Tuesday 23 May 2023

I have been reading...

This is a rundown of the books I've read recently that I don't want to do a full review of. Starting with, Queens of the Abyss: Lost Stories From the Women of the Weird, edited by Mike Ashley.

This is precisely what it says on the tin, vintage weird stories written by women. One might be forgiven for thinking that it was only men who wrote these kinds of stories that went into magazines or collections but in fact women contributed too. Authors in this anthology include Edith Nesbit, Mary E. Braddon, Frances Hodgson Burnett, Majorie Bowen, Marie Belloc Lowndes and more. As with all collections there were stand-out stories. I liked The Revelation by Mary E. Braddon which recounts the story of a chap in India who keeps seeing visions of an old school chum and goes back to England to find out what's going on. He visits the man's wife who tells him his friend is abroad for his health and not seeing anyone... Christmas in the Fog by Frances Hodgson Burnett starts with a very foggy London and the narrator tells how this fog tends to dissipate a few miles outside the city but this time it did not. It follows the traveller to Liverpool and envelopes that city too. A very eerie, atmospheric tale. The Antimacassar by Greye La Spina is set in Philadelphia and concerns a young woman working in a department store whose friend and colleague has gone missing after going to stay on a farm for her holidays. The young woman goes off to the farm to look into matters. *Very* good, this one. White Lady by Sophie Wenzel Ellis was *so* wierd dealing as it did with experiments on exotic flowers on a Carribean island. I also liked Candlelight by Lady Eleanor Smith, a story about a dinner party where everyone is in love with someone who is not their actual partner. They discover a young gypsy girl in the garden and persuade her to tell their fortunes... All in all this is a strong collection of stories, none of them less than very readable and, of course, beautifully written.

Next, I read Killers of a Certain Age by Deanna Raybourn.

So, there's a hidden network of assassins who call themselves The Museum. It was all men until Billie, Helen, Natalie and Mary Alice were recruited when they were young women and formed a sort of cell. It was found that the four of them working together  could often be more effective in certain areas than men. Fast forward forty years and the four are in their sixties and retiring. Off they go on a celebratory cruise, all expenses paid. Fantastic. Until they realise that someone from The Museum is aboard ship in disguise and come to the conclusion that they're marked women: someone wants them all dead. They go on the run. Not knowing who they can trust is their biggest problem but aging bodies don't help either. On the plus side, 'killers of a certain age' have learnt a lot in forty years and underestimating them would be a real mistake. I liked this without actually loving it. It was a fun, if slightly unlikely, romp which took me on a mad jaunt to various countries. I imagined Helen Mirren leading this disparate, motley bunch of four oap assassins, one of their partners, and a computer nerd. I didn't find characterisation to be that strong, the women blended a bit too much into one person sort of thing, not much to tell them apart. But it was fine and I did actually enjoy it.

Lastly, I read Soul Music by Terry Pratchett. 

I was in the mood for something by Terry Pratchett and this is one of the few books of his I haven't read. 'Death' is having a bit of a mid-life crisis wondering 'What it's all about?' and is it all worth it? He disappears and it's down to his grand-daughter, Susan, a teenager, to reluctantly take over for a while. She'll have to deal with the fallout from the new 'Music with Rocks in' phenomenom. A new pop group has emmerged... a troll, a dwarf, and a boy with a harp from the valleys are attracting some unfortunate attention because their new music is strangely addictive and alive somehow. This was not my favourite outing with Terry Pratchett's writing, it was slightly confusing somehow. 'But' it was still a great deal of fun with his usual trademark humour and way with words:

' Trolls disliked druids too. Any sapient species which spends a lot of time in a stationary, rock-like pose objects to any other species which drags it sixty miles on rollers and buries it up to its knees in a circle. It tends to feel it has cause for disgruntlement.'


So, my two current books are these: 

 Horse by Geraldine Brooks is a three-timeline story concerning a racehorse from the 1850s. I have no interest whatsoever in horse racing but this is a well written and engaging tale which I like an awful lot. 

