Thursday, 19 May 2022

The 20 Books of Summer challenge

It's time for the 20 Books of Summer reading challenge again. Well, it will be in 11 days. It starts on the the 1st. June in fact and finishes on the 1st. September and once again I'm up for it.



The idea is pick a selection of 20 books that you want to read over the next 3 months. And read them. That's it. Simples. The challenge is being hosted by 746 Books and more info and the sign-up is HERE.

I was thinking that I would only go for 10 or 15 this year as I only managed 12 in 2021, but the list, like Topsy, growed and growed. So I ended up with 20 and these are they:

1. Waiting for the Albino Dunnock - Rosamund Richardson

2. Into the Tangled Bank - Lev Parikian

3. The Shell Seekers - Rosamunde Pilcher

4. Green for Danger - Christianna Brand

5. A Thousand Miles up the Nile - Amelia Edwards

6. Prospero's Cell - Lawrence Durrell

7. The Mysterious Mr. Quinn - Agatha Christie

8. Married to Bhutan - Linda Leaming

9. The Coroner's Lunch - Colin Cotterill

10. Beach Read - Emily Henry

11. The Camino: A Journey of the Spirit - Shirley MacLaine

12. Death Beside the Seaside - T.E. Kinsey

13. Illyrian Spring - Ann Bridge

14. Mrs. Lorimer's Quiet Summer - Ann Bridge

15. Walloon Ways - Val Poore

16. The Runaway Wife - Dee MacDonald

17. Away With the Penguins - Hazel Prior

18. The Riviera House - Natasha Lester

19. Fur Babies in France - Jaqueline Lambert

20. The Postscript Murders - Elly Griffiths

In reserve:

Death Goes on Skis - Nancy Spain

Dear Hugo - Molly Clavering

What I've done is fairly typical of me really, I've gone with a travelling - holidays - summer book theme based on my passion for armchair travelling. Not 'all' but mostly anyway. I've also combined several reading challenges so about half a dozen will also be read for my Book Voyage challenge and the Classics one. Really looking forward to getting started.


Sunday, 15 May 2022

Birthday books

So, I was really lucky this year and got given some lovely new books for my birthday. Some years there aren't many, others it's the complete reverse, no rhyme or reason. This year I did well. 

 


From the bottom:

Manderley Forever by Tatiana de Rosnay. I actually bought this as birthday present for myself. I saw it talked about on a Booktube video I think, 'somewhere' anyway and it sounded like a really excellent biography of Daphne Du Maurier. I've only ever read one book about the writer's life and that was the short autobiographical book, Myself When Young, which was delightful. I think it will be interesting reading about her life from someone else's point of view. 

The Wild Isles, edited by Patrick Barkham, is a big compilation of British and Irish nature writing and includes such authors as Gilbert White, Nan Shepherd, Henry Williamson, John Clare, Chris Packham and many, many more. It's a biggish tome with a stunning cover by artist, Angela Harding:


 

Still Life by Sarah Winman is set in WW2 in Italy and is about a young British soldier and a 64 year old art historian who meet and form a bond. I don't know a lot about the book to be honest, I just know that it seems to be a historical that's been loved by all who read it.

The Girl Who Came Home to Cornwall by Emma Burstall is another book with a pretty cover:

Cover art by Claire Henley. Anyway, I gather this is about a Mexican woman who travels to Cornwall to find her roots, so it's about family history and secrets. It is actually book 5 in the author's 'Tremarnock' series but I suspect it can be read ok as a standalone.

Cornish Short Stories, edited by Emma Timpany and Felicity Notley is a collection of contemporary Cornish writing. More than that I do not know but from the blurb on the back the stories sound interesting and imaginative.

Green For Danger by Christianna Brand is one of the latest BLCC reissues. It's about the murder of a postman and seems mainly to be a medical whodunit based in or around a hospital. Sounds good to me!

So that was a great birthday haul and I feel very blessed to have people in my life who give me wonderful books like these.


Wednesday, 11 May 2022

Catching up

I seem to have been AWOL for months but in fact it's only been two weeks, one of which I spent in Cornwall on my hols... 'reading'. Well not just reading, we met up with lovely relatives and mooched around the cliffs and gardens of west Cornwall and generally had a nice time. I zoomed through three books too so I'll do a quick catch-up in this post.

First up, The Search by Nora Roberts. 

Fiona Bristow lives on the island of Orcas off the coast of Washington State. Her life and business revolve around training dogs, although she always says it's as much about training their owners as it is about training the dogs. She and her own three dogs are also an important part of the region's canine rescue centre. Fiona is also a survivor. Some years ago she was kidnapped by a serial killer but managed to escape and it was down to her that he was eventually caught. But it came at a dreadful price and all she wants to do now is live a quiet life and forget what happened.  But someone does not. A woman is killed using the original killer's trademarks but it can't be him as he's safely locked up in prison. When more murders follow, the FBI and Fiona realise that he is moving up the coast towards her and the safe life she's constructed for herself could be destroyed forever. Well, this was an excellent thriller type book. But it was a lot more than that. I learnt so much about dog training from this book and although that's not really my thing I thoroughly enjoyed it. Fiona's dogs, all named after movie stars from way back, were great characters in the story, every bit as much as the people. There is some romance, I wasn't mad keen on the love interest but that's ok. And the setting of coastal Washington State was absolutely 'wonderful'. Nora Roberts continues to impress with her standalone thrillers. I like how the books are not all about the killings, they concentrate a lot on people's lives and families and what makes them all tick. Pleased to say I have several more from her on my library pile.

Next, The West Country Winery by Lizzie Lovell. A lovely cousin gave me a bag of books while I was visiting and these next two are from that selection.

Chrissie and her family, husband and two girls, both from previous relationships, live a busy life in London and Chrissie likes it that way. She's an events manager and constantly juggling family life and career. She thinks they're all happy with life as it is but her husband, Rob, drops a bombshell one day. He says he's always wanted to cycle from Cape Town to Cairo, which is news to Chrissie, but Rob is adamant and plans to do it. Soon. Then Chrissie's parents, who own a winery in Devon, call for help. The grape harvest is ready but they can't manage alone, they need assistance. Chrissie decides to take the two girls to live in Devon while Rob is away for a year, but is she doing the right thing? There are thousands of these sorts of contemporary lit books around these days. I don't read them all the time but occasionally they're just what I'm in the mood for and this one was great fun. The author does a lovely line in gentle humour as the only adult in the room, Chrissie, deals with the demands, quirks and tantrums of just about everyone else in the story. I loved the Polish cleaner, Melina, who ends up going with them and turns out to know all about wine production. Priceless. Nicely written and I'll read more by this author as and when she writes it as I believe there are only two books available by her so far. 

Lastly, Thursdays at Eight by Debbie Macomber.

