challenges I'm doing next year and partly on books I perhaps couldn't get at the library or just wanted to own.

These four books came from my eldest daughter and her husband. On the top row:

A History of Scotland by Neil Oliver. I'm a big fan of his history documentaries on TV although I don't think we watched this one. But this is perfect for my Read Scotland challenge for 2014.

Gaudy Night by Dorothy L. Sayers. I'm slowly collecting the Lord Peter Wimsey series and this title is apparently one of the best in the series. I'll be reading this for the Vintage Crime challenge I'll be doing next year.

Wildwood: A Journey Through Trees by Roger Deakin. This one I just fancied the look of.

A Thousand Miles from Anywhere by Sandra Clayton. I've read the first two books of this sailing travelogue from the library but, annoyingly, the library doesn't have book three. So on the list it went...

The Survivors by Amanda Havard is a paranormal story about the 26 children who were exciled after the Salem witch trials and what happens to them and their descendants. I'd never heard of this book and am so thrilled a dear friend in Scotland sent it to me for Christmas as it sounds like a brilliant read.

The Worst Hard Time by Timothy Egan. This is a non-fiction about the dust storms of America's High Plains in the 1930. How the people who stayed survived and so on. I'll read this for my USA states reading project. This was sent to me by a lovely friend from Ohio.

The Song of Hiawatha by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. Years and years since I read this and I don't own a copy so it will be lovely to read it again next year. This was also sent to me by my friend in Ohio.

Night of the Living Deed by E. J. Copperman. This the first book in the Haunted Guesthouse mystery series. It looks like huge fun and I'll be adding it to my pile for the 'mysteries' challenge that I'll be doing next year. This was also bought for me by my friend in Scotland.

So, all in all, I think I did very well indeed for books this Christmas and am very grateful to family and friends. I'm thrilled to bits with all of them and can't wait to get stuck in in 2014.


Monday 23 December 2013

Merry Christmas!

I have family staying until Friday so am taking a short break from my blog (definitely not a long one).

Merry Christmas to all those who celebrate it, I hope the holidays are all that you wish for... and feature lots of books!


Thursday 19 December 2013

The Postal Reading Challenge

Ok, well I think I probably need saving from myself now. I found yet another challenge I want to do! That makes five of them for next year and that doesn't include Carl's Once Upon a Time or RIP. I must be bonkers but what the hell... in for a penny, in for a pound.

This new one is the Postal Reading Challenge which is being hosted by The Indextrious Reader.

What is the Challenge?

The key is to read and review books with a postal theme. These can be non-fiction on the subject of letter writing, collections of real letters, or epistolary fiction of any era. Be creative! Review each one and link back to the challenge -- there will be quarterly roundup posts for you to link reviews and posts to as you create them.

The challenge runs from January 1st, 2014 to December 31st, 2014. You can sign up ANY TIME throughout the year.

Any books chosen can overlap with any other challenge, and rereads are allowed. Just remember to review them somewhere online in order for them to count toward the challenge. Lists don't have to be made in advance, though feel free to share your choices and inspire other readers if you wish! I always think that making lists is half the fun :)

There are a few ways to participate in this challenge.

Postcard Level: Read and review 4 books with a postal theme.

Snail Mail Level: Read and review 8 books with a postal theme.

Parcel Post Level: Read and review 12 books with a postal theme.

Air Mail Express Level: Read and review 12 books with a postal theme AND commit to sending more old fashioned letters this year. At least 12 pieces of mail (or more!), and you can share numbers or even images of your mail art in the quarterly roundups.

I'm going to have a stab at 'Snail Mail' level... reading and reviewing 8 books with a postal theme. I had a quick look at my tbr shelves and came up with seven books straight off:

The Letters of Nancy Mitford and Evelyn Waugh edited by Charlotte Mosley
Up the Country by Emily Eden
Letters to Alice on First Reading Jane Austen by Fay Weldon
Letters From England by Elizabeth Davis Bancroft
Letters of a Woman Homesteader by Elinore Pruitt Stewart
The Turkish Embassy Letters by Lady Mary Wortley Montagu
Up with the Larks Tessa Hainsworth
Jane Austen: Selected Letters by Jane Austen and Vivien Jones

Books I don't own but would like to read:

Letters from Yellowstone by Diane Smith
Letters from Skye by Jessica Brockmole
The Letters of Noel Coward edited by Barry Day
My Dear Charlotte by Hazel Holt

And no doubt there will be more...


Sunday 15 December 2013


My third book for Carl's Science Fiction Experience is Dawn by Octavia E. Butler.

Lilith Iyapo is 'awakened' on an alien spaceship. It's not the first time she's been awakened but her memories of what happened on previous occasions are a little vague: disembodied voices speaking to her but never answering her questions - where am I? What do you want with me? - strange alien rooms that she has tried to claw her way out of, to no avail. A terrifying nightmare.

She knows and remembers that humanity has destroyed itself in a nuclear war. She was alone anyway, her husband and young son having been killed in a car accident before the nuclear holocaust. Somehow she survived but how she was rescued she doesn't know.

This awakening is different. For the first time she sees one of her alien captors, the Oankali. She finds him grotesque and repellant but knows this is because he is so different. His job is to get her used to his species, speaking to him and touching him without being overwhelmed by her fear. Gradually they establish some kind of relationship and Lilith discovers her fate. It seems that a few humans survived and were saved from the nuclear winter on the planet. Lilith has been on the spaceship for many years, mostly in suspended animation. It seems that she has been deemed suitable to awaken a group of forty humans and is to teach them about the Oankali and lead them back to Earth to begin anew. But why should this alien race go to all this trouble? Is there something in it for them? But, of course...

Goodness me, I seem to have been seeing recommendations for Octavia Butler's work for years. She passed away only a few years ago I think, and if this the quality of writing lost - what a tragedy. I didn't really know what to expect when I started this, my first book by her. I gathered she wrote books from the black female perspective and this is what Dawn is... plus I expected a bit of a feminist slant to the story. Whether that's there or not is open to debate in my opinion. I didn't come away with a great opinion of the men in this novel, but then the women were a mixed bunch too. Lilith is by far and away the most interesting and sympathetic character, closely followed by the Oankali themselves.

