Friday 30 December 2022

Mount TBR 2023

I haven't done the Mount TBR challenge for a couple of years so thought I'd return to it for 2023. 


As always it's being hosted by Bev at MY READER's BLOCK and for the sign-up post and more details visit THIS POST.

The Challenge levels are as follows:

Pike's Peak: Read 12 books from your TBR pile/s
Mount Blanc: Read 24 books from your TBR pile/s
Mt. Vancounver: Read 36 books from your TBR pile/s
Mt. Ararat: Read 48 books from your TBR pile/s
Mt. Kilimanjaro: Read 60 books from your TBR pile/s
El Toro*: Read 75 books from your TBR pile/s (*aka Cerro El Toro in South America)
Mt. Everest: Read 100 books from your TBR pile/s
Mount Olympus (Mars): Read 150+ books from your TBR pile/s

I'll be doing Mont Blanc, 24 books, with the option to move up if I get there too quickly. I've picked out some older books from my tbr mountain and a few newer ones and have tried to mix the genres up a bit too.

That little lot should keep me busy for a while. LOL! Of course I should also add that an entirely different set of books may well get read for this challenge. I'm excellent at changing my mind and going off on tangents I never even knew existed.

I hope everyone had a good Christmas? I had a couple of nice books given to me plus I bought a couple for myself, so I'll post about those later. 

Happy New Year!

Sunday 18 December 2022

A few December reads

A busy month is December, but I have nevertheless managed to fit in three books between the cooking and cleaning, not to mention long moments admiring our snow out of the window. 

It's gone now and mild weather is supposed to come in over the next day or two but it was lovely and wintery while it lasted - about a week all told as it's been really cold here in the UK.

Anyway, books. I shall talk about the three as briefly as I can manage. First up, The Hygge Holiday by Rosie Blake.

Clara is Danish but is having an extended touring holiday in the UK, hiding from something that happened in Denmark. She lands up, mid-autumn, in a village called Yulethorpe which has been steadily declining since most of the shops shut. The last shop, a toyshop, is in danger of shutting too because the owner is fed up and has had enough. She's off to Spain but not before Clara suggests she run the shop for her while she's away and live in her flat above the shop. Said flat has a foul-mouthed parrot already in residence plus it's a mess so Clara sets about Hygge-fying the whole place. She also transforms the toyshop with some really good ideas. Enter stage left the owner's son, Joe, a high-flyer in The City, who cannot believe Clara has no hidden agenda but is doing all this for nothing. Sparks fly. So, I was slightly underwhelmed by this. It wasn't terrible by any stretch of the imagination, it was just a bit ordinary. I presume most people know what 'Hygge' means these days, the Danish idea of being cosy and comfortable in winter, real fires, candles, that sort of thing. And the sense of that was quite nice, but not quite enough somehow, I wanted a bit more. But it was fine and I gave it 3 stars on Goodreads.

Next, The Vanderbeekers of 141st. Street by Karina Yan Glaser. 

The Vanderbeekers, Mum and Dad, twelve year old twins Isa and Jessie, nine year old Oliver, six year old Hyacinth and four year old Laney, live happily on 141st. Street in Harlem. Except that that happiness is shattered when the children's parents tell them that the owner of the brownstone they live in is not renewing the lease for their apt. It seems their exuberance is too much for Mr. Beiderman and he wants quieter tenants. And so begins a campaign by the children to win the house owner over, which is not easy because he never leaves his top floor apt. Neighbours talk secretly about something that happened a few years ago but the children can't discover the secret. They're to be out by Christmas so they don't have long to fulfil their mission. Can they do it? This is of course a children's book (middle grade would it be called?) but don't let that put you off, it is utterly charming and a really delightful Christmas read. The children are all very different with their own personalities and interests - Oliver reads, Hyacinth is a crafter, Isa plays violin, Jessie is a scientist etc. I loved the neighbours, and the neighbourhood, the house, all of it. This is a book set in recent years but I would say that it does have the feel of something from the 1950s or 60s. The internet is rarely mentioned and the children are allowed to roam fairly free in Harlem. I wondered if that was realistic. No matter, I really did love this charming book with its very strong sense of New York city and there are three if not four sequels. Five stars on Goodreads.

If anyone knows of any more books set in New York with a strong sense of the city I would love recommendations. In exchange I'll suggest one of my own and that is, Forever by Pete Hamill about an Irishman who moves to New York in 1741 and doesn't die, so lives throughout the city's history. I thought it was wonderful. Oh, and A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith is fantastic too.

So, the last book is Jumping Jenny by Anthony Berkeley.

So, most of the action in this vintage crime novel (published 1933) takes place at a fancy-dress do one night. Roger Sheringham, author and amateur detective, is present. He's a keen observer of people and watches a woman who is the wife of their host's brother. She's an attention seeker, says she wants to get drunk and keeps saying she might commit suicide. Continuing to watch, Sheringham notices that she seems determined to annoy and embarrass everyone. So when she's found hanged on a mock-up of a gallows on the roof, no one is particulary surprised and the police seem happy to call it a suicide. Except that it turns out it wasn't and she was murdered. All of the party members come under scrutiny and all had some reason to want the woman gone, particularly her husband. Even Sheringham himself comes under suspicion and thus feels entitled to get to the bottom of the mystery. Martin Edwards, in one of his books about the Golden Age of crime writing, said that Anthony Berkeley was a writer who let his strong opinions about marriage and its pitfalls come very much to the fore in his books. He's quite right too, they were all over this book. The writing was excellent, and plotwise I thought it was very clever with a good twist at the end. But I also felt it dragged a bit with all the 'who was where, at what time and why' stuff. I'm wondering if Berkeley's books are for me, they feel a bit clinical somehow, like the author felt a bit superior to the hoipolloi. And I wasn't entirely comfortable with the way the dead woman was described in quite cruel ways throughout. But, as they say, 'The past is a foreign country: they do things differently there'. We've come a long, long way in many respects and I like the way these vintage books prove that. Three stars on Goodreads.