Four women meet every Thursday morning at 8am to talk about what's going on in their lives and support each other. (I forget how they met but it came to an end and they wanted to continue meeting.) Liz is in her late fifties, widowed a few years ago and has a responsible job in a hospital. She's wondering whether or not start on a new relationship with a doctor. Clare, is very recently divorced, her husband having left her and their two older teenage sons for a much younger woman. Then something happens to him. Julia, happily married with two teens, a boy and a girl, suddenly finds she's pregnant. This is not necessarily welcome news... Karen is the youngest of the four, she's in her twenties and wants to be an actor. Her family are against this, parents and married sister, so life is a constant battle for her. Basically, we follow these four women for about a year as life happens to them. It was a good book, Macomber always concentrates on people and their stories and always has so much happening that you're on the edge of your seat a bit, wondering what's going to happen next. I didn't really feel I had a lot in common with any of the characters but that was fine, a good storyteller can make a reader interested in people no matter who or what they are. And our human problems are universal after all. This is set in California but that didn't really come over for me, I felt like it could've been anywhere apart from the acting mad Karen who I think might be quite typical of California. But not a bad read, all in all, I find I quite enjoy these contemporary stories, usually written by women and about women's lives. Makes a change from heaps of dead bodies and carnage all over the place. :-) 

And it's now May already and I have no idea how we can be a third of the way through 2022. I turned 69 on Sunday too and am also wondering how that happened! I hope all is well with you and that you're finding some good books to read.


Wednesday, 27 April 2022

Maigret Goes to School #1954Club

I'm a bit late but my second and final book for the 1954 Club challenge, which was hosted by Karen and Simon, was Maigret Goes to School by Georges Simenon.

 


 

In the police station in Paris where Maigret works, the room where people wait, hoping to be seen by a police officer, is known as Purgatory. And wait they do, sometimes for hours, depending really on the whim of the officers concerned. This is precisely what happens to teacher, Joseph Gastin, who is running from a small village near La Rochelle on the French Atlantic coast. An elderly woman has been shot and killed and it seems Monsieur Gastin is the prime suspect. Fearing he will not get a fair hearing in the village, the teacher has headed for Paris hoping he can persuade the famous Maigret to come back with him and help prove his innocence. 

Spurred on by he knows not what, possibly the approach of summer, possibly the promise of oysters, Maigret decides to go. It's not his patch so he has no jurisdiction... luckily the officer in charge in La Rochelle doesn't mind, but the minute they arrive he nevertheless arrests Gastin. Maigret is left to settle into the village, look at what's going on and try somehow get beneath the front the villagers have errected to keep the truth to themselves.

These are my favourite Maigret yarns... those where he leaves Paris and takes up residence in what is often a coastal area, cut off from civilisation in a manner in which we find hard to fully understand these days with our motorways and instant communication. It does mean we lose the presence of his other officers, Luca, Le Point, Janvier etc. and that's a shame but it's made up for in my opinion by Simenon's brilliance at depicting these insular regions. 

Because insularity is what's damning the school teacher of course. He's not local, not 'one of them', so they have no compunction whatsoever in letting him go down for a murder he may or may not have committed, just as long as it's not 'one of them'. Luckily Maigret, coming from another such village himself, understands this very well. He also knows about the secrets that lurk behind the front doors of these places, who's sleeping with whom, who drinks too much, who likes guns...

I enjoyed this very much but I do sometimes wonder if they present better on-screen than they do on the page. We've recently been watching one of the original Maigret series from the 1960s, starring Rupert Davies, on one of the obscure Freeview channels. I think I saw somewhere that his was a portrayal that Simenon himself enjoyed, and I'm not surprised as each episode has been really excellent. I'm actually old enough to have watched this version as a child, it was 'must watch' TV, so I was a big crime fan even that far back. In fact, I've enjoyed all of the various series I've seen with actors, Michael Gambon and, more recently, Rowan Atkinson, and it does seem to me they translate very well onto the small screen. Some of the books are better than others but all of the TV episodes are enjoyable. 

I should add that I know the area this book was set in as we had family who lived near La Rochelle for a while, so it was quite nice to be transported back there while I read the book. I gave it 3 stars on Goodreads and am now thinking I might've been a bit mean as Maigret Goes to School really was very readable indeed.


Tuesday, 19 April 2022

Because of Sam by Molly Clavering #1954Club

Because of Sam by Molly Clavering is my first book for the '#1954 Club' which is running all week and is being hosted by Simon and  Karen.

 

Millie Maitland has been a widow for many years, her husband having died only three years after their marriage, but it was long enough to produce a daughter, Amabel, who is now in her late twenties. The two live together in the Scottish Borders in fairly straightened circumstances because Millie's husband left her with no money, although they're fortunate in that they do have a home in a lovely little village.

Luckily, Millie discovered, by accident really, that one way to make money was to take in dogs as boarders for people going away on holiday. Now though, Amabel has a good job in Edinburgh and things are a bit easier. Unfortunately, Amabel was never an easy, amenable child and she's carried this obstreperousness into adulthood. She has a spiteful tongue and never ceases to criticise her mother for anything and everything. Millie copes with this with tolerance and fortitude but her life pretty much revolves around what pleases Amabel, or what Amabel will say about this or that.

The village they live in, Mennan, is peopled with the usual suspects as regards types of people. There's the overbearing, organising woman, the vampish woman who seems to be after everyone's husband, there are young couples and bachelor farmers and so on. Small things cause loads of gossip because there's not a lot else going on and people are thus very wary of village 'talk'. A bachelor farmer, Martin Heriot, decides to ask Millie to board a black Lab, Sam, that belongs to his cousin but there seems to be no end in sight, and Millie's solicitor in Edinburgh, Mr. Ramsey, starts coming to stay at weekends. It doesn't cause gossip but Millie's ordered life starts to become a bit less ordered, especially when she gives some advice to the young couple with the new baby...

I have to say straight off that this is a novel where nothing 'momentous' happens. It's very much a story of very ordinary folk, doing very ordinary things, just like we all do every day of our lives. If you like to read books that're non-stop action where you hardly have time to draw breath before the hero or heroine is off again, hotly pursued by murderers, spies, the police, tripods from the planet Mars, whatever, this is not the book for you. 

This is what I would call a 'quiet' novel and I loved it (even though I quite like a pursuit novel from time to time). Millie is a survivor despite being financially poor. She's a genuinely nice person who would do anything for anyone. I felt extremely aggrieved for her when a certain will was read (not her husband's) and her difficulties did not improve. She, on the other hand, accepts whatever life throws at her with equanimity, only occasionally being sharp with people when they go too far. I had the feeling that although she's 'nice', even she has limits. She's no walk-over and just occasionally even shrewish Amabel had to acknowledge that and take a step back. I liked that. 

I also like how unashamedly domestic Millie is. For instance she's a wonderful cook, back in the fifties of course domesticity was not seen as a questionable talent the way it might be today. Perhaps 'questionable' is the wrong term, I mean in the manner in which being capably domestic is not valued as much today as it was in the 1950s. And although this book is 'of its time' some things never change and various traits in people, being too organising, overbearing, flirtatious, totally oblivious, selfish, not wanting to give offence to the point of doing something you hate, well that never changes no matter what the year. 

I haven't been lucky enough to visit the Scottish Borders, the closest I've managed is a visit to Hadrian's Wall which is a few miles short. Judging by this book I think it must be incredibly pretty and I shall put it onto my 'Hope to go there one day' list. A superb start to the 1954 Club week and I unhesitatingly gave it 5 stars on Goodreads.


