Wednesday 31 July 2019

Books read in July

Doesn't seem 5 minutes since I wrote 'Books read in June'... now I'm writing, 'Books read in July'! Frightening.

Anyway, moving swiftly on, I read 9 books this month - same as last month oddly enough - perhaps I've moved on a bit from my average of 6. Maybe. Regardless, it was a good reading month quality-wise and that's what counts.

41. The Body in the Ice - A.J. MacKenzie

42. The Hog's Back Mystery - Freeman Wills Crofts.

43. 21st. Century Yokel - Tom Cox. Not reviewed as time's been a bit short this month.

Basically, this is a super book about the author's move from Nottinghamshire to the South Hams of Devon where he takes up walking miles every day, particularly up onto Dartmoor. The book is about these walks, the wildlife he encounters, his animals, his neighbours, but also his childhood, family, and involves much cogitating and meandering from subject to subject. I was particularly taken with his father whose speech he quotes in capital letters and whose mantra is 'WATCH OUT FOR FOOKWITS AND LOONIES'. Hilarious.

Wonderful book, written with a lot of love I think.

44. Maigret and the Old People - Georges Simenon. Very underwhelmed by this one so did not review.

45. Desert Noir - Betty Webb.

46. How the Light Gets In - Louise Penny.

47. Perfume from Provence - Winifred Fortescue. Another book not reviewed because of lack of time.

The author and her husband move to Provence in the 1930s to start a new life away from depression Britain. War was rapidly approaching of course but they didn't know that and it doesn't intrude upon events in this charming book. Beautiful writing makes for a very strong sense of the south of France and I really enjoyed hearing about the vagueries of the neighbours, the maid, the gardener, the car, the weather, workmen and so on. Gardening features very heavily and it was interesting to hear about planting according to the cycle of the moon and so on. Also enjoyed the gardener's determination to have the garden as he wanted it rather than as Lady Fortescue wanted. Charming and delightful.

48. Unnatural Death - Dorothy L. Sayers.

49. An Incomplete Revenge - Jacqueline Winspear. To be reviewed.

So 9 books, 2 non-fiction, 7 fiction, all of those murder mysteries. It was such a good reading month, with ony one dud, that it's too difficult to choose a favourite. All but one of the crime stories were excellent and written by my favourite crime writers of the moment. So lucky to have such a good pool of 'go to' authors such as Louise Penny, Martin Walker, Jacqueline Winspear, Freeman Wills Crofts, Dorothy L. Sayers, Elly Griffiths and others that I've just started reading and will probably add to the list soon, such as A.J. MacKenzie, Damien Boyd, Betty Webb, Michael Gilbert. My cup runneth over.

My current reads:

Black Roses by Jane Thynne is a 1930s crime story, the main character being an actress working in Germany during the rise of the Nazi party. Fascinating. Blue River, Black Sea by Andrew Eames is about the author's journey along the Danube by bike, so two books about Germany although the author of the latter has just crossed into Austria. I seem to be reading quite a lot about this area of Europe this year.

Not sure what the plan is, reading-wise, for August, some of these I suspect:

Happy August reading!


Saturday 27 July 2019

More book stacks

One of my favourite pastimes is trolling round a few charity shops to see what they have in the way of books and jigsaw puzzles. A lovely tour of some half a dozen or so yesterday, with my daughter and grand-daughter (was something of a military operation...), produced three new books and an absolutely stunning 3,000 piece jigsaw. Here be they:

The books first, this includes two other purchases from AM. (As usual, click for a bigger pic.)

From the bottom:

Down the River - H.E. Bates. (Non-fiction, stunningly illustrated.)
The Oxford Book of Essays chosen & edited by John Gross (AM)
The Librarian - Salley Vickers
Under the Tuscan Sun - Frances Mayes
Voyages of Delusion - Glyn Williams (AM)

A few pics of the illustrations by Peter Partington in Down the River:

So delighted with this book find, I had no idea H.E. bates, the novellist (most famous for The Darling Buds of May I suppose and the wonderful, Fair Stood the Wind for France), had written this. Love how charity shops can often throw up these lovely little gems.

My gorgeous new jigsaw, bought for the princely sum of £2:

Lastly, it's been pretty warm here recently so I though I'd make a new pile of books with a cold theme, Polar exploration, mountains, that sort of thing:

From the bottom:

This Cold Heaven: Seven Seasons in Greenland - Gretel Ehrlich
In the Kingdom of Ice - Hampton Sides
Dancing on Ice - Jeremy Scott
Voyages of Delusion - Glyn Williams
The Magnetic North - Sara Wheeler
Climbing Days - Dan Richards

Happy reading, whether you're hot, cold or somewhere inbetween... it's actually quite pleasant here in Devon today, cooler than it has been and much more comfortable.


Wednesday 24 July 2019

Two short crime reviews

First up, How the Light Gets In by Louise Penny.