I hope you're all well, finding some good books and are not too crazy busy to read them!

Wednesday 14 December 2022

Book Bingo 2023

I think I might actually be doing two Bingo! type book challenges next year. (This after saying I wouldn't commit to too many challenges in 2023 but we won't go there...) The first of them is Book Bingo! and it's being hosted by The Unruly Reader.

So, this is the Bingo card to work from:

OK, so the sign-up post is HERE. And there you will also find a few instructions and rules, and guidance on the categories, but basically it's as usual with bingo, you read a book which suits every box and aim to complete a line, or some lines, or a blackout and fill the lot. 

The challenge runs from the 1st. January 2023 to the 31st. December 2023. The theme this year, as is quite plain, is 'school'. This appeals to me with its emphasis on gaining knowledge. My taste for non-fiction could be very useful!

As always with this Bingo challenge there are some interesting categories, and I always have a lot of fun with this one. I'll aim to achieve several Bingo lines, probably not the blackout, though you never know!

Monday 12 December 2022

Short stories at Christmas

Rather than read through whole books of short stories, I thought it might be interesting and fun to have a sort of 'short story' December, picking out random stories that are in various Christmas or winter collections I own. 

So, first up, The Earlier Service by Margaret Irwin. I picked this out of a British Library wierd stories  collection entitled, Haunters at the Hearth, which is edited by Tanya Kirk. I thought it sounded ecclesiastical and so it turned out to be. 

This story is set in a small, rural, village church in Somerset. The vicar and his wife have a son and two teenage daughters, Jane and Alice. Jane is 16 and coming up to her confirmation. It's terrifying her and we don't know why. We see her in church on Sundays, the last to arrive, reluctant, edgy. The son, Hugh, brings a friend home from uni who has an interest in old churches and specialises in going round looking for hidden inscriptions scratched in pews or hidden corners of the church. Jane shows him the one in the rector's pew...  Well, how nice to hit upon such a creepy, atmospheric story at my first try. I don't know the author, Margaret Irwin, at all, she was apparently well known for historical fiction back in the 1930s and 40s: this ghost story is from 1935. It was full of that sort of hidden menace you get sometimes in fiction, where the reader knows there's something very wrong and is on edge waiting to be told what it is. I love a rural village, churchy sort of setting too and it's very well done here. The author also depicts the angst and worries of being 16 and sensitive extremely well. I'd very much like to read more short fiction by this author. 

Next I read two stories from a BLCC collection, Silent Nights, edited by Martin Edwards.

Stuffing by Edgar Wallace involves two con artists who specialise in getting themselves invited to stately home, disguising themselves as foreign princes etc. They'd then pinch money or valuables and get them out of the house at a prearranged time. But this time it all goes wrong and the Christmas turkey gets in on the act. This was well written and fun, if slightly confusing at the end. 

A Problem in White is by Nicholas Blake, a pseudonym for Cecil Day Lewis who was Poet Laureate in the UK in the 1960s and father of 'Daniel' of course. This was a railway story - train stuck in the snow with spys and criminals on board sort of thing. A train robbery had apparently taken place on this route not long ago and the carriage occupants speculate upon where it took place: one of them seems to know more than he should. This too was very well written and also a bit confusing. I lost track of who was doing what to whom out there in the frozen countryside. 

The next story I read is from Polar Horrors: Strange Tales from the World's Ends edited by John Miller. The story I picked out was Skerry Skule by John Buchan, the author of such iconic books as Thirty Nine Steps and Huntingtower.

Anthony Hurrell is a very keen ornithologist. He's devised a theory that when birds migrate they do so along very strict aerial corridors. So off he goes to some islands off the far north of Scotland (Orkney I think) to try and prove said theory. He's read about The Isle of Birds in Norse mythology and feels as though he has pinpointed this place on the map. Luckily he can stay on a neighbouring island and make the trip by boat as the island is uninhabited. Only problem is the local fishermen do not want to take him there. 'Something queer about the place'. It has an 'ill name'. No prizes for guessing that he goes anyway and we find out what happens when a storm hits. This one was very atmospheric, excellent feel for what it's like spending the night on an exposed island in the middle of a gale. And there's a nice twist at the end. I liked the 'other worldly' feel to this. I must read more by John Buchan.


Lastly I read, The Clergyman's Daughter by Agatha Christie. This is from Midwinter Murder a fairly newly put together collection of her Christmas/Winter short stories.  (It's available for free on Prime reading in the UK at the moment.)

This is a Tommy and Tuppence story. Tuppence says she wants to befriend a clergyman's daughter because she herself is one. Lo and behold one turns up in their office looking for help. Monica Deane's father has died leaving her and her mother almost destitute. Then an estranged aunt dies leaving them her house but for some reason there is no money when there is supposed to be. They decide to sell the house, but turn down the only offer they get. Then odd things start to happen in the house, poltergeist type activity. A psychical expert turns up but he looks familiar somehow. So this is a really fun Christmas caper, riddles to be solved, treasure to found, that sort of thing. Huge fun and there's even a mention of another Golden Age detective, Roger Sheringham, who features in books by Anthony Berkeley, one of which I've just finished, which is an odd coincidence. I've read quite a few of Agatha Christie's short stories but not this one so it was nice to read something completely unfamiliar by her. Great fun. And look at that gorgeous cover!

So that was fun! I think the best of this bunch is The Earlier Service by Margaret Irwin but the Agatha Christie was great as well. I plan to read a few more Christmassy or wintery short stories over the run-up to Christmas so watch this space!


Friday 2 December 2022

Books read in November

I read 6 books last month, so my slower reading months continue but I'm fine with that. Devouring books at the rate of 10 -12 a month is fine and fun but it's not my natural level which is more 5 to 8. I'll be happy to continue that into 2023 and focus more perhaps on getting some longer books off my tbr pile. Anyway, more of that in due course. These are my November books.

