Thursday, 4 March 2021

Just finished, currently reading, new books

 So, I put this photo up a several days ago, it shows the books I want to read in March.


After posting I promptly took Brat Farrar by Josephine Tey off the top, started to read and found I couldn't put it down!

 

This is a book with an 'impersonation' theme. An individual turns up unexpectedly after years of being away or being thought dead, claiming to be said person. Are they really the person they purport to be or are they an imposter? From the very start we know that Brat Farrar is not Patrick Ashby. Thirteen year old Patrick is thought to have committed suicide eight years ago by jumping off a nearby cliff. A body was washed up eventually, it was unrecognisable but everyone supposed it to be the young boy. Brat Farrar is a foundling who looks so much like Patrick's twin brother, Simon, that a disreputable acquaintance of the family eggs him on to pretend that he's Patrick in order to do Simon out of his inheritance. Horses are the carrot being used, Brat is mad about them and the Ashby family breed horses. That description makes it sound very cut and dried, Brat Farrar 'bad', the family deceived and therefore 'good'. Of course that is nowhere near the case and this is quite a complicated story with many nuances, secrets being kept, and so on. I couldn't put it down and read it in two days, the writing is superb and I loved the Ashby family with all their individual quirks, longing for Brat to be the long lost, much mourned Patrick. There is a mystery here, I'm not going to go into it at all because it would be too spoilerish but anyone who reads a lot of mystery books will be able to guess I suspect. What a shame Josephine Tey died so young (she was 56) and only wrote six Alan Grant books, and five standalones, Brat Farrar being one of the latter. Such a loss.

I'm currently reading this:


Post Captain by Patrick O'Brian is book two in the Aubrey/Maturin series of books. I read the first book, Master and Commander, last month and liked it so much that I decided to read many more in the series this year. Enjoying this second instalment immensely, wierdly the first section is reading more like a Regency Romance but that fine, it's all good, and I'm sure they'll be at sea very soon. One of the discoveries I've enjoyed making over the two books is that the 'harmless' Dr. Stephen Maturin is actually a spy. I like Jack but Maturin's the interesting one. Great stuff!

In other news these two beauties arrived for me in the post courtesy of the British Library publishing people.

 

Both these books are part of the British Library's 'Weird Tales' series of books. Heavy Weather edited by Kevan Manwaring, is full of short stories about the weather and includes works by Herman Melville, Edgar Allan Poe, Doris Lessing, Daphne Du Maurier and more. It could not be more perfect for a weather obsessed person. (Hint... 'me'.) The second book, Dangerous Dimensions edited by Henry Bartholomew, is about 'the terrors that lurk in hitherto unknown dimensions'... 'probing the limits of time, space and matter'. Authors in this include, H.G. Wells, John Buchan, Algernon Blackwood and Robert Heinlein. Glorious! Chuffed to bits with these two.

 

Sunday, 28 February 2021

Books read in February

Another good reading month (for me anyway) resulted in eight books read. Which surprises me a bit as I hadn't thought that I'd been reading that much in February. Well, there you go...

The books:

8. Elegy for Eddie - Jacqueline Winspear. (Excellent).

9. Master and Commander - Patrick O'Brian

10. Underground - Will Hunt. (A bit so-so.)

11. Gardens of Delight - Erica James 

12. Firestorm - Nevada Barr. (Excellent.)

13. Plum, Courgette and Green Bean Pie - Lisa Rose Wright 

14. Miss Benson's Beetle - Rachel Joyce 

15. The Things I Know - Amanda Prowse. My first book by this author. I really enjoyed this tale about a young woman with a hare lip and deformed foot living a very sheltered life on a farm. She's desperate to break away and live a life of her own but sees no way to do this until one, Grayson Potts, comes to stay. Nicely written, sad, but ultimately very uplifting.

So, six fiction books and two non-fiction. They were all good so not possible to pick an absolute favourite but a special shout out goes to these two:



 

Taking a leaf from Diane at Bibliophile By the Sea's book, this month I've travelled all around the world, including The Mediterranean, California, Italy, Spain, New Caledonia in the South Pacific, and the UK.

And these are a few books I want to read from this month:


Looking at them they're mainly a bit UK-centric so something will have to be done about that. :-)

And there will be Kindle reads, including the next Master and Commander book, Post Captain, and maybe this, the first book of a series that I keep hearing about at the moment:


Happy reading in March!

Friday, 26 February 2021

A couple of reviews

I had my first dose of the Covid vaccine yesterday so am feeling very happy this morning. The important thing is that Hubby and I have now both been done and hopefully it won't be too many months before some kind of normality returns. I can feel a bookshop marathon coming on for late summer or autumn... because of course I don't own enough books or have over 400 on my Kindle. *Cough*

Two books to review today. First up, Plum, Courgette and Green Bean Tart by Lisa Rose Wright.

