Saturday 30 December 2023

My 2023 reading

So, I hope everyone who celebrates Christmas had a good one? Ours was very much a family Christmas, quite busy, so I've just emerged blinking into the... well... not sunlight... it's December in the UK after all... more like damp and drizzle with the likelihood of more storms on the horizon... possibly even a tornado or two now, apparently!

December was, as predicted, not a hugely productive reading month, but that's fine. I read 5 books, 3 of them managing to be Christmassy in theme.

96. A Closed and Common Orbit - Becky Chambers

97. Who Killed the Curate? - Joan Coggin

98. Home Cooked - Kate Humble. Seasonal living in a farmhouse with recipes included. Delightful.

99. Haunter at the Hearth - edited by Tanya Kirk. To be reviewed but this was a better than average collection of Christmas themed weird stories published by The British Library.

100. Sherlock Holmes and the Christmas Demon - James Lovegrove. I saw this on Lark's blog, thought it sounded fun, and grabbed it for my Kindle. It was fun too. All dark brooding castles  and weird goings on in the wilds of Yorkshire. Lovegrove has written a lot of Holmes and Watson stories, I've read one other and plan to read more as I'm a bit of a Holmes and Watson mood at the moment. 

So I made it to 100 books read this year... for the second year in a row. I didn't intend to, I intended to slow down but it just didn't happen. Oh well, perhaps I just need to read what I read at a pace that just happens and stop trying to fix what ain't broken. 

Of the 100 books 22 were non-fiction. That's ok, not brilliant but not terrible either. I completed the Mount TBR challenge and read 24 books that had been moldering on my tbr mountain since the dawn of time. I read 14 books for Susan at 'Bloggin' 'Bout Books' Bookish Books reading challenge. I also read 17 science fiction or fantasy books, which was one of my personal challenges for 2023. I consider that a success. (For 2024 I've set myself all kinds of personal challenges but more about that in another post.) 

According to the Goodreads thingy, I've read nearly 34,000 pages, the shortest book being To Be Taught if Fortunate by Becky Chambers at 135 pages and the longest, The Mad Ship by Robin Hobb at 906. Apparently that gives me an average of 339! Who knew?

A few favourite fiction books:

I'm going to do non-fiction in a separate post, partly because of the length of this post but also because I read some good ones and they deserve their own post.

So, another year of reading under our belts. It's whizzed by. It's not just me, everyone says so. It's quite alarming really so I'm choosing not to think about it and concentrate instead on having a good reading year in 2024. Again, I will do a separate post.

Happy New Year to everyone who reads my humble blog, whether you comment or not. I hope you all have an excellent 2024, finding lots of wonderful books and having loads of fun reading them.

Thursday 14 December 2023

A quick catch-up

As always, this time of year proves to be pretty busy so I thought I'd do a very quick catch-up on what I've read so far in December.

First-up, A Closed and Common Orbit is book two in Becky Chamber's 'Wayfarer's' science fiction series. If you haven't read book one and are inclined to, probably best not to read any more of this review because there are *spoilers*.

So, at the end of book one the AI that runs systems on the space-ship 'Wayfarer' is transferred into a human 'kit'. It's so realistic that you can't tell she's not human. She becomes 'Sidra' and this is the story of how she moves to another planet with 'Pepper' and how she settles into day to day life. Pepper was at one time Jane23 and in this book we have a dual time-line, learning who Jane 23 was and what happened to her as a child and teenager. For me, it was Jane's story that grabbed me. The situation on her home planet was somewhat shocking but I loved her story and what saved her. I'm not a great fan of the AI sub-genre of science-fiction but this book proves that I should stop saying, 'I don't like' and just try different kinds of books that I'm not sure if I'll enjoy. Because nearly every time I do that I end up with a pleasant surprise. An excellent read and I already have book three for 2024.


Next, Who Killed the Curate, a vintage crime yarn by Joan Coggin.

A whirlwind romance sees Lady Lupin Lorimer married to a vicar, Andrew Hastings. She's staggered that what she thinks will be a quiet existence in rural Sussex is anything but and she's expected to be on this committee and that and even run the girl guides! Being young and more than a bit silly this is quite a challenge. When her husband's curate is found dead on Christmas Eve there's even more of a challenge as the police try to find out who poisoned him. Lupin, along with two society friends and Andrew's MI5 nephew, decide to help the police find the culprit. But there are so many suspects, due to the curate's secret life, that this proves to be an almost impossible task. This is probably one of the funniest books I've read all year due to the author's very amusing turn of phrase in her writing. I honestly laughed a lot. Unfortunately, I did feel she overdid Lupin's ditziness... to the point where she was borderline too annoying to want to read about. Toned down a bit this would have got 5 stars from me because of the humour and good characterisation as regards the supporting cast... although it was a bit hard keeping track of who was who. Plus, 40% in is a tiny bit of a long wait for a dead body... But a good, fun, Christmas murder mystery. 