96. Dear Hugo by Molly Clavering

97. The Necessary Aptitude by Pam Ayres

98. Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens

99. In a Glass Darkly by Sheridan Le Fanu 

100. The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame

101. Winter Solstice by Rosamunde Pilcher 

So, 5 fiction, 1 non-fiction.... the cut overall this year so far is 72 fiction books and 29 non-fiction and I feel quite pleased with that. Looking at the 6 books read my favourite was definitely Winter Solstice.


I'm still thinking about this lovely book. But The Necessary Aptitude was also a super read and so was Dear Hugo. I do seem to have haunted Scotland a bit last month but also went on a very interesting foray to North Carolina. I like to travel around the world a bit more than I did in November. Not sure if that will be better in December, but it definitely will be in January. I hope.

Ok, so I'm now going into Winter/Christmas mode and am currently reading this:

This about Clara, who is Danish but for some reason is wandering aimlessly around England. Hopefully we'll soon discover what the secret 'reason' is. She stops in a village in Suffolk and ends up taking over a toyshop to run while the owner goes on holiday. The son of the owner kicks up about this thinking Clara is gold-digging. So far it's fun and readable, if not completely amazing. 

Anyway, I hope you're all well, keeping the flu and bugs and covid at bay and finding lots of good books to read. I'm definitely doing the Hygge thing at the moment, lighting the fire and settling down in front of it with a good book and a cup of tea. Heaven.

Wednesday 30 November 2022

Winter Solstice

So, people have been telling me for years that I must read something by Rosamunde Pilcher. I don't just mean one person, I mean more in the order of 'multitudes'... hordes of folk, horrified that I haven't read a single book by her. And I have meant to. The Shell Seekers has been off the shelf, onto the tbr pile, and back again more times than Imelda Marcos changed her shoes. It's shaming really. BUT, I have at long last put that right and I have read Winter Solstice. (And just look at this fab cover!)

Retired actress, Elfrida Phipps, has moved to Hampshire from London. It's a big step for her, buying her own house and moving to a small village on her own after losing someone close to her. Luckily, the locals in the village are friendly and welcoming and she soon becomes close friends with the Blundells, Oscar, Gloria and their 12 year old daughter, Francesca. Then comes tragedy. Elfrida is away in Cornwall when it happens and knows nothing until she gets back. Life for Oscar Blundell has changed irrevocably and he turns to Elfrida for help.

Carrie is back in London after quite a few years working in the skiing industry in Austria. She's trying to work through a loss of another kind but does not want to talk about it with anyone, including her selfish mother, Dodie, or likewise selfish sister, Nicola. Nicola has a daughter, Lucy, aged 14, and there's a problem. Christmas is looming and Nicola wants to go Florida with the new man in her life. Dodie is going to Bournemouth for the holiday and does not want Lucy along. Carrie steps in and makes plans for her and Lucy. She calls her older cousin Eldfrida... who is in Scotland with Oscar Blundell, in a large house half-owned by him.

Sam, who has been in NewYork for 6 years, married there and then separated, is moved to Scotland with his firm to rescue a failed woollen mill.  He's met 'Hugh' at a dinner party in London. Hugh owns half a house in the coastal Highlands of Scotland, with Oscar Blundell, but wants to sell it. He thinks it might be the perfect place for Sam as it's close to the factory. Sam, of course has no idea that the house is now occupied.

As is the way with this kind of tale, all of these various lives and stories meet and merge and there's an outcome, but not before you have learned to love them all, Elfrida, Oscar, Carrie, Lucy and Sam. We have a story here about family, friendship, grief and recovery... or at least an acceptence of loss in that life will never be the same but can still be wonderful again given time, help and encouragement. 

This is also a story about a house and how it can have a personality of its own. We all know this. How often have we been house hunting, despairing of ever finding the right place, and then walked into 'the next one on the list' and thought immediately, 'This is it'. Four times that's happened to me and I've never been wrong. The house in this book is known simply as The Estate House and is a rambling Victorian pile the bones of which are fine but which needs a lot of tlc inside. Oscar and Elfrida move in and love it immediately. But they're rattling around in it, so when Carrie and Lucy arrive for Christmas, Elfrida is delighted. She's one of these wonderful easy-going 'what will be, will be' kind of people who just get on with welcoming people and being lovely. I adored her. 

There is not a huge amount of plot or action in this book so if that's your drug of choice this might not be your fix. It's really 500 pages of character-driven meanderings and thoughts and the delightfulness of an isolated Scottish village and its inhabitants as winter hits and Christmas approaches. (Inverness was an hour and a quarter by car and I tried to decide where the village was, I decided in the end that it was out near Ullapool but it could easily have been in several other directions.) I loved its gentleness and humanity to bits and now realise why the world and his mother-in-law wanted me to read Rosamunde Pilcher.

Monday 21 November 2022

I have been reading and plan to read...

So I finished a couple of books and have also been making plans for December (actually, I've been making plans for 2023 but we won't go there just yet...) First up, books read.

In a Glass Darkly, by Irish writer Sheridan Le Fanu, is a book of spooky or weird tales first published in 1872. M.R. James was apparently a big fan of Le Fanu's writing saying he, 'stands absolutely in the first rank as a writer of ghost stories'. Praise from a master. This collection consists of five stories, all of them cases which a Dr. Hesselius has investigated and written about.

