Saturday, 18 September 2021

Two short reviews

Two books to review briefly today, starting with A Talent to Amuse by Sheridan Morley.

This, as will be seen from the cover, is a biography of Noel Coward, the playwright, actor, song-writer and writer. He was born in 1899 (it's funny, I never think of him as Victorian) to a middle-class family who were not well off. He performed in school concerts and holiday competitions and knew from a very early age that he would be going into into the theatre and knew too that he would be famous. His first paid job was at the age of eleven and it was soon obvious that not only did he have a natural gift for music, he was also grimly determined to make it in the business. Which of course he did and was responsible for some of the most famous plays in the history of the British theatre, Blithe Spirit, Private Lives, Hay Fever, but he also wrote or starred in some iconic films, In Which We Serve, Brief Encounter, Blithe Spirit again, and The Italian Job. Not to mention songs such as Mad Dogs and Englishmen, Don't Put Your Daughter on the Stage Mrs. Worthington and London Pride. This was a free book from Dean Street Press. Every week they advertise a free book on Twitter and the link takes you to Amazon where you can download it to your Kindle. (The link to their Twitter page is HERE.) Anyway, this was a very enjoyable read. It's made plain from the start that it's a theatre based biography, not a warts and all exposé. The author knew Coward and Coward asked him not to discuss his homosexuality in the book because 'there were still a few very old ladies out there who did not realise'. As such it is very much about his work rather than his personal life, although it does not altogether neglect that either. I found the ups and downs of Coward's working life quite surprising. He had a lot of failures amongst his huge successes and at times was quite unpopular in the British press. Some of his plays were thought to be solacious or immoral, dealing as they did with the reality of marriage and affairs. Noel Coward's life is a 'huge' subject and I would definitely like to read more. Possibly his diaries and letters would prove very interesting, he was also an habitual traveller, often travelling with the Royal Navy, and I would love to hear more about that. A good introduction to the man though.

 

Lastly, Grey Mask by Patricia Wentworth, which I first read about on Tracy's blog.

This is the first book in the author's 'Miss Silver' series of books, written in 1928. Charles Moray is returning to London after a four year absence. He's been travelling the world trying to recover from being jilted by his fiance, Margaret Langton. She gave no explanation and Charles assumed there was someone else and that by now she is married with children. It comes as a shock to discover she's not and  that she's mixed up in some very funny business. Looking around his empty house one night, prior to moving back in, he realises someone is upstairs. Hiding in a cupboard, he overhears what is clearly a gang planning something criminal, and in walks Margaret. She's only there for a few minutes and he can't hear what's said but it changes everything for him. Margaret meanwhile has picked up a young women in distress off the street. Empty headed, Margot Standing, is in fear for her life and Charles and Margaret end up trying to help her. Realising he's out of his depth and not willing to go to the police because of Margaret's secret involvement in criminal activities, Charles enlists the help of Miss Silver, a private detective of mature years, to help them with these knotty problems. This was great fun, reminding me a little of a couple of Agatha Christie's standalones, such as The Man in the Brown Suit. Miss Silver is not at all centre stage, it's more about this group of young people trying to get out of the tangled web they've woven for themselves. I'm assuming that in subsequent books Miss Silver is more to the fore. The character of Margot Standing was pretty annoying if I'm honest, but then I suspect she was meant to be. The writing, as you'd expect from someone beginning her writing career in the 1920s, was superb, they knew how to write back then. It's interesting to note that Patricia Wentworth didn't stop writing until her death in 1961, she was 83, and was incredibly prolific. I shall certainly try another of her books, in fact I have another free book from Dean Street Press again, The Red Lacquer Case, and I'll check out what the library has as well.


Tuesday, 7 September 2021

The Secret Life of Albert Entwistle - Matt Cain

 


Albert Entwistle has been a postman in the northern town of Toddington for most of his life. He's now 64 and since his bullying mother died he's lived on his own with his beloved cat, Gracie. Albert keeps himself to himself, the other postmen and women, though friendly, hardly seem to notice him and Albert likes it that way. In fact, he encourages it. A lot of effort is put into making sure that people ignore him because Albert is keeping a huge secret.

Things would doubtless have continued in this manner but for two things. Albert forgets that 65 is looming and that means the Post Office will retire him... and they do. And no more than a few days later his beloved Gracie dies peacefully in her sleep. Misery consumes him. He thinks back to the only time in his life that he was truly happy.

Aged 16 and in his final year, a new boy arrives at Albert's school.

 'George Atkinson. That's the new boy's name.

  He's tall and slim, with delicate features and hair that when it catches the light looks like burnt gold and reminds Albert of the grass on the moors in winter. But it's his eyes that are most striking; eyes that are such an intense shade of blue they border on violet. Albert finds it difficult to take his eyes off them.'

Of course, Albert already knew he was different to the other boys, knew how important it was that his friends not notice he had no interest in the girls they pursued with such singlemindedness. Not just because he would be bullied mercilessly if they knew but also because his father was a policeman and back in the sixties and seventies, homosexuality was a crime, punishable with a prison sentence. 

Lost after the death of Gracie, Albert wanders into his mother's old room. It hasn't change since she died, because he hasn't been able to bring himself to touch it. He finds himself looking among her things and there's a box in the wardrobe. Inside, little precious things she had kept and amongst them, a photo of Albert with George Atkinson.

So this was one of those fortuitous, random grabs from the library.What with Covid and lockdowns I'd almost forgotten what it was like to grab a random book but this one was on a table amongst other newish arrivals and I was taken by its bright cover. Looking inside and reading the blurb, I was intrigued and brought it home. 

It's quite a sad book in many ways. The manner in which Albert keeps the world at bay, how frightened he is when anyone speaks to him or he has to make an effort to be sociable or nice, even to the point of only exchanging a few words with a lonely old lady on his round and then scarpering. 'But' things change and change rapidly and it's delightful to see how Albert blossoms and what makes him do it and how people react to the massive change in him. 

The quest he embarks on is joyous to read about. There's a bit of a double timeline, mostly it's present day but we also read about what happened with Albert and George (not at all in an explicit manner) and to be honest it just makes you grieve for all the men and women this has happened to throughout the years. The intolerance was appalling and still hasn't completely gone away although things are now 'much' better. 

A delightful read, well written, the author, Matt Cain, is himself gay I believe so knows of what he speaks. The characters just jump off the page at you and Albert especially is wonderful. Definitely a book about daring to be who you really are. Loved it.


Sunday, 5 September 2021

The 20 Books of Summer challenge

So this was my first attempt at the  20 Books of Summer challenge which was being hosted by 746 Books. It officially finished on the 1st. September lasting for 3 months from the 1st. June.

These were the 20 books I chose:

1. Persuasion - Jane Austen

2. The Shell Seekers - Rosamunde Pilcher

3. Washington Black - Esi Edugyan

4. The Giver of Stars - Jojo Moyes

5. The Book Collectors of Daraya - Delphine Minoui

6. Sicilian Carousel - Lawrence Durrell

7. The Towers of Trebizond - Rose Macaulay

8. The End of the Road - Jack Cooke

9. Wanderers - Keri Andrews

10. Spaceworlds - edited by Mike Ashley

11. Faring to France on a Shoe - Val Poore

12. A Borrowing of Bones - Paula Munnier

13. The Mauritius Command - Patrick O'Brian

14. A Quiet Life in the Country - T.E. Kinsey

15. One Summer in Crete - Nadia Marks

16. The Other Bennet Sister - Janice Hadlow

17. Through Siberia by Accident - Dervla Murphy

18. People Missing in the Woods - Steph Young

19. A Dangerous Place - Jacqueline Winspear

20. A House in Sicily - Daphne Phelps

Well, I certainly didn't manage to read all of the 20 books! I managed 12, which isn't terrible but neither is it amazing. Next year if I do this again I'll probably aim for 10 or 15 and spend a little more time choosing the books. I changed several of them for one reason or another so next time I would be more precise.