For those whose Spanish geography is as suspect as mine, Galicia is that part of Spain which occupies the north west corner... just above Portugal. This is where author, Lisa Rose Wright, and her partner 'S', found themselves when they walked the Camino de Santiago trail a few years ago. They fell in love with the area which is rather different to most of Spain in that it's less hot, gets more rain and is therefore greener and less arid. The region was not invaded by the Moors centuries ago and considers itself to be 'Celtic'. The couple decide to spend several months searching for a property to do up with enough land to be virtually self-sufficient. They found it on day two, an old farmhouse in need of renovation, 'A Casa do Campo' which means 'The Country House'. So that was November and it took until May of the following year before they managed to sign for the house and it was officially theirs. Not that their troubles were over, officialdom and bureaucracy is a way of life in Spain and you can feel their frustration as they struggle to get the appropriate forms signed for all kinds of necessary things with their shaky Spanish. But what impressed me about Lisa and her partner was their grim determination to hang in there and get through the problems. I was also thoroughly impressed with their work ethic and resourcefulness as 'S' worked on the house and Lisa was head gardener and cook and helped with the house where she could. 

This book was a real lesson for me in how people in Galicia live. I didn't know that chestnuts were a major thing there, 'huge' in fact. I didn't know how close to the land many of the people are, much closer than us in the UK. The locals speak Galego with Castilian as a second language, English is rare in the area. But I have to say I got the most enjoyment from reading about Lisa's growing year and what she did with her produce because to a much lesser extent that's how my husband and I live: lots of gardening, live off and preserve the produce, make something with it or freeze. Her courgette glut made me laugh. Been there! She quoted from somewhere as regards courgette (zuccini for Americans I think) plants, 'Plant 3 courgettes and hope 2 die'. She'd planted 7. Which is exactly what my husband does and then stands in the kitchen door with armfuls and a big smile, hoping I'll relieve him of the wretched things. Anyway, this book is joyous. I loved it. It's full of enthusiasm, zest for life and love. I loved hearing about the cooking and the meals and eating out (I want some of those sardines!) in Galicia. I suspect the late dining hours would not suit me and I would struggle with the heat in the summer, but my goodness it sounds glorious there and I almost envy them. Lisa has just published book 2, Tomato, Fig and Pumpkin Jelly, and I already have it on my Kindle ready to read soon.

Next up, Miss Benson's Beetle by Rachel Joyce. It's my third book for the Historical Fiction Reading Challenge 2021.

It's the 1950s and Miss Margery Benson is a domestic science teacher (goodness, how I remember mine!) who is unpopular and hates the job. After intercepting a cruel note being passed around a class, she walks out and decides to fulfill a lifetime's ambition of going to New Caledonia in the South Pacific to look for a beetle, the existence of which is uncertain. As you do. Needing an assistant she takes on Enid Pretty who is the exact opposite of Margery - small, pretty and chatty - and quite frankly drives her insane. But she has no choice and off they go across the world. Both women are keeping secrets, especially Enid who has a small red valisse that she never lets out of her sight. And why is she so obsessed with hangings and punishments for murder? This one did not grab me immediately. In fact, I was halfway through before I was sure I would read to the end. I don't know what the problem was as the premise of the book felt like a perfect fit for me. Perhaps I never really did believe in the two main characters and what they were doing. It was very well written and quite funny and I gave it four stars on Goodreads because it 'was' a good read, but it wasn't quite what I was expecting, I think maybe it was a just a bit 'too' whimsical. Some books end up affecting you like that and perhaps that's a good thing.  And I know there are people who have loved this and would love it and that makes me happy, because it's all about books and trying them to see if they suit you, not about my opinion putting people off. We're all different and thank God for that. 

And talking of bookshops to fall in love with and visit, or even the other way round... how about Waterstones, Bradford then?

Stunning or what?


Tuesday, 16 February 2021

Catching up

A bit of catching up to do today as I've read five books this month and not written a word about any of them.

First up Master and Commander which is my second book for Marg's Historical Fiction Reading challenge 2021.

