Thursday, 15 September 2022

Halfway through September

What a week it's been for the UK. Unless you've been living in a cave on a remote island in the Outer Hebrides (somedays it has its attractions) you'll know that The Queen died last week. I think pretty much everyone was taken by surprise. Yes, she was 96 but, apart from looking rather frail in that lovely photo with the cardy and the kilt, there was no real indication that we would lose her two days later. I am a monarchist... not of the fanatical kind... but I believe in it and am  very sad to lose her. I personally have never known another monarch. I was born in May, just a few weeks before her coronation in June 1953, and was given the middle name 'Elizabeth' after her. I saw on Facebook that the author, Louise Penny, is the same and realised with a jolt that there are probably quite a lot of us women out there, in our sixties, all named after The Queen! How odd. So now we have King Charles III. It's going to take some adjustment for all of us, not least for him. Good to see people rallying behind him but my goodness Queen Elizabeth II will be a hard act to follow, I don't envy him one little bit. Interesting times, as they say. But after the last few years I think there's a strong argument for a petition to whomever it might concern that times have got a bit 'too' interesting of late and could we possibly have a break now.

So, reading.  September's been a quietish reading month so far. My last book of August/first book of September was a lurid and unlikely romance set in Montana, Rushed by Aurora Rose Reynolds. It's superior Mills and Boon/Harlequin romance fare really. Woman is jilted by fiancé, but they had booked an adventure holiday in Montana, hiking, learning to survive in the wilderness, that kind of thing. So she goes anyway, on her own, and falls for the chap who's running the course. Bit of conflict ensues but not a lot, it's quite explicit but not excessively so, and the setting was divine and well depicted. It's part one of a three part series, Adventures in Love, where each book deals with a particular male character who appears in book one. The book was fun, bit too much 'lifting of chins' going on (don't books get edited these days?), but I don't think I'll be reading any more.

My next read was, Five Red Herrings by Dorothy L. Sayers, a not entirely successful read but it had its moments.

After that I picked up, Burglars Can't Be Choosers by Lawrence Block, this was on my autumn shelf which I posted about HERE.

Bernie Rhodenbarr's chosen profession is that of 'burglar'. He lives in New York city and just a few jobs a year keep him in a decent appartment with a decent life. Then he accepts an assignment from a man who looks vaguely familiar but Bernie can't put his finger on where he's seen him before. The job is to break into someone's appartment and steal a blue box from a desk. Except that the box isn't there and before Bernie can search elsewhere, in rush the police. But they know him and he pays them to keep quiet, except that one of them goes to use the bathroom and discovers a dead body in one of the bedrooms. Bernie, panicked, makes a dash for freedom and finds himself on the run. Holed up in a friend's appartment, afraid to go out, he must work out a way to find the real killer and clear his name. So this is book one in Lawrence Block's long running series about the New York burglar, Bernie Rhodenbarr. There are 13 books in the series but Block is quite a prolific writer so other series are available, so to speak. This was a light-hearted book, quite an accomplishment I feel to make a crime investigator of a burglar and make him a sympathetic and funny character into the bargain. The action is fast paced, always something going on, but this is New York so I rather expected that. The flavour of that city is very strong. I've never been lucky enough to go to New York (although I've flown over it and had a good view) but like a lot of people I've seen so much of it on the TV that I almost feel like I have been there and know the atmosphere. Not sure if there's another city that could claim that. Do people from other countries feel that way about London even though they may not have actually been there? Hmm. Anyway. Well written, light-hearted, clever, this is a good start to a 'new to me' series and I'll be trying to read more, I have book 3 so will be trying to find book 2 asap.

The book I've just finished is, The Pact by Sharon Bolton.

So this is another book about a group of students getting into trouble. I say 'another' because it brought to mind The Secret History by Donna Tartt and A Fatal Inversion by Barbara Vine. And I think Tana French also wrote a student based crime yarn too, The Likeness, but I have not read that. In this story a group of students have just finished their A levels and are enjoying one last summer of freedom before going on to university. There are six of them, aged around eighteen, five are from wealthy backgrounds, the sixth is a scholarship girl from a poor family. Basically they've been enjoying a summer of drink and drugs... and a dangerous dare which all six of them are expected to undertake. On the night in question there's one last person to do this thing and the result is that three innocent people, including two children, die. What to do? One person will take the blame that's what. That person will go to prison but when they come out the remaining five will owe him or her a favour each. What could possibly go wrong? Ok, so this is one of those modern compulsive reads you come across sometimes. Not so much that you actually love it or the characters, who are mainly awful I have to say... it's just that it's written so well that you're compelled to keep turning the pages at a great rate of knots to see what happens next to these horrible people and will they get their come-uppance. 'Pacey' I suppose one might call the book. I also loved how good the author is at gauging human nature, especially the selfish side. How far are people prepared to go to protect what is theirs? How do they go about convincing themselves that they haven't behaved appallingly? Interesting twisty stuff in the end scenes which were very 'edge of the seat' and compelling. An excellent read. 

I hope you're all enjoying your autumn reading.


Thursday, 8 September 2022

Five Red Herrings - Dorothy L. Sayers

So, Five Red Herrings by Dorothy L. Sayers is my second book of the month (the first being a lurid but fun romance set in Montana :-D) but I'm treating it as the first of my Autumn reads... it's on the 'Autumn' shelf I created for my Kindle as a matter of fact. For those who like books set in Scotland this fits the bill. It's set in the south west of that country in the two counties of Kirkcudbrightshire and Wigtownshire... the county town of which, Wigtown, is Scotland's version of the the English book town, Hay-on-Wye. Although it wasn't of course when this book was first published in 1931.


The town of Kirkcudbright, at the mouth of the river Dee, is a bit of an artist's colony type of place, they flock there for the beauty of the area and the light and so on. Lord Peter Wimsey spends a lot of time there, not because he's much of an artist, he just likes the place. The inhabitants have got used to his eccentricities and the artists do not mind him popping in to chat and watch them paint. The other main preoccupation of the people who live in this area is fishing and the two occupations fit very nicely together in the town.

The story begins with an argument in a pub. Campbell, a thoroughly Bad Lot who gets on with no one, has been drinking and is looking for a fight. Wimsey is present and helps to cool things down but Campbell still leaves in a strop. He's found dead the next morning, in the river in an isolated spot. He'd been painting and it was thought he accidently lost his footing and got swept away and the the knocks and bruises that are evident were caused by his body getting a bashing on the rocks. 

Of course, none of this is actually so. It's discovered that his injuries happened 'before' he went into the water and foul play is very soon suspected. Lord Peter is naturally there like a shot and the local police don't seem to mind this as he has the reputation of being good at solving this convoluted kind of murder. This one, however, tests him. There are half a dozen suspects, all artists because before the murderer left the scene he painted a picture in the style of the dead man, Campbell. All of these artists had some ongoing disagreement going on with the deceased, be it marital jealousy, neighbourly disputes over boundaries, or just plain dislike of a boor of a man. Several of them choose this moment to disappear off the face of the Earth but does this mean anything at all?

OK, well this is one of those 'keep your wits about you' kind of reads because the details are quite hard to keep track of and so are the suspects. To be brutally honest I struggled with this book. The six artists all melded into one and each time one was mentioned I had stop and think why he was a suspect and think of something different about him to remind me who he was. That's no way to have to read a book.

