Thursday 30 December 2021

Book Bingo 2021 wrap-up post

Time for my first reading challenge wrap-up post. This one is the Book Bingo 2021 challenge which has been hosted by the Unruly Reader. 

If I've counted correctly, I've ended up with six complete Bingo lines, three short of a full 'blackout' -- 22 books altogether. 

The books I read:

1,000 BOOKS TO READ BEFORE YOU DIE: Tales of the City by Armistead Maupin

ANTI-RACIST: Leaving Everything Most Loved by  Jacqueline Winspear

QUEST: Miss Benson's Beetle by Rachel Joyce 

BREEZY: Gardens of Delight by Erica James 

BLACK AUTHOR: Finding My Voice by Nadiya Hussein 

NARRATIVE NON-FICTION: The Salt Path by Raynor Winn

DIY: Breath by James Nestor 

RESTORATION: Krakatoa by Simon Winchester 

IMMIGRANT: Middlesex by Jeffrey  Eugenides

EYE CATCHING: The Villa by Rosanna Ley 

THE WHOLE PACKAGE (final Book): Off the map by Alastair Bonnett

BLURB: A Borrowing of Bones by Paula Munier

RUSSIA: Through Siberia by Accident by Dervla Murphy 

TRIUMPH: The Abominable by Dan Simmons 

NOIR: The Killer Inside Me by Jim Thompson 

DEFIANCE: The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller 

RABBIT HOLE: Emma by Jane Austen

SUGAR: Twelve Days of Christmas by Debbie Macomber 

SURVIVAL: Into the Planet by Jill Heinerth 

THE EXPLORER:  The Cold Vanish by Jon Billman 

QUARANTINE: The Secret Life of Albert Entwistle by Matt Cain 

KNOTTY: Life After Life by Kate Atkinson

So that was my first attempt at the Book Bingo challenge. I thoroughly enjoyed it, in the main because most of the categories were not simple or straightforward. A bit of thinking was required as to which books fitted well with the prompt. I enjoyed it so much that I shall be doing it again next year and can't wait to get started.

Wednesday 29 December 2021

My year in books meme - 2021 and catching up

I've done this meme several times in the past and it's always a lot of fun. I saw that Constance had done it again this year, 'here' and that Nan had  also had a go, 'here'. So now it's my turn.


My Year in Books 2021

How do you feel? Bats in the Belfry - E.C.R. Lorac

Describe where you currently live: Off the Map - Alastair Bonnett

If you could go anywhere, where would you go?  The Invisible Library - Genevieve Cogman

Your favorite form of transportation: Sicilian Carousel - Lawrence Durrell

Your best friend is: The Abominable - Dan Simmons

You and your friends are: People Missing in the Woods - Steph Young

What's the weather like? Watery Ways - Val Poore

You fear: Crawling Horror - ed. D. Butcher & J. Leaf

What is the best advice you have to give? (Visit) Gardens of Delight - Erica James

Thought for the day:  Death has Deep Roots - Michael Gilbert
How would I like to die? (Off) The Platform Edge - ed. Mike Ashley (not really... lol)

I'm so far behind with reviews, due to a busy Christmas period, that I'm just going to mention a few books I've been reading since my last review post.

A Country Child by Alison Uttley was a read-along hosted by YouTube book vlogger, Miranda Mills. It was  beautifully written, with wonderful descriptions of the Derbyshire countryside and life as it would've been on a farm in the 1930s. Alison Uttley was a children's writer most famous for her 'Little Grey Rabbit' books for children, this is fiction but based on the author's life from what I can gather. I enjoyed this but it did occasionally drag a bit.

I read about The Little Christmas House by Tracy Rees here in Yvonne at Fiction Books' post. It sounded delightful so I grabbed it to read as one of my 2021 Christmas books. Holly Hanwell is a teacher in a primary school in a small village in Kent. She moved from Leeds, aiming to make a fresh start, after her long-term boyfriend left her. Also just moved to the village are Edward and his young daughter, Eliza. They too have had a basinful of problems. Eliza is in Holly's class at school and Holly takes to the little girl immediately, intrigued by what the history behind her father's move is. The Christmas school play brings the whole story together in a lovely way. I enjoyed this feel-good Christmas read very much. The characters felt real with believable, rather unusual, experiences. My only misgiving is that I wish the two main characters, Holly and Edward, had met properly rather sooner than 44 per cent through the book. Other than that, I loved it. 


Murder on Christmas Eve, edited by Cecily Gayford, is a book of short stories set at Christmas. Authors include Ellis Peters, G.K. Chesterton, Marjorie Bowen, Michael Innes, Val McDermid, Ian Rankin, John Dickson Carr and more. This was a thoroughly excellent anthology! Super, super writing from a number of superb vintage and modern writers. The Trinity Cat by Ellis Peters was particularly good as was The Dagger with Wings by G.K. Chesterton, a Father brown mystery, and Cambric Tea by Marjorie Bowen. But really the whole collection was just superb.

More posts to come as I try to catch up on challenge wrap-ups and best books posts. 

Monday 20 December 2021

Book Bingo 2022

So this is one of the reading challenges I've been waiting for, Book Bingo 2022. I've really enjoyed doing the 2021 version this year and was keen to see what the categories would be for next year. They were tricky and thought provoking for 2021 and I was hoping for the same again and I'm not disppointed, so am signing up for another go.

