Saturday 27 April 2019

Books Read in April

April was a slightly better than average reading month for me, seven books read and a nicely varied bunch as regards genre.

18. The Toy Makers - Robert Dinsdale

19. The Tattooist of Auschwitz - Heather Morris

20. Birds of a Feather - Jacqueline Winspear

21. As the Crow Flies - Damien Boyd

22. Cheerfulness Breaks In - Anglea Thirkell

23. Pardonable Lies - Jacqueline Winspear

24. The Riviera Set - Mary S. Lovell (To be reviewed.)

So, seven books, six fiction, one non-fiction, a real mixed bag including three crime yarns, three historical fiction stories and a history of the French Riviera from 1900 to 1960ish. Two of the crime books were also historical so it seems I lived mainly in the first half of the 20th. century for the whole of the month of April...

And it continues as I'm presently reading this:

Churchill featured heavily in The Riviera Set so I'm really just continuing on from that, plus I'm currently watching The Crown on Netflix in which his presence is also rather prevalent. Funny how one thing can often lead to another.

Favourite book of April is this:

Pardonable Lies by Jacqueline Winspear was *just* superb.

Last month I listed six books I hoped to read in April. Of those I actually read three and abandoned one, so am quite pleased with that.

Books I would like to get to in May:

That last one, Beyond the Footpath by Clare Gogerty, might well be in the running for nicest cover of the year come the end of December. :-)

One difficultly is staring me in the face already. The first two books are Icelandic, which to choose for the European Reading Challenge? Eeeek... I don't need this kind of stress!

Happy reading in the glorious month that is May.


Thursday 25 April 2019

Pardonable Lies

Pardonable Lies by Jacqueline Winspear is my 14th. Book for Bev's Calendar of Crime challenge, covering the September category of 'Primary action takes place in this month'.

Maisie Dobbs is engaged by Sir Cecil Lawton to prove that his son, Ralph, really did die in the Great War. His wife died recently believing the young man was still alive despite the fact that the plane he was flying crash landed and burst into flames. On her deathbed she made her husband promise to find out the truth of the matter, even though he is sure his son died in the aircraft.

At the same time Maisie is trying help a young girl DI Stratton has arrested for murdering her uncle. The girl is hiding something and is thus uncommunicative: Stratton thinks Maisie might be able to get through to her.

All this means she is busy so Maisie is not exactly thrilled when her close friend from university, Priscilla, asks her to find out how her brother, Peter, died during the war. Priscilla, now married and living in France, lost three beloved brothers in the conflict, plus, like Maisie, is still traumatised after what the two of them went through as nurses on the western front. Maisie knows that this and the Lawton case will take her back to France, a place she desperately does not want to go, the memories being just too awful.

It soon emerges that someone else does not want her to go either. Unexplained 'accidents' and some poisoned chocolates indicate that Maisie is about to uncover secrets that someone would really rather she didn't.

Hard to put into words what a brilliant book this is. Book three in the Maisie Dobbs series is rather heart-breaking and painful to read in places, dealing as it does with the fall-out from World War One, still ongoing even after twelve years. People who lived through it and came out the other side were utterly traumatised and it never stopped, it might go away for a bit but then return with a vengeance, as Maisie discovers when she's forced to return to France and the site of the field-hospital where she served. There's only a brief description of what was happening there towards the end of the war but goodness me it's gut-wrenching.

There is, in fact, a lot going on in this book. Don't expect a traditional murder mystery because you won't find it here. Instead there are many topics explored, legal representation for the poor, the plight of gay men in the early 20th. century, the role of psychic mediums after the war, the intelligence secrets and missions of World War 1 and so on. Female police constables were just starting to be seen, so that was interesting. Maisie is rather 'ahead of the times' and can intuitively see things others cannot, in more ways than one, which fascinated me a bit. I can't wait to see what kind of journey this series takes me on. I'm becoming rather addicted I think and I can't believe I didn't find them interesting 10 years ago. I'm coming around to the idea that for everyone there's a time to read certain books and this is my time for Maisie Dobbs.


Saturday 20 April 2019

Catching up

A couple of brief reviews to catch up on, I seem to be reading slightly quicker than I have time to review at the moment.

