Wednesday, 21 October 2020

Catching up

Two short reviews today, The Murder Room by P.D. James and In Strictest Confidence by Craig Revel Horwood. 

First up, The Murder Room.

The Dupayne Museum is situated on Hampstead Heath, in London, and is dedicated to the two decades between the two world wars, 1920 and 1930. It was the brainchild of Max Dupayne, now deceased, and is now the responsibility of his three adult children, Marcus, Caroline and Neville. Commander Adam Dalgliesh visits with a friend and discovers that the place has an interesting room dedicated to several notorious murders that took place in the 20s and 30s. It's rather a nasty coincidence then when he's called back in his professional capacity as a police officer to investigate a very nasty killing. The youngest Dupayne, Neville, has died in a garage fire; at first suicide is suspected but very soon it's quite evident that he was murdered. The two remaining siblings come under suspicion, plus the museum staff. Every single one of them has secrets he or she would rather remain secret but who hated Neville Dupayne enough to murder him in this horrendous manner? Well it's many years since I read an Adam Dalgliesh novel (I have read a couple of volumes of P.D. James' short stories in recent years). Back when he was played by Roy Marsden (In the 1980s and 90s) I read the eight or so that were available then but I realised recently that there must be more I haven't read, so downloaded a couple to my Kindle. The Murder Room is one of those. It was a slow burner but then it was ever thus with the Dalgliesh novels, James always takes a lot of time to set the scene and describe her characters. For some this might get a bit tedious but I quite like this slow building of a setting and sorting out of who's who and what they're up to. The writing is sublime, quite literary in my opinion, a joy to immerse yourself in. I haven't been to Hampstead Heath but it was so beautifully described I feel like I actually have been there. What a shame there actually is no Dupayne museum! I have one other Dalgliesh on my Kindle and have just picked up, from the library, three non-Dalgliesh books by James, a standalone, an autobiographical work and the first of her two book 'Cordelia Gray' series, An Unsuitable Job for a Woman, which I have not previously read. 


 Lastly, In Strictest Confidence by Craig Revel Horwood.

Craig Revel Horwood is a household name in the UK as he's one of four judges in probably the most popular programme on British TV, Strictly Come Dancing. (if you're in the the US it's your version of Dancing with the Stars.) He's known for being the 'nasty' judge but to be honest if you listen to what he's saying he's usually right. Naturally, he's not actually like that in real life. I knew this from seeing him on Strictly: It Takes Two, but his books underline the fact that he's actually an easy-going, cheerful chap. This is his third book, I haven't read the other two (my daughter assures me that they're both very good) but this one was loaned to me by a friend so this is the one that got read. I enjoyed it very much. It deals with his more recent forays into producing and directing stage musicals and also tells us about several years of Strictly (from 2015 onwards). If you want to know about his early life then I think the book to read is, All Balls and Glitter and I will now read that at some stage. Craig's writing style is chatty, you feel like you're sitting with him enjoying a chat and a cuppa, so the book is very readable and quite light. His honesty comes over very strongly and it's quite touching in many places. I enjoyed reading about his stint on Who Do You Think You Are? which I watched several years ago. I had no idea that the 'celeb' being featured on this programme is kept so much in the dark about what's going to happen from day to day. Interesting. A nice light read when you're not in the mood for 'intense'.

So I'm currently reading these three beauties:



Apologies, it seems there's longer an option for 'no' alignment which puts pics in a line rather than on top of each other. Or if there is I can't see it. *Sighs* Anyway, these are all fun reads which I shall talk about in due course. 

Tuesday, 13 October 2020

Capital Crimes, edited by Martin Edwards

A sense of place is very important to me when I'm reading and the anthology, Capital Crimes: London Mysteries, edited by Martin Edwards, has that in spades. I've had it on my tbr pile for three or four years and was inspired to read it at last because of Martin Edwards' Golden Age of Murder, which I'm about halfway through. Capital Crimes is my book 21 for Bev's Mount TBR 2020


There are 17 stories in all in this collection, many of them feature the particular author's regular detective. I'll do a brief rundown of each one:

1. The Case of Lady Sannox - Arthur Conan Doyle. A famous surgeon is having an affair with Lady Sannox. About to go to an assignation with her, he's called out by a Turkish man whose wife has cut her lip on a poisoned dagger and is about to expire. Nice twist.

2. A Mystery of the London Underground - John Oxenham. A serial killer is loose on the London Underground. It's necessary to suspend disbelief a bit here and I couldn't.

3. The Finchley Puzzle - Richard Marsh. The detective here is lip-reader, Judith Lee. Someone's trying to kill her because she's helping the police catch too many criminals. I found this one a trifle unlikely too.

4. The Magic Casket - R. Austin Freeman. His detective is Dr. John Thorndyke whom I've come across before. A story of a lost handbag and Japanese gang crime in London. Fun but slightly confusing.

5. The Holloway Flat Tragedy - Ernest Bramah. His detective is Max Carrados, who is blind. This one's a tale of adultery and murder, quite clever.

6. The Magician of Cannon Street - J.S. Fletcher. Paul Campenhaye is the amateur sleuth here. This one is all about catching a master criminal who has eluded his pursuers for years. 

7. The Stealer of Marble - Edgar Wallace. The moral of this one is beware anyone who's pinching your marble chippings!

8. The Tea Leaf - Robert Eustace & Edgar Jepsom. Did the man who had a row with another man in a Turkish bath actually kill him before he left? 

9. The Hands of Mr. Ottermole - Thomas Burke. For me, this was one of the standout stories in this anthology. Someone is knocking off innocent people in the dark alleyways of the East End of London. It's cleverly told by a narrator telling a story or 'suggesting' how a series of events might have gone. It's creepy, very atmospheric, I did guess the culprit but it didn't spoil it as I had no idea if I was right. Excellent writing, loved it. I gather this used to be a very well-known and respected crime story and I can see why.

10. The Little House - H.C. Bailey. Another standout story. The detective is amateur, Reggie Fortune. An old lady comes to see him about the loss of her grand-daughter's kitten. The police had not been interested when she told them it had wandered into nextdoor's garden and a ragged, small girl had come out and snatched it up. On enquiry the neighbours had said that there was no small girl living there and no kitten. It frightens Fortune and he has to investigate. Very well written, alarming, creepy story.

11. The Silver Mask - Hugh Walpole. The best story in the collection in my opinion. It made my blood run cold but then he is the author of my favourite supernatural story, Tarnhelm. A woman is stopped outside her house by someone down on his luck. She suffers, as the author describes it, from 'impulsive kindness'. She invites him in, gives him food and money and expects never to see him again. Only that's not what happens... Chilling. 

12. Wind in the East - Henry Wade. The detective here is Inspector John Poole. Two brothers run a business. One is top dog and acts like it. He dies of course but whodunnit? This is more of a howdunnit.

13. The Avenging Chance - Anthony Berkeley. Another alternative ending to The Poisoned Chocolate Case that I reviewed last week.

14. They Don't Wear Labels - E.M. Delafield.  The narrator of this story takes in paying guests, a lodging house I presume. A Mr. and Mrs. Peverelli arrive, he's popular among the other guests, she isn't. The husband says his wife doesn't keep the best of health, is fragile. She tells the owner of the establishment that he's trying to poison her. The owner accuses the wife of being hysterical and making things up. But is she? This was a decent story from the writer of The Diary of a Provincial Lady. I had no idea that she was a writer of crime fiction and a member of The Detection Club.

