Sunday 31 May 2020

Books read in May

My notebook tells me that I've read eight books this month. It really doesn't feel like it. How odd. What's more disturbing is that we're four weeks away from being halfway through the year. Now that is scary!

Anyway, the books are:

32. To Say Nothing of the Dog - Connie Willis

33. The Provincial Lady in America - E.M. Delafield. The third book in the omnibus I own. Not reviewed but it was delightful... funny, beautifully observed, a real pleasure to read.

34. The Vineyards of Champagne - Juliet Blackwell

35. The Woman in White - Wilkie Collins

36. Summer at the Lake - Erica James

37. The Body in the Dumb River - George Bellairs

38. Footnotes - Peter Fiennes (to be reviewed)

39. The Nine of Us: Growing up Kennedy - Jean Kennedy Smith (to be reviewed)

It seems I might be a bit behind with reviews. (In fact I have two short ones done of books 36 and 37 and 39 will be joining them soon in a 'catch-up' post.)

So anyway, that was a very interesting reading month. Why? Well usually eight books might include four, five sometimes six murder mysteries. This month? One. My May reading included two non-fictions, a science-fiction, two contemporary fiction books written by women (not my usual fare), one crime yarn and two classics (I'm counting The Provincial Lady books as such.) And here's another odd thing, I loved all of them apart from the crime story which I didn't hate at all but just found a trifle pedestrian.

I can't even choose a favourite this month because five of them were so good. I'm looking back at May and thinking what a super month it was for books! I really hope June will be equally as excellent.

These are the three books I'm reading at the moment:

The Kennedy book will be finished today, the other two will be my first books for June. And June will also be spent having a good time with Carl's 'Venture Forth' for which I've already finished one book and almost finished another.

Happy reading in June!


Friday 29 May 2020

Bookshelf Travelling for Insane Times, week 11

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 my shelf is connected to my last two posts about Carl's Venture Forth reading programme.

I did as I often do with these reading experiences and collected together a selection of books that fit the prompts. It's so much fun to do! Venture Forth will run from now until the end of July so this is basically two months reading. Can I read them all? Thirteen books? My instinct is to say 'no' but in fact I think I probably could but whether I actually 'will' is another matter. We shall see as I have no intention of putting pressure on myself to do so, I want to have fun with this after all.

The pile on the left:

Travels with Tinkerbelle - Susie Kelly
The Nine of Us - Jean Kennedy Smith
Woodswoman - Anne LaBastille
Walter and Florence - Susan Hill
To War with Whitaker - The Countess of Ranfurly
The Shell Seekers - Rosamunde Pilcher
The Moonstone - Wilkie Collins
A Kentish Lad - Frank Muir

Standing upright:

Munich - Robert Harris
Dr. Thorne - Anthony Trollope
The White Road Westwards - 'BB'
Once Upon a River - Diane Setterfield
The Pull of the River - Matt Gaw

A motley bunch if ever there was one but that suits me perfectly. There should be something there to suit all of my moods but one thing I have just noticed is that there's no crime fiction apart from The Moonstone. I rather suspect a more modern murder mystery or two will elbow their way in there somehow.

Happy reading and stay safe.


Thursday 28 May 2020

Venture Forth part 2

So this post is really for my own reference, a place where I can list the prompts I want to attempt for Carl's Venture Forth summer reading programme and the books I actually end up reading.

Some of his prompts I would like to fulfil:

A gift that was given to me: Once Upon a River - Diane Setterfield

A 2020 book purchase: Crossed Skis - Carol Carnac

A used bookstore find

A story that I have read before: Arabella - Georgette Heyer

A social media recommended book: The Village - Marghanita Laski

A recommendation from my husband

A non-fiction book: The Nine of Us - Jean Kennedy Smith

A checkout from the library: The Farm at the Edge of the World - Sarah Vaughan

So those are a few of Carl's prompts, but he encourages us to add a few of our own so these are mine:

A book set somewhere I have never been but would like to visit: Summer at the Lake - Erica James

A book connected to one of the world wars: To War With Whitaker - Hermione Ranfurly

A book of short stories

A book where travelling is heavily involved: The White Road Westwards - 'BB'

A book set in Cornwall

A book connected with the sea

A book about forests, woods, trees

A biography or autobiography: Jack: A Life Like No Other - Geoffrey Perret

A classic

A few possibilities:

I suspect somehow that not all of these categories will be filled in the two months available. There are, after all, 18 of them. But we'll see. The main thing is how much fun it will be trying.


