Thursday 30 March 2017

Books read in March

March was an average reading month for me... six books tends to be my default number and if I manage that then I'm quite happy. Not that it bothers me, I read what I read... it's whether I enjoy the books that's the main factor. So when that is taken into account then it's actually been quite a good month.

Anyway, these are they:

15. To Helvetica and Back - Paige Shelton

16. The Brutal Telling - Louise Penny

17. The North Face - Mary Renault

18. L'Auberge - Julia Stagg

19. The Cloud Roads - Martha Wells

20. On the Shores of the Mediterranean - Eric Newby

My usual mixed bag... two crime stories, two general fiction, one fantasy and a non-fiction travel book. Two were a bit so-so and four very enjoyable. A month where two thirds of the books you read are good to very good is about as much as you can ask for really.

I'm struggling with a favourite. Two books *just* have the edge and those are The Brutal Telling and The Cloud Roads.

Two very different books but both absolutely superb. Two things they have in common is a wonderful sense of place and the kind of paciness I enjoy. Always something happening in both books. I don't think I will choose between them... I'll award them joint first place in my affections.

So now it's almost April and the year is slipping away. This 'time speeding up' thing as you get older is scary. It makes me feel that I really *must* read what I like, when I like. So, on that note I suddenly felt like reading some Pern books by Anne McCaffrey so that's what I'm going to do. I shall spend a couple of weeks indulging in one of my favourite science-fiction series of all time and read these two books:

And then maybe this:

*What* a gorgeous cover! So that's my reading plan for the first part of April. What are yours? Tell all. :-)


Wednesday 29 March 2017

A few short reviews

As is often the case I'm a bit behind with book reviews so this is a 'catching up' post.

First up, L'Auberge by Julia Stagg

Gosh, what a hideous cover but that aside I rather enjoyed this light, fun read set in the French Pyrenees. An English couple, Lorna and Paul, have bought The Auberge (hostel, B&B type affair) in the mountain village of Fogas. The local mayor rather wanted his brother-in-law to have it and sets about making life very awkward for the couple in the hope that the business will fail and they'll have to sell it cheaply. All kinds of shenanigans ensue but along the way certain of the French villagers decide they don't like The Mayor's rum doings and set out to thwart him by helping the English couple out. Very nice sense of place in this one, nice descriptions of mountainous scenery and wintery conditions. My late sister-in-law lived in France for a while and also ran a B&B so this was quite familiar territory to me. I was quite aware of how much power French mayors wield, although hopefully most are not as corrupt as the one in this book. This is a series of five books, I'm not sure if I'll read any more, possibly if I happen to see any more in the library, but not otherwise.

Next, The Cloud Roads by Martha Wells.

Moon has no idea what he is... he only knows that he can shape-shift at will into a winged, flying creature. As far as he is aware there is nothing else like him anywhere, his small family having been killed by The Fell, another race of flying beings - but vicious - when he was a small child. He has been nomadic since this happened, living for spells with groundlings, here and there throughout The Three Worlds, but they always find out about his shape-shifting eventually and banish him from their commmunities. Then one day, expelled from yet another village, Moon is astonished to encounter Stone, an individual exactly like himself, albeit much, much older. Stone explains a little about what he is and offers him sanctuary at his colony some way away. Used to being independent, Moon is reluctant but decides to go with Stone for the duration, having nowhere else to go. It's probably just as well that he has no idea of the challenges ahead and how much danger his life, and that of his new friends, will be in.

I've owned this for four years now, always meaning to get around to it but never actually managing to. I'm so glad I made the effort at last as it really was an excellent fantasy read... well written, amazing world-building and interesting characters. Martha Wells has packed this book full of beautifully imagined beings, especially the Raksura, of which race Moon is a member. The Fell, who seem to be trying to take over the world, are vicious and frightening... genuinely scary. I loved the travelling element, naturally, and I think this continues through the next books of which there are five altogether. Delighted and plan to read all of them as and when I can. Thrilled with this new to me fantasy series. This is my book 7 for Bev's Mount TBR 2017.

Lastly, On the Shores of the Mediterranean by Eric newby.

