Wednesday 25 May 2022

I've been reading...

Well, of course I have... but not necessarily reviewing (it's veggie planting time in the garden). So it's high time I did some kind of catch-up post and because it's a wet and windy morning, so no gardening (my poor back is quite happy about that), today's the day for catching up.

So after my Cornish holiday light reading I read a book called Ghosts Among Us by James Van Praagh. I gather he's well known in the USA as a TV presenter but I'd never heard of him. I'm not particularly religious but I am very open-minded spiritually and I found this book about hauntings and why they happen incredibly interesting. The author writes well - with empathy and a willingness to explain his point of view. I will read more by him.

So then I returned to my usual stomping ground of dead bodies abounding. (Although, seeing what the previous book was about, perhaps 'returning' is not quite the right word. ;-) ) Long Road to Mercy was my first ever book by David Baldacci. Not sure why as my husband reads heaps of his books but I never have.

Atlee Pine is a female FBI agent who covers the area around The Grand Canyon. She's a survivor. Aged six and sharing a room with her twin sister, Mercy, a man broke into their room, took her sister but left Atlee behind. Obviously it's now Atlee's mission in life to find out what happened to her sister. She thinks she knows who did it too. But currently her focus is on the present. A dead mule is found on the trail down into the canyon. It has intitials curved on its side and this begins a long and dangerous mission for Agent Pine, involving a missing man and all kinds of government shenanigans. She gets taken off the case at one point so her and her older female PA go off on a road trip to Washington DC. Great stuff and I enjoyed the thrillerish tone to this one, it started off as a crime yarn and morphed into something a lot more 'spies and national security'. Atlee is quite typical of a modern crime thriller phenomenon, that of the 'kick-ass' female detective figure, usually with a past, but always a match for the men. I liked this one a lot and will definitely read more in this series and investigate others that Baldacci has written.

Next, I read a non-fiction travel book, Stans by Me by Ged Gilmore. This was my May book for the Round the World: Book Voyage reading challenge, this month's region being Northern Asia. The author puts his lone-traveller principles to one side and takes a guided tour around the 'Stans' of Central Asia, Kazakstan, Turkmenistan, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan and so on. He travelled with about eight other people and to be honest I found the people he travelled with a lot more interesting than his insights into the countries he went through. Perhaps that was the idea, I don't know, but the book was fine, I liked it, I didn't love it.

Lastly for this post, I read The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet by Becky Chambers. I wanted to give this science-fiction author another chance after being a bit so-so about her book, A Psalm for the Wild Built, which didn't really wow me back in March. I had a feeling there was more there and I was right.

Rosemary Harper needs to escape her family's past on Mars so takes a clerk's job on the beat-up spacecraft, Wayfarer. I'm not sure I completely understood what the ship did, something about tunnelling or creating wormholes I think, but that didn't matter because this is a book about a crew - who and what they are and how they deal with situations. The captain is a decent sort named Ashby, there're two tech types, Kizzy and Jenks, a doctor who I think looks like a caterpiller, Sissix is a reptilian pilot, the navigator is a furry alien with a host virus that makes him a genius at seeing patterns in navigation and there's an algaeist who's rather confrontational. Pretty much all of them have secrets. Also onboard, Lovie, the AI controlling the ship's systems, part of the fabric of the ship, at the moment anyway... Reading this was a bit like watching half a dozen episodes of Star Trek strung together but with a non-military crew. I was completely charmed by how hard they all tried to get along and with the diversity of the crew and how they dealt with each other and some of the situations they got themselves into. The captain picks up a dangerous mission in an area of space peopled by a race split into factions which are constantly at war. But first they have to get there and that's not as simple as it sounds. Adventures abound and I loved that. Such imagination on display as regards the future of Earth, where the people went who left there, how they evolved and then went on to interact with other life forms in the galaxy. There is conflict, of course there is, but 'respect' is the most important message and this is a very positive book overall. I loved it and will be reading more in the series.  

So that's me up to date. I'm waiting now for the 20 Books of Summer challenge to start on the 1st. June, in the meantime I'm reading this:

Along the Med. on a Bike Named Reggie by Andrew P. Sykes is pretty much what it says on the tin - a travelogue of the author's cycle trip from the tip of Greece to the coast of Portugal. I read his book about cycling from Spain to Norway a couple of years ago and enjoyed it and this one is equally as good.

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.