Wednesday 30 January 2019

Fire in the Thatch

Having quite a good reading month thus far. Fire in the Thatch by E.C.R. Lorac is my 4th book for Bev's Mount TBR 2019 challenge, my 4th. book also for her Calendar of Crime challenge covering the April category of 'Month related item' (Church) and my 1st. book for the World at War challenge which is being hosted by Becky at Becky's Book Reviews and covering the category of 'A book set in England, Ireland or Scotland', (mine is England).

The Mallorys are a small group of villages deep in the English countryside somewhere near Tiverton in mid-Devon. Colonel St. Cyres lives there in a manor house with his daughter, Anne, and daughter-in-law, June, and her small son. They're living with the colonel as refugees from war-torn London - her husband is currently a POW in Japan - but June is not happy... Devon is far too quiet and humdrum for her and she's bored out of her mind. It's due to this that she tries to persuade her father-in-law to rent a cottage in the manor's grounds to some friends of hers from the capitol but the old man is having none of it, having heard rumours that June might be having an affair with one of the friends.

Instead Colonel St. Cyres rents the cottage to Nicholas Vaughan, an ex-naval man, invalided out of the navy having come close to being blinded. Nick is steady and a hard, meticulous worker and soon has 'Little Thatch' renovated and its garden rejuvenated after many years of neglect. He keeps himself to himself but people in the surrounding villages like and respect him.

It therefore comes as a tremendous shock when the cottage burns to the ground one night with Nick inside it. It's presumed to be an accident, but Nick's ex-commanding officer thinks otherwise and persuades Scotland Yard to send someone to check. Detective Inspector McDonald is dispatched and at first is inclined to agree with the official verdict of an accident caused by a chimney fire or electrical fault. But he soon realises that this verdict does not match with Vaughan's meticulous personality. Given the man's thorough and particular ways it seems unlikely in the extreme that he would be lax in matters of fires or electricity. It has to be murder but who on earth would want such a man dead?

Usually when you read a murder mystery of the vintage persuasion, the one that's been done away with is not all that pleasant. The rich head of the family for instance, who's horrible to one and all because he holds the purse strings and has fun manipulating people. A spiteful woman who knows everyone's business and spreads malicious gossip or writes poisonous letters... these are typical of the done away with that the reader isn't too botheried has been done in. But for me, Fire in the Thatch was different. Why? Because I desperately did not want the victim to die even though I'd deduced he was going to from the blurb on the cover. I loved reading how Nicholas Vaughan went about renovating the thatched cottage, his gardening... he was a good man and I was quite affected by his death. This is good writing, to make readers actually care about your characters and be very upset when they're killed.

I enjoyed the particular setting of this book because I live there. Not in a pretty Devon village, but in the nearest town, Tiverton, which is mentioned often. I can't say that I know where E.C.R. Lorac was thinking of for the group of hamlets known as The Mallorys but that doesn't mean they're not there as I don't know every village hereabouts and it seemed they were quite a few miles out in the countryside. (Not for nothing is there a village about 15 miles out of Tiverton called No Man's Land.) There are huge swathes of countryside in Devon that have nothing in them but farms and small villages and this is depicted beautifully, indeed I rather suspect the areas have not changed much in the 70 years since this book was written.

I gave this one 5 stars on Goodreads. I loved it. Gobbled it up in 2 days and had no idea until the last chapter who had done the deed. And I thought 'why' was quite clever too. I'm very pleased that I have several more by E.C.R. Lorac to read, two kindly given to me by Elaine at Random Jottings and a couple I bought for myself. Can't wait, excellent writer.


Tuesday 29 January 2019


Uprooted by Naomi Novik was my 3rd. book for Bev's Mount TBR 2019 reading challenge.

In the idyllic village in which Agnieszka lives there is a problem. Every ten years the 'Dragon' takes a girl and this girl is lost to her family for another ten years. The dragon is not actually a dragon at all, he's a wizard, and no harm comes to the girls, they return after their ten years is up and nearly always go to live somewhere other than the village because they have been changed in some way.

Another choosing is fast approaching but the villagers are relaxed. They know who will be chosen, Agnieszka's best friend, a girl named Kasia, who's head and shoulders prettier and braver than all the other girls. Except that's not what happens: Agnieszka is chosen instead. It's a huge shock to one and all, particularly Agnieszka.

The other problem the village has is The Wood: something malevolent lives there and controls it. It's the reason a wizard lives in the tower, his job is to hold back The Wood and stop it from encroaching, smothering the valley and possibly the whole land. It kills people as it goes, and not in a nice way, they're locked inside trees and become corrupted.