Wednesday 27 May 2020

Carl's Venture Forth

Carl from Stainless Steel Droppings has posted about his new Summer Reading Program, Venture Forth.

He says:

So I created my own Summer Reading program: Venture Forth. The name is a play on the idea that we are being allowed to venture forth into certain businesses and venues once again, and that reading always allows everyone to Venture Forth on an adventure.

This isn’t a challenge or event like I’ve hosted in the past. It is simply something that I want to do and want to share with you. If you desire to recapture a bit of that childhood summer experience, please feel free to be a part of this, and feel free to use the gif.

There are no rules. No number of books to read. No prizes outside of the great pleasure of reading. As part of the fun I did make a list of prompts that I will check off if I end up doing them, but the only thing motivating factor of my reading is finishing a book, and then going and pulling the next read off the shelves that calls out to me.

Prompts include:

A book with a Michael Whelan cover

gift that was given to me

2020 book purchase

used bookstore find

novel that is part of a series

story that I have read before

book that I read as a child or teen

social media recommended book

graphic novel

children’s book

narrated book

recommendation from my wife (husband in my case)

nonfiction book

title that is part of a series

checkout from my local library

book outdoors (at least 75% has to be read outside)


So, it runs from now until the 31st July and I thought I would participate and see how it goes. It's not a challenge, just a fun thing to take part in for the summer. Anyone is welcome to take part and I hope some will be tempted.

Tuesday 26 May 2020

The Woman in White

The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins is a book I've been prevaricating about reading for 'years'. Why, I have no idea. Perhaps I thought it was a difficult read, that I would struggle with the language, plus, it is 'long'. Whatever. In the event that all proved to be nonsense. Yes, it took me a couple of weeks to read but that was fine, plenty of books take me that long, some of which are meant to be savoured and not read at break-neck speed and The Woman in White is one of those. It's my seventh book for Bev's Mount TBR 2020.

Walter Hartright is an art teacher who sometimes takes positions in large country houses teaching young ladies to paint. After attaining such a position in Cumberland he's returning from a last visit to his mother and sister in London before setting off. It's late at night and dark and a woman, dressed all in white, approaches him for help with directions. She seems rather strange and distracted but Walter nevertheless finds a cab and helps her on her way only to observe a couple of men in hot pursuit shortly after.

Arriving in Cumberland and 'Limmeridge', the house that will be his home for many months, Walter meets Marion Halcombe and Laura Fairlie, half-sisters devoted to one another. Laura is the heiress of the family, very beautiful, Marion has no money and is not beautiful but is the kind of person you would want on your side in a crisis. Despite his efforts not to, Walter falls in love with Laura. The problem with this, apart from the difference in their stations, is that Laura is already engaged to be married. Her fiancé is Sir Percival Glyde and it was her father's dying wish that Laura should marry him.

Walter has to leave but is extremely worried about Laura's future. He has seen The Woman in White again and she is desperate to prevent Laura from marrying Sir Percival. Why? The woman disappears before they can find out. The two sisters live with their uncle, Frederick Fairlie, who has inherited the house from their father. The only interests he has at heart are his own and being left alone to enjoy his fragile health, thus he is no help whatsoever in helping Laura to decide what to do. It seems they have no one to turn to in their hour of need.

I'm never much good at reviewing hugely well known classics but these are just a few thoughts and observations of my own about the book.

I don't really think I had much of an idea what The Woman in White was actually about. I think I had some vague idea of ghostly apparitions which turns out to be a long way from the truth. The woman is real and she has a secret concerning Sir Percival which is kept until almost the end of the book and took me by surprise when I read what it was. Meanwhile, all you can do as the reader is hang in there for 600 pages worrying about the two sisters. Even when I wasn't reading the book I was thinking and about Laura and Marion. This is a tense, 'edge-of-your-seat' story, not at all cosy or reassuring in any way.