Oh, how I wish I'd enjoyed this as much as I hoped to. I quite like Eric Newby's travel writing and this book about his trip to most of the countries surrounding The Mediterranean sea, with his wife, Wanda, should have been right up my street. And parts of it were. Where he concentrated on what they got up to it was fine, although I don't think I really needed quite so many names of streets in Naples. Where I got bogged down was in the history. Which is very odd because I like history, really like it, but it was all so dry and he didn't make any of it come alive. Carol Drinkwater's, The Olive Route, also about The Med, knocked spots off it quite frankly. A real shame, but there you go... you can't win 'em all. This was my book 8 for Bev's Mount TBR 2017.


Wednesday 22 March 2017

Secondhand book buys

Sometimes you come across the best book buys when you're least expecting it. We had to visit a local small town on Monday for my husband to have his hearing aid adjusted. They have a Health Centre there, one to which we'd never been before. As soon as I walked in I sensed books. LOL! And there they were, quite a few of them, 50p each in aid of the Health Centre and being looked after by a lovely volunteer. We chatted while I picked out books. And what books!

First I spotted one of the delightful British Library Classic crime reissues, then another... eventually I had SIX.

From the bottom:

The Cheltenham Square Murder - John Bude
Death on The Cherwell - Mavis Doriel Hay
Antidote to Venom - Freeman Wills Crofts
Thirteen Guests - J. Jefferson Farjeon
The Poisoned Chocolate Case - Anthony Berkeley
The Cornish Coast Murder - John Bude

New, these are £8.99. I got six for £3. Fantastic bargain! Plus, several are books I wanted to read as I'd already read books by those authors and liked them.

On the other pile:

Mysterious Air Stories - edited by William Pattrick. An AM buy.
A Book of Railway Journeys edited by Ludovic Kennedy. Also an AM buy.
The Christmas Collection - Mary & Carol Higgins Clark. Bought at the Health Centre.
The Girl In Blue - P.G. Wodehouse. Also from the Health Centre.
Best Foot Forward - Susie Kelly. A walking in France book, AM buy.

Hubby's face when I approached him carrying a bag of books rather than one or two, was a picture... wish I'd taken it on my phone. I left a fiver in the honesty box and thought the fiver very well spent... and a good cause.


Saturday 18 March 2017

North Face

So I'm standing in the Post Office queue yesterday afternoon... four or five people in front of me, my mind wandering, as it does, cogitating on books I want to read and those I'm reading at the moment etc. etc. North Face was going round my head, where it's set, its characters and so on, when I suddenly focussed on the woman standing in front of me. She was wearing a dark grey quilted anorak type of thing and there on the back of it in the right hand corner was a maker's logo. And what did it say? The North Face, that's what. This kind of thing happens to me all the time...

Anyway, enough about coincidences, North Face by Mary Renault:

A group of people converge on a quiet B&B on the North Devon Coast, just a few years after World War Two. Miss Searle is an academic, a teacher, and a bit on the snooty side. Miss Fisher is a nursing sister, very down to earth, seen it all. Neil Langton is also an academic and teacher, he likes climbing and walking and is nursing a tragedy in his past and has yet come to terms with his grief. The two women try to communicate with him but he's not forthcoming, keeping himself to himself. Two more guests arrive. A young girl, Ellen, about 19, and a young man, Phillip. They arrive separately and affect surprise to see each other telling everyone that they are acquaintances at work. The nursing sister puts two and two together...

Next morning, Phillip takes off in a hurry. Something clearly wasn't right. The guests assume the girl will go too but she doesn't. She stays. Out one day, Neil comes across her, stuck on a rockface and has to rescue her. From then on the two slowly become friends and more, but naturally nothing is ever straightforward especially when the two people involved both have a lot of sadness in their past.

This was a random grab from the library. Well, not that random as I've felt for a while that I should read something by Mary Renault. What I want to read is actually her Alexander trilogy but naturally my library doesn't have it so I just sort of grabbed North Face to sample the author's writing.

I wish I'd liked it as much as I wanted to. On paper it should have been perfect, set in North Devon, an area I've lived in or around for over twenty years, and involving a bit of rock climbing which I don't do but like to read about. It *should* have been right up my alley. So, what was wrong?

