Friday 26 August 2016

Catching up... again.

As seems to be the case most of this summer I'm behind with book reviews. So this is one of my catch-up posts... three short(ish) reviews of a mixed bag of books read this month.

First up, The Wolf in Winter by John Connolly. I'm going to pinch the blurb from Goodreads for this one.

The community of Prosperous, Maine has always thrived when others have suffered. Its inhabitants are wealthy, its children’s future secure. It shuns outsiders. It guards its own. And at the heart of Prosperous lie the ruins of an ancient church, transported stone by stone from England centuries earlier by the founders of the town… But the death of a homeless man and the disappearance of his daughter draw the haunted, lethal private investigator Charlie Parker to Prosperous. Parker is a dangerous man, driven by compassion, by rage, and by the desire for vengeance. In him the town and its protectors sense a threat graver than any they have faced in their long history, and in the comfortable, sheltered inhabitants of a small Maine town, Parker will encounter his most vicious opponents yet.

First-class entertainment as always from John Connolly with this, book twelve, of his Charlie Parker series. He never disappoints with the weirdness of his situations, and the characters inhabiting said situations. Prosperous is a mighty peculiar town and it soon becomes apparent that its population is hiding a very dark secret indeed. Cue Charlie Parker's entrance stage left... poking his nose in where it definitely isn't wanted and opening up a real can of worms. It's all great stuff and gets even better when his pet assassins, Louis and Angel, join the investigation. For my money the ending fizzled out a bit, not enough explanation, but the rest of the book with its suspense, strong sense of place, and excellent storyline more than make up for that. Terrific.

Next, Follow that Bird! by Bill Oddie. This is my book twenty for Bev's Mount TBR 2016 challenge.

People of a certain age (mine!) will know Bill Oddie as one of The Goodies from the 1970's comedy sketch TV series. Nowadays he's probably more well known as a birdwatcher who appears on TV rather a lot in wildlife documentaries or programmes such as Springwatch... or used to... not around as much these days I notice. Follow that Bird! recounts some of his early adventures watching birds and making TV programmes. I say 'watching birds' - for much of his early bird watching years he was actually a twitcher which is slightly different. Twitchers like to keep lists of rare birds and tick them off as they see them, they'll travel all over the country for a rarity. Your average robin or blackbird does not really interest them. Anyway, six sections make up this book each recounting his various adventures - on holiday in Morocco, on the Isles of Scilly in October (when American rarities fly in), in India, Papua New Guinea, Ireland and on Shetland. There are anecdotes galore, amusing situations, 'dangerous' situations. One of the most chilling for me was the death of one of his twitching friends who was killed by a tiger in India. Bill wasn't there when it happened but when he did visit the area some while later he was saddened to discover more about how the tragedy actually occurred. I like Oddie's easy and humorous writing style, he's very self-deprecating and informative but so much concentrating on rare birds I'd never heard of and didn't know became a bit tedious. Nevertheless this was a perfectly good bedtime read for me.

Lastly, Jacquot and the Waterman by Martin O'Brien. This is my fourth book for the 2016 Europeanen Reading Challenge which is being hosted by Rose City Reader and covers 'France'.

There's a killer on the loose in Marseilles. Young women are being drugged and then drowned, earning the killer the nickname of The Waterman. It falls to CI Daniel Jacquot of the French police to investigate the murders, he is an international rugby player turned policeman now working with homicide in the south of France. After three deaths Jacquot still hasn't got anything to go on and then a body turns up with a tattoo which he is able to trace the origin of and the chase is on. But so many people are involved and from the highest echelons of Marseilles business life to boot. Jacquot will have to tread on some seriously sensitive toes to get a result with this one, not to mention work with a new, very annoying, partner *and* recover from being dumped by his girlfriend. And all the time the body count is increasing...

This series was recommended by Elaine at Random Jottings, so I thought I'd try the first book. So glad I did, it was *excellent*. Being a rabid armchair traveller I loved the setting of the city of Marseilles. I seem to be reading quite a few books set in and around The Med at the moment, so the setting for this book was very much an added attraction for me. The sense of place created is superb. I also liked the convoluted plot with its twists and turns... I'm not generally into crime stories that involve big business and shady business deals but this was well done and kept my interest. Daniel Jacquot is a slightly unusual detective with his ponytail and rugby player build, likes his food too and the author describes French food with a great deal of love. I've already reserved the second book from the library... a word of warning... if you decide to try this series and like to read series in order, check the order after The Waterman as there is some confusion. The correct order is (Jacquot and...) The Waterman, The Master, The Fifteen and The Angel. After those four I think Fantastic Fiction have the order correct.


Sunday 7 August 2016

O Jerusalem

My 19th. book for Bev's Mount TBR 2016 is O Jerusalem by Laurie R. King.

Sherlock Holmes and his apprentice, Mary Russell, are forced to flee Britain at the end of 1918. There are various choices as to where to go, each destination harbouring some kind of useful, governmental task to be undertaken for Holmes' brother, Mycroft. They plump for Palestine, newly occupied by the British who have recently ousted the Turks from the region. Mycroft, of course, has not told them the nature of the task he wants them to perform in Palestine: they have to discover that for themselves.