My favourite person in the book was Marion Halcombe. What she wouldn't do to protect her sister wasn't worth thinking about. Intelligent, loyal, brave, my goodness me no wonder a certain character in the book was very intrigued by her. I didn't feel Laura's personality was quite as well defined, perhaps that's because I'm more interested in character than looks. And if I'm honest I am inclined to the view that the way the hero always falls for the 'beautiful' girl is a mite tedious and predictable. Wouldn't it be nice if a writer gave us a hero who valued intelligence and character over physical beauty? I won't hold my breath.

I'm hard-put to say who I think is the biggest villain of the story. It's a crowded field with Sir Percival and Count Fosco, not to mention Count Fosco's awful wife. But really the person I despised the most was the sisters' uncle, Frederick Fairlie. This was a wonderful depiction of a very weak, self-centred man by Wilkie Collins, I found myself utterly loathing him.

The first sentence of the book begins with, 'This is the story of what a woman's patience can endure...' and that is what it all boils down to: how powerless women were in the Victorian age to be in charge of their own destinies. Especially wealthy women. At one point Laura wishes with all her heart that she was poor like Marion. She can never truly know if any intended husband loves her for herself or is simply after her fortune. A sad tale is what this is and Wilkie Collins had a point to make as vivid as any that Dickens made in his books. Only Dickens manner of illustrating injustice is to whack you round the head with extreme Victorian poverty, Collins' way of illustrating injustice was a bit more subtle... in my opinion anyway.

A brilliant book and many thanks to Pat and Judith who've been encouraging me to read it for ages. So pleased I did so at last.


Friday 22 May 2020

Bookshelf Travelling for Insane Times, week 10

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.

Well, I think this might be our 10th. week of doing this. How cool is that? I never imagined we'd be going on this long with no end in sight.

So today my shelf consists of two piles. (Click for a bigger view.) Not random as is usually my wont, but specific.

The pile on the left is a few books I picked out at the beginning of the year for the European Reading challenge.

From the bottom, the countries covered are, Spain, Romania, Denmark (Greenland in fact), The Netherlands, France, the UK, Cyprus, Italy and Norway.

Two of these will have to come off the pile as I just read something else for France and am in the middle of another book for Italy. But no matter, they will be read at some point I'm sure. That's the joy for me of making piles, they're ideas not commandments set in stone.

The pile on the left consists mainly, as is obvious, of vintage crime books published by the BLCC. Oh how I love these old fashioned crime yarns, so beautifully written and gorgeously presented with stunning covers.

Here's a better look at two of these:

The pile represents several of my favourite vintage crime authors: Freeman Wills Crofts, E.C.R Lorac, Michael Gilbert, George Bellairs and two I haven't read before, Anthony Berkeley and John G. Brandon. Hours of wonderful entertainment lie within the covers of this pile and I'm in no hurry to gobble them up too quickly.

Happy reading and stay safe.


Wednesday 20 May 2020

Books Set in Cornwall 2

This post is for my own reference, really just updating my list of fictional books set in Cornwall slightly and bringing it closer than 2009 (!) for ease of editing. That said, any suggestions to add to the list are most welcome as I'm sure there are 'loads' more.


Frenchman’s Creek – Daphne du Maurier
Jamaica Inn – Daphne du Maurier
Rebecca – Daphne du Maurier
The House on the Strand – Daphne du Maurier
The Loving Spirit – Daphne du Maurier
The King's General - Daphne du Maurier
Crossed Bones – Jane Johnson
The Poldark series – Winston Graham
Deep Down - R.M. Ballantyne
Mistress of Mellyn - Victoria Holt
The Dead Secret - Wilkie Collins
A Pair of Blue Eyes - Thomas Hardy
The Dead Secret - Wilkie Collins

