Sunday 23 April 2023

Catching up

I am, as usual, a bit behind with reviews so it's time for a quick catch-up. First up, The Blood Gospel by James Rollins and Rebecca Cantrell. 

Dr. Erin Granger is an archaeologist working with a team of students on a dig in Israel. She's suddenly yanked away from that by the military to look at something that's come to light on a mountain top at Masada. It seems there's the entrance to a tomb and they need her to accompany the expedtion into the mountain to see what the tomb contains. Unfortunately, while they're down there a massive earthquake occurs, plus they're attacked by powerful forces unknown. It leaves only three of them alive, Erin herself, an American sergeant, Jordan Stone, and a priest, Father Rhun Korza. Korza admits they are down there to find a book, a gospel in fact, and that the forces who attacked them are after it too. But what is this unique gospel and why is everyone so desperate to get hold of it? And who are their enemies in this? Erin's safe, scientific world is about to be turned right on its head by the discoveries she's about to make. Well now, I think this is the first James Rollins book I've read. And as it's co-authored by Rebecca Cantrell I've no idea how typical this is of his work. I thought he wrote adventure books with a touch of the supernatural, I didn't know he wrote this kind of religion based horror novel. It was actually quite nice to be 'so' surprised by a book! 'But' I think some people would not like this one as a huge suspension of disbelief is paramount to enjoyment. There's a strong Roman Catholic background to the story, much speculation, and quite a big reveal as to the character of Rhun Korza which I'm not going to spoil. It's definitely an armchair travelling kind of book. It starts in Israel, trots off to Germany, thence to Russia (more big reveals) and from there ends in the Vatican City in Rome. It should be said here that I love a good 'weird' book and this is 'so' weird. I wouldn't say the characterisation was amazing, some characters are a bit wooden, I did like Erin but then I'm a sucker for archaeologists in books. For me this was a hugely fun romp of a book which I loved. I know others might think it ridiculous and that's fine, each to their own. I gave it five stars and as it's the first in a series of three main books I'm already deciding when to read book two. 

And next, as they say, for something completely different - Winter in Paradise by Elin Hilderbrand. This is my April book for my Read Around the USA challenge which this month covers the US overseas territories of American Samoa, the North Marianna Islands, Puero Rico and the US Virgin Islands. Winter in Paradise is set mainly in the US Virgin Islands. I wanted to read something from the North Marianna Islands as I remembered Martin Clunes going there in his doc. series about Pacific Islands, and how rugged and beautiful those particular islands are, but I couldn't find a book that appealed. No matter. 

Irene Steele lives in Iowa City with her husband, Russell. They have two sons, Baker and Cash, both grown up with lives of their own, and live in a beautiful, large Victorian house which Irene has renovated herself and is very proud of. Russell is not home very much. He changed jobs some years ago and suddenly they became mega-rich... but she isn't really sure what he now does and where all the money comes from. When she gets a phone call telling her that Russ has died in a helicopter crash along with the pilot and an unknown woman, in the American Virgin Islands, she has no idea what to think. She was not aware Russ had ever been to these islands but when she's told he owned a huge villa there she has to do some serious readjusting of her thoughts. Irene heads to the islands along with her two sons, determined to find some answers. But some answers inevitably throw up more and more questions, especially when there's a campaign of silence among the people who have said answers... So, another book I couldn't put down. First of all I will say that I wasn't mad about Irene or her sons. I found them tricky to identify with but I'm a sucker for the 'husband with a secret other life' trope. Probably because it's a mystery and secrets are involved and I love a slow reveal of the truth, especially if it's quite shocking. It was also interesting to watch the family integrate into the island, getting to know the people Russ knew, the house where he lived, but also strive to keep their own secrets from each other. As to the American Virgin Islands, I knew they were in the Caribbean but not where exactly. Well the sequence goes, Cuba, Haiti and the Dominican Republic,  Puerto Rico, The American Virgin Islands, the British Virgin Islands... all in row across the Caribbean. So there you go. They sound absolutely beautiful. I gather Elin Hilderbrand has a home there and this series of books, known as the 'Paradise' trilogy, is a homage to the islands and places mentioned, even bars and restaurants, are real. So, this book could be read as a standalone but it doesn't give all the answers. There's another phonecall right at the end. And yes, I do want to know what transpires and have already bought book two. Like I said, I'm a sucker.