I wanted to travel around the world with the books I read, and did, so that's good. Places visited include, France, Sicily, Vermont and other parts of the USA, the Indian Ocean, Crete, Siberia, Gibralter, and a tour of the UK. 

Anyway, great fun and think I would definitely have another go at this one.


Wednesday, 1 September 2021

Books read in August and Autumn plans

And so we see the end of August and the beginning of my favourite month of the year, September. Meteorlogically speaking I believe it's the first day of Autumn, or so the local weather forecast chap always tells us. In reality it's the 21st. I think, but you know what? I'm going with the local BBC chap, so Autumn it is. Now. *Nods*

First of all, the seven books I read in August:

56. The Killer Inside Me by Jim Thompson 

57. In the Market for Murder by T.E. Kinsey 

58. The Invisible Library by Genevieve Cogman 

59. Through Siberia by Accident by Dervla Murphy 

60. Breath by James Nestor. 

Basically, breathe through your mouth and not your nose says the author. And goes on to tell the reader how bad mouth-breathing is, how it causes snoring and sleep apnea and then he gives instructions on deep breathing. Which I tried and it does actually help me get to sleep quicker. The optimum deep breath 'in' is 5.5 seconds and you should then breath 'out' for the same amount of time. Apparently respiritory illnesses were not so much of a problem until we started cooking our food until it was soft. That made our brains grow bigger but our mouths and breathing passages shrank. (He explains it better.) Millenia ago humans had to chew food for hours, giving us large jaws, straight teeth and good breathing passages. There's lot of interesting stuff in the book. The science of breathing goes back hundreds of years apparently, back to monks who knew all about it, plains indians did too and so on. This was quite an interesting book and won't fail to make you think about the way you breathe... while you're reading it, which is a bit of a distraction if I'm honest. You might get some funny looks...

 

61. Crawling Horror: Creeping Tales of the Insect Weird edited by  Daisy Butcher and Janette Leaf

62. A Dangerous Place by Jacqueline Winspear. Book 11 in the author's 'Maisie Dobbs' series. Another  good instalment set on Gibralter. Interesting setting, interesting plot... but I had some qualms about Maisie's personal behaviour after the events of the last four years, which you only hear about in dribs and drabs, not an actual book. It won't stop me reading the series but I took a long, hard look at her during this book. Hmm.

So, that was August. Some good books, some interesting books but not a stellar month for reading if I'm honest. Possibly because as months go I really don't care for August and my lack of enthusiasm ends up being reflected in my reading, or the way I feel about it.

So on to September, a month I do like. So I've picked out a few books not only for September but also for October, which I also like. (Click for a larger view.)


As will be seen, I want to read a few ghostly yarns, some good non-fiction and a classic I keep hearing about at the moment, The Count of Monte Cristo (to my knowledge I've not read this before but I can't be certain). Three of these are rereads... E.F. Benson's ghost stories, The Diary of Anne Frank and The Historian. I've also created a new shelf on my Kindle Fire entitled 'Autumn reads' with about 15 books on it. No way do I think I will read all of these books but that's no reason not to try.

Happy Autumn reading!

 

Monday, 30 August 2021

Crawling Horror: Creeping Tales of the Insect Weird

The end of August is almost nigh and with Crawling Horror: Creeping Tales of the Insect Weird, edited by Daisy Butcher and Janette Leaf, I seem to have anticipated the general autumnal bent for ghostly, weird stories. (Which I fully intend to indulge in as well.) Truthfully, it feels more like autumn than summer anyway, as there's a real nip in the air in the mornings now and the evenings are really drawing in.

Anyway, the book. (It was sent to me by the British Library publishing people for a free but fair review.)



As will be surmised by the title, this is a volume of weird stories concerning insects. The title makes it sound more grisly than it actually is because these are 'vintage' stories after all and emphasis tends more towards creating an impact with good story telling and writing rather than endless descriptions of blood and gore.

1. The Sphinx - Edgar A. Poe is a New York based story, set during a cholera epidemic. The narrator thinks he can see a monstrous insect crawling over the countryside but no one else can see it. An effective story with an amusing twist at the end.

2. The Blue Beetle by A.G. Gray, Jun. This recounts the story of a scientist, researching the origins of life, who is staying in Northumberland and finds a book in the library that enables him to create a poisonous scarab. 

3. The Mummy's Soul by 'Anon' is a 'tomb-raider who has a vision in the tomb' sort of story. Not such a huge fan of these kinds of Egyptian yarns these days. I don't know why.

4. After Three Thousand Years by Jane G. Austin is another tomb-raider story concerning the necklace of an ancient Egyptian princess.

5. A Dream of Wild Bees by Olive Shreiner is rather a strange dream story about bees and an unborn child. Not quite sure I understood it.

6. The Moth by H.G. Wells is, as you would expect, a very well written story about two obsessed entomology professors in a constant battle for supremacy. One dies and gets revenge for the destruction of his scientific reputation.

7. The Captivity of the Professor by A. Lincoln Green... he or she is one those authors that no one know who they are and they only wrote two stories, that are known about, anyway. And what a shame as this mad yarn about a professor who goes up the Amazon to study leaf-cutter ants is hugely entertaining... completely and utterly bonkers... but great stuff!

8. The Dream of the Akinosuké and Butterflies by Lafadio Hearn. The first story is one of those 'man taken away, lives half a lifetime somewhere, comes back and no time has passed' yarns. The second is a Japanese mythical story about death and butterflies. 

9. Caterpillers by E.F. Benson... one of my favourite writers of ghost stories and weird fiction. Cracking story set in an Italian villa that the narrator feels is 'wrong' the minute he arrives. But of course he still can't resist wandering around in the middle of the night...

10. An Egyptian Hornet by Algernon Blackwood, another favourite of mine. There's a vicar living in Egpyt, preaching to the resident English:

' And he was thoroughly pleased with himself, for he was a sleek, vain, pompous, well-advertised personality, but mean as a rat.'

Tells you all you need to know, fabulous writing. Anyway, said vicar finds a hornet in the bathroom and Egyptian hornets are apparently not small...

11. The Blue Cockroach by Christpher Blayre tells of a man who goes searching for bananas for his spoilt nieces. He does eventually manage to track some down (I think this must've been wartime) but the bunch is hiding an insect. This didn't really work for me, too muddled in the last few pages.

12. The Wicked Flea  by J.U. Giesy. This is apparently one of a series of stories about a Professor Zapt. Mad as bag of ferrets, he decides, against the wishes of his daughter and her fiancé, to grow the biggest living flea. Naturally, it gets loose...

13. The Miracle of the Lily by Clare Winger Harris. Not heard of this author before but this is another cracking story. Insects have become so numerous that they've eaten all the crops that humans have grown for themselves. Humans fight back over many years, lots of history etc., including early interplanetary communications. Clever twist at the end which I didn't see coming until a page or two from the end when I suddenly thought, 'Oh crikey, I wonder...'

14. Warning Wings by Arlton Eadie. This one is one of those 'persons retelling a weird experience to interested party' stories, in this case a sailor. Recounted because the narrator is about to kill a moth. It's also a 'crossing the Atlantic' tale which is very much my kind of thing. Interesting info about the mechanics of sailing across that ocean in a liner, northern routes and southern routes etc. Nice one.

15. Beyond the Star Curtain by Garth Bentley is actually a science fiction story. Two insterstellar travellers return from travelling into another dimension or universe only to find Earth completely changed. Not bad. Atmospheric.