The first story, Green Tea, concerns a Reverand Mr. Jennings who has a parish of his own but can't go and preach there because when he does he's haunted by a small, spectral, black monkey that follows him everywhere. That one really creeped me out. The Familiar tells of another similar situation. A Captain Barton gets engaged to a woman in the city of Dublin. Walking home late one night he hears footsteps behind him but when he turns around no one's there. Eventually the presence shows itself to be an old man who haunts the captain, changing his life completely. Mr. Justice Harbottle is a 'hanging judge' as they used to say, merciless and cruel, and the story tells of how he gets his comeuppance via a nasty dream. The Room in the Dragon Volant is a story set in France. The narrator is doing a tour after the fall of Napolean. On the road he witnesses an accident and falls for one of the women involved. He follows them to an inn and gets involved with her and her very elderly husband and things deteriorate from there. This one is not a ghost story but really a mystery made creepy by the excellent writing and setting, although I thought it dragged a bit in places. The final story, Carmilla, is one of Le Fanu's most famous stories. It's set in the forests of Austria, the main protagonist, Laura lives there with her father in a huge old castle. A carriage accident outside the castle delivers to them the injured 'Carmilla' and she stays there with them while her mother goes off on some urgent business. Lonely Laura and Carmilla become good friends but their visitor is a bit strange. Not only that, Laura is sure she recognises her from somewhere. This vampire yarn is effective and atmospheric and who doesn't love a weird story set in an Austrian or German forest! Anyway, not a bad collection, I thought one or two of the stories dragged a bit, if I'm honest, but the writing was superb and the tales never lacked for atmosphere. I had read several before, and recently, so that probably did not help. I would like to read Le Fanu's full length novel, Uncle Silas, at some stage as I think I would rather like it, influenced a bit, I have to admit, by Lark's review.

Next, The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame. This is my third reading of this iconic classic, written for children and published in 1908, but equally wonderful when read by adults. This qualifies for both the Back to the Classics and  the Book Bingo challenge I'm doing.

The main characters in the story are of course Ratty and Mole but the supporting cast is equally as interesting in my opinion: Badger, grumpy and anti-social but kind, Otter, strong and very family orientated, Toad, prone to fads and mad as a bag of ferrets. It's a very long time since I read this book so I'd forgotten how much it resembles a series of long short stories put together in one volume: Mole moving in with Ratty, Mole getting lost in the wild wood, Toad discovering gypsy caravans and then automobiles, Toad going to gaol. And then a wonderful interlude where Ratty meets a Sea Rat who tells him of his travels around the world, almost mesmerising Ratty (and me!) into going with him. I'd totally forgotten that chapter which is odd as it was absolute 'magic'... what a novel that would've made! And lastly, how the Toad question was resolved except that we all know it wasn't really. It's many, many years since I read The Wind in the Willows so I had completely forgotten the beautiful writing and atmosphere of a quiet life lived by the river interrupted by various crises. The artwork in my version, by Robert Ingpen, is fabulous too, my post showing some of the paintings is HERE. For me the best sections in the book are when Mole gets lost in the wild wood and how they subsequently find Badger's  home. Also when Ratty and Mole are walking home late one night near Christmas and walk through a human village. And, as previously mentioned, the Sea Rat's tale. Toad I always find annoying and am not so keen on the sections which involve him. All in all, 'gorgeous', 5 stars, and I'll doubtless read it again in a few years.

So, I've just started this:

Winter Solstice by Rosamunde Pilcher. I've wanted to read this for a while now as it comes highly recommended by several devoted Pilcher fans I know. But I wanted to read it at the right time of year and kept missing it somehow. So it's now just a few weeks away from the winter solstice and perfect timing so off I go! I'm only 20 or so pages in and love it already in that way that sometimes you know immediately you start a book that it's going to be a joy.

In December I plan to read some Christmas short stories taken from various books and perhaps do some posts about them.

I also plan to have some fun reading crime fiction for a Booktube event called Cloak and Dagger Christmas which is based around the Twelve Days of Christmas song. There are 12 prompts and I don't expect to do them all but I'm definitely going to try to do the four or five crime book prompts. I don't have a Youtube channel obviously but that's not necessary to take part. 

This is the ten minute introduction post from one of the hosts, Janelle at Too Fond of Books: 

Cloak and Dagger Christmas

I think that sounds like a 'lot' of fun. (I highly recommend Janelle's channel actually, her love for crime fiction is just glorious.) My first book for it will probably be for the 'Read a book with an alliterative title' and I'll read Jumping Jenny by Anthony Berkeley or Murder in the Mill-Race by E.C.R. Lorac. 'Nobility', probably The Fatal Flying Affair by T.E. Kinsey, although two series that Janelle recs in another vid, Wrexford and Sloane by Andrea Penrose and the Veronica Speedwell books by Deanna Raybourn also sound interesting and might bear investigating next year. 'Foil on the cover'... possibly Rebecca, but we'll see.

Anyway, this post is now long enough methinks! Happy late-November reading and I would love to hear about any plans you have for December/Christmas/Winter reading.

Tuesday 15 November 2022

Where the Crawdads Sing

Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens is the author's first foray into fiction writing. Astonishing to have such a huge success on your first attempt, although I gather Owens has written several non-fiction travel type books and I think that shows. Anyway, the book.

The story opens with the discovery of a body at the bottom of a local watch-tower. It's Chase Andrews, the son of a local wealthy family. Has he fallen from the tower accidently or was he pushed? It's not long before people have decided that The Marsh Girl killed him.

Catherine Clark, otherwise known as Kya, is the youngest of six children who live with their parents in the marshlands of coastal North Carolina. The parents' marriage is an abusive one, both physical violence and mental is inflicted on the mother and often on the children as well. To the point where eventually the mother walks out. The older children have already gone, leaving two with the father, Kya and her older brother, Jodie. Before long he hops it too and Kya is left alone with her alcoholic, abusive father. She quickly learns how to keep out of his way using the marsh as her hiding place.

Then one day he is gone too. Kya, aged nine or ten, is left alone. The authorities make a half-hearted attempt to get her to school but the girl is too clever for them. And thus begins Kya's life, living alone in the marshes, surviving by selling shell-fish for money for necessities, relying on help from the black population of the local village. To the white inhabitants she's known as The Marsh Girl, dirty, tainted, a child to keep your own children well away from.

Two men become a major part of Kya's life. Tate, the son of a widower fisherman and Chase Andrews from a wealthy family. Tate teaches Kya to read and shares the wonders of the marsh wildlife with her. They're both experts but it's really only Tate who will be able to make the most of this. Chase is another case altogether and comes into her life as Tate is leaving it. Kya has no idea of his reputation in the nearby town, cut off as she is from civilisation, but he is the one who will have the most impact on her future life in ways she cannot even imagine.

