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 fiancĂ©.  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...


Tuesday, 11 May 2021

Catching up a bit

As usual I'm waaay behind with reviews, four to be precise, so I'm going to do a quick run-down of three of the books I've been reading since the beginning of the month.

First up, Bats in the Belfry by E.C.R. Lorac.

Author, Bruce Attleton, has disappeared. His wife and friends all thought he was on a trip to Paris but at a recent dinner party they had all been discussing how you would get rid of a murdered body and two of his friends become concerned enough at his lack of communication to investigate. The police, in the form of Chief Inspector MacDonald,  are called in but they struggle to get anywhere at first. It turns out there's blackmail involved, not to mention infidelity, mad artists, impersonation... and an old, rambling house, 'The Belfry' in London's Notting Hill. It's quite complicated to be honest and I struggled a bit, not only to keep up with the intricacies of the plot, but to remember who was who, and what relation they bore to everyone else and what was going on. Nevertheless I enjoyed it a lot (no harm in giving an addled brain a good workout) because E.C.R. Lorac's writing is never anything less than superb and I will read anything at all written by her. I wondered if this book was the origin of the term, 'Bats in the Belfry', meaning mad or eccentric, but apparently not, it's thought that that term originated in America at the beginning of the 20th. century.

Next, Fat Dogs and French Estates, a non-fiction book, by Beth Haslam.

The author, Beth Haslam, and her husband, Jack, decide to retire to France. They enjoy shooting game and want to buy a house with land, including plenty of woodland, so they can start a shooting business. Sounds pretty straightforward? Er... no. It seems Estate Agents are the same the world over... you tell them what you want and they try to bamboozle you into thinking something entirely the opposite is precisely what you asked for. Beth lines up lots of viewings and her and husband and the two dogs, Biff and Sam, set off on a very long road-trip. Their experiences are catalogued in this, part one, of what is, I think, a four book series telling of their adventures in France. I loved it. Partly because some of their journey was familiar to me from our own trips to France but also it's beautifully written in a very funny, self-deprecating manner and the dogs are as much a star of the show as the humans. Plus, the eccentricities of the owners of the houses they view are beyond belief at times, and the estate agents are not far behind. I will definitely be reading on in this series. 

 

Lastly, Prisoners of Geography by Tim Marshall, another non-fiction.

Geography was probably my favourite subject at school, apart from possibly Maths, so this one was a bit of a must-get for me when I spotted it on Goodreads. It concerns Geopolitics, which looks at the way international affairs can be viewed and understood through geographical factors. It stands to reason really, except that I'd never given it much thought until I read Krakatoa by Simon Winchester wherein he discusses that quite a lot. Tim Marshall considers the history and politics of various areas of the globe from the point of view of their rivers, mountains, seas, plains and so on: Russia, China, The USA, Western Europe, Africa, The Middle East, India and Pakistan, The Arctic, Korea and Japan and Latin America. The most interesting for me was The Arctic - with the ice rapidly disappearing who's going to lay claim to the waters? Answer, probably Russia and of course there's absolutely 'no' potential for conflict there! I appreciated the author's attempt to explain The Middle East and its divisions and wars, because I gather even experts have trouble with that. Really the author made me think about things that I never had before, or more about things I was only vaguely aware of. Some of it was scary, especially when discussing the potential for conflict just about 'everywhere'. It made me wonder how there are any humans left on the planet, let alone 7 billion of us. An interesting read. The author states, 'Geography has always been a prison', and I understand now what that means.

So, four down, one to go. I shall do a longer review of Case Histories by Kate Atkinson I think. Interesting book.


Friday, 30 April 2021

Books read in April

I've just studied my list of April books and something really rather startling has happened: I read no crime fiction whatsoever! So once I picked myself up off the floor, sat down again and thought about it... well nothing really, I still don't what happened! How bizarre.

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

24. HMS Surprise by  Patrick O'Brian

25. The Platform Edge - supernatural stories edited by Mike Ashley 

26. The Volcano, Montserrat and Me by Lally Brown 

27. The Cold Vanish by Jon Billman 

28. Life After Life by Kate Atkinson. A well written book about a woman who keeps getting new chances to relive her life in order to get it right. At least I think that was what it was about. I found it confusing and ultimately did not get it at all. But there you go, win some, lose some.