But Agnieszka is different to the other girls that have been taken by The Dragon in the past - she has magic and refuses to be just a skivvy. Things are about to change.

I've had this on my TBR pile for four or five years and never quite got around to it, so on the basis that I am trying to get rid of a few of my older books I did the random grab thing and read it. It read a bit like a retold fairy tale, a sub-genre of Fantasy that I'm not that crazy about, but I couldn't pin down which fairy tale so that was fine. I think I read somewhere that it might be a Polish fairy tale and it did read like that I must admit.

I gave it four stars on Goodreads despite the fact that I was slightly ambivilent about it. Four stars because I loved the writing and the setting of a forested valley was sublime - beautifully described it felt so real. The story itself, well I found it rather exhausting to be honest. Non-stop angst and very little that was happy or good ever happening. It was relentless. I got to the end but couldn't read more than 50 pages without needing a break from the angst. I think I've turned into a wimp in my old age, although I don't react in this way to crime/murder stories so 'go figure' as they say in the US.

I was also a little uneasy about how the wizard treated Agnieszka at the beginning, one or two scenes felt a bit off to me, but that's possibly just me being sensitive. For most fans of fantasy books I think this would be an excellent read and very enjoyable. It's beautifully written, exciting, action packed (but like I said, possibly too much for me) and full of well-rounded, individual characters. And I liked the idea of a forest being taken over and turning evil. It felt very original and I liked that.


Tuesday 22 January 2019

Wrap-up post for European Reading challenge 2018

So, the European Reading challenge 2018 actually ends on the 31st. of this month but I'm pretty sure I won't be adding to the eight books I read for it so it's time for the wrap-up post.

The challenge was to read at least five books set in different European countries. These are the eight books I managed to read:

1. ITALY: Summer in the Islands - Matthew Fort

2. FRANCE: A Climate of Fear - Fred Vargas

3. ICELAND: Snow Blind - Ragnar Jónasson

4. SPAIN: As I Walked Out One Midsummer Morning - Laurie Lee

5. GERMANY: Travellers in the Third Reich - Julia Boyd

6. BULGARIA: The Shadow Land - Elzabeth Kostova

7. SWITZERLAND: Swiss Vendetta - Tracee De Hahn

8. SCOTLAND (my 'UK' book): Against a Dark Sky - Katherine Pathak

I chose all of these books because I felt they would tell me something about the country in which they are set. And they did exactly that. All eight belonged very much in their respective countries and were excellent reads. I really enjoyed this challenge, I'm not doing it this year as I have five others on the go but will definitely be doing it again at some stage as I found it hugely enjoyable. Many thanks to Rose City Reader for hosting.


Tuesday 15 January 2019

The Beautiful Mystery

Well, it seems I've been channeling religion since the start of the New Year. I honestly had not realised it until a day or two ago but my first book of the year was about a Victorian vicar and his wife moving to a small village, the second about a New England Rabbi and the third, The Beautiful Mystery by Louise Penny, is about a monastry in the middle of the Quebec wilderness. It's more than a bit bizarre really.

The book is my third book for the 12th. Canadian Book challenge and also my third book for Bev's Calendar of Crime challenge. covering the July category 'A book that takes place in the US or Canada'.

The monastry of Saint-Gilbert-Entre-les-Loups (St. Gilbert Among the Wolves) is a mysterious monastry in the wilds of Quebec. Mysterious because its whereabouts was unknown until they put out a cd of their Gregorian chants, which caused a sensation because it was so wonderful. People descended on the monastry but no one was ever admitted, the 24 monks who live there wanted to remain silent and isolated.

Which worked fine until the prior, a brilliant choirmaster, is found dead in the Abbot's garden, apparently beaten to death with a blunt instrument. This of course brings the Sureté du Québec down upon their heads in the shape of Chief Inspector Armand Gamache and his assistant, Jean-Guy Beauvoir. Gamache is fascinated by the monks and their way of life, Beauvoir not so much, all he wants to do is get back to Gamache's daughter, Annie, whom he has been secretly dating.

Finding a killer amongst 24 silent monks is every bit as difficult as it might sound. The monks' vow of silence is lifted temporarily and slowly but surely the secrets emerge. It seems there is a rift and the monks are on one side or the other... but who could've felt strongly enough to murder? Quite a few as it turns out.

Goodness me, this is a powerful, multi-layered, hard-hitting book. I've read a few crime stories set in monastries, to be honest, I nearly always lose track of who's who and who did what to whom and why... but not this time. Louise Penny keeps her finger right on the button and I never lost sight of the people, their motivation, or the background detail of what's going on with Gamache and his bosses back at the Sureté du Quebec.