So, a hugely hyped book from three or four years ago. My daughter lent it to me otherwise I probably would not have bothered unless I'd spotted it in the library. First I should say that I gave it 4 stars on Goodreads, if I could've given it 3.5 then I probably would have done. It's was immensely readable, the setting was gorgeous, we've driven across that area so I had some idea of what it's like. I mean 'really' I can see exactly why so many people loved this book... although there are plenty on Goodreads who don't I notice. 

CAUTION - SPOILERS! (I mean it!)

Once I got into the book I found it compulsive reading even though the story was driving me a bit crazy. I wanted to slap the men in it and then had to keep reminding myself that this was set mainly in the 1950s and 60s when attitudes were very different. Although thinking about it, perhaps things have not changed that much in that department. But the main thing I found so unbelievable was how the children's mother could walk out and leave two vulnerable children with a monster. Given how much she clearly loved them (Kya has some lovely memories of family times together) would she do that? And then just write one letter, surely knowing the father would destroy it, and then no more attempts at contact? I just could not buy that at all and it rather spoilt the book for me. 

My heart bled for Kya, a girl whom everyone left and she knew it. Whether she could've helped herself a bit more by not being so reclusive is open to debate. Lots of it. It's easy to see why she was permanently frightened of people though. Her vulnerability leaps off the page at the reader and when she's accused of murdering Chase Andrews it seems like persecuting this woman has become a spectator sport with local people. It feels shameful and is.

The story is told by hopping back and forth in years. I did find that slightly distracting having to constantly remind myself how old Kya was in that year, although sometimes we were told. I'm not at all keen on courtroom dramas so did not enjoy that long section towards the end. Hence the 3.5 intention on Goodreads. I will not say that I did not enjoy the book because it's not true. The setting, the concentration on local flora and fauna, the descriptions of the marshes, were all superb. I just couldn't buy some of the plot... the mother's behaviour, Tate's behaviour, the manner in which Kya was accused of murder on very circumstancial evidence. Too much of the book was questionable... for 'me' anyway. Your mileage may vary as they say and I hope it does. It's a good book, just for me, not a 'great' one. 

Friday 11 November 2022

A couple of short reviews

So, two books to catch up on today, one non-fiction, one fiction. So... different but in actual fact... not so different. Both of these books feature quite heavily British country life in the 1950s, one in the Borders of Scotland, the other, rural Wiltshire in England.

First, Dear Hugo by Molly Clavering. 

Sara Monteith has moved to the Scottish Border town of Ravenskirk. She's alone and unmarried because her fiancé, Ivo, was killed in the second world war. He actually came from Ravenskirk but Sara decides not to tell anyone that. She recounts her experiences, meeting new people from the village, walking the beautiful surrounding countryside, to Ivo's brother, Hugo, who lives in South Africa (or maybe it was Rhodesia, not quite sure now) by letter, so this is an epistolary novel. The village is inhabited with the usual motley array of folk, there're the friendly and welcoming such as Elizabeth Drysdale and her large brood and the Curries, mum and daughter. There's Mrs. Bonaly, judgemental to the core and there's cleaner, Mrs. Marchbanks and her daughter Madge who's an unmarried mum... nothing to us these days but a real scandal in the early fifties. Sara takes Madge on as a cleaner and is frowned upon in the village for doing it. It's not long before she has an addition to the household in the shape of Arthur, twelve-ish and at private school but basically homeless because his mother died and his father has remarried and gone to the US with his new family. 'Atty' is related to Sara but I forget the relationship now, his father might be Sara's cousin, something like that. Sara quite likes her own company, working in the garden, going for long walks, but is thwarted in this because there always seems to be something going on or people demanding her attention and things become even more hectic when her correspondent, Hugo, decides to come home for a holiday. Well, this was such a beautiful, gentle, relaxing book, but not without its point to make... so many women widowed or who lost a fiancés in the war. Sons and daughters lost too, or children left homeless after losing parents or, as in Atty's case, still having a father but said father hardly knew him and was not all that interested in his wellbeing. So many war-related stories, some uplifting of course, but many really sad, requiring people to step up to the mark and help out as best they could. It was lovely to see Sara and Atty settle in together and become very close. He was just what Sara needed really. I loved this book. I did wonder, in the manner of these epistolary novels, whether people would be 'quite' so forth-coming as to write 'everything' down and send it to someone they didn't know all that well. But that's a minor quibble. I think I've read three novels by Molly Clavering now and loved them all.

Lastly, The Necessary Aptitude by poet, Pam Ayres.

Pam Ayres is a bit of a national treasure in the UK. She writes and recites her own humorous poetry and has been appearing on TV and publishing books for about forty years. I'm sure there're those who are not fans at all but I am. Her poems have always cracked me up with their keen observations of the human condition. She's recently been on C5 with two doc. series about the Cotswolds and its surrounds. Delightful. This is her autobiography, published in 2012, so I've had it hanging around for a while now. About half the book concentrates on her childhood and teenage years at home in the village of Stanford in Wiltshire. She was the youngest of six, four boys and two girls, and they were not at all well off. Quite the opposite and life was pretty tough but there was a lot of love in the shape of the children's mother. Anyone interested in English social history of the 1950s could do a lot worse than read this book, it's incredibly detailed about life in rural villages at the time. Having been brought up in a coastal town, I have little experience of land-locked villages so found it all fascinating, quite like reading a Miss Read book to be honest. And here's a strange coincidence, one of the lodgings Pam had in her twenties had previously had another writer living there, one Dora Saint... who was of course, Miss Read. The title, The Necessary Aptitude, refers to Pam never having it. Whatever job she turned to, she never seemed to be quite up to it, even when she spent several years in the WRAF, including a year in Singapore, she always felt her ability fell short of what was required. The only thing she felt she was any good at was writing. Luckily she found her niche and the rest is history. This book was so interesting and delightful that I gave it 5 stars on Goodreads.

