Sunday 30 July 2017

Books read in July

I have to admit, July is not my favourite month of the year. In fact it's my least favourite. It can sometimes be too hot, even in the UK ha ha, and I hate that. Thankfully, July 2017 has not been too awful, just a few odd days in a row where it's been, for me, uncomfortably hot. At the moment we have cool temps. with some sunshine, many showers, weather you can get on and work in. The garden's going well, we're harvesting raspberries, plums, courgettes, runner beans, carrots and so forth. Tomatoes are just coming in. The shallot crop was large and those have been dealt with gradually over the last week, either frozen or pickled. I feel a certain sense of achievement in respect of the last month despite the fact that I hate July! Crazy, but there you go.

Oddly, despite all the harvesting, I've still managed a good reading month. Seven books in all, eight really, as one of them is a book that has two books within its pages. Anyway, these are they:

36. Auntie Poldi and the Sicilian Lions - Mario Giordano

37. Waterlog - Roger Deakin

38. Excursion to Tindari - Andrea Camilleri

39. The Critic - Peter May

40. Words in a French Life - Kristin Espinasse

41. The Little French Guesthouse - Helen Pollard

42. Three Men in a Boat & Three Men on the Bummel - Jerome K. Jerome

So, a motley bunch. Two non-fictions, both good. Three crime yarns, a rom com, a couple of classics from Jerome K. Jerome. Three books set in France so that fascination's been with me for three months now (it started in early May) and shows no sign whatsoever of abating. Which is fine as I'm learning rather a lot... I'm now reading about The French Resistance during WW2... and knowledge never goes to waste.

I'm having trouble choosing a favourite book. The only one here that I gave a five star rating to on Goodreads is Waterlog by Roger Deakin. And it was indeed superb. Beautifully written and a book to immerse yourself in , no pun intend... oh, ok then perhaps I did mean it. ;-) But really if I think about these seven books, the one that's stayed with me is Peter May's The Critic.

It was so very French in its descriptions of wine making in the South of France, so much atmosphere and so very clever with its plotting. I should go back and give it a five on Goodreads rather than a four to be honest. Peter May is such a good writer and I haven't read anything by him that I haven't liked a lot.

So, onwards into August... another month I'm not mad about. Roll on September even though it's pretty much certain my husband's second knee operation will, at long last, be happening then. C'est la vie...


Friday 28 July 2017

France... again!

More French books. Quelle surprise! Not. Anyway, three very different books.

First, The Critic by Peter May - my book 3 for Peggy's Read Scotland 2017 challenge.

American wine critic, Gil Petty, has been murdered, his body pickled in wine, dressed in ceremonial robes, and strung up scarecrow-wise in a vineyard in the Gaillac region of the south of France. This happened several years ago and it's yet another unsolved case for Scot, Enzo McCleod, who is trying to solve seven unsolved murders from a book by an acquaintance. As a critic, Petty had a lot of influence over what sold throughout the world in the way of wine. He was also not the pleasantist of people and Enzo suspects he had more than a few enemies. But then another body, similarly pickled and strung up, is discovered and there appears to be no connection between the two men. A code needs to be broken before this distressing case can be solved but are Enzo and his team of Nicole, Sophie and Bertrand, and Charlotte up to the task?

Another enjoyable foray into the world of Enzo McCleod in the south of France. In this one wine-making plays a huge part. I would almost say if you fancy going to France to take it up, read this book! To be honest there's a little too much detail but it did make me consider the power these critics have over people's lives, be it wine, food, hotels or whatever. You can understand the resentment hard working people must feel towards them. I like the team Enzo has around him, particularly Nicole the clever student from a very poor farming background. Her problems feel very real. Not so sure about the on/off girlfriend, Charlotte. And here's yet another male author writing a middle-aged main character who's apparently completely irrestible to much younger women... Anyway despite this I do like this series... it's well written, the murders are always complicated and thus hard to solve, and Peter May really does do 'France' very well indeed. I shall read more.

