Friday 31 March 2023

Books read in March

Goodness me, these monthly wrap-up posts seem to come around quicker and quicker. I'm certain time is speeding up! Anyhow. Reading. March was quite a nice, casual month of books. I'm slowly getting out of - or trying to - devouring books like there's no tomorrow. It's senseless. I'm never going to be able to read 'everything' and need to accept that and move on. 

So I read seven books in March. And I feel fortunate because, apart from one which was a bit average, I enjoyed all of them.

20. Foundation by Isaac Asimov. This book comes into the category 'I thought I would love it so why the heck didn't I?' Excellent concept, monotonously executed. Oh well, it's nice to know which series you do not need to continue with. 3 stars.

21. A Killer Read - Erika Chase 4 stars

22. A Year of Living Simply - Kate Humble 4 stars

23. The Mad Ship - Robin Hobb 5 stars

24. Murder in the Mill-Race - E.C.R. Lorac 5 stars

25. Camino Island - John Grisham 4 stars

26. Deadly Appearances - Gail Bowen

This one is set in and around Regina, in the Canadian prairie province of Saskatchewan. A politician, Andy Boychuk, dies on stage just before he's about to give an important speech. One of his aides, Joanne Kilbourne, witnesses it and even manages to save the life of someone else who's about to go the same way. So who killed him? His strange wife, Eve, is a possibility but so are a number of other people, aides, supporters, members of a church he had links with, political competitors within the party they all supported. Jo is drawn into the investigation but it's difficult as she's still raw from the loss of her husband three years ago, plus has three kids in their teens to keep an eye on. One thing she quickly discovers - Andy's life was far more complicated than any of them realised. I thought this was incredibly well written and the sense of place very strong. I had no idea there was such a Ukrainian presence in that area (this book was published in 1990) and learnt quite lot as regards that. I liked Jo a lot but found in the last few chapters that I wanted to shake her for her attitude towards her own wellbeing. I also had a strong idea of the culprit and was proved right but that didn't spoil my enjoyment at all because it was so interesting watching what this person did. There was a very real sense of menace which I loved, but this is also a book about secrets, family, politics (not overwhelming thank goodness) and how your past behaviour can eventually catch up with you. Excellent. And thanks to Margot Kinberg for bringing the book to my attention. 4 stars

So, quite a good reading month. When you have that proportion of 4 and 5 star books you have to be grateful. Favourite book? The Mad Ship by Robin Hobb. But all of the other 4 and 5 star books were not far behind. And there were some nice discoveries - that I don't mind John Grisham's books at all, that some cosies can keep my attention, and a book about Canadian politics can make a good whodunnit.  Happy Days.

Tuesday 28 March 2023

The In and Out Book Tag


So this is a book tag I saw a few days ago on Fanda's blog, HERE. It looked like fun so I thought I'd give it a go... you have to answer 'IN' or 'OUT' obviously.

Reading the Last Page First: OUT

I used to do this quite a lot but realised it was not the best idea when I took up reading murder mysteries some years ago.

Enemies to Lovers: IN

Not that I read a lot of romance books these days but when I do I don't mind any of the tropes to be honest.

Dream Sequences: OUT

Definitely. Confusing and there's nothing more boring than other people's dreams. 

Love Triangles: IN

It all adds to the spice of a romantic novel.

Cracked Spines: IN

I assume this means do I mind? No, I don't, I read quite a few second-hand books so I'm used to books being in all kinds of conditions. And as to cracking the spines myself, I try not to but have arthritis in my hands and so holding large books open can be tricky... which is why I love my ereaders so much.

Back to my small town: IN

Yeah, that's fine, it crops up quite a lot in all sorts of fiction and I don't mind it.   

No Paragraph Breaks: OUT


Multi-generational Sagas: IN 'ish'

I don't read many at all but when I do I quite enjoy them, Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides springs to mind, but I don't tend to read those 87 book series following one family from when they built their first mud hut to the present day, no.

Monsters Are Regular People: IN

Love this kind of weirdness! 

Re-Reading: IN

But I'm not a huge re-reader. That said, I do more these days than I used to.

Artificial Intelligence: IN 'ish'

I love sci-fi but AI books are not my favourite sci-fi sub-genre. That said, Martha Wells' Murderbot series and Becky Chambers' books and you know, 'Data', so...