Well firstly, to be positive, there was an excellent sense of place. The sleepy, summery atmosphere of the North Devon coast and countryside in the late 1940s was spot-on as it hasn't actually changed all that much. I recognised various places... even if one or two were actually over the border in Somerset, no matter, that aspect of the book was delightful. I also enjoyed the rock climbing bits, the danger was very well portrayed... edge of seat stuff towards the end. Brilliant.

What I'm ambivilent about is all the internalising of emotions that was going on in the book. The author clearly had a good grasp of psychology, people's selfish motives for what they think and do was nicely put over and I found that interesting. But at times I got so bogged down in the writing of it that I had to read some sections several times and still didn't really know what she meant or sometimes what had actually happened! It was quite frustrating to be honest and I had to face the fact that I might not be intelligent enough to understand parts of the book, which is quite sobering. LOL!

The one thing that did come over very well was how damaging to people's personal lives the war was. Even if you didn't lose someone, the effect on marriages and children was often catastrophic. The other thing I was struck by was the social mores of the period. I recognised all of them in my parents and grandparents, especially as regards the behaviour of women and how a reputation could be ruined in moments. Men had a lot more leeway of course and it was interesting how Neil thought of the two women in the B&B as unmarriageable old spinsters when they were around the same age as him... mid forties. This was very much a book of its time. Attitudes were very entrenched and the idea that anyone should have sex before marriage was so unthinkable that not only did it cause terrible gossiping, it made sensitive ladies like Miss Searle quite ill and write 'letters'. Fascinating stuff from our perspective in the 21st. century.

So, I was a bit hot and cold about this one. Gave it three stars on Goodreads when plenty of others would probably give it at least a four. I'm glad I read it and will try a few more of Mary Renault's book, especially the Alexander & Theseus trilogies if I can find them.


Tuesday 14 March 2017

Update on my book series.

I haven't updated my list of the series I'm reading in quite a while, not since 2015 in fact. I find it very useful to do this as every now and then I peer at it to see which series I haven't read in a while and should get back to. Or maybe don't want to get back to at all... this happens quite a lot with me as I'm quite fickle. Embarrassed to admit it but I am. Extremely subject to moods in reading, like a butterfly flitting from one theme or place to another... vintage crime, ancient Rome crime, US based crime, Scottish crime... The Lake District, Canada, France! It seems there's no end to my finickyness. Ah well, never mind.

Anyway,the books:

Crime - modern and historical:

Charlie Parker - John Connolly - (read 11... up to book 12)
Matthew Shardlake – C.J. Sansom (read 3)
Flavia de Luce - Alan Bradley (read 6)
Daisy Dalrymple - Carola Dunn (read 21)
Rizzoli and Isles - Tess Gerritsen (read 8)
Ruth Galloway - Elly Griffiths (read 7)
Mary Russell/Sherlock Holmes – Laurie R. King (read 5)
The Lewis trilogy - Peter May (read 2)
Lord Peter Wimsey - (read 6)
Gordianus the Finder - Steven Saylor (read 2)
Medicus - Ruth Downie (read 2)
Kate Burkholder - Linda Castillo (read 2)
Reverand Clare Fergusson - Julia Spencer-Fleming (read 3)
Temperance Brennan - Kathy Reichs (read 2)
No.1 Ladies' Detective Agency - A. McCall-Smith (read 11)
Kate Shugak - Dana Stabenow (read 6)
Sea Detective - Mark Douglas Home (read 2)
Hannah Scarlett - Martin Edwards (read 6)
Jacquot - Martin O'Brien (read 3)
Armande Gamache - Louise Penny (read 5)
Dangerous Type - Paige Shelton (read 1)

Sci-Fi, Fantasy and Horror - both adult and young adult:

Mercy Thompson - Patricia Briggs (read 6)
Jackelian - Stephen Hunt (read 2)
Rivers of London - Ben Aaronovitch (read 4)
Liveship Trader - Robin Hobb (read 1)
Astreiant - Melissa Scott - (read 2 1/2)
Hyperion - Dan Simmons (read 1)
Pern - Anne McCaffrey - (read loads but need to get back to them)
Books of the Raksura - Martha Wells (read 1)

Series I want to read: (mainly fantasy)

The Wit’ch series – James Clemens
Alpha and Omega - Patricia Briggs
Worldmaker trilogy - Lucy Hounsom
Lady Trent - Marie Brennan
Outlander - Diana Gabaldon
All Souls trilogy - Deborah Harkness
Todhunter Moon - Angie Sage
The Tawny Man trilogy – Robin Hobb (in fact all of the rest of her books.)