This is the Bingo card participants have to work from:

Follow this link to the Sign-up post and there you will also find help and definitions for each of the categories.

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 2022. Books started in 2021 but finished in 2022 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 Book Bingo challenge is being hosted by The Unruly Reader.

I already have a few books in mind for some of the categories but others are going to be a bit more tricky. Imagination or research will be needed and I love that. Roll on 2022!

Monday 13 December 2021

The 'Read Around the World' reading challenge

As usual I'm umming and ahhing about which reading challenges to do next year. I don't want to over-commit myself as I used to years ago but it is nice to have two or three challenges on the go each year as I find it helps me to have that little bit of structure to my reading schedule. 

There are two I'm interested in doing but the people who host those haven't put their sign-up posts up yet. In the meantime I spotted this one advertised on Susan at 'Bloggin' 'Bout Books' challenge blog, Ready for a Reading Challenge?

It's the Book Voyage: Read Around the World challenge and it's hosted by The Book Girls' Guide.


The idea is that the world is split into twelve different regions and each month you read one book from the appropriate region.

This is a year-long challenge. You don't have to read from the lists they provide, you can read from your own shelves. And there is a Facebook group you can join to add to the fun.

I'm thinking this challenge might be right up my street and hopefully take me to one or two places I've never been before.


Friday 10 December 2021

Catching up

I'm three books behind with reviewing, as usual, although 'three' is quite a lot even for me. First up then, Christmas Under the Stars by Karen Swan.

Well then, this one is set in the town of Banff, Alberta, so it's a beautiful mountain setting and I loved that about it. What I don't understand is why it's called 'Christmas' Under the Stars, because there's hardly any Christmas in it! Nevertheless, it is a really good read. Meg is married to Mitch and they have pretty much the perfect marriage. Mitch and his best friend, Tuck, run a snowboarding business and, with Tuck's wife Lucy, the four friends are inseperable. Things fall apart when Mitch is lost and subsequently dies in a snowstorm. And it's during this storm, desperate for help, Meg radios for assistance and ends up speaking to an astronaut on the International Space Station.  After her husband dies Meg falls apart and the book is about how she puts herself back together again. There are secrets. Some things are not as she thought they were: friends, Meg's life, her sister who's a doctor and lives in Toronto that she hardly ever sees, Mitch. This is a long book so you're in it for the long haul if you decide to give it a go. I like books where secrets are involved, that said I had The Secret sussed almost from the start: if you're suspicious and cynical just like me, then you will too. But the setting is glorious and jumps off the page at you and I thought the book was excellent on relationships and how complicated they are. But it is 'not' about Christmas! I read it as my first book for the Christmas challenge I'm doing but I can't in all conscience count a book which only 'has' Christmas in the last 20 or 30 pages. But I will look for more by this author as I enjoyed the book.

Next up, a book I 'can' count for the Christmas challenge I'm doing, Twelve Days of Christmas by Debbie Macomber.

This one is set in Seattle, WA, in an apartment block. Julia Padden lives in one of the apartments and Carl Maddox lives just across the hall. Julia is one of life's cheerful individuals, going about the place being nice to people. Carl is the complete opposite, grumpy, loathes Christmas, resists all Julia's efforts to be friends. She's up for a new job and it's between her and one other. Because the job is social media based it's suggested she start a blog and the person who gets the job will be the one with the most followers and commenters. Julia decides to base her blog on the idea of trying to win Carl over and charting her progress. What she isn't prepared for is the blog's runaway success! When Carl's attitude towards her starts to thaw, how on earth does she keep her blog a secret from him? Well this is pretty much what it says on the tin. A very light, fluffy romance very much based on Christmas, using Dickens' A Christmas Carol as inspiration. The use of blogging as a plot device I thought was quite modern and clever and I liked that aspect of it, being a blogger myself. This won't appeal to everyone but I enjoyed how undemanding it was and 'daft' really. We all need to make more time in our busy schedules for 'daft'. 

Lastly, Finding My Voice by Nadiya Hussain. 

I'll probably need to explain to anyone not from the UK who Nadiya is. Most people have heard of the TV series, The Great British Bake Off. Well she won it in 2015 and since then her rise has been meteoric. She's very personable and a born presenter so has ended up with her own cookery shows on the BBC and is very much a household name. I know it's hard to judge what celebrities are really like on TV but to me she seems like a genuinely lovely person. I found her book fascinating as I haven't read anything about growing up as a Muslim in 1980s and 90s Britain. Her family experiences, she's one of six siblings if memory serves, especially as a girl were very revealing. She talks too about her mental health, about not really knowing what she was getting into when she married and joined her husband's family, and having no clue about how motherhood would affect not only her mental health but also her dreams of what she wanted her life to be. The book is excellent and really opened up to me a culture that I don't know a lot about. Her voice jumps off the page loud and clear but sometimes, for me, her stream of conscience sentences got a little confusing. But really this is an excellent read if you're intersted in learning a bit more about what it is to be a Muslim in the UK. And there are recipes! Win, win!

Oh my goodness, is it really only two weeks to Christmas?!!!! How did that happen?

Wednesday 1 December 2021

Books read in November

Well, I've apparently had rather a slow reading month. I wasn't aware of it but when I checked I found I'd read just five books in November. Ah well, I must've been doing something else, possibly quite a tricky jigsaw puzzle, a pic of which I'll pop at the end of this post.

Anyway, the books.

