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!


(Diane) Bibliophile By the Sea said...

Cath, I can't wait to visit book stores again. My husband (75+) had his first vaccine 2/3 and second scheduled for 3/3. I have to wait still but, we think 65-74 might be in March. It does look like you have some nice reads on those shelves though.

TracyK said...

Cath, very nice review of Master and Commander. One of the problems I had was not know where they were (which countries) and next book I read I will track that better as I read along. I think the second book spends more time on land. I have my copy of Post Captain and haven't decided when to start it (this month or sometime in March).

I am just now starting a very long nonfiction book on race relations in Birmingham, Alabama in 1963 (Carry Me Home by McWhorter), and not sure whether I will read that slowly over the year or ??? Also I did get a copy of Tales of the Black Widowers and have read a few stories and plan on reading that slowly.

Gardens of Delight sounds really good but I don't need to start reading another new author. And it is long.

Maybe Elegy for Eddie is a good place for me to get back into the Maisie Dobbs series. Or try anyway. I have only read one book in the Anna Pigeon series, but I have several more to read someday, including Firestorm.

Sam said...

You are off to a great start, Cath, especially having already read three nonfiction books. I've really drifted away from NF these past few months, and have read only one so far in 2021. Maybe I'm more in the mood for storytellers than the real world right now.

I just finished one this morning, and now I'm trying to find another one to begin. Like you, I'm spinning my wheels because I'm so overwhelmed by choice...an what a great thing that is. I'm not doing to well knocking out some of the ones already on my shelves, so maybe that's where I need to begin looking...

Good news on the vaccine front. Happy to hear that you guys are seeing some personal progress in moving up the line. I'm scheduled for a first dose on Friday, but I suspect it won't happen because our ice storm very likely pushed all the appointments back a few days. That's not a terrible thing unless some of the doses expire and become unusable because of the mess. Stay warm.

Lark said...

Having too many books you want to read next is both a good problem and a bad one. I know what you mean about finding it hard to choose. I'm trying to figure out what I want to read next from the library and I'm having the same kind of problem. There are just too many books I want to read all at once. All those books on your 2021 shelf look like they'll be good reads. You might just have to close your eyes and point to one. ;D Have a great week!

Margaret @ BooksPlease said...

You're very good with your Catching Up posts. I'm still finding it difficult writing reviews - I'm always behind. And I'm in one of those phases where I can't decide what I wan to read - I keep starting books and going on to something else. The good news is that I've had the first jab (I see I'm a bit older than you) and the snow that has been with us for a week disappeared to day - maybe things will get back to 'normal' sometime.

I'm curious about O'Brian's books as I have one, The Yellow Admiral, which is quite late in the series I think. It was a present a few years ago and I'm wondering whether I'd like it as it sounds completely different from the books I usually read.

Cath said...

Diane: Glad to hear your husband has had his first jab, hope you get yours soon. I got my vaccine letter yesterday so will organise that soon.

Tracy: yes, they talked a lot about Cape This and Cape That... I had no idea where they were so I checked and mostly they were off the southern coast of Spain though not always. I hadn't realised that navy ships back then were up and down The Med quite so much. I want to read Post Captain quite soon I think.

I left off reading the Black Widow short stories for a bit and now I can't remember what I read. LOL!

I think the trouble is there are so many really good crime series out there and it's really hard choosing which to start, which to carry on with once you've started or pick up again if you've left off for years. Who'd be a 'reader'!! LOL

Cath said...

Sam: Thanks. So far this year I've read six non-fiction books and am on my seventh. I think that might be some kind of record for me.

Yes, it is wonderful to have choice, I love owning all my books, but goodness me it makes it tough to decide which book to read next as I'm so indecisive... about books anyway, not so much in real life.

I hope your first dose of the vaccine does go ahead on Friday. You might have thought that ice storms would not be an issue in Texas! I hope you haven't been too affected by it. Although weirdly my husband just came in to tell me things are really bad there with no power and conditions so bad you can't drive anywhere. You stay safe.

Lark: Yes! You've hit the nail on head. It's a case of wanting to read all of your books at once. So choosing one over the others is really hard. I decided on a Kindle non-fiction about Spain in the end.

Cath said...

Margaret: I am finding it quite hard to get motivated to write reviews too so am settling for shorter ones, mostly anyway. Plus, just realising that I can't review everything has made me feel freer somehow.

Pleased to hear you've had your first jab. My letter came yesterday but I'm waiting to see if my GP surgery rings as I'd prefer to get it done there.

I found Master and Commander a real refreshing change from murder and crime. It made me wonder why I don't read more historicals. I seem to be really enjoying Marg's Historicals challenge and I think it may actually change my reading habits a bit.

Mary said...

Glad you enjoyed M&C. As I've mentioned before, I've gone through 20 of the books multiple times over the past 20 years. However, I could not bring myself to read the 21st book as it is incomplete...O'Brian died while writing it. The relationships, not only of Aubrey and Maturin, but so many others in the series, are what makes the books so enjoyable. Not that I don't love the historical parts--even the naval aspects--but the characters are key. So much so that I miss knowing what would have been next for them. Definitely my favorite series.

And speaking of series, I've read all of the 15 Maisie Dobbs books (Winspear--read her memoir, too)and enjoyed them very much. Have a hold at the library on #16 The Consequences of Fear which is due for release in the US near the end of March.

Wouldn't mind reading Erica James, but her books aren't available at the library and right now I have too many other books stacked up, so shouldn't buy anymore at the moment. Will keep her books in mind if the pile dwindles sufficiently.

