Tuesday 30 October 2018

The 12th Annual Canadian Book challenge

Inspired by Tracey at Bitter Tea and Mystery I'm joining the 12th. Annual Canadian Book challenge. I had a feeling that I had done this before but I can't find any record of it so maybe I'm imagining it. Anyway, some details:

The challenge is being hosted by The Indextrious Reader.

1. What is the Canadian Book Challenge?

Created by John Mutford at the Book Mine Set a decade ago and hosted by him for its first 10 years, the Canadian Book Challenge is an annual online reading challenge in which participants from Canada and around the world aim to read and review 13 or more Canadian books in a one year span: Canada Day to Canada Day. Reviews must be posted online and participants are asked to share links to their reviews with other participants. More on reviews below.

(It's also a lot of fun and collectively we've read and reviewed thousands of Canadian titles)

2. How do I join?

Send me an email (mkindrach (at) gmail [dot] com) with the subject line "Sign Me Up for the Canadian Book Challenge!" and I'll add you to the list. Consider yourself a participant even if you don't get a response from me right away. Come July 1st you can get started right away. As soon as I get your first link (see below), I'll add your name to the participant list on the sidebar of this blog.

3. Oh no, it's past July 1st, can I still join?

Of course! In the past people have joined even in the very last month. If you think you can realistically read and review 13 books in the time remaining, then why not? To join, just follow the exact same instructions as above.

4. What constitutes a Canadian book?

Canadian books can include any genre or form (picture books, poetry, novels, non-fiction, plays, anthologies, graphic novels, cookbooks, etc), can be written by Canadian authors (by birth or immigration) or about Canadians. Ultimately, participants must decide for themselves whether or not something fits the description of Canadian: however, if it isn't clear in your review as to WHY you are counting your read as a Canadian one, please add a line or two to explain :)

More details about the challenge are here.


The challenge runs from the 1st. July of this year to the 30th. June 2019, so I'm rather late to the party but that's OK, I'll read what I can, have fun and see where it leads me.

I have many ideas of what to read, More of Louise Penny's Armand Gamache series, Mary Lawson, Entry Island by Peter May (thanks, Kay!), Fred Vargas (book 6 of her Adamsberg series is set in Quebec), Kelley Armstrong, L.M. Montgomery, Vicki Delaney, Tanya Huff, Guy Gavriel Kay, Jo Walton, and I'm certain there are many more options which I will look into. Feel free to suggest any to me.

Non-fictionwise I have these:

I've started a Goodreads shelf of Canadian books HERE. (The ones I've already read won't count for the challenge of course.)

There's also a Goodreads list of Canadian non-fiction HERE.

And a fiction list HERE.

Looking forward to getting started on this and the nice thing is... I can!


Saturday 27 October 2018

Some crime fiction

The last week or two has been for reading from my ongoing series, ones I haven't touched for many months so it's been huge fun revisiting characters that feel like old friends.

First up, Hunter's Moon by Dana Stabenow - book nine of the author's Kate Shugak series.

Kate Shugak and her boyfriend, Jack, are acting as guides on a hunting expedition in the wilds of Alaska. Kate is an experienced guide. The hunters are a group of Germans from a German company that is in trouble financially in Europe. They're not a particularly pleasant group of men, plus one woman, and Kate has a bad feeling about them. This feeling is reinforced when one of their number is accidently shot dead. But was it an accident? I wasn't very enamoured of this one until about halfway through. The hunters were particularly obnoxious and I'm not great with situations where animals are killed for sport. But it really picked up later in the book and actually became rather exciting, plus, massive shock occurrence, *massive*, was not expecting that, so it got four stars on Goodreads instead of three.

Next, Black Diamond by Martin Walker, book three of the author's Bruno, Chief of Police series.

The Perigord region of France is famous for its truffles and large amounts of money change hands during the season in autumn and early winter. Bruno gets word that someone is interfering with the Perigord truffle when it's being sent off to restaurants in Paris and suchlike, inferior Chinese truffles being exchanged for the genuine article. One of Bruno's closest friends is found brutally murdered in the forest but is it to do with the truffle smuggling or his links to the French wars in Algeria and Vietnam? I quite like this series but in this book felt Bruno was bordering on too good to be true. But the plot concerning truffle shenanigans and tensions between the Vietnamese and Chinese communities in France was quite gripping and fascinating... I had no idea that the latter problems existed to be honest. Bruno's private life continues to be complicated but that's fine, the lovely details of life in Perigord continue to engage and I will definitely carry on with this series.

Lastly, A Trick of the Light by Louise Penny, book seven in her Armand Gamache series.