That last point features very strongly in this book. It's been on the back-burner for a while, but always there, simmering away - mentioned in passing so the reader doesn't forget that Gamache has real problems at work. He and Beauvoir are both still recovering from a traumatic incident: Gamache is doing well and Beauvoir appears to be coping, but he is fragile still and vulnerable. The murder aspect of this book was very well done and I thoroughly enjoyed the monastic elements and learning about the chants. And what a gorgeous setting!

The personal stuff though, especially right at the end, knocked me for six. I was not expecting things to develop in that manner and even though I have seen this plot device used before, this feels hugely more personal as I've come to know and love these characters. I need a short break now before I grab the next book from the library, to get my breath back and 'gird my loins' so to speak. I'm expecting a rough ride!


Wednesday 9 January 2019

Friday the Rabbi Slept Late

Friday the Rabbi Slept Late by Harry Kemelman is my first book for the What's In A Name 2019 challenge, which is being hosted by The Carolina Book Nook, covering the category, 'A Month or Day of the Week'.

It's also my first book for Bev's Mount TBR 2019 challenge and my second for her Calendar of Crime challenge covering the February category of 'A book title starting with 'F'.

The town of Barnard's Crossing in Massachusetts has its first rabbi: David Small. He's been there for almost a year but isn't popular with all in the Jewish community. Some feel that their rabbi should be outgoing, larger than life, but Small is quiet, introspective, bookish. There's talk of not renewing his contract but the board that deals with these things is very much split.

No one is prepared though for The Rabbi to come under suspicion for murder. The body of a young woman is found in the car-park of the syngogue. Then her purse is found in the rabbi's car which had been parked there overnight because he'd decided to walk instead of drive home late that night. The chief of police, Lannigan, doesn't really feel that David has murdered the girl but has to investigate properly. The girl, Elspeth Bleech, was a live-in mother's help who apparently had few friends and certainly no male friends. So how come she was pregnant?

I have Nan at Letters From a Hill Farm to thank for this recommendation. In fact she recommended the series years ago but I never did get around to it even though I'd downloaded this first book to my Nook. Anyway, finally I got to it and wasn't disappointed.

It's a bit of a slow-burner, Harry Kemelman takes the time to set the scene, tell us about some of the people who make up the Jewish community in Barnard's Crossing, focus a bit on the main protagonists, especially Rabbi David Small, and I liked that. It's nice to read a book that is not in a tearing haste to get to the murder or whatever else is the central theme of the story. I personally found the details about the Jewish religion fascinating. I had no idea it was so different to Christianity or that rabbis really are *not* the Jewish version of a priest or vicar. I love it when books teach me things like this.

David Small is such a multi-faceted character. I love how under-stated the author has made him, 'other-worldly' almost in his bookishness... 'away with the fairies' we used to say. But that doesn't mean he isn't sharp when it comes to investigating a murder. He doesn't actually do that much of that in this first book, that's left to Chief Lannigan, but the two men co-operate and share ideas and I liked what their relationship became, I hope that continues in subsequent books because, yes, I will certainly be reading more.

And Friday the Rabbi Slept Late also gives me a book for Massachusetts in my ongoing (since 2011!) personal challenge to read a book set in every American state.


Tuesday 8 January 2019

The Christmas Secret

My first book of 2019 is A Christmas Secret by Anne Perry. This is my first book for Bev's Calendar of Crime reading challenge. It covers the January category of 'Month-related item on the cover'... and qualifies because there is a small village snow-scene acting as a Christmas tag on the cover.

The Reverand Dominic Corde and his wife, Clarice, have been sent to the village of Cottisham, in Hertfordshire, eleven days before one Christmas in the mid-1800s. He is to fill in for Reverand Wynter who has gone off on a much needed break. They immediately fall in love with the olde worlde village, very different to the London parish where Dominic was curate to a mean spirited vicar. But despite the beauty of the village something's not right. The local villagers appear guarded. There're clearly secrets but what Clarice wonders is whether or not the Rev Wynter knew of these and what they were. And something else... where is he? Where exactly has the vicar gone on this 'much needed break'? No one seems to know...

Well anyone who has two brain cells to rub together will guess where the vicar is but my lips are sealed. The best thing about this story and the reason I gave it four stars on Goodreads was the absolutely superb snowy, wintery, 'cut off from civilisation', atmosphere depicted in it. It reminded me very strongly of Three Pines in Louise Penny's superb Armand Gamache series. It was beautifully portrayed and I loved it.