Contemporary fiction

Away From it All – Judy Astley
Just for the Summer - Judy Astley
The Shell Seekers – Rosamund Pilcher (And other books by her.)
The Carousel - Rosamund Pilcher
A Week in Winter – Marcia Willett
The Cornish Legacy – Barbara Whitnell
The View from the Summerhouse - Barbara Whitnell
The Last Lighthouse Keeper - Alan Titchmarsh
Sea Music - Sara MacDonald
Penmarric - Susan Howatch
The Returning Tide - Liz Fenwick (Any book by her in fact.)
Making Waves, September Song, A Cornish Christmas, Easter Holiday - Nell Dixon
A Cottage by the Sea - Ciji Ware
That Summer in Cornwall - Ciji Ware
An Exaltation of Larks - Daisy Treadwell
Little Beach Street Bakery - Jenny Colgan
Summer at Little Beach Street Bakery - Jenny Colgan
A Cornish Christmas - Lily Graham
The Farm at the Edge of the World - Sarah Vaughan
Her Father's House - Emma Sinclair
The Unpredictable Consequences of Love - Jo Mansell


Zennor in Darkness – Helen Dunmore
The Cammomile Lawn - Mary Wesley
Hold My Hand - Serena Mackesy
Summer in February - Jonathan Smith
Notes from an Exhibition - Patrick Gale
A Perfectly Good Man - Patrick Gale
The Cat Sanctuary - Patrick Gale
The Camomile Lawn - Mary Wesley


The Wycliffe crime series - W.J. Burley
The Rose Trevelyan crime series – Janie Bolitho
Touchstone – Laurie R. King
The Lighthouse - P.D. James
The Murder Bird - Joanna Hines
Wait for What Will Come - Barbara Michaels


The Jewel of Seven Stars – Bram Stoker
Cornish Tales of Terror - ed. by R. Chetwynd-Hayes


The Little Country – Charles de Lint

Children's/young adult

Treasure Island – Robert Louis Stevenson
Over Sea, Under Stone – Susan Cooper
Greenwitch - Susan Cooper
The Valley of Secrets – Charmian Hussy
The Mousehole Cat - Antonia Barber
Tales of Terror From the Black Ship - Chris Priestley
Dead Man's Cove - Lauren St. John

There may well be more by Daphne du Maurier. Not having read all of her books, I can't say where the less well known ones are set.

The artwork for the railway poster in this post is by H.A. Tripp.


Monday 18 May 2020

The Vineyards of Champagne

The Vineyards of Champagne by Juliet Blackwell is my 5th. book for the European Reading challenge which is being hosted by Rose City Reader. It covers the country of 'France'.

Rosalyn Acosta is currently working for the wine industry in the Napa Valley in California. It's not her dream job but when her adored husband, Dash, died two years ago he left her with debts and no job to help pay them off. Friend of the family, Hugh, employs her out of the goodness of his heart but now wants her to travel to the Champagne region of France to scout out new varieties of Champagne for him to sell. But, to put it bluntly, she doesn't want to go. France holds too many memories of her blissful honeymoon with Dash and Rosalyn has become a bit of a hermit into the bargain, grieving non-stop for her adored husband. And to add insult to injury... she really doesn't like Champagne that much.

Hugh gets his way and Rosalyn is off to France. On the plane she meets Emma, an Australian woman, and they get talking. Emma has some letters from World War One that she wants to investigate. They were written to her Australian aunt by a young French soldier, somewhat in the style of them being pen pals. Sensing something in Rosalyn she asks her if she would like to take on the task of looking into them as Emma has broken her leg and isn't very mobile at the moment. Rosalyn feels unable to it take on but mistakenly takes one of the letters after reading it on the plane. Reading it properly later she becomes fascinated and isn't exactly unhappy when Emma arrives at the gite complex to visit her, bringing the rest of the letters. A whole new world of history opens up to her when she begins to read them, that of the people of Reims hiding from German bombs and snipers in the Champagne caves under the city during WW1. Rosalyn has no idea of course that the friends she's making as a result of both this trip to France, and of these letters, will begin the healing process she so badly needs.

I first read about this book on Marg's blog, here. I liked the sound of a book about the history of a region you don't often read about. And here I must confess that I didn't know where the Champagne region was. I had some vague idea that it was somewhere in the south near Provence. Nope. It's actually in North Eastern France! It has a border with Belgium and is nextdoor to Alsace-Lorraine. The city of Reims which features in this book is halfway between Paris and the Belgian border. No wonder it had such an awful time during WW1. I didn't know about that either.