16. Leiningen Versus the Ants by Carl Stephenson. The 'weirdness' in this story is not supernatural at all but is represented by a plague of ants and their 'natural' behaviour. A plantation owner in Brazil is warned to clear out as a plague of ants is on the way, but decides to stay and fight. It reminded me a bit of that long scene in The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver, only much more melodramatic and macho. Entertaining though... it was made into a film starring Charlton Heston entitled, The Naked Jungle.

What I love in these collections is the sheer lunacy of the some of the goings on. Mad professors, tomb raiders, people who are TSTL (too stupid to live), vindictive vicars, all human life is here. And the excellent writing of course. They all knew how to write such beautifully lyrical and descriptive narratives back then and it's rather rare these days to see it. (It's also why I like the BLCC vintage crime books.) Anyway. This is a good collection. There were a few that didn't do anything for me but that's par for the course with any collection. (Well most, occasionally you do get a fantastic anthology such as Minnie's Room by Mollie Panter-Downes which is superb from start to finish, but that's rare.) There were a handful of really good stories included in Crawling Horror, my favourites being, The Captivity of the Professor by A Lincoln-Green, Warning Wings by Arlton Eadie, Caterpillers by E.F. Benson and The Miracle of the Lily by Clare Winger Harris. 

So pleased to have four or five more of these collections to read and enjoy.


Wednesday, 25 August 2021

Catching up and currently reading

I seem to do more 'catching up' than anything else these days! The garden is the main culprit - picking courgettes, tomatoes, raspberries, courgettes, runner beans, French beans, caterpillers off the kale and sprouts, did I mention courgettes? And tomorrow we're changing our ISP provider so who knows how much joy and merriment we have in store with that. Best to get a quick post in while I can...

First up, The Invisible Library by Genevieve Cogman.

Irene works for the Invisible Library as an agent who searches out books. This library collects books from alternate universes, important books that can somehow affect reality and that shouldn't fall into the wrong hands.This time she's been sent to a version of Victorian London but not as we know it. It's full of 'chaos' so there are fae and vampires added to the glorious soup that London was at that time. The book Irene is searching for is an edition of Grimm's Fairy Tales and helping her is Kai who has been foisted upon her and clearly has secrets of his own. When they cross over they discover the book's been stolen and naturally the whole mission is far more complicated than they could ever imagine. I quite enjoyed this slightly steampunk Victorian themed novel. It even had it's own version of Sherlock Holmes to help solve a murder and there was a lot of quirkiness about it to enjoy. Kai is intriguing and you discover what he is towards the end. Books don't feature quite as much as I would have liked but I suspect that will change as the series progresses, plus we'll get more about the fae and so on. A promising start to a series that's now seven books long with the eighth book due out in December. 

Next, Through Siberia by Accident by Dervla Murphy.

This non-fiction travelogue charts the author's trip to Siberia in the early 2000s. It doesn't start well. Murphy had planned a cycling holiday but an accident damaged her knee and that changed everything. Unable to even walk properly the injury was going to take weeks to heal, but she was lucky. People in the Lake Baikal region of Russia were thrilled to have a western writer among them and could not have been kinder. She was offered accommodation wherever she went and people wanted to talk to her, delighted to have some relief from the monotony of their lives. She did manage to explore, only not the way she had planned. Instead she took busses, boats and trains and reading about the people she encouuntered was fascinating. I found the historical explanations dragged a bit but Russian history has never been my thing. What has stuck with me is the kindness she met with almost everywhere (one or two officials, not so much). She was put up by strangers, fed, accompanied to awkward places, never abandoned and talked to about everything as people had never seen a westerner and wanted to hear real opinions from her. And the region around Lake Baikal sounded utterly stunning although, as always, it's suffering from the usual suspects - developers and horrendous historical pollution. A good read but for some reason Dervla Murphy is not my favourite travel writer and I'm not sure why. 

I'm currently reading these two books in the manner that sometimes books take ages to read and you get a bit antsy to start something new. 


Crawling Horror: Creeping Tales of the Insect World edited by Daisy Butcher and Janette Leaf is not as horrifying as it sounds. The stories are vintage and 'weird' and thus well written, but vary a bit in quality. 


Breath: The New Science of a Lost Art by James Nestor is pretty interesting in parts but again varies a bit and is slightly worrying because the author suggests we're all breathing incorrectly and it's not good for us. Oh.

Is anyone else busy making plans for autumn reading? I know I am. More on that next week providing I ever get the internet back after tomorrow. *Fingers crossed*


Wednesday, 11 August 2021

Catching up and currently reading

Rather busy at the moment so not a lot of time for blogging and although I'm trying to keep up with my favourite blogs, I can't help but feel I'm failing miserably. Hopefully in a few weeks things will settle down and I can get back to commenting regularly.

In the meantime a bit of a catch-up post... two crime yarns that could not really be more different.

First, The Killer Inside Me by Jim Thompson. I read this after reading Sam's excellent review.

It's the early 1950s and Lou Ford is a deputy sheriff in the Texan town of Central City. He's 'Mr. Nice Guy', not necessarily the brightest bulb in the pack but honest, reliable, genuine. But is he? The title of this book answers that question in a pretty blunt manner, what it doesn't tell you is how chilling this tale is. Told in the first person, Lou relates how he sets about deciding that various people who are complicating his life will have to be disposed of. Plus, he feels that his brother was probably murdered and plans to revenge said murder. It's a tangled web and even the story of his brother is not as straightforward as it sounds. This is a twisted little tale and made all the more chilling by the matter-of-fact manner in which the narrator tells his story. I had to have frequent breaks from this one as it is very cold-blooded and no one in it is very pleasant. But my goodness it's incredibly well written and by an author I'd not previously heard of. And that's the joy of blogging in a nutshell, if I hadn't seen Sam's review I would never have read this superb book. Plus, it's my second entry for 'Texas' in my US States challenge, the first being Track of the Cat by Nevada Barr... perhaps my next 'Texas' book ought to be something that isn't all about psychotic serial killers or snakes in a tent?

Next up, something more humorous and gentle - In the Market for Murder by T.E. Kinsey, book 2 in his 'Lady Hardcastle' historical crime series.

Lady Hardcastle and her maid/companion, Florence, are asked by an over-burdened with work Inspector Sunderland to look into the death of a farmer in a local pub. Apparently he was alive one minute, face-down in his pie the next. Unfortunately all too many people loathed Farmer Carradine, who was the epitome of a miserable git. The two investigators can find no one with a good word to say for him. Add to this being asked to look into some thefts at the local rugby club and a mystery concerning a visiting clairvoyant and the two suddenly have their work cut out. There's a great deal of excellent banter and humour in this series. Lady Hardcastle and Flo have a lot of history together and there are hints of spying which they have apparently retired from and taken up sleuthing instead. It's all extremely unlikely but massive fun, not to be taken at all seriously and I like that a lot. I nabbed every book (7) for my Kindle at the bargain price of a quid each which I considered an absolute steal. (I think they're still available at that price too.)

 

So I'm currently reading Through Siberia by Accident by Dervla Murphy.


This is my 11th. book for the 20 Books of Summer challenge and will also complete a line for my Book Bingo virtual card, so it's quite an important book. I wish I could say I was thrilled with it but at the moment it's feeling a bit pedestrian. I'm pretty sure it's the writing. I wasn't mad about her book about Ethiopia so perhaps Dervla Murphy isn't for me despite her being one of the most famous travel writers of the genre.

Hope your summer is going well!


Sunday, 1 August 2021

Books read in July

I have no idea where July went or how it's suddenly August but there you go, and suddenly it's become rather autumnal here in the UK. We've already had Storm Evert and it just feels like that was the first of the autumn storms... at the end of July! Very strange.