Worse than the struggle to remember the suspects was two other things. Firstly, Sayers decided on writing the broad Scottish dialect as it sounds and that was tremendously difficult to decipher at times. I'm sure I missed important details because of it. Secondly, there is an absolute obsession with train times and timetables. I have come across this before in a few other vintage crime stories but oh my goodness, it was so tedious here. 

I hate calling any Lord Peter book tedious but sadly it really was in places. On the plus side, the Scottish setting was delightful and beautifully depicted. And I gather Kirkcudbright really 'is' an artist's haven, so that was interesting and something I didn't know. And Wimsey himself is never less than fun to read and there's some good and funny dialogue in this. Also, I did not guess who the culprit was but I'm not sure I ever stood much of a chance of that! So it wasn't all negative. That said, this is definitely not a favourite Wimsey book, that would be books such as Clouds of Witness, Have his Carcase, Gaudy Night, Busman's Holiday. And I cannot recommend the Lord Peter short stories enough, I have a collection of all of them and they are just superb.


Saturday, 3 September 2022

Autumn reading plans

So, as I said in my previous post, September has arrived and as far as I'm concerned autumn's here. One minute I'm trying to finish off the 20 Books of Summer challenge (post to come) the next I'm yearning after all thing crimes laden and spooky, dead bodies littering the place, ghosts scaring people out of their wits, that joyous kind of thing. So for a week or two I've been putting a few books up on the shelf to choose from, changing my mind and then taking them away, putting them back again... so decisive am I. But this is the selection I finally decided upon.

 


This is not the best photo ever taken but hopefully it might be clearer if clicked on. I think only one of these is a reread and that's The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova. It's about 10 years since I originally read it and I always knew I would want to read it again at some stage. There're a couple of non-fictions at the end on the right, a biography of Daphne du Maurier and London Fog by Christine L. Corton, which, as the title suggests, is a history of fog in London. Rebecca is on the shelf too. I bought a lovely new copy of that in Cornwall recently, and I have to be honest and admit that it might be a reread and it might not. I think I read it in my late teens, early twenties but I can't quite remember. And as the film is also a bit of a blur I'm thinking this is going to read like a new book. It's all good.

Other books I'll be choosing from this month:


The four books on the left are all travel books based in Africa as that's my Book Voyage challenge region for September. And on the right, a few sundry books I also want to get to. The Virago edition of The Diary of a Provincial Lady has four books in it and I only have one book left to read and that's the 'wartime' one. And I haven't read a Simon Winchester book in a while so Pacific fits the bill nicely.

Apart from these shelves I also have an 'autumn' collection on my Kindle Fire that I've gathered together:


Now, all in all, there're almost 50 books on all these piles. Highly unlikely I'll manage to read all of them, plus I'm terribly prone to making delightful lists and then pootling off to read something else entirely. It's ridiculous. I suspect most of the fun is to be found in compiling said lists, not actually reading the books. Anyway, we shall no doubt see what occurs and one thing to remember is that I'm counting 'autumn' as the three months from September right through to nearly the end of November. So that's a fair old whack of time. And 'fun' I'm thinking...

Happy autumn and happy reading and I hope it's getting cooler wherever you are.


Wednesday, 31 August 2022

Books read in August

Goodness me, August seems like an interminable month, possibly because I dislike it almost as much as I dislike July and am longing for autumn to arrive... or at the very least the month of September. I know that autumn doesn't officially start until the 21st. September but I personally go with meteorologists who apparently count the season from the 1st. September. 'Plus' the atmosphere has changed and it now feels like very early autumn as opposed to late summer. 'And' there're rumours of a storm coming in over the weekend - the first of the autumn gales?

Anyway, moving swiftly on. Books. Despite my dislike for August it has been an excellent reading month for me. 12 books read, none of them less than enjoyable and readable. Can't ask for more than that.

70. The Postscript Murders - Elly Griffiths 

71. Pride and Prescience - Carrie Bebris 

72. Naked in Death - J.D. Robb 

73. Killing Trail - Margaret Mizushima 

74. There's More To Life Than This - Theresa Caputo (very short review)

75. All Roads Lead to Austen - Amy Elizabeth Smith 

76. Haunted Shore - edited by Emily Alder, Jimmy Packham and Joan Passey.

77. Three Stripes South - Bex Band 

78. Mrs. Lorimer's Quiet Summer - Molly Clavering.

Mrs. Lorimer and her husband live in The Borders region of Scotland. A local house she's long covetted, but not been able to persuade her husband to buy, has been sold. Her family come to stay for a few weeks in the summer holidays, various offspring, their husbands, wives and children plus her unmarried son who is in the navy. He's just been jilted, came back from a posting to discover his girlfriend had married someone else while he was away. The house Mrs. Lorimer wanted has been bought by a Mr. Smellie and his daughter, Nesta Rowena, and it's not long before the two families meet. Well this is one of those quiet, gentle books reminiscent of D.E. Stevenson and I gather the two authors were neighbours and friends. The story meanders along, introducing Mrs. Lorimer's adult children and we see how different they all are and decide who we like and who we don't like. Her best friend, Gray Douglas, takes centre stage quite a lot, she is also an author but not as popular as Lucy Lorimer. Things Happen of course and it's not such a quiet summer as Lucy anticipates and there's romance in the air and misunderstandings and so forth. I loved the book to bits. It was published in 1953 so it's the same age as me and as with me this does show at times: some attitudes reflect the times. I've read one other book by Molly Clavering, Because of Sam, and loved that too so it's obvious that Molly Clavering is an author I'm going to be reading more of. I have Dear Hugo on my Kindle and will probably read that in the late autumn as it's WW2 related.

79. The Runaway Wife - Dee MacDonald.

Connie is 66 years old and has been married for forty years. Their children are now grown, some of them with kids of their own and Connie spends most of her time either babysitting or ferrying her husband back and forth to the golf club. He's a moaner and the kids take it for granted that Connie will always babysit. Now she feels like she's had enough. Leaving a note, she packs her bags and takes off into the wild blue yonder in her little green car, Kermit. What follows is the tale of Connie's adventures and I absolutely 'loved' it. She meets people in strange places, gets to know them, usually helps them, or they help her. It's a real voyage of discovery as she makes her way from London to Scotland, thinking about her marriage, her children, and what her life has become. Is there more to life than this? she wants to know. I think quite a few older women will identify, if not with 'all' of this book, then certainly elements of it. I cheered her on and absolutely loved the people she got involved with and the way in which they all worked to solve problems and help each other. I didn't want it to end to be honest so when I discovered that Dee MacDonald has written a second book about Connie, The Getaway Girls, I grabbed it for my Kindle sharpish. The author also has a crime series on the go, the Kate Palmer books, set in Cornwall, and I've owned the first book in that series for a while and will read that this autumn.

80. Death of a Bookseller - Bernard J. Farmer. (To be reviewed but pretty good!)

81. The Dalai Lama: My Spiritual Autobiography - collected by Sofia Stril-Rever. Been reading this off and on for months. Not as interesting as I'd hoped but I learnt quite a bit about the Chinese invasion of Tibet in the 1950s. 

So there you go, a bit of a mixed bag, 8 fiction, 4 non-fiction. I've done a bit of travelling - New York, Colorado, all over Latin America, Israel, Tibet and all around the UK. There were no real duds, a couple weren't quite as rivetting as I'd hoped but them's the breaks.