Here's a shortish sample of Pam's work, a tale we can all identify with: Round and Round the Car Park.

So, today is Armistice Day and a small link that binds these two books together is that of men coming back damaged from WW2. Sara's nextdoor neighbour is one such man and his wife is of course impacted by trying to cope with this. And Pam Ayres always thought her father's explosive temper which would cause horrible atmospheres in the house for weeks on end, was a result of things he saw in the war. I think quite a few people of a certain age who had parents serving in the war would have similar kinds of stories to tell, and how tragic is that.

So, my current read is this:


I might just be the last person in the world to read Where the Crawdads Sing, but I've been saving it for my Book Voyage challenge, the November region being North America. I'm enjoying it so far. Wonderful sense of place (North Carolina).

I'm also about to start my 3rd. or 4th. reread of this wonderful classic for the Book Bingo and Classics challenges I'm doing this year.

I did a post  HERE which shows a few of the absolutely gorgeous illustrations in this version of The Wind in the Willows. I must confess it's a book I have several versions of and love very much.

I hope you're all keeping well and enjoying some good autumn reading.

Tuesday 1 November 2022

Books read in October

So, I had a slowish reading month in October. Not that it matters a jot, sometimes other things grab your attention and that's fine - I've really enjoyed doing some jigsaw puzzles this month, both real ones and online (for those interested,  Jigidi  is great site.)

Anyhow, six books read and these are they:

90. A Time of Torment - John Connolly 

91. A Body in the Village Hall - Dee MacDonald. Two sisters move to Cornwall and find murder and mayhem amongst the cliffs and coves. Fun but not sure whether I'll read more in the series or not.

92. Persuasion - Jane Austen 

93. The Black Seraphim - Michael Gilbert 

94. Postcards from South America - Alistair McGuiness. Author does a tour of a number of South American countries, Bolivia, Peru, Ecquador etc., with his wife. Okay but didn't really engage me completely.

95. The Seven Dials Mystery - Agatha Christie 

Looking at the six books, I had four excellent reads and two average. Basically, the ones I reviewed were the ones I loved and that's the way I seem to be going these days, reviewing the loved books, mentioning the ones I liked but that didn't really thrill me. And I'm okay with that.

Currently I'm reading several books. Halfway through, In a Glass Darkly, spooky short stories by Sheridan Le Fanu, and it's excellent so far.

And I've just started these two:


Dear Hugo by Molly Clavering is an epistolary novel set during World War 2. I try to read something connected with the the two world wars in November, it being Armistice Day on the 11th.

The Necessary Aptitude by poet, Pam Ayres, is her autobiography which I've had hanging about for years (it was published in 2012). I've been watching her delightul documentary series about The Cotswolds, she's done two series now, and thought her book would make a lovely bedtime read. And so it is.

Anyway, that was my reading for October. Highs and lows etc. Or, more accurately, highs and not so highs, no real lows at all.

And here's the prettiest, rather autumnal looking, jigsaw I did in October:

Have a good November and I hope you find some great books to read.

Friday 28 October 2022

The 1929 club - The Seven Dials Mystery

So, the 1929 club runs all of this week and is being hosted by Simon at Stuck in a Book and Karen at  Kaggsy's Bookish Ramblings. As it says on the tin, the chosen year is 1929 and the idea is to read books published during that year, all week, as many as you like. I don't read all that fast, plus I'm having a slow reading month, so I'm not expecting to get through more than one book, maybe two, and I've started with The Seven Dials Mystery by Agatha Christie.

So, Lord Caterham has hired out 'Chimneys' for a couple of months. The couple living there temporarily are the Cootes, the husband a self-made, no nonsense, overbearing sort, with pots of money, the wife a good sort but a bit downtrodden. Not quite sure why they had a load of young things staying for the weekend but they did and one of them was brilliant at not getting up in the mornings. The others play a joke by buying eight alarm clocks and setting them up by creeping into his room in the middle of night, so that in the morning the noise of all the clocks going off early will make him leap out of bed in fright. Except that he doesn't because he's dead as a dodo.

Fast forward a few weeks and Lord Caterham and his daughter, 'Bundle', are back in their own home. Bundle is cogitating over the murder of the young man in their house, with her father, who isn't at all interested. She sets out to investigate with the help of a couple of the young things who were staying at Chimneys at the time, Jimmy Thesiger and Bill Eversleigh. Another death brings them to the realisation that this is not some lark but it's serious and deadly. When the police are called in, in the shape of the stolid Superintendent Battle, it's decided that they should pool their resources providing the young people stay safe. But really and truly they have no idea what they've got themselves into.

I think this might now be my favourite Agatha Christie. I think she must've had a field day with this one as, to be honest, it's a bit OTT crazy and so funny. I really did giggle all the way through at some of the things people said to each other and the way in which Christie describes her characters. I thought Bundle's father, Lord Caterham, particularly well-drawn and amusing, especially when he takes up golf. I also love these books she writes where a young woman takes centre stage and heads off into the unknown. They Came to Baghdad springs to mind and The Man in the Brown Suit. Bundle doesn't end up abroad as the two heroines in those books do but she certainly ends up in some very odd places indeed! 

The book is also a kind of a country house mystery... twice over really. It's also as much of a thriller come spy yarn as it is a murder mystery, so that was interesting. Stolen codes are involved and foreign spy rings and secret societies and nobody knows who to trust and who not to trust. Keep your wits about you if you're going to read this as there are a lot of characters and you're not always certain who's doing what to whom. There's a decent twist at the end too which I must admit I didn't see coming.

I believe this is a sequel to The Secret of Chimneys, that being the first 'Superintendent Battle' book. I don't think I've read it but maybe seen the TV drama because I have a feeling they turned it into a Poirot or a Miss Marple, but I could be wrong about that. And, in point of fact, book three in this series. Cards on the Table, is, I believe, a Poirot book, so that's not confusing at all! I must certainly go back and read The Secret of Chimneys as I loved Bundle Brent and would love to read more of her adventures.