Also just finished:

Home Cooked by TV presenter, Kate Humble, is a delightful book of seasonal recipes and ruminations about the changing seasons in the UK. She collected the recipes from friends and family and they all get credited, even a neighbour, 12 year old Freddie, who is apparently an expert on ice-cream making. Loved this and will definitely be trying a few of the recipes.

I seem to be currently reading four books. Not sure how but these are they:


Haunters at the Hearth, edited by Tanya Kirk, is a book of Christmas weird stories published by the British Library. I'm about three quarters of the way through and so far it's rather good.

Sherlock Holmes and the Christmas Demon by James Lovegrove is a book I read about HERE on Lark's blog. Only just started it really but again it's good.

Vesper Flights is a book of nature writing essays, concentrating on birds, by Helen MacDonald. Really superb and beautifully written.

This is Nature Tales for Winter Nights, edited by Nancy Campbell. It's a delightful compendium of exerts from books, by all kinds of authors, that are connected in some manner to Winter. This I'll probably let float over into 2024 as I'm in no hurry to gobble up its gorgeousness.

Well, I hope you're not too crazy busy in the run up to Christmas and that you're finding time to read good books. 

Friday 1 December 2023

Books read in November

Well, the forecast snow amounted to several small flurries as we set off on our short journey to the hospital, yesterday afternoon, so I was glad about that as the M5 in a blizzard did not particularly appeal for some reason.  I think we were on the edge of the couple of inches that got dumped on Cornwall, so it was bitterly cold with a biting wind, but little to no snow.

So anyway, that's the weather report for today (which is a cold, crisp, sunny day for those interested in that kind of thing, ie. me.) So... books. I read seven in November. It was a nice varied month with three crime stories read, a couple of autobiographies, and a couple of paranormal/horror books. These are they:

89. Behind the Sequins by Shirley Ballas. This is an autobiography by the head judge on the iconic British show, Strictly Come Dancing. It was a rags to riches story of one very determined woman and how she became a world ballroom/latin dancing champion.  It was quite simple really, she worked her backside off to succeed and all power to her. I enjoyed her book. 

90. Murder While You Work - Susan Scarlett

91. Journey to Munich - Jacqueline Winspear

92. Doorway to Dilemma - edited by Mike Ashley 

93. Rotten to the Core - T.E. Kinsey

94. A Game of Ghosts - John Connolly 

95. A Spoonful of Sugar - Brenda Ashford. The author became a Norland Nanny in the late 1930s and had only been qualified a short time before war broke out. She then ended up looking after nursery children while their mothers worked in munitions factories, plus there were also a lot evacuees. This was a gentle book but quite important in that it reminded the reader that even nannies did their bit in the war and that the women who worked in the war effort could not have done so without the likes of Brenda Ashford to look after the children. I learnt quite a lot from this one. There was sadness of course but Brenda had the wonderful, 'Keep calm and carry on' attitude of the day and I admired her greatly.

So, a decent reading month all in all. I seem to have majored on the theme of WW2, which is appropriate for November, but I found it quite inspiring and one of my personal challenges for 2024 will be to read more. There's so much I don't know about that conflict. 

I'm not sure that I have a favourite November book as the seven ranged from good to excellent so no duds. But if forced, it would be this:

For me there is no author like John Connolly and no hero (anti-hero?) like Charlie Parker. I hope he never stops writing this creepy, very thought-provoking series. If he does I think I'll just have to go back to the beginning and start again. 

My current reads number two:



A Closed and Common Orbit is book two in Becky Chambers' 'Wayfarers' sci-fi series. I liked book one a lot and, although I've just started book two, I think it has a lot of potential.

And this:

Vesper Flights by Helen Macdonald is a book of nature writing essays majoring on birds. The writing is just beautiful. 

So, onwards into December. It tends not to be a major reading month for me because it gets busy, but I have a few Christmassy books I'd like to read and some short stories... we'll just see how it goes. Happy December reading and I hope everyone is avoiding all the nasty colds and bugs that seem to be rife at the moment.

Sunday 26 November 2023

I have been reading...

No sooner has autumn properly set in than the weather forecasting bods start talking about winter. Snow coming for us in the south and south west next weekend apparently. I tend to be of a, 'I'll believe it when I see it' frame of mind, if I'm honest. Living in the south west we don't get anywhere near the snow Scotland or the north of England get but we'll see. At least these days we get plenty of warning so can stock up on essentials because our drive turns into a ski slope when it snows and I'm past the age when whizzing down it on my rear end sounds like fun...

Anyway, books. I've finished three since my last post about WW2 crime fiction ten days ago. 

Doorway to Dilemma: Bewildering Tales of Dark Fantasy, is a book of weird fiction short stories put out by the British Library and edited by Mike Ashley. Unusually for a collection by him I found this a bit average. I marked several as being good though: The Anticipator by Morley Roberts, a story about a writer of short stories who gets exciting ideas only to fine another author thinks of exactly the same idea just before he does and writes the story first to great acclaim. The Mysterious Card by Cleveland Moffat - a man gets given a strange card in some gardens in Paris. Thereafter he is completely shunned by by everyone he knows including his family. Why? I love this kind of supernatural mystery. The Thing in the Cellar by David H. Keller was about a young child not happy about the cellar and won't even be in the kitchen where the door to it is... very good indeed, probably the best story in the collection. 