29. Mr Finchley Discovers His England by Victor Canning. A charming book written and set in the 1930s. It's about a middle aged man, a bit set in his ways, who gets an unexpected walking holiday, travelling from London to the south west of England and who has many bizarre adventures. It reads a little like a series of short stories. Definitely a 'discovering yourself' sort of book and very enjoyable.

30. The Villa by Rosanna Ley 

So what have we got? Two non-fictions, five fictions. Four of the books really stood out, HMS Surprise by Patrick O'Brian, The Volcano, Montserrat and Me by Lally Brown, The Cold Vanish by Jon Billman and The Villa by Rosanna Ley.

I've pretty much frolicked and cavorted all around the world... crossed the Atlantic, and rounded The Cape of Good Hope to India with Jack Aubrey and Stephen Maturin, spent time with an erupting volcano on Monserrat in the Carribean, been all around the National Parks of the western USA, then all around the SW of England with Mr. Finchley and then,  finally, off to Sicily for my hols. What a journey! I've loved every minute and wish I could personally thank the authors concerned for their efforts on my behalf. 

So what about May? Well, here're a few books I might have a go at but the trouble is I make pile like this, admire them for a day or two and then... read off my Kindle. Out of the seven books I read in April, six were Kindle reads. What to do about this? I don't know really but I will try to read a few of these. (Click for a much clearer view.)

It will be noticed that I've included several crime fiction reads for this month. I doubt all of that non-fiction on the right will be read but I'd like to read one of the two historical fictions on the lefthand pile, Washington Black by Esi Edugyan or One Thousand White Women by Jim Fergus. We'll see.

Happy May reading!

Wednesday, 28 April 2021

The Villa by Rosanna Ley

The Villa by Rosanna Ley was one of those 99p, spur of the moment, Kindle grabs that I suspect quite a few people have indulged in over the last year or so. Sicily was the draw for me, I must admit, having become addicted to Inspector Montalbano and, to a slightly lesser extent, Young Montalbano, on BBC iPlayer and fallen for the Sicilian scenery and architecture, a book set there was an absolute no brainer.

 

 

The plot of this book is centred around three women.

Flavia: A seventeen year old young woman living with her parents on the island of Sicily during WW2. It's a claustrobic existence, girls are not free to do as they please, controlled by their fathers mainly, even to the extent of telling them who they're going to marry. But Flavia is different, she wants another kind of life and when she discovers a young British airman in the wreckage of a glider she senses another world to which she can aspire.

Tess: Flavia's daughter is in her late thirties. She has a good job in England but has just been passed over for a promotion which she feels she should've got. Mother of a teenage daughter, just spreading her wings, Tess feels she's at a crossroads and gives in her notice at work. When news comes that she's inherited a villa on the island of Sicily from a man she doesn't know, Tess's astonishment turns to 'what if...' but there's a snag: her mother is vehemently against her going to Sicily to solve this mystery.

Ginny: Tess's eighteen year old daughter is just taking her A levels. It's assumed she will then go on to uni as she's clever but this is not at all what she wants. Her father disappeared before she was born, leaving her mother, Tess, to bring her up on her own. The two have always been very close but that's changing as Ginny grows up, discovers boys, keeps secrets.

So Tess, does go off to Sicily, naturally. And Things Transpire. She discovers a long-standing family feud, tackles a years old mystery and realises that she is entitled to a life of her own but... what about the ties of history? Sicily is not called a 'dark island' for nothing, something her mother, Flavia, knows only too well.

Sometimes these 99p random grabs turn out to be little gems and so it was with The Villa. Yes, it is a light read, there are elements of romance and holidayitus, but there's also a lot of history, a whole culture to discover, strong depictions of the life problems we all encounter along the way. I liked reading about the cuisine of Sicily via Flavia's writings, I loved the secluded little coastal town where the villa is, and there was good depth of characterisation, the people were not cardboard cutouts, they felt very real and so did their problems. 

Rosanna Ley is a new author ro me but she's written a whole clutch of books set all over Europe and further afield. I realise I do actually have another hers on my Kindle, (anyone else got no clue what's lurking on there?) The Saffron Trail, set in Morocco. Very intrigued by that so will get to it soon. 