Drop Caps: IN

I had to look this up :-). It's when they use a huge capital letter to start a new chapter and yes, I'm fine with that.

Happy Endings: IN

Prefer them but can deal with the reverse as long as there's hope or more books to come.

Plot Points That Only Converge at the End: IN

Er... I think that's called 'a book'.

Detailed Magic Systems: IN

It's all fine by me although not always well done of course.

Classic Fantasy Races: IN

Although it's always nice when the author can be a bit different.

Unreliable Narrators: OUT

Not at all my favourite thing...

Evil Protagonists: OUT 'ish'

But I can cope occasionally.

The Chosen One: IN

'In' because I love Harry Potter and Tolkein but in some books it can become a bit tedious.

When the Protagonist Dies: OUT

No, no, no, no, nooooo... Listen, I'm someone who wailed inconsolably when 'Dobby' died!

Really Long Chapters: IN

Not fussed, although short chapters always make you feel like you're getting somewhere faster even if you're not.

French Flaps: IN

Again, not fussed.

Deckled Edges: OUT

Can't see the point.

Signed Copies by the Author: OUT

I suppose they're nice to have but it's not something I lust after. 

Dog-Earing Pages: OUT

It never used to bother me eons ago but these days it really does. Plus my massive collection of bookmarks has to be 'used'!

Chapter Titles Instead of Numbers: IN

But sometimes they can give away the plot when they do that 'Where so and so does this and where so and so does that' old fashioned sort of thing.

Well that was great fun so I hope others will have a go because these are very important issues to us book nerds! 

Friday 24 March 2023

Catching up - a couple of crime titles

A couple of crime titles to catch up on today and a couple of good'uns too!

First up, Murder in the Mill-Race by E.C.R Lorac, this is one of the BLCC reissues dating from 1952 so just a little bit older than me. I wonder which of us has aged best. (No need to answer that...)

So, a young doctor, Raymond Ferrens, moves to a small village in North Devon, very close to Exmoor. With him goes his wife of four years, Anne. The village is Milham-in-the-Moor and lies on a hilltop about ten miles from the nearest town. It's a stunningly pretty place but it doesn't take long for the couple to realise how isolated it is and how insular the villagers are. The new neighbours trot along to introduce themselves, among them Sister Monica, the nun who has run a small orphanage for many decades. Anne takes an instant dislike to the woman although she's not really sure why, something about her feels malign. So it's no surprise when, some months later, Sister Monica's body is found floating in the mill-race at the bottom of the hill, below the village. The local policeman, Sergeant Peel, does his level best with the villagers but he's from the local town and therefore 'not one of them'. It's decided to call in Scotland Yard and Chief Inspector MacDonald is consequently dispatched to Devon, along with Sergeant Reeves, to find out who could possibly want a nun, so beloved of the village, dead. And it's no easy task for them either. All they can get out of people is, 'Her come over dizzy, poor soul. That be it. Terrible dizzy Sister's been these weeks past'. That and how wonderful she was, what a saint and so on. But somebody clearly did not agree... So this is actually book 37 of Lorac's Inspector MacDonald books and I have not read the previous 36 in order, I've read 4 or 5 completely out of order. It doesn't matter, MacDonald is not a tortured soul and neither is Reeves, so there's no backstory to keep up with. I love how down to earth both of them are too and most of the humour that runs through the book is down to those two, particularly as regards the villagers and their, 'Her come over dizzy, poor soul'. I laughed quite bit having lived in Devon for many years. The village is a beautiful setting and it jumps off the page at you, and Lorac clearly knew her village mentality 'very' well. Parts of the book are almost creepy, taking place as they do in the dark and one scene near the end in a dark house was really quite edge-of-your-seat. E.C.R. Lorac (Edith Caroline Rivett) was a top-notch crime writer and why she was ever forgotten is as much of a mystery as you'll find in any of her books. A really excellent read.

Next, Camino Island by John Grisham. I thought he only wrote court-room, lawyer type books until Lark mentioned that she might read this for the Bookish Books challenge, back at the beginning of January. Intrigued, I looked it up and then reserved it from the library. It then languished on the shelf and I forgot what it was about and was very pleasantly surprised when I found it was about 'books'. *Head-desk* I'm 70 in May... that says it all really.