Next, Rotten to the Core by T.E. Kinsey. This is book eight in his Lady Hardcastle and Flo the Maid, books. 

It's September 1911 and a heatwave has been ongoing for weeks. The apples are ready to harvest, Gloucestershire being a cider area, and The Weryers of the Pomary are doing their appley thing though no one quite knows what that is as it's all supposed to be a bit secret. It's not of course as the villagers know exactly which men are in it. When their members start to turn up dead it lands on Lady Hardcastle and Flo to help the police with their enquiries. I do enjoy the instalments of this series which are Littleton Cotterell (the village where the two women live) based, as we get to see and hear more of the locals who are a joy. But the real joy of these books is T.E. Kinsey's wonderful touch with the dialogue between Lady Hardcastle and Flo. It's very funny. And I love how nothing whatsoever phases these two, they think nothing of flying planes, driving racing cars, chasing after Russian spies. It's all completely bonkers but this is one of my favourite series at the moment.


And lastly, I've just finished A Game of Ghosts by John Connolly, book fifteen in the author's 'Charlie Parker' series.

Parker is called in by FBI agent, Edgar Ross, to help him find private investigator, Jaycob Eklund. Ekland has some paranormal investigations going on, which are clearly troubling Ross, but not all of which he divulges to Parker. But he's disappeared and Ross wants him found. Eventually Parker discovers that Ekland was obsessively investigating some strange murders and disappearances involving ghosts. The deeper Parker delves the more he discovers about a group of people called The Brethren, and the more strange and dangerous the case becomes. Well, of course it does, it wouldn't be a Charlie Parker book otherwise! We now know that there's something very different about his daughter, Sam, and that's fascinating as dribs and drabs are revealed. And there're some highly creepy villains (or not) in this instalment. Someone on Goodreads said they wanted John Connolly to write literary fiction because his writing is sublime. Well, yes it is, but I (and many thousands of others) thank our lucky stars that he loves writing weird, paranormal fiction with a mystery bent and would not want to lose him to literary fiction. He's brilliant quite honestly and I hope he has no plans to go anywhere!

I hope you're all keeping well and finding loads of great books to read this autumn which may soon be turning into winter...

Thursday 16 November 2023

World War 2 fiction.

I try in November, because it's Armistice month, to read something connected to the two world wars. This year I seem to have subconsciously settled on WW2. I'm not sure why as I would have said my interests veer more towards WW1, but there you go, I'm nothing if not contrary.

So, first up for me was Murder While You Work by Susan Scarlett (which is a pseudonym for the author, Noel Streatfield.)

World War Two is in full swing and young Judy Rest is on the train to Pinlock, heading to her new job in a munitions factory. She meets Nick Parsons who, coincidently, works at the factory and lives in the village of Pinlock too. On hearing where Judy is to be billeted, Nick is concerned. The house is lived in by three women. Mrs. Former, who owns the property, is elderly but very sweet. So is her daughter, Rose. But the place is lorded over by Clara who is Mrs. Former's grand-daughter in-law; widowed with one son she is autocratic and of a martyred disposition. Mr. Former died recently and Nick is not happy with the circumstances, the house has a bad atmosphere and he suggests to Judy that she find another billet as soon as she can. Judy, always up for a challenge, is not willing to do this of course and Things Ensue. I gather this is the only murder mystery Noel Streatfield wrote. That's a shame because I found this to be very well written with quite a vivid sense of menace in the form of Clara. You realise from the start that she's up to something, so it's not a spoiler. But what? If she's done what we think she's done - how? It seems impossible... A few people on Goodreads have given this one star. Everyone's welcome to their opinion but I couldn't help wondering if they were reading the same book: I loved it.  

Next, Journey to Munich by Jacqueline Winspear, book 12 in the author's 'Maisie Dobbs' series. A warning: this review contains spoilers so if you're thinking of starting this series best not to read it.

The year is 1938. Back from Spain but still grieving for her husband, Maisie is staying with her best friend, Priscilla. She doesn't really know what to do with herself but starts searching for a flat in London. Then she's approached by the Secret Service. A Captain of Industry, Leon Donat, has been imprisoned by the Nazis in Germany for having some connection with an illegal newspaper. They've agreed to release him only to a member of his family, which is sly of them because they know his only daughter is in very poor health. Relying on the Nazis not knowing this, the Secret Service want Maisie to impersonate the daughter and go to collect Donat. It is of course an incredibly dangerous mission, made worse by the fact that Maisie will not fly so will need to bring her charge back by train. While in Germany, Maisie has also been asked to look for the daughter of a man she feels is responsible for the death of her husband, the daughter also culpable in her opinion. It seems this girl has become infatuated with Nazism and has abandoned her child to go and live in Nazi Germany. (Shades of Unity Mitford here.) It's an incredibly dangerous can of worms and Maisie knows she'll be lucky not to be discovered as an imposter and locked up herself. This was yet another excellent instalment of this series. I thought the last one, A Dangerous Place, was bit odd but this returns to the usual format, although spying in Germany is not normally what Maisie does. It worked for me though and there was real suspense and menace in the shape of the SS people she had to deal with and of course she has no idea who she can trust in a country that is now frighteningly unstable and extreme. With WW2 rapidly approaching in the series I'm rather eager to read the next one now.