77. And Only to Deceive by Tasha Alexander 

78. Into the London Fog edited by Elizabeth Dearnley 

79. The Lantern Men by Elly Griffiths 

80. The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller 

81. Christmas Under the Stars - Karen Swan (to be reviewed).

So, five fiction and 'no' non-fiction. What an odd reading month I've had. I haven't even travelled around the world as much as I usually do, being based mainly in the UK with just two separate forays to Greece and Banff in Canada. But it's not that I didn't actually read any non-fiction last month... I read the first quarter of Deep South by Paul Theroux and quite a lot of one of Nigel Slater's diary type cook books which I will finish after Christmas. Plus, I've just started this:

Nadiya Hussain is a household name in the UK. She won The Great British Bake Off in 2015 (seems longer ago than that) and has since been given her own cookery show on the BBC, written several cookbooks and baked for the Queen. This is her story in the form of essay type memoirs and so far it's excellent. Her voice and enthusiasm  really shout out of the pages.

And, as promised, here's the jigsaw puzzle I worked on throughout November:



This one is a 2,000 piece scene of St. Johann in the Austrian Tyrol. What a fabulous spot!

So here we are in the Christmas month. It doesn't seem five minutes since the start of 2021 and now we're only four weeks away from 2022. The older you get the more disconcerting this is. Never mind, onwards and upwards to a few interesting reads for December and then that lovely bookish 'fresh start' feeling in the new year.

Saturday 27 November 2021

The Song of Achilles

The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller, is my 12th. book for Marg's Historical Fiction challenge 2021.

My recent read of  And Only to Deceive by Tasha Alexander made me curious about the story of Achilles and this book by Madeline Miller filled a few gaps in my rather scant knowledge. The tale is told from the point of view of Patroclus, a young exiled prince taken in by Achilles' father, Peleus. Peleus had a child with a sea goddess, Thetis, the result being Achilles and he is thus a golden child, beautiful and excelling in everything, but especially anything to do with weapons and fighting. Patroclus, alone and miserable, eventually comes to the attention of Achilles and the two become inseparable. A firm friendship deepens into love as they get older, one that no one can understand as Patroclus is very ordinary indeed and the polar opposite of the love of his life. Thetis especially seems to loathe her son's lover. The elephant in the room is Achilles' fighting ability and the certain knowledge that one day he will be called upon to test that in battle. And so it comes to pass when Helen, married to King Menelaus of Sparta, is either abducted, or runs away with, Paris, the son of Priam, the king of Troy, and thus begins the Trojan war and the ten year seige. 

I don't really understand why I failed to be fully engaged by this book. It's hugely popular and a lot of people absolutely love it. Don't get me wrong, I liked it well enough. At no stage did I want to give up and I really appreciated learning a lot more about this particular branch of Greek mythology. It just lacked something for me, I didn't really love anyone in it or feel completely connected to the story. Also, a small query. I always thought that in Ancient Greece any kind of sexuality was quite acceptable, so why was it all so shameful between Achilles and Patroclus? Why so much secrecy? I didn't get that at all. I did love the boys' 3 or 4 year sojourn on a mountain with a centaur. Who wouldn't want to do that! Anyway, interesting and informative and by no means terrible (I gave it a 3 star rating on Goodreads). My quest to find out more about Greek mythology will continue and I have a list of books and authors I will search out in 2022. 

A few of them:

Fire From Heaven - Mary Renault

The Silence of the Girls - Pat Barker

Circe - Madeline Miller

Ariadne and Elektra - Jennifer Saint

The Penelopiad - Margaret Atwood

A Thousand Ships - Natilie Haynes

Athena's Child - Lynn Hannah

Daughters of Sparta - Claire Heywood

Mythos: The Greek Myths Retold - Stephen Fry

I'm sure there are loads more so if anyone has any recommendations they would be welcome.


Friday 19 November 2021

Catching up with reviews and currently reading

A couple of books to catch up on today, starting with Into the London Fog, a collection of weird stories, edited by Elizabeth Dearnley.

This was a bit unusual for one of the British Library's wierd collection of books. I bought it thinking it was, as they usually are, all fiction, but it turns out 4 or 5 of the contributions are actually non-fiction... either essays or accounts of real-life crimes going on in the city. For me, that wasn't too much of a problem as I actually like reading essays, but for some it might be and Goodreads reviews bear that out. Each story came under the heading of the part of London where it was set, Whitechapel, Waterloo, Mayfair (referred to in the story by Rhoda Broughton as 'May Fair' so I assume that's how it used to be known?) and so on. Favourites included the essay by Virginia Woolf where she goes out for a walk on a late winter's afternoon with the excuse that she needs a new pencil. Delightful description of a second-hand bookshop in this very atmospheric piece. I also enjoyed The Demon Lover by Elizabeth Bowen, a tale of a woman being haunted by her fiancé who died in WW1. The Mystery of the Semi-detached by Edith Nesbit was also very good. It's another story of an engaged couple torn assunder by circumstances. Spring Heeled Jack, an anonymous piece written as a newspaper article, recounts how London was terrorised in the 1830s by somebody - or more likely a group of people - setting out to scare people to death... dressing up to look frightening and jumping out at ordinary folk going about their business. There were deaths apparently, people dying because of a weak heart or as a result of running away and getting knocked over. All in all, this was rather a patchy compilation. A few good stories, a couple of interesting essays, but nothing I was completely bowled over by apart from possibly the Woolf essay which I liked a lot. I need to read her, A Room with a View.

