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.


Wednesday 2 October 2013

Books read in September

Goodness, is it really October already? Where has the year gone - it's scary. Certainly autumn is well and truly here (apologies to those of you who don't get autumn). I'm still picking and freezing produce, tomatoes and apples mainly, and my husband picked a load of squashes yesterday which are looking very merry drying in the greenhouse. But things are now easing off, which is lucky as our large chest freezer... which a friend has taken to calling The TARDIS... is practically full. Putting new stuff in now requires some major tactical manoeuvres on our part.

Apart from harvesting from the garden things have been rather quiet. I'm waiting on a hospital apt. to come through for an endoscopy - oh joy - and not feeling like going out galavanting much. The result of that is that I'm staying in and reading quite a lot. This month I read eight books and am very pleased with that number, in fact I think I passed last year's entire book total mid-Sept. which is something of a record for me as, speed-wise, I am only a slow to average reader.

Anyway, my books for September were:

60. The Woods by Harlen Coben. Not a bad read at all but not sure if I'll read more by the author.

61. One Man and His Bike by Mike Carter. Loved it.

62. John Silence: Psychic Investigator by Algernon Blackwood. One or two stories not as good as others but overall rather good.

63. Up the Crieek by John Harrison. OK-ish.

64. An Absolute Gentleman by R.M.Kinder. Very good.

65. I Shall Wear Midnight by Terry Pratchett. Completely wonderful. Excellent addition to the Tiffany Aching series.

66. The House of Silk by Anthony Horowitz. Really enjoyed this new Sherlock Holmes mystery.

67. Turtles in our Wake by Sandra Clayton. Nice travelogue involving sailing around The Med. Enjoyed it a lot.

As I said, a very good reading month. I liked everything I read and loved one or two books as well. Can't ask for more than that. Of the eight books read five were for Carl'sR.I.P. VIII challenge. To have five books read for that after only the first month makes me a happy bunny.

I'm also pleased that the other three books are all non-fiction. So far this year I've read seventeen non-fiction books, which is much better than normal but am hoping to make twenty to twenty five before the end of the year. We'll see.

My favourite book last month... difficult one as two were stand-outs. But I think the title has to go to a non-fiction travelogue:

One Man and His Bike by Mike Carter. I defy anyone to read this and not want to pack their bags immediately and head off to Scotland. I will say though that a very close second to this book was I Shall Wear Midnight by Terry Pratchett.

So, I'm now over halfway through The Happy Isles of Oceania by Paul Theroux. It's good but lonnnng, and I need a break so I'm going to start something Victorian for the R.I.P. challenge. Probably The Dead Secret by Wilkie Collins. I know Pat at Here There and Everywhere will be very happy about that!

Happy autumnal reading!