Monday, 18 April 2022

The 1954 club

I've not been able to join in with this challenge before, which involves the choice of a particular year and asking people to read books from said year. But this year I'm free to do it! 


The challenge is run by Simon and Karen, it will last all week and the year that's been chosen is 1954. 

So, I've just started this:


Because of Sam by Molly Clavering is set in the Scottish Borders and is about a widow, Millie Maitland, and her adult daughter, Amabel. Millie boards dogs to scrape a living, life is good but the daughter is an awkward, difficult character. It's gentle in the manner of D.E. Stevenson, everything is in the detail and the circumstances and I love it already.

Other possiblities if I manage to finish this by the end of the week, which I should do:

Maigret Goes to School - Georges Simenon

The Caves of Steel - Isaac Asimov

The Fellowship of the Ring - J.R.R. Tolkien

The Toll-Gate - Georgette Heyer

If you're joining in as well do tell what you're planning to read.


Tuesday, 12 April 2022

A bit of catching up

I'm several books behind with reviews so I thought I'd do a 'brief review' kind of catch up. Well that's the plan...

My last read of March was Voices in the Ocean by Susan Casey. This was a random Kindle buy after I'd enjoyed the dolphin section of James Nestor's book, Deep.

The author, Susan Casey, has a surprise encounter with dolphins off Hawaii which she can't get out of her head and this leads to all of the investigations within the pages of this book. It's thought that as humans we share a unique bond with dolphins, people swim with them and find it life-changing but no one can really explain why. They're vastly intelligent of course, in fact in one section of the book it's speculated that when scientists are interacting with them they often get the feeling that the dolphin is finding them mentally slow. I love the idea of that! The tragedy about dolphins though is how certain people in certain countries (Japan, Norway, The Solomon Islands etc.) treat them. There are some awful things recounted in this book and I mean truly appalling. Brace yourself if you want to read this. It's 'well' worth it though as I think we all ought to know what goes on but also there's much that's fascinating and wonderful. Dolphins are one of the few species who recognise themselves in mirrors for instance. There are even people who think that dolphins know how to travel between dimensions and it's thought that the author, Douglas Adams, must've been aware of this when he wrote Hitch-hiker's Guide to the Galaxy... 'So long and thanks for all the fish' and all that. Excellent book. I want to read more about dolphins now.

Next I read, Stop Worrying, There Probably is an Afterlife by Greg Taylor. I'm blaming Diane at Bibliophile by the Sea for this current fascination of mine as she started it by reviewing After by Bruce Greyson (who does actually get mentioned in this book) which I read and was instantly hooked. I love the mysterious and unexplained (thus, one of my favourite books last year was The Cold Vanish by Jon Billman) and am always looking for serious discussion on these strange topics. This one was an excellent exploration of Near Death Experiences, Death Visions, Mediums and so on. Not everyone's cup of tea but I enjoyed it.

After that I read The Other Bennet Sister by Janice Hadlow of course. (Read this book!!!)

And then, Endangered Species by Nevada Barr which is book 5 in her 'Anna Pigeon' series, wherein Anna is a US National Park ranger who moves around to various parks and ends up solving murders. As you do.

This takes place on Cumberland Island NP which is just off the coast of Georgia. Anna is there protecting the island as part of the fire crew but also does other things such as being present to help when turtles come ashore to lay their eggs. She's there with, as always, as motley a bunch as you could imagine including an eccentric scientist, other rangers and crew, their wives and various other volunteers. A light aircraft that's there to patrol for drug inforcement comes down in the forest on the island and the two men aboard are killed. It's thought to be an accident but naturally they soon find out it wasn't - Anna shouldn't get involved but then there would be no book so of course she does. All manner of secrets come out of the woodwork and life gets exciting and dangerous for her. I've liked all these books so far and this one is no exception. Anna is an interesting 'detective' character, a loner really, she lost her husband years ago but has never really got over it. I like that she's not girly and is very independent and able to look after herself. Good series. 

 

So, I'm currently reading two books. First, True Crime Addict by James Renner.


Not being American I'd never heard of the strange disappearance of Maura Murray in New Hampshire in 2004. The author is an investigative journalist who specialises in unexplained disappearances and starts looking into this case in 2011. I'm finding the book fascinating but am not sure how I feel about the author. Plus, the seedier side of humanity is very much on display here and I always find that a little hard to take. I don't 'think' I'm about to become addicted to True Crime books, but we'll see... I'm very odd. LOL!

And the second book I'm reading could hardly be more different. 

The School at the Chalet by Elinor M. Brent-Dyer was written for girls in 1925! Heavens above, that's nearly 100 years! Wow. For some reason I didn't read these when I was a young teen but I know they're popular with women now because I've seen them talked about on Youtube and blogs. Finding a couple that must've belonged to one of my daughters I thought I'd give them a go. Enjoying it so far.

So that's my reading for the first 12 days of April. I hope you're all well and finding some good books to read.


Thursday, 7 April 2022

The Other Bennet Sister by Janice Hadlow

The Other Bennet Sister by Janice Hadlow is a book I've had on my radar for several years now. It seems to divide the crowd a bit, I notice on Goodreads that there are a lot of 4 and 5 star reviews but also quite a few 2 stars. I fancy though that this is ever the way with Jane Austen adaptations, they are loved and loathed in equal measure, an equal opportunities genre if ever there was one!

 

 

I'm going to warn of a few spoilers in my review, if you want to read this book and know nothing about it then maybe don't read all of the following.

So the first quarter or so of this book shadows the events of Pride and Prejudice somewhat. Not entirely, as Mary, the sister that this book focusses on, was not always present in that of course. Plus, we see her in her childhood, happily keeping company with Jane and Lizzie until one day she overhears a conversation between her mother and her sister, Mrs. Phillips, and realises with horror that she is plain. Not only that, she has four very pretty sisters and beside them she will never shine. It's the start of the Mary we see in P&P, very bookish, a bit priggish, a figure of fun.

Janice Hadlow takes quite another sort of approach to Mary. Why is she like that? We're all a product of our upbringing and Mary is no different. Between her father's indifference and hatred of anything that disturbs his peace and her mother's selfishness and dislike of anything that doesn't match her view of 'pretty', sits Mary, desperately trying to attract her father's attention and trying equally as hard to avoid her mother's. It's incredibly sad. She's made to feel dowdy and uninteresting, so that's what she becomes. 

The catalyst happens when Mr. Bennet dies and Longbourn has to be vacated so that the Collins family can take up residence. Four of the sisters are married so are not much affected. Mrs. Bennet and Mary go to the Bingleys but somebody there is determined to make sure Mary is unhappy. And thus begins Mary's search for a family to take her in. 

Well, you'll probably have guessed by now that I come into the '5' star category on Goodreads. I thought this was an amazing book. To take a character who is not heavily featured in a classic and create a whole life for her is an amazing acheivement to my mind. Not only that but to turn her into a thinking, feeling, intelligent woman who, rather than being a figure of fun, was actually someone we should feel mightily sorry for. 'Plain', unmarried women with no income had very few choices back then. But even Mary realises that she is better off than some, citing the example of the single woman who comes to teach the sisters the piano who lives in poverty and has no one.

