Sunday 29 September 2013

A reader's A to Z survey

I first spotted this meme on Susan's blog (You Can never Have Too Many Books) here. Although the meme originated at Jamie The Perpetual page Turner's blog. As I'm reading a long book and there won't be any reviews from me for a little while, I thought I'd give it a go.

Author I've Read The Most Books From:
Hmm... I think the answer to that would have to be Terry Pratchett. I've no idea how many of his books I've read but it's almost all of them, I know. It's either him or Georgette Heyer. I know she wrote 50 or so books and again I know I've read nearly all of them, so it's a close-run thing between those two authors.

Best Sequel Ever:
Crikey, that's a tough one. And I'm not sure exactly what's meant by 'sequel'... a second book in a series or simply a sequel in a finite, two book series? Well I'm going for the 'book two in a series' option and choosing Dark Fire by C.J. Sansom. It's book two in his Matthew Shardlake series and I thought it was miles better than book one, Dissolution, and absolutely brilliant.

Currently Reading:
The Happy Isles of Oceania by Paul Theroux.

Drink of Choice While Reading:
That used to be Dr.Pepper or Coke but nowadays it's a cup of white tea.

E-Reader or Physical Book:
Both. I love real books but increasingly find small print hard to deal with. With my Kindle I can adjust the font to whatever size I want. Epic.

Fictional Character You Probably Would Have Dated in High School:
I can't think of anyone young that I read about in books at that age, to be honest. The immediate answer that springs to mind is Mr. Darcy. I was hooked from the moment I saw the 1940's Hollywood film at 16 years old. I then went on to read the book and have not stopped loving it, or the various dramatisations I've seen, since.

Glad You Gave This Book A Chance:
Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone.

Hidden Gem Book:
The Magic Apple Tree by Susan Hill. Non-fiction. A year in the author's life in a Cotswold village. Gorgeous.

Important Moment in Your Reading Life:
The Berlin wall came down in 1989 and suddenly I wanted to know about Mikhail Gorbachev. I went to the library and got a biography, read it and loved it. All of a sudden after quite a few years of reading very little I was back into books in a big way. At some stage I grabbed a biography of Jerome K. Jerome and in it was the retelling of a real-life ghost experience he had on the battlefields of WW1 (he was an ambulance driver for the French army). It fascinated me and I went looking for ghost stories - suddenly I was into Victorian and Edwardian ghost stories and real-life ghost books in a huge way... and all due to Mikhail Gorbachev!

Just Finished:
Turtles in Our Wake by Sandra Clayton - a travel book about sailing in The Med.

Kind of Books I Won't Read:
I'm drawing a blank here because I'll read most things. Which brings problems of its own of course, involving too much choice by far and not enough time to read everything I'd like to read!

Longest Book I've Read:
I can't think what the longest book I've 'ever' read is but the most recent has to be The Ship of Magic by Robin Hobb which was close to 900 pages. (And is brilliant by the way...)

Major Book Hangover Because:
Too many books, not enough time!

Number of Bookcases I own:
Three actual bookcases and three large stretches of wall that are covered in bookshelves.

One Book I have Read Multiple Times:
Sylvester by Georgette Heyer. Never tire of it.

Preferred Place to Read:
Either in the conservatory where the light's fantastic or in my favourite chair in the lounge.

Quote That Inspires You/Gives You All the Feels From a Book You've Read:

'Stories of imagination tend to upset those without one.' -- Terry Pratchett

Reading Regret:
When you become an adult I'm sure you don't quite feel the magic of certain books as you did when you were a child, and that's a shame.

Series You Started and Need To Finish (All the books are out in the series):
Robin Hobb's first three Liveship Trader books would do for a kick-off. There are others...

Three of Your All-Time Favourite Books:
Grass by Sheri Tepper. Down Under by Bill Bryson. Drood by Dan Simmons.

Unapologetic Fangirl For:
Anne McCaffrey's Pern books. Harry Potter. The Clare Fergusson/Russ van Alstyne books by Julia Spencer-Fleming. Anything with Sherlock Holmes. Daisy and Alec in Carola Dunn's Daisy Dalrymple books. The list is endless really.