I shall continue on with my WW2 reading so this will most likely be my next non-fiction read, A Spoonful of Sugar by Brenda Ashford, a tale of the experiences of a Norland Nanny during The War.

And The Festival of Rememberance on TV on Saturday night brought up the subject of the Battle of the Atlantic, convoys, U-boats, that kind of thing. Realising I knew very little about it I grabbed this for my Kindle.

I'll probably save it for 2024, when one of my personal challenges will be to read a few books throughout the year dealing with the two world wars. 

I hope you're all keeping well and finding lots of good books to hibernate with.

Wednesday 1 November 2023

A quick catch-up and October books

October was a slightly slower reading month than usual for me, no particular reason, just taking my time with books instead of devouring them. To be honest, I enjoyed it. 

Anyway, a few quick reviews.

First, The Fall of the House of Thomas Weir by Andrew Neil Macleod.

So this is the first book in a series that features a fictional idea of two very famous men, Dr. Samuel Johnson and his good friend, James Boswell. The year is 1773 and the setting, Edinburgh. There are strange things going on in the streets and cemetaries of the Scottish capital... starting when a ghoul scares the wits out of the cemetary's nightwatchman. Johnson and Boswell, with their interest in the occult, can't help but get involved. They feel that somehow Edinburgh's secret societies are involved and there is something very sinister going on in the tunnels below the streets. This had the feel of a Lovecraftian romp to me, quite daft, but hugely entertaining and a really strong sense of Edinburgh, at least it seemed so to me even though I've not been there. The book suited October perfectly with its sinister overtones and weird goings on - I'm not sure if I'll carry on with the series, there's one more available, The Stone of Destiny, we'll see, but it was a fun, spooky read.

Next, a non-fiction book, Along the Enchanted Way by William Blacker. 

A few years ago I became quite interested in countries around the Balkans/Central Europe. Authors like Patrick Leigh Fermor, Nick Crane, Elizabeth Kostova started it and a couple of weeks ago my reading of Outlandish by Nick Hunt reawakened the interest because he was in Hungary on the plains. So I remembered I had this book about Romania and hoped it would not disappoint. It didn't. The author returns to Romania after being there for a while when he was younger. He ends up in the Maramures region in the north of the country where life hasn't changed since time immemorial. The village is a Saxon enclave and has been since the 12th. century or something. He settles in there with an older couple and totally immerses himself in the culture and ancient way of life and also gets to know the local gypsies, which is frowned upon by the Saxon villagers. I could go on and on about this book but I won't. I'll just say that it is gorgeous, beautfully written, atmospheric, sad, uplifting, incredibly informative about a way of life that is fast disappearing as roads are built and the 21st. century intrudes on an ancient way of life. Wonderful - 5 stars no question. 

Lastly, Mr. Mercedes by Stephen King. 

So, I don't read many books by Stephen King. I have read a fair few of his short stories but his lengthy horror books don't really appeal. But when I saw in a Booktube video that he had a crime series I wasn't aware of, I thought I'd give it a go. This is the first book in King's 'Bill Hodges' trilogy. Hodges is a retired detective from a city somewhere in the Mid-West of the USA. They don't say where exactly. Retired and not happy about it... so discontented in fact that he thinks of taking his own life. Until a letter arrives on his doorstep. It's from a man who tells him he is 'Mr. Mercedes' the individual who drove a stolen Mercedes into a crowd in the city centre, killing eight people. He was never caught. Hodges suddenly has a reason to stay alive as he sets about tracking a psychopath down with the help of the young man who cuts his lawn and - later - 'Holly' a relative of the woman who committed suicide because it was her car that was stolen and people blamed her for maybe leaving her keys in the ignition. So this was quite a journey. Layer upon layer of things revealed, people becoming involved, and quite a scary killer. The book is told partly from his point of view and - a warning here - his thoughts are extremely unpleasant and so are his actions. This is not a book for everyone. King's writing is always compulsive reading, you can't stop until you get to the end as he builds and builds the tension. I gave it 5 stars on Goodreads and yet I have no idea whether I will read on in the series. King always goes just that little bit too far for me and I suspect that this is actually quite tame for him. As always, we will see.

Other books read in October:

The Lost Bookshop - Evie Woods

Outlandish - Nick Hunt 

To the Bright Edge of the World - Eowyn Ivey

So, six books read in October, four fiction, two non-fiction, all different and interesting and I consider it to have been not a bad reading month all told. 

I also managed to finish this at long last, a 3000 piece jigsaw puzzle entitled Payment of Taxes at Bethlehem, painted by Pieter Bruegal. Possibly the hardest puzzle I've done although I have done quite a few... it took me two months to finish. This one's going straight to the charity shop as I really can't imagine wanting to do it again!