Jack Aubrey is kicking his heels on Minorca, in The Med, hoping to get promotion and command of his own ship. Meanwhile he's having an affair with a local Captain's wife. The promotion happens eventually and he's given a brig (sloop? I never did get which), the Sophie, to command, although he's not an actual captain yet. He manages to persuade naturalist and doctor, Stephen Maturin, very much a non-nautical man, to come aboard as the ship's surgeon and thus begins a close friendship. On my first reading of this, quite a few years ago, I gave up a few chapters in because I didn't know what the nautical terms meant. I discovered this time that it doesn't matter a jot and read the book quite easily. The relationship between Aubrey and Maturin is immediately a delight and from Maturin comes a lot of the humour in the book as he struggles to comprehend the wierd and wonderful ways of The Royal Navy in the early 1800s. The book is set at the beginning of the Napoleonic wars and features fictional action and engagements that took place off the coast of southern Spain, Italy and Greece. I had a good time checking Google maps for locations I had not heard of but did find myself skim reading the battle sections a bit as I find those tedious. For me the book was strongest when it was people based, dealing with relationships and characters who had a history with one another, Maturin and the first officer, Dillon, for instance, found they had fought together in Ireland some years previously. But Aubrey and Maturin are the absolute stars of the show and I'm very keen to read more of their escapades even though they run to 20 or so books.  

Next, Gardens of Delight by Erica James.

Lucy's parents split up when she was a young teenager, now aged 29 she has never forgiven her father for leaving her to cope alone with her difficult mother. Her mother has recently married again and Lucy still lives in her mother's old house with Orlando, her best friend but not romantic partner. Lucy's father, Marcus, moved to Italy with his new wife but always sends her birthday cards, which she never opens and just bins. Helen has married for the first time, in her forties. Her new husband, Hunter, is a bit of a ruthess business man, she also knows that he's been a womaniser throughout his life, this is his third marriage. Conrad, a widower who has never fully recovered from the loss of his young wife, lives with his elderly uncle, Mac, who is recovering from a stroke. All of these people live in a village in Cheshire, some know each other through the local gardening club and all decide to go on an organised holiday to Lake Como in Italy, where Lucy's father lives. Gardens of Delight was just that, 'a delight', even if it was slightly tricky keeping track of so many characters and their complicated lives. The real 'spanner in the works' was Hunter's daughter, Savannah, a twenty year old spoilt brat because of her upbringing, and it's really her character that acts as a catalyst for the change that's badly needed in the lives of her family and 'friends'. The novel certainly gives the reader a lot of think about. The setting, once they get to Lake Como, is gorgeous, but this is not really a fluffy novel. There are issues around forgiveness, infidelity, ill health, grieving and so on. Which makes it sound dire. It's not, it's about people and what makes them tick and how difficult it can be to do the right thing or what's best for 'yourself'. I loved it.

Sooooo, the three other books I've read are:

Elegy for Eddie by Jacqueline Winspear. This was an excellent installment of the author's 'Maisie Dobbs' series, involving the death of a much loved young man with learning difficulties. The machinations of big business enter into the plot, how far should they be allowed to go, given there's a suspicion that another war is imminent? Very interesting and quite heart-breaking to be honest. This series continues to impress.

Underground by Will Hunt. A non-fiction book a bit similar to Underland by Robert McFarlane but not as long or involved. It wasn't bad, especially on prehistoric cave art in France, and the catacombs under Paris, but nevertheless I was ever so slightly underwhelmed by it.

Firestorm by Nevada Barr, is the fourth instalment of her Anna Pigeon series. It's 'years' since I read one of these and it was a very slow burner to be honest ... I nearly gave up. Glad I didn't though as it got rather exciting when firefighters fighting a wildfire in the mountains and forests of northern California were overtaken by a firestorm, after which a man is found dead in his shelter thing (I forget the proper name) with a knife in his back. Anna has to work out which of the seven or eight survivors did for him. Very good.

So now, although I have two other 'slow reads' (see to the right) on the go, I have the difficult task of choosing a new book. I've knocked three off my 2021 shelf below, all non-fiction, so perhaps it's time to attack the fiction half.


Unfortunately, my inability to make up my mind is sorely getting in the way of this decision and not helped by some delicious books recently downloaded to my Kindle. 

I hope everyone is staying safe while waiting to be jabbed. My husband had his on Saturday and as I'm in the 65 to 70 age range that they're now moving onto, I should hear soon. I fantasise about running amok in some wonderful bookshop so let's hope that opportunity is not far off. 

Happy reading!


Monday, 8 February 2021

Six Degrees of Separation

It's been a while since I did a Six Degrees of Separation post (it's hosted by Books are my favourite and best)  but I've been inspired by lots of interesting posts on my Reading List this month, so here goes.

It starts this month with Redhead by the Roadside by Anne Tyler which, I must confess, is a book I haven't read.

 

I must try to read something by the author who I know is extremely popular in the USA, setting some of her books in Baltimore, a city I visited in September 2005. Anne Tyler lives there and I don't blame her, it's beautiful city, especially on the waterfront. Redhead by the Side of the Road is another Baltimore based novel.