Thursday 20 October 2022

I have been reading...

And I have. Been reading that is, but slowly. Here we are, well past the middle of the month, and I've read four books, am in the middle of two more but not that close to finishing either. And nor have I been particularly busy this month. So what this is all about I don't know. I suppose some months the mad enthusiasm is just not there. I've also done several jigsaw puzzles and that really does eat up your spare time. I suppose what I ought to do is look into audio books then I could listen while I puzzle. 

Anyhooo, a quick update. The first book I finished but have not reviewed is Persuasion by Jane Austen. I read this partly because I fancied a reread after eons and eons but also for the Back to the Classics challenge which is being hosted by Books and Chocolate. 

I balk at the idea of trying to write a long, intelligent review of such an iconic book so this will not be that! The heroine of Persuasion is stoical, sensible Anne Elliot. The gist of the story is that she broke off her engagement to Captain Wentworth eight years ago after pressure from her family and very close friend, Lady Russell. He wasn't, in their opinion, a suitable match for a girl born into high society despite the fact that the couple were very much in love. But now he's back and has made his fortune on the high seas and of course is much more acceptable. The problem is, he's harbouring a grudge against the family and who could blame him. Anne, of course, still loves him but sees no way of getting him back and has to watch while he courts the two daughters of a family related to her by marriage, apparently determined to take one of them for his wife. You have that thing sometimes when you finish a book that you have loved and felt like you were holding your breath as you gobbled it up, and then a week later you feel like picking the book up again and reading it at a much slower pace. It was a beautiful book and I feel like I devoured it too quickly. It's so long since I read Persuasion that I'd forgotten all but the accident in Lyme Regis and a little scene at the beginning where Anne is being physically overwhelmed by her sister's two small children and Wentworth rescues her by snatching them away. Loads of characters I'd forgotten such as Anne's two awful sisters and the vain father who judges everyone on how beautiful or handsome they are. I adored the Musgroves who took Anne to their hearts and treated her as a human being worthy of their time. And I loved the west country setting, rural Somerset, Bath, Lyme Regis, all beautifully depicted. I will read this again but next year I think, let the dust settle for a few months and then 'try' to read it slowly over a couple of weeks rather than three or four days. The trouble is, like a lot of people, I find Austen's writing so very compelling.

Next up, a complete change of scenery, The Black Seraphim by Michael Gilbert. 

Actually... 'not', I lied. The setting for this is Melchester, a fictional cathedral city within reach of Bath, Winchester and Salisbury and definitely, like Persuasion, a West Country novel. But then Michael Gilbert was educated in the town where I live so hardly surprising he sets novels down here. I digress. (Sorry, I love these little details.) James Scotland, a twenty five year old pathologist, is suffering from overwork and has been told by his doctor to take a rest. He returns to Melchester to the cathedral close and choir school where he taught briefly some six years ago. But goodness me, it's a quagmire of hostilities and polarisation based on various issues and James is in it up to his neck immediately. The murder amd mayhem in this book is quite subtle, the Archdeacon dies in a nasty manner but it takes them a while to realise he was done away with as they all want to think well of The Cathedral Close inhabitants. The book is quite character based and people like The Dean, The Archdeacon, The Dean's daughter, and James, the main protagonist, are well fleshed out. There's humour too, as with all of Gilbert's books. I didn't think it was quite as good as his other cathedral close book, Close Quarters, and the reason for that is that there were so many people in this that I struggled to keep track of who was doing what to whom and why. There was a decent twist at the very end and I liked that. All in all, not one of Gilbert's best but nevertheless, excellent. 

So I've just started this:

In a Glass Darkly by Sheridan Le Fanu is a book of supernatural stories that I've had hanging around for years and not read. I've just started it and already think it's very good and M.R. James was a fan of the author apparently so that must mean something.

I hope you're all enjoying autumn and finding some good books to read. 

Friday 7 October 2022

Catching up

So, I'm about 83 books behind on reviewing... OK, '3'... it just feels like 83. So I'd better get on with the task of catching up with some brief reviews.

First up, from September, The Ghost Slayers: Thrilling Tales of Occult Detection, edited by Mike Ashley. This was sent to me by The British library for review.

The theme of this anthology is occult detectives. I was very pleased to see that this was a Mike Ashley collection because I find his choices to be very reliable. And so it turned out to be, this is easily one of the best weird anthologies I've read from the British Library. There are nine stories in all which is less than usual but this is because many of the contributions are quite long. I had several favourites. The Story of the Moor Road by Kate and Hesketh Pritchard is a 'Flaxman Low' tale. He goes in to investigate when people report being attacked by something unseen on a lonely road on a moor. This was so atmospheric and the outcome very creepy. A Psychical Invasion by one of my favourites, Algernon Blackwood, concerns an author who makes his living writing humorous books. The wife goes to John Silence for help because her husband has suddenly lost his sense of humour and can't write. I loved the use of a cat and a dog in this one, used because they sense things humans cannot. Blackwood was clearly an animal lover. The Valley of the Veils of Death by Bertram Atkey is a 'Mesmer Milann' story. He can apparently project his soul from one place to another. The man needing help here has just walked across Australia from North to South. This is a bit of a ripping yarn story of something guarding jewels in a valley in the desert but it's also a very good study of human nature. So those were my favourite three stories in this collection but every story in it was very well written and very readable. Highly recommend and I gave it 5 stars on Goodreads.

Next, and also from September, Mark of the Lion by Suzanne Arruda. This is book one in the author's Jade Del Cameron series, set in the 1920s in different regions of the African continent. 