Anyhoooo. Mercer Mann is an author who's had one literary book published that did very well and a book of short stories that did not. She's been working in a uni, teaching, but is losing her job due to cuts. She's approached by a mysterious woman who knows all about her, even down to the fact that she spent a lot of her summers as a child on Camino Island off the coast of Florida. Why is that of interest? Well, five valuable original manuscripts of the work of F. Scott Fitzgerald have been stolen from the vaults of Princeton university. The woman, Elaine, works for an insurance company and is conducting her own enquiry into the whereabouts of the stolen manuscripts. She thinks a bookseller, Bruce Cable, who lives on Camino Island has them and she wants Mercer to return to the island on the pretext of trying to finish her next book and of having writer's block, which she actually does have. But really she wants Mercer to infiltrate the writing and book-selling community on the island to try and find out if Bruce actually does have the stolen works. So, John Grisham is not an author that generally appeals to me as I'm not a huge fan of court-room, lawyer types of books (although The Client is a great film so I should probably try the book). This is nothing like that. I wasn't sure what to expect of his writing and found it spare, not many frills, although the island is very real and I could picture it beautifully so the writing is not that spare. I absolutely loved the authors on the island, especially the couple, Myra and Leigh, one of whom writes sexually charged pot-boilers which have made a fortune and the other, literary novels, which have not. It was also an excellent glimpse into the world of rare book selling and the wheeler-dealing which goes on in a very shadowy sort of underworld. The heist at the start of the book was exciting and ruthless and I didn't know I liked that sort of thing so there you go... you never can tell. A pageturner, I read it in two sittings and ignored pretty much everything yesterday until I'd finished it. The end fizzled out a bit weakly I thought but no matter, I thought this was an excellent read and there is a another book about Bruce Cable I gather, Camino Winds. I'll get that as soon as my library reopens after renovations. If anyone has any other Grisham recommendations that are not set in court-rooms I would welcome them.

Saturday 18 March 2023

I have been reading...

I fully admit I've been a bit AWOL lately but thankfully it's not down to anything nasty... I've been reading a book that's 900 pages long and concentrating on it fully rather than reading something else alongside it, as I would normally do. So, lots of reading going on but no posts so I'll try to make up for that today.

So, after A Killer Read by Erika Chase I finished off A Year of Living Simply by TV presenter, Kate Humble.

The author is quite famous in the UK as a sort of wild-life TV person who also did travel docs on the side. She used to present programmes such as Springwatch, but over the last few years she's taken more to documentaries about walking stretches of UK coastal paths and about people who've upped sticks and gone to live in the wilds of, say, the Welsh countryside or Orkney, to start small holdings or holiday lets. She's very personable and I thought this book, with ideas of how to simplify your life and live greener, might be interesting. And it was, to an extent. She talks a lot about going out walking for your mental health, starting a garden, moving to a quieter area, in her case rural Wales. She's also bought a house in a remote part of France. These are not things most of us can do to be frank. Even going out for a walk is not easy for some. The other thing is that I'm not sure jetting off to New Mexico to look at Earthship houses is particularly carbon footprint-friendly. All that said, I did find this gentle book, about simplifying your life, quite interesting, and Kate Humble's writing is delightful: I've already bought her book about walking, Thinking on My Feet, for my Kindle. 3.5 stars upped to 4 for the writing. 

My fourth book for March was a 900 page door-stopper of a book, The Mad Ship by Robin Hobb. This is book two in her 'Liveship Traders' fantasy trilogy: I reread book one last month.

