Sunday 30 November 2014

A couple of titles

I'm behind once again as things have been a little busy. Time to catch up. Two rather different books today... and yet... despite the fact that one's a vintage crime yarn and the other a fantasy/sci-fi story... they are both 'crime' based books and have more in common than might be imagined at first glance.

First up, The Murder on the Links by Agatha Christie. This qualifies for Bev's Vintage Mystery Bingo challenge. I'm using it as my 'Free Space' book. I haven't been able to find a 'Medical Mystery' on my shelves and don't wish to buy one. Thus I'm claiming Murder on the Links, which is 'A book set anywhere other than the USA or England', and which I've already fulfilled, as my book for the 'medical mystery' space.

Hercule Poirot receives a letter from a Monsieur Renauld, a French millionaire. It seems he fears for his life and wants Poirot to come to France immediately to investigate. Poirot and Captain Hastings set off but find on arriving that they're too late and the man has been found dead in a shallow grave on the neighbouring golf-links. His wife is found bound and gagged in their bedroom and is telling a story of intruders who came in the night and dragged her husband away. Naturally the case is complicated. There's a son who was supposed to be on his way to South America but in fact wasn't. There are neighbours, one of whom is making clandestine visits to the house in the middle of the night to meet Monsieur Renauld. And naturally there's the obligatory tramp whose identity no one knows... Poirot sets about investigating and comes up against a modern French detective who is scornful of Poirot's 'little grey cells' methods. Which of them will solve ths case first?

Murder on the Links was only Christie's second Poirot mystery but you would never know it from the quality of the plot and the writing. This one is narrated by Captain Hastings (I assume the later ones, that he's not in, are not but am not sure who narrates those or whether they're written differently) and thus it has a nice vein of humour running through. Especially as Poirot challenges Hastings to try to solve the case alongside himself and the French detective. There's a lovely theme running through the plot too where Poirot's 'thinking' methods come up against the Frenchman's 'Sherlock Holmes' ones of crawling about on the ground looking for clues and so on. Christie was clearly poking gentle fun at the Sherlock Holmes books. There are red herrings aplenty and, it has to be said, a few moments where you wonder why everyone but Poirot is Really Stupid. But that said, this is a very enjoyable romp of a crime yarn and I really did enjoy it.

Next, Point of Hopes by Melissa Scott and Lisa A. Barnett. This is my book 13 for the My Kind of Mystery challenge which is being hosted by Riedel Fascination.

The place is the city of Astrient and the time is Midsummer with the annual fair rapidly approaching. It's always a busy time for the local points officers - police force - but this year is doubly so. The stars predict the death of the queen and as she has no heir the succession is very much open to question. The various candidates are vying for position and the atmosphere in the city is tense. At this time of year children often go missing too. Unhappy with their apprenticeship positions, or at home, they often run off with traders at the fair or sign up for the military.

It comes to the attention of Adjunct Pointsman, Nicolas Rathe, that this year more children than usual have gone missing - children who were quite happy and had no reason to run off. It's also quite clear that traders haven't taken them as the fair has barely begun. So where are all these children?

Philip Eslingen is newly released from the army and comes to live in the city, working as a 'knife' (security person) for a local inn come hotel. The hotel is popular with the ex-military and people of his nationality and somehow it gets about that this hotel is involved in the disappearances of the children. The trouble this causes brings him into contact with Nico Rathe and the two men set about trying to find out what's happened to over 80 children. It's an incredibly difficult case as there are no clues and the atmosphere in the city is strained and dangerous. Dark forces are at work and the two men will need all their ingenuity to solve this mystery.

Sometimes a book just hits the spot and this was one of those times for me. A book that straddles both the fantasy *and* crime genres is a bit of a rarity. Terry Pratchett's 'Sam Vimes' books spring immediately to mind, but I'm sure there are others. For me personally these books are usually winners as I'm a big fan of both of course. Having said that, the book is also science-fiction as it mentions the planet having two suns and things like 'first sunset' and 'second sunset', so I suppose it's really a bit of a hybrid.