 

Thursday, 22 April 2021

The Cold Vanish

I first read about The Cold Vanish by Jon Billman HERE on Lark's blog. I always pay special attention to the books Lark reads because I know how similar our tastes seem to be and I was very glad I did this time.



 

So this is a book which I believe is fairly popular in the USA at the moment and which, needless to say, I had never heard of. (Quick pause for a shout out to my American blogging friends who frequently introduce me to books I would otherwise never come across. Thank you!)  But the moment I read Lark's review I knew it was a book I would find fascinating.

The book centres around the disappearance of Jacob Gray, a cyclist, young, very fit, who disappeared off the face of the Earth in April, 2017. He'd started a long-distance cycling trip across America  to Vermont in the Olympic National Park in Washington State but his bike was found by the side of the Sol Duc river, in said park, no sign of Jacob anywhere. The river was the first suspicion, that he'd gone for water, fallen in and drowned. Jacob was an excellent swimmer and experienced surfer but they searched the river anyway. No sign. The subsequent official search was not as stringent as it should've been, experts not called in, one set of officials not talking to another and so on. Jacob's father, Randy, ended up taking on the job of searching for his son and the author of this book, Jon Billman, joined him to help.

"People don't take trips, trips take people." -- Amelia Earhart 

What follows is an extraordinary account, not only of their search, which takes them all over the west coast and further, but of scores of other people who have also gone missing without trace. It turns out no one is keeping a database of the number people who go missing in the wild. Cities yes, but not wild places. And their number is legion. It seems cyclists don't go missing very often, possibly because they keep more to the trails. Runners, walkers, older people, small children are most likely to disappear and many of them are never found.

And this of course sparks all kinds of supernatural, X-Files type theories. Abducted by aliens, taken by Bigfoot, cults, Hell's Angels, sex traffickers, crossed via a portal to another dimension, you name it. I was fascinated by the Bigfoot people who have a huge presence in the area and whose story features quite a lot because they're welcoming and helpful to Randy and Jon. Lots of people apparently disappear on the 37th parallel, known as the USA's UFO hotspot. Mount Shasta is apparently well known for strange, mystical experiences and disappearances. Of course, having been a big X-Files fan I lapped all this up, with a pinch of salt of course, but it really is absolutely rivetting. 

As were the many stories included in the book of others who have gone missing. Some are found, or just simply turn up - often at almost the exact spot they were last seen, some are found perished in forests, on mountains, in rivers, years later, but many more are, tragically, never found at all. 

This was a compelling, 'can't put it down' book for me. The desperate search for Jacob by his father is heart-breaking, you want to weep for him. But it is also an absolutely fascinating and sobering read about the dangers of wandering off the path in America's National Parks, they are 'massive' and if you get caught out your chances are not high, even for experts in survival techniques. This one will definitely feature in my favourite non-fiction books at the end of the year, no contest.

 

Monday, 19 April 2021

What I've been reading so far in April

I've been reading pretty much all month but not reviewing it seems. Time for a quick catch-up.

We'll start with HMS Surprise by Patrick O'Brian, which is book three in his Aubrey/Maturin series.

I love the covers on these books, they're by artist, Geoff Hunt and his website is well worth a look. This instalment sees Captain Jack Aubrey and Dr. Stephen Maturin sent to India and the South Seas to deliver an Envoy and protect The East India Trading Company's ships. They go by way of South America and then cross the Atlantic to round Cape Horn. Amazing descriptions of the storms they encounter follow. At one stage Stephen is stranded on a desert island for days and barely survives. He gets involved in a dual later in the book and ends up operating on himself. Jack is still hoping to marry his Sophie and Stephen comes across Diana Villiers again in India. And there's a death which was incredibly sad. So much happening in this one with the friendship between the two men now very strong. I love the deep understanding of human nature Stephen has and Jack's total obliviousness to what's going on in anyone's head. These books are a joy and I'm hooked and starting to understand why O'Brian is known as the Jane Austen of the sea. 

