Wednesday 30 December 2015

Mount TBR 2015 Final checkpoint

Another year is almost at an end so it's time for the final checkpoint for Mount TBR 2015.

Bev has asked that we answer question one and then two if we feel inclined. (I do. :-))

1. Tell us how many miles you made it up your mountain (# of books read). If you've planted your flag on the peak, then tell us and celebrate (and wave!). Even if you were especially athletic and have been sitting atop your mountain for months, please check back in and remind us how quickly you sprinted up that trail. And feel free to tell us about any particularly exciting book adventures you've had along the way.

I signed on for Mont Blanc which was to read 24 books owned by you since before the 1st. January 2015. Happy to report that I planted my flag on the top of the mountain around about mid-December. All of the 24 books were good, particularly those I read in the first half of the year, for some strange reason. I look at the list and get a really good feeling about A Fire Upon the Deep by Vernor Vinge, Gaudy Night by Dorothy L Sayers, Helliconia Winter by Brian Aldiss, The Tenderness of Wolves by Stef Penney, Agatha Christie's autobiography, Clear Waters Rising by Nicholas Crane, all read before May. Books read after that were fine too but that few months at the start of 2015 seemed to be particularly good. Odd.

2. The Year in Review According to Mount TBR: Using the titles of the books you read this year, please associate as many statements as you can with a book read on your journey up the Mountain.

Describe yourself: The Dark Horse

Describe where you currently live: Wildwood (I wish!)

If you could go anywhere where would you go?: Untrodden Peaks, Unfrequented Valleys

Every Monday morning I look/feel like: A Murder is Announced

The last time I went to the doctor/therapist was because: [Of] August Folly

The last meal I ate was: A Tiny Bit Marvellous

When a creepy guy/girl asks me for my phone number, I: [Use] Tooth and Claw

Ignorant politicians make me: [Think of] The Churchill Factor

Some people need to spend more time: [Reading by the] Fyre

My memoir could be titled: Point of Dreams

If I could, I would tell my teenage self: [To enjoy the] Summer Half

I've always wondered: [About] The Murder at the Vicarage

So that's Mount TBR for another year. Onwards and upwards now to 2016 and another stab at Mont Blanc. Can't wait.


Monday 28 December 2015

2016 European Reading challenge

Ok, well I ummed and ahhed about this as I did say to myself that I would do hardly any challenges in 2016. *But* this one really appeals so I'm ashamed to say that I didn't um or ah very long when I saw it on Bev at My Reader's Block's blog. The challenge is the 2016 European Reading challenge.

The challenge is being hosted by Rose City Reader and the sign-up page is here.

THE GIST: The idea is to read books by European authors or books set in European countries (no matter where the author comes from). The books can be anything – novels, short stories, memoirs, travel guides, cookbooks, biography, poetry, or any other genre. You can participate at different levels, but each book must be by a different author and set in a different country – it's supposed to be a tour. (Go to sign-up page for notes about the UK.)

WHAT COUNTS AS "EUROPE"?: For now, we will stick with the same list of 50 sovereign states that fall (at least partially) within the geographic territory of the continent of Europe and/or enjoy membership in international European organizations such as the Council of Europe. This list includes the obvious (the UK, France, Germany, Spain, and Italy), the really huge Russia, the tiny Vatican City, and the mixed bag of Baltic, Balkan, and former Soviet states.

THE LIST: Albania, Andorra, Armenia, Austria, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Belgium, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Georgia, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Kazakhstan, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Moldova, Monaco, Montenegro, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Republic of Macedonia, Romania, Russia, San Marino, Serbia, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Turkey, Ukraine, United Kingdom, and Vatican City.


FIVE STAR (DELUXE ENTOURAGE): Read at least five books by different European authors or books set in different European countries.

FOUR STAR (HONEYMOONER): Read four qualifying books.

THREE STAR (BUSINESS TRAVELER): Read three qualifying books.

TWO STAR (ADVENTURER): Read two qualifying books.

ONE STAR (PENSIONE WEEKENDER): Read just one qualifying book.