Butler, in fact, created a very believable alien race in these books... this is book 1 in the Xenogenisis series... and to be frank I found them more sympathetic than the humans. For one thing this book is, if nothing else, is a study of how groups of people behave in circumstances that are stressful and out of their control... when the experience is prolonged. How they form cliques, create a hierarchy, take sides, find a scapegoat when things are difficult or inexplicable and so on. I found myself getting severely frustrated by the stance adopted by many of the human group, even found myself thinking, 'If they'd ever read any science fiction they might not be behaving in this manner!' Which is silly... which of us has any idea how we would behave in these totally unknown, terrifying and unpredictable circumstances?

Lilith truly did not want this job. She's not hungry for power and is possessed of a great deal of wisdom and tolerance. She can easily see how this could pan out but is frustrated that the alien race are very bad at listening to her. It's a recipe for disaster, but she is still the best person to handle it. It made me consider the kind of people we allow to have power in our various countries and the wisdom of giving it to those who actually *want* it. This is indeed a very thought-provoking book. You can't read it without thinking quite hard about the nature of humanity, power, group-dynamics and so on. The aliens in this book consider humans to have a fatal flaw and if you can read this without at least giving some consideration to the idea that they might be right, you're a better person than me.

Book two in this series is Adulthood Rites. I don't own it yet but believe you me I intend to.


Tuesday 10 December 2013

My Kind of Mystery challenge

Well, here I go again with yet another reading challenge. I'm past caring now, LOL, the more the merrier!

This one is called the My Kind of Mystery challenge and is being hosted by Riedel Fascination.

Mystery needs no murder! Hidden passageways, ancient places, eerie phenomenon… “Dan Brown” meets Nancy Atherton! Gothic greats of the 1960s-1980s, modern releases. I am launching a reading challenge that welcomes the lot: tutorials, mystery author biographies, fiction… Any form of mystery and its authors fit my all-encompassing theme.

The categories are:

Any format.
Any demographic

Non-adult must be published by 1990 or earlier.
Limitless length.
A short story, compilations; bring them to the table!
Reviews wanted.
A link to Goodreads, Book Depository… just to show you finished. One line is fine.

Catch your breath: we launch February 1st, 2014 – February 28th, 2015!

OK, well I've decided to go for the category 'Secret Messages' which is to read 5 to 10 books. A few books I've searched out that fit the challenge:

Touch Not the Cat - Mary Stewart
The Mystery of the Sea - Bram Stoker
The River of Adventure - Enid Blyton (YA)
The Rendezvous and other stories - Daphne du Maurier
Not After Midnight - Daphne du Maurier
Agatha Christie An Autobiography - Agatha Christie
The Woman in White - Wilkie Collins
The Little Stranger - Sarah Waters
The Riddle of the Sands - Erskine Childers
Aoife's Chariot - Katherine Pathak
The Talisman Ring - Georgette Heyer
Whispers in the Sand - Barbara Erskine

Hopefully I will read a few of these... the plan is for this challenge to help me get a few more books off my tbr mountain in fact. But I'm also sure other books will be added to the list as I go along.

Books actually read:

1. The Talisman Ring - Georgette Heyer
2. A Moment of Silence - Anna Dean
3. Touch Not the Cat - Mary Stewart


Thursday 5 December 2013

The Warrior's Apprentice

My second read for Carl's 2014 Sci-Fi Experience is The Warrior's Apprentice by Lois McMaster Bujold.

Miles Vorkosigan is the son of an aristocratic family on the planet of Barrayar. Due to something that happened while he was in his mother's womb he was born disabled - thus he is dwarfish and brittle boned. Despite all this he still wants to be an officer in the Barrayaran Military but, obviously, although he has sailed through the accademic exams he's struggling badly with the physical requirements of the training.

Crashing out, Miles is sent off to the planet Beta to visit his grandmother, along with his bodyguard, Bathari, and Bathari's daughter, Elena. Of course it doesn't work out like that. Miles ends up saving a pilot who has holed himself up in his ship and won't come out, by buying the ship and hiring the man. Another man, in different circumstances, an engineer, is also saved by Miles and suddenly he has the start of his own freight business come mercenary force. Along with Bathari and Elena the five of them end up in a war zone where things really turn interesting, because deciding whose side they're on is really difficult...

I'm not sure whether this can be counted as the first book in the Miles Vorkosigan series or not. This is because there is a book, Shards of Honor, that deals with how Miles's parents met and the reason for his disability. I believe some look upon it as a different series (Fantastic Fiction list it as such) or a prequel, but it was actually written in the same year so possibly they're meant to be read one after the other depending on what the reader wants to do. Personally, I wanted to start the series and Shards of Honor had not yet arrived so I read The Warrior's Apprentice first. I'll be able to judge when I've read both whether it makes any difference whatsoever.

This a hugely popular series and I can see why. This first book is a very enjoyable space opera romp... possibly coming into the 'military science fiction' category too. I'm not sure that would normally be my thing as I'm not hugely into war stories or battle scenarios. But Miles is an excellent character, reminding me at times of Star Trek's Captain Kirk with his charismatic personality, and that saves it completely in my eyes. I love the fact that Lois McMaster Bujold was bold enough to make him disabled. How very much more interesting is he in his thinking when you can share his unbidden thoughts about his disability and how he can cope with physical challenges or the manner in which he is treated differently to everyone else. For me this was probably the best element to this book. That said, I also enjoyed its other-worldliness... I always enjoy this characteristic of sci-fi novels... build me a convincing alien planet with weird customs and I'm always a happy bunny. It's the reason I read this genre if I'm completely honest, and it's very well done here.

Obviously, I'll be continuing on with this new to me series. I have a couple of other sci-fis I want to read first but will definitely be reading Shards of Honor within the confines of The Sci-Fi Experience.


Monday 2 December 2013

Books read in November

Last month was rather a slow reading month for me it seems... though it certainly did not seem like it at the time. I read five books, a little less than my average six to eight, but that's fine, I no longer stress over numbers and prefer to deliberate more over whether I actually enjoyed what I read. And the answer to that is 'Yes, I did'.

Here are those five books:

75. The Great Railway Bazaar by Paul Theroux. The author travels from London, right across Europe and Asia to Japan and back again via Siberia. I found this a bit slow at times, at other times it was very interesting particularly when dealing with the people he met. I got an excellent idea of the frozen wastes of Siberia from it and that's mainly what I remember best about this travelogue.