Very Excited For This Release More Than All The Others:
The Outcast Dead by Elly Griffiths, the new Ruth Galloway book, out in Feb. 2014.

Worst Bookish Habit:
The same as Susan... borrowing too many books from the library and not reading them all.

X Marks The Spot: Start at the Top Left of Your Shelf and pick the 27th Book:
Tigana by Guy Gavriel Kay. Not read.

Your Latest Book Purchase:
Cane River by Lalita Tademy. Southern Lit.

ZZZ-Snatcher Book- Book That Kept You Up WAY Too Late:
Howard's End is on the Landing by Susan Hill. Read it twice now and planning to read again very soon.

Well that was huge fun! Anyone else care to do it?

Thursday 26 September 2013

Three travel books

As well as my reading for this year's R.I.P. challenge I'm also a bit hooked on travel writing at the moment. It's a bit odd, this compulsion to read travelogues because I'm not actually that mad about travelling, especially not uncomfortable travelling. If I go anywhere I like a comfortable bed, a shower or bath and reasonable food. The idea of camping 'anywhere', tramping through a tropical rain forest or rowing up the Amazon doesn't appeal in the slightest. But... I do like reading about the people who are a lot braver than me and who do these things just for the hell of it. So far this month I've read three travel books so this is going to be one of my three 'brief' (ho, ho) review book posts.

First off it's One Man and his Bike by Mike Carter.

Journalist Mike Carter is rather disatisfied with his life. He's one of these people who can never settle, due, he suspects, to a slightly troubled childhood. He's therefore decided - as you do - to move to Buenos Aires thinking to start afresh. First of all though, he decides to cycle around the coast of mainland Britain... not for any particular reason... he just fancies it. People usually do clockwise but Mike decides to go anti-clockwise instead, travelling east out of London via what was the London Olympic stadium building site (the book was written before The Olympics), into Essex and thus on to Suffolk and Norfolk and up the east coast to Scotland. This really is one of the best UK travelogues I've ever read. Mike Carter is an excellent writer and he really brings this trip to life with his descriptions of life on a bike, the trials and tribulations, the weather, the people he meets. Contrary to his expectations he doesn't find a 'broken Britain', he finds endless kindness from complete strangers and an awful lot of friendliness and help. My favourite section by far is the Scottish bit. He clearly loved the country and his descriptions of the coastline, the wild stretches where he saw no one and had to fend for himself were superb. When he reached the Outer Hebrides it was like he'd reached heaven, it was delightful. After that, when he left Scotland and returned to England, the narrative lost something. He clearly felt it, as then he began trying to eat up miles instead of enjoying what he was seeing. Oddly, I'd wanted to read the book to discover his opinions of the South West where I live. But just like him, by the time he got there I wasn't that interested either and was still feeling nostalgic for Scotland even though I've never been there. Good writing is responsible for my reaction, I'm sure of it. Mike Carter made me long to visit Scotland and I think the book would have this effect on most people. Brilliant read.

Next, Up the Creek by John Harrison.

One of my recent travel reads was Brazilian Adventure, a vintage travelogue by Peter Fleming. I was in two minds about that book as I found it interesting but at the same time a trifle monotonous. I was curious to see whether other books about The Amazon would affect me in the same way. Answer: yes. Harrison was in a different part of the rain forest to Fleming: Fleming was in the southerm part, Harrison in the north. Harrison wanted to paddle up river Jari to the border with French Guiana. He chose a rowing mate and they set off. All the usual problems occurred, difficulty with narrowing rivers where portage was sometimes required, rapids, food shortages and worst of all, recurring bouts of malaria for both of them. These sounded horrendous and I wasn't surprised when his partner bailed. Eventually he finds another partner and they set off again, with all the same hazards. It really was remarkably similar to Fleming's experiences and I'm assuming that *is* Amazonian travel for you. Possibly travelogues set there are not really for me, I want more variety maybe. I think for anyone deciding to embark on such a trip though, this would make ideal reading material.