And I've also just started this:

Death in August by Marco Vichi which I reserved from the library after reading about it on a blog I think. Possibly Margot's? It's set in 1960's Florence anyway, and I think I'm going to like it.

So that's me up to date with my reading and blogging. I hope you're all well and enjoying your May reading.

Sunday 14 May 2023

A couple of crime novels

A couple of crime novels to review today and they could not be more different. One is set in 1920s India the other a modern dual-timeline mystery set in the Derbyshire Peak District in the UK.

First up, The Bangalore Detective Club by Harini Nagendra.

As the title implies, this book is set in the city of Bangalore in southern India. It's the 1920s and 19 year old, Kaveri, has moved to the city after marrying Ramu Murthy, a local doctor. It's a bit of a culture shock as all Kaveri ever really wanted was to study Maths and earn a place at college, which women are now allowed to do. She is fortunate though. Ramu likes having an intelligent wife and, for the times, allows her a lot of leeway. They're at a large dinner event one evening when a man is murdered. Kaveri has witnessed quite a lot of coming and going that night and finds herself drawn into the investigation, not at all against her will. There's a large cast of characters in what I suppose is a cozy crime series. Cozy isn't always my thing but I found the depiction of 1920s Bangalore to be absolutely fascinating. The author is Indian and lives there and this 'really' shows as we gets a warts and all description of a very crowded city with a lot of  poverty. I liked Kaveri who breaks all the rules about where she can go and what she can do as the wife of a quite well to do doctor. Said husband is a great character too, a man who appreciates his intelligent wife even if she can't cook. The neighbour, Uma Aunty, who aids and abets Kaveri and teaches her to cook in exchange for reading lessons is brilliant too and there's a very rich and varied cast of other well drawn extras. I did not guess the culprit until nearly the end as the whole thing was quite complicated. I liked this a 'lot'. It's book one in a new series and book two is just out I think. I'll definitely be getting it. 

Lastly, In Bitter Chill by Sarah Ward.

It's 1978 and two eight year old girls are walking to school. A car stops and a woman offers them a lift. Rachel Jones does not want to get into the car but Sophie Jenkins is quite happy to do so, so rather than leave her friend, Rachel gets in too. She is later discovered wandering along the road by a wooded area, Sophie is never seen again. Fast forward thirty years and Rachel is now a genealogist. She goes into shock when the police approach her to tell her that Sophie's mother has committed suicide in a local hotel. The local police are suspicious enough to reopen the case of the missing girl and D.I. Sadler is put in charge along with D.S. Palmer and D.C. Connie Childs. It's thought the 1978 investigation was actually pretty thorough but is it possible something was missed? Some weeks later another body, a murder this time, and there is a connection between the two dead people. Many old wounds and secrets are about to be revealed. This was one of those 'can't leave it alone' kinds of book. Written to make you want to keep reading and reading and I did, devouring it in two sittings. The Derbyshire Peak District in winter setting doesn't do it any harm as I know the area a bit and it's quite stunning there. But as well as that, I do like a family secrets story. Mixed with a police procedural where you don't know any more than the police and it can be a heady mix. You do need to pay attention as there are a lot of characters and keeping track of them all and where they fit in is not straightforward. But it's worth the effort for this well-written book with a lot of intricate layers. Character-wise I found D.I. Sadler a bit remote and unlikeable. Connie Childs, whom the series is named after, is more fleshed out but really the person I liked the most was the grown up Rachel Jones, searching for answers using her genealogist skills, but I don't think she's actually in any more of the novels. There are four books in the series anyway and now Sarah Ward has started a new one The Mallory Dawson Crime Series, the first book of which, The Birthday Girl, sounds excellent. I think this author is well worth keeping an eye on.

Friday 5 May 2023

A couple of titles

Two titles to talk about today, first up The Library by Bella Osborne. This is my 6th. book for the Bookish Books challenge which is being hosted by Susan at Bloggin' 'Bout Books.