So here we are in November (I won't mention the 'C' word...) and some people are doing 'Non-fiction November'. It has prompts and weekly posts and so on, which I'm not doing, but I do plan to read two or three non-fiction books if I possibly can this month. I hope you're keeping well and finding some good books to read this autumn.

Tuesday 17 October 2023

Top Ten Tuesday

I don't usually do Top Ten Tuesday but I saw on Lark's blog that the theme this week is: 

Books With Weather Events in the Title... or on the Cover  

Being a true Brit the weather is something of a major preoccupation so I had to do it this week, didn't I?


Top Ten Tuesday is hosted by Jana at That Artsy Reader Girl.


I'll link some of the books to my reviews if I've read the book and can actually find the review. (Some were read before I started this blog.)

1. First up, a classic that needs no introduction: The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame. Lots of weather in this one including one of my favourite ever scenes in literature with Mole lost in the Wild Wood in a blizzard.

 2. The next book is weather on the cover, The Long Winter by Laura Ingalls Wilder. To my mind one of the best books ever written about deadly winter weather. 

3. Ill Wind by Nevada Barr is one of her excellent Anna Pigeon books, this one is set in the Mesa Verde NP in Colorado.

4. Next up, an anthology I'm planning to read in December that I have on my TBR shelf: Sunless Solstice: Strange Christmas Tales for the Longest Nights edited by Lucy Evans and Tanya Kirk. Quite excited about this one.


5. The Sunny Side of the Alps by Roy Clarke is a lovely non-fiction book about the author's stay in the beautiful country of Slovenia.

6. Another beautiful 'weather' cover is this edition of High Rising by Angela Thirkell.


7. Four Cheeks to the Wind by Mary Bryant is an excellent account of the author and her husband's attempt to cycle around the world.

8. Richmal Crompton didn't just write the 'Just William' books she also wrote a lot of books for adults, one of them being Frost at Morning, which I read just before I started this blog in 2007. It's a WW2 novel exploring how the war affected children. A sad but beautiful book.

9. A non-fiction book I own but haven't read yet is Weatherland by Alexandra Harris. This sports a wonderful summery, cloudy sort of cover. It looks fascinating so I'll put in on my pile for 2024.

10. And lastly, here's a book I don't own, haven't read, but want to. The Storm by Daniel Defoe. Just look at that cover!

 Well, that was fun! I should do Top Ten Tuesday more often!

Saturday 14 October 2023

Three short reviews

Several books behind with reviewing, as is often the case, so without further ado, a few short reviews.

First, The Lost Bookshop by Evie Woods... my 13th. book for Susan's Bookish Books reading challenge.

So this is a dual timeline story told from three different points of view. There is Opaline who lives in the 1920s, a bright, educated young woman but at the mercy of her older brother who wants her to marry money to get him out of financial difficulties. Desperate, she flees to Paris where she gets a job in the famous bookshop, Shakespeare and co. Fast forward to the present day and Martha who lives in the Irish countryside, is also fleeing, this time from an abusive husband. She lands up in Dublin and lands a job as a sort of house-keeper to an elderly lady, Ms. Bowden. There she meets Henry, who is researching what he thinks is the missing manuscript of an unknown book that Emily Bronte may have written after Wuthering Heights. He's convinced that the empty space next to Ms. Bowden's house is the site of a mysterious 'lost' bookshop that only appears sporadically. The various stories of these three people intertwine as we find out more about what happened to them. I'm not a massive fan of dual timelines but these days they seem to be more and more prevalent so needs must and this one worked nicely for me, so I have no complaints. Both timelines kept my interest and it was fascinating to try and guess where the connections were. There's romance in this, 'lots' of bookish talk, a bit of magical realism which I like but I know not everyone cares for, and also a good dose of reality... the author puts her characters through it a bit, particularly Opaline. I enjoyed the book very much indeed, gave it 5 stars on Goodreads, and will look for more by the author.

Next, a non-fiction book, Outlandish by Nick Hunt.

So the author of this book, Nick Hunt, starts to wonder about landscape anomalies in Europe. Why is there a large patch of Arctic tundra in Scotland? Primeval forest in Poland and Belarus? Europe only has one true desert, The Tabernas in Spain, what's it like? And the steppes of Hungary, how do people live there? And how are all these landscapes affected by the huge changes brought about by us humans? He goes off to investigate so the book is split into four sections charting the various experiences he has. First of all I have to say that Hunt's writing is sublime. He transports you to landscapes so diverse from each other but has no trouble making you feel like you're actually there with him. Beautiful descriptions of his surroundings, fascinating stuff about the history of the countries he's in, geological facts, current events, the people he meets, it was a perfect book for me as I do love an author who meanders around all kinds of subjects and points of view. I had favourite sections: the tundra in Scotland and the forest in Poland. Not so interested in the Spanish desert, but it's all stayed with me nevertheless and I'm very keen to read more by Nick Hunt. He's written a book following in the footsteps of Patrick Leigh Fermor - Walking the Woods and the Water - which is already on my Kindle waiting for me. Another 5 star read. 