Anyway, seven books read this month and these are they:

49. The Searcher by Tana French 

50. Swansong by Damien Boyd 

51. Deep Waters: Mysteries on the Waves edited by Martin Edwards 

52. Sicilian Carousel by Lawrence Durrell. Back in the 1970s the author did the Sicilian Carousel which is a tour of the island taking in all the major historical sites. He did it via a coach trip and the book is a delightful mixture of observations about his fellow passengers, history of the sites, and various thoughts on this, that and the other. His more famous works include the Alexandria Quartet and he has written a fair bit of travel-writing type non-fiction. The author is of course the brother of Gerald Durrell the naturalist and there's a TV series about the family living on Corfu. I shall read more by Lawrence Durrell.

53. Chasing the Dream - A New Life Abroad edited by Alyson Sheldrake 

54. The Mauritius Command by Patrick O'Brian. Book 4 in the author's famous Aubrey/Maturin series of books in which Jack Aubrey is put in command of several ships and sent off to the island of Mauritius to stop the French intercepting our East India company trading vessels. I thought this instalment dragged a bit, too many naval engagements and battles for my taste but it was still a good book.

55. One Summer in Crete by Nadia Marks.

Calli is half Cretan on her mother's side but living and working in London. She's been with James for ten years and when the relationship disintegrates for reasons I won't go into (spoilers) she heads to the Greek island of Ikaria on a journalistic assignment. Various adventures later and she's off to Crete to catch up with her relatives. Her mother's sister, Froso, still lives there but something is wrong and Calli wants to know what exactly. Froso, it turns out, has secrets she wants Calli to know about, things that happened way back in the past just after the war, but only when she's ready to talk. In the meantime there's the island of Crete to refamiliarize herself with and new friends to make. The best part of this for me was the depictions of the island. Sadly, I've not been to Crete but judging by this book it really is a very beautiful place. The plot was fairly predictable but fun, I didn't see the point of the whole 'Ikaria' section of the book, but that's just me. I felt the book really began when Calli got to Crete. A light summer read for armchair travellers who like islands in The Med. 

So, a fun reading month. Three crime reads, two travel-writing non-fictions, and a couple of general fiction reads. I travelled to Ireland, Sicily, Ikaria, Crete, Mauritius in the Indian Ocean and all around the world with people who had decided to settle somewhere other than where they had been born. Great fun.

So August is with us and I have no idea what I'm going to read this month! Although I am currently reading this:


It's quite interesting but isn't really grabbing me as I thought it would, despite that wonderful cover. Hopefully it'll pick up a bit.

This is the final month of the 20 Books of Summer challenge. So far I've read 10 so it doesn't look like I'll complete that, but there are options for 10 or 15 so that's probably the number I'll achieve, which is fine.

Happy August reading!


Tuesday, 27 July 2021

Chasing the Dream by Alyson Sheldrake

Chasing the Dream - A new life abroad: An Anthology of Travel Stories by Alyson Sheldrake is pretty much what it says on the tin. There are 20 tales in this volume each recounting how the authors ended up where they are: living abroad in a distant - or not so distant - country.


 

'Please excuse Laura for being absent from school. She was sick again so I took her to the doctor and had her shot'. 

Victoria Twead is a supply teacher - used to notes like this from parents - who loves her job, but still hankers after a life in Spain with her husband. He needs persuading but 'you know' lovely hot weather and all that so they move to Spain and get record snowfall in their first winter... Get Your Coat We're Going to Buy Chickens is hilarious.

I've read two of Val Poore's lovely books already but was very happy to read again in Doing Things the Dutch Way exactly how she came to be on a barge in the historic part of a harbour in Rotterdam. Next I must get around to reading about her life in South Africa before she moved.

In Waking up in Japan by Todd Wassel we hear how he fell in love with Japan as young man. He gets a post at a rural school but doesn't take into account the huge cultural differences between Brits and Japanese people and can't work out why no-one will talk about what happened to his predecessor. All kinds of things go through his mind...

Clare Pedrick in An Unplanned Adventure in the Hills of Umbria tells how she exchanged life as journalist in Brighton for a run-down house in Umbria in Italy, really just on a whim. I will investigate her book, Chickens Eat Pasta soon.

Linda Decker was a geography geek as a child, something I completely identify with. (She loved maps, so do I, but my main geography love was stamp collecting.) In Global Nomads she tells how she ended up marrying a chap who was something to do with water supplies and ended up living all over the world. Fascinating stuff. 

In Finding the Dream, Nick Albert and his wife move to Ireland looking for a more rural life, even though they've never previously been there. He has a whole host of books about his experiences starting with, Fresh Eggs and Dog Beds.

Beth Haslam is another author whose first book, Fat Dogs and French Estates, I've already read. Before her and her husband decided to find an estate in France she was a magistrate and I enjoying reading her stories about that in her contribution, From Bench Life to French Life.

Mountain Dreams by Roy Clarke is about a country you don't often hear about: Slovenia. For those not certain of its location it has a western border with Italy and a northern border with Austria and is very mountainous. And for the author 'mountainous' is the attraction as he's a keen cyclist, so when his wife gets a job there, off they go. His, The Sunny Side of the Alps, is another book I plan to get.

Lisa Rose Wright wrote Plum, Courgette and Green Bean Tart which I reviewed HERE. A Toilet Behind the Sofa recounts how their loo was, literally, behind the sofa until they got their bathroom done, and how people reacted to that! But we also hear how happy she is in Galicia and I was pleased to hear that her mum has now joined them there. I have her second book, Tomato, Fig and Pumpkin Jelly, on my Kindle to read soon.

You Lived Where? by Lucinda Clarke deserves its title as the author describes her life in Libya in the 1970s. I've heard other such stories about life for western women in that country so none of it came as a surprise. The author has written quite a few books which I fancy might bear investigating.

From the Gardens of England to the Foothills of the Pyrenees by Nikki McArthur. Relates how a couple who have always fancied living in Greece are not able to achieve that ambition and end up in the French countryside near Toulouse. I have to say that if I were to go and live in France this is the area I would head for too. The book connected with this story is What Have We Got Toulouse?

In A Fridge Too Far, author Ron Johnson tells about moving to Greece, halfway up a mountain overlooking the sea. Sounds wonderful but deliveries are a nightmare. That said, local Greek delivery people are apparently much quicker than many of us are used to and willing to overfcome any kind of difficult situation. I found this one very interesting... and then discovered I already have his book, A Kilo of String, on my Kindle. 

The perils of buying a house with another couple is related in, A Long Way to the Castanets by Jean Roberts. (Hint: Don't.) And hiring someone you've just met to do the work that needs doing is not such a great idea either.

Ann Patras, in Born To Be An Expat, explains how she emigrated to Canada in the 1970s, came home, married and then went off to Zambia and South Africa with her husband.

In Winter Fruit by Vernon Lacey, the author describes how as an exhausted teacher he went off to Spain for a half-term and loved it so much that he wondered whether or not he could chuck in his job and make a living in Spain teaching.

Rachel Caldicott moved country a lot  so the title of her contribution, Travel is in my DNA, is apprpriate. Her family moved from country to country when she was a child and once she was grown up she moved to Italy to teach. She married a glassblower and moved to France amid plenty of difficulties.

In Sight of Aconcogua charts the life of a Canadian Couple when they move to Chile. Author Ronald McCay has to learn how to be an avocado grower.

In Tuscan Dreams author Tonya Parronchi lives in Italy with her husband and sons. He's a keen sailor and she joins him occasionally, sailing from Italy to the Aeolian sea. Sounds wonderful.

Simon Michael Prior recounts how he married a New Zealander and moved to Australia in Melbourne: The Wonder Down Under. His book, The Coconut Wireless: A Travel Adventure in Search of the Queen of Tonga sounds like a lot of fun. (I might have just bought it...)