 

The Platform Edge: Uncanny Tales of the Railways edited by Mike Ashley is another of the British Library's 'weird tales' volumes which somehow found its way onto my Kindle. *Cough* I'm quite keen on railway based fiction (and non-fiction come to that) so this was a must read for me. Sadly, although it was OK, it was not a brilliant collection. Out of 12 stories I marked 5 as being good, although the writing of every one was excellent. Oddly enough, the one story that wasn't supernatural, The Tragedy in the Train by Huan Lee, and was a sort of locked room crime yarn, was one of my favourites. Other favourites: The Underground People by Rosemary Timperley, a rather disturbing 'zombie' type story, A Romance of the Piccadilly Tube by T.G. Jackson was a 'father cutting a profligate son out of the will' tale, and A Ghost on the Train by Dinah Castle was a 'see that old woman in the corner, she's a ghost' kind of story. I liked the fact that many of the authors in the anthology were unknown to me and thus had something to offer that was not familiar.
 

Lastly, The Volcano, Montserrat and Me by Lally Brown, is a non-fiction account of the author's three year stay on the island of Montserrat in the Caribbean. Lally's husband was posted there as part of a government contract and she, of course, went with him. Almost as soon as they arrive the local volcano starts to act up and it's not long before things get very hairy indeed. I enjoyed reading all about local customs, colourful characters and life on Montserrat as I haven't read an awful lot of books based on Caribbean islands. It sounded idyllic and how cruel that a natural catastrophe should rob the 10,000 inhabitants of their way of life. Descriptions of eruptions... and there were many... were absolutely terrifying, I've no idea how Lally stood it, but completely understand why she and her husband stayed. If you can help, you must, but goodness me, what a test of endurance and I'm so full of admiration for the couple. If you have any interest in volcanoes and how they behave, as I have in an amateurish sort of way, then this would be an excellent book to read. It's astonishing to be quite frank, her descriptions of what happens when a volcano errupts and the bombardment starts are mind-blowing. I will be reading more by Lally Brown and already have her High and Dry in the BVI (British Virgin Islands) on my Kindle. Can't wait.

I've also just finished this:


The Cold Vanish by Jon Billman, about people who go missing without trace in American National Parks, was an absolutely compelling, 'can't put it down', read which I'll review in due course.

And this one I'm two thirds of the way through:


Life After Life by Kate Atkinson is another compelling read but is driving me a bit bonkers to be honest. More about that later too.

I hope your April reading is going well?

Tuesday, 6 April 2021

My reading challenges update

The first three months of the year are now behind us so I thought I would do an update on how my reading challenges are going. I'm only doing two this year, unusual for me to not to be doing half a dozen, although I have cut down a bit over the past couple of years and, to be honest, feel much the better for it.

First up the Historical Fiction Reading Challenge 2021 which is  being hosted by Marg at The Intrepid Reader and Baker.

 

I signed up for the 'Victorian Reader' level which is to read 5 books by the end of December. So far I've read 4 of the 5. These are they:

1. Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides

2. Master and Commander by Patrick O'Brian 

3. Miss Benson's Beetle by Rachel Joyce

4. The Abominable by Dan Simmons

It looks like I'll have to up my level to 10 books, I must admit I did wonder if I was aiming a bit low. Also I perhaps need to head back a bit further in history, 3 of my 4 books are early 20th. century and although they're still classified as 'Historical' I did plan to go back a lot further than that when I first signed up. I am pleased however that each of the books I've read so far has taught me something about the time period in which it's set... which after all is the point of the exercise.


The other challenge I'm doing this year is, Book Bingo 2021 which is being hosted by  Unruly Reader.

This is the Bingo 'card' to work from:

The idea is to form a line or go for broke and read a book from every category. I'm just reading books and seeing how it turns out. LOL

Books read so far:

SURVIVAL: Into the Planet by Jill Heinerth 

RESTORATION: Krakatoa by Simon Winchester 

IMMIGRANT: Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides 

BREEZY: Gardens of Delight by Erica James 

QUEST: Miss Benson's Beetle by Rachel Joyce 

TRIUMPH: The Abominable by Dan Simmons 

RABBIT HOLE: Emma by Jane Austen (This category covers, 'A book you fall into, or a book that inspires you to read related books'. I felt that Emma was both of those.)