I have lots of reading plans for autumn, quite a few books sorted to read, mainly murder mysteries or spooky/supernatural books. I alway love and look forward to autumn and choosing what to to read. I shall do a separate post about that.  

I hope you're all well and finding some good books to devour. 

 

Tuesday, 23 August 2022

I have been reading...

Well the first half of this month I spent binge-reading four crime novels and jolly excellent they all were too. Since then my reading's been a trifle mixed. My next four books were a bit hit and miss and what I take from that is that I'm excellent at choosing murder mysteries I will love, more hit and miss when I stray into other genres and non-fiction.

So, after I finished Killing Trail by Margaret Mizushima I thought I should ring the changes a bit. So I read, There's More to Life Than This by Theresa Caputo. I had never heard of this American TV presenter who is a Medium from Long Island, New York. Mediums generally get a bad press and I have to admit I came into the, 'they're mostly frauds' category before I read this book. Caputo is very personable and convincing though (I've watched her on Youtube a bit) and me being curious and open-minded I found this book fascinating. Has it changed my mind about Mediums, probably not completely, but I now feel I at least know a lot more about the subject and that was the object of reading the book.

Next, I finished (because I've been reading this for several weeks) All Roads Lead to Austen by Amy Elizabeth Smith.

The author is a professor of English Lit at a university in California. She takes it into her head to take a year off and visit various countries in Latin America to see whether or not Jane Austen's books are read and appreciated there. The idea is create temporary book clubs, get the members to read one of the books and then have a discussion. The author is really interested in how these quintessential English characters are perceived by people from countries whose culture could not really be much different. She's brushes up on her Spanish before she goes but finds language is always a barrier, partly because she just hasn't learnt enough but also each country has its own Spanish dialect. I liked this book, I didn't love it and that's partly because I didn't feel like I learnt very much from it. In all honesty I felt the book was more about the author and her illnesses, romances, relatives, quirks, than it was about Guatemala, Mexico, Ecuador, Chile, Argentina and Paraguay. That's not to say I didn't enjoy it at all, the people she met were interesting and so was some of the history, but the book has not left a huge impression on me. One for the charity shop box.

Next up, Our Haunted Shores: Tales From the Coasts of The British Isles, edited by Emily Alder, Jimmy Packham and Joan Passey.

So, this collection of weird tales is from the British Library and is pretty much what it says on the tin - ghostly or macabre tales set around the coast. Authors include H.G. Wells, Bram Stoker, Hugh Walpole, Frances Hodgson Burnett and many more. I would describe this as another 'solid' collection. It begins with a couple of poems and then moves on to three 'anonymous' stories. Which is a shame as I marked one of those as 'excellent', The Strange Student, which is set on the coast of Scotland and tells of two holidaying students, one of whom is a bit fey and goes and falls in love with... well I won't say what but the beautiful descriptions of Argyllshire make the story come alive. Also excellent was, A Ghost of the Sea by Francis Prevost. This is a story about a chap who has an affair with a woman in Egypt, returns and, forgetting about her, gets engaged to someone else. Needless to say the first woman returns and weirdness ensues. This one is set on the North Cornish coast and is very atmospheric. Crooken Sands by Bram Stoker is another good'un, London family holiday in Scotland and Dad decides to get himself up in Scottish garb for the holiday, embarrassing the whole family. This one involves quicksand and doppelgangers. The Sea Raiders by H.G. Wells is an excellent giant squid yarn, as well written as you would expect from Wells. Seashore Macabre by Hugh Walpole lived up to my high expectation of his uncanny tales, but I think my favourite of the whole anthology was The Isle of the Blue Men by Robert W. Sneddon. Young couple living idyllically on a remote Hebridean Island for the summer. Locals say they should leave before winter sets in, 'nod, nod, wink, wink'. They don't of course and instead set sail for an island with a bad reputation, seven miles distant, where three lighthouse men live alone. They're horrified to see a woman arrive. Why? Well... :-) So, not a bad collection in all but folk tales and poetry are not really my thing, luckily some the short stories were excellent and made up for the bits and pieces that weren't really for me. 

Lastly I read, Three Stripes South by Bex Band. This was my Book Voyage read for this month covering the category of, 'The Middle East'.

There's a national trail that runs the length of Israel and it's known as the INT. Bex Band and her husband, Gil, himself an Israeli with family who live there, decide to give up their jobs and walk the length of it. The book charts their progress very nicely and there are other details such as Bex's awkward schooldays and then her search for a job she liked when she left school. Geographically speaking, I wasn't aware of how forested northern Israel is. That was a surprise. A lot of the south of the country is covered by the Negev desert... I knew that a lot of Irael must be desert but I had no idea what it was called and that the country is also very mountainous. I felt in awe of this couple as they trailed up and down mountain after mountain, constantly exhausted, constantly having to watch their water supply, constantly making sure they kept to the schedule to ensure they got to the designated camping areas and didn't end up having to spend a night on top of a mountain. As with most of these travel memoirs they met a lot of interesting and kind people and the nice thing is it all led to a massive career change for Bex and that was genuinely nice to read about.

So here we are almost at the end of the August and although it's not officially autumn until the 21st. September, I'm going with the meteorologists who judge the 1st. September to be the start of autumn. Thus I've already sorted a nice batch of books to read for the next three months - spooky reads and crime yarns mostly. I will do a post about that in a week or so.


Saturday, 13 August 2022

Killing Trail - Margaret Mizushima

Continuing with my murder mystery binge reading, Killing Trail by Margaret Mizushima is book 1 of her 'Timber Creek K-9' crime series. I'm fairly certain I read about it on Lark's blog ( Lark Writes... on books and life ), it's likely as we have such similar reading tastes but it could've been someone else, apologies if it was.

 


Soooo, this series is set in the mountains of Colorado in a small town named Timber Creek. Cop, Mattie Cobb, is newly qualified as a dog handler and the local police now has 'Robo', a German Shepherd on its force. They're still learning though, the two of them, and there is jealousy from another officer who thought he was going to win the covetted role and him being her superior makes life tricky. 

Mattie and Robo's first murder case involves a teenage girl found half-buried in the forest. Her beloved dog, Belle, is guarding the body but is also injured herself with a bullet wound. The local vet is Cole Walker, newly divorced with two daughters one of whom was friends with the murdered girl, Grace. Mattie and the prickly female detective brought in to investigate need to know more about Grace. Was she into drugs perhaps, as that problem in Timber Creek has definitely become more pronounced of late and someone is definitely running drugs. But Grace was not into that scene, so what's going on?

Well, this was another murder mystery that I found hard to put down. As is sometimes the case with me I had the perpetrator top of my list of suspects almost from the start. I didn't know if I was right though so it didn't matter. The setting here is gorgeous, lots of forests and mountains, rivers, walking trails and, well, you get the picture. It's idyllic but everyday life in these wonderful spots is not always what it's cracked up to be. They have exactly the same problems as we who live in more mundane areas, poverty, abuse, drugs, you name it.