A celebrated author who was born in Baltimore is Edgar Allan Poe. So my next book is The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym.


This is on my tbr shelf for 2021 so I'm hoping to read it this year. It was Poe's only novel and I won't lie, I was attracted by the book's seafaring theme and wonderful cover. I've read a few of Poe's short stories but not this so I'm hoping for a bit of a treat.

Another book with a gorgeous seafaring cover is my current read, Master and Commander by Patrick O'Brian. 

I tried to read this one some years ago and gave up because the nautical terms were confusing me. I must've been a bit of a wimp back then because on my second try I find them not too bad at all. And a lot of it I don't actually 'need' to know. What is fun is reading the book on my Kindle Fire and looking up some of the locations in The Med on Google maps. I'm skim reading the battles a bit as those are not my thing but the humour is both unexpected and great fun. I find I like Dr. Stephen Maturin rather a lot, mad keen on the natural world and having no clue about naval protocol and life aboard ship. He becomes very close to the new captain of the Sophie and it's very interesting to view Jack Aubrey through his eyes. Great stuff. Must see if I can find the film again somewhere.

Another book with a protagonist in love with the natural world is The Signature Of All Things  by Elizabeth Gilbert.


Alma Whittaker's unorthodox and loveless upbringing results in her turning to the natural world and botany in particular, with a special interest in mosses. Not something I would usually be rivetted by but the writing was so good that I was actually rivetted by the book. It's a book of two halves, the first taking place in Philadelphia and the second follows Alma as she heads to Tahiti after her father dies. She finishes up eventually in the scholarly atmosphere of mid-nineteenth century Holland and I think that was the section I enjoyed the most. 

Another book with a 19th. century female character interested in natural history is  The Essex Serpent by Sarah Perry.


This book is set slightly later in late Victorian England. Cora Seaborne is newly widowed young woman with a young son who moves to Aldwinter in Essex. There are rumours that the Essex Serpent has returned and is killing unwary wanderers around the local river and marshes. Cora forms a friendship with a naturalist vicar and together they try to find out the truth of the matter. This is another book that didn't please me until my second attempt at it, amazing how often that happens.

Sarah Perry was actually born in Essex and another author also born in Essex was Ruth Rendall. I've read a few of her books but not nearly enough because they really are excellent, especially this Wexford instalment, No Man's Nightingale.

 

This was the last book in Rendall's Inspector Wexford series and the first one I ever read, which is bit mad but it was fine. I read it in 2017 and thought it was superb. Wexford comes out of retirement to help solve the case of a murdered felmale vicar. He's reading The Rise and Fall of the Roman Empire and I loved how Rendall used references to that throughout the book. *Note to self* read more Ruth Rendall and Barbara Vine this year!

So, quite a journey this month. I've travelled from Baltimore in Maryland, to the Antartic, to the Mediterranean, back then to the USA and thus to Tahiti and then all the way around the world to Essex in England and then Hampshire. And a great deal of fun it has been too.

Next month Six Degrees will start with Phosphorescence by Julia Baird, who is an Australian author. The book is not out in the UK until May so no chance to read it, which is a shame as it sounds like my kind of thing. 



Monday, 1 February 2021

Books read in January

I feel like I've had a decent start to my reading year, not because of the number of books I read - seven - but because I loved them all. That's pretty unusual for me and there was something else that was unusual too but I'll get to that in a moment. First, the books.

1. Death's Detective - Charlotte E. English

2. Into the Planet - Jill Heinerth

3. Watery Ways - Valerie Poore 

4. Krakatoa - Simon Winchester

5. Middlesex - Jeffrey Eugenides

6. If Only They Didn't Speak English - Jon Sopel. A book comparing the USA and the UK, socially and politically, by the BBC's North America editor (although I see precious little evidence on The News of him ever being in Canada or Mexico). Well written, interesting anecdotes. I enjoyed it but with some reservations.

7. Sunny Side Up - Susan Calman. The author is a well-known comedian and presenter of travel documentaries in the UK. She writes here about being as kind as you can in your every day life.

So, seven books to start the year. What's slightly unusual for me is that of the seven, five were non-fiction. I don't believe I've ever had a month where I've read more non-fiction than fiction. I'm rather taken aback by that. I'm also surprised that I can't pick a favourite because every book was special, unique in its own way, and most importantly, 'good'.

I've made the decision that I needn't feel obliged to review every book I read, I tried to do that last year with 93 books and found it too much. This year I'll only review the books I want to talk about. 

So, I'm currently reading this:


Love that cover.

And slowly working my way through these two:


Wherever you are, 'stay safe' and enjoy heaps of lovely books in February.