Rules are on the official sign-up page.

I shall try for the FIVE STAR (DELUXE ENTOURAGE) category which is the five book option. I have 'loads' of books I can read for the challenge but won't list them at the moment... they will most likely be mainly non-fiction though and I'll be looking to get some books off the tbr pile. Looking forward to making a start on this one.


Wednesday 23 December 2015

Merry Christmas!

My family arrive tomorrow so I'll not be around much for the next few days. So for all those who celebrate at this time of year I hope you all have a very...

I hope your Christmas is all that you would like it to be... with lots of books naturally!


Sunday 20 December 2015

A Couple of titles

Catching up a bit today. Naturally things are rather busy at this time of year so moments to read are rather snatched and a bit brief. I've been reading three books over the last couple of weeks, one, The Woodlanders by Thomas Hardy, is going to take me into 2016 I feel, but the other two have been excellent entertainment for a busy December.

First up, Don't Look Now a collection of weird short stories by Daphne Du Maurier:

This is a collection of five long short stories, so I'll briefly outline each one.

1) Don't Look Now is set in Venice and concerns a couple, Laura and John, who have recently lost a young daughter. The husband hopes the holiday will help to heal his wife's grief. While eating in a restaurant one night they notice two sisters, one of whom is blind. The sister who can see tells Laura that her blind sister can see their dead daughter at the table with them and that she is happy. Laura is convinced by what the sisters say but John is highly sceptical. From then on events spiral right out of control. This was a powerful story of loss and grief and how we each deal with it differently. There's a strong sense of Venice, even though I've not been there I was able to see it very clearly. I like the strangeness of the tale, it was made into a film in the 1970s which I didn't like half as much as the written story.

2) Not After Midnight is set on the island of Crete. A schoolmaster takes a holiday on Crete in order to paint. He's not happy with the accommodation he's given and forces the management to let him have a chalet that's not supposed to be in use until later in the year. The management are unexpectedly cagey about letting him have the chalet which is away from the main buildings, on the edge of the sea. Apparently the previous occupant died in mysterious circumstances. Across the inlet a couple have another chalet and the obnoxious husband invites him over but 'not after midnight'. The schoolmaster soon realises that there is something very odd indeed about the couple. This one held my interest from the beginning with it's meandering explanation of what happened to the main protagonist and how trouble found him even though he wasn't looking for it. The story, although set in the 1970s, had quite an old-fashioned feel to it... almost in the style of H.P Lovecraft I thought. Excellent... though the ending was a bit weak.

3) A Border-line Case. Actress, Shelagh, is at home helping to care for her dying father. She's alone in the house with him, staring out of the window when he sits up straight, stares at her, utters a few words and keels over, dead. After the funeral, Shelagh decides to go to Ireland to look up an old friend of her father's that he had lost touch with. Nick lives on an island in the middle of a lake and Shelagh decides to pose as a journalist in order to gain admittance to the home of this recluse. Her plan works but not before she becomes very concerned for her own safety. What's going on here? A nicely written 'Mary Stewart' sort of story with two twists, one of which I guessed from the beginning, the other not at all. I liked this story as well, although I did question the morality of the main characters.

4) The Way of the Cross. A group of tourists from a cruise ship stop off to visit Jerusalem. They're all from the same picturesque and wealthy village in southern England and are a motley crowd of well-heeled middle-aged couples and two newly-weds. Their own vicar was supposed to accompany them but is ill, so a young vicar from the north of England (Huddersfield I think it was) takes his place. The company is not happy. This was really a study of people and their behaviour. So astute was Daphne Du Maurier at judging people that I was reminded of Agatha Christie's Miss Marple stories, although this is not a murder mystery. The setting of Jerusalem was fascinating, the author clearly knew the city well and brings a lot of biblical and historical references to the tale. Not the strongest story in the collection, and not really strange in the manner that the others are, but I still enjoyed it very much.