And now... I was going to say 'for something completely different'... but Elly Griffiths' The Lantern Men does actually have its creepy side too.

So, this is book 12 of the author's well known 'Ruth Galloway' series of murder mysteries based around the archaeology and countryside of Norfolk. Ruth has moved on since the last book. I won't say too much but she's no longer an archaeologist with the University of Norfolk and no longer helping the local police and Harry Nelson with their murder cases. However. (There always is one of those.) A serial killer Nelson thinks killed more women than he admits to has said that he will make a deal. He'll tell the police where more bodies are buried as long as Ruth is brought in to take charge of the dig. She can't resist, naturally, partly because it all seems to be tied in with a place she's just been to on a writer's retreat but also - it's Nelson. A local legend concerning weird lights luring people to their deaths on the marshes and known as 'The Lantern Men', also comes to the fore, which gives the whole thing a supernatural bent.  Lots of twists and turns in this instalment, making it an excellent read for autumn and Halloween. It was also nice to catch up with Ruth and Harry and the extended family, also the wonderful Cathbad. And the Norfolk coast plays its part as usual, love the salt marshes as described, wild and wonderful. So much atmosphere in these books, I love them. 

Currently reading. Well there's this:


Which I absolutely 'love' and have decided to take my time over. In fact, as Theroux's visits to the The South take place over a year, season by season (I've just finished autumn), I may well read the book in a similar manner. Which might mean I don't finish it until next August. I'll have to think about it. I'm quite in favour of 'slow reading' sometimes... bit like 'slow cooking' only books. :-)

Also reading this:


Hmm. I like it. But not once have I felt compelled to pick it up and read on because I'm excited about what happens next. I'm sure you all know how that feels? My knowledge of Greek mythology is sketchy. I took the 'O' level in the late sixties so I'm familiar with names and deeds but that's about it. I want to increase that scant knowledge but the subject is vast so I've also just started this for basic background info:


Another one to read slowly and savour. And 'hopefully' learn something! Whether it'll stick or not is another matter. I do feel rather excited that there's quite a lot of fiction out now that puts flesh on the bones of all these myths. So that could make for some fun reading. And that's what it's all about, right?

Friday 12 November 2021

The 2021 Christmas challenge & readthon

So here's a challenge I haven't participated in before, it's the '2021 Christmas challenge & readthon'. This is being hosted by Michelle at Christmas Spirit.



The challenge runs from the 22nd. November until the 6th. January 2022 and the sign-up post is HERE.

There are three ways to participate.

1. Challenge - pick a level

2. Readathon - read as much (or as little) as you want. (Any kind of book.)

3. Participate in both!

I'm just going to do the first one and the levels for that are: 

Candy Cane: read 1 book

Mistletoe: read 2 - 4 books 

Christmas Tree: read 5 or 6 books, or more (this is the fanatic level!)

For the reading challenge, these must be Christmas novels, books about Christmas lore, a book of Christmas short stories or poems, books about Christmas crafts, children's books (we even have a level for them!), etc.

I'm going to have a go at 'Mistletoe' which involves reading 2 to 4 books. 

I have a stack of 6 physical books on my shelf and probably more than that in my Kindle 'Christmas' collection. Very much looking forward to starting on this one on the 22nd.


Monday 8 November 2021

New books!

I haven't done a 'new books' post in a while. This is mainly because my Kindle Fire is the main recipient of most of my new books these days. It's so easy - possibly *too* easy - to pop books on there, cheaper (although not always) and they don't take up any shelf space. Plus, I absolutely love the display page on my KF. I get sent books though, and loaned them, and I do still buy physical books, so this is my haul over the past couple of months.

From the bottom of the left hand pile which are all fiction.

Miss Austen by Gill Hornby, purchased at my local bookshop. This is about Jane Austen's sister, Cassandra, looking for personal letters her sister wrote in order to destroy them but also looking back at their childhood. I have several Austen themed books I want to read next year plus have a tentative plan to go and see her house in Alton in Hampshire and maybe get to the Jane Austen museum in Bath which I've never been to.

Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens. Is there a more famous book at the moment? This one is not mine, it was lent to me by my youngest daughter. I saw the author interviewed on the Sky Arts bookclub programme and apparently it's her first fiction book after years of writing non-fiction. Love the sound of it.

Randall's Round, short vintage, weird stories by Eleanor Scott and Sunless Solstice, a collection of Christmas tales, edited by Lucy Evans and Tanya Kirk, were both sent to me by the British Library publishing people for a fair review. They look excellent.

Twelve Days of Christmas by Debbie Macomber was an Amazon purchase and is about a woman trying to get her grumpy neighbour interested in her by being super nice. She blogs about it to track her progress and then the blog becomes popular... I thought this sounded like a lot of fun, a good light read for Christmas.

Now the non-fiction:

London Fog: The Biography by Christine L. Corton. This was an Amazon Marketplace purchase. This is basically what it says on the tin - a book about the history of foggy London. Not just the history but excerpts from books by authors who've talked about it in their books: Dickens, Henry James, Oscar Wilde, Robert Louis Stevenson. I can't wait to read this. Great cover:

Pacific: The Ocean of the Future by Simon Winchester. Another Amazon purchase because I loved his book on the Atlantic and Krakatoa so much and am hoping this will be equally as enthralling. 