Lastly my October book for the Read Around the USA challenge, To the Bright Edge of the World by Eowyn Ivey, set in Alaska.

So, this was unusual in that it was a fiction book that, because it was written in the form of diaries and letters with occasional photos, felt like a non-fiction read. Colonel Allen Forrester is tasked with leading an expedition to the Wolverine river in Alaska with the idea of it being opened up to the wider world. With him goes his new wife, Sophie. She's an explorer at heart too but being a woman it's far more difficult to achieve and at the last minute she's unable to leave Vancouver and he goes without her. He is accompanied by a team of course, but truly has no idea of the hardships ahead and how much the indigenous peoples will affect his journey or test his beliefs in the real world. Sophie meanwhile, is also tested. I won't go into how as it involves spoilers but it is all rather painful: luckily she discovers a new interest which saves her. Another superb read... as I said, very much a fictional story in the manner of a non-fiction travelogue. There's disaster after disaster in the wilds of Alaska, but amazing descriptions of the wilderness landscape, the almost insurmountable difficulties of travelling over it and encounters with the native tribes. There is magical realism in this one again, involving the beliefs of the tribes, I liked that but some might not. Another really excellent read. 

So my current read is this: 

Inspired by the Polish and Hungarian section in Outlandish, my interest in Eastern Europe returned so I found Along the Enchanted Way by William Blacker on my Kindle. It recounts the author's time spent living in the Maramures region of northern Romania, an area where, at the time, the lifestyle was centuries old... very rural, of the forests and mountains, many old traditions alive and well, fascinating people. It's a wonderful book. 

Fictionwise, I've no idea what I want to read next, possibly something Victorian for the Booktube event, 'Victober'. 

I hope you're all keeping well and enjoying some good books this autumn (or spring if you're in another hemisphere.)

Sunday 1 October 2023

Books read in September

It seemed to me that September had no sooner arrived than it was gone. I'm sure time is speeding up! And now it really is autumn with leaves dropping and gales coming in from The Atlantic. Love it.

So, books read in September, by me, numbered 7. (Feel free to say that as Len Goodman would have. :-) )

75. Remarkably Bright Creatures - Shelby Van Pelt

76. Everyone in my Family Has Killed Someone - Benjamin Stevenson

77. Legends and Lattes - Travis Baldree 

78. The United States of Adventure - Anna McNuff. (This has an alternate title of 50 Shades of the USA.) I read this for the Read Around the USA challenge I'm doing, this category was 'a book that covers multiple states'. The author, a British cyclist, decides to cycle every state of the USA, taking 6 months to do it. Some states she really just passed into and out of an hour later but others she spent time in properly. I enjoyed this a lot especially reading about the people she met who were so kind to her. But my gosh, what an endeavour! Amazing. 

79. The Belial Stone - R.D. Brady. This was a Dan Brown type mix of adventure, archaeology, paranormal thriller - all life was there. There's an ancient source of power that needs to be found before someone or some'thing' gets hold of it and destroys the world. Enjoyable romp, first book in a series that's already 14 books long. I have book 2 as it's about a hidden library in Ecuador, but how much further I'll go after that I'm not sure.

80. The Mystery of 31 New Inn - R. Austin Freeman.

This is a London based novella published in 1912. R. Austin Freeman wrote a load of books and short stories featuring his detective Dr. Thorndyke, and this one of those. A friend of Thorndyke's, Dr. Jervis, takes a position standing in for another doctor while he's on holiday. He's called out in the middle of the night but the situation is very mysterious as he's not allowed to see where it is he's being taken in the enclosed coach. When he gets there the patient is clearly either suffering from sleeping sickness or an overdose of morphine and the two people whose care he's in are very odd indeed. Something is clearly not right and Jervis needs Thorndyke to help him solve the mystery. I always like the style in which these early 20th. century crime yarns are written, they're always well written with a nice sense of the macabre. The two drs. are very much in the vein of Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson with one of them knowing everything and the other not so much. I enjoyed this but thought it was more of a short story padded out than a book in its own right. Not bad though and I'll read more when I come across them.

81. The Night Hawks - Elly Griffiths.

So, this is book 13 in the author's well known Ruth Galloway series. Ruth is now head of archaeology at the fictitious University of North Norfolk after a brief foray in Cambridge. Metal detectorists who don't abide by the rules are known as Night Hawks, although the group who find a dead body on a beach are not in fact of that ilk, their leader has just called the group that. Alongside the dead body is found a bronze-age burial so Ruth is called in. Meanwhile Nelson is called to a lonely farmhouse where a murder/suicide of a man and his wife have taken place. Eventually, of course, the two cases collide in the middle. So, I loved this as I do every Ruth Galloway book but had the sense that Griffiths was coming to the end of her interest in the series and indeed she has said that book 15 is the last but possibly not forever. I find each instalment strangely addictive, once I start reading I simply can't stop and I think quite a lot of people are the same. Ruth's thoughts have always brought a lot of humour to the books but this time I found that humour to be not quite there. I still enjoyed the ongoing saga of her personal life with Nelson and the cast of extra characters, all different, all with their complicated lives... Cathbad the druid is a favourite and has been since the start. I shall miss Ruth when I have no more books in the series to read. 