Whatever it is, I really enjoyed this one. It's a world where astrology is real. People get their stars read based on their actual time of birth and whatever is forecast happens and people set a lot of store by it. Astrologers are hugely respected within society and even have their own university. Sexuality on this world is very fluid, people have heterosexual and homosexual relationships and all is normal. (Though this is not in 'any' way an explicit book.) I really, really like that approach and wish more authors of fantasy and sci-fi took it.

What else? Well, the world-building within the novel is quite stunning. It reminded me of the kind of detail Robin Hobb includes in her books. The city of Astrient with all its complications and peculiarities, its heaving, medieval, type population, it's poverty, its cramped conditions, feels so real. The authors have made it come alive in the same way that Terry Pratchett made Ankh Morpork feel like a real place. Amazing.

The mystery element was also well done. For the first part of the book it took second place rather but that was because the authors spent time introducing the characters, letting us get to know who they were and what they were about and, of course, explaining the world in which they live. So that was fine with me, and the book got even better when they began to concentrate on where the children had disappeared to.

All in all, for me, a stonking good read. There are a couple more books and a novella and I plan to read all of them. It's so nice to discover a new series that really works for you.


Saturday 29 November 2014

The 2015 Mount TBR Reading challenge

Well, I didn't exactly excel at the 2014 Mount TBR challenge: I didn't do really badly but will not finish where I should. Wrap-up post for that will come in a few weeks but I know I will not have reached my goal of 48 books.

But, nothing ventured, I shall give it another shot next year... but somewhat differently I think.

As before the challenge is 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, 2015.

*You may sign up anytime from now until November 4th, 2015.

*Books must be owned by you prior to January 1, 2015. 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!

And so. Last year I bit off slightly more than I could chew so I'm aiming rather lower for next year. The plan is to go for Mont Blanc which is to read 24 books off your TBR pile. *But* I would like the 24 books to be one of two things - either fiction that's over 300 pages (although I will not be pedantic about it) or non-fiction of any length. I have a lot of both on my TBR shelves and it's high time I shifted a few. So going for 24 books will not necessarily involve less reading, it could even end up being *more*... just less books in actual number.

A few titles I'd like to shift:


Agatha Christie, an autobiography - Agatha Christie
Gerald Durrell, the authorised biography - Douglas Botting
Meander - Jeremy Seal
Jack - Geoffrey Perret
Thames, Sacred River - Peter Ackroyd
The Mitford Girls - Mary S. Lovell
A View from the Foothills - Chris Mullin
Blue Latitudes - Tony Horowitz
Wildwood, a Journey Through Trees - Roger Deakin
Atlantic - Simon Winchester
Africa in my Blood - Jane Goodall
Ox Travels - edited by Mark Ellingham, Peter Florence & Barnaby Rogerson
The Churchill Factor - Boris Johnson
Scribble, Scribble, Scribble - Simon Schama


Outlander - Diana Gabaldon
The Mad Ship - Robin Hobb
Tigana - Guy Gavriel Kay
A Fire Upon the Deep - Vernon Vinge
The Name of the Wind - Patrick Rothfuss
Un Lun Dun - China Miéville
Our Mutual Friend - Charles Dickens
Mill on the Floss - George Eliot
Gaudy Night - Dorothy L. Sayers
Ahab's Wife - Sena Jeter Naslund
Ox Crimes - edited by Mark Ellingham and Peter Florence
A Tiny Bit Marvellous - Dawn French
The Woman in White - Wilkie Collins
Byzantium - Stephen Lawhead

I only planned to list 10 or so but here I am with 28 already and there are many more. To be honest if I just get a few off this list I will be well pleased.