Friday, 29 January 2021

Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides

For years I've planned to read Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides but just never got around to it. But having decided this year to vary my choice of books a bit more I thought it was time and  duly popped it onto my Kindle. This month 'at last' I read it.


From 1919 to 1922 Greece occupied a region of Turkey known as Smyrna. Brother and sister Eleutherios (known throughtout the book as 'Lefty') and Desdemona Stephanides live there and are Greek. In 1922 Turkey decide to take the city back and basically burnt it to the ground. Thousands die but Lefty and Desdemona somehow survive and get themselves onto a boat to America, where they are anonymous and no one knows they are related... and in love. Masquerading as strangers who have just met, they marry aboard ship and arrive in the US, a married couple.Their destination is Detroit, Michigan where they have a cousin already settled. 

Calliope, 'Cal' Stephenides is their grandchild. She always says she was born twice, first in 1960 and again in 1974. Something about her wasn't spotted when she was born and was somehow missed by her mother too. Cal knows she isn't like other girls, but not how or why, only that as puberty hits, her body is not doing what every other girl's seems to be doing. Why?

This book was 'hugely' popular when it was first published back in 2013 and I can see why. It's basically a family saga with a twist but the twist does not become centre-stage until at least halfway through the book. Until then we hear what happened to Lefty and Desdemona, their marriage, their son, Milton, and a host of other rather interesting characters. The history of Detroit is very central to the plot, the lot of immigrants such as the Greeks and where they live, also the black population and their lives and how they are generally treated.  The race riots of 1968 are very well covered, something I knew very little about.

The author takes a lot of time and effort to get the reader very close to the characters in Middlesex. Did it work? Sort of. It's 5 or 6 days since I finished it and the family is still in my head. But somehow I didn't feel a real bond between them and me, and I'm not sure why, possibly the writing style. I also felt the book lost its way in the final chapters. Cal behaves in a way that felt a bit cliched to me. I could see 'why' but it felt like yet another book descending into... well I won't say what but I rolled my eyes a bit. I 'did' however learn a lot about Cal's condition and for that this kind of book is incredibly useful and instructive... one of the reasons I read to be honest... I now know something I didn't know before. 

So I gave Middlesex four out of five stars on Goodreads. It's beautifully written, I learnt a lot about Detroit and living in America from the 1920s to the 1970s, and not once did I feel like giving up on it, it had me hooked from the start. I loved it but with one or two misgivings. One big question... why the heck was Cal's brother called 'Chapter Eleven'. Did I miss something? LOL! 

Anyway, recommended really, but might not be everyone's cup of tea. Middlesex is my first book for the Historical Fiction Reading Challenge 2021 which is being hosted by Marg at the Intrepid Reader.

 

Tuesday, 26 January 2021

Krakatoa (not east of Java)

Simon Winchester's book, Atlantic really wowed me last year. I was very smitten with his very accessible style of writing which didn't bore the pants off me when it so easily could have done. So I went searching for something else by him and chose this:

The first thing to get out of your head, and it's surprisingly difficult, is that the island is 'east of Java', as the film assured us in 1968, those of us who are that long in the tooth I mean. It's not. It is in fact 'west' of Java, in the Sunda Strait between Java and the island of Sumatra. And of course, as many of us are aware these days, it is only one of many volcanoes smack on top of the Pacific Ocean's 'Ring of Fire'.

The book begins with Simon Winchester describing how he visted the island group in the 1970s and when he went back 25 years later was shocked to discover that Krakatoa, or what was left of it, is now 500ft taller and is growing at the rate of 20 inches a month. I don't know about anyone else but I find that slightly concerning...

There's a long history of colonialisation in the area. It was under the Portuguese for a while until the Dutch snatched it from them and it became The Dutch East Indies. So it was under the Dutch when, on the 27th. August 1883, Krakatoa destroyed itself. It's said that it was and remains the loudest sound ever to be heard by mankind. Rodrigues Island, 2,968 miles to the west in the Indian ocean, was the farthest point at which the explosion was heard. Again, a record. 36,000 people perished, mostly killed by the following tsunamis. Tsunamis so powerful they were actually detected in the English Channel. Barographs recorded the shockwaves which travelled around the Earth 'seven' times and lasted for 15 days. 13% of the Earth's surface vibrated. And after all that, it was only the 5th. largest volcanic explosion - 'only' being a relative term - in known history. Although there seems to be some dispute about this, as in all things I suppose, Wiki lists it as the 2nd. biggest. 