I liked Mattie a lot, I groaned a bit that she was yet another main character with a troubled childhood but that seems to be par for the course these days and you wouldn't read anything at all if you ruled out all such books. I loved how devoted she is to Robo, determined to be a good dog handler, and cheered for her as she proved his (and her) worth to her colleagues. To be honest, the dog is pretty much the star of the show. LOL! I amuse myself as I don't own a dog, prefer cats really, but boy do I love a K-9 murder novel (The Search - Nora Roberts, Mercy Carr and Elvis by Paula Munier, Chet and Bernie by Spencer Quinn).

There is obvious romance on the horizon for Mattie although it will clearly not be straightforward. That's fine, I don't mind a bit of complicated relationship stuff as long as it doesn't overpower what is essentially a murder mystery series. And I don't think it will. 

All in all, a great start, this was published in 2015 I believe and there are now seven books in the series. I've already bought the next two, and this first book is only 99p on AmazonUK at the moment.


Tuesday, 9 August 2022

Three crime titles

So, I'm on a mini crime reading binge at the moment, possibly due to the fact that I didn't read many murder mysteries last month and, feeling the lack, I'm making up for it in August.

So, first up, The Postscript Murders by Elly Griffiths which is the second book in her 'Harbinder Kaur' series. 

Shoreham is a seaside town on the south coast of England that plays host to quite a few retirement homes and complexes. Ninety year old Peggy Smith lives in one of the more expensive ones, keeping an eye on what goes on, making notes about people who go past on the prom etc., because this is what she's been used to doing all her life. When she's found dead in her flat no one thinks it's odd, she was very elderly after all. But Nakalka, one of the carers who comes in daily to see to her, is not happy and manages to convince DS Harbinder Kaur that Peggy might've been murdered. After all, Peggy's calling card has on it, 'Murder Consultant' and various murder mystery books in her flat have the dedication, 'To Peggy, thank you for the murders'... So this was 'huge' fun. And what was the most fun in my mind was the group of whacky individuals who set about investigating Peggy's demise together. There's Nakalka, the Ukrainian carer, Benedict the ex-monk and Edwin the ex-BBC employee, who was a friend of Peggy's and is himself quite elderly. Harbinder has to contend with this motley crew as she tries to discover whether Peggy was indeed murdered, and if so 'why?' I believe Elly Griffiths wrote this as a homage to crime writing, editors, bloggers, crime conventions, book signings, and it shows. It's a delight and as always Griffiths has her characterisations spot-on. Plus, it twists and turns like I don't know what as various crime writers become involved and under suspicion. Great stuff, I gave it a 5 on Goodreads.

Next, something completely different, Pride and Prescience by Carrie Bebris. This is part of my current Jane Austen 'thing', which started with 'Jane Austen July' and continues on because I loved it so much.

Jane and Lizzie Bennet have just got married and Caroline Bingley uses their wedding day, somewhat inappropriately, to announce her bethrothal to an American, Mr. Parrish. They marry but it's not long before Caroline's family start to notice some rather strange behaviour in her. It seems she's going downhill, mentally, and the family have a concerned conflab about what to do. Mr. Parrish wants to take her off to Louisana but the family are having none of it and it's decided to retire to Netherfield where it's quieter than London and the hope is that she might make a full recovery. Naturally, she doesn't, (well you all knew that) and things go from bad to worse. Attempts are made on people's lives by persons unknown and there's also a certain amount of weirdness in the shape of a Professor Randolph who has been called in by Parrish and believes in and studies the occult. Darcy is skeptical about it all but Lizzie is not so sure... Well this was also great fun. I don't think it's strictly necessary to have read Pride and Prejudice before you read it but it would help I feel. I felt that the author made a really good stab at keeping such iconic characters 'in character', only occasionally did I think the dialogue was not quite right for the time or country. But really this was an excellent mystery yarn, very pacey, I could easily see who the villain of the peace was but it didn't spoil my enjoyment at all. This is book 1 in Carrie Bebris's 'Mr. and Mrs. Darcy' murder mystery series and I liked it enough to read on... there are 7 books in all I believe. 

Lastly, and this is even 'more' different, Naked in Death by J.D. Robb (Nora Roberts of course). 

Eve Dallas is a homicide detective in a futuristic New York. 2058 I think it is. Someone is knocking off high-class prostitutes, shooting them with guns which are now outlawed in the USA. One of the women killed was the grand-daughter of a senator who has chosen to leave her family behind and become a high-class call girl. It's because of this that Eve is assigned to the case and all is kept hush-hush. When another woman, very young, is killed all secrecy goes out of the window. During the course of her investigations Eve meets Rourke, a very wealthy business man. He's a suspect but she can't deny the physical attraction she feels for him and he sees a vulnerable woman with a lot of secrets and, loving a challenge, wants to know what she's hiding. Well. This is a 'hugely' popular series by Nora Roberts, writing as J.D. Robb. It's 50 + books long and plenty of people have read the lot! I found it very pacey, exciting, I enjoyed it but I had an idea who the culprit was and was partly right. I'm not a great fan of a lot of sex in my crime novels and this has quite a bit. If that's not your thing this might not be for you. I was also not certain how much I liked Rourke. I didn't feel he made much of an effort to understand Eve's considerable problems as a New York police detective, I felt he put his own desires first and his aggressive pursuit of her did not sit well with me. I, however, am old and cynical - your mileage may vary. Will I read any more? I honestly don't know. I found this in a bunch of books my cousin gave me and I'm not sure I have the stamina to search out 50 books and try to read them all in order. On the other hand, the world building was interesting enough for me to be intrigued as to where these books go. Hmm, decisions, decisions. 

So, three good crime mysteries. My favourite would definitely be The Postscript Murders, I loved its quirky Britishness and homage to crime writing, but all three were good in their own way. Happy reading! 

 

Tuesday, 2 August 2022

Books read in July

I have to say that July is always my least favourite month of the year and I'm always glad when it's over. This year it truly lived up to my dislike of it by being the month my husband went down with a second bout of pneumonia. That pretty much took up 3 weeks but I'm pleased to report that he's well on the road to recovery. It'll probably take another month or more but progress is steady.

The first weekend of July, on the other hand, was absolutely delightful as Constance from 'Staircase Wit' came to visit and we did a flying visit to Cornwall. Constance has done two delightful posts about our trip:

Post 1

Post 2 

Well worth a read with some lovely photos.

 

Anyway. Books. I read 10 in July and these are they:

60. The Camino - Shirley MacLaine. I mentioned this book very briefly here.

61. Traitor King - Andrew Lownie 

62. The Mysterious Mr. Quin - Agatha Christie 

63. Walloon Ways - Val Poore. This is another of Val's delightful travel books about the canals of Europe. Val lives on a canal boat in The Netherlands but this books tells about her weekend trips into Belgium, the people they met, the places they visited. I always love Val's books, they have a kindness and a gentleness about them that is quite rare in this day and age. Highly recommended. 

64. Miss Austen - Gill Hornby 

65. Mansfield Park - Jane Austen 

66. Death Beside the Seaside - T.E. Kinsey. Book 6 in the author's Lady Hardcastle series wherein her and her maid/companion, Flo, go off to Weston-Super-Mare, in Somerset, for their hols. Needless to say they don't get much of a holiday as death and mayhem ensue. Excellent and fun.

67. Squashed Possums - Jonathan Tindale. Read for my Book Voyage challenge, the category being Australia and New Zealand. The book recounts how the author spent a year in a caravan in a wilderness area of New Zealand. Not bad but a bit odd as it's told from the pov of the caravan...