The Coldfire trilogy – Celia Friedman
The Fionavar Tapestry trilogy – Guy Gavriel Kay
Swordspoint - Ellen Kushner

As I noted back in 2015, what's really striking is how I've moved from being a fantasy/horror/sci-fi reader to being a reader concentrating on all kinds of crime stories. I never ever thought this would happen. I did read a bit of crime years ago, I used to love Ellis Peters' Cadfael books for instance, but converting to crime as a main genre, no I didn't anticipate that at all. Never say 'never'.


Sunday 12 March 2017

A couple of crime titles

Two crime books to review today. First up, To Helvetica and Back by Paige Shelton.

Clare Henry lives and works in Star City which is a winter ski resort in the mountains in Utah. Along with her grandfather, Chester, she run a business mending typewriters and restoring old books. A friend and neighbour, Mirabelle, brings her antique typewriter into the shop for Clare to mend the L, which doesn't work. A man they later refer to as 'leather-man', because of his clothes, comes into the shop and demands to be given said typewriter. He gets very angry when Clare refuses point blank to hand it over. Next day the man's dead body is discovered in the alley behind her shop. Because Clare had worked late that night and fallen asleep in the shop she finds she's a suspect... not good when your best friend, Jodie, is a police woman. It's up to Clare to try to establish her innocence by discovering what secrets an old typewriter holds that are worth killing for.

Paige Shelton is a new author to me, I don't think I'd even noticed the author on Goodreads. Then a friend whose whose opinion I trust recommended To Helvetica and Back and I'm so glad she did because I really enjoyed it. It was quirky and fun and the Utah setting attracted me as it's not generally a place where books are set. (Well, there must be a few but they're not so noticeable here in the UK.) There's a bit of history about the mining in the area, a bit of geology, a little bit of romance, and a good mystery, the background to which kept my interest well. I also liked the restoring of rare books angle and details about how it's all done. There's one more book in this series, Bookman Dead Style, which I'll read but I also downloaded to my Kindle, The Cracked Spine: A Scottish Bookshop Mystery by the same author. Books and Scotland... what's not to love about that?

Lastly, The Brutal Telling by Louise Penny, book five in the Armand Gamache series.

Chief Inspector Gamache and his team are called in when a body is discovered in the bistro in the village of Three Pines in rural Quebec. The dead man has been bludgeoned to death but no one has any idea who he is or how he came to be there. Gabri and Olivier, the gay couple who run the bistro, certainly have no idea. Gamache has no clue where to start with solving this murder but slowly he begins to realise that several of the villagers are holding something back, keeping secrets. People he thought he knew, considered friends, are perhaps not what he thought they were. But could they be murderers?

This is my favourite Gamache book so far, and that's not to denigrate the first four books either. This one was just a bit special. The cast is the usual one of Gamache's team, Beauvoir, Lacoste and a new young chap, Morin, and the various villagers we've come to know, husband and wife artists Peter and Clara, Gabri and Olivier who own the bistro, book shop owner, Myrna, eccentric Ruth and her duck, Rosa, and so on. A couple of new families have moved into the village so they add to the mix... and suspects. What's interesting about this book is the complicated plot. Who was the dead man? What's his story? Gamache really struggles to find answers. There are literary connections, cold war connections, Gamache even ends up on Queen Charlotte Island off the coast of British Colombia at one point. I felt Louise Pennty created a wierdness about the story that was almost supernatural, the creepy atmosphere quite got to me but I loved it. It's full of secrets and hidden histories and motives... so many layers. I hadn't a clue who the culprit was until the end. And the writing, well that was just sublime. I wish I could have given it more than five out of five on Goodreads. LOL

Both these books qualify for the Where are you Reading? challenge that's being hosted by Book Dragon's Lair. To Helvetica and Back under 'U' for Utah and The Brutal Telling under 'Q' for Quebec. Two quite difficult letters covered there. I'm still eyeing up that X though...