Lastly, Turtles in Our Wake by Sandra Clayton.

Typically with me I seem to have read the second of three books with this. Author Sandra Clayton and her husband, both retired, decided to sell their house to live and go travelling on a catamaran. I gather the first book is about how they practised sailing around British coastal waters and then sailed their boat down across the Bay of Biscay to Gibraltar and into the Med. This book charts how they had to return to sell their house because, as usual, it was problematic, and then were able to return to their boat and set off. They travelled across The Med from the Balearic Islands to Corsica, basically as way of seeing how they fared on a long trip and whether or not they might manage a long-haul across the Atlantic to the Caribbean. This was a delightful read. Sandra Clayton's beautiful writing made the islands in The Med sound idyllic, and this to someone who's never really been interested in visiting that area. I found all the sailing details very interesting, especially the behaviour of other users of the sea such as fishermen and millionaire yacht owners. It was interesting too to read about the day-to-day difficulties of being out on the water, miles from anywhere: food, fuel, weather... squalls are horrendously dangerous apparently... and how easy a life threatening crisis can occur. Sobering. I thoroughly enjoyed this, loved the ease of the writing style and gobbled it up in a day. I now have the first book on reserve from the library and there's a new one out I think, which charts their crossing of the Atlantic. I shall be reading all of them.

So the travelogue I'm now reading is a bit of a tome of a book, The Happy Isles of Oceania: Paddling the Pacific by Paul Theroux. I've not read anything by him before. I'm only about 60 pages in but already I see why he had a grumpy reputation. But it's quite good and hopefully I will make it to the end of the 700 or so pages. And of course I've already picked up a book rec: Mark Twain's Following the Equator. I've read a couple of his travel books, The Innocents Abroad, The Tramp Abroad, but I'd not heard of that one so have happily downloaded it for free for my Kindle, here. I've also downloaded the two I've read as I don't own them and would like to. I do love my Kindle.


Monday 23 September 2013

The House of Silk

I've recently started using Goodreads again, after a gap of 5... yes 5... years. Why I went away from it for so long I'm not sure but I saw that a couple of Facebook friends were now using it so I returned. It's quite a good place to log the books you read and to pick up recommendations, also to follow authors as quite a few are on there. I've picked up several Blogger people who I know here but if you're on there and want to friend me, feel free to leave a comment to this post.

Ok, well I've just finished my fifth book for Carl's R.I.P. VIII challenge and it's The House of Silk by Anthony Horowitz. It's a 'new' Sherlock Holmes story.

Dr. Watson is an elderly man, living alone and reminiscing about his adventures with Sherlock Holmes. Holmes died a year ago and Watson is thinking about a crime they solved that he was never able to write about, as it was too sensitive and involved too many important people in the higher echelons of public life. He decides, at last, to write it all down as it's many years since it all happened and the people involved are now dead.

It was 1890 and an art dealer, by the name of Carstairs, came to see Holmes. It seems he dealt with the higher end of the art market and was used to exporting to the USA. Some Constable paintings were destroyed in a gang raid on a train near Boston and Carstairs was instrumental in the death of one of the culprits. He was a twin and Carstairs believed that the other twin had come to London to get revenge.

Holmes used The Baker Street Irregulars to find out where this man was staying, but one of the boys who was left to watch went missing. The search for the boy led them to a school for destitute boys and then on to an inn in the worst part of Victorian London. The boy turned up murdered on the banks of The Thames and Holmes felt partly responsible. Holmes' brother, Mycroft, made a few inquiries and and what he discoverd alarmed him and made him warn Holmes not to get involved on any account. Holmes, of course, ignored him and thus embarks on one of the most dangerous adventures of his whole career.

I nabbed this book in a supermarket, last year. This is something I very rarely ever do, to be honest. I suppose I'm of the opinion that supermarkets make enough profit without me buying books from them too. But I'd been wanting this one, saw it there, cheap, so I grabbed it. And I'm really glad I did.

