Wednesday 30 September 2015

Books read in September

September is always a busy month for me as it's the main harvesting month for produce grown in the garden. At the moment we're peeling heaps of shallots for the freezer but also preparing tomatoes, courgettes, apples and more... also for the freezer. It's sometimes an exercise in logistics finding room in it... in fact a friend refers to our freezer as The Tardis. LOL! Anyhow, I still found some time to read and this month read five books. These are they:

42. Little Beach Street Bakery - Jenny Colgan

43. Death du Jour - Kathy Reichs

44. River Marked - Patricia Briggs

45. Terra Incognita - Ruth Downie

Roman Medicus, Gaius Petreius Ruso, finds himself heading north from Deva (modern-day Chester) to the borders of England and Scotland, a wild and lawless area where his housekeeper, Tilla, originates. Expecting a quiet time, Ruso is of course quickly disabused of this fanciful notion with an accident on the road which is not an accident, the appearance of a sinister antlered individual whom Tilla thinks is a god, and the murder of a Roman soldier. It's a real can of worms and Ruso soon wishes himself back in Deva as the powers that be assume he, with a track record of solving a murder, can help solve this one. Really enjoyed this second instalment of this 'Roman Empire in Britania' series. The sense of place is very strong, it seems to me that plenty of research has been done as to landscape, buildings, costume, conditions and so forth, plus the books are good mysteries with quite a lot of wry humour. Poor Ruso's life is endlessly complicated by people constantly taking advantage of his honourable nature and also by the wonderful Tilla. I will definitely read a lot more of this series.

46. The Violins of Saint-Jacques - Patrick Leigh Fermor

The narrator of this story meets Frenchwoman, Berthe de Rennes, on an island in the Aegean. She's lived a long and interesting life and likes to talk about it... and the narrator becomes interested in the time she spent on an island in the Caribbean, Saint-Jacques in the Antilles. Newly inpoverished, she had gone there to distant relations to be a governess to the family's children. Berthe becomes immersed in their way of life, falls in love and is fallen in love with, and all against the backdrop of a stunningly beautiful volcanic island. That basically is the book. There isn't a huge plot, just the intricacies of people's lives and how their dramas all come together at the annual Mardi Gras ball... about which there is a lot of detail. What raises this book above the ordinary is the contents of the last 20 pages. I suspected the outcome but wasn't prepared for the brilliant and devastating way in which it was written, which of course made it even more shocking than it might otherwise have been. I was going to give the book a 4 on Goodreads but made it a 5 because of the ending. Patrick Leigh Fermor is best known for his travel writing of course, I'm not sure if this is his only fictional book, I think it might be, which is a real shame. Parts of this book will live with me for a long time.

So that's it. Today is the last day of September and I can't believe how quickly this month has flown by. I intended to read more but didn't do too badly all told. The mix is interesting - no one book was like any other which is probably a bit unusual for me. I don't have a favourite book, all of them were very good and that makes me a happy bunny.

We're well and truly into autumn now and October is one of my favourite months for reading so I'm looking forward to it. To close here's a photo of my favourite of the jigsaw puzzles I completed this month. Click for a larger view.


Tuesday 22 September 2015

R.I.P. X post

Some reading for RIP X today. Firstly, my second book for the challenge, River Marked by Patricia Briggs, followed by a few short stories of a supernatural bent.

Mercy Thompson, who is a 'walker' - a human who can turn into a coyote - is on honeymoon with her new husband, Adam, the Alpha of the local werewolf pack. They're in a motorhome on the borders of Washington State and Oregon, miles from civilisation. It should be an idyllic honeymoon. What they don't realise is that the death-rate in the river they're camped beside has soared over recent months, someone or some'thing' is luring people to their deaths in the water. It doesn't take long for Mercy to have an encounter with the culprit, Mercy, after all, attracts trouble like moths to a flame. But this is something different to her normal kind of trouble... vampires, fae, werewolves... and in order to defeat it Mercy will need every weapon available to her including that of her Indian heritage.

Patricia Briggs' Mercy Thompson series is one of my favourite urban horror/fantasy series and I usually try to read at least one every year for R.I.P. As usual it was an excellent read, made more interesting for me because of its wilderness and river background and the inclusion of a lot of Native American folklore. There were many revelations about who she is as well and naturally she's not who she, or we, thought she was. All intriguing and hopefully more of that to come in future books. Her relationship with Adam has also developed, and is still developing, and that too is always as interesting as the actual plot. Good series, though I'm not keen on that cover... it sexualises Mercy in a way that she isn't in the books. No matter, I read in it ebook form so didn't have to look at it.

As well as reading it for RIP, River Marked is also my book 20 for Bev's Mount TBR 2015 challenge.

Next, some short stories for:

And the book I've been reading creepy stories from is this:

Tales of Mystery and Imagination by Edgar Allan Poe. (First published 1840.)