I should say that this is not just a book about the eruption of Krakatoa. The author discusses everything and anything even vaguely to do with it. So there's much about the history of the area, the geology, the geography, and the flora and fauna. Because it was in that area that naturalist, Alfred Russel Wallace, discovered what came to be called The Wallace Line and the science of plate techtonics eventually came into being... but not until 1965, years after his death. Who would have thought that I would find the explanation for plate techtonics so rivetting. I vaguely knew about it of course but not that it was subduction zones where most volcanoes are and that that was what caused Krakatoa, and many other volcanoes, to go off so spectacularly.

I like this quote from Will Durrant:

'Civilisation exists by geological consent, subject to change without notice'. 

Well, quite. 

I risk being boring about this book so I'll stop and just say I thought it was brilliant. So many different subjects covered, not in a dry and boring manner, but in an accessible and interesting way. I'm very impressed with Simon Winchester's non-fiction. He has a lot of other books to choose from and choose I will. There's one about The Pacific Ocean, the San Fransisco earthquake, dictionaries, The USA, and a new one called, Land: How the Hunger for Ownership Shaped the Modern World.


I shall be reading it. 

And I'll leave you with this wonderful painting. It's by American artist, Frederic Church. It's said that he suspected Krakatoa would produce wonderful sunsets, (volcanic dust in the atmosphere) which indeed it did for years. So off he went to Canada and painted this in December 1883.


Sunset Over the Ice on Chaumont Bay, Lake Ontario. Gorgeous.


Saturday, 16 January 2021

Two non-fictions

My non-fiction reading has started well this year with two really good books.

First up, Into the Planet: My Life as a Cave Diver by Jill Heinerth.

Canadian, Jill Heinerth's fascination with water began at a really young age when she nearly drowned... twice. It was obvious she was a born explorer and so it turned out to be as she became a canoeist and hiker in her teenage years. A stable, prosperous life in Toronto called though and she became a successful Graphic Designer until, at the age of 27, she reached a cross-roads. A middle of the night violent break-in caused her to re-evaluate her life and she decided to learn how to survive no matter what life threw at her. A diving course showed her the way, she felt as though she had discovered what she had been born to do. I didn't realise when I bought this non-fiction book that I was buying a tale that was more exciting than fiction. That's rare but then it is cave-diving that we're talking about here, one of the most dangerous sports on the planet, I suppose mountaineering would compare but suspect the death rate is higher from cave-diving. Some of Jill's exploits are hair-raising as she goes deeper and further than any woman in history. She has to fight intolerance because of her sex and when the internet became a thing... jealousy and spite on online forums from other divers. Before I read this I was under the impression that The Bends was just a bit of under-water cramp. Er... no. I now know better. I had no idea how many cave divers lost their lives every year and the death toll of her friends as she becomes more experienced does get to the author. I found the whole thing utterly fascinating, not just the danger but the technical stuff about how to survive in incredibly deep caves using rebreathers. I could never do this kind of thing 'ever', but I do love reading about other people doing it and this book was an absolute cracker. 

Finally, Watery Ways by Valerie Poore.

Twitter can be a pretty nasty place sometimes but other times it comes up trumps. I saw author, Valerie Poore, on there talking about her books, went to investigate and ended up grabbing Watery Ways for my Kindle. At the start of this book she has moved from South Africa with her then husband to The Netherlands. They decided to live on a barge in one of the historic harbour areas of Rotterdam but when their marriage broke up Valerie found herself looking for a new home. She ended up renting and doing up another historic old barge and fending for herself when she had very little experience of barge living. One thing she therefore benefitted from was the friendliness and camaraderie of the other inhabitants of the water boats in the harbour. She soon made friends and even found romance, which helps when the owner of the barge you live on decides to sell... 

I absolutely loved this delightful book. Valerie's writing style is so accessible and friendly that you feel as though you're sitting with her enjoying a cup of tea and a cake while she's telling you about her life on a barge in Rotterdam. I'm in awe of her bravery because it's not something I could do on my own though it has to be said that she didn't have a lot of choice in the matter. All power to her elbow for just getting on with it! And what a lovely cast of characters she gets to know, quite eccentric some of them, but joyous to read about. I also loved reading about her excursions with Koos along various canals and waterways, sometimes a bit scary too. I shall be reading more of these 'watery' books by Valerie Poore, can't wait to read about trips to Belgium and France and then I might move on to previous books about South Africa!

Non-fiction seems to be working really well for me this month. I've just started this:


I read Simon Winchester's Atlantic last year and  enjoyed it so much that I checked to see what else he'd written - quite a list - and ended up buying this. So pleased I did as it's every bit as good as Atlantic and I'm absolutely loving it.

I hope everyone's enjoying their January 2021 reading. Any gems to recommend? (Because of course I need more books......)


Monday, 11 January 2021

Playing Book Bingo!