Anthony Horowitz is a hugely popular author these days. I know he writes the Alex Rider books for young adults which members of my family read and love, though I haven't tried them yet. He's also the creator and writer of the TV series, Foyle's War, which is a huge favourite of mine. From that I concluded that he had to be a good writer... and I was not wrong. I was very impressed with how authentic the writing felt. Holmes and Watson were spot on, likewise other main characters such as Lestrade and Mrs. Hudson. To me it felt as though it had been written by Arthur Conan Doyle himself, though I suspect Holmes purists might disagree. I'm not one of those, I am, in fact, quite easily pleased, so to me this was a page-turning read and I gobbled it up in a day or so.

I liked the way the author made many references to other Holmes adventures, one character even turned up in this story, which I thought was fun. London itself was a huge presence and I thought the depiction of the city in Victorian times felt very accurate. Many people have a fascination with Victorian London and I'm one of them, so it has to be said that most books set there (not all) can't really lose with me. (One of the best modern books of that ilk, in my opinion, is Fingersmith by Sarah Waters.)

There is a bit of sadness to the story (aside from the main plot I mean). And that's the fact that Dr. Watson is now very elderly, all alone, and missing the friendship of Sherlock Holmes very much. It comes to us all as we age and most of our life is behind rather than in front. But somehow this all felt particularly poignant, I suppose because Watson had led quite the extraordinary life being involved in the doings of the amazing Sherlock Holmes. You cannot help but feel for him.

All in all I enjoyed this immensely and am now in the mood for more in the same vein. On my library pile I have Mayhem by Sarah Pinborough, set during the reign of Jack the Ripper but not about him apparently, about another serial killer, and this book is a mix of crime, supernatural and historical. Sounds perfect for R.I.P VIII.


Saturday 21 September 2013

I Shall Wear Midnight

My fourth book for Carl's R.I.P. VIII challenge is I Shall Wear Midnight by Terry Pratchett. This is book four in his Tiffany Aching series, a sub-series of his huge Discworld universe.

Tiffany is now sixteen years old and is the witch on The Chalk. She has learnt that witching is more about nursing than about doing magic and finds people expect an old head on young shoulders, but do not often want to give her the credit she deserves when she lives up to their expectations. And now there's an odd mood about. Every couple of hundred years it seems the populace has a mood swing and decides it doesn't much like witches after all, that they could be responsible for all kinds of ills and nastiness. And this appears to be happening again. But why? Is it the natural order of things or is there something else afoot?

The old baron of The Chalk dies while his son is in Ankh-Morpork. The son, Roland, was very close to Tiffany and it was supposed that they might become romantically involved. But now Roland is suddenly engaged to Leticia, a beautiful girl with an awful mother who wants to rule the roost at the castle. It falls to Tiffany go and fetch Roland and his fiance back from the city. Naturally, she doesn't want to do it, especially when on the way she encounters a sinister being who has no eyes, just gaps where you can see through his head to the other side. Luckily, Tiffany is constantly protected by the Nac Mac Feegle tribe of little blue men, or Wee Free Men, even if she isn't always grateful for their constant vigilance. In the city, Tiffany gets into all kinds of trouble and once again encounters the eyeless man. Something very bad is clearly about happen.

Tiffany is up to her eyes in problems. She's accused of disturbing the peace in the city by The Watch and locked up, and back on The Chalk she has a serious problem of an assault by a vicious father on his own daughter. Add to that her own emotional vulnerablity over Roland, accusations over her honesty, and now the serious and possibly world-altering problem of the eyeless man, and Tiffany is wondering if this is all worth it. Somehow she has to find a way to solve these problems and prove to her people that she is a viable witch.

Well, I believe this may be the last of the Tiffany Aching books. Not only did it feel like a 'good-bye', especially at the end, but the comments of others seem to indicate it might be. I feel sad but perhaps it's the right time.

There're a lot of grown-up issues for Tiffany to deal with in this story. Dealing with violence in the home of one of her patients, dealing with unyeilding attitudes, trying to sort out her own feelings towards someone who has basically jilted her in favour of girl who is blonde and pretty. As Tiffany says, brunettes don't get to be princesses. (Though actually it seems they now do...) In a way this is a coming of age story. Tiffany is now 'all growed up' and finds she has to prove herself to all the other witches. Prove she is worthy of her own 'steading' and not just a witch who is 'all right' but no great shakes.