There are two story-lines in this book. The main one is that of Rosalyn's unwilling trip to France and the people she meets who become friends. The secondary time-line is told via the letters written by the French soldier, Émile, to Doris in Australia, plus we learn a lot more about that situation as Rosalyn, Blondine and Emma begin their search. I thought the book was a joy in that heartwarming manner that depicts hope and healing in the face of great grief. Rosalyn finds that France weaves a magic spell on her although the effect is not immediate. I loved reading about French meals and traditions in the area and the way in which Champagne is made differently to wine... I didn't know that either. It seems I learnt quite a lot from this delightful book. Will definitely read more by Juliet Blackwell.


Saturday 16 May 2020

Bookshelf Travelling for Insane Times, week 9

It's time for week nine of Bookshelf Travelling for Insane Times 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.

My 'shelf' is not really a shelf this time. It's four books set in Cornwall inspired by a friend on Twitter and Goodreads who has just finished The Shell Seekers by Rosamunde Rilcher and loved it. So I Got my copy out and put several other Cornish books with it that I plan to read sometime soon.

A Cornish Christmas by Lily Graham was one of a batch that my cousin gave me when we were in Penzance in March, before lockdown. On the cover it's described as, 'A cosy Christmas romance to curl up with by the fire'. And sometimes, when things are really difficult, that's just what you need so I may well be reading a Christmas book in June!

Frenchman's Creek by Daphne Du Maurier is a book I read several times in my teens and early twenties. I adored it. Would I still love it in my late sixties? Well now there's a question that I'm unsure whether or not to put to the test for fear of ruining my lovely memories of this gorgeous book.

The Shell Seekers by Rosamunde Pilcher is, as I mentioned before, the book my friend, Kiki, loved so much. I have never read it, despite having it recommended over the years by several friends. I gather it's gorgeous so I've put it on the 'read soon' pile (which is going to fall over soon if I'm not careful).

The Path to the Sea by Liz Fenwick is a book I bought in the lovely bookshop in Penzance, which I think I mentioned in an earlier post. On the cover it says,

'Boskenna, the imposing house on the Cornish Cliff, means something different to each of the Tregenna women'.

The women are apparently, Joan, her daughter Diana, and Lottie (not sure who she is).

'As they gather in Boskenna, the secrets the house harbours will be revealed and will leave them changed forever'

I really enjoyed Liz Fenwick's, The Returning Tide and am hopeful that this too will be excellent.


I hope everyone's staying safe and finding some excellent books to read. I'm currently halfway through these two and absolutely loving them both.


Monday 11 May 2020

To Say Nothing of the Dog

To Say Nothing of the Dog by Connie Willis has been on my TBR pile for a few years. According to Goodreads, since 2017, so not my oldest tbr by a very long chalk. (I actually thought it was longer than that.) It's my 6th. book for Bev's Mount TBR 2020 and as I signed up to read 12 that means I'm halfway through that challenge.

Oxford history student, Ned Henry, is part of a time travelling programme called The Net, in 2057. He's been going back and forth to Coventry Cathedral as it was being blitzed during World War Two, looking for something called The Bishop's Bird Stump. It's for Lady Shrapnell who is going to rebuild the original cathedral in 2057. The problem is he's been doing it far too often, too many 'drops' as they're called, and is suffering from 'time-lag'... a tendency to lose track of where you are and what you're doing and to turn rather dreamily poetic.

He is therefore not the ideal person to send back to Victorian times because he can't take in his instructions and when he gets there has no idea what he's supposed to do or whom he should meet. So Ned hooks up with Terence who wants to go down the river in a boat but has no money to hire one. Ned pays and off they go, loaded to the gunwales with luggage, pretty much like a scene from Three Men in a Boat, To Say Nothing of the Dog, because Terence's bulldog, Cyril, is also there.

They haven't gone very far before they come across two women looking for a cat. The cat is Princess Arjumand, who belongs to Tossie, a beautiful upper class young lady. Terence falls immediately in love with her, much to Ned's disgust, because the girl soon proves herself to be insufferable. And where is this cat? It worries Ned because there's something about Tossie's companion that looks familiar but because of his time-lag he can't remember. This is concerning because he could already have done something that shouldn't have happened, inadvertantly changing history...

