Tuesday 29 December 2020

Favourite books of 2020

Appalling though this year has been, I personally have had an excellent reading year. I suppose that's down to the lockdowns and even when we weren't in lockdown we still stayed at home as my husband is one of the at risk people, not high risk but ceratinly medium. So one of the things I did to pass the time was read. Quite a lot... managing 93 books in all, which for me is not bad... I generally average 60 to 70. Of the 93, 28 were non-fiction. So, not too bad. Shockingly, given how bad I usually am at reading my own books, 75 of the 93 books I read were my own!

A few fiction favourites and links to my reviews:

The Returning Tide - Liz Fenwick

Evening Class - Maeve Binchy 

Iron Lake - William Kent Krueger

The Woman in White - Wilkie Collins 

Summer at the Lake - Erica James

The Village - Marghanita Laski 

The Moonstone - Wilkie Collins

Smallbone Deceased - Michael Gilbert 

Close Quarters - Michael Gilbert

The Thursday Murder Club - Richard Osman 

Choosing a favourite out of those ten is tough as they were all excellent for different reasons and they're a motley bunch. But when all's said and done I think I loved this book the most, this year:

The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins kept me glued to my chair and when I wasn't, I worried constantly about the eventual outcome for Marion and Laura. For me that's the sign of a brillaint book.

Now non-fiction:

Footnotes - Peter Fiennes 

To War with Whitaker - Hermione Ranfurly 

The White Road Westwards - 'BB' 

Atlantic - Simon Winchester 

Between the Stops - Sandi Toksvig 

Underland - Robert Macfarlane

The Golden Age of Murder - Martin Edwards 

And my favourite? Oh dear... it's this that I apparently didn't review. (For shame!)

Underland by Robert Macfarlane was a superb study of all things underground, caves, mines, the Paris catacombs, nuclear waste sites, the inside of Greenland glaciers, and the people who explore them or work there. I thought it was utterly brilliant and now want to read more about this fascinating subject.

So that was 2020, or it will be in a few days, and good riddance! Onwards to 2021 and hopefully a vaccine to end all this madness although I think it will take quite a few months to change very much. In the meantime I have my 2021 shelf of books ready to start and I can't wait.


Thursday 24 December 2020

Christmas wishes

A Merry Christmas to everyone who reads my blog and especially to those who also take the time and effort to comment. It's so much appreciated and I cherish the friends I've made and the conversations we have about our love of books and life in general. Have a good Christmas and let's hope for a much better year next year.

This lovely snowy painting is by Danish painter, Peder Mork Monsted. It's called Forest in Winter and was painted in 1915. I love it to bits.

Monday 21 December 2020

The last few books before Christmas

I've been quietly reading my way through three non-fiction and one long fiction book since the beginning of December. It's always a slower reading month for me, for obvious reasons, but this year I feel quiet too, like I don't want to read anything that might test me too much, I just want slow, comfortable reading.

A Slip of the Keyboard by Terry Pratchett collects together the essays he wrote, his articles for newspapers and speeches he gave. Some were new to me, others I had already read one way or another. I'm not quite sure why I didn't enjoy this as much as I thought I would as I absolutely adore Pratchett's fictional Discworld series. Possibly the fact that I had heard what he had to say on many subjects already did not help. All were very well written though. 

Worst Journeys edited by Keath Fraser was what it says on the tin, an anthology of travel writing stories recounting the authors' worst travel experiences. I was very underwhelmed by this and I normaly love travel writing. A few stood out. One of Dirk Bogarde's wartime experiences from his book Backcloth made me think about reading one or two of his six autobiographical volumes next year. And Jan Morris and Paul Theroux never disappoint. Otherwise, one for the charity shop box. 

The Morville Hours by Katherine Swift is a book I've been reading off and on all year. It's the story of the creation of a garden at Morville in Herefordshire. It's beautifully written, quite autobiographical in nature and very horticultural and historical. The site was a monastry centuries ago so the author uses the form of the medieval books of hours as she takes us through the gardening year. A beautiful book. 

European Travel for the Monstrous Gentlewoman by Theodora Goss is the only fiction book I've read in December. Possibly because it's over 700 pages long...