First up, As the Crow Flies by Damien Boyd. This is my 13th. book for Bev's Calendar of Crime challenge, qualifying for the August category, 'A Title beginning with A'.

Detective Inspector Nick Dixon has transferred from London back to his local patch in Somerset and joined The Avon and Somerset Police. When news comes through that his ex-climbing partner, Jake Fayter, has been killed in a climbing accident in Cheddar Gorge, Nick can't bring himself to believe that it was an accident: Jake was far too experienced and careful. But why would anyone want his friend dead? The parents ask Nick to investigate but the more he discovers the more he realises he didn't know Jake quite as well as he thought he did.

This is the first in a series that has already comprises 9 books. It's quite a short book but as far as I can see the books get longer, which I'm pleased to see. It was well written, I would have liked a bit more character depth but I rather suspect that will happen as the series goes along. One aspect I thoroughly enjoyed was that the setting was local to me. (I even know someone in the Avon and Somerset Police.) I loved being able to easily picture the Somerset Levels, the Somerset coast, the towns which cropped up, Cheddar Gorge... though I have never been climbing there heaven forfend. I do love reading about climbing though and this really ticked that particular box, excellent descriptions of what it's actually like. A good start to this new to me series - it's not the best I've ever read but it was a good, solid read and I have a suspicion it will settle in nicely as the books procede so I've reserved book 2 from the library.

Lastly, Cheerfulness Breaks In by Angela Thirkell. This qualifies for the World at War reading challenge, which is being hosted by Becky. The category is 'Any Book Published 1939 - 1945'.

This ninth book in Angela Thirkell's delightful Barsetshire series of books deals with the outbreak of World War 2. At the beginning most people are hopeful war won't happen but rather resigned to the fact that it probably will. The author Laura Morland, who has featured in several other books with her son Tony, moves out of her house and goes to stay with the Birketts who run a local private school for boys. She's there for the duration acting as a secretary but is also good friends with Mrs. Birkett. Slowly but surely the young men get called away to war but at first most are training nearby or in charge of training. Refugees arrive at the school in the form of a London boys' school plus the village takes evacuees from London. Naturally chaos ensues as the the village copes with the conflicts between the different factions but there's no shortage of good-will and people do what they always do in difficult circumstances: cope.

It was interesting to read a fictional account about how people living out in the British countryside dealt with various things that were thrown at them at the beginning of the war. The uncertainty, the sudden influx of people whose ways were very different to their own, the young men suddenly plucked out of their normal lives to lives that were anything but normal... that must've been incredibly hard for their parents to bear. All of this is nicely woven into a story which basically deals with the lives of a handful of people - Laura Morland, The Birketts, Lydia Keith bravely coping with a sick mother and trying to run an estate, her suitor Noel Merton, recently conscripted etc. There's a huge cast of extras, I particulary loved Miss Hampton and Miss Bent, two lesbians who write erotic fiction and can't keep out of the local pub. Because, believe it or not, for a novel with a serious theme, it's also very funny. There's a wedding at the beginning where the Birketts have managed to marry off their wayward daughter, Rose (see Summer Half), and the recounting of it is hilarious. In fact I laughed a lot all the way through, Thirkell had a very light touch with humour and it's really to the fore here. The book is of its time, I'm very tolerant when it comes to the portrayal of attitudes from the past because it serves to illustrate how much things have changed, but one thing, comments about a disabled child, made even me blanch a bit. But there you go, life *was* like that and there's no use denying it. A thoroughly delightful read but with a huge cliff-hanger at the end, so beware!

Happy Easter to everyone. This is one of my favourite times of the year, Easter being a lot less stressful I find than Christmas so, naturally, I've gone down with a cold so that I can't quite enjoy it as much as I would like... no energy to get in the garden for instance. Never mind, it's meant I've been able to read rather a lot. Silver linings and all that...


Thursday 11 April 2019

Birds of a Feather

Birds of a Feather by Jacqueline Winspear is my 12th. book for Bev's Calendar of Crime challenge, covering the April category of 'Author's birth month'.