At last I've found my second reading challenge for 2021. Lark put me onto it with her post but the challenge is being hosted by Unruly Reader.


 How to Play:


  • Read a book that fits the category. Each book can qualify for only one category.
  • Complete just one row or column, or go for blackout by reading a book in every category.
  • All books must be finished in 2021. Books started in 2020 but finished in 2021 count.
  • We’ve provided some definitions, but you can free-style it if you like—as long as you can make a case that the book fits the category. (This is one of my favorite sports)
  • All categories can be fiction or nonfiction (your choice), unless otherwise specified.

The sign-up post and more information can be found here.

I absolutely love the sound of this as the categories are a bit different and open to interpretation. In fact I've already read a book in 2021 that fits the challenge, this:


Into the Planet: My Life as a Cave Diver by Jill Heinerth. I just have to decide which category to put it under as it fits several. 'Survival' I fancy, given some of the things that happen.

I think the way I'll approach this is just to read normally, choosing what I fancy, and then see if any of the books fit a category.


Sunday, 10 January 2021

Two books of short stories

So... from being someone who bought lots of books of short stories but hardly ever read any (I know) I've become someone who likes to have a volume on the go most of the time. They're fun, and fill a half hour of free time, and also you get to discover new authors, or possibly decide you don't like someone's writing after all...

My last book for 2020 was a book of tales from the British Library's collection, Weird Woods: Tales from the Haunted Forests of Britain edited by John Miller.

This collection is pretty much what it says in the title, macabre stories that involve trees, woods and forests. I had several favourites.

Man-size in Marble by Edith Nesbit (author of the 'Five Children and It' series for children) involves a couple buying a cottage near Romney Marsh in the SE of England. All is well until Halloween when their excellent housekeeper won't stay in the house because of a local story of something that 'walks' on that night. Very atmospheric.

Ancient Lights by Algernon Blackwood, one of my favourite ghost story authors, well known for setting stories in the northern forests of Canada. This one tells of a surveyor's clerk visiting a client in the South Downs in Sussex. Said client wants to do alterations to an ancient wood, so on the way the clerk decides to walk through the wood. Wrong choice.

A Neighbour's Landmark by M.R. James involves some woods on a hill that are no more but something has been left behind. Wonderfully creepy as you would expect from James. 

N by Arthur Machen. Three men are in an inn recalling all their walks around London. The subject of the area around Stoke Newington comes up, people who have been there but can't recall what they did or where they went, or even if they went at all. Does  Cannon's Park exist or doesn't it? Naturally someone has to go and look for himself. 

An Old Thorn Tree by W.H. Hudson was my favourite of the collection. It's set on the Wiltshire Downs, which is one of those mysterious areas of England, lot of standing stones, barrows, more crop circles and UFO sightings than anywhere else, that sort of thing. It's easy to sense a weirdness when you're there and this story of a solitary, ancient thorn tree on the top of a hill plays on that atmosphere. The narrator feels drawn to the tree and sits in a pub listening to stories about the tree and it's effect on local people's lives. Brilliant.

These collections vary a bit, some I like a lot, the 'sea' collection for instance, and some are a bit average. This 'trees' anthology was very good, terrific sense of place in most of the stories, and there were only a couple I thought were a bit daft or confusing. The rest were all excellent.

Next up, Death's Detective by Charlotte E. English, my first book for 2021 and one I saw reviewed here on Pat's blog, Here, There and Everywhere.

Konrad Savast is a wealthy 'man about town' in the city of Ekamet. But there's a lot about him that people don't know. He is in fact the Malykant, a servant of the God of death, Malykt. It's his job to find out the whys and the wherefores when there's a suspicious death and dish out punishment if required. He's aided and abetted in this by Irinanda, a sort of pharmacist, but she has secrets of her own that Konrad is not party to. Konrad also has the help of two ghosts who come in the form of snakes, they add a touch of comedy. This book consists of four long short stories, novellas you might call them, and each deals with a different investigation, one was based around a circus for instance, another has the theme of a missing diamond. From the first story to the end of the fourth I definitely became a lot more involved. Secrets are revealed, there's character progression, and I really liked the world building of this horror/fantasy crime based series. The names are all Russian but this is an invented world with a very Victorian bent. The mysterious Bone Forest outside the city intrigued me and the idea of people living underground there or building in the trees was fascinating. This is not heavy reading, it's a fun series, but the writing is very comptetent and nothing in it annoyed me (believe me that counts for a lot). I think I'll be reading more in this series as I suspect the author has already hit her stride and I want to know more.

I hope everyone else has had a good reading start to 2021? I see lots of people signing up for challenges and it's fun to see what they're doing. I've just signed up for one for now, Marg's Historical Fiction 2021. Whether I'll end up doing more I'm not sure at the moment. We'll see.  