They're met by two Arab brothers, Ali and Mahmoud, who're not at all pleased to have to nursemaid two visitors from Britain and even more appalled when they discover that one of them is a young woman. Holmes and Mary disguise themselves as Arabs, Mary insisting that she will not pretend to be an Arab woman and cover herself in a burka - thus she 'becomes' a male, Arab youth. Their Arab guides are scandalised.

A journey around Palestine ensues, during which they come across several murders of Jews and Arabs alike. And there are rumours. Is there a plot and if so who is behind it and what is their intention? The region is like a tinderbox, one spark and the whole lot will ignite... which may be what some criminal mastermind intends. Holmes and Mary experience everything Palestine can throw at them, arid terrain, oppressive heat, flea-ridden accommodation, cliff-top monastries, a murder attempt, kidnapping. And then there is Jerusalem, where things become really exciting...

I finished this on Friday and here I am on Sunday still thinking about it. Some books affect you that way and it's often hard to see why that is. Historically, it was a fascinating read. A couple of books I've read recently have touched on the troubles in the Middle East... Carol Drinkwater's, The Olive Route, and there's a section in the non-fiction I'm currently reading, The Old Ways by Robert MacFarlane, where he walks in Israel and Palestine. Both talk about the heartbreaking situation there and in O Jerusalem Laurie King goes some way to explaining how the seeds of the trouble were sown after World War One. The British had just ousted the Turks from Palestine and the whole region had become dangerous to travel in. I don't know enough to express an opinion on either the history of the region, going back to biblical times, or the current situation, other than to say it's complicated and tragic. I need to read more about it and that's the truth.

Aside from the obvious historical interest this is a great 'ripping yarn'. 'Loads' going on as Holmes and Mary Russell stagger from one adventure to another. It's great fun, but at the same time thought provoking and informative. It is slightly confusing in that the timeline here is not after the last book, The Moor, but after, I think, book one, which is The Beekeeper's Apprentice. So their relationship is still in its fledgling state, ie. they're not married as they are in The Moor and Mary is still struggling to make Holmes think of her as a partner rather than an apprentice. Like her, I found his attitude rather condescending, but then Sherlock Holmes was ever thus with everyone. Mary Russell is one of my all time favourite fictional characters. I like her determination to be included in the action, not to be thought of as a weak, helpless woman and to stand up for herself. She has to prove herself and does so with aplomb.

It won't be years before I read the next Mary Russell book, Justice Hall. I don't have a copy of it unfortunately (I own several after that) but I shall be grabbing myself a copy as soon as I can. It's a terrific series, well written, always historically interesting... and fun!


Monday 1 August 2016

Books read in July

Heavens above, has another month really come and gone? Apparently so. I was busy, so reading took a bit of a back seat and just four books were read. These are they:

37. The Ghost Fields - Elly Griffiths

38. Heirs of the Body - Carola Dunn

39. The Hanging Wood - Martin Edwards, book five in the Lake District series.

This one starts with a young woman, Orla Payne, committing suicide by jumping into a silo full of grain on her father's farm. Her brother, Callum, had dissappeared when he was fourteen and Orla seven. She has never stopped looking for him. At her place of work, a residential library, is a man who looks so much like Callum that Orla thought it might be him. Who is he? Hannah Scarlett is given a week to look into the disappearance of Callum. The case is and was complicated with many of the close-knit community involved and clearly keeping things back. Daniel Kind is also drawn into the investigation as he was a friend of Orla's. Hannah, now free, or free-ish, is reluctant to start anything with Daniel until she's sorted her head and heart out. But she certainly has no objection to working with him on this extremely difficult case. A good instalment of this excellent series, so glad I got back to it after a couple of years. I managed to follow the plot despite lots of different characters, all seemingly related by blood or marriage, muddying the waters and requiring a bit of concentration. Good writing, a bit of sexual tension, and a terrific sense of place.

40. Play with Fire - Dana Stabenow, book five in the Kate Shugak series.

Picking mushrooms out in the wilds of Alaska with friends, Kate Shugak finds a body in the ashes of an area that was burnt by a wildfire some months ago. A day or so later she's approached by a ten year old boy. Matthew Seabolt lives with his grandfather, Reverand Seabolt, a fundamentalist Christian. His father, Daniel, a teacher, disappeared at the time of the fire but no one reported him missing: the boy wants Kate to find him. It's clear that the body is Daniel Seabolt but he didn't get caught in the fire - he died of anaphylactic shock, completely naked. The authorities don't think the death is suspicious but Kate is convinced it is. Looking into the teacher's background she finds there are many questions but can she get the village community to answer any of them? Another excellent Kate Shugak outing. In this book we find out a lot about Kate's history... how she coped when she left her Native Alaskan community to go to college in the city for instance. All very interesting. The murder mystery is perhaps a little predictable, it's fairly clear what happened from early on but when the precise circumstances were revealed, at the end, I did find it quite shocking. From a fairly average beginning this series just gets better and better.

So that was my July reading. I'm not going to name a favourite as all four books were very much on a par quality-wise... all excellent, all well written, all just what I needed. Basically, because I was busy, I stuck to tried and tested crime series that I knew I would enjoy plus knew I needed to catch up on. I shall probably continue with that in August. I'm currently reading one of Laurie King's Mary Russell/Sherlock Holmes books, O Jerusalem! This is a series I've long neglected, which is a shame as the book is really good. Perhaps it's not such a bad idea if you get a bit jaded with a series to leave it for a year or two before you go back to it. That seems to have worked very nicely for me.