Well, goodness me, this is a fun read. It's really a homage to Three Men in a Boat by Jerome K. Jerome and a few scenes from that are repeated with their own twist, plus Terence is always quoting lines from poetry which I think someone also did in the original book. That said, this is a very different kettle of fish with its science fiction, time travel plot and strong element of romance.

Before I go any further, I have to confess that 'time travel' is really not my favourite science-fiction genre. I get terribly confused when they start harping on about actions that might change history and what needs to be done to stop it, but if they do that something else will be affected and so on and so on. And this book does concentrate a lot on 'space time continuums', 'slippages' and 'incongruities'. But I managed to hang in there, it didn't go totally over my head and the comedy element kept me reading. It's beautfully written, and the 'fish out of water' theme is good fun. Ned has not been prepped properly, or if he has he can't remember, and in Victorian times manners were 'all' and if you strayed from what was proper you could be ostracised and cast out in a second. It's a minefield and not for the faint-hearted... or unprepared.

I didn't realise it but this is book two in the Oxford Time Travel series, book one being the well known, The Domesday Book. That one seems to have different characters though so I suspect the books work fine as standalones although whether that's true for later books I don't know. I have a copy of The Domesday Book somewhere (I think it's about The Plague in the 14th. century) and will read it at some stage.


Saturday 9 May 2020

Bookshelf Travelling for Insane Times, week 8

I'm not sure how many 'Bookshelf Travelling for Insane Times' posts I've done so far. I think it might be seven and this is my eighth. Aren't we doing well, those of us that are doing it? I'm a day late as usual but as it was my birthday yesterday as well as VE day and a Bank Holiday, I think I have an excuse.

Anyway, it's being hosted by Judith at Reader in the Wilderness and 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.

Here's my shelf for this week:

Well, unlike a lot of the piles I create, and even some of my shelves, these do have something in common and that is that they're mostly (but not all) travel books. Some of them I've read, some I haven't.

The first two, I haven't. They're both by American Authors about America. Woodswoman by Anne LaBastille is about living in the Adirondack Park in New York State, and glancing through it it's time I read it. All Gone to Look for America by Peter Millar charts the author's trip across America by train.

Four Eric Newby books are next, he is one of my favourite travel writers. I've read three of these books but not The Last Grain Race.

The next four are by Patrick Leigh Fermor, again a favourite travel writer and again I've read three but not Roumeli.

Next come three books based on the sea or maps which I've not read and then Ox Travel a book of traveller's tales published in support of Oxfam. Next to that A Bike Ride by Anne Mustoe who took up cycling in her fifties and has written several excellent books. She sadly died in Syria in 2009 on one of these adventures.

The next three books on this shelf are three of my favourite Virago travel books. The Virago Book of Women Travellers, Untrodden Peaks and Unfrequented Valleys by Amelia Edwards and West with the Night by Beryl Markham. I absolutely loved all three of these.

Two American travel books are next, both full of traveller's tales, I brought these back in my suitcase from America and have read both... very good.

Lastly there's a super DK Eyewitness Travel volume about Scotland given to me by a friend. It's full of beautiful photos and info and I often pull it out and look at it, Scotland being one of my favourite places in the world.


Thursday 7 May 2020

Two crime yarns and currently reading

I'm two reviews behind (nothing new there) so I'll catch up by reviewing them briefly today.

First up, A Share in Death by Deborah Crombie. This is the first book in the hugely popular, 'Duncan Kincaid and Gemma Jones' series.

Superintendent Duncan Kincaid is given a week in a time-share apartment in Yorkshie by his cousin who's unable to go. It's not the kind of holiday he would normally go on but it's free so off he goes. He's shown around and told about the other guests by a management employee called Sebastian, a day or two later two children find Sebastian's body floating face down in the swimming pool, dead. Kincaid had previously kept his occupation a secret but now of course it comes to light and is resented by the investigating officer who has a decided mean streak. Unable to resist investigating, it doesn't take long before Kincaid discovers all kinds of secrets being kept by his fellow residents of the timeshare, affairs, secret children, illness and so on. But he needs help and that's where a colleague back in Scotland Yard, Gemma Jones, comes in...