So two five star reads in row. That's always nice. And now I can't decide what to read next in that way that happens when you've read a couple of good books in a row, quickly, both pageturners. Neither of them were particularly intellectual or challenging, just great, fun reads and that suits me fine. 

I hope you're all keeping well, and enjoying your reading as much as me.

Sunday 16 April 2023

Bleeding Hooks by Harriet Rutland - #1940 club

So, it's the week of the 1940 Club this week, which is being hosted by Simon at Stuck in a Book and  Karen at Kaggsy's Bookish Ramblings.

Sadly, I've been a bit busy this week so reading more than one book has not been possible. I didn't even intend to read this one, I'd chosen something else, but The Dean Street Press people put a list of 1940 books on their twitter feed and Bleeding Hooks by Harriet Rutland sounded intriguing and is only 99p, so I grabbed it for my Kindle. 


The book is set in Wales in an inn beside a lake where fishing is very popular. But it's October and the end of the season, so catches are irratic and uncertain: in the summer this is a fisherman's paradise. A motley group of people have gathered, all addicted to fishing, apart from several women who are sisters or sweethearts of the men. One other woman, middle-aged Mrs. Mumsby, is something else entirely. She claims to be an ardent fishing fan too but the others suspect she's not and that the only thing she wants to catch is a new man. They make her a figure of fun, she's despised by all to be honest, and doesn't help matters by flirting with all the men and making them feel uncomfortable.

Thus, it's no surprise when she dies by the side of the lake. It's an odd death... she's found with a salmon fly embedded in her hand and at first it's thought she died of the shock. But a few people are not happy. Among them an engaged couple 'Pussy' Partridge and 'Piggy' Gunn. Both suspect foul play but it's not until they come across another of the group, Mr. Winkley, examining the crime scene at night, that they realise they're not alone in their suspicions. Winkley works at Scotland Yard and is ideally placed to help them investigate. Everyone thinks Mrs. Mumsby's death is an accident but why would she have been messing around with a salmon fly when the salmon season is over?

Harriet Rutland was the pen name of Olive Shimwell. She wrote three books, Knock, Murderer, Knock!, Bleeding Hooks and Blue Murder. The first two have Mr. Winkley as the detective, but possibly not the third. From reading a couple of reviews on Amazon and Goodreads it appears Bleeding Hooks is the least poular of the three. I can see why. Partly, it's because I don't fish so a lot of the terminolgy was lost on me. But also there were a lot of characters and I struggled a bit to remember who was who and what they had done to make them suspects. It was also, in my opinion only, quite easy to guess the culprit.

A book published in 1940 is going to be 'of its time' of course. Piggy seemed to have no problem with calling herself 'stupid' or with the boyfriend doing the same. The other thing was that they weren't a particularly charming lot. I realise Mrs. Mumsby did not help herself but equally they were horrible to her. And not much better to each other really. A very odd and unpleasant lot and I kept hoping someone would knock off a few more of them... Mr. Winkley, who was investigating, could've been quite interesting I felt. He was not an actual detective with Scotland Yard, more an ideas man in an office that people went to for solutions to problems, but not a lot was made of that, which I thought was a shame.  

What was very good was the sense of place. Welsh lakes are exactly as the author described them and I loved the descriptions of the scenery and the unpredictable weather. The inn sounded gorgeous too, I would happily stay there. I wondered if it was based on Bala Lake which is a gorgeous spot in Gwynedd, Wales. There are plenty of other possibilities though as Wales is full of lakes and reservoirs.

Anyway, for me Bleeding Hooks was a solid vintage detective story, made interesting by the Welsh setting and by not being a police procedural with a traditional detective. And the fishing background was something a bit different too. For the princely sun of 99p I was quite happy.

Friday 7 April 2023

A quick catch-up before Easter

I've finished two books since my March wrap-up post. First up, The Wizard's Butler by Nathan Lowell.

