Wednesday 26 September 2018

My library pile

Well part of my library pile anyway, there are four others but these are the ones I picked up on a visit to the library yesterday. It was one of those visits where they must've had a new batch of books in, or swapped loads with other branches, because everywhere you looked were books I wanted. I brought home five but it could easily have been double that amount, other times you go and struggle to find one or two.

From the bottom (links to Goodreads):

The Riviera Express - T.P. Fielden. I loved the sound of this crime book set in 1950s South Devon, it sounds rather 'Agatha Christie' and I love the railway poster type cover. Reserved this one.

Picnic in Provence - Elizabeth Bard. My fascination with all things French continues unabated (though I'm exploring the mountainous Balkans region at the moment). This was a random grab and is described in the blurb as, 'Part memoir, part chocolate-smudged family cookbook'. Sounds good to me.

A Small Death in Lisbon - Robert Wilson. This seems to be murder mystery involving WW2 Lisbon. Sounds intriguing and will do nicely for the European challenge I'm doing, Portugal being a slightly more tricky country to cover.

Hickory Dickory Dock - Agatha Christie. The library had a nice little display of Agatha Christie's books, not sure why, but naturally I had to grab one, would've been rude not to. This one appealed as it's not one I'm very familiar with.

Great Britain's Great War - Jeremy Paxman. I try to read something connected to the two world wars during the autumn period. Been meaning to read this one by Paxo for ages so when I saw it in the library I thought now was an ideal time. He's an excellent writer, very good at explaining difficult subjects, clear-sighted, and often laugh out loud witty.

So that's a few of my current library books. It'll be a while before I get to them though as I'm currently reading this, also from the library:

A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness which is nearly 600 pages long. Good so far though and brilliant for a spooky autumn read.

Happy reading!


Wednesday 19 September 2018

Catching up - two reviews

Two 'catching up' reviews today. First up, Serpents in Eden: Countryside Crimes edited by Martin Edwards.

This collection of crimes stories is exactly what it says on the tin (to quote a well-known advert): an anthology depicting heinous misdeeds, murder and mayhem, which all take place in the countryside. In his introduction Martin Edwards provides an appropriate Sherlock Holmes quote:

"You look at these scattered houses, and you are impressed by their beauty. I look at them, and the only thought which comes to me is a feeling of their isolation and of the impunity with which crime may be committed there. They always fill me with a certain horror. It is my belief, Watson, founded upon my experience, that the lowest and vilest alleys in London do not present a more dreadful record of sin than does the smiling and beautiful countryside."

And these stories, naturally, prove his point. The collection includes stories by some well known authors, G.K. Chesterton, Arthur Conan Doyle, Margery Allingham, Gladys Mitchell and some not so famous ones. Glancing at the notes I made as I read each one (otherwise by the time I get to the end I've forgotten what I read at the start) it seems, in general, that I liked the lesser known authors better. E.C Bentley's The Genuine Tabard told of an American couple visiting a quaint English village and buying an ancient herald's tabard off the vicar. But is it genuine? I liked The Long Barrow by H.C. Bailey for its archaeological bent and rather creepy atmosphere, R. Austin Freeman's The Naturalist at Lew was a clever story about a man being found dead in a ditch and how something as simple as duckweed is not actually simple at all! A Proper Mystery by Margery Allingham was not a murder story, it was about rivalry in village shows and I loved it. Inquest by Leonora Wodehouse (P.G.'s neice) was a story about a big house and will changing and had an excellent twist at the end, and The Scarecrow by Ethel Lina White about an ex-boyfriend who tries to strangle his girlfriend, is locked up in an asylum, escapes, and is coming to get her, was genuinely scary.

All in all, this was an excellent anthology. A well chosen selection, each one beautifully written, which is what I love about these vintage crime short stories or novels: although it does spoil you a bit for some of the modern stuff which is not as well crafted in my opinion.

Lastly, Absent in the Spring by Mary Westmacott (a pseudonym of Agatha Christie's). This is my fourth book for the What's In A Name? reading challenge which is being hosted by The Worm Hole. It covers the category, 'A Season'.

Joan Scudamore is crossing Iraq by train after a lengthy visit to her daughter in Baghdad. She's married to a lawyer, Rodney, and they have three adult children, all left home and living independently. They're a typical middle-class English family of the 1930s. The train is held up because of flooding and Joan finds herself stranded at a rest house not far from the Turkish border. It seems she'll be there for several days, what will she do with herself when the few books she has run out?