I found this to be a very strong story. A lot going on in it, several plot strands going on at once, lots of humour, but also quite a serious book in many ways. It was also nice to have a very familiar cast once again. Not just Tiffany but The Wee Free Men and their queen, Granny Weatherwax and Nanny Ogg put in an appearance as do the The Night Watch from the Sam Vimes books. Odd though that when they put in an appearance in other books it's often not sympathetically and you find yourself against them rather than for.

All in all a stonking good read. I hope this isn't the last Tiffany book but if it is then this is a jolly good ending. I shall doubtless read them all again one day as, after the Sam Vimes books, they are definitely my second favourite Discworld series of books.

Monday 16 September 2013

An Absolute Gentleman

My reading for Carl's R.I.P.VII challenge continues on steadily and I've now finished my third book, An Absolute Gentleman by R.M. Kinder.

Arthur Blume is an English professor of middle age who, when he was much younger, had a book published. Since then he's not managed to have anything else published but earns a reasonable living teaching writing courses at universities. He moves around a lot. He had a very troubled childhood due to a mother who was mentally unstable. He's a serial killer.

Arthur moves to Mason, Missouri, to take up a temporary post at the university there. The people in his department are the usual hotch-potch of quirky, needy, manipulative, obsessive folk. Blume settles in quite easily and is quickly targeted by female colleagues and students who either fancy him or want something else from him. But Arthur is a student himself. A student of human nature, specialising in secrets - something which everyone has and of course the staff of the university are no different...

I haven't really said a lot about the plot of this book and that's partly because of spoilers but also it's a book where not a lot happens - until the last third or so of the book anyway. But that's not to say it's a boring book, not in any sense. I read it in under a day and found it compulsive reading to be honest.

Arthur Blume's voice, as he tells about his life and the life of his university department, is very strong. He's a horrifying man but also a real gentleman and somehow or other you find yourself excusing him. His awful abusive childhood explains a lot and we only get to hear about this in dribs and drabs, his mother was mentally unstable and although there were several men in her life before Arthur was born, it seems none of them did much to help either her or Arthur.

The other reason for excusing him is that we also see the nasty and strange side of 'normal' people and somehow, compared to them, Arthur doesn't seem so bad. I found myself having to remind myself constantly that this pleasant and intuitive man is a killer of the worst kind. How I found myself rooting for him at the end I just don't know! Good writing is the answer I think. This book is skilfully and beautifully written, there's just enough information and horror delivered, as if by drip, to keep you turning those pages, because you just know something awful will eventually happen.

I believe this is R. M. Kinder's first novel, although she has a couple of volumes of short stories available. Based on the evidence of An Absolute Gentleman she's a darn good writer and I do hope she writes a lot more.

Sunday 8 September 2013

John Silence: Psychic Investigator

My second read for Carl's R.I.P. VIII challenge is John Silence: Psychic Investigator by Algernon Blackwood.

Algernon Blackwood was born in 1869 in England. He spent many years working in the USA and Canada before moving back to England in his late thirties. Once here he took up writing ghost stories and became one of the most prolific writers of that genre, not only writing stories but also broadcasting them to a wide audience on TV and radio. He was hugely interested, not only in the occult and mysticism, but also in nature and the great outdoors. Many beautiful regions of the world such the forests of Ontario, Germany and Sweden, feature heavily in his writing. H.P. Lovecraft is one famous author who was a big fan of his stories.

I was lucky, some years ago, before the advent of the internet, I came across two volumes of Blackwood's short stories in a secondhand bookshop in Barnstaple. As far as I can remember though, none of those involved his psychic investigator, John Silence. I don't know where I came across him, but somehow I came across just one story, Secret Worship, enjoyed it, but was unable to find more. Nowadays of course, we have the internet and Amazon and there for the princely sum of £1.36 I found John Silence: Psychic Investigator for my Kindle.