So, 7 books read and not a bad start I feel. In fact, I'm only 2 short of a Bingo! on the righthand side but I shall plough on as I'm having too much fun to stop. 

So that's my challenge progress so far this year. Going pretty well I think and the main thing is I'm not stressed by either of them and they're 'fun'.


Friday, 2 April 2021

Books read in March

I can't believe another Easter is already upon us, it only seems like five minutes since Christmas! Lockdown is easing in the UK but our Easter will still be a quiet one, not least because they're forecasting wintery showers. Daffs and primroses in the garden, magnolias and camelias are everywhere magnificent, the blossom on the greengage tree is so pretty ... and it might snow. Only in the UK.

Anyway. March was an excellent reading month for me. I read eight books and these are they:

16. Brat Farrar - Josephine Tey 

17. Post Captain - Patrick O'Brian 

18. Diamonds and Dust - Carol Hedges 

19. Death Has Deep Roots - Michael Gilbert 

20. Heavy Weather an antholgy edited by Kevan Manwaring 

21. A Time to be in Earnest - P.D. James 

22. The Abominable - Dan Simmons 

23. Emma - Jane Austen (to be reviewed)

So, eight books - seven fiction and only one non-fiction. A motley mix, three murder mysteries, two historicals, a collection of weird short stories, a classic, and an autobiographical work. And they were all good. I don't know what's happened but I seem to be enjoying every book I pick up this year. Whether this is pure 'luck' or whether my skill at choosing books I will enjoy has been honed to the point where I'm now rarely mistaken, I'm not sure. I do know that I will now happily abandon books if I'm 30 or 40 pages in and not enjoying it, but even that has not happened a lot lately. Oh well, one of life's little mysteries.

A favourite books from the eight is hard because they were all so good and I would recommend any of the them to the right reader. But I think this just had a 'very' slight edge on the rest:

 


Emma really took me surprise. I knew that I liked the book but I had no idea that a third read of it would be quite so enjoyable... to the point where I just couldn't put the thing down. I have a couple more Austen  rereads coming up over the next few months, probably but not definitely starting with Persuasion.

Happy Easter to the lovely people who visit my blog, and especially to those who take the time to leave a lovely comment or two. It is so appreciated. And not only 'Happy Easter' but 'Happy Reading' too. 



Wednesday, 31 March 2021

Catching up and currently reading

First up, a quick review of The Abominable by Dan Simmons. This was my fourth book for the Historical Fiction reading challenge 2021 which is being hosted by Marg at The Intrepid Reader. 

The title of this would suggest a book about yetis, otherwise known as The Abominable Snowman, especially given the author's track record for horror stories. This is very much not the case! I knew it because I'd read a few reviews of the book on Goodreads so was aware that it's primarily a book about mountaineering. Specifically Mount Everest but before the three main characters ever get anywhere near there they're preparing in The Alps and Wales. Jake Perry is the young American narrator and with him go a Frenchman and a Brit, primarily to look for a climber who disappeared around the same time as the real-life Mallory and Irvine. Secretly, they also plan to make an attempt on the summit. This is quite a long book, nearly 700 pages, and if you have no interest in minutiae of mountain climbing then I would suggest you give this one a miss. So many pages are given over to ropes and ice picks and breathing apparatus and goodness knows what else that even I, with an interest in this kind of thing, felt it was a bit much. I did enjoy the historical element, lots about various attempts on Everest that was very interesting, and in the last quarter or third of the book it suddenly became a spy story, which took me a bit by surprise but did help the book jog along a bit quicker. All in all, I enjoyed this one but felt it could have lost a couple of hundred pages and been none the worse for it. 

Also read this month was, A Time to be in Earnest by P.D. James.

P.D. James did not write a proper autobiograhy, what she did instead was chart a year in her life, August 1997 to August 1998 and peppered the diary with reminiscences of her long life. It works very well indeed. She was born in 1920 and died in 2014 aged 94 and like a lot of my parents' generation lived through an awful lot of history. She's most famous of course for her Adam Dalgliesh series of books and there is quite a lot of background info on those included in the book... settings, what inspired her to write some of the books, the pubicity she was required to do for each one. James was a busy person, I was rather shocked that she was on the go constantly. What I loved was how much common sense was displayed. So often when reading her opinion on something I found my head nodding in agreement. A sad loss to crime fiction and to us all but she was 94 and no one lives forever. This book was a joy. If you love her crime fiction it's a 'must read'.