15. The Unseen Door - Margery Allingham. This a short but effective Albert Campion story about a man murdered at his club, but no one could have done it...

16. Cheese - Ethel Lina White. This involves a serial murderer who's getting away with it. A young woman is used as bait to catch him but it all goes wrong... Very good 'edge of your seat' type yarn.

17. You Can't Hang Twice - Anthony Gilbert. Very atmospheric story of London in one of those famous pea-soupers. Arthur Crook is the amateur detective. Someone calls him, terrified for his life. Crook tells him to cross London in the fog, hoping he won't be attacked on the way. Foggy London town is a very real character in this. 

This quote from The Magic Casket - by R. Austin Freeman pretty much sums up this anthology:

"London is an inexhaustable place," he mused. "Its variety is infinite. A minute ago we walked in a glare of light, jostled by a multitude. And now look at this little street. It is as dim as a tunnel, and we have got it absolutely to ourselves. Anything might happen in a place like this."

I think that sums up many of the tales in this collection and I feel that's what attracts a lot of people to books set in say Victorian or Edwardian London. It's a dense, secretive place with an infinite amount of history and stories to recount. We haven't been for years but used to go every couple of years and that feeling of centuries of history and secrets oozes out of every nook and cranny. As with every anthology the quality of the stories varies. A couple left me a bit cold, most of the others were good and a handful were superb. That said, the quality of the writing in every case is top-notch. Back then they expressed themselves intelligently and never dumbed down their writing, which does seem to happen quite a lot these days. This is definitely one of the better BLCC anthologies I've read, a keeper.

Sunday, 4 October 2020

Two vintage crime titles

So I'm currently reading Martin Edwards' book, The Golden Age of Murder, about vintage crime authors and the beginning's of the Detection Club. It's fascinating stuff and what a motley bunch crime authors were back then. Well they probably are now too but that was well before the age of politcal correctness and there were some very varied opinions and lifestyles which were hushed up back then but which no one would think twice about now. Well, not perhaps some of the opinions... One of the authors Martin Edwards mentions a lot is Anthony Berkeley who was one of the founding members of the Detection Club, along with the likes of Dorothy L. Sayers and Agatha Christie. He was definitely one of the 'characters' and, realising I'd not read anything by him, I got The Poisoned Chocolates Case off the shelf and read it.

A box of chocolates arrives at a London club, for one its members. He passes them on to another member for his wife. She eats said chocolates and promptly expires. The chocolates were clearly poisoned but by whom and who was the intended victim? Scotland Yard's inquiries grind to a halt so Chief Inspector Moresby, on a guest visit to a meeting of Roger Sheringham's Crime Circle, passes the case over to its six members to see if they can solve the mystery. When I started to read this one the style was novel and intriguing. Six crime experts - writers, playwrights, amateur detectives - all vying against each other to find the truth of this mysterious murder. It's beautifully written with humour and pulls no punches with character assassinations of each of the main characters. I think the author based one or two of them on people he actually knew in the Detection Club. The trouble with it was that I became a bit bored with constant denouements. It seems I like them at the end of a crime yarn, but not all the way through. Nevertheless, a very good read and I will read more by Anthony Berkeley when I come across them. Not sure how likely that is.

I discovered author, Michael Gilbert, when I read one of his short stories in one of the BLCC anthologies. Then I read Death in Captivity last year and thought it was superb. Tracy at Bitter Tea and Mystery did a post about one of his books recently, reminding me how much I enjoyed his writing so I ordered a couple of books and Close Quarters was one of them.

The Dean of Melchester has a problem. He thought if he ignored it it might go away but poisoned pen letters don't tend to conveniently do that. So he asks his nephew, Sergeant Robert Pollock, currently working at Scotland Yard, to come for a few days holiday to see if he can get to the bottom of the mystery. Pollock quickly realises that this is a Cathedral Close crime. The Close is peopled mainly with Reverands, Canons and other sundry people who work in the cathedral, none of whom seem likely to be the author of these nasty letters. Murder changes his mind somewhat and realising he's out of his depth his boss, Inspector Hazlerigg, arrives from London to help find the murderer. I do love a cathedral based whodunnit or ghost story, doubtless why I'm such a fan of M.R. James. This one reminded me of all the old cathedrals I've visited that have very old closes around them or  nearby, and always so beautiful and historically atmospheric. Very clever to use one as a base for a horrible murder, emphasising the point that the potential to murder someone is not confined to lay people. This is the first of the Inspector Hazlerigg books, of which I think there are six (he wrote several other series and quite a few standalones). Two have been reissued by the BLCC, Smallbone Deceased, which I read recently and Death Has Deep Roots which I've not yet read. The large cast of characters in Close Quarters did make it a challenge to remember who was who but it's so beautifully written, with wonderful humour, that it didn't matter and I happily gave it five stars on Goodreads. I shall be reading many more of Michael Gilbert's crime novels.

Wednesday, 30 September 2020

Books read in September

Before I talk about September books I just wanted to mention that I don't do the Top Ten Tuesday meme but I've loved reading all the posts others have done on their favourite bookish quotes. So I'll start this post off with one of mine and it's this: 

 “If you cannot read all your books, at any rate handle, or as it were, fondle them – peer into them, let them fall open where they will, read from the first sentence that arrests the eye, set them back on the shelves with your own hands, arrange them on your own plan so that if you do not know what is in them, you at least know where they are. Let them be your friends; let them at any rate be your acquaintances. If they cannot enter the circle of your life, do not deny them at least a nod of recognition.” 

~Winston S. Churchill ~

I think that just about sums up my relationship with my books. My main body of TBR books and favourites are here in my study with my pc and before I go to bed at night I often have a change around or pick out several I want to read soon or sit and read the first few paragraphs of an old favourite. I suspect I'm not alone in doing this.

Anyway, enough rambling. I've read nine books this month and they are, as usual, a motley, undisciplined, surly bunch. These are they:

63. Smallbone Deceased - Michael Gilbert

64. Beyond the Stops - Sandi Toksvig

65. The Crime at Black Dudley - Margery Allingham

66. Travels with Tinkerbelle - Susie Kelly

67. The Strange Case of the Alchemist's Daughter - Theodora Goss 

68. Beyond Time - ed. Mike Ashley

69. Underland - Robert MacFarlane. (To be reviewed.)

70. Silver Bullets - edited by Eleanor Dobson. I probably won't review this. It's a volume of werewolf stories a few of which were not bad but I wasn't overly smitten with the anthology.

71. Close Quarters - Michael Gilbert (To be reviewed.)

So nine months through the year (and what a year!) and it seems my average number of books read per month is no longer six but almost eight. I think this boils down to me hiding amongst my books from the ills of the world (literally). There are worse places to be. 

It's been an excellent reading month. Three or four books stand out. The two Michael Gilberts were superb and I think he's now my favourite vintage crime writer, although he didn't die until 2006 and his publishers were still publishing his books in 2011 so I'm not sure vintage is the right word, but the two I read were from 1947 and 1950. Not sure if these dates even qualify as 'vintage'.

Two non-fictions were also superb, Beyond the Stops - by Sandi Toksvig and Underground by Robert MacFarlane... which was brilliant and has given me a sudden interest in caving books. (I know...)

Also great fun was The Strange Case of the Alchemist's Daughter by Theodora Goss. Great literature it is not but I loved its madness and energy. 