Not sure how to make this spoiler free, it being a second book in a trilogy. Basically this continues all of the stories featured in book one, Ship of Magic, which concentrated heavily on the doings of the Vestrits, a family of Traders based in Bingtown on The Cursed Shores. Ronica is the matriarch, when she lost her husband it was thought his live-ship, The Vivacia, would go to Althea, their youngest daughter, because she's been sailing with him for years. But it doesn't, it goes to her sister and her horrible husband, and Althea goes off to prove herself elsewhere. She's back in Bingtown in book two, for a while, patching things up with her family. The ship, meanwhile, with Althea's nephew, Wintrow, a novice monk, aboard, is having plenty of adventures of its own. And then there's Malta, Althea's neice, whose antics in book one brought her all kinds of trouble especially with the Rainwild Traders who live up river in a city in the trees where the water is so poisonous it has 'changed' these humans in some very odd ways. Very hard to describe these epic saga type books in a cohesive manner, but I can assure you they're not hard to read, in fact quite the opposite. 900 pages fair cracks along, I had it read in 8 days and loved every single page. This is very much a book about family, what people will do to protect them and also how certain members are prepared to sacrifice other members for gain or as a result of jealousy. Hobb's first connected trilogy, 'Farseer' is about Fitz, a royal bastard, and his life is all you hear about - the Liveship Traders trilogy is a sea-going romp and you get all kinds of points of view, even down to sea serpents and dragons. It's suspenseful, wierd, political, completely adventurous, one heck of a journey to be honest. And the writing is sublime. A five star read for me, no question whatsoever. I want to read book 3 very soon but think I should give myself a couple of weeks to get my breath back first!

Here's a brilliant graphic showing all of the Realm of the Elderlings books in order of pubication, which is how I'm reading them:



 So, my current read is this which is slightly less of roller-coaster ride.

Murder in the Mill-Race by E.C.R. Lorac is set in a very small, isolated village in North Devon, close to where I live as a matter of fact. A young doctor and his wife move to the village and, although friendly enough, find it ruled over by Sister Monica, the nun who runs a small orphanage. They don't like her one little bit and they're not alone... but most of the village inhabitants call the woman 'wonderful', 'a saint'. But is she? I love E.C.R. Lorac's murder mysteries, so well written and convoluted.

Anyway, I hope you're all well and finding loads of good books to read.

Wednesday 8 March 2023

A Killer Read by Erika Chase

So, I would not call myself a cosy mystery fan. When it comes to murder and mayhem I fall somewhere in the middle between cosy at one end and gritty at t'other. Authors such as Louise Penny, Elly Griffiths, Nevada Barr attract me, not too much grimness in there to disturb my equilibrium but enough to thrill me a bit. That said, occasionally I do read a cosy and occasionally I get a surprise. 


Lizzie Turner lives in Ashton Corners, Alabama, where she was born and grew up. She's a reading specialist at a local school, helping teachers and helping pupils who're struggling  to read and not interested in books. Along with Molly, an elderly lady who's connected to Lizzie by being a friend of her mother's, she decides to start a new book club in the area - The Ashton Corners Mystery Readers and Cheese Straws Society. Joining the club is Bob, a retired police chief, a lawyer friend of his, Jason, Sally-Jo, a teaching friend, several of the reluctant teen readers Lizzie's been coaching and so on. 

On the night of the first meeting at Molly's home all goes well until Molly and Lizzie suddenly realise they have an intruder. They go out into the hall and a man is there having just walked straight in. He asks to use the phone because his car has broken down. Neither of the women feel comfortable having him in the house as his behaviour is odd and this is borne out when he's killed within ten minutes of leaving - shot dead with a pistol. 

Chief of police in Ashton Corners is Mark Dreyfuss, he was Lizzie's crush at school and this makes her feel rather awkward. She has to get over it though as he's assuming a connection between the dead man and the book club, or, because it's Molly's house he came to, 'her' and the deceased. Lizzie doesn't think this is so and decides to move the investigation along by making enquiries of her own. Which of course makes her a target as she starts getting anonymous phonecalls in the middle of the night, asking her if she knows what story her journalist father was working on when he was killed years ago. And then someone starts to leave parts of a manuscript in her mailbox and the story therein reads like a memoir and is a real tragedy. What's going on? How can Lizzie and the group draw the threads of this complicated enquiry together and get some answers?

Ok, so A Killer Read  is my second book for March. I expected to love the first book and didn't, it was dull. So coming out of that I was looking for something with lots of characters of both sexes with different life experiences, different points of view and of varying ages. Real life! And I got it when I wasn't sure I would. 

How refreshing to have a main character whose love of books leads her to a career with books and young people. Her life is settled but not perfect, after her father died her mother went into a decline, neglecting Lizzie, still a child, and is now in a nursing home with dementia. The scenes where Lizzie and Molly visit are touching. So there is sadness in this book, and challenges. One of the teens Lizzie is trying to help is pregnant and clearly very afraid of something. Lizzie's male neighbour and landlord is clearly lonely, baking and looking out for her, and she realises this and is kind to him. It's nice. 