Clara Morrow has the first ever exhibition of her artwork in Montreal and Chief Inspector Armand Gamache goes to the vernissage with his wife and a couple of police colleagues. A BBQ party takes place in Three Pines, after the event, and a lot of people from the exhibition and village attend. The next morning the dead body of a woman is discovered in Clara and her husband Peter's garden. It's revealed that the dead woman is Lillian Dyson, a childhood friend of Clara's whom she fell out with in her early twenties. But Clara is not the only person who knew Lillian it seems. The dead woman had been an art critic, specialising in scathing reviews which ruined the careers of budding artists. Who among the guests at Clara's BBQ hated Lilian enough to kill her? Words can't express how much I like this series. It has improved with each book and reached a degree of excellence which many series never achieve. This one told me probably more than I thought I wanted to know about petty wars and alliances in the art community in Montreal. Whether this is true to life or not I don't know, but I suspect it's close... it's not at all my world but I was fascinated by it. And of course all the regular characters are so well drawn, all of them a mix of good and bad but growing and changing all the time. I particulary like the mad poet, Ruth, in Three Pines and her relationship with Jean-Guy Beauvoir. I feel like I haven't had enough of Three Pines to quell my thirst for it so have reserved book eight, The Beautiful Mystery, from the library... it's about a monastry in Quebec, can't wait.

It just occurred to me how much travelling I've done with these three books... Alaska, Perigord in France and then Quebec in Canada. And now I'm off to Switzerland!


Sunday 14 October 2018

Catching up

A couple of books to catch up on today because, as usual, I'm behind with my reviews.

First up, Hickory Dickory Dock by Agatha Christie.

Miss Lemon isn't her usual efficient self. Hercule Poirot notices that she's making mistakes when she's typing his letters and this is something that never happens. It seems her sister is the house-keeper at a students' lodging house in London and things there are not quite what they ought to be. There has been some pilfering, odd things disappearing and then reappearing. A rucksack is hacked to pieces and hidden, a student has green ink poured over her work, thereby ruining it. Poirot is intrigued... and worried. He feels this may just be the start of something much more sinister. And so it proves to be when a female student is found dead in her bed. Suicide is assumed, but is it? Poirot thinks not.

This book was written in 1955 (I was two!) and aside from some attitudes in places being 'of the time' it could've been written yesterday. They say, 'The more things change, the more they stay the same' and it's so true. *SPOILER ALERT* I had no idea drug smuggling was such a problem in the 1950s. That people went to great lengths to establish smuggling rings or the tricks they got up to... exactly as they do now of course. Poirot doesn't actually appear in this one a great deal. It concentrates more or less exclusivly on the students living in the lodging house, their lives, their attitudes... especially towards students from foreign countries or who're less well off. It made for very interesting reading. You can learn as much about social history by reading something like this as you can by reading text books in my opinion. Thoroughly enjoying these occasional Agatha Christie reads, my respect for her has grown and grown.

Lastly, From the Depths and Other Strange Tales of the Sea edited by Mike Ashley.

This is another volume of short stories from The British Library. These days they're more famous for their reprinting of vintage crime classics, both novels and short stories (those're usually edited by Martin Edwards), but they do have a sideline now of supernatural tales and also science fiction. Mike Ashley seems to edit quite few of them, I gather he also edited quite a lot of those 'Mammoth book of...' that used to be around a few years ago. He does a good job with these, the introduction to the author at the start of each story is always interesting, amazing how many hugely popular authors in their time have now been completely forgotten. All power to elbow of the British Library for returning these people to public awareness.

Anyway, this was rather a good volume of short stories. For me, the stories got better as the book progressed. At the start, several were about being becalmed in the Sargasso sea, stuck in terrible seaweed, that kind of thing. And those were fine, very readable. But story number seven, The Mystery of the Water-logged ship by William Hope-Hodgson, about men boarding a floating wreck and then constantly disappearing, was really creepy and atmospheric and started a run of similarly good tales. I liked the story the title was taken from, From the Depths by F. Britten Austin, a World War Two tale which combined the supernatural and with a sort of spy yarn. Clever. Devereux's Last Smoke by Izola Forrester was a 'tip of a cigar' ghost story, really well written, claustrophobic in atmosphere as it takes place on a fogbound Atlantic liner. The High Seas by Elinor Mordaunt tells the story of twins boys, one big and a bully, the other small and bullied. Really good story-telling in this one and an excellent sense of place in Rye on the south coast of England. But for me, the best story of the whole bunch was The Soul-Saver by American writer, Morgan Burke. A ruthless and cruel captain kills one of his crew and then claims a white mouse that's appeared from nowhere is the dead sailor's soul. Superb story-telling, New England jumps off the pages at you, and I loved the story's wierdness. The final story of the volume, No Ships Pass by Lady Eleanor Smith was also an odd one. Mike Ashley felt it could have been the inspiration for the TV series, Lost and I can see why. A ship-wrecked sailor washes up on an island, where he finds four other people, one of them a pirate captain who has been marooned there for over a hundred years. Odd story and again, well written.

All in all a good, solid anthology, a few average stories but also quite a few really good ones which were very satisfying. I now have The British Library 'werewolf' anthology to read, Silver Bullets, selected by Eleanor Dobson. A happy bunny am I.