Monday 17 November 2014

Several titles

I'm rather behind with reviews even though my reading has slowed down a bit over the last few weeks. My first three books of November have not been reviewed here so it's time for a catch-up post.

First up, The Hills is Lonely by Lilian Beckwith, which is my book thirteen for Peggy's Read Scotland 2014 challenge.

Lilian Beckwith, advised to take a rest somewhere quiet for the good of her health, advertises for suggestions as to where to go from the readers of a magazine. One of the replies was from a woman, Morag McDugan, who lives on the Isle of Skye. Lilian is captivated by the letter, which is rather naively written, and decides on the spot to go and stay with Morag. Her arrival is not auspicious as she arrives on a dark and stormy evening and wonders if she'll even survive being ferried across to the island, let alone anything else. 'Anything else' turns out to be having to climb a six-foot wall to get into Morag's house as the tide is in and her front gate is submerged! After that it's culture shock after culture shock as the English woman learns to live with the idiosyncracies of an island population who are insular in the extreme, about fifty years behind the times, and loathe the English with a vengeance.

This was a very gentle, amusing read... basically a 'fish-out-of-water' story in which the joke is how the English woman, used to late 1950s mod-cons, learns to live on an island which has no mod-cons at all. What I haven't been able to discern is whether this is fact or fiction. I was sure it was fact but I gather she didn't move to Skye alone, she went with her husband and the books are based on the characters she met and became involved with. Which makes them fiction... except that I'm still not sure. They're classed as 'non-fiction' and 'autobiographical' on Goodreads. Hmm. Anyway, that aside I enjoyed the beautiful descriptions of the island very much indeed. The author certainly knew how to convey the moods of the weather and its affects on the stunning scenery very well indeed. As a cultural thing it was fascinating to hear how basic life was on the island in the fifties, certainly as regards medicine and healthcare, but also food-wise (they lived very much on what the sea provided), transport, communications, and indoor plumbing (there was none). I was less enamoured of all the drinking and drunkeness but that's just me being a prude. Was the author mildly patronising about the locals? I'm not sure. I don't *think* so but others might. I enjoyed the book and it made me even more determined to visit the Isle Skye one day.

Next, Laurels are Poison by Gladys Mitchell. This is my book twenty two for Bev's 2014 Vintage Bingo Mystery challenge and covers the category, 'A book with a method of murder' in the title.

Deborah Cloud has a new job at the Carteret teachers' training college. She is to teach a bit but mainly she will be the new sub-warden of Athelstan House. She walks into a mystery. The warden, Miss Murchan, has gone missing and the principal of the college has called Mrs. Bradley in to take her place and try and find out where the missing Miss Murchan has gone. It's a can of worms. There's some kind of malicious prankster abroad. At first the pranks are relatively harmless, chamber pots going missing etc. Then clothes trunks are raided and people's clothes slashed, a girl's hair is cut off in the middle of the night, and things take on a far more sinister note when the house cook is found murdered. Mrs. Bradley, Deborah and three trainee teachers put their heads together to get to the bottom of this very complicted mystery.

I think this is my third 'Mrs. Bradley' mystery and possibly my favourite so far. I liked the college setting and peep into the 1930s style of training teachers. I believe Gladys Mitchell was herself a teacher so doubtless knew all about it. The three girls who help solve the mystery enliven the plot no end but I did have difficulty occasionally with the way one of them spoke... the 1930s modern slang and literary quotes. It was a good whodunnit in that I couldn't really work out who, why or how so I was kept guessing until the very end and then wondered why I'd been so thick. Happy to have a few more of these on my Nook to read when I don't want a book that's too deep. Good fun.

Lastly, Surgically Enhanced by Pam Ayres.