Jade Del Cameron is an American woman who drove ambulances in WW1. She lost someone very close her, David, a pilot, was there at his death in fact, and his dying words were to ask Jade to find his brother. In London the pilot's mother denies the existence of another brother so off Jade goes to the Kenya Colony to dig around and see what she can discover. There's quite a large ex-pat community around Nairobi and Jade makes friends quickly but none of them seem to be able to tell her much about David's father and who he might've had a child with. She soon realises someone knows though and that her life is very much in danger: it's a good job Jade can look after herself. Well, this is another ripping yarn, full of adventure and daring do. Jade is great character, fiesty and intelligent and not willing to bend to the will of anyone. The setting of Kenya just before it actually became Kenya is superby depicted and I very much felt I was there. A word of warning, attitudes to big game hunting back in the 1920s were 'very' different to what they are now. It's not overdone in this book but there are one or two scenes which might upset some. There are seven books in this series, the last one written in 2015 and I gather the author is not writing any more. I don't know why. I will definitely be reading all of the books that have been written though as I thought Mark of the Lion was a very promising start.

Lastly, A Time of Torment by John Connolly, book 14 in his Charlie Parker series.

Yes, book 14 and my love for this series never seems to wane. The minute I pick up one of John Connolly's books I am sucked in, hook, line and sinker. In this instalment an area called The Cut in the mountains of West Virginia comes to the attention of Charlie Parker. First though he has to work out the mystery concerning James Burnel who at first was a hero in a gas station robbery and then finds himself accused of being a paedophile and serving time in prison. Parker believes him to be innocent and that perhaps darker forces are at work. When Burnel disappears, this is confirmed but Parker, Louis and Angel have their work cut out discovering the source of the evil until one of the suspects let's something slip about The Dead King. To my mind John Connolly is the best horror/crime writer writing today. I suppose there's something about the way he writes that is perfect for me personally but how he manages to hit the spot with his Charlie Parker books, every single time, I do not know. But he does and every book is beautifully written, full of secrets to be discovered, excellent historical detail, and creepy enough to keep me happy. I have said before that this series is not for all, it is violent and has some strange ideas about it. But for my money, the longer Connolly keeps writing these books, the better.

So that's me up to date. I hope your autumn reading is going well and that you're finding some good books to read.

Saturday 1 October 2022

Books read in September

Well, that was a month wasn't it? Who knew September would be like 'that'! Heaven forfend. I didn't think I would but I watched The Queen's funeral from start to finish. I was ok until the pipes played The Skye Boat Song which always has the ability to finish me off. Add to that the Shetland pony and the Corgis and that was me, gone. What a send off. And now we have a new era and we shall see what that brings. 

So, September has been quite a slowish reading month for me. I'm starting this post on the 27th. and at the moment I've read six books this month. Many distractions and those include putting together a 3,000 piece jigsaw: that always cuts down on my reading time. 

So, now it's the 1st. October and I'm up to eight books because I finished off a short story collection and snuck in a final crime read. 

Anyway, these are the books:

82. Rushed - Aurora Rose Reynolds. I spoke very briefly about this book here. 

83. Five Red Herrings - Dorothy L. Sayers 

84. Burglars Can't Be Choosers - Lawrence Block 

85. The Pact - Sharon Bolton 

86. Death Walks The Woods - Cyril Hare

This was a very typical example of a village-based vintage crime story. Retired judge, Francis Pettigrew, and his wife, move from London to a village in the English countryside. Very pretty, lots of hills and woods, a view of which they have from their house. Pettigrew is writing his memoirs but is dragged out of retirement to help at the County Courts. Which is where he comes across a Mrs. Pink who is trying to resist being evicted by her landlord who wants her house for his daughter's young family. Mrs. Pink is one of these irreplaceable women in villages who help to run various charities and events by doing all their typing. But she has A Past which only comes to light when she's found murdered on the hill that Pettigrew's house overlooks. Not only that, it seems he might've been the last person to see her alive. So this is my first book by Cyril Hare, I don't think I'd even heard of him until I nabbed this for 99p for my Kindle. It turns out this is book 4 in a 5 book series but it honestly doesn't matter. It's very well written with a nice bit of humour running through it, which is of course my favourite thing. Hare (real name, Alfred Clark) was apparently a county court judge himself so the details in the story feel very authentic, especially the brief courtroom scene near the beginning. As usual there are heaps of suspects all with their own agenda and reasons why they might want the dead woman gone. I thoroughly enjoyed this and have grabbed another cheap book for my Kindle, a book of Hare's short stories.

87. Caliph's House - Tahir Shah. I read this for my Book Voyage challenge, September's region being Africa. The book recounts how the author moved his family to Morroco to live, despite his wife not wanting to go and his relations and friends thinking him mad. I'm with them! Reading this was like reading a catalogue of disasters, one after the other, mainly to do with building renovations and the fact that the author really did not understand the psyche of the local people. His wife was hardly mentioned and I just wondered what effect it really had on her. I was exhausted reading it all and none of it happened to me! Three stars on Goodreads for good writing and the flavour of Morroco being very strong, strong enough to convince me that I could never, ever go and live there. 

88. The Ghost Slayers: Thrilling Tales of Occult Detection - edited by Mike Ashley. To be reviewed but it was an excellent anthology. This and the Sharon Bolton were my two 5 star reads of September. 

89. Mark of the Lion - Suzanne Arruda. To be reviewed but this was a 'ripping yarn' kind of murder mystery set in 1920s Africa (aroundabout the time Kenya became Kenya, although back in my prehistoric day we called it Keenya) and I really enjoyed it but it needs to be remembered that attitudes to big game hunting were very different back then. Book one of the author's 'Jade del Cameron' series and another book for my Book Voyage challenge. Oh... interesting fact for today, Mount Kilimanjaro used to be known as Mount Kilima Njaro.

So, eight books read. Seven fiction, one non-fiction. I was very heavy on the murder mystery books in September... mainly because that was what I was in the mood for, so that was what I read, and I thoroughly enjoyed my crime reading month. My September books also took me around the world, Montana, Scotland, Morroco, Kenya and, in one of the long short stories in The Ghost Slayers, Australia

So now it's October, one of my favourite months of the year. Lots of reading plans and I hope you have too. Happy reading!

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.