5)The Breakthrough. An engineer is sent off to the wilds of coastal Norfolk to work with another group of scientists whose work is secretive and 'off the radar' so to speak. Reluctant to go, he does decide to stay once there, only to find the work being done is rather unsettling. It involves three machines, hypnosis, a child, and a young man dying of leukemia. I won't say any more as it would involve spoilers but this is a very odd story indeed... scientifically frightening and leaning towards science fiction in tone. It's extremely well excuted with a very strong sense of location. The marshes of the Norfolk coast feel very real indeed, increasing the sense of isolation and unease. I liked this a lot.

All in all, this is a very strong collection of short stories. Beautifully written, not that you would expect anything else from Daphne Du Maurier, but I was even more impressed than I thought I would be. Each story has a very strong sense of place and I liked the fact that very few of the characters were all that likeable... the ambiguity of most people's personalities was very nicely portrayed and that made for interesting, absorbing reading. Highly recommended.

Lastly, A Murder is Announced by Agatha Christie.

An announcement in the personals section of the local paper reveals that a murder will take place in a certain house at a certain time in the village of Chipping Cleghorn. The villagers thinks it's a game and turn up to see what happens. What happens is that the lights go out, a man enters the room and fires a gun, leaves and then is found outside on the floor with a bullet in him. Suicide is assumed but Inspector Craddock is not happy and continues to investigate. Eventually Miss Marple arrives to help but so much about the case is terribly complicated, especially as it starts to be suspected that some people are not who they say they are...

An excellent Miss Marple story, although if I have one complaint it's that Miss Marple herself doesn't appear until about 80 pages into the book. I love her philosophising about humanity. She's an expert in people's weaknesses and the things they will do to get what they want and I could read endless pages of it quite frankly. So there wasn't enough of her in the book for my money, but still, an excellent murder mystery. Complicated, with lots of red herrings, and all life was there in the one small village. Christie was such a good portrayer of all kinds of people, I think like her own creation, Miss Marple, she must've been a keen student of the human condition. Super writing too, I thought this was just perfect:

"Miss Marple gave the [shop] window her rapt attention, and Mr. Elliot, an elderly obese spider, peeped out of his web to appraise the possibilities of this new fly"

I look forward to reading a lot more Agatha Christie in 2016 as I work my way through Bev's Vintage Mystery Cover Scavenger Hunt challenge.

A Murder is Announced is my book 24 for Bev's 2015 Mount TBR Reading challenge.


Thursday 10 December 2015

The Vintage Mystery Cover Scavenger Hunt 2016

I am keeping my reading challenges for 2016 to a bare minimum. I signed up for Bev's Mount TBR again as that's really useful and fun but I wanted one other that would be also be fun. My choice is to return to the vintage crime that I enjoy so much so I'll be doing Bev's Vintage Mystery Cover Scavenger Hunt 2016.

This is slightly altered from her vintage bingo challenge of the last few years and I must say I love the idea of a scavenger hunt type of challenge.

The Rules:

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

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

*Minimum number of items to complete the challenge and to be eligible for the participation prize drawing at the end of the year is six items from the covers of books read from a single Vintage Mystery Era. If you choose to do both eras, you must use separate checklists. You may not, for example, find three golden age items and three silver age items to claim the minimum six.

*Challenge runs from January 1, 2016 to December 31, 2016. Sign up any time between now and November 1, 2016. Any books read from January 1 on may count regardless of your sign-up date. If you have a blog, please post about the challenge and a little bit about your commitment—if you’re going Silver or Gold…or maybe both. Then sign up via the linky below. And please make the url link to your Challenge post and not your home page. (Links that do not follow this rule will be removed.) If you do not have a blog, links to an online list (Goodreads, Library Thing, etc.) devoted to this challenge are also acceptable OR you may comment below to indicate your sign up.

*"On the cover" may apply to either the front or the back cover of the book. For example, if you need a map or a chart for your scavenger hunt list, then Dell Mapbacks are perfect--with the map in question on the back cover. Also, the item should be found on the cover of the edition that you read. If at all possible either post a picture showing the item on the cover or provide a link to a page showing us. Exception: If the edition you read has no picture whatsoever (hardbacks that have no dust jacket or e-copies, for example), then you may go on another scavenger hunt online to find a cover image--again, please provide a link to the edition used. Bottom line: if I choose to check up on entries, I must be able to find the item claimed on a cover for the book read.