This is a book of essays mainly, interspersed with some of Pam's inimitable poetry which I'm a bit of a fan of, I have to say. I love seeing her reading her own work on TV as she has an amusing manner about her which is always hilarious - to me anyway. I'm sure there are plenty who think quite the opposite. The essays are basically all about her life. Her childhood in Stanford-in-the-vale in Berkshire, her marriage and children (rather oddly as a married woman she's 'Mrs. Russell', as am I of course), learning French, adopting a dog, canal holidays, packing to go on holiday, cruising, shopping on the internet, the perils of using a new hairdresser when you're away somewhere and much, much more. I enjoyed every single one, probably because I could identify very strongly with quite a lot of it. Wierdly, I preferred the essays to the poems and I think that may be because her poetry is best heard read out loud rather than read silently to one's self. They were not bad though and one struck a particular chord with me - There's Some Mistake about the sadness of aging and looking back at your life. She hit the nail right on the head with that one. All in all, an enjoyable random grab from the library and I really must get around to Pam Ayres' autobiography next year.


Tuesday 11 November 2014

Victorian Bingo Challenge 2015

Well, like a true book nerd, I've been giving some thought over the last week or two to what kind of reading year I want 2015 to be. That kind of navel gazing is for another post but when I saw the following challenge advertised I realised it would fit very nicely with some of my thoughts and plans.

So here we go, this is The Victorian Bingo Challenge and it's being hosted by Becky at Becky's Book Reviews.


The first Bingo card is for 2015. The goal is to get a Bingo (horizontal, vertical, diagonal, four corners and center square). This will require a minimum of five books.

One book per square. For example: Oliver Twist can count for "Book with a name as the title" or "Charles Dickens" or "Book published 1837-1940" or "Book published in serial format" or "Book over 400 pages" or "Book that has been adapted into a movie" or "Book set in England." But obviously, it can only count once.

This is the bingo card:

(I have to say, I really love the category choices.)

More details:

1. Fiction or nonfiction.

2. Books, e-books, audio books all are fine.

3. Books and movies can be reviewed together or separately.

4. You can create a reading list if you want, but it's not a requirement.

5. If you do make a list, consider adding a list of five books you'd recommend to others

6. If possible try to try a new-to-you author! I know it can be really tempting to stick with familiar favorites.

7. Children's books published during these years should not be forgotten!

8. Rereads are definitely allowed if you have favorites!

9. A blog is not required, a review is not required, but, if you don't review please consider sharing what you read in a comment with one or two sentences of 'reaction' or 'response.'

10. For the 2015 challenge, any qualifying book FINISHED January through December 2015 counts. OR any qualifying book REVIEWED January through December 2015 counts.

Ok so those're the challenge details. A list is not required, especially in my case as I rarely keep to them *cough*. But I always like to take a photo of some of the books I *could* read so here... *drumroll*... it is:

Click on the pic of course to see the books properly. If I can get five of those off my tbr pile in 2015 I would be so chuffed with myself. I've not read any George Eliot or Amelia Edwards, so those would be my 'new-to-me' authors. I'll also be reading some more Anthony Trollope and have several on my Kindle to choose from. I will also give some thought to some children's books, possibly a reread of The Water Babies by Charles Kingsley which I read as a young teen and loved and am curious as to how I would react to it now. We'll see. Really looking forward to starting this challenge and thanks to Becky for hosting it.

Wednesday 5 November 2014

The Sittaford Mystery

I seem to have become a convert to Agatha Christie. Not that I 'disliked' her books before, I was just not bothered. I've always loved the dramas that the TV companies put out - Miss Marple, Poirot etc., but have not read any of her books since my teenage years and then not all that many. But perhaps Agatha Christie grows on you as you get older, for certain people anyway, because that's what's happened to me as I absolutely loved The Sittaford Mystery. It's my book twenty one for Bev's Vintage Mystery Bingo challenge and covers the category: A Country House mystery. It's also my book seven for Carl's R.I.P IX challenge.