True North: Travels in Artic Europe by Gavin Francis. This charts the author's travels around places such as Shetland, The Faroes, Greenland, Svalbard, Lapland and so on.

Have you read any of these? What did you think?

Saturday 6 November 2021

Two historical mystery reads

Two historical mysteries to talk about today, both qualify for Marg's Historical Reading Challenge 2021 and are my books 10 and 11.

A Distance too Grand by Regina Scott is the first book in a historical romance/mystery series that was recommended first by Lark at Lark Writes... on books and life and then by Susan at  Bloggin' 'bout Books. I also have to say that that cover with The Grand Canyon  in the background was a major attraction too.

Meg Pero is the daughter of a photographer in 1870s America. She's travelled all over with her father as his assistant and is now an excellent photographer in her own right. When he passes away she feels more than qualified to replace him in the business but has to move in with her aunt who has other ideas about her neice's future. Meg takes off in secret and catches the train to where he father's next assignment was due to be, a fort near The Grand Canyon. The captain leading the prospective expedition, Ben Coleridge, is none too happy when Meg turns up, partly because he feels it's no place for a woman but also he and Meg have a history together: they used to be engaged. He has no option but to take her though as he needs to get the expedition off and running and can't wait for someone else to be hired. His father disappeared in the canyon a while ago and Ben's family are desperate to know what happened to him. The expedition is fraught with danger and difficulty, not least of which is Meg's need to make her photography business work because if she cannot make a living she cannot live. A Distance too Grand is categorised as a Christian Romance and that wouldn't normally be my thing but I was attracted by the trope of a woman trying to make a living in a man's world and struggling to be accepted. Truthfully, it wasn't an extremely religious book, it was just there in the background as it would actually have been back then when faith was perhaps more important to many people than it is now. And I have to say that I really enjoyed this book. It has a very strong sense of place, The Grand Canyon and its surrounds are very nicely depicted and felt very real even though I've never been fortunate enough to go. The mystery elements were quite nicely handled, that of what happened to Ben's father and who is mysteriously following the group as they travel. The romance aspect was rather predictable but then who wants a romance book 'not' to be predictable? I was very happy with the book and have already bought book 2, Nothing Short of Wondrous, set in Yellowstone Park.

Lastly, And Only to Deceive by Tasha Alexander.

Emily marries Viscount Ashton in order to escape her dragon of a mother. She hardly knows him but he's the best of an average bunch. Several months later he goes off on safari, as he's a keen hunter, and dies, leaving her a widow. Expected to go into deep mourning for a man she hardly knew, Emily learns how to act, but also decides to find out something about her late husband. Belatedly, she falls in love with him when she finds out he was not just a hunter of animals but deeply into Greek myths and a collector of ancient Greek artifacts. She decides to educate herself on the subject and thus finds herself at the British Museum and introduced to various experts and forgers of the artifacts her husband was so interested in. Emily's mother is scandalised but luckily unaware that her daughter is being followed and possibly involving herself in a forging network. It seems Emily is about to uncover things that certain people would wish kept secret and subsequently putting herself into extreme danger. Well then, another woman trying to make her way in a man's world in the 19th. century. This time the heroine is not poor... what 'she' wants is an education and when she starts to get that she becomes a lot more interesting, not only to the reader but to herself. I loved the character of Cecile, an older Parisian woman who befriends Emily and helps free her of her Victorian restrictions. I would've liked more of the book to be set in Greece but am hoping for that in future books, I felt that this first book was very much a scene-setter for the rest of the series. Which I certainly plan to read more of! It seems I rather like these fiesty Victorian women fighting against Victorian constraints on female behaviour. The book also introduced me to Greek myths, talking a lot about Achilles, other than his 'heel' I don't know the story in full so time to do something about my lack of knowledge around Greek mythology. 

I've had this on tbr mountain for yonks:

The Greek Myths by Robin and Kathryn Waterfield. I'll read this slowly for the next few weeks to see how I get on, I think Stephen Fry has a couple of books available on the subject too. And I also have this on my library pile:

The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller. I think this was hugely popular when it came out in 2017 but I never got around to reading it even though I planned to. I think 'the time has come', as the walrus said. I think it might be good read alongside the Greek Myths book.

I do love a new reading plan!

Sunday 31 October 2021

Books read in October

Looking at the books I've read this month there seems to be a surprising diversity of setting. Not sure why 'surprising' exactly as I ring the changes every month, but this month I do seem to have hopped about all over the place... or should I say 'planet'. Anyway, eight books read and these are they:

69. The Salt Path by Raynor Winn 

70. Opium and Absinthe by Lydia Kang 

71. A Keeper by Graham Norton 

72. Tales of the City by Armistead Maupin. A reread set around a house and its lodgers in San Francisco in the 1970s. I was underwhelmed when I read it in 2007 and underwhelmed in 2021. Can't win 'em all...

73. Death Around the Bend by T.E. Kinsey. I thought I'd reviewed this but I haven't. It's book three in the author's Lady Hardcastle series wherein her and her faithful sidekick, come maid, come companion, 'Flo', head off to stay with a lord who is into motor racing. Somebody dies doing it, naturally, but was it an accident or was there some dastardly skullduggery? Loved this. The author has got into his stride now and there was some genuinely LOL dialogue and good plotting. Excellent series, recommended by a good friend.