I didn't realise it but Blackwood wrote just six stories about John Silence and his dealings with the supernatural. Sometimes these stories involve an assistant, or sidekick if you like, a chap called Hubbard... a Watson to Silence's Sherlock Holmes. But whereas Holmes' main obsession was crime, Silence is interested only in affairs of the occult.

I've been reading all six stories over the last week or so, some of them are quite long and are almost novellas.

1. A Psychical Invasion. John Silence is called in by the wife of an author specialising in humorous stories. It seems her husband has lost his ability to write humour and rather than suspect writer's block she suspects a malevolent force at work. Her husband seems haunted by something in the house in which they are living. Silence undertakes to spend the night in the house along with his cat and dog, both of which he believes will indicate by their reactions what the force at work is.

2. Ancient Sorceries. A man called Vezin recounts an occurance which happened to him in France. He was on his way home from holiday when he felt compelled to jump off the train to visit a village on the hill. It turns out to be a strange place. Dreamlike, full of cats, and the people, well they're very odd too. They seem to want him to stay there forever...

3. The Nemisis of Fire. Silence and Hubbard are asked to go to the north of England by the owner of a large house. The house borders a large forested plantation, the trees come right to one end of the building in fact. Unexplained fires have been occurring indoors, putting the owner's invalid sister in danger. On arriving, Silence and Hubbard feel an oppressive heat in the house, but instead of the house, Silence feels the root of the problem is out in the forest.

4. Secret Worship. John Silence is on holiday in Germany, a remote mountainous and forested part of that country. Another guest in the small hotel is Harris who apparently went to nearby school run by monks. He declares one evening that he's going to go and pay the monks a visit. This alarms a priest who is also staying, but Harris won't listen and marches off into the forest to pay a night-time visit. He finds the school much changed.

5. The Camp of the Dog. Hubbard is on holiday in Sweden. He and a vicar friend, the vicar's wife, their daughter, and a Canadian pupil of the vicar's are camping on an island a few days travel from Stockholm. Hubbard soon realises that the Canadian chap is in love with the vicar's daughter but it is not reciprocated. Hubbard remarks on how people soon shed their city personnas when camping in the wild like this, but some become wilder than others...

6. A Victim of Higher Space. The Butler announces that a man has come to see John Silence but is clearly uneasy about said man. When questioned he says that the man is there but not there. Moving too quickly for the butler to keep tabs on him. Intrigued, Silence discovers that the man has got so deeply into mathematics and geometry that he may have discovered other dimensions. What to do to save him?

These stories, like all anthologies, vary in quality. Though I must add that none of them are bad and all are beautifully written. Blackwood had a real way with words and especially excelled in descriptions of wilderness and landscape, and atmospheres that were not quite right. My own particular favourite is Camp of the Dog. I like the fact that it's long and time was taken to describe fully the experience of camping on a forested island in the Baltic. I think Blackwood must actually have done this at some stage as I don't see how it could be so minutely described otherwise. Ancient Sorceries is also very strong on atmosphere. I've been to a similar French town on a hill and he's got the sleepy, dreamlike atmosphere down to a tee. Likewise Secret Worship. I've not been to Germany but the forests and mountains felt real to me. Nemisis of Fire is also a very strong story with an explanation I did not expect.

I would say that these are less traditional ghost stories than weird fiction. All of them involve strange goings on, not 'bumps in the night' sort of stories. I liked this aspect of them, they stretch the imagination and indulge my own weirdness a bit. I wish there were more than six stories I have to say, but there aren't so that's that. I thoroughly enjoyed what there are and will definitely reread them at some stage, particularly Camp of the Dog which I thought was fantastic.

I think probably all of these stories are available online. The first three are here on Gutenberg for instance. I'm sure the others are around too, Googling will doubtless produce a result. It's well worth it.


Monday 2 September 2013

The Woods

It's definitely an autumnal day here today, overcast with a slight nip in the air. Just the right kind of atmosphere for reviewing my first book for Carl's RIP VII challenge which is The Woods by Harlan Coben.