What struck me so forcibly about Mary's situation is how very few people gave a damn what happened to her. Her own mother, although that did not surprise me, Jane and Lizzie, very wrapped up in their own married bliss, Charlotte Collins in a strained marriage, none of them seemed to have any idea that Mary had nowhere to go. Thankfully, she does eventually find a place to be and then the book takes another turn completely as Mary discovers that she is a worthwhile person with a right to exist and to be loved. A whole section takes place in The Lake District and I think for me those were the best chapters. There are misunderstandings and unrequited love and internal wranglings and all the things that make up a good romance, so I think you could read this and enjoy it even if you're not really into Pride and Prejudice.

I'm pretty certain that The Other Bennet Sister is going to be in my top five books for 2022, it was just wonderful. I believe it's Janice Hadlow's only fiction book to date, I 'sincerely' hope she has more planned.


Wednesday, 30 March 2022

Books read in March

The spring weather we've been experiencing in the UK for a couple of weeks has just shuddered to a halt and snow is forecast for certain areas. That may include us in Devon, it may not, no one seems to know. No matter, I have a warm fire and plenty of books and jigsaw puzzles. 

March was a good reading month for me. Pretty much everything I read was enjoyable and interesting in some way and that's all you can ask for. (Although cake is always nice...) Eleven books in all and these are they:

19. Shelter in Place by Nora Roberts 

20. The Sunny Side of the Alps by Roy Clark 

21. A Psalm for the Wild-Built by Becky Chambers 

22. Thrush Green by Miss Read 

23. A Picture of Murder by T.E. Kinsey 

24. The Uncommon Reader by Alan Bennett 

25. Blind Search by Paula Munier. I didn't review this but it's book 2 of the author's 'Mercy and Elvis the dog' crime series and was excellent.

26. The Almost Nearly Perfect People by Michael Booth 

27. The Greedy Queen by Annie Gray

28. Winter at Thrush Green by Miss Read. Also not reviewed but delightful. Wonderful descriptions of autumn and winter in The Cotswolds and nice to see what happened to the characters in Thrush Green.

29. Voices in the Ocean by Susan Casey. Almost finished and to be reviewed but this is an incredibly unsettling book.

So seven fiction books and four non-fiction. I've been slacking a bit with my non-fiction reading this year so that gets me caught up a little. I've done a bit of travelling this month, Maine and Vermont in the USA, Slovenia in Eastern Europe, all over Scandinavia, and all over the oceans of the world reading about dolphins and whales. I've comfort-read but I've also learnt a 'lot'. I've laughed, been surprised and even shocked, felt despair (dolphins) and generally just had a cracking reading month. 

So, next month. A few books I'd like to read:


The three books on the left at the bottom are for the Read Around the World challenge I'm doing this year, the category for April is 'Islands'. The Lord of the Rings is there not because I want to read the whole thing but I had a fancy to read the first book, The Fellowship of the Ring, again. The rest may follow, who knows? To be honest I'd love one of those boxed sets of three separate books and was lusting after one that was about £70! Hmm. The rest of the books are all maybes, 'we'll sees'. 

I also want to take part in Simon at Stuck in a Book's Read the Year club, which is the year 1954. That takes place from the 18th. to the 24th. of April. I have several books lined up on my Kindle: 

Because of Sam - Molly Clavering

Maigret Goes to School - Georges Simenon

The Toll-Gate - Georgette Heyer

The Caves of Steel - Isaac Asimov

Realistically, being a slow reader, I doubt I'll manage more than two and those two will probably be the first two listed. 

Anyway, a couple of days early but Happy April and I hope you find a lot of excellent books to read. 


Wednesday, 23 March 2022

I have been reading...

... several books, not all of them working for me but such is life. First of all Spring has sprung here in the UK and we have primroses!

 

 

So, I reread The Uncommon Reader by Alan Bennett.

I think this is my third time of reading this joyous little book. Chasing after one of the corgis one day The Queen comes across the mobile library. It stops at Buckingham Palace really so that the numerous staff can use it but the only one who does is one of the kitchen staff, Norman. Feeling as though she should, The Queen borrows a book, enjoys it, goes back for more and rescues Norman from the kitchen. He becomes her mentor in reading, helping her to choose books and discussing them with her. It changes her in the manner in which it changes all of us who read. I can't remember who it was who said something like, 'I am the sum of all the books I have read', but it's true for readers. The Queen's 'higher up' staff don't particularly care for the changes, so what's to be done? Alan Bennett's gentle humour shines in this book, not laugh out loud funny but I giggled my way through it and it cheered me no end. I thought he got The Duke of Edinburgh particularly spot-on... absolutely hilarious. In a few years I suspect I will read this one for the fourth time.

Next, a non fiction, The Almost Nearly Perfect People by Michael Booth.

This is a study of the various countries that make up Scandinavia: Denmark, Sweden, Finland, Norway and Iceland. For anyone knowing nothing about those countries this would be a good place to start. Sadly for me, I have read books about several of them and what I found was that this author pretty much had the same observations to make as the others. All five countries have come at the top of happiness polls for years, but are they the perfect places to live that we're always being told they are? Yes.... and 'not necessarily' is the answer. There were things this book had to teach me. I wasn't aware of exactly how close the Swedish government was to Nazi Germany in WW2, that was a bit of an eye-opener. I didn't realise how rich Norway became after oil was discovered under The North Sea and how they may have diddled the Danes out of their share. Finland was the author's favourite country but they have huge problems with alcohol and guns and suicide rates. While interesting in parts, I found this book dragged a bit for me, I took 5 weeks to get through it and didn't touch it at all for days at a time. But it is very well written and a good place to start if you know nothing about Scandinavia.

Lastly, another non-fiction, The Greedy Queen by Annie Gray.

'In July 2015 a pair of extraordinarily large bloomers were auctioned in Wiltshire', is a pretty good starting sentence for any book, don'tcha think? Apparently they went for £12,900 and I'm pretty sure I remember it on the news... oh for the days when the news had time for that kind of article, we had no idea. Anyway, Queen Victoria loved her food, I think that's a truth universally acknowledged, and this book charts her relationship with it, pretty much chronologically but not pedantically so. She was quite the party animal when she was young, I didn't know that, thinking nothing of staying up all night eating and drinking but then she was a teenager when she came to the throne and, when it comes to teenagers, not much changes it seems. Albert tried to change her when they got married but it was bearing 9 children that did the trick and his death of course. It's thought that food was her way of coping with the grief but really, well-off Victorians 'did' eat a lot. It was interesting the way Annie Gray compared the guargatuan meals consumed at the palace with what the majority of The Queen's subjects were barely subsisting on. That's not to say she wasn't without sympathy and this book does, I think, get to the nitty-gritty of the woman. I enjoyed it, didn't love it, rather too many facts and figures and minute details of menus for my liking but not at all a bad read. I think this is a book to read if you already know a fair bit about Queen Victoria.

Happy Spring and I hope you're all finding some good books to read.


