Friday 29 November 2019

Books read in November

Looking at the number of books I've read this month, four, it would appear that I haven't been reading very much. Not true. One, unfinished, behemoth of a book has taken up much of my reading time and the books listed below were slotted in around, read as light relief.

65. The Pale Horse - Agatha Christie

66. The Cornish Coast Murder - John Bude

67. Bon Voyage: The Telegraph Book of River and Sea Journeys edited by Michael Kerr.

This was an enjoyable collection of worldwide voyages covering oceans, seas and rivers. I enjoyed hearing about the launch of the Queen Mary in the 1930s and how she ran aground. Martha Gellhorn's D Day experiences stowing away in one of the hospital ships was rivetting and I plan to look into that and her a bit more. For me, the most interesting section was 'The Americas', specifically river trips on the Mississippi and Missouri. I definitely want to read more in that vein. If I have a minor complaint it's that there were a few too many cruise liner trips included. Some people the book made me want to read more about: Henry Stanley (of Stanley and Livingstone fame), Arthur Ransome, Martha Gellhorn, Robert Louis Stevenson (I own a book of his letters), Hammond Innes (I used to love his books), Thor Heyerdahl and Tim Butcher. To be honest that's the joy of this kind of book, they lead to many more interesting books and people. I believe there's another book in the same vein about railway journeys so I will be reserving that from the library at some point.

68. The Murder of My Aunt - Richard Hull.

Edward Powell lives in deepest Wales with his aunt, and loathes both of them. He's a complete snob about everything, food, cars, music, you name it... nothing is ever good enough for him. Mildred, his aunt, adores Wales and the village they live in, Llwll... what she struggles with is her nephew, Edward. The two of them are at permanent loggerheads, constantly bickering, point scoring and embarrassing each other in public. Edward eventually comes to a decision: he must murder his aunt. The question is, how? Well this was something of a different whodunnit as it charts Edward's attempts to do away with the dreadful aunt. The trouble is, he's every bit as dreadful as she is and although I enjoyed the humour and the quirkiness of the book I did find the constant carping wearing and could not empathise with either of the main characters. Of course, once the point of view changes, about two thirds into the book, you get a different perspective and all is not as it seems. Rural Wales put on a good show in this and was easy to picture as I've been around a lot of it... I felt as though the author got Welsh country folk spot on. And yet again another lovely cover.


So, I'm still reading these two:

Three quarters finished with both. Moby-Dick is the aforementioned behemoth and the Richard Briers is my bedtime read and as such is perfect.

Planning to read these two this month.

The Year of Living Danishly by Helen Russell will be my 10th. and possibly last book for the European Reading Challenge until I start again in the new year. And In the Garden of the Beasts by Erik Larson will be my final book for the World at War challenge.

And finally I'll be dipping into these three lovelies as and when I have time closer to Christmas.

From the left, The Everyman Book of Christmas stories, The Mistletoe Murder and other stories by P.D. James, and The Christmas Chronicles by Nigel Slater.


Tuesday 19 November 2019

A couple of crime titles

Catching up on reviews with a couple of crime titles today. First up, The Pale Horse by Agatha Christie.

Father Gorman is called in to minister the last rites to a dying woman: she has something she wants to tell him before she dies. On the way home he stops at a coffee shop for a drink and writes a list of people's names down on a piece of paper. Before he can reach home he will be dead. Several people on this list are already dead, supposedly of natural causes. The godson of one of them, Mark Easterbrook, becomes suspicious and starts to investigate with the occasional help of author, Ariadne Oliver. Investigations lead to a village with an old pub by the name of The Pale Horse, although it's no longer a pub but is lived in by three single women. Village gossip has them down as witches but surely this is nonsense? When people start to die almost by remote control, Easterbrook takes matters into his own hands, putting himself and, more importantly, his girlfriend, into extreme danger. Fantastic Fiction lists this as an Ariadne Oliver book but to be honest she's not really in it a lot. It's really a standalone and as such I found it works very well and I enjoyed it a lot. It has a nice supernatural bent, a bit of romance which doesn't interfere with the plot, and I had no idea who the culprit was or how it was done. It also has an excellent sense of both London and the gossipy, insular atmosphere of an English village in the early 1960s. I had no idea until Jo at The Book Jotter left a comment on my last post that the BBC has dramatised it for showing over the Christmas. To be honest I haven't liked their recent adaptations but will give this a go and hope they haven't modernised the life out of it.

Lastly, The Cornish Coast Murder by John Bude. This is my 28th. book for Bev's Calendar of Crime challenge covering the March category of 'Primary action takes place in this month'. It's also my 23rd. books for Bev's Mount TBR 2019.

Reverand Dodd is the vicar of the village of Boscawen on the north coast of Cornwall. He likes the quiet life and enjoys good food and evenings by the fire reading detective novels. When a local magistrate, Julius Tregarthen, is found dead in his home, shot through the head, Dodd is horrified but also intrigued and can't stop himself helping the police in the investigation. Luckily, Inspector Bigswell of the local force does not mind, in fact welcomes the help as the case is very complicated. The dead man's neice, Ruth, who lived with him, has been seeing a local author and Tregarthen had objections to the relationship. Did the author kill him? Dodd thinks not but all the evidence points that way so Bigswell is obliged to follow that line of enquiry. Which of them is right?