The 'Monstrous Gentlewomen' are off on their travels to Budapest. Mary Jekyll has recieved a cry for help from Lucinda Van Helsing whom she's never met but presumes is similar to herself and her friends in that she's been changed somehow by her father: the subject of scientific experiments in other words. Mary, Justine and Diana travel on The Orient Express and soon run into trouble, meanwhile Catherine Moreau and Beatrice Rappacinni stay in London but not for long. Soon they're careering across Europe too, worried for Mary and her group who have disappeared somewhere in the mountains of Hungary. This is the second instalment of this fantasy/horror trilogy and is just as enjoyable as the first. It has exactly the same problems but I won't bang on about that again. Suffice to say it was rollicking good fun, I love the European locations, the ideas behind the characters, and the sheer zest of these books. Book three will be on my reading agenda for 2021.


I'm currently reading these two:

The Christmas Chronicles: Notes, Stories and 100 Recipes for Midwinter by TV cook, Nigel Slater, is the perfect slow read for Christmas week. He has a wonderfully gentle, descriptive, sumptious style of writing and you can wallow in it at the end of a long day. Loving it.

Weird Woods: Tales of the Haunted Forests of Britain, edited by John Miller, is one of the British library's 'Weird books' series. I've read several and they can be a bit patchy but this is, so far, rather good. And ghost stories naturally go well with Christmas don't they?

Tuesday 15 December 2020

A fun meme

The idea is to answer the questions with the titles of the books you've read this year.

Describe yourself: The Provincial Lady Goes Further
How do you feel: Happy Old Me 
Describe where you currently live: Castle Skull
If you could go anywhere, where would you go: The White Road Westwards
Your favourite form of transportation: Crossed Skis
Your best friend is: The Woman in White
You and your friends are: The Thursday Murder Club
What’s the weather like: Crimson Snow
You fear: A Watery Grave
What is the best advice you have to give: Escape to the French Farmhouse
Thought for the day: Dashing for the Post
My soul’s present condition: All Passion Spent

Saturday 12 December 2020

Historical Fiction reading challenge 2021

I've been a bit undecided about doing any reading challenges next year, thinking I might not do any for a change. But where's the fun in that? Perhaps just the one? So when I saw that Marg at The Intrepid Reader is  hosting the Historical Fiction reading challenge next year I decided I would give it a go. 

The sign-up post is HERE on Marg's blog.

During the following 12 months you can choose one of the different reading levels:

20th Century Reader - 2 books
Victorian Reader - 5 books
Renaissance Reader - 10 books
Medieval - 15 books
Ancient History - 25 books
Prehistoric - 50+ books

Any sub-genre of historical fiction is accepted (Historical Romance, Historical Mystery, Historical Fantasy, Young Adult, History/Non-Fiction, etc.)

I am going to aim for 'Victorian Reader' - 5 books. Perhaps I might even manage to do a bit better than that. We shall see.

These are a few books I plan to read from, suspect there are more on my Kindle.


These are all mine appart from the two on the bottom of the lefthand pile - A Plague on Both Your Houses by Susanna Gregory and Heresy by S.J. Parris are both library books (and 'new to me' series).

Any 'Historical' recs are particularly welcome so suggest away!

Really looking forward to starting this in 2021 and thanks to Marg for hosting.

Tuesday 1 December 2020

Two short reviews and books read in November

I'm not at all sure where November went. I thought time would drag with yet another lockdown (it ends on the 2nd. December here in the UK) but it hasn't. Strange.

Anyway, a couple of short reviews first. First up, a Christmas/winter short story collection, Crimson Snow edited by Martin Edwards.

As usual with anthologies this was a mixed bag, some of the authors I'd heard of and some not, some of the stories I loved, some a little less. I marked four stories as being excellent. The Man with the Sack by Margery Allingham sees Albert Campion reluctantly accepting an invitation to a country house for Christmas. When he gets there he realises he's been invited to guard over the expensive jewels of one of the other guests. The reader finds out about something called 'goat-touting' in this. Death in December by Victor Gunn features his detective, Bill Cromwell, who's a bit of a grumbler apparently. He also reluctantly agrees to spend Christmas in a place he doesn't want to be, Cloon Castle in Derbyshire. This one involves an idiot spending a night in a haunted room. Great fun. The snowy hills of Derbyshire are well depicted, Cloon Castle reminded me of Peverill Castle in Castleton in the Peak District. Hadn't heard of this author before so I must look him up. Deep and Crisp and Even by Michael Gilbert has one of his detectives, DS Petrella, out carol singing with the choir. They get invited in by one owner, later a choirboy tells them that the man who hosted them was not the owner of the house. One of those, 'Oh' moments. Clever ending. The Carol Singers by Josephine Bell is another carol singing story. An elderly lady, on her own for Christmas, is pleased to have carol singers sing to her on the doorstep but a second lot that arrive are not there to sing to her... Not a bad anthology, patchy, but those that were good were very, very good so to speak. All of them were well written but the one that's stayed with me is Death in December by Victor Gunn, probably because I know the Peak District quite well and it was so well depicted. 