And it led me on to this:

 

Jane Austen's Emma. The reason for this is that at the end of that P.D James book is a transcript of a talk she gave in 1998 at the Jane Austen Society's AGM. It was entitled, Emma Considered as a Detective Story. Well, 'that' had never occurred to me before and I wanted to know more. But it's donkey's years since I read it last so before reading the essay I felt I should reread the book for the third time. I thought I would meander through it slowy ho ho. I'm halfway through after just a couple of days and adore it more than I ever remember doing so before. Can't stop reading it and when I'm not reading it I'm thinking about it. I have my sights set on Sense and Sensibility next, and then possibly a reread Persuasion or Mansfield Park which I don't believe I've ever read. 

Don't you just love it when one book leads to another or even a new reading project?


Wednesday, 24 March 2021

Several short reviews

So, three books to catch up on quickly, read between Brat Farrar at the beginning of the month and the anthology, Heavy Weather which I reviewed recently.

First up, Post Captain by Patrick O'Brian.

This is book two in the author's Aubrey/Maturin series. The start of the book finds Captain Jack Aubrey kicking his heals in England and hiring a house in the country while the Royal Navy decides what to do with him. A Mrs. Williams and her daughters enter the fray along with a cousin (?) they have staying with them, Diana Villiers. Cue lots of romantic shenanigans and rivalries between Aubrey and Maturin and this reads just like a Regency Romance. I gather there has been a connection made between the author and Jane Austen, I shall have to investigate. This takes up about a third of the novel and then Jack is given command of an oddly built ship that no one else wants and off they all go to test it out in the English Channel. Great stuff and a really superb second installment of the series. I'm champing at the bit to read more but am trying to show restraint (Ha!) so as not to gobble them all up at once. I'm also interested to know more about O'Brian himself so will check to see if there is a biography at some stage. 

Next, Diamonds and Dust by Carol Hedges.

Industrialist, Herbert King, who has just rescued his niece Josephine from the clutches of an orphanage has been brutally murdered. It's down to Josephine and Herbert's mistress, Lileth, to discover the culprit in Victorian London. There's a large cast of very well written characters including a husband hunting mama, Mrs. Thorpe, and her disinterested daughter, Isabella, the two rather ineffective policemen in charge of the case, and 'Oi' a delightful young streetsweeper. I enjoyed this Victorian romp very much, definite shades of Robert Louis Stevenson and Arthur Conan Doyle in its weirdness but that suits me very well, the weirder the better in my opinion, you can never have enough 'weird'. This is the first book in the author's 'Victorian Detective' series and I notice the second book, Honor and Obey, is about an entirely different set of people apart from the police detectives. I'd sort of assumed that Joesphine King and Lily would reappear but apparently not. An enjoyable romp anyway.

Lastly, Death Has Deep Roots by Michael Gilbert.

The trial of Victoria Lamartime, a hotel worker and ex-French Resistance fighter, is about to start. It's thought that she murdered Colonel Thoseby who worked with The Resistance during WW2, as she was the one who discovered his body in the hotel where she works. Everyone thinks she's guilty including her own defense counsel so Victoria dismisses them and hires a firm of solicitors, Markby, Wragg and Rumbold. Only Rumbold's son, known as 'Nap' is available so he duly takes on the case. They get an adjournment and Nap is off to France to discover what he can about the connection between the accused and the dead colonel and he only has a few days to get some answers. A lot of this book consists of a courtroom drama and I'm not really a great fan of those. Nevertheless, I enjoyed this one immensely. Gilbert's writing is always perfection itself and the French sections of the book were excellent and kept my attention well. This is book five in the author's Instector Hazlerigg series but don't go expecting that, he's hardly in it... it's all about Nap Rumbold and two assistants, going about their business separately to solve a murder, and was a delightful read.


 

Friday, 19 March 2021

Heavy Weather, edited by Kevan Manwaring

Heavy Weather: Tempestuous Tales of Stranger Climes, edited by Kevan Manwaring, was sent to me free of charge, several weeks ago, by the British Library publishing people, to read and review. 