Tuesday, 15 March 2022

A couple of comfort reads

Am I the only one wanting comfort reading at the moment? I thought not. And I was reminded a couple of weeks ago of how much I love the villagey/countryside feel of the writings of Miss Read... they kept coming up on Youtube book videos I was watching for instance. So I nipped to Amazon and treated myself to a handful and reread the first one, Thrush Green, in the week. 

Thrush Green is a bit of a hamlet attached to the town of Lulling, somewhere in The Cotswolds. This is England in the 1950s and although I was only just born then it didn't alter much into the 1960s. So many of the scenarios are familiar especially in this first book where excitement about the fair arriving on the the 1st. of May is reaching fever pitch. I remember that well in Penzance and this was added to by the fact that the fair took up residence next to my school so we were able to watch it being constructed. Anyway, in this first book we meet such characters as the overpowering Ella who lives with a rather small and quiet woman, Dimity. The elderly Dr. Bailey and his wife, Winnie... she's very concerned about her husband as he's been failing healthwise recently. A locum is helping out and he becomes interested in Ruth who has suffered a broken engagement and is looking after her nephew while her sister and husband take a break. And there's Mrs. Curdle who owns the fair, and her grandson Ben. It's so easy to become completely wrapped up in the lives of these very ordinary people, their triumphs, their tragedies, their everyday doings and so on. I've read this three times now and have loved it every time. The setting is just gorgeous, you can easily imagine the quaint hamstone cottages situated on top of the hill from Lulling, the delightful village green, and the lush countryside around. It's clear Dora Saint (who wrote as Miss Read) adored the countryside as the nature writing is sublime. She had two series that she was well known for, Thrush Green and Fairacre, the latter being set in a village in the Sussex downs, I believe, another stunning area. I'd previously read only library books by this author but am so pleased to have some on my Kindle now and will continue to collect them like this. I do covet the lovely hardback collections I see behind people on Youtube though and if I see any at any time will definitely grab them!  

Next, a historical crime yarn, book 4 of T.E. Kinsey's Lady Hardcastle books, A Picture of Murder.

Lady Hardcastle and her companion/maid, Flo, have unexpected guests in the shape of four actors. They're going to show some of the new 'moving pictures' at the village hall, and Lady Hardcastle is particularly pleased as she's been dabbling in this new art form. But there is controversy, mainly in the form of protesters who view the new fangled kinematograph as the work of Satan and are out to save people's mortal souls from it. Things come to a head when one of the actors is found dead, followed a few days later by another. Inspector Sunderland is called in but is rather busy solving crime in Bristol so allows Lady Hardcastle and Flo free rein to investigate in his place, with the help of the local constabulary. You have to suspend disbelief rather with this series because the likelihood of two women being allowed that kind of freedom back then verges on zero but that's fine, I don't care at all. The books are 'huge fun' and I don't read them for gritty reality and social commentary (although they're not devoid of the latter at all, but it's subtle). The banter between the two old friends is priceless and I love that in this instalment we find out a bit more of their history together, and it's fascinating stuff. Also intriguing about this tale is not so much the actual murders but the 'how and the why'... very unusual. These books are only £1 for Kindle on Amazon and I think they're worth every penny for the amusement I get out of them. 

So, I've just started this:


I loved the first book in this 'Mercy and Elvis' series, A Borrowing of Bones, and Blind Search promises to be every bit as good. 

And when I entered Blind Search on Goodreads it threw up this other series as being one that other people liked:


This is book 1 of the 'Timber Creek K-9' mystery series, set in Colorado, so of course I just had to check those out and as the first book was only 99p it 'somehow' made its way onto my Kindle. *coughcough* Anyone read any of those? They look good and 'what' a gorgeous cover!

Happy reading everyone and I hope you're finding some good books to read in these difficult times.


Tuesday, 8 March 2022

A couple of quick reviews

Behind with reviews as always so I'll get on and make a start with, The Sunny Side of the Alps: From Scotland to Slovenia on a Shoestring, a non-fiction book by Roy Clark.

The author, Roy Clark, and his partner, Justi, were living in the Scottish Highlands, enjoying the lifestyle and people but getting tired of endless wet, soggy winters. They want to move and decide on France but instead Justi gets a teaching job in Slovenia. None of their family know where it is and insist on thinking the couple are moving to Slovakia. Confession time here I 'did' know where it was but only because one of the Strictly Come Dancing pro dancers, Aljac Skorjanec, is from there and I had looked it up out of curiosity. For those who don't know it's an ex- Yugolslav country and borders Italy, Austria and Croatia with a short coast on the Adriatic. So with very little money off they go to live, work and discover Slovenia. Honestly, this book was a 'delight'. I knew nothing about Slovenia and learnt so much about the way of life and the countryside and the 'feel' of the place. Not all authors can do this but Roy Clark manages it beautfully, he even made me cry at one point! I fell in love with this clearly beautiful country, loved hearing about the people they got to know, the houses and towns they lived in, Roy's cycling explorations and so on. They took trips, one to Montenegro, another to the other side of Slovenia to where they were living and I felt as though I were in the backseat of the car with them. I would 'love' to go there now, to see for myself and who knows, I may manage it one day. Roy Clark is now the author of quite a few guide books to Slovenia and did also mention another book about their life in Slovenia, something about B&Bs. I went straight to find it on Amazon but if it exists I can't see it, which is a bit of a shame. A 'lot' of a shame actually because I'm still thinking about this lovely book. 5 stars on Goodreads and read for the Round the World reading challenge, under the category 'Eastern Europe & Russia'. 

Lastly, a complete change of genre, and fiction this time, A Psalm for the Wild-Built a science-fiction novella by Becky Chambers.

So, this was nothing if not 'a bit odd' and it took me a while to catch on to what was going on. I gathered in the end that it was not a planet these people lived on but a moon orbiting a gas-giant. 'Panga' has been split into two sections, one for humans and the other bit to grow completely wild. I think there might've been some kind of ecological disaster, I do know that they had a load of sentient robots and gave them the choice of where they wanted to go and what they wanted to do and they chose to move to to the wilderness. So the main character, Dex, who's a monk, is fed up and decides to become a 'tea-monk', meaning he/she (Dex is gender-neutral)  travels around the human areas of this moon dishing out tea and sympathy. It isn't enough, he soon gets bored with that after a few years and decides to go and search out a legendary monastery somewhere in the wild area. Which is where he comes across the robot, Mosscap. Mosscap has been chosen by his fellow robots to 'find out what humans want'. The two join forces. So, I gave this a 3 star rating on Goodreads, mainly because I didn't really know what to make of it. Yes, it has interesting ideas and is a gentle novella that meanders along in its own charming way. I liked the descriptions of the countryside. I liked Dex and especially Mosscap but found the constant referring to Dex as 'they' kept throwing me out of the story. I have no objection to it but my ancient brain just couldn't keep up, sadly. Somehow or other though I just wanted more from the book. Possibly it just wasn't long enough to really get to the gist of its own plot and I was left at the end thinking, 'And?' There is a second instalment out now, A Prayer for the Crown-Shy, which I assume will tell us more, I don't know. Will I buy it? Well these short novellas (about 160 pages) are 'as' expensive, if not more than, say, a 400 page book, so to be honest no, I probably won't be getting it. (Underlining my own stupidity I didn't realise A Psalm was novella length when I bought it.) I do have one of Becky Chambers' other sci-fi novels on reserve at the library as she does seem to be very popular in the genre and I'm curious. So, we'll see. As I always say (well, sometimes) 'Your Mileage May Vary' on A Psalm for the Wild-Built and most people on Goodreads 'love' it, so I think this is probably just me.