I'm currently reading these two books:


Apologies, Blogger doesn't want to give me the option of putting them together unless I change back to html. view and I'm terrified of losing the formatting of the whole post if I do that. This, apparently, is progress. Perhaps I should call it, 'The new normal'. (Sorry.) Anyway, I'm enjoying these two immensely. I started The Poisoned Chocolates Case by Anthony Berkeley because it and the author is mentioned so often in Martin Edward's book and it isn't disappointing so far.

Happy autumn reading!

Wednesday, 23 September 2020

Catching up

As usual, I'm behind with reviews, two books in fact, reading quite a lot but busy with other things so not a lot of time for blogging at the moment. First up, The Strange Case of the Alchemist's Daughter by Theodora Goss. I talked a bit about this one in my last post.
Mary Jekyll has just lost her mother after a long illness. She's now mistress of her own household but there's very little money and she's going to have to find a way to earn some. She believes her father to be dead (he is the 'Jekyll' from Robert Louis Stevenson's book) but discovers that his close friend 'Hyde' might still be alive. And there's a reward out for him that would temporarily solve her financial problems. Thus begins the adventure of a lifetime as Mary discovers other women like herself who are the product of mad scientists, such as Catherine Moreau, Justine Frankenstein, Beatrice Rappaccini, and Diana who is Mary's unknown sister. Aiding and abetting Mary and the motley group are Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson. This was huge fun. An unusual premise this, bringing the offspring or creations of these literary characters together in one book. I don't know why someone hasn't thought of it before, perhaps they have and I just haven't noticed. Anyway, 'very' enjoyable, not to be taken too seriously and thus hugely entertaining. I already have the second book, European Travel for Monstrous Gentlewomen, on my Kindle. It suits my autumnal reading plans very nicely.
Lastly, Beyond Time: Classic Tales of Time Unwound edited by Mike Ashley. I'm not a huge fan of time travel stories if I'm honest. I have this because it came as a free review copy from the British Library and because I'm in the mood for wierd fiction at the moment I thought I'd see what it was like. Glad I did because it was far more enjoyable than I was expecting. Most of the authors I'd not heard of and it turns out those were the ones I liked the most. The Reign of the Reptiles by Alan Connell investigates the idea that reptiles might have created man. Friday the Nineteenth by Elizabeth Sanxay Holding is a well told 'time-loop' story of a man wanting to leave his wife for her best friend. Manna by Peter Philips is about the disappearance of 'miracle meal' cans from a factory in a small village. Turns out the food is being nicked by monks from centuries ago. Fun story. The Shadow People by Arthur Sellings is a creepy story of a shadowy couple travelling back in time to escape the end of the world. And the final story in the collection, Dial 'O' for Operator by Robert Presslie, was the best of the bunch in my opinion. A woman dials the operator from a call box somewhere near the docks in London. Some 'thing' is following her, a shadowy, dark mass, and is trying to ooze into the phonebox via the cracks. Very edge of your seat! All in all, I enjoyed the stories that weren't based on mad scientists more than those that were. The writing was superb in every case and every story was very readable, making this an excellent collection. I do find Mike Ashley a very reliable editor of anthologies and am always happy to read any of his British Library collections. I even have a non-BL collection of Sherlock Holmes stories edited by him so perhaps that would make good autumn or winter reading too.

Monday, 14 September 2020

Currently reading and just finished

Autumn has definitely arrived here in the UK. We've already had a couple of named storms and it feels crisp and cool early in the mornings, some lovely misty valley scenes out of our windows. We're so fortunate, my heart goes out to people in Oregon, Washington State and California, we're seeing hellish scenes on the TV. Anyone reading this from those states, please stay safe.

I always love autumn reading. The minute September arrives I suddenly feel like I must read something weird or spooky so my current read is this:

The Strange Case of the Alchemist's Daughter by Theodora Goss is based on several classic weird fiction books including Robert Louis Stevenson's Jekyll and Hyde, Mary Shelley's Frankenstein and The Island of Dr. Moreau by H.G. Wells. The 'heroes' of those books somehow had daughters who, as you can imagine, are not quite right, and they all end up living together. I'm halfway through this and I like it a lot, it's fun and intriguing and I like the fact that Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson are involved in an investigation in it. It's written a bit oddly and it took me a while to get used to that, what I can't get used to is the frequent use of 'gotten' in Victorian England or a young girl exclaiming, 'Awesome!'. Regardless of that, I'm enjoying it a lot.

The first of three books I've just finished is, Between the Stops by Sandi Toksvig.

Sandi is a well known comedian and host of 'QI' (she took over from Stephen Fry) in the UK. She also co-hosted the new Bake Off on C4 but has just given up I think, a shame. Anyway, these are her memoirs, written in the form of her regular bus journey from Dulwich into the centre of London. It might sound like a very odd thing to do but it works a treat. Sandi loves history and unusual facts so the book is not just anecdotes from her life but pieces of the history of places she passes on her bus journey: London really comes alive. Her voice is so familiar that it can be read in said voice and I did so all the way through which made it very funny in places. She has such a lot of interesting things to say, not all of which I agreed with but that's fine. I must recommend another book by her, The Chain of Curiosity, which reprints the newspaper columns she wrote for one of the newspapers and is one of the funniest books I've ever read.

Secondly, The Crime at Black Dudley by Margery Allingham.

This one of those 'house-party' themed vintage crime novels, written in 1929, and is the first book in Margery Allingham's 'Albert Campion' series. Campion is part of a weekend get-together but is on the periphery of the plot at first as events centre on the other guests, particulary Dr. George Abbershaw who has fallen in love with one of the other guests and plans to ask her to marry him. On the first evening a sort of ceremonial dagger is the centre of attention and during a game which revolves around it another member of the party is found dead, apparently of a heart-attack. But is it? (Daft question.) This is my first outing with Albert Campion, apart from a short story read recently. I'm not sure it was quite what I expected (I didn't watch the TV series from years ago), the assumed idiocy of Campion took me by surprise a bit (reminding me slightly of Lord Peter Wimsey) and his role in things was rather more ambivilent than I was expecting. A good yarn though, well written and pacey. I will definitely be reading more.

Lastly, Travels with Tinkerbelle by Susie Kelly. This is my 17th book for Bev's Mount TBR 2020

The subtitle of this book is: '6,000 miles around France in a mechanical wreck'. To be honest that does sum the book up nicely. The author, Susie Kelly, and her husband Terry get someone to look after their menagerie of animals in rural France for six weeks and set off to drive around the perimeter of France. That's two coastlines, two mountain ranges, many forests, and an awful lot of chateaux. Oh, and I forgot to mention their two dogs, Tally and Dobby who had a remarkable talent for getting into trouble. I enjoyed this very much. Some of the coastline I knew as we've seen part of Brittany on the English Channel and been down the Bay of Biscay coast as well, although not all the way. So it was nice to revisit those. Most of it was new to me, all interesting but the part I was found 'most' interesting was Northern France and the war sites. One of these days (if the world ever shakes off Covid 19) I would like to go over and visit that area. This is my second book by Susie Kelly, Best Foot Forward was also excellent.


Friday, 4 September 2020

Smallbone Deceased - Michael Gilbert

My first book for September is Smallbone Deceased by Michael Gilbert.

Henry Bohun is a young man who has has just got himself a new job with a firm of solicitors, Horniman, Birley and Craine. He doesn't sleep at night and hasn't really settled to a career, trying various different things since the war ended. The firm he's now working for is one that specialises in working for the higher echelons of society, Lord and Lady This and That and so on.