Next, Happy Old Me by Hunter Davies.

This is an autobiographical account of the life of writer, Hunter Davies', since his wife died: his wife, author, Margaret Forster, died of cancer in 2016 and the couple had been married for 56 years. It recounts how much he struggled, partly with all the official stuff that has to be done when someone dies, but also because he had never before done anything around the house or cooked for himself. Margaret had seen to all that while he did what that generation (my parents' generation) of men usually did, maintenance jobs and outside work. So of course he had to learn how to look after himself and cook and it was a struggle. He also had to learn how to cope with the loneliness of living alone for the first time since he'd been married. The book is also full of interesting anecdotes as they really did lead an interesting life, though I suspect his two earlier autobiographies would be the best thing to read if anyone is really interested in that. Davies is a very readable writer, funny, self-deprecating, honest about his failings and relationship with his wife. It struck me that this is a very 'male' book, a woman of the same age would have a very different take on her practical difficulties and what to do about loneliness in old age - Davies is now 84. I liked this book a lot, for its honesty mainly, whether I would like the author if I met him, I'm not sure. I have his book, A Walk Along the Wall, on my tbr pile for next year.

So, eight books read in November and these are they:

80. Jew(ish) - Matt Greene

81. The Pull of the River - Matt Gaw

82. Information Received - E.R. Punshon

83. The Golden Age of Murder - Martin Edwards

84. Wicked Autumn - G.M. Malliet

85. The Thurday Murder Club - Richard Osman  

86. Crimson Snow - edited by Martin Edwards (see above)

87. Happy Old Me - Hunter Davies  (see above)

A decent mix there, including four non-fiction. All were good but the stand-out book would have to be this:

The Thursday Murder Club was huge fun and and very sensitively written. Looking forward to the next book.

Currently reading:

Which is 700 pages long. I may be some time.

Happy December reading!

Saturday 21 November 2020

Several short reviews

Several books to catch up with today, all to do with murder mysteries, so my addiction to them obviously continues unabated.

I've finished Martin Edwards' The Golden Age of Murder at last. So informative and it's making my vintage crime reading a lot more interesting in that I now know who some of these authors are and what they were like. I didn't for instance know how shy Agatha Christie was and how much she hated public speaking. I didn't previously have a sense of what a huge, domineering sort of character Dorothy L. Sayers was... or G.K. Chesterton. It also made me try 'new to me' authors like Margery Allingham (although I had heard of her of course),  Anthony Berkeley and E.R. Punshon and it was nice not to be disappointed when I did. It made me go back to P.D. James too and her books will go with me into 2021 for a reread. This is a book to keep and refer back to. I loved it. 


So this is the book a lot of murder mystery fans have been reading and talking about. Richard Osman is a household name in the UK, famous for hosting the quiz shows, Pointless and The House of Games. He's smart, quick-witted and 'witty' and I've often wondered what he would come up with if he ever wrote a fictional book. And here's my answer, The Thursday Murder Club. It's based in a retirement village for the well off, attracting what you might call retired 'professionals'. Thus, there are many activities and clubs and four of the residents have formed a club looking into cold murder cases. Joyce is an ex-nurse, Ibrahim a psychiatrist, 'Red' Ron was a left-wing trade union leader and their leader, Elizabeth... well that becomes pretty obvious as the book goes along. The village was built by some pretty shady characters and as controvercial negotiations are going on about new builds in said village one of the them is killed. The Thursday Murder Club begins to investigate, dragging in a couple of reluctant police officers. I found this hugely enjoyable. Osman's very sharp sense of humour and of the ridiculous is really to the fore and I laughed at his gentle poking fun of our Britishness all the way through. There is sadness, this is an old people's village after all with the obvious results of extreme old age and Osman does not shy away from this. It means that this is not a straightforward whodunnit but I liked that - I found I really cared about everyone in it. If I have a tiny complaint it's that I got a bit confused towards the end about who was doing what to whom and why. You'll need your wits about you if read this so don't leave them snoring by the fire. Book two is out next year I gather and I look forward to it very much. 