76. The Dragon's Eye by Dugold A. Steer. A YA fantasy, recommended by my grand-daughter and I have to say I enjoyed it rather a lot. Lot's of skullduggery regarding dragons.

77. Last Wool and Testament by Molly MacRae. Crafty crime yarn (sorry...) Very enjoyable.

78. Dolphins Under the Bed by Sandra Clayton. Part one of a trilogy of sailing travel books, of course I read book two first... typical. Enjoyed this one just as much anyway. It charts the couple's first trip down the north coast of France, across the Bay of Biscay, along the Spanish and Portuguese coast to the Med. Very chatty style of writing and nice descriptions of the coastal areas of various countries. Annoyingly the library does not have book three. In my opinion this is a heinous crime and ought to be punishable by something very nasty indeed.

79. Helliconia Spring by Brian W. Aldiss. My first book for Carl's Sci-Fi Experience.

So, five books ranging from good, to very good, to 'amazing'. Which book was amazing and therefore my favourite book of the month? Helliconia Spring. It reminded me why I love classic science fiction SO much and that I really must read a lot more of it next year.

I'm currently reading two books. The first is, Jaguars Ripped my Flesh by Tim Cahill. This is a book of travel 'essays' really. He's had adventures all over the world and written a number of very good books about his travels and experiences. Enjoying this very much. And secondly, The Warrior's Apprentice by Lois McMaster Bujold. I'm fair galloping through this one as it's a wildly entertaining space opera romp. There are a lot more in this series and I can see me reading quite a few of them next year.

So, here we are in December once again. I say 'once again' because I can't believe how quickly this year has flashed by. It's frightening. Never mind... there are always good books to read and thank goodness for that.

Happy December and 'Christmas' reading for those that do that. I have one or two myself that I might indulge in.


Friday 29 November 2013

Helliconia Spring

Well, Carl's Sci-Fi Experience 2014 doesn't officially begin until Sunday but, unable to resist the temptation, I started my first book over a week ago.

Helliconia Spring, by Brian W. Aldiss, is science fiction on a huge canvas. This is in fact the first part of a trilogy and the most important thing to understand is the astromony of the system to which the planet of Helliconia belongs. It's one of several planets that revolve around the star, Batalix. All of these in turn revolve around a much bigger star, Freyr. Helliconia is a planet with two suns. What this means for this inhabited planet is that basically it has two years. One is around the same length as ours - slightly longer - and the other is over 1,800 years long. What prevails, climate-wise is the year that is 1,800 years long, which means that the seasons they get are each nearly 500 years in length.

Their winters are like an ice-age, their summers unbearably hot to the point of extinction of huge numbers of the population. In the space of one of these centuries long 'years', whole civilisations rise and then are brought to the edge of extinction again.

When the book begins a young human boy, Yuli, is out hunting with his father. It seems like the dead of a snow and ice filled winter but in fact, unbeknown to them, it is not. The endless winter is coming to an end. They of course know nothing about this. They need food to take back to Yuli's mother who is ill. A massive herd of grazing beasts passes them and a few days later while harvesting the fallen and trampled animals, Yuli's father is taken prisoner by Phagors, the other sentient beings on the planet. Yuli is now alone with nowhere to go.

The boy wanders and eventually ends up in Pannoval, a city built under a mountain. Eventually the boy becomes a priest to try and discover some of the secrets of the city. It's hinted that there are places where the secrets of the history of the planet can be found, but are there?

Yuli's descendants in the town of Oldorando will be the people who experience the huge climate changes that the planet of Helliconia is now undergoing. And it's the women with their thirst for knowledge who will try to change the way humans think and act and who will aim once more at a modern civilisation for the population.

Very, very hard to do this book any justice at all. As I said before it's a painting on a huge canvas. If you're looking for a fast paced, exciting science fiction novel to read then this is probably not it. The story deals with several generations of the same primitive family living in conditions similar to early Native American Indians... and probably those living in the frozen wastes of Canada - at the start anyway. As the weather warms up things begin to change but attitudes remain entrenched... the women do the work while the men hunt. Thus it has always been and thus it will always stay if the men have their way. It's up to the women to try and introduce education but it's an uphill struggle and I found it a very interesting process to follow. Rather frustrating at times as you know the women are right but the men are not good at listening.

Along with all this we learn that orbiting the planet is a space-city peopled with Terrans, and that they are watching and recording events on the planet. They know that the Phagors who kidnapped Yuli's father are carrying a disease. They know what will happen as the climate warms. And thus, little dribs and drabs of information are fed to the reader regarding astronomy, the science of the planet, diseases endemic to the world and so on. It's all utterly fascinating... well I found it so anyway. It might not be to everyone's taste but this mix of factual science and a character-driven narrative suited me right down to the ground.

The world-building in the book is some of the best I've ever encountered. I'm a bit of a sucker for a good alien world anyway... possibly it could have been a trifle more alien as it does read rather like Earth during the Ice-Age... but I found enough differences to keep me happy and mysteries enough to keep me absorbed. There's a lot you're not told that's presumably being kept for successive books. Basically, this is a 'Rise and Fall of Civilisation' book... I gather Brian Aldiss was/is (he's still alive and writing) very interested in that theme.

At 550 pages this is quite a chunky read. The slowness of it might put some people off too; it isn't a quick read, partly because of its length and partly because of all the detail. It's densely written and you need to concentrate while reading. But oh goodness, is it worth sticking with it. I finished this book days ago and am still thinking about it, wondering what the next two books, Helliconia Summer and Helliconia Winter, will hold and whether they'll answer various questions. I now have both books and intend reading at least one more for the sci-fi experience. These books are from the early to mid-1980s and part of me wishes I'd read them earlier as I did know about them. The rest of me is actually grateful I didn't as I'm certain my reading brain is far more mature than it was 30 years ago and I'm not at all sure I would have appreciated this book as much back then as I do now.


Wednesday 20 November 2013

The 2014 Sci-Fi Experience

“For my part I know nothing with any certainty,
but the sight of the stars makes me dream.”