One of the named partners, Abel Horniman, is recently deceased and has been succeeded by his son, Robert. The elder Horniman was one of two trustees for the trust fund of Ichabod Stokes, the other, Marcus Smallbone seems to have disappeared, although no one is too concerned as he tended to disappear for months on end collecting ancient bits of pottery in Italy. Eventually though he does turn up... dead in a deed box and the body has been there for four to six weeks.

So who killed him? Inspector Hazlerigg of Scotland yard arrives to investigate the murder. It's clearly an inside job and the one person the detective doesn't suspect, Henry Bohun, because he's new to the firm, is roped in to help Hazlerigg's investigation. Working practices and office politics make this a very complicated case because people have secrets and loyalties and resent being asked personal questions. And then someone else is murdered and the thing becomes more far more personal when the lives of the staff are suddenly at risk.

Oh, how I loved this one. The writing is sublime, the author has a light touch with humour that had me grinning all the way through. And a light touch with dialogue too, every character came alive as they spoke. You have to keep your wits about you as you read, legal firms and their legal-speak are not always easy to get to grips with and I did struggle a little with trust funds and how they work. It didn't matter though, because it wasn't that that was important in the end, it was the dynamics of personal relationships: it always is.

Oddly enough there's a local connection for me with the author: Michael Gilbert was educated at Blundell's School in Tiverton where I live.

He served in North Africa during the war and was a prisoner of war in Italy, which is how he was able to write Death in Captivity so realistically. If you haven't read that I suggest you do, it's brilliant. I'm really, really impressed with Gilbert's books, to the point where I feel a collection coming on. I have Death Has Deep Roots to read, one of the BLCC's recent output, and Tracy mentioned The Black Seraphim in this post and I liked the sound of it so much I now own a copy.

Smallbone Deceased is book four of six books about Inspector Hazlerigg and I'll definitely be reading the rest and trying to get my hands on his standalone output. I love a project.


Wednesday, 2 September 2020

Books read in August

Happy September, how lovely that it's here and autumn is on the horizon. Being kept busy in the garden at the moment, tomatoes and raspberries are particulary prolific. It means I'm not able to spend as much time online blogging and visiting blogs, hopefully that will ease off a bit soon. It'll have to, the freezer's full!

So, August was quite a good reading month for me, I'm just not sure where the month went! (Or the first eight months of the year come to that.) Nine books read and these are they:

54. Atlantic - Simon Winchester

55. An Air that Kills - Andrew Taylor

56. A Watery Grave - Joan Bluett

57. The Moonstone - Wilkie Collins

58. Gallow's Court - Martin Edwards

59. Virgin River Robyn Carr

60. Coastlines - Patrick Barkham. The National Trust currently owns 742 miles of the coastline of England, Wales and Northern Ireland. The author of this book sets out to walk and explore just some of these sites, including The Undercliffs at Lyme Regis, The Goodwin Sands, Orford Ness, Lundy and more. Well written, informative, interesting.

61. The Somerset Tsunami - Emma Carroll

It's 1616 and thirteen year old Fortune Sharpe lives in a village at the foot of the Mendips in Somerset. Her village is inhabited by women apart from Fortune's brother, Jem. It's the time of the witch trials and greedy local landowners are casting covetous eyes on the land owned by the women, if they accuse them of being witches this land could be theirs. Badly frightened, Fortune's mother sends her away into service, dressed as a boy. She ends up at Berrow Hall looking after two children of a similar age to herself, and a toddler, and quickly strikes up a friendship with them all. The only problem is, their father is a witch hunter. I should say that this young adult novel is aimed at children of about 10 to 14. I think they would love it as it's full of adventure and quite scary in places with the witch finders and then the tsunami, which I gather did actually happen in 1607, 2,000 people died. I had no idea about that. Emma Carroll is apparently a very popular writer of children's historical novels and I can see why, if I come across any more of her books I will grab them as this was very enjoyable.

62. Miraculous Mysteries edited by Martin Edwards. An excellent anthology of 'impossible' murder mysteries by authors such as G.K. Chesterton, Sax Rohmer, Sapper, Dorothy L. Sayers (The Haunted Policeman, one of favourites of her short stories), Michael Innes, Ednund Crispin. My favourite story was The Villa Marie Celeste by Margery Allingham, an absolutely ingenious little Albert Campion story... it's high time I read some of her full-length novels about him.

So, a favourite book of August? Well, it would probably be this:

I was genuinely surprised at how much I loved The Moonstone. Just could not put it down, pretty much from the beginning. But there were several other splendid books last month too, Atlantic by Simon Winchester, A Watery Grave by Joan Bluett, Virgin River by Robyn Carr etc. To be honest it was a very good reading month all told.


Saturday, 29 August 2020

Bookshelf Travelling for Insane Times

I haven't done a Bookshelf Travelling for Insane Times post in while but as Autumn is rapidly approaching I thought I would sort out a few books I want to read over the next couple of months and use that for an Insane post. This meme was started by Judith at Reader in the Wilderness but has been taken over by Katrina at Pining for the West.

So my shelf this week is all about autumn reading, September and October to be precise. I sorted a few books I want to read, for various reasons, from my tbr shelves and these are they:

The pile on the left:

I have one book left in my 'Diary of a Provincial Lady' omnibus edition by E.M. Delafield and it is The Provincial Lady in Wartime, so I would certainly like to get that one read.

Smallbone Deceased by Michael Gilbert. It's a while since I read my first book by him Death In Captivity which I thought was excellent so it's definitely time to read more.

Walter and Florence by Susan Hill was sent to me by the author to read and review a couple of months ago so I do need to get to that one soon.

The Grand Sophy by Georgette Heyer is just part of my recent fancy to reread a few books by that author.

Death has Deep Roots is a second choice for a Michael Gilbert read.

A Companion to Wolves by Sarah Monette and Elizabeth Bear, well we are coming into autumn and it will be time for those spooky reads...

Travels with Tinkerbelle by Susie Kelly is my current travel book read and will take me into September.

The Somerset Tsunami by Emma Carroll I thought would take me into September but in fact I've just finished it so that should not really be on this pile.

Upright on the shelf:

No Name by Wilkie Collins will be my next read by him. Can't wait.

The Giver of Stars by Jojo Moyes is a recent purchase, set in Kentucky, is a book about delivering books to the needy in the 1930s.

Drood by Dan Simmons will be a reread of one of my favourite books.

Our Mutual Friend by Charles Dickens. I haven't read any Dickens since my late teens and it's time I did, this book is one I've owned for yonks.

Voyages of Delusion by Glyn Williams is all about the search for the Northwest Passage (which now exists I believe.)

Krakatoa by Simon Winchester is all about... yes... the explosion of the Krakatoa volcano.

The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova is a reread because I enjoyed the book so much about 10 years ago.

So that's just some of my autumn reading. Some of these will get read, some will not. But that's ok, my 'read soon' pile is always very fluid and that's fine because I'm really not a huge fan of order and rules, I like casual.


Saturday, 22 August 2020

Catching up - again

I'm permanently behind with reviews so let's see if I can catch up quickly. All three of these are new additions to my Kindle by the way, not one of them comes off the real tbr shelf and all three I bought after seeing them on various blogs I visit. So I'm blaming other people for these three, you know who you are!

I'll start with A Watery Grave by Joan Bluett.