*No double-counting within the challenge. If a book's cover has both a shadowy figure and a weapon, you may only use it to check off one item from the list. You are welcome to change the item claimed at any time prior to submitting it for prizes.

*Books read for this challenge may be used for other challenges as well.

*Reviews are encouraged, but they are not necessary to participate. If you do not have a blog, post to the comments below that you intend to join and then post again at the end-of-year wrap-up site when you have completed your challenge (include a list of books read, categories you have completed, and how to find images of covers).

*A Headquarters link will appear on my sidebar once the new year begins. You can go there for review links and information.

1. Challengers who complete the minimum six books from a single era will be eligible for a drawing at the end of the year for a book from the prize list.
2. Challengers who complete 12 or more books (either from the same era or six from each era) will also be entered in a separate drawing--for another chance to win, again for their choice of a book from the prize list.

In addition:
1. There will be periodic check-in posts and drawings. I will choose specific scavenger items ahead of time (some time today, actually). Those who have already found those items will be eligible for bonus prizes.
2. A grand prize for the participant who finds the most objects overall. In case of a tie, there will be a tie-breaker round. Tie-breaker to be determined.

Please keep track of your progress and be prepared to submit a final wrap-up post or comment at the end of the year. Please DO NOT submit completion notifications prior to the posting of the Wrap-Up Link. Thank you.

This is the list of items to be found... I'll be doing the 'Gold' category. (Click to enlarge the pic.)

I have a feeling this is going to be a 'lot' of fun.


Tuesday 8 December 2015

A Daughter's Tale

After a lapse of several months during the summer and early autumn I seem to be back on course with my non-fiction reading. The latest offering is A Daughter's Tale by Mary Soames.

Mary Soames (née Spencer-Churchill) was the youngest daughter of Winston and Clementine Churchill, born about a year after the death of their fourth child, Marigold. One of her abiding wishes throughout her life was that her birth had been some consolation to them in their loss. Hers was a priviledged upbringing naturally. The Churchills were connected to the dukes of Marlborough and although the family constantly had money problems they still lived the life of the upper class, high profile politician's family.

Mary had what can only be described as an idyllic childhood. A nanny who was a cousin of the family looked after her throughout her childhood so no nasty stories there and she was happy at her private school, loved by her family etc. One of the things that shines out of the book in fact, is what devoted parents Winston and Clementine were. They clearly adored all their children, made sure they spent time with them, wrote to them constantly when they were apart. I haven't read a massive amount about Winston Churchill's childhood (I plan to correct that at some stage) but what I have read indicates it wasn't hugely happy so I wonder if this closeness to his own children was a reaction to that...

Anyway, about two thirds of the book deals with the war years (WW2), what Mary did to serve her country and the trials and tribulations of her father's leadership of the country: being especially close to her father these affected her deeply. She was one of the first women to serve in the mixed anti-aircraft batteries and rose to the rank of Junior Commander. Being a bit cynical, I have to admit I wondered if it helped that she was Churchill's daughter but still, if she was a real dud I don't think she would have managed it. Plus some of the hoo-ha she attracted did genuinely seem to mortify her, so it's swings and roundabouts with this kind of thing. I suspect whatever she did she couldn't really win, poor woman.

All of this was fascinating. What did get a little tedious was all the relating of parties and lunches with Naice Gels with double-barrelled surnames, whose names would mean nothing to most people. And because of who she was I don't think she suffered as most ordinary people suffered during the war... she never mentions rationing for instance. Although she did lose close friends and worried endlessly about her father, so perhaps I'm being a trifle unfair.

I suppose I'm slightly ambiguous about this book. On the one hand it was very interesting historically... although at times I wanted *more*. More about the people she met... Franklin D. Roosevelt and his wife Eleanor, Joseph Stalin and so on. More about the nitty-gritty of the war. But part of me felt slightly uneasy at this very priviledged girl's easy passage through life because of the family she was born into. How nice it would be if it was as easy for everyone.