There's romance, a couple of them actually, but they don't overwhelm the main plot of the search for answers as to who the dead man was and what his connection to the town was. The dialogue is snappy and amusing, I loved all the baking going on and just the sense that these people supported each other and were trying to make life better for everyone. Uplifting, I would call the book. And I liked Lizzie and how she interacted with her friends, trying always to do her best but not always succeeding.

I gather the author, Erika Chase, is Canadian. How someone from Alabama would view the dialogue and its accuracy I wouldn't like to say. But as I'm not, I couldn't tell the difference and thought it was fine. I thought there was a decent but not strong sense of place, enough that I was content though. It did start rather slow and it wasn't until I was about a quarter of the way in that I thought, 'Oh... this is actually not bad!' I liked the mentions of other crime series, some of which I will look up, and I liked how each chapter started with a quote from a crime book by another author.

Of course, A Killer Read  being a book about books never harms and this is my fourth book for the Bookish Books Reading Challenge which is being hosted by Susan at  Bloggin' 'Bout Books. Book 2, Read and Buried, is already on my Kindle, it's set just before Christmas so that's probably when I'll read it. 

I hope you're finding some good books to read in March.

Wednesday 1 March 2023

Books read in February

It's amazing how your reading months can vary. In January I was up and down like a yo-yo, anything from 2 star reads to 5. February has been much more on an even keel, mainly 4s and certainly no 2s! 

Anyway, the books. I read 11 last month - given February is a short month that's quite surprising for me but there you go, if life actually made sense where on Earth would we be...

9. The Pavilion in the Clouds - Alexander McCall Smith

10. Midwinter Murders - Agatha Christie which I briefly spoke about in that link. 

11. Blind Descent - Nevada Barr

12. To Be Taught if Fortunate - Becky Chambers 

13. The Willows in Winter - William Horwood. Delightful sequel to The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame

14. Murder Before Evensong - The Reverand Richard Coles

15. Letters to Alice on First Reading Jane Austen - Fay Weldon. This novella length non-fiction book features letters Fay Weldon sent to her, non-existant niece, Alice, after said niece had told her she found Jane Austen 'boring'. I must admit I thought Alice was a real person, but she's not, so it's a bit confusing. Regardless, I enjoyed these essays on Jane and her life, there's a lot of background on what life was like for middle and upper-class women in the early 1800s and I found it fascinating. 

16.The Nonesuch - Georgette Heyer. This was a reread of one of my favourite Regency romances by Heyer, this is probably my third reading of it but it still felt fresh and delightful.

17. Washington Black - Esi Edugyen

18. Red Sauce Brown Sauce - Felicity Cloake. Non-fiction about a journalist who cycles around the UK looking at what we Brits eat for breakfast, regional variations that kind of thing. Very enjoyable, I have another book by her where she goes to France for the same reason so I look forward to reading that. 

19. Ship of Magic - Robin Hobb. A reread of book 1 of Hobb's 'Liveship Trader' series which I read 10 years ago. I want to read book 2 and didn't think I'd remember enough about it to understand what was going on. Loved it all over again and can't wait to start on book 2 now. The review I did of The Ship of Magic, back in 2013, is HERE.

So those are my 11 books... 9 fiction, 2 non-fiction. There was one 3 star (Washington Black), seven 4 stars, and three 5 star reads (Blind Descent by Nevada Barr, The Nonesuch by Georgette Heyer, and Ship of Magic by Robin Hobb). I mainly stayed in the UK this month but did several forays to Sri Lanka, New Mexico in the USA, and Barbados, Canada and Morroco in Washington Black. So that's not bad really. 

Favourite book? Not easy when I consider February to have been an excellent month for books, much better than January. But if pushed it would be this:

Blind Descent by Nevada Barr had me on the edge of my seat following claustrobic Anna Pigeon into the depths of the Carlsbad Caverns in New Mexico. Fantastic. Honorable mentions, well both of my 5 star rereads, but also Murder Before Evensong by Richard Coles, To Be Taught if Fortunate by Becky Chambers and The Pavilion in the Clouds by Alexander McCall Smith. 

I hope February was a good reading month for you, and that you're keeping well and staying sane in these crazy times.