The mystery itself was a bit more pedestrian, but I liked Clarice and that she had bags of personality, curiosity and drive. There was a nice twist at the end which I didn't guess, so that was good. To be honest, I don't require a lot from a Christmas mystery, it's not intended to be improving and nor do I need it to be at the beginning of the year when there's a lot going on. The author, Anne Perry, famous for her Victorian Charlotte and Thomas Pitt and William Monk series, has written sixteen Christmas novelas and I've enjoyed those I've read. She doesn't hesitate to use elderly ladies as heroines which makes a refreshing change from fiesty, teenage, young things in a lot of other books. Good fun, wonderful setting, easy, undemanding read.


Saturday 5 January 2019

What's in a Name 2019

This year the What's In A Name reading challenge is being hosted by Andrea at The Carolina Book Nook. I shouldn't really be signing up for yet more challenges as I'm already doing four but I had a lot of fun with this one last year and the books I read for this will also qualify for Mount TBR 2019 and probably other challenges as well.

The challenge extends from January 1, 2019 to December 31, 2019. You can sign up any time, but only count books that you read between those dates.

Read a book in any format (hard copy, ebook, audio) with a title that fits in each category.

Don’t use the same book for more than one category.

Creativity for matching the categories is not only allowed, it’s encouraged!

You can choose your books as you go or make a list ahead of time.

The categories:

1. A precious stone/metal. I have Silver Bullets selected by Eleanor Dobson

2. A temperature. I have Hot Sun, Cool Shadow by Angela Murrills

3. A month or day of the week. I have Friday the Rabbi Slept Late by Harry Kemelman

4. A meal. I have Dinner With Churchill by Cita Stelzer

5. Contains the word “girl” or “woman”. I have The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins

6. Contains both the words “of” AND “and”. I have The Bishop of Hell and Other Stories by Marjorie Bowen.

Of course, that may all change, but these are all on my tbr pile and it would be useful indeed to get them off it. But we shall see.


Friday 4 January 2019

What's In A Name challenge complete

I only did two challenges last year and one of them has now been completed - the What's In A Name 2018 challenge which was hosted by The Worm Hole.

I read all six books required and these are they:

The word ‘the’ used twice. THE Lost Book of THE Grail by Charlie Lovett

A fruit or vegetable. The OLIVE Tree by Carol Drinkwater

A shape. The Cheltenham SQUARE Murder by John Bude

A Title that begins with Z (can be after ‘The’ or ‘A’) The Z Murders by J. Jefferson Farjeon.

A nationality. A SWISS Vendetta by Tracee de Hahn

A season. Absent in the SPRING by Mary Westmacott

This was a really fun challenge and many thanks to The Worm Hole for hosting.


Tuesday 1 January 2019

December books, stats for 2018 and on into 2019

I don't usually have a normal reading month in December. For obvious reasons it tends to get a bit busy and I end up reading just 2 or 3 books. But this December I've done a little better with a grand total of 5. And these are they:

63. Against a Dark Sky - Katherine Pathak

64. A Song of Shadows - John Connolly

65. As Chimney Sweepers Come to Dust - Alan Bradley

66. The Z Murders - J. Jefferson Farjeon

67. Patrick Leigh Fermor: An Adventure - Artemis Cooper.

Quite a long, involved biography of one of the most celebrated travel writers of all time, famous for the trilogy he wrote about his walk across Europe to Constantinople just before WW2. Having read those three books a lot of the book was familiar to me but I did enjoy reading of Leigh Fermor's exploits during the war especially on Crete. (A film was made about his capture of a German General.) It was also interesting to have a lot of the background to the books filled in and to learn a bit about Leigh Fermor's rather ebullient personality. One thing's for sure, he was learned and highly intelligent, also a perfectionist which is why it took him so long to write his famous walking books and why the third book was not finished and had to be finished by the author of this biography, Artemis Cooper, and travel writer, Colin Thubron. Anyway, I enjoyed this biography but overall it was a bit hit and miss... enjoyed parts of it, other bits dragged a little.

So that's my December in books and also the end of my 2018 reading. 67 books in all (as usual exactly the same number as Nan from Letters From a Hill Farm - hilarious) and a good mix. 33 were books from the library, 34 were my own. 22 were non-fiction, almost a third, so I'm quite happy with that number. All in all it was not a bad reading year for me, very few of the books were disappointing and you can't hope for better than that.

So, onwards and upwards and into 2019. These are the books that came into the house over the Christmas period and will be read this year, mainly gifts but not all.

Highly delighted with all of these!

And these are the books I have lined up for January.

Not sure exactly which will get read or how many but I suspect they'll all be cracking good reads so I'm quite excited at the prospect.

Happy New Year and Happy Reading in 2019.