It's December, Christmas is fast approaching and Myrna, who owns the bookshop in Three Pines, has a visitor. Constance Pernault is a woman with secrets but she finds peace in the small isolated village in the middle of the Quebec forest and decides to return for the Christmas holiday itself. Before she can do so, however, she's murdered in her own home. Armand Gamache ends up with the case and he and Isobel Lacoste set about investigating without the help of Jean-Guy Beauvoir who, along with much of Gamache's faithful team, has been transferred out of his section. Events of the past few years, which involve corruption in the Surréte, are about to come to a head and Gamache is going to need his wits about him and all the help he can get, but who can he trust, and can he save Jean-Guy?

Oh, my goodness. Some books grab you by the throat and hang on while you ride the rollercoaster, gasping for breath, wondering if you'll be able to make it to the end intact. This is one of those books. It. Is. Intense. I thought the previous book, A Beautiful Mystery, was too but this beats it for intrigue and edge of your seat action. Of course it helps when you've been on the journey for so long, wondering as each book progressed when this backstory was all going to explode. In this, the culmination, it didn't disappoint. Wonderful. And I *really* want to go and live in Three Pines with Myrna, Clara, Ruth, Olivier, Gabri etc. Those forests must be amazing too, winter there must be quite an experience.

Next, Unnatural Death by Dorothy L. Sayers. This qualifies for Bev's Calendar of Crime challenge under the March category of, 'Money/Fortune/Inheritance has major role'. It is also my book 16 for Bev's Mount TBR 2019.

Out to dinner with his police detective friend, Charles Parker, Lord Peter Wimsey falls into conversation with a doctor on the next table. Dr. Carr's career is in tatters after he questioned the death of an elderly patient with cancer. Yes, she was terminally ill, but he felt her death was by no means imminent. Intrigued, Wimsey starts to look into it despite the advice of Parker who feels there is no murder to investigate: the autopsy had revealed nothing after all. But quite a lot of things don't add up. Who was the solicitor who arrived uninvited and was sent away with a flea in his ear? Why were two maids dismissed for no real reason? When the dead body of one of the maids is found in Epping Forest the police suddenly sit up and take notice. But this is one of those impossible crimes and the brains of Lord Peter Wimsey are required to figure it all out.

'My dear Charles,' said the young man with the monocle, 'it doesn't do for people, especially doctors, to go about "thinking" things. They may get into frightful trouble.'

This book is full of this kind of witty dialogue. Which is of course why Sayers' writing appeals to me so much. Plot-wise, there's an obvious culprit all the way through, and it's not so much 'whodunnit' but did anyone actually do anything at all and if so 'how?' and, especially, 'why?' So it's unusual from start to finish and I liked this very much as I wasn't sure of anything really. One death towards the end of the story hit me quite hard, it doesn't happen often. Usually the dead person is a Rum Lot and it's hard to conjure up sympathy, or it's someone the author hasn't talked about very much so you haven't got to know them, but this death was different and very sad. A warning... this book is very much of its time - the 1920s - and thus displays a few attitudes which we don't hold any more. I find it interesting to see how far we've come in almost a hundred years, but also hearing these things said takes me back to my childhood in the 50s and 60s when such attitudes were still held, although things were changing thank goodness. All in all, a cracking read. I still have 3 or 4 Wimsey's left to read but will mourn the loss of them when I've finished. Will try the ones written by Jill Paton Walsh then to see how they hold up.


Friday 19 July 2019

Desert Noir

Desert Noir is the first book in the 'Lena Jones' mysteries by Betty Webb. Kay at Kay's Reading Life mentioned the series here and, intrigued, I thought I'd give them a go. Luckily my library catalogue had a copy of this first book. It qualifies for Bev's Calendar of Crime challenge under the June category of 'original publication month'.

Lena Jones has left the police force in Scottsdale (or possibly Phoenix?), Arizona, after suffering a bad injury. She's set up her own private investigation bureau, employing Jimmy, a Pima Indian, as her computer expert. Lena has had a very rough upbringing. Shot by persons unknown when she was four years old and then passed from one foster home to another, Lena is a survivor, but a bruised one.

Her offices are on Scottsdale's main street just opposite various art galleries and shops. One of them is owned by a friend of Lena's, Clarice Kobe, who is from a wealthy but dysfunctional family. When Clarice is found beaten to death in her gallery, Lena feels she owes it to the woman to find out who did it as she was one of the few people locally who made overtures of friendship towards her.

Suspect number one is Clarice's ex-husband, Jay. While still married to him Clarice often bore the scars and bruises from the regular beatings he inflicted upon her... but it seems he has an alibi from his new girlfriend. No one is convinced by it though. But what about George Haozous, the Apache artist, who was constantly rowing with the dead woman over her keeping his violent and graphic work in her gallery? And the family of an elderly woman who died as a result of Clarice's involvement in a new property development? Lena slowly realises that she didn't know her friend as well as she thought she did. The woman clearly had a dark side and quite few people are not sorry she's dead. But who hated her enough to murder her?