Monday, 4 January 2021

Mount TBR 2020 wrap-up

Doesn't seem like five minutes since I was doing my sign-up post for Mount TBR 2020. I probably did it well before Christmas 2019 and had no idea what was coming. Probably just as well.


 

1. Tell us how many miles you made it up the mountain:

I started off aiming for Pike's Peak, 12 books, with the aim of counting only books I'd had on my shelf for a long time and 'chunky' books over 400 pages. Not sure I quite kept to that but I don't think I did too badly.

By the beginning of August I was at the summit of Pike's Peak and aiming for Mont Blanc, 24 books. I reached the summit of that mountain in November. I kept reading after that even though I knew I probably would not make it to the top of Mount Vancouver, 36 books. And I didn't but I did read another 4 and ended with a total of 28 books... a third of the way up that mountain.

2. The Words to the Wise According to Mount TBR: Using the titles of the books you read this year, see how many of the familiar proverbs and sayings below you can complete with a book read on your journey up the Mountain. Feel free to add/subtract a word or two to help them make sense. 

A stitch in time...  [saves] The Morville Hours (Katherine Swift)

Don't count your chickens... [in order] To Say Nothing of the Dog (Connie Willis)

A penny saved is... [worth] Dashing for the Post (Patrick Leigh Fermor)

All good things must come... [on] The White Road Westwards ('BB')

When in Rome... [beware] Capital Crimes (ed. Martin Edwards)

All that glitters is not... Silver Bullets (ed. Mike Ashley)

A picture is worth... The Moonstone (Wilkie Collins)

When the going gets tough, the tough... [go] To War with Whitaker (Hermione Ranfurly)

Two wrongs don't make... [you an] Outsider (Frederick Forsyth)

The pen is mightier than... A Slip of the Keyboard (Terry Pratchett)

The Squeaky wheel gets... Travels with Tinkerbelle (Susie Kelly)

Hope for the best but prepare for... [the] Menace of the Monster (edited by Mike Ashley)

Birds of a feather flock... Pole to Pole (Michael Palin)

Some of those answers are a trifle tenuous but it was fun to do.

Thanks to Bev for hosting Mount TBR 2020.


Friday, 1 January 2021

Reading plans for 2021

My first post of 2021. Happy New Year to everyone who stops to read my bookish musings, may 2021 be a better year for us all. I feel it will be but not just yet, we all have to hang in there a bit longer. And I'd like to add a big thank you to all of you who have blogs and who keep me sane and cheerful with your wonderful posts about books and other sundry subjects. 'Thank you'. 

So, I've done what I did last year that I felt worked so well. I created a shelf of books I want to read in 2021. I find this incredibly useful, mainly because I'm such a ditherer when it comes to choosing what I want to read next. If I have a selection of books I know I want to get through this year available immediately then I can consider those. I don't always choose one, sometimes I head off to another part of the house and other bookcases, or I peruse the black hole that is my Kindle Fire, but very often I do choose one off this shelf and last year I got through a lot - not all - of those books. 

So here's my main shelf for this year. (Click for a bigger view.)

 

Thirty books in all, fifteen fiction, fifteen non-fiction, although believe it or not I didn't plan it to be half and half. I like this selection better than I like last years. Last year I put too many hefty tomes in there and was slightly intimidated by them, this year I've mixed it up a bit and I feel the mix is a bit more eclectic. 

And here's a secondary selection:

 


There are five classics here, all of which I suspect I won't read but I would like to try read two or three. E.F. Benson's ghost stories is a reread, they are some of the best ever written in my opinion. Next are two lovely Christmas presents, both of these people knew exactly what I like. The Jojo Moyes was meant to be in with the other selection but was forgotten, and I added Nigel Slater's Kitchen Diaries at the last minute because I enjoyed his Christmas Chronicles so much. I will read that through the year and hope it will supply me with some nice seasonal recipes. 

Added to this, as I said before, is the selection on my Kindle Fire. This reading device has been a revelation this year, a bit too much perhaps as I've added books willy-nilly and with gay abandon. Over the Christmas period alone five books were added:

Watery Ways by Valerie Poore

The Death Detective by Charlotte English 

The Platform Edge edited by Mike Ashley 

The Complete Ghost Stories of M.R. James 

An Ivy Hill Christmas by Julie Klasson 

It is possibly a bit ridiculous but I can't help but think it's harmless enough while there's a pandemic raging and we're being asked to stay at home. When I have books like the ones featured in this post to read then I'm happy to do that. I wish everyone was as fortunate.

Take care, stay safe and happy reading in 2021.