Wicked Autumn by G.M. Malliet is part one of her 'Max Tudor' series. Max is an ex MI5 agent who has changed direction and become a vicar. He finds himself in Somerset ... at least I think that's where Nether Monkslip is, all hints point to the Quantocks or Mendip hills... but both beautiful areas. The village tyrant is Wanda Batton-Smythe and it's pretty clear from the start that she's for the chop although it's way into the book before it happens. Max finds the body and it's soon apparent that she died because of her allergy to peanuts. Given how careful she is about this it's immediately suspicious and murder is eventually proven. Because of his background the police rope Max in to help solve the murder. This wasn't bad but it was slightly lacking in something and I'm not sure what. Perhaps just a bit too cozy for my taste but I'm sure it would appeal to lots of people. I was a bit thrown to be told Max had got 'catsup' down himself though (or was trying to avoid doing so, I can't remember now). 'Catsup'? Then I remembered that tomato ketchup is called that in parts of the US but I still can't think why a British vicar would be thinking of it as 'catsup'. No matter, this is a series I probably won't be continuing with anyway but it was a pleasant enough distraction for a day or two.

Monday 9 November 2020

More catching up

I'm so behind with reviews that this needs to be yet another quick catch-up post.

My first book for November was Jew(ish) by Matt Greene. 

This was a free book from Amazon Prime's 'first reader' thing that they do. I was in the mood for something like this so I read it as soon as I downloaded it. It's a very interesting report on what it's like to be Jewish. Although the author is what he refers to as 'lapsed', having a new baby made him consider what it is to be a Jew and whether he should bring the child up as such, the child's mother being non-Jewish. It's a series of essays really and it taught me a lot, especially in the way that Jewish people feel apart from the rest of us, somehow 'other'. There's quite a debate going on too about whether being Jewish means that you must automatically support Israel and its policies. Also included, naturally, are Holocaust testimonies and lessons about how many Nazis were actually caught and prosecuted after the war... just 15% if I recall correctly... thus, it was a good book to read at this 'Rememberance' time of year. Plus The Holocaust is a subject I've taken an interest in for years despite being told I'm ghoulish for doing so (I'm very good at ignoring that kind of judgement.) It lost something for me when it got overly political as regards British politics but  generally speaking a good book on the subject of being Jewish, about which I knew very little.

Next up, The Pull of the River by Matt Gaw. This is my book 23 for Bev's Mount TBR 2020.

A friend of the author, James, built a canoe to see if he actually could and he and the author, Matt Gaw, then set about exploring the waterways around their home in Cambridgeshire. Local rivers first, the Granta, the Waveney, the Cam, and then branching out further affield to explore rivers such as the Thames and the Severn. The inspiration came from the writings of two authors, Roger Deakin and Robert Louis Stevenson who canoed some of the rivers of Belgium and France and wrote about it in An Inland Voyage available for free on Amazon. I thoroughly enjoyed this recounting of the joys of messing about in boats. The author is very honest, it's not all wonderful, they have accidents, one very serious in which they could've died, it rains on them, finding camping spots is not easy and so on. But really it's quite clear that they absolutely 'love' having adventures on the river and thus the book is an absolute joy to read.


And now for something completely different, as they say. Information Received by E.R. Punchon is vintage crime story written in 1933, the first of the author's 'Bobby Owen' series.

Constable Bobby Owen has been with the police for 3 years. He's currently stationed in rather a quiet area of London and being quite ambitious is not too happy. Then city magnate, Sir Christopher Clarke, is found murdered and Owen is on the spot and a witness to the events surrounding the killing. It means he can be quite involved with the investigation, although he has to tread carefully around the CID officers assigned to the case. As is usual with these cases the dead man is not particularly nice. He has a daughter and a step daughter both of whom he's manipulating as regards who they can marry and why. The two men they want to marry are therefore suspects but who are the other strangers seen lurking around the house and why have they completely disappeared? This was a very well written crime yarn, quite complicated and yet I did have an idea who'd done the deed and was right. Nevertheless all the twists and turns were very entertaining and I liked the main protagonist, Bobby Owen, and his dogged determination to find out the truth. This is a long series, 35 books, whether I shall get to end of it I don't know but I've downloaded a few more to my Kindle as they're only 99p each and well worth a read in my opinion.

Tuesday 3 November 2020

Books read in October

October was another decent reading month for me. Eight books read, which seems to be my norm these days, not sure what the increase is down to, possibly lockdown, possibly not.