The cover:

74. The Stranger Diaries by Elly Griffiths 

75. Deep by James Nestor 

76. A Distance too Grand by Regina Scott. To be reviewed but it was a delightful read: series recommended by Lark and Susan. 

So, two non-fiction and six fiction books read this month. I've walked the South West coastal path here in England,  visited New York in the late 1800s, popped over to Ireland, San Francisco, pottered a bit more around England, dived the depths of oceans all over the world (yeah, right) chatting to whales and dolphins and finished off in the Grand Canyon. What a ride! 

Proof of my excellent reading month is that I can't choose a favourite, because apart from Tales of the City which for me was a bit average (not at all 'terrible'), all the rest were terrific reads. That said, I think I found Deep by James Nestor to be the most interesting book of the month.

This one gripped me from start to finish and taught me a lot. It provided quite a lot of 'wow' moments when reading it, which is always a plus.

So, onwards into November and I've started this:

Into the London Fog edited by Elizabeth Dearnley because it strikes me that November is a good month to read weird London fog yarns. :-)

And I'm thinking of starting this:

Anyone read it? I'm in an American mood at the moment and have a handful of travel books I could read including Not Tonight Josephine by George Mahood, which is on my library pile. I want to re-read Huckleberry Finn too and read To Kill a Mockingbird for the first time, believe it or not. But that might be included in 'next' years plans... yes I'm already making plans for what to read in 2022.

Happy Halloween if you celebrate it and happy November reading too.

Thursday 28 October 2021

Deep by James Nestor

Having enjoyed a previous book by James Nestor, Breath, in which the author discusses at some length the nature of breathing, I was delighted to discover that my county library catalogue had his previous book, Deep. Which is, of course, also connected with breathing in that it's all about the sport of free-diving (diving without artificial aids) and thus 'deep' breathing. I'm guessing one thing led to another...

At the time of writing this book author, James Nestor, was a journalist working for Outside magazine (he may well still be) and was sent to Greece to cover the free-diving championships which were taking place there. He knew practically nothing about it so was horrified to see divers surfacing with blood streaming out of their noses or having to be brought to the surface by rescuers because they'd blacked out. He soon discovers that it's the second most dangerous sport in the world, after that thing where people jump off cliffs and tall buildings with a parachute and hope it opens in time (its name eludes me). Apparently hundreds are injured or die every year free-diving.

Anyway, as you do, Nestor decides to do some more investigations and eventually to have a go. Of course in order to be any good whatsoever your lung capacity has to be increased considerably and thus your ability to hold your breath in order to get down to 300ft. and come back alive. That's not the world record by the way, the world record for free-diving is currently 702 feet. You read correctly. The pressure at that depth does awful things to your body, especially your lungs, so special behaviours have to be learnt and even those don't always work. The author finds it incredibly difficult, which the likes of me (fully paid-up member of CowardsRus)  find rather understandable...

But he soon learns that competitive diving is not the only use this form of diving is put to. He meets experts in sea mammals who dive with whales and dolphins and are trying to communicate with them. For me, this is when the book really took off. Whole sections are dedicated to echolocation and the clicks whales and dolphins use and investigations into exactly how they use this to communicate with each other. And us. One scientist thinks he's worked out a way to introduce himself to dolphins and that they 'reply' with their own signature.

I was rivetted by this and would love to find out more and will. But this is a fascinating book, so much detail included about the make-up of the ocean floor, the life down there and how much we don't know, we know more about outer space apparently. He talks about hydrothermal vents and the theory that that is where life began, about how our world is really built on microscopic bones, and how until recently it was thought that the bottom of the ocean was an uninhabited, underwater desert. Hint: it's not. 

I've read a handful of really excellent non-fiction books this year and Deep is yet another. I had no hesitation whatsoever in giving this five stars on Goodreads and can only hope James Nestor has more such books in the pipeline. As an author he reminds me a bit of Simon Winchester whose books are a similar mine of information, written in way that anyone can understand.

Friday 22 October 2021

The Stranger Diaries

The Stranger Diaries by Elly Griffiths has been on my Kindle for a couple of years now. What I hadn't really realised was how gothicky it is and how suited it is to autumn reading and when I was reminded of this recently I plumped for it as an October read. (It's set at this time of year too.)

Clare Cassidy teaches English Lit at a local comprehensive in East Sussex, on the south coast of England. The school is an odd mix of very modern buildings and an old mansion house where a writer used to live many years ago. The writer, R.M. Holland, is only famous for one thing, a short story entitled, The Stranger. Clare is fascinated by this story and the author, to the point of being in the middle of writing an autobiography on his life. The mansion is reputed to be haunted by the ghost of Holland's wife who reputedly fell down the stairs. No one knows whether she fell or was pushed. And the other mystery is whether or not the couple had a daughter. 'Marianna' is mentioned in the author's letters but did she exist and what happened to her?

The school where Clare works, Talgarth High, is the usual mix of hundreds of kids and teachers who, on the surface get on, but underneath there are simmering tensions and a lot of competiveness and pettiness. One of Clare's best friends is another English teacher, Ella, they started their jobs at the same time and are both single. When Ella is found dead in her cottage the shock waves reverberate around the school. She's been stabbed multiple times and a quote from Holland's story (and The Tempest) 'Hell is empty' has been left by the body. 