It turns out that the only thing Joan can do to while away the time is to think. Not just vague thoughts but serious, introspective thinking about her life. She's one of these people who're able to ignore realities or simply don't see what's happening in front of them. She thinks she has the perfect life, the perfect family, but we all know nothing is ever as it seems and so it turns out to be. It might sound like a quite a boring plot for a book, a woman stranded in the desert 'thinking'... but it's not at all. Slowly but surely Joan's personality is revealed and the way in which her husband and children have learned to deal with her and keep things hidden. The writing is quite masterful to be honest, the reader starts out thinking that this is just rather a smug woman but we're drip fed information and eventually realise that there's a real story to be told here, sad and tragic in its own quiet way. And one that really makes you think about your own life and things you might have done or said... or ignored because it's too difficult to think about. I read this because I saw Margaret's review here and like her I feel I really must find more of the six books Agatha Christie wrote as Mary Westmacott.


Sunday 9 September 2018

La Petite Josette En Provence

The author of La Petite Josette En Provence is Ashley Davidson-Fisher. We follow each other on Twitter and I've enjoyed her photos of Provence (and this summer, Norway) for quite a while now. She's lived in Provence, off and on, with her family for many years and still does. She asked me if I would read and review her new children's book, La Petite Josette En Provence, which has been illustrated by her daughter, Martinique Louise Fisher, and naturally I was very pleased to do so.

La Petite Josette (little Josette) is incredibly excited. Her parents are taking her and her older sister, Anne-Laure, out for the day to visit the hill-top village of Les Baux-de-Provence. She's so excited that when her sister comes to collect her she's already dressed under the bedclothes! The girls help their parents get the picnic ready and load the car and they're off.

After a longish journey they arrive here:

This is Les Baux-de-Provence, (pic from TripAdvisor) which as you can see, is rather spectacular; it has a medieval castle, a very ancient history, and by the sound of it, lovely shops and cafés. I gather it's been named one of the most beautiful villages in France. Anyway the family set about exploring the castle, enjoying a picnic, buying souvenirs and having a reviving drink. In other words a really lovely day out.

This children's book is pure charm. Ashley's beautifully written story is also superbly illustrated by Martinique Louise Fisher. To be honest, the illustrations are a real feature of the book, I sat looking at them for ages. Her website is here if anyone is interested in seeing her work. The paintings in this book made me wish adult books came with pictures like this! How nice to see exactly what the storyteller has in mind.

But not only is the book charming it's also educational. I did French at school and although I haven't kept it up the knowledge is still part of me and I didn't have too much trouble understanding the French. What I didn't know was explained in the story so I feel like I learnt quite a bit. For instance, we're all familiar with the French 's'il vous plait' for 'please'. I've always wondered what families say for this because they wouldn't use 'vous' they'd use the more personal 'tu'. Apparently families say, 's'il te plait'. So now I know. A simple thing but it pleases me. I learnt that sausages are 'des saucisses', peanuts are 'cacahvétes', fab word but my keyboard won't do the accent the other way round, and yoghurt is 'yaourt'.

I think this would be an excellent book for children just starting to learn French or perhaps with a little experience of the language. (My grandson has just started in fact, he did a little at primary school but has started in earnest at comprehensive and loves it.) French makes up a small percentage of the story and there are clear explanations in dialogue for all of the French terms.

I really really hope that Ashley and Martinique are thinking of doing more books about 'La Petite'. I think it would be a gorgeous way to introduce children to the language but also to the beauty and culture of La belle France. And not just children... aged grandmas with a thing about European geography too.


Tuesday 4 September 2018

Books read in August

August was a busy month for me and that's reflected in the number of books I managed to read: four. It felt like more, and really it was as one of the books was two books in one and another was quite long. But four in number it is and that's fine. These are they:

41. The Voyage of the Basilisk - Marie Brennan

42. Magpie Murders - Anthony Horowitz

43. The Olive Tree - Carol Drinkwater

44. The Shadow Land - Elizabeth Kostova

The four are a mix of my own books and library books. I've done very well reading my own books this year, admittedly not always ones that have been on my tbr pile since time immemorial... I do tend towards the newer purchases... but so far this year I've read 44 books, 22 of which have been my own. I've also managed 16 non-fiction books so far this year... it could be more, I realise that, but it's not too bad.

Anyway, hard to name a favourite as none of them were standout wonderful, all good but not really amazing. I think it would have to be The Shadow Land by Elizabeth Kostova.

It did ramble on rather a lot but it was excellent on Bulgarian history and landscape and I was pleased to get an unusual country for the European Reading challenge.

These are the books I'm reading at the moment, not sure how I managed to be reading 3 books of short stories all at once but there ya go...

My bedtime book is a reread of this, inspired by Nan at Letters From a Hill Farm:

And as with my first read of it, it is once again pure delight to read. I feel a reread of Susan Hill's The Magic Apple Tree coming on and am wondering about getting back to the crime series she writes... I read one but didn't get any further.

And now autumn is here. Hooray! Couldn't be more delighted.

(Burnham Beeches - Myles Birket Foster)