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.