~Vincent Van Gogh

Hear, hear. And this quote explains why I was a willing victim of TV shows like Dr. Who, Star Trek, Blake's Seven, Star Trek: TNG and Voyager. They were utterly irresistible to me, couldn't fail. I started reading science fiction at about age 14, read everything the library had and bought a few books with my meagre pocket money. Favourite authors were H.G. Wells, Clifford D. Simak, A.E. Van Vogt, Damon Knight, Edmund Cooper. In the late sixties Anne McCaffrey sprang upon the scene and I devoured Restoree, Decision at Doona, The Ship Who Sang and the first Pern novel, Dragonflight.

And then... well I just I sort of gave up on science fiction! Preoccupied with raising kids, I read historical romances instead. I almost feel embarrassed to admit it. And when I did return to speculative fiction I turned to fantasy and horror - Victorian ghost stories - not science fiction. In truth, I didn't really return until about 6 or 7 seven years ago when someone recommended Grass by Sheri Tepper. I read it, was knocked out, and wondered why on earth I'd not kept up with my sci-fi habit.

Several years ago I started to do Carl's Sci-Fi Experience and, *at long last*, properly rediscovered my taste for sci-fi and the joys of space opera, although I don't remember ever calling it that in my teens. I didn't do the challenge last year and sorely missed it, so this year I'm very definitely going to do it. Excited? Me? Oh yes.

The artwork here is by Stephan Martiniere... Carl always finds the most fantastic artists for his challenges/experiences. The sign-up post is here.

Carl is inviting readers to:

a) Continue their love affair with science fiction
b) Return to science fiction after an absence, or
c) Experience for the first time just how exhilarating science fiction can be.

The Experience begins on the 1st. December 2013 and ends on the 31st, January 2014. There are no set numbers of books to read, no pressure, you just get to read what you like, be it one book or twenty: it's up to you.

I have a few books I would like to read but am not sure yet how many I will get to. Three or four would be nice but we'll see. These are a few of them:

Helliconia Spring by Brian Aldiss
Consider Phlebus by Iain M. Banks
Sailing to Byzantium by Robert Silverberg
Doors of his Face, Lamps of his Mouth by Roger Zelazny
A Fire Upon the Deep by Vernor Vinge
Dawn by Octavia Butler
Darkship Thieves by Sarah A. Hoyt
The Warrior's Apprentice by Lois McMaster Bujold

And of course, there are others, lots of them. So we'll see how it goes. But one thing I will say, I really do plan to read my own books!


Wednesday 13 November 2013

Read Scotland 2014

I'm at it again. 'At it' meaning finding myself completely unable to resist a tempting challenge. I had told myself that, along with Carl's various challenges, the Mount TBR and the Vintage Crime ones were more than enough for 2014. Ha! Peggy at Peggy Ann's Post has decided to host her own Scottish books challenge. I read about it, resisted... for about half a day... and then decided to participate. What can I say? I have Scottish ancestors and not that far back - my grandfather was a Scot from Aberdeen - so that makes me rather susceptible to anything Scottish. We're also hoping to holiday up there for the first time, hopefully next year. Plus, I investigated the books I have and was shocked at how many I own that will qualify for this one. So, without further ado, Peggy's Read Scotland 2014 challenge:

Challenge levels:

Just A Keek (a little look): 1-4 books read
The Highlander: 5-8 books
The Hebridean: 9-12 books
Ben Nevis: 13+ books


Read and review Scottish books -any genre, any form- written by a Scottish author (by birth or immigration) or about or set in Scotland.

Challenge runs January 1 to December 31, 2014

Books you read may count for other challenges.

You don't have to have a blog to participate. If you have a blog, post a challenge sign-up and link that post (not your home page) to the links below. Grab a copy of the challenge badge if you want to post it too. If you don't have a blog let me know in a comment below that you are participating and what level you are aiming for.

Post your review on your blog and link the review to the Read Scotland 2014 Review Page I'll be putting up the first of the year. If you don't have a blog and still want to review you can:
1: post a review at any bookseller that allows reviews, and link to it
2: send me a review by email and I will post it here for you.
3: Join the group I started at Goodreads HERE
Or you can also just let us know how your coming along in the comments below the links on the review page.

All that remains is for me to choose the level I want to aim for. I think I'll go for The Hebridean - 9 to 12 books. This might be a bit ambitious of me but it's OK to double up and I can already see that I'll be able to do that easily.

A few books I found on my shelves and Kindle that will suit this challenge. (This is not a list to stick to religiously, just some ideas for my own use.)

Iain M. Banks - Consider Phlebas
Margaret Oliphant - Miss Marjoriebanks
Tobias Smollett - Travels Through France and Italy
John Buchan - Huntingtower
Peter May - The Lewis Man
Dorothy Wordsworth - Recollections of a Tour Made in Scotland
Ann Lindsay - Seeds of Blood and Beauty: Scottish Plant Explorers
Barbara Erskine - Kingdom of Shadows
Tales of Terror from Blackwood's Magazine (It was a Scottish magazine.)
John Muir - The Story of my Boyhood and Youth
Stef Penney - The Tenderness of Wolves
Katherine Pathak - Aoife's Chariot
Neil Oliver - A History of Scotland
George MacDonald - The Back of the North Wind
Derek Cooper - The Road to the Isles
Robert Louis Stevenson - Selected Letters
Sir Walter Scott - The Antiquary

A few authors whose books I don't own but which I'd like to read:

D.E. Stevenson
Gavin Maxwell
Katherine Stewart
Mairi Hedderwick
John and Carole Barrowman (Hollow Earth series)
Gavin Esler
Val McDermid
Joesphine Tey
Linda Gillard (Cauldstone)

And there will doubtless be others I'll come across as I read and absorb what others read for this challenge. Looking forward to starting and many thanks to Peggy for hosting this.

Books actually read:

1. Consider Phlebas - Iain M. Banks
2. Letters from the Horn of Africa - 1923-1942 - Sandy Curle, ed. Christian Curle
3. Sisters of Sinai: How Two Lady Adventurers Found the Hidden Gospels by Janet Soskice


Tuesday 12 November 2013

Last Wool and Testament

My first three books for the 2013 Southern Literature challenge, hosted by The Introverted Reader, were what you might call 'quite serious'. In some cases 'very' serious. So I thought for my final book of the challenge that I would lighten the mood a bit and go for something a bit less demanding. The book I chose was Last Wool and Testament by Molly MacRae.