68. Away With the Penguins - Hazel Prior 

69. A Sky Painted Gold - Laura Wood. A coming-of-age story set in Cornwall. An eighteen year old girl, Louise, whose older sister has just married, finds herself lonely and at a loose end. She's been hiding away in a big neglected house on a nearby island, reading their books in the library, when suddenly the owners reappear. Thus begins the most exciting summer of Lou's life. Loved this to bits and read it in two sittings.

So, a fairly eclectic bunch of books last month, 6 fiction, 4 non-fiction and lots of worldwide travel - New Zealand, Antarctica, Belgium, Spain, The South of France etc. I've really enjoyed Jane Austen July, and will continue on with that as I have a huge list of books I now want to read connected with her.

I'm currently reading these two.


My problem with Elly Griffiths's books is that once I start one I end up gobbling it up far too quickly. I try to slow myself down but it doesn't work. The Postscript Murders is proving to be exactly the same as all the others!


Enjoying this very much, not just the Jane Austen discussions but also the travel aspect of Central and South America, not regions I tend to read very much about.

So, here we are in August and I have lots of reading planned and am looking forward to the end of summer and autumn arriving. I hope you're all well and have plenty of good books to read.


Saturday, 30 July 2022

Away with the Penguins - Hazel Prior

So my 12th. book for the 20 Books of Summer reading challenge is Away with the Penguins by Hazel Prior. I decided that quite a few of my choices this year would be travelling or holiday type books and this is about a journey that's as far south as you can go without actually finding yourself on the Antarctic continent.


Veronica McCreedy is eighty-five and lives alone in a mansion on the Scottish coast. A woman comes in to 'do' for her but basically Veronica's existance is a lonely one. She drinks a lot of tea, is obsessive about doors being closed and likes to watch wildlife documentaries. She also has a lot of money. As in 'millions'. Who or what to leave it to? Her only son has died and as far as she knows there were no children. But were there? She decides to check. And gets something of a shock. 

Watching another wildlife documentary one evening, this one from an island in the Antarctic ocean, Veronica is overcome with sympathy for the plight of the Adélie penguins on said island. There's a scientific research base there where three scientists are living, studying these fascinating birds. An idea occurs to Veronica, she could go there to see if this would be a good project to leave some money to. As might be expected the scientists are not crazy about the idea of an eighty-five year old woman landing herself on them. In fact they're decidedly 'un'crazy to the point of being hostile. But Veronica McCreedy is a woman used to getting her own way...

Well, I know I love armchair travelling but this Antarctic adventure is a departure even for me. Locket Island where most of the book is set does not exist but we've all seen documentaries of penguins on these islands in Antarctica so it's very easy to picture it in your mind. I enjoyed all the penguin details and Patrick, the baby penguin, that is fostered is very cute.

Veronica is no sweet old lady character. She's cranky and obstinate and very used to getting her own way. You can't help but admire her but she does go through some character progression, learning quite a lot along the way. Plus, there are reasons why she is like she is and these are slowly revealed in the form of a diary. So in a way this is a bit of dual-timeline story.

The scientists on the station are a mixed bunch, nice and not-so-nice so this is not a sacharine-sweet tale. And there's real life in this book especially back in the UK and in Veronica's history. (I'm trying to avoid spoilers.) All in all, this was a very enjoyable read for me. The setting was a real departure, as was its wild-life theme, and I loved the fact that the main protagonist was a very elderly, cranky old lady. 

I assumed this was a standalone and then discovered that it's not! There's a sequel, Call of the Penguins, which, needless to say, I've already bought for my Kindle.


Monday, 25 July 2022

Jane Austen July

So, as I mentioned in my previous post, it's Jane Austen July on Booktube. And, although I'm not someone who has a Booktube (it's a corner of Youtube) channel, I do enjoy watching bookish videos and just thought I might read along for the ride. I'm not doing the prompts, just picking up a few Austen themed books to read this month. 

The first book I read was Miss Austen by Gill Hornby.

So one would automatically assume that the 'Miss' referred to in Miss Austen is 'Jane'? Not so, it's Cassandra, Jane's older sister. There was about 2 years between the sisters and it's no exaggeration to say that they were devoted to one another. Which is why we find, in this novel, Cassandra Austen arriving at a relative's house to clandestinely find the letters her sister wrote to the mother of the family. They were huge letter writers in those days (the book is set in 1840) and people put all sorts of sensitive information or opinions in said letters. Cassandra feels the need to check and remove anything that might cast her sister, Jane, in a bad light. She eventually finds them but of course they evoke memories and feelings she thought long buried. I know this is fiction based on loose fact but my goodness it reads just like an excellent memoir. It is 'delightful'. You meet members of the Austen family, various relatives and friends, families they were close to and so on. I get did a bit a confused about who was related to whom, but there's an excellent guide at the beginning to refer back to and I was glad I own an actual hardback as it's not so easy to do that on a Kindle. What this book made me realise is that I don't know enough about Jane Austen's life and it made me hungry for more. It also underlined the plight of unmarried women back in those days, how reliant they were on the charity of relatives and how they sometimes had to manipulate said relatives into helping them. It felt heartbreaking to me and reminded me of the plight of Mary Bennet in The Other Bennet Sister by Janice Hadlow. I'm interested and involved now and although it's Jane Austen 'July' I plan to carry this on into August, September etc. I have a long list of books to look into, both non-fiction and fiction and even 'crime' fiction! 

So there are a couple of Austen books I've never read and one of them is Mansfield Park. I have seen one of the TV dramas but it couldn't have sunk in because I didn't remember an awful lot about it. 

So this is the story of Fanny Price. At the tender age of nine Fanny is removed from her large, unruly family in Portsmouth to go and live with relatives, the Bertrams, in Mansfield Park which, if memory serves, was in Berkshire, though I could stand to be corrected on that. She is understandably knocked for six by this, her being a small, reserved little girl. The immediate family, aunt and uncle, two male cousins and two female, basically ignore her, although they're not exactly cruel. Edmund, the second son, is always kind to her though and thus, as she grows, Fanny falls in love with him. The novel revolves around events that evolve when Fanny is eighteen. The overbearing uncle goes off to the West Indies leaving the house in the charge of his indolent wife and her rather spiteful, self-absorbed sister. A brother and sister come to stay in the local vicarage, Henry and Mary Crawford, and these two people have a massive influence on subsequent events, in particular, Fanny's rather narrow life but also three of the Bertram brothers and sisters. So I finished this almost a week ago and it's still in my head. You might deduce from that that I loved it? I didn't, in fact. I was fascinated by it, very involved in the lives of the characters, always glad to get back to the book, but there were things I didn't like. I thought it was far too rambly, diatribes on this and that, usually from Edmund on the imperfections of other people's characters. For the life of me I couldn't understand why both Fanny and Mary Crawford wanted him so much. I think the reason it's still in my head is that Austen made these people so 'real'. The vicious Aunt Norris was truly awful, especially to Fanny, the indolent Aunt Bertam 'so' annoyingly uninvolved in anything but her own comfort, Henry and Mary Crawford, so close to being decent people but you just know there's something not quite right about them. As regards Fanny, I wished constantly that she had a bit more go in her, I found her ever so slightly prissy if I'm honest. And Edmund, like I said, I couldn't quite work out why Fanny and Mary worshipped him. Each to his own I suppose. I gave Mansfield Park a four on Goodreads but it's possible in months to come I may wish I'd given it a five because it really is quite a powerful novel and the fact that I'm so ambivilent and thoughtful about it probably means it hit its mark with me. It's a 4.5 really.