Paul Copeland is the county prosecutor for his part of New Jersey. He's a widower who lost his wife to cancer and has a six year old daughter who he is raising on his own. His family history is complicated. His sister, Camille, has been missing, presumed dead, since their teenage years. One year at summer camp she went into the woods with three other kids, two were found murdered, but Camille and another boy, Gil Perez, were never found, but were thought to have been murdered too. A man is serving time in prison, not for these killings but for other very similar ones and it's widely thought he also committed these murders as he too was a teenager at this same camp.

Paul is visited by two New York detectives. They have found the body of a male, Manolo Santiago, and think he is connected to Paul as he has newspaper clippings about him. When Paul goes to view the body he has a shock... he recognises a scar on the arm of the body and knows it's Gil Perez. He didn't die in the woods that year, instead he's been alive for the last twenty years. Paul's indentification is brought into question though when Gil's parents come to identify the body properly. They swear blind it's not him.

This is not the kind of thing Paul needs at the moment. He has a difficult case on, involving the rape of an exotic dancer by two college boys. The father of one of the boys is threatening Paul with digging into his past if he pursues a guilty verdict. Paul knows he has things to hide because he too was at the summer camp when his sister disappeared.

Meanwhile a university lecturer, Lucy Gold, has been handed in an annonymous assignment which has shocked her. It tells in detail what happened to her at the summer camp her father owned, the year of the murders. At the time, she was Paul Copeland's girlfriend and there are things she did not tell the police.

Paul has no choice but to start an investigation into what happened that year. He must get answers and find out who really murdered the two teenagers and what happened to Gil and his sister, Camille.

Well, this is my first book by Harlan Coben. My husband reads him quite a lot, a series about a sports agent who investigates crimes I believe. The Woods is not part of that series, it's a stand-alone novel. I came to read it because Amazon sent me one of those, 'You might this' emails. I read the synopsis and thought, 'Yes... actually I might like that.' I knew my husband had ordered a load of Coben books from The Book People and when I checked which ones... there it was. Bingo!

This was a good mystery. I like those that have a lot of different threads, many secrets to discover, and that twist and turn all over the place. Paul was only first generation American, his parents were Russian so there was a bit of KGB stuff mixed in with the murders of the teenagers, family stuff that had been hidden and so forth. I was less enamoured of the secondary plot with the rape case. I'm not greatly into courtroom dramas so that didn't appeal, but it was intertwined with the rest of the plot quite cleverly I thought and did keep my interest.

I didn't think the book was that strong on characterisation. Partly that's my fault. I was looking to like Paul and found I didn't very much. To tell the truth no one in the book was that pleasant. So I'm torn, I do prefer to like the main protagonist in books, but how can that always be possible? But someone ought to be likeable, people are in real life, but the closest I came to liking someone was Paul's assistant, Loren Muse. I felt she was a strong enough character to warrant her own series. In a way I think this was a typical mystery written by a man - strong on plot and action, maybe not as good with the characters. But I did like it. The mystery elements kept me guessing, I liked the gradual revelations about Paul's family, and about that year at summer camp. And a nice final twist at the very end.

I'm not sure if I'll read any more by this author. We have a couple more stand-alones which I might dip into at some stage, that's as far as I'll commit to. When I saw it was set in New Jersey I was pleased as I thought I could add it to my American states challenge list. In all conscience I can't because I really didn't learn anything about New Jersey from it, it could have been anywhere quite frankly. It does however make quite a good start to the R.I.P. VIII challenge, so I'm happy with that.


Sunday 1 September 2013

Books read in August.

August, for one reason or another was a bit of a busy month... family stuff, the garden, illness and so on. I read seven books and did not blog about one of them. This often happens to me in August I notice, almost as though I take a summer break from book-blogging and come back revitalised and ready to go in September. So here we are on the 1st. September with a book post at last... the books I read in August. I'm not going to go into great depth about these books, I simply don't have the stamina, so I'll list what I read and just say a few words.