Kath Rutledge is on her way to her grandmother, Ivy's, funeral, late and speeding, when she's stopped by the local deputy sheriff of Blue Plum, Tennessee. On hearing who she is he says a couple of things about Ivy that Kath finds disturbing and unpleasant. Something is clearly wrong.

Ivy owned The Weaver's Cat in Blue Plum, a shop selling wool, threads, knitting supplies etc. Still grieving, Kath discovers that Ivy may have been a suspect in a murder, the poisoning of one, Emmett Cobb. She then discovers that the house she thought she would inherit now belongs, not to her, but to Emmett's son, Max. All in all, it's a huge mystery. How did Emmett come to own Ivy's house? And who killed him and why?

Kath enlists help from her solicitor, Homer, and from the TGIF group... Thank God It's Fibre... that meet at the shop. And there's also help from an unlikely, supernatural, source - although whether it's help or hindrance, Kath can't quite decide. But this mystery must be solved and soon, before someone else dies...

The joy of this book is in the characters and the setting. The small Tennessee town of Blue Plum is delightful with its views of The Great Smoky Mountains and small-town closeness of the people. I liked Kath, and felt for her with the frustrations of her dire situation. The ladies of the TGIF group were great and I adored the shop; if it existed I'd be there like a shot on our next visit to the USA! Several people were irritating and annoying but you need that to add friction to a story. The seam of gentle humour that runs through the book is absolutely delightful and I laughed quite a lot. The author has a lovely droll way of putting things that I really enjoyed.

Mystery-wise the plot doesn't really get going properly until about 100 pages or more in. And I feel like there were a couple of plot holes which is something I don't usually notice, but now can't really remember so phooey to that...

Truthfully, I liked this book easily enough to buy book 2, Dyeing Wishes, for my Kindle. I'm not massively into cosy mysteries but make an exception for this one for capturing me with good characters and a nice sense of humour.

As well as being my last book for the Southern Lit. challenge this book is my first book for the state of Tennessee for my own personal USA one.


Monday 11 November 2013

Tredegar House - South Wales

I was reminded yesterday that I have photos that I took in August in South Wales that I haven't shared here on my blog yet. So, without further ado, here is the first batch. We stopped off at Tredegar House on the way to spend a few days in and around Cardiff. The house is owned by the National Trust and is situated on the edge of the town of Newport. The NT website is here along with lots of extra information and a slide-show picture thingy.

First a few shots of the garden:

These old greenhouses have a real charm of their own.

I also love old apple trees.

And colourful patches of nasturtiums (and one day I may even learn how to spell them and not have to look it up in the dictionary every time...)

And now a few shots of the house and stables... with nice gates. :-)

The local dalek. Our grandson was with us, aged 6 at the time, he's a very competent reader... good enough to spot and read a sign near the entrance that there was a dalek somewhere in the grounds or house for kids to search for. Of course, we never heard the end of it then... 'Where's the dalek, where's the dalek???' Eventually he found it...

The Lord of the Manor. He wishes... (My husband in case anyone is wondering.)

So that was Tredegar House, a lovely spot, an interesting house and lovely gardens to stroll around.


Wednesday 6 November 2013

2014 Mount TBR challenge

One thing I suddenly realised - well maybe not as suddenly as all that - this year is that I seem to be concentrating more on reading library books than I do on reading those on my own bookshelves. I sort of understand why. Going to the library once a week is a lovely thing to do... all those books make for a great *free* book fix and there's also the added consideration that if libraries are not used we might lose them. But I also buy books. Not in huge quantities, I will say that, and I also tend to go for the cheapest copy I can find either on Amazon Marketplace or in charity shops. *But* once I buy the book there's this feeling that OK... I now own it and can read it whenever I want. So up on the shelf it goes, and quite often, I'm ashamed to admit, there it stays and off I toddle to the library to pick up something else to read. It's silly. And over the past few weeks I've been thinking that I should try next year to get some of my own books read. I have read some of my own this year. When I counted, out of the 76 books I've read so far this year around 30 were my own, that's less than a half. It's not terrible but I could clearly do a *lot* better and to that end I'm going to have a go at a challenge that will hopefully help me out.

The challenge is the Mount TBR challenge, 2014 and it's being hosted by Bev at My Reader's Block.

These are the challenge levels:

Pike's Peak: Read 12 books from your TBR pile/s
Mount Blanc: Read 24 books from your TBR pile/s
Mt. Vancouver: Read 36 books from your TBR pile/s
Mt. Ararat: Read 48 books from your TBR piles/s
Mt. Kilimanjaro: Read 60 books from your TBR pile/s
El Toro: Read 75 books from your TBR pile/s
Mt. Everest: Read 100 books from your TBR pile/s
Mount Olympus (Mars): Read 150+ books from your TBR pile/s

And the rules:

*Once you choose your challenge level, you are locked in for at least that many books. If you find that you're on a mountain-climbing roll and want to tackle a taller mountain, then you are certainly welcome to upgrade. All books counted for lower mountains may carry over towards the new peak.

*Challenge runs from January 1 to December 31, 2014.

*You may sign up anytime from now until November 30th, 2014.

*Books must be owned by you prior to January 1, 2014. No ARCs (none), no library books. No rereads. [To clarify--based on a question raised last year--the intention is to reduce the stack of books that you have bought for yourself or received as presents {birthday, Christmas, "just because," etc.}. Audiobooks and E-books may count if they are yours and they are one of your primary sources of backlogged books.]

*You may count any "currently reading" book that you begin prior to January 1--provided that you had 50% or more of the book left to finish in 2014. I will trust you all on that.

*Books may be used to count for other challenges as well.

*Feel free to submit your list in advance (as incentive to really get those books taken care of) or to tally them as you climb.

*There will be quarterly check-ins and prize drawings!

*A blog and reviews are not necessary to participate. If you have a blog, then please post a challenge sign up and link THAT post (not your home page) into the linky below. Non-bloggers, please leave a comment declaring your challenge level--OR, if you are a member of Goodreads, I will once again put together a group for the challenge there. Feel free to sign up HERE. And, finally, I will once again have a sidebar link for Progress Reports--> ***Coming Soon: Reviews may be posted at links found at Review Headquarters (click link).


