Friday 18 August 2017

Various titles

Fair bit of catching up to do today. I've been reading but not reviewing, mainly because it's the school summer holidays and thus busier than normal. Not to mention the garden...

Anyway, three books to review... first up, The Natural History of Dragons by Marie Brennan, this is my book 13 for Bev's Mount TBR 2017 challenge.

Seven year old Isabella, Lady Trent, falls in love with dragons the day she finds a dead sparkling in the garden. It's an uphill struggle to study them, girls are not expected to do such things and she has to conspire with her brother in order to read books on the subject from her father's library. She can be her own worst enemy though and after a disastrous dragon hunt that she should not have been on, she's banned from studying and reading. Several 'grey years' pass and eventually Isabella meets Jacob Camherst, a scholar with an interest in dragons and the two marry. Isabella is able to recommence her studies. Then the opportunity to go on field trip to study dragon in the wild occurs, can she persuade her husband to take her along?

I thoroughly enjoyed this story of Lady Trent's early days as a studier of dragons - she's writing her memoirs in her later years when things have vastly improved for women who want to gain an education. I very much liked the style of the book which is that of a Victorian female explorer. Though this is not Victorian England it does feel very much like it, the country they travel to being perhaps Russia. It's well written, fun, and written exactly as though dragons were real and available for serious study. I liked it so much I already have book two, The Tropic of Serpents, on my tbr pile.

Next, No Man's Nightingale by Ruth Rendell:

Inspector Reg Wexford is now retired, still living in Kingsmarkham, and spending his retirement reading The Rise and Fall of the Roman Empire. His ex sidekick, DS Mike Burden, calls him in to help solve the murder of a local female vicar, Sarah Hussain, a woman of mixed parentage... she was half Irish, half Indian. She had a daughter, Clarissa, who doesn't know who her father is... could this be a clue to the murder? Wexford and Burden get very bogged down questioning Sarah's few friends and an old friend from her past. It doesn't seem as though anyone would've wanted her dead but someone strangled her in her own home. Burden declares that he is never interested in motive, just the facts, but Wexford feels that motive is the key to this and even when a man is arrested ploughs on with his own investigations.

This is actually the first Inspector Wexford book I've read, although I did watch the TV series avidly years ago. It's also book 24, the last of the series Ruth Rendell wrote, so it was perhaps a bit mad of me to start reading the series with that one. That said, I don't think it matters in the slightest, probably *because* I'd seen and TV series and knew all of the characters well. I enjoyed this very much indeed, in fact I enjoyed it much more than I thought I would for some odd reason. So much wonderful dry humour in Wexford's thoughts and musings... and endless common sense. And more humour in the character of Wexford's cleaner, Maxine. She never stops talking, in the manner of people we all know, and is hilariously written. I loved Wexford's bookishness and the use of The Rise and Fall of the Roman Empire to illustrate various points. Clever. Because it was such a complicated little plot, I really didn't know until the end who had done the deed, so that's a plus. All in all an excellent read, superb writing, and I will definitely be grabbing more from the library when I have some space on my ticket!

Lastly, Continental Crimes edited by crime writer, Martin Edwards:

I always find it difficult to review volumes of short stories, sometimes I say something about every story but as life is short I shall just review the book in a general way. This is an excellent collection of stories set all over Europe but mainly France, Belgium, Germany and Italy. Many would come under the heading of 'Vintage Crime' being set in the 1920s & 30s but there are later ones from the 1950s and so on. Two, The New Catacomb by Arthur Conan Doyle and The Secret Garden by G.K. Chesterton, I had read before. The former I thought was clever and well written, the latter I didn't read again as I hadn't been that impressed with it first time even though I do like Father Brown stories in general. Not all are actual murder stories - the title doesn't actually promise that anyway - and that's no bad thing. One of my favourites, Petit Jean by Ian Hay, was more of a war story, set in World War One. How an author could make such a story funny I've no idea, but he did and it was an excellent little intrigue yarn which actually made me giggle all the way through. I'd happily read more by this author. A couple of others I enjoyed - The Room in the Tower by J. Jefferson Farjeon (I read his Mystery in White last Christmas), which was a supernatural story set in a castle on the Rhine, and The Ten Franc Counter by H. de vere Stacpoole, a murder mystery set in Monte Carlo. Both were well written and enjoyable. Agatha Christie's offering, Have You Got Everything You Want?, is a 'Parker Pyne' story about some stolen jewels. This is one of Christie's recurrent characters that I'd not come across before, which is perhaps not surprising as there seems to be just one book of short stories and apparently they're not all mysteries. The Long Dinner by H.C. Bailey was one of those kinds of stories you feel like giving up on but come the end you're glad you didn't. It hoicks the reader all over the place from Paris, to Devon in the UK and then back to France and the coast of Brittany. Excellent story that starts out as one thing and ends up as something else entirely. Like all anthologies, Continental Crimes has its high points and its low points but taken as a complete collection I thought it was rather good and have discovered several authors I would like to read more of.



DesLily said...

Did you take a speed reading coarse?! lol I read the Natural History of Dragons a few years back and remember I enjoyed it. And, I agree with the Victorian feel of the story! Glad you enjoyed it! I can't remember if I read book 2 or not lol.

BooksPlease said...

I'm never comfortable writing about short stories - you have done it so well! I'm glad you enjoyed your 'first' Wexford. I haven't read The Natural History of Dragons and going off your review think it's one I'd enjoy.

I'm so far behind with reviews this year, so I think I should follow your example and write a catch up post.

Cath said...

Pat: LOL... to be honest I'm quite a slow reader. We worked out once that Peter read about three times as many books as me every year, my eldest daughter the same. I don't know how they do it. I think it's because I read every word and they say they don't. Plus I catch Peter quite often skipping 3 or 4 pages at a time. I don't know how he can do that.

I definitely want to read more of the Lady Trent books, for a start they are really pretty books but that first one was excellent.

Margaret: No, I'm not comfortable writing about short stories either. If you write about every one (and I have done in the past) it's an endless chore which you have to do as you go along or you forget what what you've read. I thought I'd try this way for a change and I'm glad to hear it worked.

It's not easy trying to keep up with reviews and next month I won't be able to as my husband will be having his 2nd. knee operation. Probably won't even have time to read for several weeks...

BooksPlease said...

Cath, best wishes for your husband's knee operation. And I hope you do get some reading time - I find hospitals can be good for reading as you wait, depending on how chatty the other people around me are. Last visit it was a very talkative old lady - but she was very entertaining.

Yvonne @ Fiction Books Reviews said...

Hi Cath,

I seem to spend my life reading but not reviewing just lately. In fact reading would be something of a novelty as well sometimes!!

I'm not really big into short story collections, however 'Continental Crimes' does sound quite appealing and I enjoy Martin Edwards writing.

I too, have read randomly from the 'Wexford' novels, although I think that they work quite well as stand alone stories. I was also an avid fan of the television series and anything written by Ruth Rendell. A nice review and character assessment of 'Wexford'.

Best Wishes to your husband when he has his operation and I hope for a very speedy recovery :)


Cath said...

Margaret: Thankyou so much for your good wishes for Peter's knee operation. It's happening on the 15th. September. I must admit, I do like talkative old ladies... they always seem to want to tell me their life histories.

Yvonne: I know the feeling, which is why, more often than not, I do posts with several short reviews rather than a long review of every book I read.

To tell the truth neither am I big into short story collections, but this one was better than most.

I think the reason we can read randomly of the Wexford novels is that they do stand alone, plus we've all seen the TV series and are familiar with the set-up.

Thank you, the operation happens on the 15th. and is creeping ever closer.

Hope you're enjoying the Bank Holiday weekend.