The Gold Bug is a story set in the vicinity of Charleston, South Carolina. (I seem to be specialising in stories set in that state at the moment...) The narrator has a friend he visits on a lonely island just off the coast. The friend finds a golden beetle that looks like a skull and it bites him. Said friend becomes obsessed with this thing and I won't add any more as that would involve spoilers. The story is really well written in that lovely old-fashioned manner that I love. I also like the way that authors from that era had no problem with close friendships between men. This is a weird story rather than a ghostly one... I don't mind either to be honest... and I thought it was quite good.

The Facts in the Case of M. Valdemar is *very* weird. The narrator is a mesmerist and realises that no one has ever mesmerised someone who is in articulo mortis... on their death bed. So he finds a way to do it. Naturally. LOL! I liked this one too. Well written and nicely creepy.

MS Found in a Bottle is a story of a ship lost in a violent storm. Good descriptions of the storm but this one didn't really work for me. I thought it got a bit bogged down in all the detail. I couldn't really follow it too well... it's probably me being a bit slow.

The Premature Burial is an unusual mix of what I 'assume' to be factual accounts of people who were buried alive, when their relatives thought they were dead, and a fictional ending involving the narrator. The former were thoroughly alarming if I'm honest. (It also begs the question, 'How many people who were cremated were still alive?' but we won't go there...) Fascinating... but horrifying. Then it materialises that the narrator himself suffers from catalepsy, a condition where patients lapse into a kind of coma that so closely resembles death that hardly anyone can tell the difference. I won't say anymore but I liked the ending and the whole story to be honest. The real cases were interesting and the mix of two kinds of story telling worked very well and really kept my interest.

The first three stories were the first in the book and then someone listed a few good ones for me and The Premature Burial was one of those. I've neglected Edgar Allan Poe for years because I'd read a few stories by him in various anthologies and not been that struck. Not sure why. Having tried him again I'm revising that opinion somewhat and will definitely read all the stories in this collection for R.I.P. X.


Sunday 13 September 2015

Death du Jour

My first book for the R.I.P. X challenge is Death du Jour by Kathy Reichs.

The story begins with forensic anthropologist, Dr. Temperance Brennan, exhuming the remains of a nun buried at the end of the 19th. century, in the remains of an old church in Montreal. She returns home exhausted but there's no rest for the wicked as not many hours later she's called out to help investigate an arson attack. A family, parents and two babies, have been murdered and Tempe also discovers the charred remains of an elderly woman in the basement. It proves impossible to discover who they all are as the neighbours don't know them and clues in the remains of the house are non-existant.

Tempe returns to her other job in the university in Charlotte, North Carolina, but it's not long before a colleague from Montreal, Andrew Ryan, calls about the arson case. He's travelling south to pick up the trail of the dead family. Phone calls have been traced to a town on the South Carolina coast where a cult has taken up residence and Ryan wants Tempe to go with him to investigate. Tempe has a lot going on, plus is fighting an attraction to Ryan, so is reluctant to go. She's eventually persuaded though and travels south for a few days with her daughter. They eventually track the cult's remote residence to an island off the coast. Oddly it seems orderly and well-run but Tempe feels they're hiding something. It takes more deaths and all her ingenuity and bravery to discover what that thing is.

I thought this second book in the series was even better than the first. I liked the Montreal setting of the first book and this one is partly set there too... but when it moves south to The Carolinas it becomes rivetting and more psychologically frightening in my opinion. It's the cult thing that creates that fear and there's a lot about the issue in the story. How do they recruit people? Why do people believe their nonsense and get sucked in? How do they hang on to their recruits and what can sometimes be the tragic outcome? (Think Waco.) I found it fascinating and not a little scary.

It wouldn't be any exaggeration to call the pace of the plot 'relentless'. It's one thing after another with dead bodies all over the place and poor Tempe being required to be in a dozen places at once, permanently exhausted and drained from the horror of what's going on and what she has to do. I felt for her and wished she would occasionally say, 'No' to people.

Towards the end the action moves back to Montreal and final scenes take place during the famous ice-storm of 1998. This was brilliantly done and is one of the best parts of the book. Edge of the seat stuff really. Kathy Reichs really does do 'place' very well indeed and this book illustrates that well whether she's describing the heat and humidity of South Carolina or the frigidity of winter-time Quebec.

This is not your normal ghostly R.I.P. read. But for me the very real background to this crime story made it just as frightening as any supernatural yarn and a good book for the challenge.


Friday 4 September 2015

Little Beach Street Bakery

My first book for September is a romance set in my home county of Cornwall. I don't read this sort of thing very often but I spotted it in the library, saw the magic word 'Cornwall' on the cover and that was it... home it came. The book is Little Beach Street Bakery and it's by Jenny Colgan.

Polly's life disintegrates around her when the business she's running with her boyfriend, Chris, collapses and they're declared bankrupt. Chris takes it very badly and the couple split up leaving Polly with no job and nowhere to go. She sees a flat for rent in Cornwall and on a whim decides to move to Mount Polbeare which, like St. Michael's Mount, becomes an island twice a day with the movement of the tides. Her best friend thinks she's mad but Polly needs to get away and re-evaluate her life.