OK, so all that remains is for me to choose a challenge level. I've thought hard about this. I've managed 'around' 30 this year without any effort on my part, so 36 is not really challenging myself. 60 is attractive but might be taking it a bit far as some years I don't read much more than 60 books. The logical number is 48, Mount Ararat, so that's what I will go for. Wish me luck!

Books read:

1. The Long Winter - Laura Ingalls Wilder
2. Consider Phelbas - Iain M. Banks
3. Shards of Honour - Lois McMaster Bujold
4. The Talisman Ring - Georgette Heyer
5. Have His Carcase - Dorothy L. Sayers
6. Sundiver - David Brin
7. Good Evening, Mrs. Craven - Molly Panter-Downes
8. The Nine Tailors - Dorothy L. Sayers
9. Touch Not the Cat - Mary Stewart
10. West with the Night - Beryl Markham
11. Among Others - Jo Walton


Monday 4 November 2013

Vintage Mystery challenge

Well, just call me fickle. There I was thinking I should go challenge-free into next year when suddenly a couple of shiny challenges present themselves and I'm falling over myself to sign up! Both of them are being hosted by Bev at My Reader's Block and I'll do separate posts for each. First up, The Vintage Mystery Bingo challenge.

Here are the rules:

* All books must be from the mystery category (crime fiction, detective fiction, espionage, etc.). The mystery/crime must be the primary feature of the book--ghost stories, paranormal, romance, humor, etc are all welcome as ingredients, but must not be the primary category under which these books would be labeled at the library or bookstore.

*Challengers may play either the Silver Age or Golden Age Card—or both. For the purposes of this challenge, the Golden Age Vintage Mysteries must have been first published before 1960. Golden Age short story collections (whether published pre-1960 or not) are permissible provided all of the stories included in the collection were originally written pre-1960. Please remember that some of our Golden Age Vintage authors wrote well after 1959--so keep an eye on the original publication date and apply them to the appropriate card. Silver Age Vintage Mysteries may be first published any time from 1960 to 1989 (inclusive). Again, Silver Age short story collections published later than 1989 are permissible as long as they feature stories first published during the declared Silver Age years and include no stories first published later than 1989. Yes, I admit my dates are arbitrary and may not exactly meet standard definitions of Golden or Silver Age.

*Challenge runs from January 1, 2014 to December 31, 2014. Sign up any time between now and November 30, 2014. Any books read from January 1 on may count regardless of your sign-up date. If you have a blog, please post about the challenge and a little bit about your commitment—if you’re going Silver or Gold…or maybe some of each. Then sign up via one of the linkys found below. And please make the url link to your Challenge post and not your home page. (Links that do not follow this rule will be removed.) If you decide to go for broke and try to score on both cards, you only need sign up once--pick a card, any card for your link.

*One Free Space per card—you may use your Free Space to cover any spot on the board. The Free Space book must fulfill one of the categories from the card, but it may fulfill ANY space you like—even a category you have already fulfilled. For example…if you are having trouble finding a book to meet the “mode of transportation” category, but you really need that space to complete a BINGO then you may read a book that meets any other category on the board and use your Free Space to claim the “mode of transportation” space.

*No double-counting. A book may not count for both the original category (say, "Woman in the Title") and as the Free Space to replace "mode of transportation." A second "Woman in the Title" would need to be read to complete the Free Space and replace "mode of transportation."

*BINGOS may be claimed by completing all spaces in a row--horizontally, vertically, or diagonally. You may also claim a “Four Corner” BINGO by reading a book for each of the four corners plus two more spaces—any two. A valid BINGO must have six complete spaces.

*Any challenger who completes one BINGO will be entered in a drawing at the end of the year. Any challenger who completes two or more BINGOs (either from the same card or BINGOs from each card) will automatically be offered a prize from the prize list. Any challenger who covers a card by completing all categories will automatically be offered a prize from the prize list (as referred to in the "two or more BINGOs" section) PLUS a special surprise bonus.

*The categories are open for interpretation. Many of these categories were featured in the 2013 version of the challenge and it may help to refer to the 2013 Challenge List. If you have doubts whether a potential book will meet a category, please email me at phryne1969 AT gmail DOT com. The “Out of Your Comfort Zone” is absolutely up to you. For me—that will most likely mean hard-boiled or spy/thriller—but if that’s what you prefer, then you might go for a nice cozy mystery. *Borrow = from the library, from a friend, using free electronic downloads. In my world “own” means that you have purchased the book (preferably hard copy—but that’s just me, :-) ) or received it as a present.

*You are welcome to count these books towards any other challenges as well.

This is the Bingo card with all the various categories listed:

I've had a look at my shelves and found eight books that qualify as vintage crime (one of those I'm not sure about). I haven't checked whether they make up a line or a diagonal line and I'm not sure it matters. I may just fill in those I can and see what materialises... as in a real game of Bingo. I fully realise that could mean I end up reading the whole chart! To tell the truth I just want to have some fun with this... possibly read some more Dorothy L. Sayers and try a few more vintage crime authors such as Marjorie Allingham, Georgette Heyer, A.A. Milne, Agatha Christie, Michael Innes, and read more Wilkie Collins and Arthur Conan Doyle. Any author recs would be most welcome as I'm sure there must authors I've never heard of that I would enjoy.


Sunday 3 November 2013

R.I.P. VIII wrap-up post

I don't know why Carl's R.I.P. book challenge always flies by so quickly. Old-age speeding time up I suspect, but anyway, it's over for another year which is rather sad.

I decided to do:

Which was to: read four books, any length, that you feel fit (the very broad definitions) of R.I.P. literature. It could be King or Conan Doyle, Penny or Poe, Chandler or Collins, Lovecraft or Leroux… or anyone in between.

This is the photo I put up of the books I planned to choose from:

Looking at them now it seems I didn't do all that brilliantly at reading these books. LOL. I managed three of them *but* two others I started, gave a fair chance to, and then abandoned when I realised I didn't like them all that much. So I did in actual fact get five books off the tbr pile. Which is 'okay'... 'ish' anyway.