I really enjoyed this. I think my favourite thing is that Duncan Kincaid is not an alcoholic, drug addicted, tormented soul but an ordinary chap doing a difficult job to the best of his ability. What a refreshing change that makes! (And is one of the reasons I enjoy vintage crime stories so much as the tormented policeman is a rare thing in those.) I also rather like couples investigating (Lord Peter Wimsey and Harriet Vane, Daisy Dalrymple and husband, Alec, and so on) so look forward to seeing how this relationship pans out. Loads of people love this series so that gives me confidence to read more.

Finally, The Only Survivor by Katherine Pathak. This is book two in the author's 'Imogen and Hugh Croft' series.

Imogen Croft's brother Michael, who is spending a lot of time in the family's shared holiday home on the Scottish island of Garansay, is called out as a member of the local lifeboat crew when a helicopter crashes into the sea. The helicopter is carrying a family who have just left a wedding and are heading home, tragically only the son, 19 year old Cameron Fleming, survives. The young man and Michael become quite attached, Michael becoming a father-figure to Cameron. Imogen, Hugh and their family go to Garansay for a break and meet the boy but Imogen is unable to shake the feeling that something about the whole business doesn't feel right. No one else feels this way so what exactly is the problem?

Another very enjoyable book. And another couple of course which, as a said earlier, I really like and it helps too that they too are ordinary... positive, interesting people who know how to 'think' and I really appreciate that. The setting is excellent, I do love me a Scottish island location and great descriptions of the Atlantic Ocean in that area and what it's capable of. Lots of messing about in boats and on beaches and walking... this is a real trip to the Hebrides for the armchair traveller like me. The mystery slowly unfolds revealing little secrets along the way and then at the end 'Wham' a twist I did not see coming! I don't get taken by surprise very often so I tend to really appreciate it when I do. It's nice to see this series get into its stride and I shall go and grab book three, Lawful Death, soon.

I'm currently reading a clutch of books but these are the main three.

Footnotes: A Journey Round Britain in the Company of Great Writers by Peter Fiennes is a joy. I'm about halfway through and in no hurry whatsoever because I don't want it to end.

To Say Nothing of the Dog by Connie Willis is that rarity - a comedy science fiction story. Enjoying this one too and love how much it's based on Three Men in a Boat by Jerome K. Jerome.

My omnibus copy of the Diary of a Provincial Lady has four books in it. I've read two and am now up to The Provincial Lady in America. It's joyful, I love it.

So it seems I'm particularly fortunate at the moment because everything I'm reading is cheerful and making me smile. Small blessings.


Sunday 3 May 2020

Six Degrees of Separation

Six Degrees of Separation is a monthly meme hosted by Books are my Favourite and Best.

Books can be linked in obvious ways – for example, books by the same authors, from the same era or genre, or books with similar themes or settings. Or, you may choose to link them in more personal ways: books you read on the same holiday, books given to you by a particular friend, books that remind you of a particular time in your life, or books you read for an online challenge.

A book doesn’t need to be connected to all the other books on the list, only to the ones next to them in the chain.

This month's Six Degrees begins with The Road by Cormac McCarthy.

This a dystopian novel about a father and son walking across America after an apocolyptic scenario. It's one of the most famous novels around at the moment and spawned a popular film as well. I gather it's compelling and intense and I might read it one day but not right now in the current state we find ourselves in.

Another book with 'Road' in the title is, The White Road Westwards by 'B.B'.

'B.B.' - alias Denis Watkins-Pitchford - was a children's author and naturalist. As a child I adored his 'Bill Badger', books borrowed from the library, but he also wrote a lot of non-fiction for adults about the natural world. This one is actually a travelogue of his caravan journey around the south west of England in 1960. I'd forgotten that I own this one and have yet to read it, will put in on the pile for next month. I love this quote that is on one of the introduction pages:

'It's the white road westwards is the road I must tread
To the green grass, the cool grass, and rest for heart and head,
To the violets, and the warm hearts, and the thrushes' song
In the fine land, the west land, the land where I belong'

~~ John Masefield ~~

Another book with 'white' in its title is Mystery in White by J. Jefferson Farjeon.