Afghanistan veteran, Roger Mulligan, is desperate for a job. He applies for a position as a butler-come-carer to an elderly man, Joseph Shackleford. His neice thinks the old man has dementia because he thinks he's a wizard. And indeed he is showing signs of that horrible disease, not always knowing who people are, not remembering recent events, that kind of thing. And then a friend lets slip about an amulet and Mulligan discovers that Shackleford is indeed wearing such a necklace and is told by him in his more lucid moments that it is stealing his mind and if he takes it off he will die. Mulligan is not inclined to believe him of course... until he realises that the massive house he's living in never needs cleaning and the garden is neat and tidy without the aid of a gardener. 'Pixies', he's told. The niece has hired Mulligan for one year after which she wants her uncle in a care home with his house razed to the ground and the land sold for condos. The big problem with that plan is that Mulligan has become rather attached to the old man... So, this was a recommendation from a friend that I was very pleased to get as it was something a bit different: not your usual fantasy offering. We follow Roger quite closely as he learns how to do his new butlering job. There's a lot of detail and you might think it would be tedious, but it's not at all. The book certainly isn't 'high' fantasy, it's more based on everyday life where ordinary people don't know that there are a few people with 'talent' who can do unusual things. Sometimes the people who have a talent are not aware of it either. The setting is a big city somewhere, I don't think it was actually stated, and the house is old, old, old and quite a character in its own right. The main plot is that of the awful niece and her shenanigans but there were a lot of other things to enjoy in this first book of a new series. I look forward to book 2. I gather Nathan Lowell is known more for his sci-fi so I'll try those at some stage. 

Next, The Horned God: Weird Tales of the Great God Pan edited by Michael Wheatley.

This is another of the British Library's 'Weird Tales' collections. There're 16 contributions altogether, a mix of short stories and poems. Authors include Arthur Machen whose story The Great God Pan, from 1894, is thought to be the one all the subsequent stories sprang from. A mad scientist type opperates on a young woman's brain and the story meanders around telling what happened to various men when they married a predatory woman. It's an odd tale, very well told and I discovered it was best not to jump to conclusions. I found the rest of the collection to be a bit patchy, some good stories, some I was not as keen on, and various poems which are not really my thing. An exerpt from The Wind in the Willows, The Piper at the Gates of Dawn, was well worth a reread even though I only read it back in November. Very atmospheric. The Music on the Hill by Saki was a creepy tale along the lines of 'Be careful what you wish for'. I'd read The Story of a Panic by E.M. Forster before but it's well worth a reread this story of a group of people staying in a villa in Italy and an outing they go on to the forest. The atmosphere of oppressive heat is almost tangible. I usually like Algernon Blackwood's weird tales but I thought, A Touch of Pan was not one of his best. The Golden Bough by an unknown author to me, David H. Keller, was very good, recounting a newly wedded couple's search for a house the wife has seen in a dream. They find it eventually in the midst of a forest and what happens makes for an atmospheric, claustrophobic tale. As I said, I found this collection to be a bit mixed - the writing was never less than excellent though and it was interesting reading various authors' take on The Great God Pan.

We're having visitors for a few days over Easter so not a lot of reading will get done I suspect. I won't be choosing a new fiction book but will just meander along with these two non-fictions for a while.

Mail Obsession: A Journey Around Britain by Postcode by Mark Mason tracks the author's quest to visit all 124 postcode areas in the UK. This is perfect for anyone who loves quirky facts and I've laughed a 'lot'. 

Sorry I'm Late, I didn't Want to Come by Jessica Pan charts what happens when a shy introvert tries to get herself out of her comfort zone for a year. I've only just started this but so far it involves starting conversations with strangers (trains, buses etc.) and speaking in public to an audience. I bought this because I thought it sounded interesting and it is. I am an introvert too, but not a shy one, I have no problem talking to strangers though having to give a speech would terrify me as much as it terrifies the author. I must admit I do like this kind of psychology, non-fiction read. 

Anyway, I hope you're all well, finding lots of good books to read and if you celebrate Easter then - Happy Easter!