Next, Words in a French Life by Kristen Espinasse:

Kristin Espinasse is an American woman from Arizona who married a Frenchman and moved to the South of France. She thought she could speak reasonable French having always had an intense love of the country and studied the language extensively. But real French, spoken by real people, is quite a different animal to that which we're all taught in the classroom and Kristen found her language skills somewhat wanting. She started a blog, French Word a Day, in which she introduces her readers to new words and illustrates them with daily happenings in her own life with her family in Provence. I found this utterly charming. All the vagaries of French life are here, I wondered at how similar we all are with our worries and concerns for our families but also... how different with our little idiosyncrasies, our taboos, and so on. I loved hearing about her husband and children... who helped her a lot with her French as they grew... her friends and most of all the area in which she lived, which sounds rather idyllic. The book, I should add, also informs and I felt I learnt quite a lot, but in a gentle way... the best way in my opinion.

Lastly, The Little French Guesthouse by Helen Pollard:

Emmy and her boyfriend, Nathan, are on holiday in the Loire Valley, staying at a guesthouse, La Cour des Roses, owned by British ex-pats, Rupert and Gloria. Rupert has a sudden seizure in the kitchen one night and Emmy rushes off to find Gloria, his wife, and finds her and Nathan in a compromising position. Next day Nathan leaves with Gloria leaving Emmy to look after Rupert, just out of hospital. She stays to help him run the guesthouse and very quickly grows to love everything about the place and loves the new friends she meets. But she has a good job back in England, friends, family... she can't possibly stay... can she?

I don't read heaps of these romantic comedy type books but I do enjoy the occasional one, especially if it happens to be set in France as this one is. And here the setting is particulary well depicted. La Cour des Roses sounds absolutely idyllic, as does the village and surrounding Loire countryside. Well drawn characters add to the enjoyment, I liked Rupert, Alain and Sophie, but particularly loved the French woman who came to clean whose name eludes me - possibly 'Madame Dupont'. I will admit to a few moments when I felt like shaking Emmy, and as to her ex-boyfriend, well... Anyway, thoroughly enjoyable and there are two more books which I'll search out in due course.

So, here we are almost at the end of yet another month. Scary. It's already feeling autumnal, a fact which I don't mind in the slightest as autumn's my favourite time of year. Happy reading!


Sunday 16 July 2017

Sicilian Crime stories

Two Sicilian based crime novels today. First up, Auntie Poldi and the Sicilian Lions by Mario Giordano:

Isolde Oberreiter, more commonly known as 'Auntie Poldi', is a German lady in her sixties who's decided to move to Sicily to be near her relatives in her retirement. She has a nephew who's trying to be a writer and he lives with her from time to time. He's the narrator of the tale and describes how eccentric his aunt is having lived a very colourful life indeed. She has a sort of odd-job man who works for her now and then, who disappears one day. Poldi is worried, but no one takes her seriously until she discovers his dead body on the beach. The police are on the case but Poldi decides to look into the murder herself as her father had been a detective in Germany. It's naturally a dangerous undertaking and the investigating officer, DCI Vito Montano, is not amused with her interference but is struggling with his attraction to Poldi. Unfortunately for him she also has more success with her investigations than he does...

To be honest I wasn't at all sure what to make of this. It was a fun murder mystery, I will say that, with a really nice setting on the island of Sicily. Nice sense of place and of the eccentricities of the inhabitants of that island. The problem for me, I think, was that I felt the author made Aunt Poldi just a bit too eccentric. I do actually like a bit of weirdness here and there, enjoy it in fact, but I almost felt the author had gone overboard just for the sake of it. I struggled to identify with Poldi and that's a shame as middle-aged female protagonists are very few and far between. I say 'middle-aged'... the author refers to her as 'elderly' and she's in her sixties... like me... I do not think of myself as 'elderly'! Surely these days elderly is late eighties or ninety. Anyhow, hit and miss with this book I think, but cheap to buy on Kindle and a fun read so I have no complaints whatsoever.

