Wednesday 22 June 2016

A couple of crime titles

More catching up to do today, two crime titles, starting with Resorting to Murder edited by Martin Edwards.

This is a collection of holiday based, mostly obscure, crime stories written by various crime writers, many of whom have been long forgotten. Which is a shame really because while the collection is a trifle hit and miss, the stories do mainly hit the spot. I particularly liked several. The Hazel Ice by H.C. Bailey is a mountaineering story based in the Swiss Alps... lots of red herrings and complicated working out of peoples' alibis and so forth. Great fun. Where is Mr. Manetot? by Phyllis Bentley was written in the form of a letter, and concerned a chap who overheard something sinister in a deserted railway station and felt compelled to follow it up. Nicely written with an interesting ending. A Mystery of the Sandhills by R. Austin Freeman revolves around clothes found abandoned in the sand-dunes, where is the owner? Has he drowned? The amateur detective is into solving crimes scientifically like Sherlock Holmes. Talking of whom there's an excellent Holmes story in this volume, The Adventure of the Devil's Foot, a Cornwall based tale that I can remember being very frightened by as a child when it was shown on TV in the 1960s. All in all this is a good collection of stories, some better than others, but isn't that always the way? Love the railway poster cover too.

Resorting to Murder is my book sixteen for Bev's Mount TBR 2016 challenge.

Next, The Serpent Pool again by Martin Edwards.

DCI Hannah Scarlett is still in The Lake District investigating cold cases. Her current case is the death of a young woman, Bethany Friend, six years ago. Her body had been found in the Serpent Pool but the police had been unable to discover whether she had committed suicide or been murdered. Meanwhile a good customer of Hannah's partner Marc, who sells rare books, dies in a fire. It's almost certainly murder unless he tied himself up and set fire to all his books. Is there a connection between the two deaths? Daniel Kind becomes involved via his sister and Hannah once again finds herself fighting her growing attraction to him. But the real worry for Hannah is how involved is Marc in these very odd deaths and can their relationship survive all of these upheavals?

It's been far too long since I read a Hannah Scarlett book, and I have a few to catch up on.... three more left to read. Which is quite nice really because I enjoyed The Serpent Pool an awful lot. There's always a very strong sense of place, the Lake District being where the series is set... and this one took place during the winter so that was extra nice. (I'm rather a winter sort of a person). The mystery plot was a strong one, I kind of guessed who the culprit was but not the whys and the whyfors, which turned out to be a bit unusual. Hannah's personal backstory is one I like a lot, although it's maybe a bit frustrating as we all know what she ought to do but whether she will or not is questionable. But that's how real life is so that's not a complaint at all. A really enjoyable book and I'll be going after the next book, The Hanging Wood very soon.


Thursday 9 June 2016

Catching up

I'm waaaaay behind with book reviews so it's time to catch up with some brief reviews.

First up, The Watchmaker of Filigree Street by Natasha Pulley, this is my third book for Carl's Once Upon a Time challenge.

Nathaniel Steepleton, known as Thaniel, is a telegrapher working for The Home Office in Victorian London. A one time pianist, he had to give up a promising career when his sister's husband died and it fell to Thaniel to earn enough to send her money for herself and her children.

Arriving home one evening Thaniel finds a gold pocket watch on his pillow. He has no idea where it came from or who put it there, but it's a very fine thing indeed. Nothing happens for a while apart from a threat by Irish Nationalists to plant a bomb in the vicinity of The Home Office. Everyone is naturally on edge. The watch saves his life when the bomb goes off so Thaniel goes in search of its maker. Keita Mori is a watchmaker and Japanese immigrant whom Thaniel takes to immediately but is he keeping a secret? Does he know something about the Irish bombs?

Meanwhile in Oxford Grace Carrow is a young woman studying physics at university, one of the first women allowed to do such a thing. A talented student, she's studying the luminiferous ether and wants to prove its existence with her experiments. A chance meeting at a ball brings her and Thaniel Steepleton together. Thaniel likes this studious, unfeminine young woman immediately but Keita does not. Thus Thaniel finds himself torn and having to make choices he'd really rather not but, like it or not, the lives of these three people are now inextricably entwined.

It's now a couple of weeks since I finished this and here's proof that you should write about books fairly quickly because I'm now struggling to remember it. Mainly I enjoyed it... its concentration on intricate clockwork was fascinating and something I've not come across before... it's a wee bit steampunkish and I like that. I don't think I understood all of the scientific explanations, especially Keita Mori's strange existance. But again... that was rather unique. I found characterisation slightly weak... I didn't feel strongly about any of the people in the book. I did like the flashback sections where we heard about Mori's past life in Japan. All in all not bad at all for a debut novel and I look forward to more by the author in the future.