Still, this was not a bad read. Mary Soame's writing style is very readable so no getting bogged down in the narrative. There was plenty to keep my interest and I especially enjoyed reading about Winston Churchill, the family man. The author died last year aged 92 and this was her last book, published in 2011, quite an achievement to write such a book in your late eighties! She also wrote a book about her mother, Clementine, which I think might bear reading at some stage. I seem to have discovered yet another reading theme...


Wednesday 2 December 2015

Books read in November

I have no idea where November went. In fact, I have no idea where this whole year has gone. To be honest I find it more than a little scary. So I shall not dwell on it and move swiftly on. Books read during the month gone by numbered five, which is getting to be the average monthly total for me and I'm quite happy with that. I've enjoyed a nice relaxing reading year to be honest and plan to do exactly the same next year.

OK, on to the books:

52. Mountain: Exploring Britain's High Places by Griff Rhys Jones

53. The Mountains of Majipoor by Robert Silverberg

54. The Churchill Factor by Boris Johnson

55. The Lake District Murder by John Bude

56. The Murder at the Vicarage by Agatha Christie.

Reverand Clement, the vicar of St. Mary Mead, finds the dead body of Colonel Protheroe in his study in the vicarage. He's been shot through the head by persons unknown. The problem is that the colonel was an unpopular man and the suspects are numerous. Even the vicar was heard to say that anyone who murdered the man would be doing the world a service. Inspector Slack is brought in to solve the murder but he too is universally disliked and no one wants to talk to him. So it falls to the vicar and Miss Jane Marple to solve the puzzle of who shot Protheroe. Slack thinks it's all over when the prime suspect confesses. But is it? Miss marple is far from convinced, but if the main suspect hasn't done the deed, who has?

This was Agatha Christie's first Miss Marple story and also the first I've read. I don't know how, in all my years of reading, I've managed never to read a Miss Marple crime yarn, but there you go, it's a fact. And I really did enjoy The Murder at the Vicarage so it's a shame I've not tried them before. I thought I remembered seeing the Joan Hickson version of this and that I remembered who'd done it. Rubbish! It wasn't that person at all. LOL! I enjoyed the convoluted plot, the humour, Miss Marple's observations on the behaviour of people... I could read a whole book of those to be honest, so fascinated was I. All in all, great stuff and I plan to read more Agatha Christie next year.

Murder at the Vicarage is my book 23 for Bev's Mount TBR 2015 challenge.

So, that's my November reading. Two good non-fictions, a sci-fi that didn't really come up to scratch, and two very good vintage crime yarns. Favourite book? The Churchill Factor by Boris Johnson because it was a stonking good read and has awakened my interest in probably our most famous politician from history. Planning to read a *lot* more about him.


Tuesday 1 December 2015

Mount TBR 2016

I shan't be doing many reading challenges next year but I always find Bev's Mount TBR ones fun and useful, even though I probably replace those books I read each year with new ones, so am basically getting nowhere... Anyhooo, moving swiftly on, next year it's Mount TBR '2016' of course.

The challenge levels are as follows:

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

Rules can be found here.

I'll be doing exactly as I did this year and going for Mont Blanc, which is to read 24 book from my tbr pile. This worked very well for me this year; even though I didn't read that many from the pile I specifically set aside, the books all came off my tbr pile and that's what counts.

Yet again, I've created a pile of books that I want to read from and this is they:

As always, click for a larger view. The sharp-eyed may notice a bit of a theme going on here, apart from the fact that they're all non-fiction that is. Each book is about the British countryside or Britain in general. There's walking, swimming, yachting, even a bookshop on a barge... and goodness knows what else on the shelf... all of it concerned with the UK. I'm not expecting to read all of these by any means. In fact, if I read half a dozen I'll be quite happy as I do have plenty of others I want to get to next year, including some chunky fiction. I'm looking forward to next year's reading already.