And last but not least, Alyson Sheldrake relates how she moved to the Algarve in Portugal, in Living the Algarve Dream. I loved hearing about her early morning walk with the dogs. She has several books to investigate too, starting with, Living the Dream in the Algarve, Portugal.

So. This is quite a long collection of very varying experiences of living abroad.  Even though this is not something I would probably do myself I find the subject fascinating as this is what my late sister-in-law did when her and her husband moved to France in the late nineties. So I have some idea of what it entails and the unexpected pitfalls that can occur. I really enjoyed every account in this collection, they're all well written, sometimes funny, sometimes unbelievable, occasionally heart-breaking. The book has also supplied me with rather a long list of new writers to investigate. Val Poore did warn me!


Sunday, 18 July 2021

Two British Library short story volumes

I love the British Library's volumes of short stories. They tend to come in several different formats: murder mysteries, science-fiction and 'weird fiction'. Hard to say which I appreciate the most, possibly the weird fiction but it only just has the edge on the other two. The following two books comprise murder mysteries and science fiction.

First up, Deep Waters: Mysteries on the Waves edited by Martin Edwards. 

This anthology is, as it says in the title, all about water. Not just the sea but also rivers, lakes, harbours and so on. A few usual suspects are here. We have Sherlock Holmes' first case as a teenager, The Adventure of the Gloria Scott, set on the Norfolk Broads but essentially a story of a convict ship where the convicts had taken over the ship. Raffles and Bunny are also present in The Gift of the Emperor by E.W. Hornung, where the two are on cruise and Raffles sets his sites on pinching some valuable pearls. 

One of the best stories to my mind was The Echo of a Mutiny by R. Austin Freeman. This one is set around the Thames estuary on one of the lighthouses there and is a story of two men horrified to meet again after a historical onboard mutiny they'd both been complicit in. Austin Freeman's detective is a Dr. Thorndyke and he's brought in in chapter two to solve the murder. I'm quite keen on these Thorndyke mysteries and must read the book of four novels I have on my Kindle. This short story had a very strong sense of place, very 'foggy Thames river, Kent coast' in atmosphere. Loved it. 

Another good Thames mystery was A Question of Timing by Phyllis Bentley, describing how stopping a murder can literally be all about dilly-dallying somewhere for a while, thus delaying you, and then finding you're in the right place at the right time to save someone's life.

Other good stories, The Thimble River Mystery by Josephine Bell, set among the permanent dwellers on yachts on a tributary of the Solent at Southampton, Man Overboard by Edmund Crispin, a tale of incrimination by letter, a clever Cornish fisherman story, The Queer Fish by Kem Bennett and Death by Water a DI Appleby story by Michael Innes, also set in Cornwall. (I really must get around to reading one of the novels.)

These anthologies do vary a bit in quality but all in all this one was very strong. I enjoyed every one of the stories and a few were excellent. Most of all I loved the strong sense of place in most of them, I am rather fond of a good watery murder but nevetheless these would stand up even if that's not your favourite thing. Excellent collection. Beautiful cover too.

Lastly, Spaceworlds: Stories of Life in the Void edited by Mike Ashley. This was sent to me by the British Library for a free and fair review.

These are short stories written before space flight was actually achieved, imagining life 'out there' in the void. It has some very famous sci-fi writers within its covers too: Anne McCaffrey, E.C. Tubb, Jack Vance, Eric Frank Russell, John Brunner. I'd already read just one story, The Ship Who Sang by Ann McCaffrey, but the story of how babies with no hope of survival can have their brains merged with a spaceship is always worth a reread. This one spawned a seven book series, mostly co-written with other authors, entitled 'Brainship'. The E.C. Tubb offering tells of the Sun about to go nova and the Earth's efforts to build a shield to protect the planet. But building is behind schedule, why? A nice human psychology kind of story. Sail 25 by Jack Vance was an interesting 'test the space-cadets' story. One of my favourites in the anthology was O'Mara's Orphan by James White. This is another of the 'hospital in space' series and I've read one or two others in other collections. Such a good story of a juvenile alien that one of the staff has to learn to treat. I must search out more of these. Ultima Thule by Eric Frank Russell recounts how a ship jumps forward, by mistake, into a complete void outside known space. Well written and disturbing. Another favourite was The Voyage that Lasted 600 Years by Don Wilcox. This is a 'generational ship' yarn. A professor will go with them and will be the only one to last the whole trip by being refridgerated and woken up to check on things every 100 years. It illustrates how one mistake he makes at the beginning, by admitting one extra man, can affect the whole project in unimaginable ways. All in all, this was another excellent anthology. Every story was very readable, some quite thought provoking and others very imaginative. I don't think of myself as a huge 'space' fan as regards sci-fi writing (I'm more into alien planets) but I thoroughly enjoyed all nine of these stories and look forward to more of these excellent collections. 


Thursday, 8 July 2021

Several crime fiction titles

As always I'm behind with reviews... right back into June for one of these in fact. I'm reading a lot faster than I can review at the moment and at some stage I'm just going to have to concede that I can't review everything, try as I might.

First up, Leaving Everything Most Loved by Jacqueline Winspear.

Maisie is unsettled. She feels as though she's reached some kind of  crossroads in her life and that it's concerned with travelling, - with following in the footsteps of her late mentor Maurice Blanche and going to India. The trouble is, she's engaged to be married and her fiance, James, is off to Canada and wants her to go with him. It's a dilemma she's trying to deal with when an Indian man asks her to take on the case of the death of his sister, Usha Pramal. Usha had travelled to England as a governess with a family but for some reason left them and ended up in a hostel run for Indian ayahs cast out by English families who no longer need their services. How she ended up dead by the side of a canal is a shocking mystery and Maisie takes the case on after the police had failed to get anywhere. Another case Maisie takes on involves a missing teenage boy so she's busy enough to keep her mind off her current dilemmas. Indian women being brought back to England to continue working with families they worked for in India and then being dismissed when they were no longer needed, in a foreign country, was not something that I was previously aware was happening in the 1930s. So I learnt something from this book. To be honest I learn something every time I pick up a Maisie Dobbs book. Jacqueline Winspear has a habit of finding a new slant on known issues that I'd never thought of before or even issues I'd never even heard of like this one. I like how much her books make me 'think'. I can also understand Maisie's personal problems and will be very interested to see what she does next. I understand the next book, A Dangerous Place, is set on Gibraltar so that should be rather interesting. Of course WW2 is fast approaching in the books and I'm fascinated to see how that's handled in this excellent series. 

Next, The Searcher by Tana French.

Chicago detective, Cal Hooper, has retired and moved to Ireland. 'Rural' Ireland. It's all woods and fields, endless rain, and a village where everyone knows everyone else's business. The locals are friendly though and happy for him to buy a dilapidated cottage and fix it up. It's not long though before Cal realises he's being watched and eventually a young boy creeps into his field of consciousness and starts to help Cal with the carpentry. As the days progress the boy asks for help in finding his brother, Brendan, aged 19, who disppeared six months ago. Cal is at first very reluctant having decided to leave this kind of thing behind him in Chicago. The boy, Trey, persists and eventually Cal agrees to help him having absolutely no idea of the can of worms he's about to open. There's quite an air of hidden menace in this novel. Tana French does not write cozy crime stories and she gets right to the nitty-gritty of rural Ireland, which looks so idyllic but has all the same problems they have in the city but on a much more personal level because everyone knows everyone. I've read one book by Tana French, In the Woods, so I knew her writing was superb and that I would find myself really immersed in the story. And the story is heart-breaking in places and scary because you know there is impending menace from the locals but you don't know who. And there was one real curve-ball that took me completely by surprise... evidence that I need to keep my wits about me a bit more. An excellent read, although I would be interested to know whether the ex-American cop rings true to American readers. 

Lastly, Swansong by Damien Boyd. 