As I said, I've a huge list of off-shoot novels or non-fiction I now want to read and have just started this non-fiction book by Amy Elizabeth Smith.

 


This is a travel memoir where the author travels around Latin America setting up book clubs to discuss Jane Austen books. She wants to know whether the phenomenon that exists in Europe, the USA, Australia etc. whereby people adore Austen's characters will transfer to Spanish speaking America.

Someone commented on Youtube that no other classic author has inspired so much off-shoot fiction and non-fiction as Jane Austen and when I thought about it I realised it was true. How interesting is that? And fun?


Thursday, 21 July 2022

A bit AWOL

I've been a little AWOL recently, so apologies if I haven't been around commenting on posts quite as much. My husband went down with another dose of pneumonia about 10 days ago, the previous one being in June 2020. I wanted to keep him out of hospital as Covid cases are on the rise here and there are more people in hospital with it, but it wasn't to be and he went in for 3 days. This time we were able to visit so that made a difference but like a lot of people he's always really miserable in hospital. Anyway, he came home yesterday, is very fragile, but much happier now that he's home in his own bed and with home cooked food. All I need to do now is build his strength back up, not that easy when he's on antibiotics that are almost worse than the illness.

I've been reading, but not reviewing. I will get to it. I've been joining in a little with Jane Austen July which originated in the bookish corner of Youtube, lot of fun stuff on there. So I've read, Miss Austen by Gill Hornby which was utterly delightful and then Mansfield Park by Jane Austen herself. I didn't like it as much as Pride and Prejudice or Emma but it was incredibly interesting, if rather long-winded, and I'm having difficulty getting the characters out of my head, so it certainly must've made an impression! 

And now I'm reading this:

 

It's book 6 in the series and like all the rest it's huge fun and just what I need at the moment. It's also my book 10 for the summer reading challenge which is coming along quite nicely.

I hope you're all well and finding some excellent books to read.


Monday, 11 July 2022

I've been reading...

There're a few books I didn't review last month and I didn't do a June wrap-up because of lack of time so I'll just do a general post about what I've been reading recently.

Several books from June that I didn't review:

A Very English Murder by Verity Bright. Unconventional Eleanor Swift is back in England after travelling the world, her uncle has died, she's inherited everything and is now 'Lady' Eleanor. But things go rather pear-shaped when she witnesses a murder one night. There's no body, the police don't believe her, so she and the house bulldog, Gladstone, set about solving the mystery. Really enjoyed this one, fun characters, good mystery, it reminded me a little bit of T.E. Kinsey's Lady Hardcastle series.

Death Goes on Skis by Nancy Spain. This, as the title suggests, is a skiing holiday murder mystery. It involves a lot of rich people having affairs and killing each other off and at times I couldn't make head or tail of it. Wasn't keen on the writing style either, too many short, abrupt sentences. Shame, as with the gorgeous cover it has I really wanted to love it. Oh, well.

Married to Bhutan by Linda Leaming was a non-fiction account of the American author who was somehow drawn to the small Himalayan country of Bhutan. She moves there to teach, meets a lovely Buddhist chap who believes they were destined to meet, and marries him. Quite an interesting read and gave me a good flavour of a country you hear very little about. 

Into July now:

The Camino: A Pilgrimage of Courage by Shirley MacLaine. The famous actor walks the Santiago Camino pilgrimage trail in Northern Spain. I've read a few accounts of people who've done this and also watched a doc. on TV. Hmm. Hard to say what I thought. The walking stuff and bits about the people she met were fine. But there's a huge amount of odd rambling about visions. Now I'm very open-minded but this was a bit much even for me. 

Traitor King by Andrew Lownie.

I didn't realise it before I read it but this is actually based on a TV doc. of the same name, which I watched, so that accounts for why it was all so familiar! It starts with Edward VIII's abdication in order that he could marry Wallis Simpson, and the subsequent political furore it caused. Wallis had strong connections to Von Ribbentrop, minister of foreign affairs in Adolf Hitler's government and was rumoured to have had an ongoing affair with him.  The pair did a tour of Germany before the war and were strongly rumoured to be Nazi sympathisers. It was thought there was a plan to reinstall Edward as king if the Germans ever invaded and conquered the UK. All very interesting but I struggled to get to the end. I don't know why, I think perhaps it was all a bit dry, not written in way that engaged me. I think others might feel differently and looking at Goodreads a lot do but there're also a few who found it as dry as me. I would like to read more on this subject though, as it's fascinating, so I'll look to see what else has been written.

 

Finally, The Mysterious Mr. Quin by Agatha Christie. I read this for the 'short story' category for the Back to the Classics challenge (in which I am not doing very well at all!)

The Mr. Quin in the title is rather a mysterious figure. He appears to elderly Mr. Satterthwaite every so often because he's a noticing sort of a man and tends to be on the spot quite often when some kind of tragedy is imminent. He jogs Satterthwaite's memory about things or makes him look at events from a different perspective. There are 12 stories in this volume, often involving country house weekends or jaunts to the south of France. People are not what they seem or suffering from broken hearts or there is some wierdness such as an artist painting Mr. Quin whom he's never met. Favourite stories include, The Man From the Sea, The Dead Harlequin, At the Bells and Motley, The Bird with the Broken Wing, The World's End. I planned to put this in the charity shop box when I'd read it but I can't, it was too good. The stories are very character driven and so beautifully written I was reminded of collections I'd read and loved by Dorothy L. Sayers and the G.K. Chesterton Father Brown tales. Both of these wrote a few stories with a supernatural bent and this anthology fits in so well with those. Beautifully written, I gave it four stars on Goodreads and am now thinking I was a bit mean and it should've been five. 

'For the rest, she was a rather shabby-looking old lady, a good deal given to black bead trimmings on her clothes. She had quantities of diamonds in old-fashioned settings, and she wore them as her mother before her had worn them: pinned all over her indiscriminantly. Someone had suggested once that the Duchess stood in the middle of the room whilst her maid flung brooches at her haphazard.'

Genius.


Friday, 8 July 2022

A book haul!

I seem to have been AWOL for a little while, not for any particular reason but one 'good' reason was that I had a brief visit from Constance at Staircase Wit. She was in London for most of the month of June and just before she flew home she came to visit us for her final weekend. We took off for Cornwall on the Saturday for what was very much a flying visit but we still managed to see St. Ives and Fowey and two lovely bookshops therein. My phone played Silly B*****s all weekend so I still have to look and see what I have but I thought I would do a bookhaul post (photos from my tablet) in the meantime. 

The two bookshops we visited were The St. Ives Bookseller and  Shrew Books in Fowey. We found both to be delightful with a good choice of books and friendly staff. 

So, books hauled last weekend. 

From the top:

Rebbecca by Daphne Du Maurier needs no explanation from me. I've wanted to reread this for years, in fact I think I've only read it once, in my teens. Constance and I thought we might try to get a look at Menabily while we were in Fowey but despite a lovely walk from the car park to the beach the house is not visible. 

Vesper Flights by Helen MacDonald, the author of H is for Hawk. This book is an anthology of essays by her.

The Women of Troy by Pat Barker is the second in the author's proposed trilogy of the same name.

