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.