53. Thereby Hangs a Tail by Spencer Quinn. This is book 2 in the author's Chett and Bernie series. The books are told from the pov of the dog, Chett. This one involved the abduction of a show dog and her owner and how Bernie and Chet go about finding them. It was huge fun and I enjoyed it a lot. I like this series very much.

54. A Dying Fall by Elly Griffiths. This is book 5 in the author's Ruth Galloway series. An old archaeology friend of Ruth's, living in Blackpool, is brutally murdered in an arson attack. Ruth goes north to look at the dig he was investigating to see if there might have been a connection between his work and his murder. Ruth's daughter's father, DCI Harry Nelson, is also in Blackpool on holiday but can't resist getting involved in the case. Very good instalment of this, one of my absolute favourite series at the moment. New book out in February I believe.

55. The Last Runaway by Tracy Chevalier. I think this is the author's latest book and as it was about Ohio in the 1800s I was keen to read it. Young Quaker girl, Honor Bright, lives in Dorset with her family. She's engaged to be married but is jilted and decides to go with her sister who is emigrating to America to get married. Sadly, the sister dies before they reach Ohio and Honor is left to go on alone, uncertain of her welcome at the fiancé's home. It's not a particularly warm one and the story tells how Honor copes with this, the friends she makes, the people she unwittingly attracts and the way she helps slaves escaping from the south. I thought this was an excellent read, I learnt a lot about something called The Underground Railway which is the system by which slaves escaping from the south were helped by people living in Ohio. Fascinating stuff. I also loved all the quilting and patchwork details, I'm not a quilter but, like many who have done a lot of needlework in the past, am rather interested in it and think those that do it are amazing.

56. Another Man's Moccasins by Craig Johnson. Book 4 in the author's Walt Longmire series. The body of a young Vietnamese woman in found beside a road. It forcibly reminds Walt of his time serving in Vietnam... and somehow it seems there might be a connection between the people he knew then and this murder. Excellent instalment of another of my very favourite series. This one brings in flashback scenes of Walt's time in Vietnam. I wasn't keen when I realised this was going to run all through the book, but actually I found it worked well and taught me quite a lot about that war.

57. Brazilian Adventure by Peter Fleming. The author was the brother of the creator of James Bond, Ian Fleming, and was a bit of an adventurer in his young days of the 1920s and 30s. He set off up the Amazon in 1925 with a group of men, including friends, professional explorers and native guides. This book recounts their experiences. I found it an odd mix of interesting and monotonous, to be quite honest. It got a lot better in the last third of the book when there was a race between two factions of the team to get back to civilisation. What it has done is whet my appetite to read a bit more South America so I have a couple more books from the library to read.

58. The Bloody Tower by Carola Dunn. Daisy Dalrymple is once again tripping over dead bodies. This time in The Tower of London where she's visiting friends in order to write an article on the castle for an American magazine. The dead man is a beef-eater who is not popular so there are many suspects as always. Alec, Daisy's husband, is brought in to investogate with Daisy's 'help'. Book 16 of this wonderful series and just as good as all the rest... lot of history about The Tower in this.

59. The Black Ship by Carola Dunn. Daisy and Alec have moved to a much bigger house, Alec having inherited the house from an uncle. It's not long before a body is discovered - this time it's the dog that finds it, not Daisy - and Daisy is embroiled in all kinds of shady doings that her neighbours have perpetrated in regards to prohibition in the USA. Very good this one, I learnt a lot about how alcohol was smuggled into the US from Europe during prohibition. Very interesting.

All I seem to have done last month is read from various series that I'm partway through. But that's fine, they were all good and really all I wanted last month was easy reading. My favourite book is hard to choose but I think it would have to be this:

The Last Runaway by Tracy Chevalier. I do like her writing very much indeed and possibly this one appeals so much because the subject matter was very interesting to me, and I learnt a lot. So much so that it will be my first book for Ohio for my USA challenge that I'm doing for myself. It was perfect for that so I'm delighted.

As I said before, September is now here and I shall be having fun with Carl's R.I.P. VIII challenge. I've just finished my first book for it in fact, so hopefully should be blogging a bit more now.