 

 

This book has 15 stories in all, very varied, from exerts of longer books, to classic wierd stories, to stories that aren't all that weird at all but describe some very odd or dangerous weather phenomena. I'll do a brief run-down of each story. 

1. History of a Six Weeks' Tour (extract) by Mary Shelley. This is a non-fiction extract of the author's trip to Lake Geneva with Percey Shelley and Lord Byron. She was Mary Godwin then as Shelley and her were yet not married. The weather was foul, they could not go out, so she wrote Frankenstein's Monster. As you do. And the reason the weather was so awful was because of the eruption of Mount Tambora in Indonesia in 1815. Funny the effects volcanoes can have on civilisation...

2. The Lightening Rod Man by Herman Melville. This is a comic story about a strange man knocking on the door in the middle of a bad thunder storm and trying to sell the occupant a lightening rod. Didn't do much for me I'm afraid. 

3. A Descent into the Maelstrom by Edgar Allan Poe. I'd read this one before. It's a wonderfully descriptive story of a fishing boat caught in a massive whirlpool off the coast of Norway. 

4. The Great Snow by Richard Jeffries. This one concerns the breakdown of society after an apocolyptic snow event. 

5. The Horror-Horn by E.F. Benson. This is the first story in the collection that I marked as 'excellent' and it's a strange yarn of a yeti-like people who live in the high Alps and prey on unwary climbers. Wonderfully creepy and unsettling. Benson is one of my all-time favourite authors of weird fiction and ghost stories but is best known for his Mapp and Lucia stories of course. 

6. May Day Eve by Algernon Blackwood. This is a typical Blackwood story concerning the natural world. He's most famous for his Canadian forest stories but this one is set off the coast of Sussex (I think) and involves an individual lost in the dark on May Day Eve. Would appeal to those interested in the concept of Faery. Good story.

7. August Heat by W.F. Harvey. Another good story. It's incredibly hot and an artist draws a picture of a very corpulent man that he has never met, the image just comes into his head. He goes for a walk and sees this very person. He's a stone-mason and he's in the middle of carving a headstone for a man 'he's' never met... Well written and nicely spooky.

8. A Mild Attack of Locusts by Doris Lessing. A hugely effective non-supernatural story about a plague of locusts descending on farmers in Africa. I think this is probably more frightening than any supernatural story as it actually happens and the consequences are, obviously, devastating. Beautiful writing as you might expect from Lessing.

9. Through the Vortex of the Cyclone by William Hope Hodgson. Another non-supernatural one. This was an excellent depiction of a ship sailing through a cyclone. I wouldn't have thought any ship could survive such a thing to be honest but it was a superb story, reminding me of the Aubrey/Maturin seagoing series by Patrick O'Brian that I've just begun to read and love so much. 

10. The Wind Gnome by James Lie. This one was based on a Norwegian Folk tale. Interesting but not really my thing.

11. Summer Snow Storm by Adam Chase. This was a clever and amusing story about a weather forecaster who appears to be able to make his predictions come true but has no idea how he does it. It all starts when he predicts a snowstorm in July...

12. The Boy Who Predicted Earthquakes by Margaret St. Clair. Another favourite. It concerns a 15 year old boy in America who can predict the future.... catastrophes, that kind of thing. Not saying any more about this but it was beautifully written, lulling you into a false sense of security and then... Oh. 

13. Monsoon of Death by Gerald Vance. A US army (space-cadet? not sure) meteorologist gets his first assignment on Mars. He's disappointed as it's a dull assignment with an older scientist but when he gets there he realises something isn't right. Good sci-fi yarn.

14. The Purple Cloud by M.P. Shiel. This is an extract from the author's 1901 apocalyptic novel of the same name. The narrator is part of an expedition to The Arctic trying to be the first to reach The North Pole. He goes off on his own to be the first to get there, sees a weird cloud on the horizon, there's a toxic smell which makes him very ill and kills all the local wildlife and... well I'm not going to say any more but I reckon the novel itself might be worth reading. 