Right... well these are the books I did manage to read:

1. The Woods by Harlen Coben.

2. John Silence: Psychic Investigator by Algernon Blackwood.

3. An Absolute Gentlemen by R.M. Kinder.

4. I Shall Wear Midnight by Terry Pratchett.

5. The House of Silk by Anthony Horowitz.

6. The Dead Secret by Wilkie Collins.

7. Mayhem by Sarah Pinborough.

8. Broken Homes by Ben Aaronovitch.

So, eight books read for this year's R.I.P. Five of them were my own books (one of those a Kindle read) and three from the library. A favourite? Oh gosh... very hard indeed. All eight were really good books and I would recommend them to anyone with a taste for spooky stories, mysteries or horror/fantasy. But all in all I think the prize has to go to:

The Dead Secret by Wilkie Collins. I liked the Victorian writing, the Cornish setting, the plot of the thing, it was just an all-round excellent read and I definitely plan to read more of his books.

So that's it for another year. I believe Carl is going to start his Science Fiction reading experience a month early this year, on December the first. I didn't do it last year and missed it, so this year I think I will participate. Five books are out and sitting on the shelf already! I'm pretty much hopeless when it comes to reading challenges as I'm also very tempted by a vintage crime one that runs all of next year. Lost cause that's me... but at least it does mean I get a few books off the reading pile.

Happy November reading!


Thursday 31 October 2013

Books read in October

A fairly average reading month for me this month. I had some quiet periods, one rather difficult week, and then this week being half-term is busy as well. A mixed month. Thus, it seems to me that seven books read is not bad at all. These are they:

68. The Happy Isles of Oceania by Paul Theroux. My first travelogue by this author, which seems odd given his fame and my taste for travel books but there you go. This one charts Theroux's travels, mainly by kayak, around the isles of the south Pacific. A long book this, possibly a bit over-long as it got slightly repetitive, but for all that I really enjoyed it as it's an interesting region with interesting people. I like the author's style so am currently reading his Great Railway Bazaar which is a bit more concise.

69. The Dead Secret by Wilkie Collins. Liked this a lot.

70. Women in the Wild edited by Lucy McCauley. An anthology of travel stories written by women. Patchy with some average stories and some really brilliant ones such as Diving the Jungle by Denise M. Spranger, Hyena by Joanna Greenfield, Survival at Sea by Deborah Scaling Kiley and Meg Noonan and Among Chimpanzees by Jane Goodall. This book is published by the US publisher Traveler's Tales, the same people who published the river anthology I read earlier in the year. I shall be on the look out for more of their books, although the likelihood of finding many in the UK is remote. This one I bought when I was in America a few years ago.

71. Mayhem by Sara Pinborough. A jolly good spooky Victorian read.

72. Sheer Folly by Carola Dunn. Book 18 in the author's Daisy Dalrymple crime series, set in the 1920s. Up to the usual good standard and thoroughly enjoyable.

73. Broken Homes by Ben Aaronovitch. Book 4 in the author's DC Peter Grant crime/horror/fantasy series. Excellent.

74. Strong Poison by Dorothy L Sayers. This deserves a word or two.

Harriet Vane has been accused of poisoning, with arsenic, her ex-boyfriend, Philip Boyes. If the jury find her gulity she will hang. Lord Peter Wimsey is convinced she's not guilty. The result of the trial is that the jury cannot agree so a retrial is scheduled for a month's time, giving Lord Peter precisely four weeks to prove Harriet's innocence. The case for the prosecution seems water-tight but the real murderer has reckoned without Lord Peter and The Cattery - a group of women he has working for him.

Well, this is my first Lord Peter Wimsey book and it won't be my last. It's not the first in the series, it's actually the fifth. It might seem like an odd place to start but several people suggested starting here with the first book about Harriet Vane, so I did. It was hugely entertaining - the culprit was fairly apparent from about halfway but the joy of the book was how Wimsey and the ladies working for him set about proving it and working out how the deed was done. There was also joy in the writing, so much dry understated humour that had me chuckling all the way through. A delightful book and I'm now on the look-out for more.

So, not a bad reading month really. All books read were enjoyable, and two were non-fictions which pleases me no end. My favourite book? Well it's close, The Dead Secret, Mayhem and Broken Homes were all strong contenders but in the end I think I liked Strong Poison most of all.


Saturday 26 October 2013

Mayhem and Broken Homes

Two quick reviews today, both of them for Carl's R.I.P. VIII challenge, which I've suddenly realised is only a few days away from finishing. Can't believe how quickly that flew by.

Anyway, first up, Mayhem by Sarah Pinborough, which I read a couple of weeks ago so will have to try and jog my memory about the plot. I'm hopeless at remembering what books are about if I don't review them straight away.

It's 1888 and Jack the Ripper's reign in Victorian London is underway. A serial killer is killing women and dumping body parts in the river Thames - Dr. Thomas Bond the police surgeon realises Jack is not the culprit and, if anything, that this is a far more deadly killer. It also seems as though the atmosphere in the city is strange - more violence in the air and in people's heads. Even Bond's own life is a mess, he's suffering insomnia and has been driven to the opium dens. One night he witnesses a strange man with a withered arm, walking among the opium users and studying them. Bond feels compelled to find out who this man is and if there is a link to the Thames Torso murders.

Interesting story this, reminding me ever so slightly of Drood by Dan Simmons, though it's not nearly as long or as complicated. Victorian London is well depicted in all its seediness and hypocrisy, warts and all, which is always fascinating to read about: I find it so anyway. The narrative jumps around a bit, which I found slightly confusing, but then I'm easily confused. I liked the supernatual element... something quite different, believe you me. Possibly the ravaged soul come opium thing was a bit over-played in Dr. Bond, but not so much that it annoyed me. In all rather a good read and I gather there's to be another book about Thomas Bond in 2015. I shall read it.

Next, Broken Homes book four in Ben Aaronovitch's DC Peter Grant series of crime/horror/fantasy books.

An unexplained suicide on the London Underground leads eventually to Peter Grant and his colleague Lesley moving into a flat in an iconic high-rise housing estate. It seems the designer was a German who moved here to escape the war and that he might have been a practioner of magic. Peter and Lesley need to find out if something not quite right is going on in the flats, and whether or not the designer had some ulterior motive in creating the building. The two of them and Nightingale believe The Faceless Man might be involved but the trick will be to find out 'how'.