Clare immediately finds herself a suspect in the murder case. DS Harbinder Kaur and DS Neil Winston are the investigating officers and Kaur, of Indian descent, dislikes Clare on sight. But Clare has priorities that they don't know about. Not only does she have secrets to keep about Ella, she also has a teenage daughter, Georgia, to keep out of trouble and an ex-husband to keep off her back. It's like a juggling act... and life is complicated enough without the sudden knowledge that they're all in real danger from a murderer.

Well, this one is one of those multi-layered stories that twists and turns all over the place. I loved the fact that it's based around a vintage ghost story the likes of which I've read hundreds of. The start of the tale, with a man telling a fellow passenger on a train the terrible events that happened to him when he was a boy at school, is so quintessential to many ghost stories. (The story is revealed in full at the end of the book.) Also playing a part is The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins. The book being written in the same style, ie. chapters from different character's points of view - Clare, Harbinder, Georgia. In fact this is quite a good book for people who like books about books.

The main investigator, Harbinder Kaur, is not your average detective. Not only is she British Indian, she's a lesbian, in her thirties, still living with her parents and they don't know she's a lesbian. I love the mother, always hoping her daughter will find a nice chap! Harbinder is also not a happy camper, she's cynical and quite angry... the reason for this is not fully explained although it's clear that growing up her brothers came first. It makes her very interesting and I hope subsequent books will address this.

I had no clue who'd done the deed so the outcome was a surprise, and so was the reason for it all... I don't suppose this was unique, others who've read more crime fic than me would know, but it seemed very different to me. All in all, a pretty good start to what is, I gather, a new series about DS Harbinder Kaur. It should prove interesting with book two, The Postscript Murders, already out.

Tuesday 12 October 2021

Catching up with fiction

Despite doing two reviews a day or two ago I'm still three books behind so more short reviews to come to try and catch up... fiction this time.

First, a book I've just devoured in two days, A Keeper by Graham Norton... my first book by him.

Elizabeth Keane is an Irish woman who's lived in New York for years. She's divorced with a 17 year old son, her husband having left her for another man, to go and live in San Francisco. Returning to Ireland after the death of her mother she finds the town of Buncarragh completely unchanged, reminding her of why she left in the first place. Sorting out her mother's stuff she finds some letters in the wardrobe (it's always the wardrobe!) They're from the father she never knew and suddenly Elizabeth wants to know who she is and where she comes from. I won't say any more than that about the plot because this is a book full of family secrets, probably more than I've ever come across I think. On the back of the book The Times newspaper describes the books as: Atmospheric, creepy and impossible to put down and I honestly think that sums it up nicely. Parts of it are full of a sort of creeping menace and I honestly wasn't expecting that. What I was expecting and 'got' was the grimness which often seems to come with books set in rural Ireland. Why is that I wonder? The Searcher by Tana French, which I read in July, springs to mind immediately. Anyway, the book. It's in no way the kind of light read I expected from TV personality, Graham Norton, but I could not put the thing down, it was compulsive. It twisted and turned all over the place and grim or no grim, I loved it. 

Next, Opium and Absinthe by Lydia Kang. This in my 9th. book for Marg's Historical Fiction 2021 challenge.

It's 1899 and Bram Stoker's Dracula has just been published. Young Tillie Pembroke, from a very wealthy New York family, has just lost her beloved older sister, Lucy. Lucy was found dead with puncture wounds on her neck but the police seem to be ignoring the crime. A bad fall from a horse has left Tillie incapacitated and addicted to laudanum but she has one advantage, she has a scientific, enquiring mind. By leaving the house at night in secret and with the help of poor, aspiring journalist, Ian, Tillie sets about investigating what happened to her sister. This was interesting in that it gave me quite an insight into the free and easy use of laudanum, morphine and heroin in the late 1800s. Knowing what we now know about its addictiveness, it's quite horrifying to watch quite honestly and you're sitting, reading, thinking, 'DON'T !!! '. That said, this is really a fun, if rather unlikely, gothicky style book with a plucky (mostly) heroine who loves science doesn't understand or observe the social mores about class distinction that existed a hundred years ago. It was a decent read and I enjoyed it.

Lastly, Sherlock Holmes and the Shadwell Shadows by James Lovegrove.

The premise of this is that some papers have been discovered (probably in the wardrobe) written by Dr. John Watson in which he declares that all of the Sherlock Holmes adventures he wrote about were cover-ups for a much bigger story. Which is that H.P. Lovecraft's weird tales of the Cthulhu Mythos were real and he and Holmes have been fighting that fight and not one of Victorian crime at all. This first book of a trilogy recounts how he and Holmes really met and what really happened to Watson in Afghanistan to leave him mentally scarred. A shadowy menace is now stalking Shadwell in the East End of London, there's a powerful but mysterious Chinaman involved and ultimately Holmes' and Watson's first encounter with a dangerous adversary. Without being bowled over, I liked this well enough. It's a bit of a romp around Victorian London with a load of supernatural goings on that are straight out of Lovecraft's Cthulhu world. Villains abound and Holmes and Watson are well tested. I have a feeling I'm going to like book two more, Sherlock Holmes and the Miskatonic Monstrosities, which involves events that happened in New England. The series is well written so that helps a lot and Holmes and Watson feel authentic, not as authentic as Conan-Doyle wrote them, but not that far off.

So that was quite a good selection of weird fiction for September and October reading and I've certainly not finished with the weirdness yet!

Sunday 10 October 2021

Catching up with non-fiction

I'm so behind with reviews it's ridiculous. Four to catch up on, but this time I'll just post briefly about two very enjoyable non-fiction books.