The daughter of wealthy businessman, Joseph Waite, has gone missing. Charlotte Waite saw something in the paper one morning which alarmed her and subsequently disappeared off the face of the Earth. Waite doesn't want a lot of publicity so instead of calling the police he hires Maisie Dobbs to look into the matter. She's not very taken with the man but acknowledges that he's a good businessman and looks after the staff of his grocery chain well.

It doesn't take Maisie and her war veteran assistant, Billy Beale, long to discover that this is not the first time Charlotte has done a runner. Is she merely trying to escape her father's suffocating shackles once again or is there something more sinister going on? It seems it's the latter. Maisie discovers links between Charlotte and two women recently murdered by poisoning, and another who committed suicide. It seems the four women were close friends during World War One and it falls to Maisie and Billy to discover who and why someone wants them dead.

Yet another series I've done a complete reversal on, from not being that impressed with the first book some years ago, to rereading it, liking it a lot and moving on to this, book two, and loving it to bits. Why? Well, this time around I find I really love the relationships in it. There's Maisie and her father, Frankie, a man of humble origins, who can't understand why there's something preventing the two from being very close. Then there's Maisie's relationship with her two mentors, Lady Rowan who supported her financially through university, and Maurice Blanche her investigating mentor. Wouldn't we all like someone like these two in our lives?

Billy Beale is such an interesting character too, badly wounded in the war he's in constant pain and there's a secret he's keeping which is really worrying Maisie. She has a couple of suitors too, Chief Inspector Stratton whom Daisy helps sometimes, but he blots his copybook somewhat in this book, and a new chap, a Dr. Dene who runs a clinic for war veterans and is a friend of Maurice's. Interesting to see how that will pan out.

As to the mystery, well, if I'm honest, it wasn't rocket-science to guess who the culprit was quite early on. The interest for me was in why. And that aspect and discussions about it were beautifully handled and extremely interesting. And not a little heart-breaking really. I often think there's a lot more to be learnt about all kinds of subjects from a fictional book like this than from a non-fiction book... excellent though those can be. I've already reserved books three and four from the library and am hoping they'll arrive soon.


Tuesday 9 April 2019

Catching up on reviews

First up, The Tattooist of Auschwitz by Heather Morris. This is my 4th. book for Becky's World at War reading challenge covering the category, 'A book set in Europe'.

Lale Sokolov and his family are part of a large Jewish community who live in Krompachy, Slovakia. After the Germans invade in 1939 their contented life slowly begins to disintegrate as the persecution of the Jews begins. In 1942 Lale is removed from his family and sent to Aushwitz-Birkenau in Poland. He doesn't know it's a concentration camp but when he realises this he decides to be a survivor. He's taken up by the Tattooist who has the job of tattooing prisoners deemed strong enough to work for the Germans, numbers tattooed on arms that will become iconic in decades to come. Eventually Lale finds himself the sole tattooist with privileges that include more food and a room of his own. He meets Gita, a female prisoner, and falls in love, he's determined that she too will survive this terrible place.

There seems to be some debate about whether this is fiction or non-fiction. I gather some of the facts presented are thought to be inaccurate, there's a good article about it here. Regardless, this is, obviously, a very sobering book to read. It's written totally without frills, starting from when Lale gets loaded onto a cattle truck with so many other men that there's hardly room to breathe, let alone anything else, right through to the end of the war when the Russians arrive. It is, of course, appalling. I've read quite a few books like this and every single time I end up wondering how on earth this kind of inhumanity can happen. The book may or may not be factually accurate but I'm pretty sure it gives a true account of what life was like in concentration camps, the way in which the lives of inmates were worth less than nothing, and what you had to do if you wanted to survive. We must never forget and if this book, accurate or inaccurate, helps us to keep the memory of the dead alive then that's fine by me.

Lastly, The Toy Makers by Robert Dinsdale.