This is now one of my favourite series. This particular one has quite a lot of police procedure in it and some might find that a bit dull. I didn't, though in other books I might. Somehow Aaronovitch makes it all very interesting, interspersing it as he does with loads of lovely little snippets of information about the city of London, or... well anything really, all subjects are covered. This is not the best of the four, plotwise, for me that would be the last book, Whispers Underground, but it comes close and has the most amazing plot-twist at the end which I didn't see coming. I feel that Aaronovitch has now hit his stride with this series, many authors take several books to do that and I feel a series is often all the better for it. I love the characters, the weirdness, the way he uses London and modern day British culture so effectively. Brilliant. Crossing my fingers and hoping for a new book next year.


Monday 21 October 2013

Book Title meme

Last week was a bit of a week one way and another and I had cause to be grateful to the NHS and to my lovely family. Without both I would seriously have gone under otherwise. What I want from this week is er... nothing... zilch... a non-event week would make me deliriously happy. Sitting quietly doing memes like this one is all the effort I feel capable off to be honest. I found it on Margaret at Booksplease's blog, though it originated elsewhere in The Mists of Time I'm sure. I've done several like it in the past but these are different questions.

What you have to do is use the titles of the books you've read this year to answer the questions. Some of my answers need to be taken with a pinch of salt naturally...

In school I was: Unseen Academicals - Terry Pratchett

People might be surprised I'm: Out of the Woods but not Over the Hill - Gervase Phinn

I will never be: Down the Nile - Rosemary Mahoney

My fantasy job is: A Cook's Year in a Welsh Farmhouse - Elizabeth Luard

At the end of a long day I need: Miss Buncle's Book - D.E. Stevenson

I hate it when: Kindness Goes Unpunished - Craig Johnson

Wish I had: The Ship of Magic - Robin Hobb

My family reunions are: Mayhem - Sarah Pinsborough

At a party you'd find me with: The Monster Corner - ed. Christopher Golden

I've never been to: The Happy Isles of Oceania - Paul Theroux

A happy day includes: The Woods - Harlen Coben

Motto I live by: I Shall Wear Midnight - Terry Pratchett

On my bucket list: A Morning for Flamingos - James Lee Burke

In my next life, I want to be: A Dog Abroad - Bruce Fogle

Great fun, leave a comment if you plan to do this too.

Friday 11 October 2013

The Dead Secret

Still reading away quite happily for Carl's R.I.P. VIII reading challenge. I'm now up to six books and very happy with that total. Book six is The Dead Secret by Wilkie Collins.

Sarah Leeson is a ladies maid to Mrs. Treverton, her husband Captain Treverton is the owner of Porthgenna Tower, somewhere in west Cornwall. Mrs. Treverton is dying, although she is not that old as she has a five year old daughter, Rosamond. On her death-bed she makes Sarah write a confession - a huge secret that she has not had the nerve to tell her husband. Sarah is reluctant - terrified in fact - and does not want to do this thing. Her employer makes her promise that she will give the letter to her husband after her death and if she doesn't she will come back to haunt Sarah.

Petrified, Sarah decides against handing the letter over. Instead she hides it in a disused part of the mansion and promptly leaves the house, only stopping to leave a brief message for Captain Treverton hinting at what has happened. They search for Sarah but do not find her. After the tragedy of losing a wife and mother the family leave Porthgenna Tower and move to the Midlands.

Fifteen years later Rosamund has married recently blinded, Leonard Frankland. The Frankland family bought Porthgenna Tower some years before and the couple decide to return to Cornwall to live in the old house. It takes some time to renovate the place and by that time Rosamond is heavily pregnant. She wants to have the baby in Cornwall but events intervene and on the way there they have to stop in a village in Somerset as the baby is on the way.

Delivered of a baby boy it's necessary to find a nurse. The doctor goes to a local family to ask if they know of anyone and the owner suggests the loan of her housekeeper, a Mrs. Jazeph. Arriving at the inn, it seems Mrs. Jazeph knows rather too much about the family and Porthgenna Tower. It scares Rosamund, and when the woman whispers to her that she must not go near The Myrtle Room in the old house, Rosamond has the woman sent away. But who is she? The next morning Rosamond is calmer and sends the doctor after her. But Mrs. Jazeph has gone, dismissed from her employment. Rosamund and Leonard need to find her and solve the mystery of what this servant knows about their house and family.

I'm not sure whether this is my first Wilkie Collins or not. I *think* I might have read The Woman in White and maybe The Moonstone but if I have it's so long ago I've retained no details of them whatsoever. At some stage I'll read both and I'm sure they'll feel like new books to me. To all intents and purposes therefore, The Dead Secret is really my first book by Wilkie Collins. I enjoyed it... very much as a matter of fact.

If you're looking for a deep mystery where you can't guess the secret then this is probably not it. Anyone who reads mysteries on a regular basis will be well ahead of the game while reading this story and the outcome will be no surprise. The joy of this book is in the telling. It's beautifully written in that old-fashioned Victorian style, with lots of detail about how people were treated as servants, authentic dialogue, and the surroundings - such as the house and various landscapes. I tried to decide where in Cornwall Collins set this but couldn't. He may have had Lanhydrock House in mind apparently:

Clearly not that setting though, as that house is not on the coast, west of Truro, (it's very much inland, near Bodmin, and east of Truro) and nowhere near any fishing village.

None of this matters a jot. This is a lovely Victorian gothicky sort of novel. Quite densely written but not a difficult read at all. It's huge fun to follow Rosamund and Leonard as they go on this sort of treasure hunt, sorting clues and coming to conclusions, writing letters that they have to wait days for answers to and going a bit mad with the anticipation of it all. I loved it and am now wondering what my next Wilkie Collins book ought to be. Pat at Here There and Everywhere will be able to tell me no doubt as Wilkie Collins is one of her very favourite authors and I can quite understand that. Her thoughts on The Dead Secret are here.

And a last word goes to the beautiful cover of this book:

It's called, Figure in the Moonlight and it's by John Atkinson Grimshaw. I absolutely love his work and this suits The Dead Secret perfectly in my opinion.

Happy autumnal reading.