Wiki Coffin is half New Zealand Maori, half American, his father being a sailor from New England. Wiki was brought back to the US by his father as a child and brought up by his step mother, speaking English but still a Maori in spirit. It's 1838 and Wiki gets a position as a linguist with the United States Exploring Expedition but just before it sets sail he's accused of the murder of the wife of a local big-wig. The Sheriff eventually comes to the conclusion that Wiki did not do it and lets him go on condition that he will investigate while on board his ship, The Swallow, the Sheriff being of the opinion that the murderer is sailing with the expedition. Any voyage aboard a sailing ship is hazardous enough but this will increase the danger tenfold. Can Wiki survive this? I do love a sea-voyaging book. Perhaps it's something to do with having been brought up by the sea and loving being there (but not in the summer, at least not these days) that makes books about the ocean so attractive to me, I'm not sure. I don't mind if it's non-fiction or fiction but I do have a preferance for historical sailing yarns rather than modern day ones, I suspect it's do with being really cut off from land centuries ago with the complete lack of communications and, you know, 'sailing ships'!! Anyway, I thoroughly enjoyed this first book in the Wiki Coffin series. Lots of adventure on the high seas, very atmospheric, but also gentle feeding of historial information about what it was like to serve on these ships. A picnic it was not! But then I knew that from reading Redburn and Moby Dick by Herman Melville and other sundry books, must give Patrick O'Brian another go at some stage. A Watery Grave was a very readable but honest book about life at sea in the 1800s and not a bad mystery to boot: I really enjoyed it.

Next up, Gallow's Court by Martin Edwards.

London 1930 and Jacob Flint, a young journalist from Yorkshire, is trying to make a name for himself with the newspaper he's working for, The Clarion. He's become fascinated by Rachel Savernake, the daughter of a deceased 'hanging judge'. She solved a recent 'Chorus Girl' murder case before Scotland Yard could do it and is now embroiled in the suicides of two emminent men who, it turns out, were both murderers. High level curruption is a dangerous game and Savernake lets Jacob know that he's very much out of his depth and ought to back off. People start to die and Jacob knows he ought to heed Rachel's warning but he needs a big scoop to prove himself, so of course doesn't do any such thing. Interesting book this. Rather confusing at the start. Who's doing what to whom? Who is on the side of right? Who isn't? Who is somewhere in the middle? I had no idea and even towards the end of the book was pretty clueless. Rachel Savernake is a very interesting character, seemingly invincible but I had no idea what her business was and and what she was up to. Martin Edwards is such a good writer and is apparently fascinated by the period between the wars. As he's been very involved with the BLCC vintage crime reisssues and has produced many of their anthologies, this comes as no surprise. This is a good start to a new series and I already have book 2, Mortmain Hall, on my Kindle.

And now, as they say, for something completely different, Virgin River by Robyn Carr.

Mel Monroe lost her husband a year ago in a fatal shooting in a convenience store. He was a doctor and her a nurse specialising in midwifery, in a busy hospital in LA in California, both jobs being very full-on. She was devastated beyond belief and can no longer cope with her very demanding job. Needing a total change she applies for a position in a small town in northern California, Virgin River. She's been told the elderly doctor in the town needs help and that there will be good accommodation waiting for her. On arriving she finds neither are true. The cabin she's supposed to live in is practically falling down and the curmudgeonly doctor is stubornly refusing all offers of assistance. Mel resolves to stay a day or two and then go off to her sister in Colorado. She's on the verge of leaving when a baby is discovered abandoned on the steps of the doctor's surgery. Now she'll have a stay a few days longer because someone needs to look after the baby. Naturally a few days becomes a few days more as local births occur and she gets involved with the local bar and restauant owner, Jack Sheridan. Well this is very much a Mills and Boon type romance so the reader knows pretty much what to expect. It's well written, has a good sense of rural, mountainous California that I didn't know much about, and I enjoyed all of the characters in the story. There's a touch of intrigue and danger so there's a bit more to it than romance, plus it has a very real sense of a grieving widow and the time it takes to get over a terrible loss. Jack is also an ex-serviceman who has served in places such as Iraq and Afghanistan and there are tragic images from that which make this book a little less fluffy than you might expect. I thoroughly enjoyed this first in Robyn Carr's 'Virgin River' series (I think there's a TV series on Netflix now which is where the cover photo comes from) and already have book 2 downloaded to my Kindle. It's my first book for California too for my US challenge to read a book from every state.


Monday, 17 August 2020

The Moonstone - Wilkie Collins

At last I've read The Moonstone by Wilkie Collins! Why did I wait my entire life to read this classic? I haven't a clue. No idea. It feels stupid now as it wasn't a difficult book at all and was so readable and such fun. Never mind, perhaps there's an argument that there's a time for everyone to read certain books and this was mine.

The Moonstone is my 15th. book for Bev's Mount TBR 2020 reading challenge.

It's 1848 and young Rachel Verinder has just come of age and inherited a fabulous yellow diamond known as The Moonstone. The acquisition of this stone, by an uncle in India, is dubious to say the least, likely as not he murdered to steal it from under the nose of a Hindu sect. So the thing is cursed and is also sought after by group of Hindu men pledged to retrieve it at all costs. Needless to say the inheritance is a real poisoned chalice but Rachel is unaware of this when it's given to her. Unaware enough to put it in an unlocked cabinet overnight from where, naturally, it is stolen.

So whodunnit? An elderly steward relates all that he knows about Rachel, her mother, Lady Verinder, Franklin Blake, the cousin who delivered the stone to its new owner, the servants, local acquaintances and what happened when the stone was stolen. When no more can be done the police are called in, in the shape of Sergeant Cuff, a well known solver of impossible crimes in London. It seems there are numerous suspects as there were a lot of people in the house at the time for Rachel's birthday. And one of the servants in particular has been behaving very oddly of late. Cuff has plenty of ideas but is eventually sent away by Lady Verinder, mainly because she can't bear to have a policeman in the house. So what's to be done? According to one expert, wait for year, but why?

On the cover of my copy of The Moonstone there's a quote from T.S. Eliot calling this book: 'the first and greatest of English detective novels'. I don't know if it was the first, it may be so, but it's certainly contender for 'the greatest' I would say. It's written in the same manner as The Woman in White in that the narrative is passed from person to person according to who can best testify as to what was happening at a particular time. Thus it starts with the elderly house steward, Gabriel Betteredge, an old retainer type, who gives a rambling account of the history of the family and recent happenings and believes that the answer to every problem in the world lies within the pages of his favourite novel, Robinson Crusoe. It's quite wonderful to read and very funny in places. From him we move to contributions from Miss Clack an evangelical Christian, Matthew Bluff a lawyer, the cousin, Franklin Blake, Ezra Jennings, a physician's assistant etc. It's beautifully done, very readable, full of suspense, humour and excellent characterisation.

Favourite characters for me were Gabriel Betteredge with his unwavering faith in Robinson Crusoe, Miss Clack, wonderfully drawn, worrying herself to death about people's souls and salvation, leaving her religious tracts in their houses even to the point of going into bedrooms and bathrooms. Sergeant Cuff was also nicely drawn, I wish there were more of him in the book, I loved his obsession with roses and his perpetual arguments with the gardener. I think the person I felt most sorry for was Ezra Jennings, the doctor's assistant. We don't learn the exact reason why he's down on his luck, apart from his unusual appearance which Victorian people seem unable to cope with and which has basically made him an outcast. Very sad but I suspect it wasn't unusual back then.

Oddly enough, I didn't take to Rachel Verinder very much, possibly because there was no narrative from her so her character wasn't always clear but also I found her jumping to conclusions too readily, why didn't she 'ask' a particular person about an important occurance that she witnessed? I suppose then there would have been no book. Let's face it if people in books actually communicated most of the books we read would have no plot!