Monday 8 October 2018

A Discovery of Witches

Autumn is well and truly here so a bit of spooky reading seems to suit the mood. I have a collection of books with ghostly or weird themes but none of those appealed so I grabbed A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness last time I was in the library. Members of my family have read the entire All Souls trilogy and recommended them and I did try this one several years ago, abandoning it after 50 pages or so because I couldn't get into it. 'Time to try again', I thought, 'and be a bit more determined this time'.

Diana Bishop is the latest in a long line of witches dating back centuries to the witches of New England. Except that she doesn't want to be a witch and has spent her entire life, up to her mid thirties, ignoring her magic. At least, she thinks she has. She's over from America studying the history of alchemy in Oxford, using the Bodleian libary's reference section on a daily basis. For her it's the perfect life. There are other 'creatures' like herself around, witches, vampires and daemons, but one way or another Diana is able to ignore them.

Then one day she needs a manuscript, Ashmole 782. It's ancient, obscure - Diana reserves it, studies it briefly and realises it is magic and very powerful and sends it back. Later she's caught using her magic to call another book from a shelf. Diana doesn't think trivial uses of her magic count for her personal ban on it but the person who catches her is a powerful vampire, Frenchman, Matthew Clairmont.

It seems a lot of people, including Matthew, have been searching for Ashmole 782. It's hard to obtain and when got it's almost impossible to read. Diana did both with ease. She's now the centre of attention for some very unpleasant members of the witch, vampire and daemon communities. Attention she doesn't want. And it's dangerous attention too, Matthew makes her realise that her life is in jeopardy and she must accept his protection if she's going to survive. Not only that, learn to use and control her much hated magic. But can she trust her new vampire friend?

Well then, my second reading of A Discovery of Witches went a lot better than the first. It's a long book (almost 600 pages), I got to the end, and enjoyed it. I gave it four out of five stars on Goodreads so all is hunky-dory. I'm sure you can hear the 'but'...

There isn't really a 'but' of huge significance, it's just that it was all exactly as I expected it to be... a fairly typical, if lengthy and detailed, paranormal romance. There were no real surprises, I'd guessed at Diana's hidden depths, as I suspect most people would. Matthew Clairmont was the usual romantic vampire lead, dangerous but on the side of the good guys etc. I was not keen on his dominating character traits but I guess that's vampires for you...

I think I was just hoping for a tiny bit *more*. Which is a shame as the writing was good, I loved, loved, loved the chateau in France and Diana's witchy aunts in New England. The manuscript/bookish feel to the tale is excellent. The book really is very readable and if you want a nice long spooky type read that's not too demanding, this would be perfect. But do I want to rush out and read the next two books? I'm pretty sure I will pick up book two, Shadow of Night, at some stage, but I'm not in any tearing rush, although when I do get to it I'm sure I'll enjoy it. Strange, I'm not often this ambivilent about a book but there ya go: it happens.


Tuesday 2 October 2018

Books read in September

September felt like a disjointed month readingwise. I think it felt busier than it actually was but there were in fact distractions and things to do and I read just five books.

45. Jacob's Room is Full of Books - Susan Hill. A reread inspired by Nan at Letters From a Hill Farm who's reading the book month by month through the year. I, with zero patience, read it as a bedtime read and devoured it in a week. Loved it all over again, books about books are always sheer joy.

46. La Petite Josette en Provence - Ashley Davidson-Fisher and Martinique Louise Fisher.

47. Serpents in Eden - Edited by Martin Edwards

48. Absent in the Spring - Mary Westmacott

49. The Broken Road - Patrick Leigh Fermor.

The final leg of the author's walk across Europe from The Netherlands to Constantinople. In this instalment Leigh Fermor is in Romania and then walks the coast of the Black Sea to Greece. Hugely enjoyable, I'm quite smitten with The Balkans after reading The Shadow Land by Elizabeth Kostova, set in Bulgaria. I must admit I always thought The Balkans referred to the strip of land that used to be Yugoslavia and is now Croatia, Serbia, Slovenia etc. I didn't realise it also includes Bulgaria, part of Romania and Greece. It's massive! Anyway my favourite parts of his journey were The Black Sea coast and some time he spent on the peninsula of Mount Athos, in Greece, visiting all the monastries. Fascinating. I've now bought, Roumeli, the author's book about his travels in Northern Greece.


Of the five books I don't really have a favourite, such a mixed bunch are they that it's hard to compare them to each other. Suffice it to say, they were all good.

And here's what I've been doing apart from reading five books:

A 3,000 piece jigsaw entitled, The Tribuna of the Uffizi and is by artist, Johann Zoffany. I gather The Queen owns the painting itself.

And I'm currently reading this:

A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness. It's nearly 600 pages and I'm in no hurry so am reading it in a slow, relaxed fashion. It's set in autumn and suits the season and my slowing-down mood very nicely indeed.