Next, Excursion to Tindari by Andrea Camilleri:

A young man, Nené Sanfilippo, is shot dead outside his block of flats in Vigata, Sicily. Inspector Montalbano and his team are assigned the case. Then another man turns up at the police station, very worried about his parents, Mr. & Mrs. Griffo, who have not answered their phone for several days. Montalbano naturally makes no connection between these two occurrences... *until* he finds that the murdered man and the missing couple lived in the same appartment block. It turns out that the Griffos were last seen on a coach which was taking its passengers on an excursion to the Sanctuary of the Madonna in Tindari. On the way back the coach stopped for a comfort break and no one remembers seeing them after that. Then a local Mafia chief asks to meet up with Montalbano. What on earth is going on?

Another enjoyable episode in the detecting life of Salvo Montalbano... number five as a matter of fact. I can't claim that this is one of my favourite series, because it's not. I like them, I don't love them, and I'm not sure why that is. I do enjoy the taste of Sicilian life the author brings to his stories. The island is very real... the people, their addiction to food, the history, the oppressive heat, the organised crime, the eccentricity of the police force. There's a good natured, earthy humour I like and Montalbano's love of good food is endearing. His love life not quite so much. I read these books very intermittently, so as there're are rather a lot it'll take me while to get through them. But that's ok, I have several series I read like that, dipping in and out when the mood takes me. It's all good.


Tuesday 11 July 2017

Two books about the water

Two watery books today. First, Waterlog by Roger Deakin.

This book is a celebration of wild swimming in the UK. It's quite a popular pastime apparently, which is something I was unaware of, although I have seen scenes of people swimming along rocky coasts on programmes such as the BBC's Coast. Roger Deakin set out, in 1996, to swim as many rivers, lakes, beachs, canals, aquaducts, you name it, of the country as took his fancy. He lived in Norfolk, near Diss, so East Anglia takes centre stage for a lot of the book. His home had small stretch of moat around it which apparently at one time, centuries ago, was not that unusual. But of course there are not many of them left, aside from a few stately homes and castles, Oxburgh Hall in Norfolk being a notable one. (It's owned by the National Trust and is a wonderful place to visit.)

He actually started his journey in the Isles of Scilly, off Cornwall, and thence into Cornwall itself. I was particulary interested in his swim in the outdoor lido in Penzance because this is where I swam as a child. The pool has recently been refurbished after being virtually destroyed by yet another Atlantic storm. Its triangular shape is apparently unique in the UK, something I didn't realise.

Photo: Penzance Jubilee pool

After that he swum all over the place, a lot in East Anglia as previously mentioned but also Scotland, Devon and Dorset, Sark in the Channel Islands, the Leeds & Liverpool canal, Lidos in London, remote mountain lakes in Wales, to name but a few.

It's quite hard to review books like this which meander almost as much as the rivers Deakin was swimming in. That's because his thoughts on all kinds of things take up as many pages as the actual swimming. We get a lot of history, topography, and musings on all kinds of topics, plus interesting bits on the people he meets, things that have happened to them and so on. The book is fascinating... it took me a month to read and I'm quite pleased about that as it meant I could savour it in detail and enjoy the wonderful laid back, contemplative nature it exudes. The sad thing is Roger Deakin died in 2006 aged 63. A sad loss to British nature writing.

Next: Three Men in a Boat - Jerome K. Jerome

Three Men in a Boat hardly needs any introduction from me. This is my second or even third time of reading it, although I did't own it. Not even sure what did happen to my copy but when I saw this lovely Oxford World Classics edition advertised by them on Twitter I decided it was time for a reread and this was the one I wanted to read. It involves of course, three men, Henry, George and the narrator 'J', deciding to row up the river Thames from Kingston to Oxford, along with the dog, a fox terrier, Montmorency. It catalogues their fictional adventures and misfortunes, their ineptness despite them all being men who've been out on boats on various rivers in the past. What struck me was what a popular pastime 'messing about on the river' was back in the 1890s when this book was written. It was crazy popular, not so much for the pleasure it seemed to me, but for the act of being seen out and about and taking part. The river could get so crowded at the weekends it could take hours to get through particular locks of which there are many on The Thames. Of course, the joy of this book is not necessarily the boat trip itself. It's the author's cogitations on everything under the sun. Hilarious stuff so beautifully put that it had me it fits of laughter. And I loved how self-deluded the narrator is when it comes to his own character. To be honest he's deluded about *most* things. The book is a joy, if you haven't read it, please do, you won't regret it.