Next, a non-fiction book, The Olive Route by Carol Drinkwater. This is my book 15 for Bev's Mount TBR 2016 challenge.

Carol Drinkwater is an actress, probably best known in the UK for playing Helen, the wife of James Herriot in the BBC series, All Creatures Great and Small. After moving to France to live on an olive farm, she wrote about her experiences in a trilogy of books that have become hugely popular. After writing those she decided to investigate the origins of her beloved olive tree, hoping to discover who turned the olive into the domesticated tree that we know today. How many thousands of years ago was this done? She starts her investigations in The Lebanon where she's shown an olive grove purported to be 6,000 years old. From there Carol's travels take her all over the Meditteranean, visiting countries such as Greece, Syria, Libya, Israel, Malta, meeting people, hearing their stories and discovering the history of the olive.

To be honest, I found this book to be more of a travelogue than a history book. And for me, that's fine. I notice some on Goodreads were disappointed: personally I wasn't. I found it to be the perfect mix of the author's recounting of her experiences around The Med along with bits of history of each country. My favourite place was Malta where she met a man trying to reintroduce the olive to the island after hundreds of olive groves were destroyed centuries ago. I thought that was joyous and so did she I think. More disturbing for me was her experience in Libya. This was just before the Arab Spring and Gadaffi was still in power and lone white women were not really that safe travelling alone. Now of course they're definitely not safe... but then no one is! She also found Israel unsettling, understandably so with what's going on there. It's a complicated situation but I felt she wrote very well about her time there. In fact the writing is top notch... descriptive, atmospheric, very personal. I really did love this book to pieces and was sorry to finish it. I've had it on my Kindle for several years but feel I would like paper copy so will probably get it along with its sequel, The Olive Tree. I also plan to read her olive farm trilogy at some stage.

Last, The Judge's House by Georges Simenon.

For some reason (we never find out why) Inspector Maigret has been exiled from the police in Paris. He's been sent to a quiet coastal backwater area of the the Vendée (just south of Brittany) where he's basically bored to tears. Then Didine Hulot, an elderly woman, comes to report that her husband has seen a body on the floor of a local house. Said house is owned by a retired judge who has moved to the area from Versailles, with his son and daughter. Maigret catches the judge trying to dispose of the body and arrests him. But it's really not clear who exactly killed the dead man or even who he is. There's a complicated story of a family beset by mental problems and a local fisherman who wants to marry the judge's daughter. It takes all of Maigret's ingenuity to unravel the tangled mess and get to the bottom of it all.

It helped with this one that I'd been to the Vendée where it's set and could appreciate the atmosphere and descriptions. It really was very much of its place and time, Georgs Simenon was an expert at such things and several of his books now have really sent me to the place where they're set. Plotwise I found it slightly predictable, but it was fun seeing Maigret going about solving the murder... never letting a single person know what was going on in his head. I also liked the Miss Marple type character of Didine Hulot who knew everything that was going on in the village and was always one step ahead of Maigret. Infuriating him of course. A nice comfy read for me which is what I need at the moment.

The Judge's House qualifies for Bev's Vintage Mystery Cover Scavenger Hunt Challenge under the category 'Bird'... because there are rather a lot of seagulls on the cover!


Thursday 2 June 2016

Books read in May

May was a bit of an odd month one way and another, involving a lot of running around, but inbetween I did manage to read a few books... five in all... which I didn't think was too bad all things considered.

26. The Murder of Roger Ackroyd - Agatha Christie

27. We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves - Karen Joy Fowler

28. The Whispering Land - Gerald Durrell

29. A Cold Blooded Business - Dana Stabenow. I haven't reviewed this one but it's book 4 in the Kate Shugak series, and involves her going undercover in one of the Alaskan oilfields to find out why someone has died as a result of too much cocaine being available on the site. I learned a lot about working conditions in the oilfields so it was a decent read. I enjoyed it possibly a little less than the previous two but this continues to be an excellent series.

30. The Watchmaker of Filigree Street - Natasha Pulley. To be reviewed.

I enjoyed all of the books I read and really don't have a favourite. According to my Goodreads 2016 shelf I gave all bar A Cold Blooded Business four stars and even with that it was a hard choice between three and four and I may have been a bit mean not giving it four. They were all good. But really the book I've enjoyed the most this month is the book I'm three quarters of the way through right now and it's this:

If I could have added The Olive Route by Carol Drinkwater to my May books it would have won hands down. But it's not finished so this excellent book will probably be my favourite for June. I love it to bits... more on this later.

June is going to be another odd month for me but I'm still hoping to be around reading blogs and posting about the books I'm reading... if slightly intermittently. Happy reading!