This was quite a good yarn. I loved the setting. The dead man's home is described as being on a 'ness' (a cape or headland) and practically surrounded by the Atlantic, a fantasic setting for a crime story like this and I absolutely loved it. I'm sure this is possibly because I know that region very well and am biased but even so, it was beautifully done. And the whys and the wherefores of how the murder was committed were equally complicated and interesting, 'different'. My only grouse is with the revelation of who did it. My reaction was, 'Eh?' And that's all I'm going to say apart from: 'lovely cover'.


Monday 11 November 2019

Currently reading and new books

Nice to be home again after a flying visit to Cornwall. The county was looking good in its autumn colours but everywhere in the UK is wild and woolly at the moment, high winds, lot of rain, floods in the north, awful to see rivers in flood on the news and people's homes ruined.

Anyway, books. As a bit of light relief from this:

I'm reading this:

A random grab from the library, the large print section in fact. Not somewhere I make a make beeline for as a matter of course but just occasionally it occurs to me to take a gander at what's over there. When I got home with The Pale Horse by Agatha Christie I looked at it on Goodreads because I'd never heard of it before and lo and behold three or four of my friends on there really liked it. And so do I. I'm about one third in and already it's full of mystery, a dead woman, followed by a dead priest who came to minister the last rites to her. A list of people found hidden on the priest, three of whom recently died, apparently of natural causes. Three women living together in a village who have the reputation of being witches. What's the connection?

And here's the thing... I've always fancied living in an old vicarage. Well who hasn't? By all accounts they were actually cold and draughty and very uncomfortable, but still the idea has always appealed and I think Agatha Christie knew the appeal was shared by a lot of people. So she comes up with this:

The Vicarage sitting room was big and shabby. It was much shaded by a gargantuan Victorian shrubbery that no one seemed to have the energy to curb. But the dimness was not gloomy for some peculiar reason. It was, on the contrary, restful. All the large shabby chairs bore the impress of resting bodies in them over the years. A fat clock on the chimney-piece ticked with a heavy comfortable regularity. Here there would always be time to talk, to say what you wanted to say, to relax from the cares brought about by the bright day outside.

I wonder how long it took Christie to get that description just right? So that all of us with a fancy to live in an old vicarage would be foaming at the mouth to go and find this room and settle down in one of those 'large shabby chairs' with a good book and a cup of tea. Incredible to me that there are people who are snooty about the writing ability of this amazing author.

Of course, while I was in the Penzance area I just had to visit The Cook Book shop in St. Just. Here you can browse the second-hand books and have a coffee or lunch or whatever you like. It's delightful. I came away with the bottom two of these books:

The Oatmeal Ark by Rory MaClean tells of the Reverand Hector Gillean who apparently built a ship in the early 1800s and sailed from the Hebrides to Canada to find the promised land. Couldn't leave that on the shelf, could I? Eight Feet in the Andes by Dervla Murphy is a book I've been after for a while so was glad to nab that for a couple of quid. The other two books are, Watersteps Through France by Bill and Laurel Cooper, this covers two of my bookish loves, canals and France; and the other is Beyond Time edited by Mike Ashley, time travel stories, sent to me by The British Library. Great cover on the latter:

Many thanks to The British Library for that and it's been added to the pile for next year's reading.


Tuesday 5 November 2019


Off to Cornwall for a flying visit from tomorrow, just two nights, but before I go I just want to thank the folks who left such thoughtful comments on my last post, here. It turned into a real conversation on challenges and blogging in the comments section and I always think that's wonderful and really appreciate it. Thank you.

At the moment I'm reading these two books:

As I said in my previous post, I'm 'doing' Moby-Dick in small chunks, taking my time, partly so that I can appreciate it properly but also 'it's not a race' and there's no reason at all to rush through it just to get it read. It's a lesson I need to learn about reading and next year I may even concentrate on reading less in the way of numbers and more in the way of quality. And as a 'by-the-by' I really am enjoying the richness of Moby-Dick... I'm also sure I'll have no idea how to review it when I've finished.

Bon Voyage, edited by Michael Kerr, is an anthology of travel stories printed over the years in one of our national newspapers, The Telegraph. It's another one to take slowly. I'm 80 pages in and already I want to read biographies of Henry Stanley (of Stanley and Livingstone fame) and Arthur Ransome. One of the most affecting pieces was by Martha Gellhorn, an American journalist who stowed away (in the loo!) on a hospital ship during the D-Day landings and witnessed some heart-rending things. I want to know more about that and about her. I love it when books lead to more books and then more books... bit like the spider's web in my header.

These two books are, of course, slow going. Thus I can't see any reviews here for a while although I will probably take an eReader to Cornwall and read something crime based for entertainment, a Dana Stabenow perhaps as I haven't visited Kate Shugak for a while, or something else. We'll see.

And just because I can here's the jigsaw it took me most of September and October to complete. A world map from 1594, 3,000 pieces and really quite tricky.