Friday, 4 March 2022

Shelter in Place by Nora Roberts

So, I nabbed Shelter in Place by Nora Roberts from the library after reading her Northern Lights in January and loving it. I got as far as discovering this book was set in Maine and put it in my bag without going any further.

 


Simone Knox, aged 16, has just been dumped by her boyfriend for not being willing 'to go all the way'. She's devastated because in her head she had the two of them married and bringing up their kids, having a lovely life. To cheer her up her two best friends, Tish and Mi, take her off to the movies, but no sooner are they settled than in walks the ex with his new girlfriend. Simone heads to the loo to compose herself. Coming out sometime later she's greeted with mayhem: shots being fired, people screaming, stampeding to get away from something. Terrified, Simone goes back into the ladies to hide and calls 911.

Three teenage boys end up killing over 70 people in the shopping mall that day. Simone survives but Tish is killed and Mi is very seriously injured. Also surviving that day is Reed. He's 19 and working at the mall to earn some money to go to college. The female cop, Essie, who ends the shooting spree inspires Reed and on the spot he decides to become a cop himself. 

Fast forward a few years and Essie and Reed are partners in the police. They decided quite early on that they would not lose sight of the massacre and its consequences, and it's while doing this that Reed realises someone is picking off the survivors of that fateful day. 

Meanwhile, Simone has had a shaky time of it, going a little bit off the rails. But her unconventional, artistic grandmother, Cici, has noticed that the girl is artistic too and suggests Simone goes off to Italy to study and get involved in the art world there. It's the making of Simone who has had to fight her parents to be allowed to be who she really is. When Simone returns to live with her Grandmother and Reed changes jobs the two lives collide. But there's a job to do first: a killer has to be caught.

So there's me, holding this opinion that Nora Roberts' books are fluffy, undemanding, not that well written, and Not For Me. Fluffy? There's gun massacre at the beginning of this book that made my blood run cold. No punches pulled. I would even warn against this if you have no taste for this kind of thing. There's a cold-blooded serial killer going about their business in a very inhuman manner and sections written from the point of view of said killer that are quite chilling. 

I have to admit that none of the above are necessarily my thing but the writing drew me in and so did the characters. I loved Cici and her unconventional lifestyle. I liked how Reed and Essie worked together and how decent they were as cops and as people. Simone's discovery of her artistic talent and how she used that to heal herself was wonderful to read. Very touching. And not everyone can learn to deal with trauma and those who 'have' learnt need to accept that too.

And I must mention Maine. Cici lives on an island off the coast of the state called Tranquility and what do you know? it actually exists. I loved it. Such a strong sense of beauty and calm, of community and yes, 'tranquility'. I want to go.

This is quite a long book, 430 pages or so and sometimes I would say about a book that 100 pages could easily have been lopped off and no one any the wiser, but not this one. Roberts takes the time to go into the lives and characters of people who have survived severe trauma and to explain how we all have coping mechanisms, we just have to discover what they are and survive.  There's romance in this book, there's a very definite crime element, but most of all it's a book about real life and finding a way to survive the most terrible of events. I absolutely loved it. And I do believe I need to be a trifle less rigid in judging authors and their work. I didn't think I was that judgmental to be honest: clearly I still have a way to go.


Monday, 28 February 2022

Books read in February

The start of February seems like an age ago, the depths of winter, whereas now, although it still is winter of course, the light has changed and the bulbs are are up in the garden and it feels like spring is on the way. I like winter a lot and that hasn't changed, but this year I think I'm ready for it to be gone.

Thank God for books, I do not know what I would do without them at the moment (and for the last couple of years), the world is so awful. Thus, lots of reading this month, eight books in all. These are they:

11. The Dead of Winter by Nicola Upson 

12. Wintering by Katherine May 

13. Dear Mrs. Bird by A.J. Pearce 

14. After by Dr. Bruce Greyson 

15. The Lark by E. Nesbit 

16. Project Hail Mary by Andy Weir 

17. Murder by the Book edited by Martin Edwards 

18. Bewildering Cares by Winifred Peck 

So, quite a varied bunch this month. Six fiction reads, two non-fiction. A good month because there were no duds, nothing that was a terrible disappointment. I think this might possibly be because I'm getting more and more skilled at choosing books I think I will like. And also better at abandoning those I'm not enjoying. I don't do that lightly but there was one this month that I stopped reading after about forty pages thinking, 'I just don't give a monkey's!'

Favourite book of the month? I don't think I can choose. Three stood out: Dear Mrs. Bird by A.J. Pearce, Project Hail Mary by Andy Weir and After by Bruce Greyson. But all the rest were good too, and I would have no hesitation in recommending any of them. It's been a pretty good month all told.

So, currently reading? Well, this:

 

I mean, who knew? I certainly did not think I would become smitten with standalone books by Nora Roberts. But Shelter in Place is a 'terrific' read, set in Maine and dealing with the aftermath of a massacre perpetrated by three boys in their late teens. The book is about the survivors and is so, 'so' good, I can't put it down.

In my Books read in January post I listed eight or nine books as a pool to read from in February. I managed to read four of those and am quite happy with that, so I thought I'd do it again.

Books for the 'Round the World' challenge, category - Eastern Europe:

Along the Enchanted Way - William Blacker (Romania)

The Sunny Side of the Alps - Roy Clark (Slovenia)

The Thread - Victoria Hislop (Greece)

For the Back to the Classics challenge:

The Age of Innocence - Edith Wharton

The Mysterious Mr. Quinn - Agatha Christie

Sundry:

Blind Search - Paula Munier

The Other Bennet Sister - Janice Hadlow

Percy Jackson and the Sea Monsters - Rick Riordan

The Buried Giant - Kazuo Ishiguro

The Unexpected Inheritance of Inspector Chopra - Vaseem Khan

Waiting for the Albino Dunnock - Rosamund Richardson (non-fiction about bird watching)

Two books about The Queen:

The Windsor Knot - S. J. Bennett

The Uncommon Reader - Alan Bennett (a 3rd. or 4th. reread)

Of course there's no way on Earth I'll manage to read all of those in one month, but I'm a list person and find it helps to have some idea of the books I would like to read each month and most importantly - write them down! I don't feel compelled to always read from that list of course and very often do go completely off piste when a sudden fancy takes me.

Happy reading in March and take care. 


Saturday, 26 February 2022

Catching up (as always)

Two books to catch up on today. Firstly, Murder by the Book: Mysteries for Bibliophiles edited by Martin Edwards. This was a Christmas present from a lovely friend.