15. The Birds by Daphne Du Maurier. So how famous is this story? I'd read it before, seen the 1963 Hitchcock film starting Tippi Hedren and Rod Taylor and completely forgotten how different the two are. Wiki says the film is 'loosely' based on the short story. You're telling me! The 'story' is set in Cornwall (as opposed to California), at least I'm assuming so given the mention of pasties and wonderful cliff scenery. And it's not about a couple, it's about an ordinary family, who live near an isolated farm, trying to protect themselves from attack by massive flocks of birds. It's a wonderfully written, frightening story. I wasn't going to read it again but am so glad I did. 

What I love about these British Library 'weird fiction' anthologies is the variety to be found within their covers. So you get the likes of Doris Lessing and Daphne Du Maurier rubbing shoulders with Mary Shelley and Edgar Allan Poe. There's comedy, there're apocalyptic predictions, there're fairies, murderous birds, sea voyages, mountains... weather-men. I liked the fact that not every contribution was 'weird' weird but more 'astonishing' weird, such as the whirlpool story by Poe and the cyclone one by Hodgson. All life is here within the pages of these anthologies and I love it. The contents could so easily be a roll-out of all the usual suspects and they're not, a lot of thought has clearly gone into the choices and I think that's commendable. I'm delighted to have a couple more to read and a nice handful of the British Library's science-fiction collections too. Long may they continue to produce these excellent anthologies.


Monday, 15 March 2021

New books! And real ones at that!

Several new books to talk about today. There was a meme on social media, Facebook I think, which said, 'There are two sorts of lockdown days, days when a package comes, and days when no package comes.' I think bookish people would add 'book' inbetween the 'a' and the 'package'! Anyway, these arrived for me last week, slightly unusual in that they're physical books because most of my book buying has been confined to Kindle purchases during lockdown. The reason for this being that I'm trying to decrease the number of books on my tbr shelves but also Kindle books are 'usually' slightly cheaper. 


The Moth and the Mountain by Ed Caeser was brought to my notice by one of those Amazon emails... 'Look at this lovely book! We know you like books about mountains and are a total sucker for lovely covers' ... well no, they didn't actually say that last bit but they might as well have. *Cough* Anyway, it's about a chap called Maurice Wilson who, in the 1930s, decided to fly a Gyspy Moth aeroplane from England to Mount Everest, crash-land it on the lower slopes and from there climb to the top of the mountain and be the first person to climb Everest alone. Had to be an Englishman didn't it? No other nationality is that insane. No wonder Noel Coward sang about Mad Dogs and Englishmen.

The Book Collectors of Daraya by Delphine Minoui is a book I spotted on Twitter. It was being publicised by a literary agent who was looking for bloggers to read and review. Now books about Syria are a bit outside my comfort zone, if I'm honest, but a book about an underground library stocked with books that were rescued from bombed out houses piqued my interest somewhat. Plus, I don't read outside my comfort zone enough so I decided to request a copy. I have a feeling I won't be sorry.

The End of the Road by Jack Cooke... hmmm... I'm not sure where I saw this. Possibly Goodreads. The subtitle is 'A journey around Britain in search of the dead'. It's about a chap who converts a clapped-out hearse into a campervan and undertakes (sorry) a trip around the UK looking at cemetaries, famous tombs and forgotten burials. My husband's face when I told him about this new book was an absolute picture. I was accused - somewhat arbitrarily in my opinion - of being as barmy as the people I like to read about. Hmph! A scurrilous lie!

So those are my precious new physical books, best not discuss the Kindle adds that sneak on there and look so pretty all lined up on my tablet...

Hope your March reading is going well? Mine certainly is and I have two good books to review so I must get to that soon. Happy reading.


Thursday, 4 March 2021

Just finished, currently reading, new books

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


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

 

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

I'm currently reading this:


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

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

 

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

 

Sunday, 28 February 2021

Books read in February

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

The books:

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

9. Master and Commander - Patrick O'Brian

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

11. Gardens of Delight - Erica James 

12. Firestorm - Nevada Barr. (Excellent.)

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

14. Miss Benson's Beetle - Rachel Joyce 

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

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



 

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

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


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

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


Happy reading in March!

Friday, 26 February 2021

A couple of reviews

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Stunning or what?


Tuesday, 16 February 2021

Catching up

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

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

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

Next, Gardens of Delight by Erica James.

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

Happy reading!