The year is 1906 and Catherine Wray is young, single... and pregnant. She's from a middle-class family so arrangements have been made for her to go somewhere for the duration of her pregnancy: a home for unmarried mothers where she can have her baby and then have it taken for adoption. But Cathy has no intention of giving her baby away. She sees an advert for staff for The Emporium, a toyshop in London, and runs away from home. The Emporium is owned by Papa Jack, an elderly refugee from Eastern Europe, and his two sons, Kaspar and Emil, Kaspar being the eldest and most talented when it comes to creating magical toys. Because that's what The Emporioum is all about... magical toys. It opens on the first frost of the winter and closes when winter is over. Cathy finds a home there, hiding her pregnancy and loving the work and the people. She comes to the notice of the two sons and both fall in love with her but what will they do when Cathy can no longer hide her pregnancy and she will need the kind of help that neither are prepared for?

For me this was one of those books that made me sigh a bit. So much in it to love. It's beautifully written, a fascinating story with so many layers. Historically rivetting... the way in which World War One impinges on the idyll that is this wonderful shop full of magical toys is heart-breaking. There are other conflicts too, the two sons are constantly at loggerheads and the introduction of Cathy Wray into the mix is not helpful. I loved one of the back stories, that of Papa Jack and his forced march to Siberia and how he survived by making toys to stop being bullied. It was all beautifully told. Except... I didn't love the book. Awful thing to admit but I actually struggled to get to the end. I didn't want to give up on it as I actually wanted to know what happened, and there is an excellent twist at the end which was one of the best parts of the book for me. I think there are two reasons that I didn't love it. One was that I just didn't connect with the characters, especially Cathy... I honestly don't know why. The other is that long and frequent descriptions of toy soldiers and their battles are just not my thing. (Strange to admit but I was not a 'toy' child, I preferred books, jigsaw puzzles, colouring books and pencils.) Despite that, I still gave it four stars out of five on Goodreads because the writing was superb and it was not at all a 'bad' book, I just didn't connect with it as I had hoped.


Wednesday 3 April 2019

Reading challenge update, the first 3 months

I went a wee bit mad this year and signed up for 6 reading challenges. But I know they're doable so am not fretting and it really is a very good way of getting books off the old TBR mountain. And so here we are, 3 months into the year (I know!) and, inspired by Margaret at Booksplease, it's time to review my progress with them... which ones are going well and which ones I need to pull my finger out for.

First up, The Mount TBR Reading challenge 2019 which is being hosted by Bev at MY READER'S BLOCK.

This runs from the 1st. January to the 31st. December. I'm doing Mont Blanc, for which I have to read 24 of my own books from before January the 1st. So far I've read 10.

Next, The Calendar of Crime challenge which is also being hosted by Bev and also runs from the 1st. January to the 31st. Dcember.

This, as the name suggests, is a calendar based challenge where various categories can be filled in. You can do one for each month or fill in as many as you like, there are 9 for each month. Great fun! So far I've read 11 books covering 7 months.

Next, The 2019 European Reading challenge which is being hosted by Rose City Reader.

This runs from the 1st. January 2019 to the 31st. January 2020. I'm doing the Five Star (Deluxe Entourage), which is to read at least 5 books by different European authors or books set in different European countries. I've read 1 but have loads more lined up.

Next, World at War which is being hosted by Becky's Book Reviews.

This is a Bingo based challenge and the idea is fill a line, across, down, diagonally, to get a Bingo. So far I'ved read 4 books, 2 each from 2 different columns so no actual 'bingo' just yet but I'll get there.

Next, The 12th. Annual Canadian Book challenge. This runs from the 1st. July 2018 to the 30th. June 2019.

The aim, for this challenge, is to read and review 13 or more Canadian books in a one year span: Canada Day to Canada Day. I came late to this one so have only read 4.

And lastly, What's in a Name? which is being hosted by Carolina Book Nook and runs from the 1st. January to the 31st. December.

For this there are 6 categories to complete, involving book titles, so 6 books to read. I've read 1.

And so. It seems I'm doing well with 3 challenges, Mt. TBR, Calendar of Crime and World at War. Not so well with Canada, What's in a Name? and Europe. Two of those I came later to so that explains that but as regards What's in Name? I need to pull my finger out and get reading, although 5 more books in 9 months is very doable so I'm not concerned at all. To be honest, I'm not concerned about any of them, I'm just enjoying the ride.