This is another of the BLCC's anthologies of themed murder mysteries. How perfect for people who like books about books mixed with a good murder yarn! The collection has 16 stories in all and as usual the stories varied a bit but none were less than very readable and some were superb. My favourite was by an unknown author to me, Roy Vickers, and entitled A Man and His Mother-in-Law. The protagonist has married for the second time, his first wife having walked out on him. His second wife had been adopted during the war, having lost both her parents, and had become slavishly attached to her adopted mother. How this all pans out, including a murder, is a beautifully observed commentary on marriage and the people within it, and not just the couple themselves. I thought this was superbly written, I liked that it was quite long and took its time to explain how the husband was like he was and how that affected his relationships. Brilliant. I also loved, Grey's Ghost by Michael Innes. This takes part at a dinner party, wherein a bishop relates how he heard someone say in passing, 'Grey's ghost was black'. Inspector Appleby (Innes' regular detective) is present that evening and works out what was meant by that comment and how things progressed. Terrific story, I really 'must' get hold of some of the Appleby novels. I liked the cleverness of Malice Domestic by Philip MacDonald, an American story of a man who thinks his wife is poisoning him. Good twist to that one. There was a Sherlock Holmes story by S.C. Roberts, The Strange Case of the Megatherium Thefts, concerning missing books, which was pretty good. Also excellent was, The Book of Honour by John Creasy. This was set in India and was another tale which took the time to explain the background so that the reader feels very invested in the characters. My final favourite was *takes deep breath* We're Know You're Busy Writing But We Thought You Wouldn't Mind If We Dropped In For a Minute by Edmund Crispin. I should think every author would identify with this very strongly as the narrator recounts how many interruptions he gets each day, making settling down to write a book almost impossible. This was very funny, I like Crispin's Gervase Fen books anyway and this has the same trademark humour. All in all an excellent collection of very varied stories all connected with books or publishing in some way or other and I can recommend it very highly.

Lastly, Bewildering Cares by Winifred Peck. This book, first published in 1940, is another reissue published by Dean Street Press.

Camilla Lacely is a vicar's wife and the couple live and work in a small provincial town somewhere near Manchester. WW2 has begun, young men are being called up and the war effort is clicking into gear. Camilla's trials and tribulations are many. As a vicar's wife a lot is expected of her, not just commitees, supporting people with problems in the locality, church duties and such, but she also feels very strongly that her main duty is to support her husband in everything. It's endless pressure and worry but luckily she's stoical and can deal with things from a humorous point of view: she's very philosophical. This attitude is challenged somewhat on the day that the curate, Strang, preaches his pacifist views to a congregation and outrages the whole town. Camilla 'was' present but unfortunately was snatching forty winks behind a pillar and didn't hear what was said. All kinds of mayhem ensues, nastiness coming out of the woodwork, people getting on their high horses and threatening to withdraw financial support for various causes and so on. This is an excellent study of human nature, the good, the bad, and the downright unreasonable. Pettiness persists even during wartime, perhaps 'especially' in wartime. I liked Camilla, bravely 'keeping calm and carrying on' despite a lot of provocation. I don't know why but her husband annoyed me. I think I felt that the support was all one way but I suspect that's my 21st. century sensibilities talking. There's a lot of humour in the telling of this tale, somewhat in the style of The Diary of a Provincial Lady. I did get a little bogged down in ethical and religious discussions but that's a minor quibble. I loved one character who appeared only briefly but was mentioned a lot, Camilla's son, Dick, who clearly had his feet planted firmly on the ground. All in all, a good read and I'm interested enough to search out more work by Winifred Peck, and have in fact got one of her crime books on my Kindle, Arrest the Bishop?, which sounds like fun.

And soon it'll be March and we'll all be wondering where February went! I hope you're all finding some good books to read to take your mind off the difficult times we're going through.
 

Friday, 18 February 2022

Project Hail Mary

Project Hail Mary by Andy Weir is yet another book I've been seeing everywhere over the last six months or so. Clearly, from the reviews, very popular. And at the beginning of this year I decided that one of my personal challenges would be to try to read at least one science fiction or fantasy book per month. I did well with that in January but hadn't read anything in that vein come mid-February so I went to my library pile and grabbed Project Hail Mary.


The story opens with someone emerging from a coma and a voice asking what is two plus two. It takes the patient a long time to work this out and once he's done that the voice wants to know his name. If he can't remember, which he can't, he has to stay in the room he's currently in, which is rather traumatic because there are two other beds there, both containing dead bodies.

Slowly but surely, Robert Grace remembers his name and realises where he must be. Not that it helps to know that he's on a spaceship and the two dead people are the rest of his crew, because he can't remember what the mission is. But here he is approaching the sun. Well, no. He's not. He soon realises that this is not his sun or even his solar system, it's someone else's. It's Tau Ceti, a close neighbour of ours, and it's taken Grace three years to get here and he's on his own with a problem to solve but he can't remember what the problem is. 

Enter stage left another spacecraft. It couldn't be more different to the one Grace is in but he is contacted and the two crafts join via a tunnel and he becomes the first human to ever meet a real live member of an alien species, 'Rocky', as Grace names him. As it turns out the two have struck lucky. Grace is a scientist and Rocky is an engineer who can fix or make anything. But he can't go into the human environment and Grace can't go into his. Which is problematical as they both realise they are here for the same reason, to save their planets from certain destruction from the same source.

There used to be an American TV show years ago, called McGyver, wherein an actor called Richard Dean Anderson played a chap who got into all kinds of scrapes and always had the ingenuity to fix anything with an elastic band and a piece of chewing gum. This is what this book reminded me of. It's chock-full of science and engineering explanations of how they manage to fix some pretty challenging problems, many of them going over my head rather but I got the gist and anyway it really didn't matter because the stars of the show are Grace and Rocky and their relationship. I love how they taught themselves their respective languages via a laptop. I loved that it was explained to me exactly how different Rocky is to humans and how our atmosphere was so toxic to him. These 'differences' are why I love science fiction so much, it makes me think in an entirely different way about Life, the Universe and Everything.

This is a dual timeline story. Not only are we with Grace and Rocky trying to save their respective planets, we also go back to see how Grace got where he is. What is causing the sun's light to diminish, what the scientists decided to do about it, who they put in charge - a real kick-ass woman - and how the crew of the Earth spacecraft got chosen. I generally am not mad about dual timelines because I always prefer one over the other but that wasn't so much the case here. I did prefer being with Rocky and Grace but only marginally. 

I gave Project Hail Mary 5 stars on Goodreads. It was a terrific yarn, full of edge of your seat moments, intriguing science and best of all two fantastic main characters whose relationship was a 'joy'. I think I'll be looking for more books by Andy Weir.


Sunday, 13 February 2022

A couple of titles

Two books finished over the last couple of days, one fiction, one non-fiction, both excellent.

First up, The Lark by E.Nesbit.

It's 1919 and Jane and Lucilla are two cousins who are at school together but being nineteen-ish both are eager to leave and go out into the world. They're orphans who are under the care of a guardian and when a letter arrives with bad news the two girls get their wish to leave the school, but not in the way they would've wished. The guardian has scarpered with their inheritance: he's left them £500 and a house to live in, so they're not exactly destitute but things are not hunky-dory either. Being rather positive in their outlook the girls decide to treat the whole experience as a bit of 'a lark', hence the title of the book. By accident one of them ends up selling flowers from their garden to people passing by and thus the germ of a way to make a small living is born. One thing leads to another and a business comes into being and another one decided upon for the near future. They should be able to keep themselves after all but the journey will not be straightforward.