Starting with 40 Memorable Life Experiences edited by Robert Fear.

This is pretty much as described in the title. A clutch of authors share experiences that were not necessarily life changing but which have stayed firmly in their memories for one reason or another. We all have them I'm sure. The collection is hugely eclectic and covers experiences such as the climbing of Mount Kilimanjaro and getting heatstroke at -20C, looking for Leonard Cohen's island home on Hydra, a South Downs childhood, a Scottish family holidaying in Torquay, a first job in Bermuda on a fishing boat, attending your son's wedding by Skype, experiencing an earthquake in Alaska and so on. Several authors have multiple entries, Ronald Mackay speaks about running a farm in Canada, his experience of taking on a young man with special needs is incredibly touching, and Tina Mattern talks of a traumatic childhood when her father remarries. The selection is very wide reaching and I would've thought there was something for everyone here. Every offering is well written and very much from the heart I felt. And it's the sort of book you could easily dip in and out of as the mood takes you. I loved it and will be reading more of Robert Fear's collections.

Next, The Salt Path by Raynor Winn.

The first couple of chapters of this book really upset me. Raynor Winn and her husband, known as 'Moth', lost their farm and livelihood basically because a friend betrayed their trust and then because of a technical error they weren't aware of when the case came to court. The very next day Moth was diagnosed with something called Corticobasal Degeneration (CBD) which is, eventually, terminal. So... they're homeless and Moth is very ill and they have nowhere to go and nothing to do, and it occurs to Raynor that they should walk the South West coastal path, even though friends and family think they're mad. The book charts that long distance (630 miles) trek, their trials and tribulations, which are many, and Raynor's thoughts and concerns as they travel. I think I expected something lighter in tone and it genuinely is 'not'. It's heart-breaking in places. Most people who do these things have a home to go back to, money behind them, Raynor and Moth had neither of those things. And I really did expect more kindness from people along the way but the minute they said they were homeless most people backed away. On the other hand it's a book about what can be achieved against enormous odds, what humans can endure and move on from. And it's a book about love. It's beautiful quite frankly. On a more personal note, I live in the south west and know most of the areas they walked through so that did add to the interest for me. An amazing book and there's a sequel now, The Wild Silence, which I will get to eventually.

So that's my non-fiction reading for the last few weeks. In my next post I'll review two spooky, gothicky type autumnal reads, Sherlock Holmes and the Shadwell Shadow by James Lovegrove and Opium and Absinthe by Lydia Kang.

Wednesday 6 October 2021

A long weekend in Cornwall

We had our first holiday away from home since the start of lockdown a week or so ago. It was only a long weekend in Penzance but we fitted in a quite a lot, seeing relatives and getting out into the countryside a little. So while I ought to be doing book reviews, instead you're getting a few pics of Penzance and West Penwith in the late September autumn sunshine. 

First up, the sunrise from our hotel room on the first morning. This is looking over Mount's Bay.

Next, a couple of pics of the bay in proper daylight showing the iconic Penzance lido and the sun shining nicely on St. Michael's Mount. I'm a bit smitten with colours in these two.

Next, a walk at a village called Zennor. The church first. Apparently it's called St. Senara, thought to be 1,400 years old but rebuilt in the 12th. century. A carving on one of the pew ends depicts the legend of the Mermaid of Zennor.

Walking the path to the headland next.

And last but not least, the view from the National Trust carpark we stopped at for coffee. It's Cape Cornwall of course, a place we always have to visit whenever we're in my home county.

So there you go, hopefully you enjoyed your quick trip to Cornwall.

Saturday 2 October 2021

Books read in September

With just six books read for September it sounds like I've had quite a slow reading month. Except that it doesn't feel like that, probably because one of the books was over 600 pages long and the two non-fiction books I read took me a while to get through. Anyway, these are the books:

63. The Secret Life of Albert Entwistle by Matt Cain 

64. A Talent to Amuse by Sheridan Morley 

65. Grey Mask by Patricia Wentworth 

66. The Collected Ghost Stories by E.F. Benson. He's best known now for Mapp and Lucia but I gather in his day it was his ghost stories he was famous for. I'm not surprised. It was wonderful to reread his output, so brilliantly imaginative and beautifully written. One of my favourite ghostly collections - an especially good creepy read for Autumn. Highly recommend. 

67. Sherlock Holmes and the Shadwell Shadow by James Lovegrove (to be reviewed but a fun romp.)

68. 40 Memorable Life Experiences edited by Robert Fear (to be reviewed, very good.)

So, four fiction and two non fiction.  Apart from the two non-fictions I was mainly based in the UK last month which is very odd for me! But the two non-fictions, Noel Coward's biography and 40 Memorable Life Experiences took me all over the world. I prefer to travel a bit with my fiction too though so hopefully I can arrange that a bit better this month. 

So what's for October? I'm not sure is the answer to that.

I started a reread of this:

But it's not grabbing me and I can't remember whether it took a while to get going last time I read it (2007 apparently). At the moment all the drug taking is irritating me so I fancy I may put that aside for the time being, or read it slowly in dribs and drabs when the mood strikes.

Perhaps something else from this pile as I've only read one so far.

I'm pretty sure I'm going to start The Salt Path next and I want to read The Moth and the Mountain too. I also really want to reread The Historian this month. We'll see. But I love October so hopefully it will be chock full of good books!

Happy Autumn!

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.