Sittaford is a village that perches on a hill on Dartmoor. It's not in a pretty little valley with trees and a bubbling brook, but is high up, windswept and isolated, and you have to be hardy to live there. That's why the few inhabitants are surprised when a mother and daughter couple, the Willetts, take Sittaford house, built and owned by Colonel Trevelyan, for the winter. The Colonel moves into a nearby village but his close friend, Major Burnaby, continues to visit him on a regular basis.

The visits have to come to a temporary halt though as Sittaford is cut off by deep snow. Instead, the major goes to visit the Willetts for the evening along with a few other neighbours. A seance is suggested and, although not all are happy, it goes ahead. What happens is shocking. The glass suggests that Colonel Trevelyan is dead and was killed at 5.25 that evening. It must be nonsense. Mustn't it? Major Burnaby is sure of it but is uneasy enough to take himself off and walk through the darkness and the snow to where the colonel is staying to see if he is all right. He's not of course: he's been murdered.

Suspects are many and varied, his relatives - sisters, nephews, in-laws - all have reasons for wanting him gone. Others come under suspicion too, such as the man who 'does' for him, Evans, and his new wife. Inspector Narracott investigates, along with Emily Trefusis, the fiancé of one of the colonel's nephews who has been arrested, and Enderby, a journalist. It takes the combined talents of all of them to solve this hugely complicated case.

I wonder if I liked this so much because it was set on Dartmoor? I know the area and it's always nice when you're reading a book to be able to picture the setting easily. And I'm especially fond of 'snowy' backgrounds. The ravages of winter are not that great when you have to be out and about in them but sitting cosily in your favourite armchair reading about deep snow and cold temperatures is very enjoyable. To me anyway.

I don't think it was just that though. I liked everything about this story. Emily Trefusis was such an interesting character. A 'managing female' in the making but Christie didn't use this in a derogatory manner: she celebrated a strong woman who knew what she wanted and set out to get it. I loved that. She came over so powerfully it made me wonder if Christie was using herself as a model for the character - I seriously need to read her autobiography which is sitting on my bookshelf right now.

The other thing I've discovered I really like is the vein of humour running through some of Christie's books. I'd somehow not been aware of that and it's come as quite a surprise. Her humour is based on observations of people's behaviour, the bizarre things we all do and say. I wish I'd collected a quote or two but I forgot in the enjoyment of the book. Suffice to say she didn't just write crime books, she was a sharp observer of human nature and behaviour.

I gave The Sittaford Mystery a five on Goodreads. For me it just hit 'exactly' the right spot for all the reasons I've stated. I plan to read a lot more Agatha Christie but will have to be careful what I choose. Some of the plots of Poirot or Miss Marple stories are overly familiar from watching them on TV. I think there are plenty of others though - several series such as Tommy and Tuppence, a few standalones and loads of short stories, plus her autobiography which, after reading Come, Tell Me How You Live a few weeks ago, I now can't wait to read.


Monday 3 November 2014

R.I.P. IX wrap-up

Time flies when you're having fun and once again Carl's R.I.P. IX challenge has come and gone in the blink of an eye.

As usual 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.

I managed to read seven books in all and these are they:

1. Hag's Nook by John Dickson Carr

2. Silver Borne by Patricia Briggs

3. The Twenty-third Man by Gladys Mitchell

4. A Coven of Vampires by Brian Lumley

5. Night of the Living Deed by E.J. Copperman

6. The Unburied by Charles Palliser

7. The Sittaford Mystery by Agatha Christie (to be reviewed)

I enjoyed all of the books very much indeed. I seem to have quite successfully combined my current crime book addiction with this RIP challenge by choosing crime books that all had a supernatural element of some sort in the plot. Sometimes it was more to the fore than others, but all had something spooky about them.

Hard to pick a favourite but if I had to I think it would be a draw between The Unburied by Charles Palliser and Agatha Christie's The Sittaford Mystery. Both were cracking reads.

So that's R.I.P. over for another year. Huge fun and thanks to Carl for hosting once again.