The Lamplighters by Emma Stonex is a novel about the disapearance of three lighthouse keepers from a lighthouse off the Cornish coast.

Outlandish by Nick Hunt is a non-fiction book about walking places in Europe which are odd and shouldn't be there. Right up my street of course.

The Winter Sea by Susanna Kearsley sounded good and Constance recommended it, so I grabbed it!

The second pile. From the bottom:

The Pink House by Pip Benveniste was a charity shop grab and is about a childhood in Newlyn, Cornwall.

The final three are books Constance brought with her for me that she'd read and didn't want to haul back to the US. 

The Last Bookshop in London by Madeline Martin is a novel about working in a bookshop in London in WW2.

The Stranger by Kate Riordan is another WW2 novel set in Cornwall.

From a Distance by Raffaella Barker is a double timeline story set just after WW2 and in the present time in Cornwall and Norfolk.

And some of these have the loveliest covers!


And The Lamplighters has this wonderful painted edge showing birds in flight. I gather this sort of thing is really popular now.


So that was my lovely bookish weekend with Constance, and you'll be pleased to know there was also a lot of icecream and Cornish pasties involved. And endless bookish chat of course.

 

Monday, 27 June 2022

Dangerous Dimensions ed. by Henry Bartholomew

From time to time the British Library send me these wonderful collections of weird short stories for review and I feel so grateful as they're always enjoyable and fun and I get such a thrill when a new one arrives. This one is Dangerous Dimensions: Mind Bending Tales of the Mathematical Weird edited by Henry Bartholomew.


This is a collection of 12 stories written by 11 different authors. From the blurb on the cover:

'... early weird fiction probes the very boundaries of reality - the laws and limits of time, space and matter. 

Now I don't claim to understand this sort of thing, I suppose it's the territory of physicists and mathematicians and those in possession of far more brain cells than me. So this collection was a bit of a challenge for me in places but hey-ho, I'm nothing if not a Game Old Bird.

So these are the stories in this anthology:

1. The Plattner Story - H.G. Wells. I do love a good Wells short story and this one tells of a man whose organs are on the opposite side of his body to that which they should be. He wasn't born like that so how did that happen? Beautifully written as you would expect and reminds me that I really must get around to a reread of The War of the Worlds.

2. The Hall Bedroom - Mary Eleanor Wilkins Freeman. A woman in reduced circumstances takes in boarders in order to make a living. She puts one of them in the hall bedroom and what happens when he wakes in the middle of the night and finds his room is much bigger than it should be is the basis of this story. Good one. I've got a whole volume of this author's work from the British Library publishers and look forward to reading it.

3. Space -  John Buchan. Not an author one normally associates with weird fiction but this story that asks the question, 'What if the space all around us is full of things we cannot see'? illustrates that no matter which genre an author generally belongs to he or she is usually quite capable of writing something else entirely. This was quite creepy and really rather good. 

4. A Victim of Higher Space - Algernon Blackwood. This is a John Silence story, Blackwood's psychic detective, and recounts the story of a man trapped in the 4th. dimension and how Silence tries to save him.

5. The Pikestaffe Case - Algernon Blackwood. Miss Speke, an ex-governess, takes in lodgers. One of the men she takes in is a higher mathematician and she thinks he will fit nicely with the clergyman and bank official she already has staying. (We all can guess where this is going.) Said mathematician takes a dislike to a full length mirror in the room, constantly turning it to the wall. He orders all kinds of books and large amounts of supplies but when she checks his room Miss Speke can find no sign of them. Slowly the new lodger starts to fill her with dread... This was one of my favourite stories in the book. Blackwood is so good at creating menacing atmospheres and I've long been a big fan of his writing.

6. The Hounds of Tindalos - Frank Belknap Long. This is apparently one of the first Cthulhu Mythos stories 'not' written by H.P. Lovecraft and tells of a mystic/ascetic type who takes a new drug that he thinks will take him back in time. But how far?

7. The Trap - H.P. Lovecraft and Henry Whitehead. This is another 'old mirror' story (who doesn't love one of those?) A teacher in a boy's school has one and an inquisitive boy touches it with his finger and the finger is pulled in and disappears. Naturally, said boy can't resist coming back on the quiet... Very good yarn.

8. The Living Equation - Nat Schachner. A (mad) scientist builds a machine intended to create new mathematical equations. Naturally a burglar breaks in and inadvertantly sets it off. I liked the idea of this one but found it a bit over complicated to read.

9. Infinity Zero - Donald Wandrei. This 'end of the world' type story has a world war raging. A chemical lab is hit by an unusual bomb which I've noticed is never a Good Thing. Scary premise, well written and thought provoking. Make that 'very' scary...

10. The Library of Babel - Jorge Luis Borges. I think this was about a library and its potential for weirdness but it lost me a page or two in. I wrote, 'No clue' in my notebook, so make of that what you will.

11.  And He Built a Crooked House - Robert Heinlein. How can I be a sci-fi and have to admit that I've read very little by one of the most famous writers in the genre. And what a mistake that is as this was an excellent yarn about an architect who builds a house for someone with more money than sense. The architect builds it as an exploration of 'Hinton's tesseract'. (Don't assume I know what that is.) So er... 'things happen' when Hubby and the overbearing wife (loved her) go to view what's been built for them. Really great story this one.

12. Slips Take Over - Miriam Allen deFord. Chap walks into a bar for a drink and someone in the bar tells him that he can see that he's just inadvertantly slipped over from another dimension. This is news to the first chap who begs to differ but is he right? The idea behind this creeped me right out and this was another favourite in the collection. 

So the stories in this collection were  originally published between 1896 and 1964. Every single one of them was superbly and intelligently written - OK, sometimes 'too' intelligently - and I do often wonder whether sometimes I love the style of writing as much, if not more, than the tale being recounted. I love immersing myself in a story whose language sucks me in and allows me to wallow in the author's brilliant way with words. Because, to be honest, this is a solid anthology rather than an excellent one. 'But' every story is worth a read (OK, I'm not so sure about The Library of Babel) and some of them were just terrific.

I have quite a few more of these weird story anthologies to read and review including a Christmas one and a Cornish one. This make me very happy. 


Wednesday, 22 June 2022

Into the Tangled Bank by Lev Parikian

This is my 3rd. book for the 20 Books of Summer '22 which is being hosted by 746 Books. I've had it on my tbr pile a couple of years now and it seemed like a good book for the summer reading challenge.

Lev Parikian sets out to discover what us Brits really mean when we say we love nature. Are we serious ramblers and campers, donning all the kit, grabbing the Kendal Mint Cake and marching off for days into the Scottish Highlands (and ending up having to be rescued by the Mountain Rescue people - sorry, me being cynical)? Do we just like a stroll along the coast, around a National Trust property or a local park? Or do we just love sitting in front of the telly watching David Attenborough commune with gorillas or the Spring Watch people having a jolly time? 

It's a very interesting question. The author begins his investigations in his own home:

'Whether we like it or not, we share our homes with other species: dust mites lurking in our mattresses; silver fish feeding off food scraps and scuttling off behind the skirting board; fruit flies, appearing as if from nowhere at the first sign of a half-mushy banana; daddy-longlegs, flapping about melodramatically near light bulbs; house flies, buzzing around aimlessly and failing to go out through the window you've pointedly opened for just such a purpose..,' 

As he points out,we're fascinated by all manner of creepy crawlies outdoors but find them indoors and we're not quite so enamoured. (My own particular aversion being house flies... although I'm not mad about spiders the size of your hand trotting indoors in September either.)