So I was pretty thrilled with this book. I love Collins' writing, perhaps more than I like that of his friend, Charles Dickens. Although before I state that categorically I probably ought to read Dickens as an older (hopefully 'wiser') person. Pretty much all of the Dickens I've read I read as a teenager and I'm sure my reaction to it now would be a lot different. In the meantime I want to read more by Wilkie Collins. I own No Name and it looks like a strong contender for my next book by him although I do have a couple on my Kindle I think and of course all of his output is now available free online. We'll see. Recommendations would be welcome if anyone has read anything specific.

Naturally, I gave The Moonstone five stars on Goodreads, a crackingly good read and inspirational as I am now determined to read more of this kind of thing.


Monday, 10 August 2020

Just finished and currently reading

I've finished just two books since the beginning of August, one I've been reading for several weeks, the other I devoured in two days. This is a quick catch-up post.

First up, Atlantic by Simon Winchester.

The sub-title of this book is 'A Vast Ocean of a Million Stories' and that pretty much sums up the book. The author starts at the beginning, going back to the slow creation of the Atlantic when the continents parted and moves on through history to the present day. He uses Shakespeare's 'The Seven Ages of Man' as his basis for the chapters of the book, 'The Infant', 'The Whining Schoolboy', 'The Lover', 'The Soldier' etc. It might sound a bit odd but it actually works very well. The book is beautifully written, very readable, not at all dry, lots of interesting anecdotes and lots of accessible history. My favourite section was that of the fishing of the Grand Banks off Newfoundland, descriptions of the amount of cod that used to be there and how we humans managed to fish it out. A sad, sad story but Simon Winchester made it absolutely fascinating. I've been reading off my own shelves for months now with the intention of clearing a few books to go to the charity shop. And I've succeeded, but not with Atlantic, it's a keeper and a candidate for rereading in a few years. Fascinating and excellent. I have his book, Krakaotoa (apparently it's not 'East of Java' at all) to read and I'm really looking forward to it. I love it when I can add another non-fiction writer to my list of reliably good authors.

Atlantic was my 14th. book for Bev's Mount TBR 2020.

Lastly, An Air that Kills by Andrew Taylor.

Jill Francis, a journalist living in London, is visiting friends, Philip and Charlotte, in Lydmouth after a traumatic event that has left her an emotional wreck. After she arrives the bones of a young baby are found in an old pub that's being demolished and it's thought they might date back to Victorian times. Jill and Charlotte become involved with the police investigation which is being headed by another newcomer to the area, Inspector Richard Thornhill. He's struggling with life in general and in particular his marriage and his new boss, an old style, overbearing detective. Thornhill and Jill Francis join forces to solve the case but their mutual antipathy is a barrier to progress. This was an odd one. Well written, pacey, very interesting, set on the borders of Wales and England. I devoured it in a couple of days, I was so intrigued by the case. Which makes it all the more peculiar that I can't decide whether to read any more in the series. You see, I didn't really care for anyone in the story. And it was 'grim'. Unrelentingly so. OK, the time period of the 1950s was not the most cheery of the 20th. century and thus I'm not attracted to books set during that decade, so that doesn't help. But for a book to have no humour, no one in it that's happy, that's quite an achievement really! So while I admired the writing, was fascinated by the case, despite having guessed the outcome from quite early on, I honestly don't know if I want to read on. Do I care enough about the characters? Possibly not.

So, I'm currently reading these three:

A Watery Grave by Joan Druett. Murder and mayhem on the high seas at the time of the United States Exploring Expedition in 1838. Great fun so far.

The Moonstone by Wilkie Collins. Classic about a missing diamond. Loving it to bits.

Coastlines: The Story of our Shore by Patrick Barkham. Walks on the pieces of coastline owned by The National Trust. Just started but think it's going to be very enjoyable.

How nice to be reading three good books all at one time.

So, all of a sudden I'm not blogging very much and it's down to one thing and one thing only, this wretched new interface that Blogspot are trying to force upon us. I've tried it twice now and run into trouble posting pics both times and had to go back to the old legacy one. That's apparently only going to be available until the end of this month (though they said that in June and then in July) so if it does go I'm not sure what I'll do because I'm really not going to struggle to use something that gives me a load of aggro. Blogging's supposed to be fun not an extra source of stress in your life. We'll see. I'll either have to give up my blog and move my reviews to Goodreads or move my blog to Wordpress. But what if I struggle with Wordpress too? At least I'm not the only one struggling with Blogspot blogging, I just wonder if they will listen to what people are saying and leave the legacy interface for those of us who prefer it. If not I can honestly see a mass exodus. And, you know, life is horrible enough at the moment for everyone, you might have thought Blogspot would realise this and leave well alone until things are more normal, not purposely add to the stress by doing this to us. You have to wonder about these people sometimes, you really do.


Sunday, 2 August 2020

Books Read in July

July was not a bad reading month for me... nine books read although that sounds better than it is because two of them were mostly read at the end of June.

The books:

45: Crossed Skis - Carol Carnac

46. The Village - Marghanita Laski

47. The White Road Westwards - 'BB'

48. Once Upon a River - Diane Setterfield

49. The Sea Mystery - Freeman Wills Crofts

50. The Honey Farm on the Hill - Jo Thomas

51. A Lesson in Secrets - Jacqueline Winspear.

Maisie goes on her first assignment for the British Secret service. She's asked to pose as a professor at a Cambridge college that's run by, and for, pacifists who are trying to stop another war from happening. It sounds harmless enough but the Secret Service think there may be goings on there which are contrary to British interests. Maisie hasn't been there long before Greville Liddicote, the man who founded the college, is found murdered. She's told to keep a low profile while the police investigate but she realises that she's in a unique position to discover things which they cannot. Another superb instalment of Maisie's investigations. The Nazi party has come to power in Germany and the plot of the book involves groups of Nazi sympathisers forming groups in this country in support of Adolf Hitler. Quite chilling and the subject is handled well. I look forward to more along these lines as World War Two slowly approaches.

52. Jack: A Life Like No Other. Biography of John F. Kennedy which started off very interesting but somehow or other I got a bit bored with it as I went along. This is possibly because it got very political (obviously) and I don't always understand how American politics work. Very good on the personal stuff though.

53. Arabella by Georgette Heyer.

Young Arabella Tallant is about to have her first 'season' in Regency London, courtesy of her godmother. At home she has numerous brothers and sisters and the family is not well off so it's quite important that she makes a good match if she possibly can in order to help her siblings along in life. On the way to London she has an encounter with Robert Beuamaris, a rich eligble bachelor, and encourages him to believe that she's a wealthy heiress. Before long she's the talk of the town in London and all because everyone thinks she's rich and a good catch. At some stage of course, the truth will out, and what then? I think this is my third or fourth reread of what is one of my favourite Georgette Heyer Regency romances. What all of this author's books have in common is the utterly sublime writing, Heyer knew her stuff and wrote with such humour that the books are a joy to read. I will be rereading more of these gorgeous books.

So, not a bad reading month... a mixed bunch, a couple of non-fictions, three crime yarns, and four general fiction books. I seem to be reading much more in the way of general fiction these days, I particularly enjoyed The Village by Marghanita Laski for instance and Once Upon a River by Diane Setterfield made for a very interesting reading experience. I like peppering my reading with the odd bit of women's fiction now as well, and Arabella reminded me how much I enjoy historical type fiction (although I know it's not in the 'serious' historical fiction category) so I plan to read more of that if I can.

