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.