Thursday 2 March 2017

World Book Day

Happy World Book Day! How wonderful that such a thing exists. So often I think books and readers are left behind in the mad rush that is modern day life and also in the belief that all should be sporty. We're not! Some of us are bookish and we're not fairly represented on TV or elsewhere in the media in my opinion. Anyway, I'll stop pontificating, here're a couple of truly beautiful books that have somehow made their way into my home over the last couple of days.

The Writer Abroad is a book of literary travels covering the entire world, from Austria to Uzbekistan, as it says on the cover. The selections were made by author, Lucinda Hawksley. The French Riviera: A Literary Guide for Travellers by Ted Jones is... A literary and entertaining journey along France's fabled Riviera, illuminating the lives and work of the great literary figures who found inspirarion there. The covers are stunning and well worthy of representing World Book Day.


Wednesday 1 March 2017

Update on Where Are You Reading? challenge

This post is really for my own reference so when I come to update it I don't have to go further and further back looking for the post. (But please feel free to comment with any book recs.) Plus, I'm nerdy enough to want to keep close tabs on a challenge I'm enjoying so much.

This one is all about places. There's one about states but this one counts cities, countries, and fictional locations too. Read a book set in a location for each letter of the alphabet. West Virginia only counts for W, Bowling Green only counts for B, but the Pern series by Anne McCaffrey that is on a fictional planet counts as P ;-)

The sign up post is here: Where are you Reading? and is being hosted by Book Dragon's Lair.

You don’t need a blog to participate. Feel free to link to a Goodreads shelf or another public profile where everyone can see your books.

There is one hard rule, one just for general courtesy, and several guidelines. There are no levels, unless you want to do a second set of letters.

Hard Rules
The book in question must have an ISBN or equivalent. If you can buy it or borrow it, it counts -

General Courtesy
When you sign up in the linky, put the direct link to your post. That way we can find it.


1. You can list your books in advance or as you read them. You can also change your list.

2. Any format, any genre or length of book counts but it must be the complete book, individual books in a collection do not count separately.

3. Anyone can join, you don’t need to be a blogger, just let me know in the comments.

4. Reviews are not necessary but a list of books you read is. There will be a link up for reviews if you wish to post them. You can make a list of books you want to read and change them if you'd like.

5. Crossovers for other challenges count.

6. Books started before January 1st, 2017 don’t count - unless you start over. ;-)

My list:

A: (Alaska, USA) Blood Will Tell - Dana Stabenow (January '17)


C: (Cote D'azur, France) Jacquot and the Fifteen - Martin O'Brien (Feb '17)

D: (Devon, UK) North Face - Mary Renault (March '17)


F: (France) Best Foot Forward - Susie Kelly (May '17)






L: (Lewis - The Outer Hebrides, Scotland) The Lewis Man - Peter May (January '17)

M: (Minnesota, USA) The Lost Girls - Heather Young (Feb '17)

N: (Norfolk, England) The Woman in Blue - Elly Griffiths (May '17)

O: (Oxford, England) Death on the Cherwell - Mavis Doriel Hay (June '17)

P: (Philadelphia, PA, USA) The Signature of All Things - Elizabeth Gilbert (February '17)

Q: (Quebec, Canada) The Brutal Telling - Louise Penny (Mar. '17)


S: (St. Denis, Perigord, France) Bruno, Chief of Police - Martin Walker (June '17)

T: (Three Worlds, The) The Cloud Roads - Martha Wells (March '17)

U: (Utah, USA) To Helvetica and Back - Paige Shelton (Mar. '17)


W: (Wisconsin, USA) Way Station - Clifford D. Simak (Feb. '17)

X: The Xibalba Murders?



So that's 10 books read out of 26 and just 2 months into the year so that's not bad. I haven't quite finished the book for 'U' but when that's finished it'll be reviewed and a proper link added. Looking at these titles the big surprise to me is just exactly how many books I've read this year that're set in the USA! I had no idea. It probably illustrates how much I like that country and enjoy reading about it. And what's nice is that all these books add to my list of books for my personal challenge to read a book from every US state... and I still have plenty of those that are blank at the moment. Apparently I like a challenge!