So that was my month of September in books. Standouts were Remarkably Bright Creatures, Legends and Lattes, The United States of Adventure and The Night Hawks. I consider it to be a pretty good reading month when you have four really good books out of seven and the rest weren't actually terrible either.

At the moment I'm struggling to decide on another fiction book after setting aside two after 30 or so pages. I am reading this non-fiction though:

Outlandish by Nick Hunt is split into four sections all dealing with various wilderness areas that are sort of in the wrong place, Arctic tundra in Scotland, primeval forest in Poland, the only European desert in Spain and grassland steppes in Hungary. The writing in this is sublime and I'm absolutely 'loving' it. Will look for more books by him when I've finished this.

Happy October! I hope your families are doing better than mine healthwise, it seems to be one thing after another for us. Thank goodness for good books. I hope you all have an excellent reading month.

Wednesday 13 September 2023

I have been reading...

Several books to talk about today, all of them to some degree 'hyped' books that I've seen around the blogging world and Booktube a lot. But did they live up to the hype?

 I'll start with, Remarkably Bright Creatures by Shelby Van Pelt.

Tova Sullivan, an elderly woman of Swedish descent, lives in the town of Sowell Bay, a couple of hours north of Seattle, WA. She's a widow who likes to keep busy so has a job as a cleaner at the local aquarium. It gets her out of house and also takes her mind off the loss of her son, Erik, some 30 years ago. He was 18, his body was never found and no one really knows what happened to him. Tova loves all of the sea creatures in the aquarium but has a special affection for Marcellus, the giant Pacific octopus. She stands and talks to him every day and can actually see him listening to her. One evening she finds him almost dead on the floor, and helps him back to his tank. Thus begins a unique friendship wherein Marcellus is instrumental in finding out what happened to Erik. This is one of those much hyped books that a lot of people seemed to have been reading lately, and no wonder as it really is a delightful read. I like books with older protagonists and lots of ordinary folk in them and this book has a nice interesting cast of characters. My favourite by far was Marcellus the octopus and I loved the chapters penned by him. My least favourite was Cameron, the young man drawn north to look for his unknown father in Sowell Bay: for at least half the book he was entitled and annoying. There was a lovely sense of a faded resort on Puget Sound and thus a good sense of place... it sounded wonderful to me anyway! An excellent read, lived up to its hype.

Next, Everyone in My Family Has Killed Someone by Benjamin Stevenson.

Ernest Cunningham has been summoned to a family reunion in the mountains, somewhere in Australia. He's somewhat surprised as he doesn't have a lot to do with them having turned in his brother, Michael, for murder. The brother is now out of prison and due to meet them all in the mountains. Ernest has no idea what his reception will be. What he doesn't expect is a dead body in the snow, and for nobody to know who it is. The lone policeman immediately arrests his brother when he finally arrives, it seems he was out of prison earlier than they were told. Michael decides that Ernest should be the one to investigate and try to prove him innocent... but does Ernest himself believe that? So this was one of those tongue-in-cheek books, written in a style where the narrator - Ernest - chats away to the reader of the book telling her or him how it is that his family are a bunch of killers, be it by accident or intent. There wasn't a single person in it I liked and I must admit to finding the writing style tiresome. I thought the author was trying too hard to pay homage to Golden Age crime yarns. I did like the mystery itself and that's what kept me going until the end, which I thought was quite clever. One thing that did surprise me was the absence of any sense of 'Australia', it really could have been anywhere. I gave it 3 stars on Goodreads so it was 'OK' but it should be said that a lot of people like it a lot more than I did. Did not, for me anyway, live up to the hype.

Lastly, Legends and Lattes by Travis Baldree.

So, 'Viv' is an adventurer, an Orc in fact, who has tired of adventuring. She needs a new career so lands up in the city of Thune with a plan to bring coffee to the masses. Coffee is not known here, it's  Dwarfish thing Viv discovered while in one of their cities. She fell in love with it and thinks there must be a gap in the market and the possiblility of a new life here in Thune. She finds a shop to convert, a Hob for a carpenter, a Succubus as a barmaid and a genius baker in the shape of a Rattkin. Slowly but surely people are drawn to the new coffee shop. But all is not plain sailing, there's a protection racket going on and Viv has to decide whether she's left her former violent life behind her or not. I was reminded quite strongly of Terry Pratchett while I was reading this although his trademark humour and way with words is not present in this book. It's described as 'cozy fantasy' and that's pretty accurate. I thought it was absolutely charming and the cast of characters delightful. Not a lot happens  (that could be said of a lot of books) but somehow the author manages to make the setting up of a new business absolutely rivetting and that's quite clever in my opinion. Loved it and happily gave it 5 stars. Definitely lived up to the hype! 