This is a vintage murder mystery set around Christmas. A party of passengers from a train, stranded because of heavy snow and snow drifts, get stuck in a country house. The house is unoccupied but it's as though someone was actually expecting to have guests... A good book if you like snowy settings.

Another book with a snowy cover and a snowy setting is, The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula K. Le Guin. Apparently, I read this back in 2006, I didn't realise it was that long ago.

The planet, Gethen, is one which the whole planet is in perpetual winter. An ethnologist travels there to study its people who are androgynous but who can become male or female at certain times. He gets mixed up in their politics and ends up on the run with a failed politician. I thought the ideas and the setting for this book were amazing but remember not quite understanding all the details. It would, I'm sure bear rereading at some stage as Ursula K Le Guin is one of my favourite sci-fi authors.

The edition of The Left Hand of Darkness that I read is a 'SF Masterworks' edition by publishers, Gollanz. Another of that series is, To Say Nothing of the Dog by Connie Willis.

I haven't read this so I'm going to quote the blurb on Goodreads:

When too many jumps back to 1940 leave 21st century Oxford history student Ned Henry exhausted, a relaxing trip to Victorian England seems the perfect solution. But complexities like recalcitrant rowboats, missing cats, and love at first sight make Ned's holiday anything but restful - to say nothing of the way hideous pieces of Victorian art can jeopardize the entire course of history.

This comes highy recommended by lots of people so I've put it on my tbr pile for next month as well.

Another female science fiction author whose books I like is Sherri S. Tepper. Her dystopian novel, The Gate to Women's Country, is one of my favourites, according Goodreads I read it back in 2005!

I'm not a huge dystopian fan but there were interesting ideas in this about the way in which a society tries to stop a third world war from happening.

So on my Six Degrees journey today I started in a dystopian America, moved to the south west of the UK, then to a snowy landscape also in the UK, from thence to the imaginary planet of Gethen, to Victorian England and back again to a dystopian America. Quite a journey, I'm exhausted!

Next month will begin with Normal People by Sally Rooney.


Saturday 2 May 2020

Bookshelf Travelling for Insane Times, week 7

It's time for another round of Bookshelf Travelling for Insane Times 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.

I've chosen another random pile of books for today. I don't know about anybody else but I really like collecting together a few random books, usually with some kind of connection - sometimes it's a bit tenuous - that I would like to read soon and usually that doesn't happen so I must just be addicted to creating interesting piles of books, that's all I can put it down to really.

Anyway, the two books at the bottom are Back Door to Byzantium and Watersteps Through France by Bill and Laurel Cooper. This is a couple who decided to take a barge across the North Sea and down through France and then Germany via the Danube to The Black Sea. I love reading about people having these kind of advdntures even though I'm not brave enough to do it myself.

Next, Notes from the Cévennes by Adam Thorpe. I gather the author has lived in France for 25 years and this is just one of his books. I must look into the others. I bought this a couple of years ago in a lovely indie bookshop in Arundel. (Click for a bigger view of this lovely town.)

It's one of those little shops on the right, at the top, before the castle wall starts. The town also had the most wonderful secondhand bookshop.

Next, Daughters of the House by Michele Roberts is a fiction book about two sisters growing up in Normandy after the war. I think it's a family secrets kind of book. I read about this one on Yvonne's blog 'Fiction Books'... here.

Next a couple of random books about France and the French, I'll Never Be French by Mark Greenside, this one's about a New Yorker trying to make a life in Brittany, and For Better, For Worse by Damien and Siobhan Horner which is about barging on the French canals.

Lastly, The Skeptical Romancer by Somerset Maugham and What Am I Doing Here by Bruce Chatwin. Both of the these are a mix of travel writing and essays and are just the sort of thing I like to dip in and out of.

All of these are tbrs and they sum up my non-fiction and fiction reading tastes in a nutshell and give me a lot of pleasure even though I haven't read them yet. It's like keeping something in reserve as a treat because you just know they're going to be excellent.