This is the fourth book in the author's 'DI Nick Dixon' series, set in Somerset in areas I know very well. In this installment Nick goes under cover to work as a trainee teacher in a boarding school in Taunton. A girl has been found dead in the school grounds, murdered with her ring finger cut off. What Nick hasn't told his boss is that the case mirrors a murder that happened at his old boarding school, when he was sixteen, and his then girlfriend was killed. The crime was never solved. Nick feels certain that it's the same killer and now feels in a position to find his girlfriend's murderer but really he shouldn't be allowed anywhere near this case. I like school based fiction so rather enjoyed this one. It's very much a police procedural yarn with lots of twists and turns and dashing up and down the M5 in a Landrover! I wouldn't fancy trying to do that in the middle of summer (this was set in December). So, a very pacey story with a lot going on and I really do enjoy the 'local to me' aspect of this series.


Friday, 2 July 2021

Books read in June

I can't believe we're halfway through the year already. It's now downhill all the way to Christmas. *Ducks rotten eggs and sundry well aimed missiles*

Enough of frivolity. I seem to have read nine books in June but have no clue how that happened because it felt like I was going quite slowly. Plus, you know, 'the garden'. But there you go...

These are the books:

40. A Borrowing of Bones by Paula Munier 

41. People Missing in the Woods by Steph Young 

42. The End of the Road by Jack Cooke 

43. A Quiet Life in the Country by T.E. Kinsey

44. A House in Sicily by Daphne Phelps 

45. Faring to France on a Shoe by Valerie Poore 

46. Spaceworlds: Stories of Life in the Void edited by Mike Ashley (to be reviewed)

47. Above the Bay of Angels by Rhys Bowen 

48. Leaving Everything Most Loved by Jacqueline Winspear (to be reviewed)

So that's five fiction and four non-fiction books and as usual with me it's quite a mixed bag. There's the usual travel writing, three murder mysteries, some sci-fi and some contemporary fiction. I've travelled all around the USA and the UK, been to Sicily, Northern France, and Nice in the south of France. Pretty much every book was very good, so I can't pick a favourite but I'll do a shout-out for these three:







                                                                                                                                                            

All three of these were superb and luckily all three writers have written more books for me to enjoy. 

I'm currently reading this:


So my July reading journey begins in Ireland.Where else will I be travelling in my armchair this month I wonder? Exciting!


Tuesday, 29 June 2021

Catching up on reviews

Still very behind with book reviews so this is another quick catch-up post.

First up, A Quiet Month in the Country by T.E. Kinsey. This is my 6th. book for Marg's Historical Fiction challenge.

It's 1908 and Lady Hardcastle and her maid, Florence Armstrong, have retired to the countryside. They have purportedly lived quite a colourful life: you get hints as the book goes along of them being stranded in China and having to make their way to India on their own. Anyway, they think they're moving to get a quiet life but naturally it doesn't work out that way after they find a body hanging from a tree in the woods. They get involved in the investigation and Inspector Sunderland, the officer in charge, is content to let them help solve this mystery involving murder, missing jewels, engagements and even cricket. This was a light, fun read which I enjoyed more for the banter between the two women than anything else. It's clear their relationship is not the traditional employer/maid one as they've been through an awful lot together. Lady Hardcastle is nothing if not eccentric and Florence is into martial arts so that makes the whole thing even more intriguing and I plan to read on in the series to find out more about these two women.

 

Next, Above the Bay of Angels by Rhys Bowen. This is my 7th. book for Marg's Historical Fiction challenge.

Isabella Waverly is witness to a road accident on the streets of London  and the  young woman involved dies as Bella tries to comfort her. In her hand the woman is holding a letter which Bella reads and sees is a letter of introduction to the kitchens of Buckingham Palace. The dead woman, Helen Barton, was about to take up a position as an under cook there. Unhappy in her own position as a cook in another household, Bella decides to become Helen and thus begins quite an adventure. It eventually  sees her in the south of France, learning the secrets of French cuisine from the head chef of Queen Victoria's custom-built hotel in Nice. It also sees her desperate to keep the secret of her real identity, that of a daughter to an aristocratic father who lost everything due to alcohol and who, penniless, had to go into service. And then one of the royal family's German relations is poisoned and things become even more complicated than they already are because Bella is now one of the suspects. This is my first book by popular author, Rhys Bowen. I found it very readable, if slightly far-fetched, but that didn't spoil my enjoyment at all. I loved the setting of the French Riviera, Queen Victoria was well drawn and all of the details of her household were as I have read from non-fiction books. I loved the descriptions of  the huge meals and how they were prepared - no expense spared! There was enough in the way of intrigue and secrets to keep me happy and all in all I enjoyed this one very much. 

 

Lastly a non-fiction book, Faring to France on a Shoe by Val Poore.

It's 2008 and the author, Valerie Poore and her partner, Koos, who live in Rotterdam, buy a secondhand barge. I can't remember now whether they named it the Hennie-Ha, or it was already called that, whatever... Unfortunately it turns out to be in not quite the good nick they thought and they sort of put it to one side and forget about it. Eventually the problems are fixed and in 2016 they decide on a trip, they go 'faring to France on a shoe'... 'shoe' because that's what a bystander shouted out one day as they went past, referring to the appearance of the boat. Anyway, they set out from Rotterdam, travelled across Belgium and into France heading for Cambrai, a town in the Hauts de France region of Northern France (just south of Lille). It's not an area you read much about in books that deal with France, Provence, Brittany, the Dordogne, yes, but not northern France. So it was a real pleasure to read something a bit different and I love books about people travelling on canals, so this was right up my street. Val is a super writer (I've read her Watery Ways so I knew that already) and it was sheer joy to accompany her and Koos as they meandered along so many different canals and through so many towns to reach their destination. I'm full of admiration for her can-do attitude too. She admitted to being terrified of the gaps between the barge and the sides of the locks, and the subsequent climb to the canal-side. I'm not surprised, so would I be! But she grits her teeth and gets on with it. She often found herself cycling for miles to pick up supplies and one story of how she did it in searing heat on a bike with a serial flat tyre astonished me. This a delightful read. Such gorgeous descriptions of the peace and tranquility of their journey and the cameraderie with the people they meet on the canal. And when they turned for home and she felt sad, I did too, quite bereft to be honest and that really is a sign of good writing. I look forward to reading more of Val's lovely books... in fact she has a sequel to this book, Faring Forth Again on the Shoe, newly released. I shall be reading it.

I wish I could say that brings me up to date but it doesn't. So, more soon!

Monday, 14 June 2021

Three non-fiction titles

A bout of sciatica has kept me off the internet for a few days, so I'm very behind with commenting on the blogs I normally visit. Apologies for that, hopefully I can catch up at some stage. But I'm busy reading away for the 20 Books of Summer reading challenge and all of the following non-fiction books are on my list for that. 

First up, The End of the Road by Jack Cooke.

I like this quote from the book:

'Most of us live in denial of death. We practise unconscious alchemy, loath to accept our own mortality and searching for ways to prolong life in an age of modern medicine. Those already dead and buried are to be skirted around, side-stepped, wherever possible put to the back of our minds. The 'respect' we accord them is also a way of establishing distance between them and us. In spite of our common fate we dissociate ourselves.'