This is one of the reissued books from the Dean Street Press people who publish books and authors that have gone out of print and been forgotten a bit. Not that E. Nesbit is a forgotten author as she wrote many famous children's books including the very famous, The Railway Children and the 'Five Children and It' series that I devoured as a young teenager. What's less known is that she also wrote a few books for adults, not to mention some very good ghost stories. The Lark is essentially a book for adults 'but' its tone is very 'young adult'... to my mind anyway. It's incredibly charming, a lovely read if you're looking for a gentle book in these horrible times we're living through. To me it was quite character driven and I enjoyed meeting all of the various people who serendipitously come into their lives and end up helping or sometimes not. It's not all sweetness and light, some of them are not what they seem and the girls learn a few valuable lessons along the way which saves the book from being too good to be true. The humour also helps with that as it's written quite tongue-in-cheek. All in all this was a delightful read that I can't recommend too highly if you love gentle stories along the lines of D.E. Stevenson, Dorothy Whipple or Angela Thirkell.

Lastly, After: A Doctor Reveals What Near-Death Experience Tell Us About Life and Beyond by Dr. Bruce Greyson.

I read this because I saw it reviewed by Diane on her blog, Bibliophile by the Sea. It might not seem a natural choice for me as I'm quite agnostic in my religious beliefs but I do have a streak in me that enjoys reading unusual books, especially those which increase my knowledge of the unknown or which insist I really think about the subject. The author, a professor of psychiatry in the USA, begins by telling the reader how his fascination with NDEs (Near-Death Experiences) started. As a young doctor, he'd been in the process of eating some spaghetti and tomato sauce when his beeper went off. It made him jump and he got tomato sauce on his tie. He went off to speak to the friend of a girl who had over-dosed, waiting in the waiting room. Later when speaking to the girl who had survived her suicide attempt, something strange happened. The girl knew about the stain on his tie, said she had witnessed the conversation between her friend and the author because she had been floating near the ceiling. She knew exactly what had been said about her and that Dr. Greyson had had tomato sauce on his tie. For the author this led to a life-time's investigation into this subject, talking to thousands of people who have had experiences like this young woman 'or' who went further and went somewhere they could only describe as 'heaven' and then got sent back, usually because they had family who needed them or unfinished work. Dr. Greyson describes himself as a skeptic when this all started for him but finds himself unable to dismiss the testimonies of so many people. There's quite a bit of science in this book, none of it beyond my ability to understand either the concepts or the experiments they did to exclude various theories. There are a 'lot' of case histories quoted here, every one of them unique and fascinating. I may have been ready to read something like this having recently been told something about what happened when an elderly aunt passed away years ago, which rather took me aback. So has this book changed my stance or opinion on the subject of what happens when we die? I would say, 'yes'. Lots to think about and I'm still thinking and considering and wondering... which is what a good book is for really!

So I'm currently reading several books. First this:


Murder by the Book, edited by Martin Edwards, is a collection of murder mystery short stories that all concern books or writing. Perfect for reading nerds like we all are. I'm about two thirds of the way through and enjoying it very much.

Also this:


The Almost Nearly Perfect People by Michael Booth is a book about Scandinavia. Why is it considered so wonderful to live in Denmark, Sweden, Norway etc? Why do they continually come out on top in the 'best places to live with the happiest people' polls? I'm reading this for the 'Round the World' challenge I'm doing and so far it's quite good. 

And I've just started this too:


Project Hail Mary by Andy Weir who I believe wrote The Martian, the book the film of the same name was based on. I haven't read that but so far Project Hail Mary is excellent.

I hope you're finding lots of good books to read in February.


Tuesday, 8 February 2022

Dear Mrs. Bird

So, Dear Mrs. Bird by A.J. Pearce is yet another one of those books I saw on several people's blogs and also mentioned on a Youtube book vlog that I regularly tune into. It sounded like my sort of thing as I like a lot of wry humour in my reading, so I grabbed it for my Kindle.

 


Emmy's ambition for a while has been to be a reporter on a national newspaper. It's 1940 and WW2 is raging, London is in the middle of The Blitz and suffering horrendous casualties and damage to the city, night after night. Dangerous assignments sound like an exciting thing to be involved in, no matter that she does actually spend her evenings and a lot of the night answering emergency calls for the fire brigade and is not at all exempt from the bombing in the capital city. 

When Emmy sees an advert for what she thinks is a new position with a famous newspaper she jumps at it, thinking her life is about to change completely. She's so excited she doesn't ask any relevant questions at the interview which is how she finds herself a secretary to an Agony Aunt working for a dull magazine that the newspaper owner owns but has very little to do with. Poor Emmy is hugely disappointed and annoyed at herself for getting so carried away.

The Agony Aunt herself is Mrs. Bird. Mrs. Bird is rather a stately woman of the old school, no nonsense, no slacking and definitely no 'unpleasantness' as regards the letters which she will answer in her column. What Emmy finds herself doing is sorting out the unpleasant from the acceptible. The former make up the vast majority of the postbag, sad letters from women and girls who are struggling with every difficult or embarrassing thing you can think of, not just personal problems but difficulties connected to the war. Mrs. Bird wants nothing to do with any of this but soft-hearted Emmy finds herself sympathising and feeling that people are in need of help and answers if they're desperate enough to write to a magazine.

Emmy's eventual decision is to start taking letters home to answer herself. She knows this is a drastic step, especially when she signs them, 'Mrs. Bird'. She knows that if she ever gets found out, a bit more than 'unpleasantness' will ensue. But, of course, she does it anyway.

Well, sometimes highly hyped books don't live up to the hype. And sometimes they do. This is not a universally loved book and it does have its flaws. Emmy's inner voice being a bit Jolly Hocky Sticks can be a bit grating to some but personally I loved it. She reminded me so much of Sam, Foyle's driver in the wonderful WW2 crime series, Foyle's War. Her enthusiasm was so uplifting and her turn of phrase so funny, it was just a joy. She seemed to me to epitomise that WW2 spirit of 'Keep calm and carry on' regardless of what happens. Because what other choice did they have?

I felt a bit that this was a book of two halves. The first half funny and upbeat, the second not so much. Emmy's unquenchable spirit is still there but she's in conflict with a friend and that has consequences. Plus, well there's a war on and awful things happen and that is brilliantly portrayed. I not only enjoyed this book for its delightful humour and characters but I learnt from it, not just historical details but about the spirit of Londoners at this time and the horrors of what they had to endure. The book doesn't shy away from that. The importance of friendship, helping people if you possibly can, doing what you feel is right even if everyone else thinks you're wrong, are also very strong factors in the bones of this book. Overhyped or not overhyped, you'll have to decide for yourself but personally, I think not. I loved, Dear Mrs. Bird and look forward to reading its sequel, Yours Cheerfully, very soon.