Well, I rather fancy that this is not a series for all. Desert Noir is certainly not a 'cozy'. It delves into the darker side of life and pulls no punches about the urbanisation of the Arizona desert and how it's not always arrived at honestly, although it must be borne in mind that this is 'fiction'. Nevertheless, I was unaware of it so I certainly learnt a lot from reading this and found it all fascinating. Oddly enough, the book I've just finished, How the Light Gets In, an Armand Gamache story by Louise Penny, touches on the same thing, but in Quebec. Both reach the same conclusion, that there's not a lot of honesty in the construction industry.

So this not really a crime book to cheer you up. Lena herself is badly damaged. Shot in the street, aged four, by someone she was with but can't remember, she is scarred for life. Her search to find out who she is and who shot her is clearly going to be an ongoing theme and she makes some headway in this story. The mystery of who shot Clarice Kobe was well handled, I didn't guess who the culprit was and I usually do, so that's good.

To be honest the best thing about this book is its sense of place. The Arizona desert comes alive, one scene towards the end about survival out there was terrific. I also enjoyed the American Indian connection and learning new things about the tribes - Pima, Apache, Hopi etc. And I really liked Jimmy. I plan to read on in this series and hope these themes are enlarged upon in future books.


Monday 15 July 2019

TBRs and the library pile

I can't be the only one who loves piles of books. I regularly create them... 'books I want to read this coming month', 'some books about France', 'books for a particular challenge', 'books about walking'... 'my library pile'. I'm hopeless - but at least I know it. So here are several of my current 'piles' for your delectation (or something).

First up, the library pile:

I decided at the beginning of the year to try and keep my library borrowing to about 4 or 5 books at any one time. Ha-blummin-ha. Very funny. It worked for a few months but it's currently at nine with three books on reserve.

From the bottom:

Black Roses - Jane Thynne. A new author to me.
The Umbrian Thursday Night Supper Club - Marlena de Blasi. For the 'What's in a Name? challenge.
Sir John Magill's Last Journey - Freeman Wills Crofts. My latest book fad.
An Incomplete Revenge - Jacqueline Winspear. Maisie Dobbs of course.
The Resistance Man - Martin Walker. Bruno.
Perfume from Provence - Winifred Fortesue. France.
The Old Straight Track - Alfred Watkins. Walking.
How the Light Gets In - Louise Penny. Armand Gamache.
Desert Noir - Betty Webb. My current read... crime in Arizona.

Next, the 'I fancy reading these this month, well soon anyway, until I change my mind...' pile.

From the bottom:

Backpacks, Boots and Baguettes - Simon Calder & Mick Webb. Walking in the Pyrenees.
Beyond the Footpath - Claire Gogerty. More walking.
A Field Guide to Getting Lost - Rebecca Solnit. Yet more walking.
Thrones, Dominations - Dorothy L. Sayers & Jill Paton Walsh. Lord Peter Wimsey.
Bats in the Belfry - E.C. Lorac. Vintage crime.
Glimpes of the Moon - Edmund Crispin. Vintage crime - Gervase Fen.
Young Clementina - D.E. Stevenson. Delightful vintage fiction.
Beware of the Trains - Edmund Crispin. Vintage crime, short stories.
Death has Deep Roots - Michael Gilbert. Yet more vintage crime.

Next, my 'I love reading about France' tbr pile:

From the bottom:

Dickens on France edited by John Edmondson. What it says on the tin I assume.
Travels with Tinkerbelle - Susie Kelly. Round France in a van.
For Better, For Worse - Damian and Siobhan Horner. Round France by canal boat.
I'll Never be French - Mark Greenside. Longing to be French in Britany.
Notes from the Cévennes - Adam Thorpe. Exploring the Cévennes?
Narrow Dog to Carcassonne - Terry Darlington. More France in a canal boat. A reread.
Daughters of the House - Michéle Roberts. Fiction set in Normandy.

And last but not least, this came a day or two ago:

The Sea Mystery by Freeman Wills Crofts. Probably the first of many I shall be accumulating by this author... *coughs*.

I'm wondering if I have serious book problem. Should I be worried?


Wednesday 10 July 2019

Six in Six 2019

The 'Six in Six' meme was started by Jo at The Book Jotter in 2012. I've never done the meme before, often intended to, but never quite got around to it. This year I thought I'd pull my finger out and actually do it.

Jo's 2019 post is here.

What is it all about?

The idea being that as the end of June approaches and we are then halfway through the year, let us share the books we have read in those first 6 months. In fact let’s share 6 books in 6 categories, or if time is of the essence then simply share just 6 books. Whatever combination works for you as long as it involves 6 books. Of course the same book can obviously feature in more than one category.

The categories are listed in Jo's post.

What do I need to post?

Simply choose six of the categories and list six books under that category. Some bloggers use pictures, some put excerpts of reviews. The main thing being it is six categories and six books. Of course if you want to do a shorter version, then just post something about six books you have read in the first six months of 2018.

I'm going to use pictures to illustrate my choices.

The first category I've chosen is:

Six books from the non-fiction shelf.

Six book covers I love:

(Strange that these are all murder mysteries.)

Six authors I have not read before:

Six trips to Europe:

Six books that are related to the Great or Second World war:

Six authors I read last year - but not so far this year

Well that was fun! I hope lots of other people will join in and share what they've been reading for the first 6 months of 2019.