Author, Jack Cooke, intrigued by how divorced we are from death in our culture, decides to become a taphophile, a tomb tourist, and embarks on a journey around the UK looking at famous or unusual burial stories and graveyards. It sounds very maudlin or macabre but in actual fact it's not, it was all really rather fun and interesting. He buys a knackered old hearse and starts in Suffolk, on the east coast of England, at the drowned village of Dunwich. Cooke describes how heavy rain fell in Whitby, in Yorkshire, causing bones to fall from a clifftop graveyard, onto the houses below. (Goodness me...) Barrows are explored and then on to London and Highgate (he trespasses at night there) and Golder's Green crematorium, the oldest one in the country where Sigmund Freud, Bram Stoker and Marc Bolan have memorials. From London he moves on to Surrey, and then to Portsmouth where they have a 'tomb of the unknown sailor' from the Mary Rose wreck. He searches out Thomas Hardy's burial in Dorset and then on to Dartmoor in Devon. The plague village of Eyam in Derbyshire is covered, Alfred Wainwright in The Lake District, and then on to Scotland, finishing on Orkney. Sharing the author's journey is a spider called 'Enfield' because that's where he first noticed it in the corner of the windscreen. There's a lot more to this book of course, it's very well written and chock 'full' of interest and fascinating titbits and thus of interest to history buffs I would have thought. I really enjoyed dipping in and out and also enjoyed this quote on the back of the book:

'Perhaps the greatest single advantage of driving a hearse (and there are many) is that people are desperate to get out of your way. On open roads traffic will hang back, keeping its distance. In built-up areas, drivers disappear down side-streets to avoid any contact with my vehicle of ill omen. I drive through Hertfordshire much as Moses walked through the Red Sea, the way parting before and behind me.'

Brilliant.

Next: People Missing in the Woods by Steph Young.

I bought this one after enjoying The Cold Vanish by  Jon Billman in April, the notion of people disappearing in the forests and mountains of such a huge country as the USA intriguing me greatly. The Cold Vanish was a much more personal book as it involved the search for a specific young man and the heartbreak involved. People Missing in the Woods had much more of a clinical approach as it charted numerous instances of unexplained disappearances. Curious for me was why so many people wander off and leave their phones in their cars. And why the rescuers so often find that the dogs can find no scent at all after about a hundred yards. And how these people sometimes turn up in already thoroughly searched areas or pretty much in the exact spot where they disappeared. About halfway through, the book turns into The X-Files, speculating about alien abductions and alternate dimensions. How come there are so many accounts of lost people who can see the people who are searching for them but the searchers can neither see or hear the lost? Wierd. And there are hot-spots: Crater Lake in Oregon, Mount Shasta, Superstition Mountain near Phoenix, all apparently centres of oddness. Do I believe all of this? Well. I'm expremely open minded about it all but I  do take it with a small pinch of salt. There is no doubt though that some things that happen have no rational explanation... and I am a reader of science-fiction and ghost stories after all. That said, this was not a great read for me. It was interesting as I love these kinds of weird books, but I felt led by the author to think one way when there might have been other, more rational explanations.

Lastly: A House in Sicily by Daphne Phelps.

The author inherits a beautiful old villa in the town of Taormina, which is at the foot of Mount Etna on Sicily, from her uncle. After an attempt to sell falls through she decides to take it on and live there. This was in the late 1940s, early 1950s. Sicily at that time was still recovering from WW2 and had also not really come into the 20th. century. Attitudes towards unmarried women working or owning property were archaic and Italian men saw foreign women like Daphne, with property, regardless of the fact that she had no money at all, as a meal-ticket to a life of wealth and riches. She fought them all off and turned Casa Cuseni into a kind of refuge for famous writers and painters to come and stay and the book is a series of vignettes about those famous people. Daphne knew authors such as Tennessee Williams, Bertrand Russell, Roald Dahl and Ernest Hemingway. But just as interesting for me were the stories about the Sicilian staff she employed and their quirks and foibles and strange attitudes. I was completely charmed by this library book, so much so that I'll probably buy my own copy.
 

Saturday, 5 June 2021

A Borrowing of Bones

So, who was it who blogged about this series? Lark? I think so... more than likely I think. If it was, a huge thank you!

A Borrowing of Bones by Paula Munier is my first book for the 20 Books of Summer reading challenge and what a start!

 


Mercy Carr, at 29, is a retired MP officer from the US army. During her last tour, in Afghanistan, her fiancé was killed but before he died he entrusted her with his army dog, Elvis. Elvis is a Belgian Shepherd, trained to sniff out explosives but the war has scarred him and he too has been retired. The two return to Mercy's home state of Vermont and find an isolated cabin in the forest to lick their wounds.

Out hiking one day, Elvis disappears into the trees. When Mercy eventually tracks him down he has found a baby in the clearing - not a newborn, an older baby, clearly well looked after and healthy. Game warden, Troy Warner, is the officer sent in answer to her distress call and although neither of them are officially 'police' they end up working together to solve the mystery of the missing child and her mother. 

The relationship is not an easy one, Troy is recovering from a divorce and Mercy is still grieving her late fiancé.  But things are made a lot easier because Troy has a working dog too, Susie-bear, a huge Newfoundland/retriever cross and, as dogs do, they help heal not just physical scars but mental ones too.

The case gets complicated, involving not just the lost baby but skeletons in the woods, missing artists, local bad guys, the neighbouring millionaire and so on. The official police do not want the help of people they consider to be amateurs but naturally Mercy takes no notice of that and Troy get dragged along, partly because he too can't resist a mystery but also to save Mercy from herself.  

Well, this is the first book in this series of crime novels set in Vermont. I loved it to bits. A crime series set in the wonderful forests of Vermont? How could you not love that? It helped that I have been there, only briefly, but enough to picture the setting very clearly. It's stunning but of course has the potential to shelter quite a lot of crime. That aspect of the book was excellent, I didn't guess the little twist at the end or anything about what was really going on. And this book is 'pacey' too... be prepared for a bumpy ride.

And the dogs! The dogs are wonderful and because of that it's like the book has four main characters, two humans and two dogs. It works wonderfully. Mercy and Troy are very much fully fleshed out characters and I loved Mercy's grandma, Patience, who runs a vetinary practice, loves to cook, and is very much indulging in some matchmaking. Really this is a character-driven series, which for me is the best sort. I love it when I'm really invested in the main protagonists and the author has taken the trouble to make them 'interesting', with lives, families, and plenty of warts.

Needless to say I already have book two on my Kindle, Blind Search, which, judging by the cover is a snowy, wintery centred book. 'Let joy be unconfined'.


Monday, 31 May 2021

Books read in May

It seems that May was quite a good reading month for me, number-wise anyway, nine books read. Quality-wise it was also 'good' but not amazing. That's fine, every month cannot be chock full of wonderful books, life just doesn't work like that and I'm happy with my choices for May.

31. Bats in the Belfry by E.C.R. Lorac 

32. Fat Dogs and French Estates by Beth Haslam 

33. Case Histories - Kate Atkinson. I planned to review this but never did get to it. It was a pretty good private eye yarn, the first in the author's Jackson Brodie series. Complicated, lots of twists and turns. I haven't decided yet whether I'll read more.

34. Prisoners of Geography by Tim Marshall 

35. A Death in Calabria by Michele Giuttari. A Mafia in New York and Calabria, story. Not exactly terrible but not a series I'll be continuing with.

36. Four Cheeks to the Wind by Mary Bryant 

37. Summer in Provence by Lucy Coleman 

38. The Aberdyll Onion by Victor Canning. Charming short stories, mainly mysteries with a twist.

39. My Lemon Grove Summer by Jo Thomas

Zelda is in her late thirties and has reached a stage where she doesn't know what to do anymore. Her small retail business collapsed, she can't seem to find someone to share her life with and she has no home of her own. Her best mate, Lennie, is not much better off and the two decide to honour a pact they made at uni that if they weren't married or with someone by the age of forty, they would marry each other. Not that either of them expected to be doing it in Sicily! The mayor of a town in Sicily, dying for lack of residents, has advertised for people to come and live there. Zelda and Lennie find themselves with a motley group of Brits in an old farmhouse wondering where their renovated homes are, why the residents seem to hate them so much and if they will ever get to live the Sicilian dream. This was a fun read, undemanding, but interesting with its history of how lemons are grown all over the island and made into Lemoncello, although those are not apparently made with ordinary lemons. I enjoyed the romantic aspect, hated the villain of the piece as I was supposed to, and of course it made me want to go to Sicily even more. Oh well, one day perhaps. 

