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.