The garden is his next port of call, followed by his 'local patch'. Lev was a keen birder in his teens, then life happened, as it tends to, but now in his 40s he has returned to the hobby with renewed interest. Birders tend to have a 'local patch' where they do the majority of their bird watching and his is Norwood Park. But he also investigates other local patches, in one case, Gilbert White's in Hampshire. It's somewhere I've always fancied and I'm even more determined now as the countryside around the house sounds wonderful. (It's not far from Jane Austen's house at Alton so here's me dreaming of killing two birds with one stone. Not sure that's a good comparison to make when reviewing a nature book...)

Chapter by chapter Parikian deals with subjects such as nature programmes on TV and does this raise our expectations too much when we actually go out to view nature? Nature in captivity, zoos, Slimbridge wildlife reserve and how Peter Scott brought that into being. How the RSPB began... it was started by women who weren't allowed into the mens' bird watching clubs so they started their own. He takes a trip to the Isle of Skye (envy, envy, envy) and to Skokholm off the coast of Wales.

What I was really taken with in this book is the humour. He describes in one chapter how he tries to draw the birds he sees (as birders are supposed to be able to do), in one case a heron, and it's hilarious. To be honest the writing is superb and the best bit about it is his very British turn of phrase. Wonderful dry humour and I chuckled all the way through. Some of the references might only be understood by Brits but I can't imagine anyone giving up because of that. 

The final chapter took quite a turn for the unusual as the author turns to astronomy. I'm still not quite sure why but it was fascinating. He visits the International Dark Sky Park in Northumberland - one the darkest places in Europe - and goes to Joderall Bank in Cheshire to view the moon and our part of the galaxy. He concludes:

'We are an impossibly tiny speck. And that's fine. And if it scares the bejeezus out of people, I happen to find it somehow reassuring. Because all these encounters - the butterfly on the flower, the eagle over the water, the light from a distant star and all the rest of it - represent the slotting-in of a tiny piece of our universe jigsaw. We'll never come close to finishing it, but nonetheless we persevere, constructing our own little corner of it in the hope that one day we'll be able to stand far enough away for some of it to make sense.' 

Wonderful. If you have any interest in nature, the UK countryside, human nature, birds, insects, history and so on and so on, try this book. It will certainly be one of my favourite non-fiction books of the year.


Monday, 13 June 2022

A quick catch-up

So, it's almost mid-June and I've yet to post about any books, even though I've been happily reading away as usual. I have several unreviewed books so to catch up I'll do a quick chat about each of them.

First up, The Burning Issue of the Day by T.E. Kinsey.

Lady Hardcastle and her maid/companion, Flo, set out to help a young suffragette who has been arrested for arson. A young, male journalist was killed in the attack, the police think it's an open and shut case but the woman protests her innocence. The leader of the local suffrage group, Lady Bickle, engages the two female sleuths to find out who did the deed. Helping them is their foe from a previous book, the female journalist, Dinah Caudle. There's antagonism at first but the three settle eventually to helping the local constabulory solve the crime. If your bag is angsty murder mysteries full of gritty realism and violent death then this series is certainly not for you. I hesitate slightly to call them 'cozies' though. True, there's no blood and gore and they're very gentle mysteries. But there's intelligent social comment in every book, and often historical detail I wasn't aware of. For instance I didn't realise there was quite so much opposition to women getting the vote and that it was often led by women themselves. The other thing that raises this series is the wonderful banter, it's genuinely funny the way Lady H. and Flo speak to each other. So yes, the books are cozy, but there's a lot more to them than that and I really enjoy the series.

Next, my first book for the 20 Books of Summer challenge, Fur Babies in France by Jacqueline Lambert.

This is book 1 in the author's 'Adventure Caravanning with Dogs' series and relates how the author and her husband were both made reduntant from their jobs at the same time and had to re-evaluate their lives. Somehow they made a decision to sell up, buy a caravan and use it to tour Europe along with their four dogs. Jackie and Mark are both keen wind-surfers and generally quite out-doorsy types so that added to the attraction, the idea that they could park up near beaches and spend long weeks indulging in their favourite pastime. For their first expedition they decide on France and we follow them as first-time caravanners, complete novices learning how to cope with life towing a caravan and living on caravan sites. I enjoyed this very much. Jackie Lambert writes very well and doesn't skimp on the details of their various learning curves and disasters and she describes it all with a great deal of humour. There are four books so far, charting their trips to Germany and Romania and then the fourth book is about the pandemic. I have all of them as I bought them as a job-lot for my Kindle. I think I'm going to enjoy reading them.

Lastly: Beach Read by Emily Henry, which is my second book for the 20 Books of Summer.

Romance author, January Andrews, has been left a house near a beach somewhere on the shores of Lake Michigan. It's been left to her by her late father who died suddenly, and who she has discovered was living a double life, he had a girlfriend that he sometimes lived there with. January has a deadline for her next book but has writer's block and decides to go and live in her father's house. Next door lives Augustus 'Gus' Everett. January and Gus knew each other in grad school when they were both doing a writing class. She felt he had looked down on her romance genre because he was a writer of literary books. But now both of them have writer's block. So they decide to swap genres, Gus will write a romance novel and January will write a 'serious' literary book. That will work, won't it? So. This is a hugely popular book that I thought I would love and then didn't. I didn't hate it, not at all. It's well written, has a lot of humour and the setting on the lake was different. I think I just reached the end of my tether with the two main protaganists quite quickly. They annoyed me with their self-absorption, there was too much wallowing, too much non-communication. I wanted to yell, 'For PITY'S sake, get a grip!' So there you go, each to his own, lots of people loved this and I can see why, I just don't think it's aimed at Cynical Old Biddies like me. 

I hope your June reading is going well?

Friday, 10 June 2022

A few jigsaw puzzles

As well as reading a lot, I tend to have a jigsaw puzzle on the go most of the time too. I prefer to do bigger ones, 3,000 pieces are my favourite, but I'm not fussy, I'll do any size but rarely less than 1,000. Here are a few I've done this year, starting with my latest.


This one is called Tiles of Barcelona, it's 3,000 pieces and because there's so much repetition was fairly tricky to be honest. Very much worth all the effort though. Would love to go to Barcelona to see the actual tiles.


This 1,500 piece puzzle was lent to me by my daughter. It's one of the prettiest I've done in ages. Very 'Miss Marple'. 


This one was 1,000 pieces, and a delight to do with all those lovely crafty bits and pieces.



Another 1,000 piece puzzle, one of a series called The Classical Collection of Light and I've managed to get hold of quite a few of them to do, mainly from ebay or my daughter. They're not easy to do but gorgeous when complete.


And finally, another 1,000 piece one (perhaps I do a lot more of that size than I realised) is this Where's Wally? puzzle, given to me by a dear friend. Not easy, as I'm sure you'll have guessed, and a bit bonkers, but great fun to do.

I am reading but am in the middle of two books so it'll be a few days before I'm ready to do another book post. But I hope you're all well and enjoying your June reading? I've started the 20 Books of Summer challenge, read one book and my current two are for that as well. Fun, fun!