Onwards and upwards into August. Happy Reading!


Sunday, 26 July 2020

Bookshelf Travelling for Insane Times

It's time for another Bookshelf Travelling for Insane Times post which is being hosted by Judith at Reader in the Wilderness.

The idea is to share your bookshelves with other bloggers. Any aspect you like:

1. Home.
2. Books in the home.
3. Touring books in the home.
4. Books organized or not organized on shelves, in bookcases, in stacks, or heaped in a helter-skelter fashion on any surface, including the floor, the top of the piano, etc.
5. Talking about books and reading experiences from the past, present, or future.

Whatever you fancy as long as you have fun.

This week I thought I would do something different and show you the part of my library that's on my Kindle Fire. During lockdown with libraries and bookshops shut if I've wanted a book I've downloaded it to Kindle, via Amazon of course. I do look at the price first and if I think it's too dear I won't buy it. Often though what I'm getting are offers or books at the cheaper end of the range or in some cases actually free.

(I've just realised that in the first two pictures you can see a reflection of my hands at the bottom of the Kindle. It looks like I'm trapped in there trying to get out...)

The first obvious thing is that I have four Maisie Dobbs books by Jacqueline Winspear. I've just finished A Lesson in Secrets (book 8), I went to check on Amazon to see how much the next book was and discovered that the next three were only £1.19 each so I grabbed them all.

Other additions were a bit more random.

A Kilo of String by Rob Johnson is a non-fiction 'moving to Greece' book which looks like fun.

The Kew Gardens Girls was bought because of one of the Amazon 'you might like this emails'. (I know...)

Aria's Travelling Book Shop by Rebecca Raisin I saw on Marg's Blog and as she reads some really good books I grabbed this one.

An Air That Kills by Andrew Taylor is the first of his Lydmouth series that I've been meaning to try for ages.

Behind the Mask by Matthew Dennis is a biography of Vita Sackville-West I downloaded after reading All Passion Spent by her.

The Things I Know by Amanda Prowse was a free book for Amazon Prime members and so was Opium and Absinthe by Lydia King. I haven't read anything by either authors so it will be interesting to do so. Amanda Prowse is especially popular I think.

Canal Pushers by Andy Griffiths is book one in the Johnson and Wilde crime crime series based on Britain's canals. I read about this series on Northern Reader's blog.

Ghost Trees by Bob Gilbert is all about trees in the London Parish of Poplar and was recommended to me by Rosemary at Scones and Chaises Longues

Books on this page include:

The Solitary Summer by Elizabeth Von Arnim who wrote The Enchanted April and Elizabeth and her German Garden of course, both gorgeous books. I think this is one of those free books from Gutenberg.

Gardens of Delight by Erica James is set in Italy and I grabbed it because I loved Summer at the Lake, also set in ITaly, so much.

Oak and Ash and Thorn by Peter Fiennes I downloaded because the author tweeted that it was cheap on Amazon at the moment, and because I loved his Footnotes so much I grabbed it quickly.

All in all I've probably downloaded about 30 books since lockdown, it could be more. It's probably a bit excessive but they were all fairly cheap and there are worse things to spend your money on. I'm sure the publishing industry appreciates all the buying people have been doing too, I gather it's one of the industries that has not suffered during the pandemic.


Tuesday, 21 July 2020

More catching up

Again I'm three books behind with reviews... and I don't even feel that I'm reading that fast, I'm just not reviewing fast enough! So, a quick catch-up post again.

First up, The White Road Westwards by 'BB'. This is my 12th. book for Bev's Mount TBR 2020 and also qualifies for Carl's Venture Forth under the category, 'A book where travelling is heavily involved'.

So this is one of the most delightful books I've read all year. The author, 'BB' (real name Denys Watkins-Pitchford), used to be a well known author of children's books back in the 1960s but he also wrote some excellent nature and countryside books for adults, several of which I read years ago. In this one he writes about a caravan trip he made with his family in the early 60s, exploring the whole of the South West of England. He visited a lot of places I know well so I suppose that helps. But honestly, this is some of the most beautiful writing I've ever read. He writes so eloquently about the countryside in summer, the birds and animals, the quirky people he comes across, his walks, the weather. Stunning. This will be in my top five non-fiction books of the year. I loved it. There is apparently one about his caravan trip exploring Scotland which I shall certainly be searching out.

Next, The Sea Mystery by Freeman Wills Crofts.

A father and son are returning from a fishing trip when they discover the dead body of a man, in a crate, which has been thrown into the sea off the coast of South Wales. Inspector French of Scotland Yard is called in and the first thing is to identify the body, a task which proves long and complicated. His investigations lead him to Devon and the small town of Ashburton where a local business has recently suffered the loss of two of their executives. It's thought they both died in a bog on Dartmoor late one night, after breaking down and wandering away from the car. Naturally, French believes there's much more to this tale than meets the eye. Another excellent vintage murder mystery from Freeman Wills Crofts. He is definitely one of my favourites of these rediscovered authors. This one was written in 1928 but it actually felt more modern, I had it down as a 1950s book before I discovered the truth. I love the way he plotted so precisely, timing actions down to the last minute. There are 30 of these Inspector French books and I'm always happy to discover one I haven't read.

Lastly, The Honey Farm on the Hill by Jo Thomas. This is my 9th. book for the European Reading challenge which is being hosted by Rose City Reader. It covers the country of 'Greece'.

Nell has spent the last 18 years bringing up her daughter, Demi, single-handed. Demi is the result of Nell falling in love with a young man, Stelios, on Crete, but they rowed when she told him was pregnant so she returned to South Wales to have the baby on her own, living with her grandmother. Now the factory where she works has burnt down and she has the chance to return to Crete as a volunteer worker on a honey farm. She wants to know what happened to Stelios. Most of all she wants to know if he ever really loved her or was she just a holiday romance to him. This was an enjoyable read, not wonderful, but fun. The heroine annoyed me a bit, constantly doing stupid things without apparently thinking at all. But there was a nice sense of a mountain village in Crete, the people and their problems, the food and so on. There's a back story of a herb called dittany which kept the town's economy going but has practically and mysteriously disappeared from the mountain, that was quite interesting. But overall I think I preferred Jo Thomas's Escape to the French Farmhouse which I read in June.


Sunday, 19 July 2020

Bookshelf Travelling for Insane Times

It's time for another Bookshelf Travelling for Insane Times post which is being hosted by Judith at Reader in the Wilderness.

The idea is to share your bookshelves with other bloggers. Any aspect you like:

1. Home.
2. Books in the home.
3. Touring books in the home.
4. Books organized or not organized on shelves, in bookcases, in stacks, or heaped in a helter-skelter fashion on any surface, including the floor, the top of the piano, etc.
5. Talking about books and reading experiences from the past, present, or future.

Whatever you fancy as long as you have fun.

This is another set of books I sorted out recently as a 'to be read soonish' selection. I do this on a regular basis, sometimes it works and I read the books, sometimes it doesn't, more often a few get read and the rest put back where I found them! My thinking with these books revolved around picking out a few that are something other than murder mysteries. I love a good whodunnit but just lately I've been craving something a bit different to add to the mix.

I'm concentrating on the nine books between The Historian and Arabella.

The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova is a book I read way back in 2007. I loved it but felt at the time that it was a keeper and would definitely bear rereading. I think that time might have come.

Lady's Maid by Margaret Forster. I've had this secondhand book on my shelves for yonks. It tells the story of Robert and Elizabeth Browning's elopement from the point of view of Elizabeth's maid, 'Wilson'.