So, I'm currently reading this:

The United States of Adventure charts the author, Anna McNuff's, cycling trip through every state of the USA (and part of Canada at the beginning). This is for The Bookgirls' USA challenge I'm doing and so far it's excellent. (NB this has an alternative title, Fifty Shades of the USA but I don't know if that's the American title or the British. The UK Kindle title is the former version, which I prefer.)

I hope you'e all well and enjoying some good autumn reading!

Sunday 3 September 2023

Books read in August

Despite all that's been going on this last month, I still managed to read 10 books. Of course, it could be 'because' of it all I've read 10 books... they do make a good escape from reality!

Anyhow, the books:

65. My Sister's Grave - Robert Dugoni

66. The Murder of Mr. Wickham - Claudia Gray

67. The Murder of Roger Ackroyd - Agatha Christie (a reread and very good) 

68. The Left-handed Booksellers of London - Garth Nix

69. A Murder of Crows - Sarah Yarwood-Lovett 

70.  The People on Platform 5 - Clare Pooley. I've nabbed the synopsis from Goodreads for speed.

Every day Iona Iverson, a larger-than-life magazine advice columnist, travels the ten stops from Hampton Court to Waterloo Station by train, accompanied by her dog, Lulu. Every day she sees the same people, whom she knows only by nickname: Impossibly-Pretty-Bookworm and Terribly-Lonely-Teenager. Of course, they never speak. Seasoned commuters never do.

Then one morning, the man she calls Smart-But-Sexist-Manspreader chokes on a grape right in front of her. He’d have died were it not for the timely intervention of Sanjay, a nurse, who gives him the Heimlich maneuver. This single event starts a chain reaction, and an eclectic group of people with almost nothing in common except their commute discover that a chance encounter can blossom into much more. It turns out that talking to strangers can teach you about the world around you--and even more about yourself.

I enjoyed this immensely. I'm rapidly developing a taste for this kind of character-based contemporary fiction. It's a 'found family' tale of unlikely people who slowly become friends and form a real support network. Secrets abound and personal decisions and discoveries need to be made. It's well written and I felt very involved in the lives of all of the characters. Nice one.

71. Holy Ghosts - edited by Fiona Snailham is another of the British Libraries' weird collections. There were several stand-out stories in this but quite a few others I'd already read or weren't that great so overall a bit disappointing but fine for anyone who hasn't read 'any' churchy weird fiction at all. 

72. Lady Susan by Jane Austen is not one of her main six novels of course, it's an epistolary novella about a woman who is pretty awful. She foists herself on family for long visits and then sets about scheming to make husbands fall in love with her, thereby causing as much chaos as she can. It was very, very good. 

73. Childhood's End - Arthur C. Clarke. 

This is classic science fiction, published the year of my birth, 1953. 

When the silent spacecraft arrived and took the light from the world, no one knew what to expect. But, although the Overlords kept themselves hidden from man, they had come to unite a warring world and to offer an end to poverty and crime. When they finally showed themselves it was a shock, but one that humankind could now cope with, and an era of peace, prosperity and endless leisure began.

These older, classic sci-fi yarns don't always work for me but this one did. I thoroughly enjoyed this speculation on what would happen if an alien race suddenly appeared and demanded we stop warring with each other. Things begin to happen of course and it's intriguing and makes you think. I wasn't mad about the outcome but there you go. Well written and very readable indeed.

74. The Accidental Detectorist - Nigel Richardson.

This, my only non-fiction read for August, was just delightful. The author, a travel writer, decides to take up metal detecting during lockdown. He joins other detectorists to learn what to look for, which equipment he needs, where to search (nowhere where you haven't got the relevant permissions in place) and so on. It was so fascinating to read about the various people he meets who do this, how welcoming they are are and how they go about the countryside digging it up. You can't say you're a detectorist unless you've found a 'hammered' appparently - this is a sort of handmade coin from before they started minting properly. Poor Nigel has awful trouble finding one while all around him are digging them up by the ton. There's a nice amount of history in the book, interesting facts about hoards that have been discovered, that sort of thing. This was my favourite read of the month and made me head to the BBC's iPlayer to try their series 'Detectorists' starring Toby Jones, Mackenzie Crook and Rachel Stirling (Diana Rigg's daughter). It's charming and very British. This is a book I highly recommend if you like 'quirky British'.

Anyway, it' nice to be back after a two week blogging break and an odd two weeks it's been. When the medical profession describes something you have as 'interesting' it's never a Good Thing. Hubby's leg is now on the mend but although he had cellulitis we have no idea what caused it or where the open wound came from a week after he was diagnosed or why he needed 3 lots of serious antibiotics to rid himself of it. The theory is some kind of insect bite on the cellulitis area but, all in all, he feels like being 'interesting' is vastly over-rated and I'm inclined to agree!

I hope you had a good reading month in August? I'm delighted to welcome in September. Although it's not officially autumn until the 21st. I do think that once September arrives summer is more or less behind us and that's fine with me. Not a fan of summer. 

Happy September reading! I shall be thinking about what I want to read this autumn and perhaps do a post about it soon.