One parallel I must draw between Waterlog and Three Men in a Boat is that both sets of travellers found access to some parts of the rivers difficult due to private ownership and *signs* up all over the place. It drove Roger Deakin mad and also the three men in the boat. You might have thought things would've improved in a hundred years but no, apparently *not*. Interesting.

I'll be reading the second book, Three Men on the Bummel very soon... think I've already read that too but honestly don't remember it so I'm hoping it too will be a joy.


Friday 7 July 2017

Mount TBR checkpoint #2

We're now more than halfway through the year so it's time for the 2nd. Mount TBR checkpoint.

I signed up originally for Pike's Peak which is to read 12 books off your TBR pile.

First up, Bev wants us to:

1. Tell us how many miles you've made it up your mountain (# of books read). If you're really ambitious, you can do some intricate math and figure out how the number of books you've read correlates to actual miles up Pike's Peak, Mt. Ararat, etc. And feel free to tell us about any particularly exciting adventures you've had along the way.

Well, I'm there... at the top of Pike's Peak. I finished my 12th. book just a couple of days ago. What to do now? Well, I think I'll move on to the next mountain, Mont Blanc, which is to read 24 books. I've no idea whether I'll manage it but nothing ventured...

2. Complete ONE (or more if you like) of the following:

A. Choose two titles from the books you've read so far that have a common link. You decide what the link is--both have strong female lead characters? Each focuses on a diabolical plot to take over the world? Blue covers? About weddings? Find your link and tell us what it is.

My link is between Bill Oddie Unplucked by Bill Oddie and Waterlog by Roger Deakin. And the link is both authors' love of wildlife, in Oddie's case specifically 'birds'. It shines like a beacon out of both books and is delightful to read and learn from.


Use titles from your list to complete as many of the following sentences below as you can. If you haven't read enough books to give you good choices, then feel free to use any books yet to be read from your piles. I've given my answers as examples. Feel free to add or change words (such as "a" or "the" or others that clarify) as needed.

My Life According to Books:

1. My Ex is/was Waterlog(ged) - Roger Deakin (To be reviewed)

2. My best friend is The Woman in White - Wilkie Collins (on tbr pile)

3. Lately, at work (It feels like) The Haunted Library - Edited by Tanya Kirk

4. If I won the lottery (I'd take to) The Cloud Roads - Martha Wells

5. My fashion sense (resembles) Bill Oddie Unplucked - Bill Oddie

6. My next ride (Leaves from) The Way Station - Clifford D. Simak

7. The one I love is The Lewis Man - Peter May

8. If I ruled the world (I'd be) William the Conqueror - Richmal Crompton

9. When I look out my window (I see) Dragonsdawn - Anne McCaffrey

10.The best things in life are On the Shores of the Mediterranean - Eric Newby

So, onwards and upwards... Mont Blanc!


Saturday 1 July 2017

Second update on my Where Are you Reading? challenge

Well, here we are... six months into 2017 and it's downhill all the way to Christmas. *Dodges sundry rotten veg* I wanted to pop an update on the Where Are You reading? challenge up here, mainly for own benefit so I don't have to go too far back when updating it. Also it's one I like keeping an eye on as I'm enjoying it quite a bit.

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)

E: (Europe) Continental Crimes - edited by Martin Edwards (August '17)

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

G: (Gaillac, France) The Critic - Peter May (July '17)

H: (Hilary Magna, UK) Death of a Busybody - George Bellairs (Sept. '17)

I: (Italy) Excursion to Tindari - Andrea Camilleri (July '17)


K: (Kingsmarkham, Sussex, England) No Man's Nightingale - Ruth Rendell (August '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)

V: (Vézére valley, France) The Caves of Périgord - Martin Walker. (August '17)

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




Sooooo, that's 18 letters filled, 8 to go. I have books to cover a few of the vacant letters, B, G and H for instance, and probably others if I care to search properly amongst the TBR mountain. Quite pleased with some of the destinations... various lovely US States, nice parts of France, Canada, Scotland, England and so on. Possibly I should vary the countries a bit more but those are the places I like reading about so it's a very much a list which reflects me and I can't think that that's really such a bad thing.