Anyway, these are the books:

72. The Poisoned Chocolates Case - Anthony Berkeley

73. The French Adventure - Lucy Coleman

74. Capital Crimes - edited by Martin Edwards

75. The Murder Room - P.D James

76. In Strictest Confidence - Craig Revel Horwood

77. Mr. Penumbra's 24-hour Bookstore - Robin Sloan

78. Menace of the Monster - edited by Mike Ashley 

79. An Unsuitable Job for a Woman - P.D. James (to be reviewed)

A bit of a mish-mash as regards genres, three crime yarns,  two short story anthologies, a bookish fantasy that wasn't really, some light fiction set in France and an autobiography. 

It wasn't a standout month as regards quality. They were all good but there were not, as in some months, several really brilliant books. My favourite is this I think:

The Murder Room was beautifully written and very absorbing, brilliant sense of place. I shall be reading more P.D. James in November and December. 

Current reads:




The Pull of the River by Matt Gaw, all about canoeing on rivers in England, Jew(ish) by Matt Greene who is a lapsed Jew, and writes about Jewishness, very interesting, and I'm about halfway through The Golden Age of Murder by Martin Edwards. I'm not doing 'Non-fiction November', officially, but I seem to be anyway. 

So here we are in November. Another year almost gone... the craziest I've ever lived through and I'm 67 and seen a few things. I've taken comfort in books and am already thinking about reading plans for 2021. Anyone else that mad?

Friday 30 October 2020

I have been reading...

I'm reading quicker that I can review at the moment so time for a catch-up post. Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore was one of those random spots on Amazon, cheap to download and then added to the three million already on there. (At least this year I have been reading some of them...)

Clay Jannon has lost his job in computers and, wandering randomly around San Francisco, he spots a sign in a bookshop looking for help. He gets the job, working the night shift in a very strange shop that never closes. The store is an odd one. Bookshelves are so high they stretch over three stories and fetching books from the top is a test of nerves. People asking for these books seem excited, desperate to get hold of them but Clay has been told not to look inside said books. Eventually of course he can't resist, only to discover that they're all in code. Who are these people that come in the middle of the night to buy these strange books? And who or what is Mr. Penumbra? Clay gets a girlfriend who turns out to work for Google, she's a computer geek and together they set about breaking the codes. Which of course means their troubles are only just beginning... This was an entertaining book but I don't think it was really what I was expecting. Instead of being a very bookish book it was really more about how wonderful and brilliant and clever Google is and how amazing the people who work there are. I enjoyed it well enough for being different but won't go around recommending it to all and sundry. It's another case really of there being a decent book inside this struggling to get out. 

Menace of the Monster: Classic Tales of Creatures from Beyond - edited by Mike Ashley was a freebie in exchange for a review from the British Library. It's my 22nd. book for Bev's Mount TBR 2020.

Monsters have always been with us according to Mike Ashley in his 30 page introduction to this anthology, and they come in all shapes and sizes, not to mention varieties. I was a bit thrown by the first story in the volume which was The War of the Worlds by H.G. Wells in the form of a short story. I couldn't think why on earth you would want to do that: read the whole book! It's worth it! The second story, The Cloud Men by Owen Oliver cheered me up though, aliens in the form of strange shaped clouds invade Earth, this was weird and imaginative and well written. After that the stories varied a  bit. There was a dragon-like bird terrorising London after being released from the Arctic ice (I kid you not), an invasion of giant ants coming from underground (much more likely), a tale that seemed to revolve around Scott and Amundsen in the Antarctic which had me completely baffled, one based on King Kong which I've never been a fan of and so on. Favourite stories included Dagon by H.P. Lovecraft which I've read before but always bears rereading and Discord in Scarlett by A.E. van Vogt about a spaceship that unwittingly picks up an alien passenger on its hull; very well written and full of suspense but it never fails to amuse me that these sci-fi writers from the 40s, 50s and 60s could imagine anything and everything in the universe except the concept of women going into space with the men. Also good, The Monster from Nowhere by Nelson S. Bond about a lost expedition to Peru coming home with a creature from another dimension (as you do), Resident Physician by James White about a hospital in space that caters for all alien life (this is a series apparently so I must investigate it) and The Witness by Eric Frank Russell, a thought provoking story that sees an alien put on trial for trying to claim asylum on Earth, I liked the ending to that one. This was quite a patchy anthology, some of the stories didn't appeal at all or worse, confused me. Others were terrific and for me that's what anthologies are all about, a way to discover new authors to explore by sampling a little of their work. Although this collection didn't completely work for me I am a fan of these British Library anthologies and love getting them through the mail.

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.