Murder Must Advertise by Dorothy L. Sayers. Well, I had to put one murder book in didn't I? But I always think of Sayers' Lord Peter Wimsey books as a lot more than just ordinary murder mysteries. This one involves murder at an advertising agency and is one of the few Wimsey books I haven't read.

Sea Music by Sara MacDonald. A family saga story set in Cornwall. Another secondhand book I've had for years.

Mariana by Susanna Kearsley. One of those historical time-travel novels, the time travelled to being the 17th. century.

A Bird in the Tree by Elizabeth Goudge. Part one of another family saga type story. I've only read one book by Elizabeth Goudge and that was Green Dolphin Country *many* years ago. I'll be interested to see what I think of her writing now I'm much older.

The New House by Lettice Cooper. Written in 1936 this is the story of one family moving from a large house to a smaller one and covers just one day. Of course, it's much more than that involving family relationships and so forth.

The Piano Tuner by Daniel Mason. A piano tuner is asked to travel from London to Burma to tune a piano, the book charts his journey. I've had this for a long time and I see it was published in 2003, I also seem to recall it was one of those books everyone was talking about back then so it'll be interesting to see what all the fuss was about.

Arabella by Georgette Heyer. I've read this two, if not three, times over the years but it's been a while and having read Northern Reader's post about it I went to see if I still had it. No I didn't, so I ordered a copy and am looking forward to another wallow in this lovely book.

I'm actually quite hopeful of getting some of these read. Our library is still not open so I've pretty much been reading from my own bookshelves during lockdown and have been amazed at how many excellent books I've been squirreling away on my shelves!


Sunday, 12 July 2020

Catching up - three reviews

Three books to catch up on today, starting with Crossed Skis by Carol Carnac. This is my eighth book for the European Reading challenge covering the country of 'Austria'. And it's my 6th. book for Carl's Venture Forth, covering the category of 'A 2020 book purchase'.

A man dies in a house fire and it doesn't take long for the police to realise that it was murder. But who was he? Was he the lodger who rented the room or someone else? In the meantime a tour group is off to Austria for two weeks skiing. It's been a difficult task organising it, with people having to back out at the last minute and strangers taking their place. But, slowly but surely, the group get to know each other on the journey across Europe. A few days in, the easy atmosphere is spoilt when some money belonging to one of the men goes missing. The leaders of the group realise that something isn't right and the main question is, is everyone in the group who they say they are? Well, we all know the answer to that of course but as to guessing what was what and who was who well I didn't manage it. To be honest, for me the joy of this book was in the gorgeous Austrian mountain setting. It's beautifully depicted, mountains, villages, farms and so on. Also interesting was the 1950s 'British people abroad' feel to it, how we behaved and what was expected of us, how we were percieved by foreigners. Interesting from a historical perspective. Carol Carnac is the same writer as E.C.R. Lorac whose real name was Edith Caroline Rivett. She wrote some really excellent crime fiction, I don't think this is one of her best but I nevertheless gave it four stars on Goodreads as it was still an excellent read.

Next, The Village by Marghanita Laski. This is my 10th. book for Bev's Mount TBR 2020. It also qualifies for Carl's Venture Forth under the category 'A Social Media Recommended Book' (Rosemary whom I met on Twitter recommended it) and for Rosemary's #ProjectPlaces.

The Trevors, Wendy and Gerald, are a very middle-class couple with two daughters, Margaret and Sheila. Sheila is academic and will likely end up with a good career but Margaret is the opposite. She has no aptitude for school work and the hope is that she can snag herself a 'suitable' husband and settle down to domestic bliss with a clutch of children. But this is the mid 1940s and the class divide is alive and kicking even though the Trevors have no money. Unfortunately, there are no young men around who are interested in a very ordinary girl who is not outgoing or vivacious. Except Roy Wilson, but Roy is solidly working class, in fact his mother cleaned for the Trevors before the war. That said, he has a good job in the printing trade with a good salary and is solid and dependable. Margaret and Roy start to see each other in secret, knowing that when it comes out, as it surely will, there will be hell to pay. And of course there is... Well this book is what I would call a 'little gem'. It's a slow-burner, the author takes her time to introduce the characters, tell you who lives in the village and how it's split, housing-wise, ie. middle classes in one area, working classes in another, the solitary upper class female in the Big House that everyone looks up to (I loved her) and so on. Their attitudes soon become very apparent and so does the snobbery. The Trevors are at loss to know what to do about Margaret, they know she's not a good catch for middle class sons around the area but refuse to consider letting her marry where her heart lies. Someone said to Margaret, 'The trouble with you is that you've got no sense of class' and neither does she. She really doesn't care that Roy and his family are an ordinary working family. It's also quite clear to her that Roy's family think more of her than her own do. Things were changing very rapidly in the late 1940s and into the 1950s. The class barriers were coming down like the Berlin Wall in the 1990s but the middle classes were resisting like hell. This is a fascinating book that charts the beginning of the change of attitude they had forced upon them. By the time I married into a middle class family in the 1970s (nothing like the Trevors I hasten to add) no one gave a damn about my working class background. My prospective mother-in-law was more interested in the fact that I read a lot, knitted, made clothes and did jigsaw puzzles, all of which she did too. I could not have been made more welcome. Anyway, if this kind of social history topic interests you then this is an excellent book to read. It's beautifully written and observed and I will certainly read more by Marghanita Laski, in fact I have Little Boy Lost on my tbr pile.

Lastly, Once Upon a River by Diane Setterfield. This was a gift from my lovely friend, Pat, at Here, There and Everywhere so it's my 7th. book for Carl's Venture Forth under the category 'A gift that was given to me'. It's also my 11th. book for Bev's Mount TBR 2020 and also qualifies for Rosemary's #ProjectPlaces, 'the river' being the Thames.

It's the late 1800s and a child is rescued from the upper reaches of the river Thames and brought to The Swan Inn at Radcot. No one knows who the little girl is but there are two possibilities, she might belong to the Vaughans who had a girl, Amelia, kidnapped from her bedroom a couple of years ago, or it might be Alice, the grand-daughter of a local farmer whose son - the child's father - is of very dubious reliability. There is also a third possibility that only one person is aware of. The problem is, for one reason or another, no one can really be sure. What is known is that the child doesn't speak and is, to coin a phrase, 'away with the fairies'. It's a mystery that needs to be solved and Rita, a local nurse, and Daunt, the man who rescued the girl, set about solving it... no easy task as there are a lot of things they don't know about the lives of the people on the river. This is a book that seems to divide people: some love it, some are a bit 'meh' about it, and others can't get beyond the first few chapters. I think I come somewhere between the first two - I liked it, but I didn't love it. I wasn't sure I would even like it after a couple of chapters. It felt over-written and vague and I just couldn't work out who was who and what they were doing in the book. It all came together eventually though and I was glad I persevered. For me the best thing about the story is the setting of the inn and the villages around that area on the Thames. It's very well depicted and I liked the sort of 'fey' atmosphere of the whole book. I liked Rita too, the manner in which she had educated herself to be a medical person was admirable I thought. I loved how open-minded she was. I think, to be honest, that this is not a book to be rushed. I approached it like that, taking time with it, and I think it reaped its rewards. I almost felt too that it was one of those books that would bear reading again immediately. It's rare that I feel that way about a book but I fancy a second reading would give me a better idea of what was going on. I'm not going to do it but I will keep it to reread in a couple of years.