So, I realise I made a mistake by reading that last book in May because I put it on my list for the 20 Books of Summer challenge which doesn't begin until tomorrow so I'll have to change that one. Never mind.

I've done my usual travelling this month, been around the world twice with Prisoners of Geography and Four Cheeks to the Wind, spent time in France (twice), Italy (also twice), and a fair bit of time here in the UK solving mysteries. Not a bad month overall. I wonder what joys June will bring?


Wednesday, 26 May 2021

Another catching up post

Well, I have been reading - seven books so far this month - just not talking all that much about said books, so time for a bit of a catch up.

Since my last post three books have gone unremarked, starting with A Death in Calabria by Michele Giuttari. This was basically a 'bring down a local Mafia ring' sort of book. It wasn't bad but lacked any kind of real depth and read a bit like a series of reports, starting in New York and finishing in Calabria in Italy. It kept my interest but is not a series I plan to read more of, although I did learn a fair bit about how the Mafia operates. 

A non-fiction travel memoir, Four Cheeks to the Wind by Mary Bryant was more enjoyable.

Mary Bryant and her husband Warren make the decision to cycle around the world (as you do). They travel across Europe via France, Italy, Greece and Turkey and then fly to India, the intervening countries such as Iran and Afghanistan, being far too dangerous to cycle through. From India and Sri Lanka they fly to Australia. That might seem an odd route but they were doing it this way to try and avoid brutal summer heat and humidity in the Indo-China countries. Huge amount of detail in this 400 page book - I read it on my Kindle Fire and it took me ages. For me that was both good and bad. Good in that I learnt a lot about every country they visited, especially its people and the various cuisines. Bad in that I felt a bit bogged down by it all at times. But goodness me some of the images described are still with me, this book gives a real flavour of every country, I would say anyone thinking of cycling around the world should read this book but it is about 15 years old and some things will have changed. My favourite sections were Europe, especially Italy and Turkey, and Australia... Mary and Warren were taken by surprise by how much they loved areas like Tasmania. Overall what sticks with me was how friendly the couple found nearly everyone they came across... which gladdens the heart rather. 

After that I was ready for a light read so I settled on Summer in Provence by Lucy Coleman which was a free Amazon 'Prime Reading' book.

Fern is married to Aiden and their married life is pretty much mapped out, jobs, their home, eventually children, and she is very happy with that. Then they have a lottery win. What to do with the money? Aiden wants to go off backpacking in Australia but knows that Fern is afraid of flying and sea voyages so suggests a sort of marriage gap-year. He will go and do his thing and she hers. Which is how Fern ends up in Provence volunteering at a retreat for people to unwind and learn new skills. Relaxing, gentle stuff and Fern is hoping to pick up her painting where she left off before she got married. But she reckons without the moody artist running the place, Nico, who sees something in Fern that she never knew she had. I thought this was delightful. I fell in love with the retreat, a chateau in Provence, which sounded wonderful. Lots of good characterisation and a good list of interesting people added to the enjoyment. My one small niggle was that sometimes Fern's dialogue sounded a bit textbook, rehearsed little speeches kind of thing, I found myself thinking that people don't really speak like that. Otherwise this was a thoroughly good wallow, my second book by this author.

I'm currently reading this:

 

The Aberdyll Onion and other mysteries by Victor Canning is a book of short stories, some of them crime based other just quirky with a twist. I recently read his Mr. Finchley Discovers His England and enjoyed its quirkiness and this anthology is pretty much the same, beautifully written too.

To be honest, I'm treading water a bit until the 20 Books of Summer challenge starts on the 1st. June.


Monday, 17 May 2021

20 Books of Summer

 

Most summers I see various people doing the 20 Books of Summer (the sign-up post is there) reading challenge but have never attempted it myself. I thought this year I would join in and see how far I can get with it. 

It's being hosted by 746 Books and the aim is to list 20 books of your own choosing and see if you can read them between the 1st. June and the 1st. September. 

There aren't many rules, you can drop a book if you like, or drop your number from 20 to 15 or 10, whatever suits you. Follow the link to the challenge site to for a complete list. 

So anyway, without further ado, these are my 20 books.

1. Persuasion - Jane Austen

2. The Shell Seekers - Rosamunde Pilcher

3. Washington Black - Esi Edugyan

4. The Giver of Stars - Jojo Moyes

5. The Book Collectors of Daraya - Delphine Minoui

6. The Path to the Sea - Liz Fenwick

7. The Towers of Trebizond - Rose Macaulay

8. The End of the Road - Jack Cooke

9. Wanderers - Keri Andrews

10. Off the Map - Alistair Bonnet

11. Faring to France on a Shoe - Val Poore

12. A Borrowing of Bones - Paula Munnier

13. The Mauritius Command - Patrick O'Brian

14. A Quiet Life in the Country - T.E. Kinsey

15. One Summer in Crete - Nadia Marks

16. The Other Bennet Sister - Janice Hadlow

17. Through Siberia by Accident - Dervla Murphy

18. People Missing in the Woods - Steph Young

19. The Stranger Diaries - Elly Griffiths

20. My Lemon Grove Summer - Jo Thomas

 

OK, so I doubt I'll manage to read all of those in 3 months. I certainly think 10 is doable though and who knows, maybe more. I've tried to be careful in my choices, choosing books I'd planned to read fairly soon anyway, and a good mix of fiction and non-fiction, real books and Kindle reads. Plus, I've attempted to list lighter reads rather than anything deep or depressing, though it could be argued that People Missing in the Woods will not exactly be light-hearted. And of course, it wouldn't be me if there wasn't a load of travelling going on in most of the books (not all).

 Anyway, whatever happens... it ought to be fun, didn't it?


Saturday, 15 May 2021

A warning

 Ok, so I had an email from Blogger to say that they had deleted one of my posts because:

' Your post entitled 'Just finished, currently reading, new books' was flagged to us for review. We have 
determined that it violates our guidelines and deleted the post.'

' Your content has violated our malware and viruses policy. Please follow 
the community guidelines link in this email to learn more.'

As you can imagine panic ensued because they then said this:

' We encourage you to review the full content of your blog posts to make 
sure that they are in line with our standards as additional violations 
could result in the termination of your blog.'

What?!!!!

Anyway, they had indeed deleted a post that I posted on the 4th. March, entitled, 'Just finished, currently reading, new books'. It had several book reviews, including Brat Farrar by Josephine Tey, and a photo of new books and nice comments and discussion and it's just gone. And, stupidly, I feel like I've lost an arm.

First of all I thought I should change my Google password (although I only did that recently) but then I thought it best to Google, 'Malware attached to blog posts' first, and I found this:

Malware and spam in blogs

And saw the bit at the bottom regarding spam comments. I headed over to check the comments to that post which are still there and 'lightbulb moment', sitting there was a spam comment I had not deleted.  I deleted it of course, but too late, the post has disappeared into the ether.

So my question is this, has this happened to any of you with a Blogspot blog? Does anyone happen to know if this is all that's required to stop my blog being deleted... to make sure I delete any spam comments that might have suspicious links? (I usually do but that one escaped my notice.)

And also... this is to warn anyone who is not aware that this sort of thing can happen. I'm borderline traumatised... an over reaction I know. But I've had my bookblog since 2007 and the idea that all that work could just disappear without my say so is freaking me out quite frankly. 

Any ideas or comments on this very welcome.

UPDATE: Message from Blogspot, they have apparently reevaluated the offending post and reinstated it. I think I should've stayed in bed this morning...