CLM said...

I read the first Nevada Barr when I worked for that publisher but maybe they were simply too outdoorsy for me!

I had a coupon on Monday for Barnes & Noble, the largest bookstore chain in the US (albeit shrinking, like everything else due to Amazon) and was determined to use it to support them. I had a hard time deciding what to buy because of my large TBR and was about to purchase a book that you and I will eventually enjoy, The Narrowboat, although I have it on reserve at the library. Then I saw one I think you had recommended, Mortmain Hall, and got that instead.

Cath said...

Mary: I love the fact that you're such a big fan of the M&C series. Even having read just the one I can see why. They're so beautifully written and observed. I also didn't expect so much humour. So looking forward to reading on.

Maisie Dobbs has been a revelation to me because after reading the first book years ago I wasn't fussed about reading any more. Ten years later I tried again and can't see why I wasn't bothered... it's such an excellent series. I love how she brings up aspects of the effects of war on the population that I'd never considered. Reminding me a bit of the TV series, Foyle's War, where they stress that our side had some awful things going on too. TV and books to make you think.

As to Erica James, I think she might be an occasional read for me, not a 'gobble them all up at once' sort of author. The two books I read have a lot in common and I suspect her others might too.

Constance: I think the outdoorsiness is what I like about Nevada Barr. It's a way for me to visit American NPs that I will probably never see.

Mortmain Hall is book 2 of the Rachel Savernake series, the one I read was Gallow's Court. I have Mortmain Hall on my Kindle to read still.

Nan said...

Elegy for Eddie is the only MD I couldn't bear to read. I began it, but left soon.
Like you, the books I read are mine. I stopped going to the library long ago when I realized everything I want to read is right here, and if I want something new, I buy it. I don't have a second house or fancy car or special clothes. I just spend my money on good food and good books. haha

Cath said...

Nan: I can understand why you struggled with Elegy for Eddie, parts of it were so sad.

I'm actually reading a library book at the moment but by and large all I've done is read my own books during lockdown, Kindle books and books on my shelves. And if I want a book I have it. Like you we don't have a fancy car, I don't go in for posh clothes and we don't drink or smoke. Two things are important to us, good food and books, exactly the same as you. We bought an airfryer at the end of the summer and we absolutely 'love' it as another option of cooking tasty meals.

Yvonne @ Fiction Books Reviews said...

Hi Cath,

I think that even after vaccination I shall still be a little wary about mixing it too much in crowded places! DG had his first jab a couple of weeks ago because he is vulnerable, but as I am in the 60-65 group, I may have to wait another week or so, although our local surgery does seem to be powering through vaccinations and have now hit the 10,000 mark!

I like the sound of the Erica James book. I see this one is from 2005 and is about half way through her published novels. I have only read a couple of the very early books, pre 2000, so it might be fun to catch up with her writing a bit and see how she has developed.

I'm in two minds about the Nevada Barr books, so I'll keep that one on the back-burner for now.

I know that one of our fellow bloggers has always said that I need to read the 'Maisie Dobbs' series from the beginning, but the books sound so good, I am sorely tempted to jump in and give one of them a try, just to see how good they are - Good idea or not?

Thanks for sharing your lovely varied reading schedule. I hope that you have some good books on standby to read next :)

Yvonne X

Susan said...

GARDEN OF DELIGHTS sounds intriguing. I'll have to take a closer look at it.

The Winspear series is my mother-in-law's favorite. I've only read the first book and that was back when it came out, so I'll have to re-read it so I can remember who's who and what's what before I move on with the series!

Anca said...

Checking Google maps to see the locations mentioned in a book is wonderful. It's a shame you didn't enjoy everything from the book, but it can happen.

I read a book about caves and another one about underground tunnels (subway, catacombs) and I found both of them fascinating, with lots of interesting facts.

Cath said...

Yvonne: My vaccination is tomorrow but I feel the same as you, that we will not be going crazy and mixing with crowds even after we've both had two doses. To be honest, we live quietly anyway and have no wish to do that but it will be nice to be able to have both daughters and their families over again in the summer.

I liked the Erica James but I suspect all of her books follow a similar format so I don't think I'll be reading them one after another, more like one or two a year.

I don't see any harm in jumping in and trying one of the Maisie Dobbs books to see if you like it. There is character progression, quite a lot in fact, so if you love the book best to go back to the beginning, but it would at least tell you whether the series is for you.

Oh yes, I have plenty of good books on standby, I've just started my first Amanda Prowse and am enjoying it very much.

Thanks for stopping by, Yvonne!

Susan: Garden of Delights is especially good if you like Italy. I've never been but would love to so books like this suit me very nicely.

Yes, I had to do just that as a matter of fact... go back and read book one of Maisie Dobbs series before I could move on as it was about ten year since I'd read and I couldn't remember the characters in it very well. I was shocked at how much better I liked it second time around and actually wanted to read book 2 and so on.

Thanks for stopping by, Susan!

Cath said...

Anca: Yes, there's a lot of fun to be had looking at Google maps when reading a book.

Reading about caves and underground places is a new reading interest for me. Do you happen to remember the names and authors of the books you read?

Terra said...

I am so glad to meet you, another blogger who likes/loves Master and Commander, I have read 17 in the series. Fabulous friendship between the main characters, lots of love interests in later books. I bought a couple of books that give extra info for the series.

Cath said...

Hi Terra, very nice to meet you. Thanks for commenting. I loved the newly formed friendship between Aubrey and Maturin and can't wait to read more of their adventures. Definitely planning to read Post Captain this month.