The flat is terribly shabby but the view out to sea is amazing and it's a place where Polly can regroup and find her feet again. The island itself is a quiet haven although the tourist season is fast approaching when things will get much busier. Polly makes friends with some local fishermen and one day happens to bake some bread for them. Word gets out that she's a good baker but it brings her into conflict with her landlady who also owns the local bakery. The problem is that the bread for sale there is bought in and not that great whereas Polly's bread is home-made and delicious.

One of the fishermen, Tarnie, is clearly interested in Polly, but so is an American, Huckle, living in a remote cottage on the mainland and trying to get by by keeping bees and selling the honey. Having just split with Chris, she feels this a complication she doesn't need. What she does know is that her very limited finances will not last and that she needs to find a job. But what can she do?

Well then... as I said I don't read much of this kind of book, commonly known, I suppose, as 'chick-lit'. Not a term I like much to be honest as it feels a bit derogatory, though I'm not certain why I feel that way. Perhaps because I don't feel like a 'chick'. LOL! And anyway, in Cornwall if someone uses the word 'chick' they're more likely to be referring to a child. I digress.

The book is quite a cosy read I suppose, but it depends on how you read it. Polly loses her business and her relationship at the same time. Not at all cosy. Her former boyfriend and business partner would not communicate with her when it became clear the business was going belly up. He's a pain in arse in fact. He took his misery out on her and she struggled with it for a couple of years. Also not cosy. Information is fed to you about this throughout the book and you can't help but feel she was well rid of him.

The place she moves to is a bit like St. Michael's Mount in that it's cut off twice a day by the tide. It's not identical though as the village on the fictional island is much bigger, and reminded me more of Sennen Cove, being built on a steep hill. Whatever, it really took me back to Cornwall and that aspect was beautifully done. I could smell the sea, feel the breeze on my face, see and hear the fishing boats in the harbour and so on. The author doesn't prettify life for local people in Cornwall though. Yes, the surroundings are gorgeous but making a living is hard. People often work two or three jobs, property is expensive and tragedies happen amongst the fishing community. The elderly find it particularly hard to survive too.

Polly's bread baking habit is a delghtful and fascinating part of the book. I don't bake bread myself but know someone who does and it was really interesting to read about and follow her baking exploits. And at the back of the book are a selction of recipes for anyone who wants to give it a try.

Any negative points? Not really. The book was pretty much as I expected. I wasn't crazy about the two new men in Polly's life and I also wondered how many parents in the 1980s called their daughters 'Polly'. Surely it went out of fashion in the 1950s and has not returned... But that's just me nit-picking. The book was enjoyable, had good sense of place, and was not at all as cosy as one might think given the genre. It also turns out it's book one of a new series and book 2, Summer at the Little Beach Street Bakery is just out. I shall grab it at the library if I see it and might investigate other books by Jenny Colgan.


Tuesday 1 September 2015

Books read in August

Happy September to everyone reading this! My favourite time of year, autumn, is almost here and I couldn't be more delighted. The evenings are drawing in and the last few weeks have been cool and comfortable. I've been busy a lot of the summer with family and the garden so book reviews have been few and far between. It's been nice as I do enjoy my grandchilden immensely and we've had a lot of fun spending time with them this summer. But soon they'll be back to school and normality will return and I'll get back to doing a few book reviews... especially now that R.I.P. has begun.

Anyway, this past month I've read four books again and these are they.

38. The Wrath of Angels - John Connolly

39. August Folly - Angela Thirkell

40. Summer Half - Angela Thirkell

41. Arms of Nemesis - Steven Saylor

The hideously disfigured body was found in the atrium. The only clues are a blood-soaked cloak, and, carved into the stone at the corpse's feet, the word Sparta . . . The Overseer of Marcus Crassus's estate has been murdered, apparently by two slaves bent on joining Spartacus's revolt. The wealthy, powerful Crassus vows to honor an ancient law and have his ninety-nine remaining slaves slaughtered in three days. Gordianus the Finder is summoned from Rome by a mysterious client to find out the truth about the murder before the three days are up. (Blurb from Goodreads.)

Well, gosh, this was a bit of a cracking read. I enjoyed the first book in the series, Roman Blood, very much indeed. I didn't imagine that book 2 would surpass it in excellence... but it did. Shifting the action from the city of Rome to the Gulf of Puteoli worked a treat and what you get from that is gorgeous descriptions of the coast of Italy and frequent mentions of Vesuvius brooding over the scene. Wonderful. Once again, as with the first book, the plight of Roman slaves comes right to the fore. More so in this book as the author portrays what it's like to be a house-slave and, in one very memorable scene at the beginning, the daily horror of being a galley-slave on a ship. Apparently, just about the worst job any slave could find himself doing. The mystery was excellent... I decided who the culprit was fairly early on and was completely wrong. Naturally. All good fun. I'm really looking forward to reading more of these now - I'm finding it rather interesting discovering more about Ancient Rome and the Romans... both in Rome and here in Britain.

So, four very enjoyable books read in August. I loved all four to be honest so I'm not picking a favourite for once. Very nice to have a reading month where all of my books are very good. Hope September is equally as satisfying.