Tom is sixteen and lives with his father, Paul. His mother died when he was eight and his father has never fully recovered, he drinks too much and Tom has had to learn to deal with this as well as preparing for his GCSEs, and falling for Farah Shah who is in some of his classes. His problems have made him chronically shy and in order to try and connect with girls he decides that as they seem to like reading he should try too and then he might have something to talk to Farah about. So off he goes to the local library where there's a book group in progress. Seventy two year old, Maggie, is in attendance. She lives on a small holding, farming sheep, on her own since her husband died. Outside, sometime later, Maggie is mugged and Tom tries to come to her aid. Thus a friendship is struck up and Tom becomes a fixture at the library, loaded up with romance books by a well meaning librarian that he's said are for his mother, and joining the book group. He sees Farah there too but is still tongue-tied. Then news arrives that the council are considering closing the library, 'cuts' being the excuse of course. Maggie, Tom and Farah head the campaign to stop this happening but real life often has a habit of getting in the way of the best laid plans. Parts of this must sound a bit grim and in truth it was a bit heart-breaking in places. Tom is a neglected teenager, struggling to cope with his father's drinking and exams. Maggie recognises this immediately because she herself is lonely, judging each day on whether she chatted to someone on the bus or the postman stopped to talk or she saw and spoke to no one and thus the day was not a good one. She takes Tom under her wing, he helps her on the farm and in return she feeds him properly and has the company she craves. It's heart-warming and delightful to have a depiction of two such disparate characters, not only in circumstance but also age, get along well and connect. There're up and downs of course. Maggie has secrets too, that she'd rather no one found out about. Tom wants to go to uni but his father wants him to work in the local factory to bring in some money. All life is here in this gentle but realistic tale and I challenge anyone not to enjoy this unlikely friendship and celebration of Maggie's simple life so close to the land. I loved it. Bella Osborne's books are usually a little different to this I gather, being more in the romantic vein than this one. She didn't know how this departure would go down, well I fancy it's gone down well and I for one hope she has more in the bag.

My second book is 14, a science fiction horror story by Peter Clines.

Nate has a poorly paid job he hates, no prospects, no girlfriend, no nothing really. He needs cheap accommodation in LA and is told about the Kavach building which has a vacant appartment. It's cheap and seems too good to be true but he's desperate and takes it. He learns that they can't keep tennants because people find the place odd and spooky and are unnerved by it. And Nate admits there are oddities, some appartments are padlocked up and not used, light bulbs don't work, the cockroaches are luminescent green and have an extra leg... and where does their electricity come from? He meets Veek a computer geek who also lives there - she's been investigating the weirdness of the building for some time and they join forces with several others willing to share their experiences and search for answers. Well, this comes under the heading of so weird it's Dead Peculiar. I, of course, loved it. It's a slow burner. Abut 40% of the book had passed before there was any real action, before that it's small investigations and conversations and I admit I was ready for something more concrete. I wasn't expecting what I eventually got though! The tie-in with a famous author's work took me by surprise, luckily I have read him extensively so it worked for me, I'm not sure if it would be the same for anyone who had not. The horror in the story is not of the gory variety, it's more based on ideas and concepts and more similar to a story by, say, Jules Verne (he's not the author concerned).  The sci-fi element was just as strong but also of an old-fashioned variety... adventurous and a bit mad. That's probably why I liked it so much. This is book one of Clines's 'Threshold' series but the books are loosely connected I think, not necessarily having the same characters. 14 very much stands alone but I like the sound of the other books and will read on with a great deal of interest. The next book, The Fold, sounds so good. 

I shall be busy now for a few days. It's The Coronation tomorrow and then a milestone birthday on Monday, family around, that kind of thing. I hope you're all well and finding some excellent books to read. 

Monday 1 May 2023

Books read in April

I honestly have no idea where April went. We'll be halfway through the year before you know it...

Anyway, I had a particularly good reading month in April, not because of the amount of books I read, which was 10, but as regards quality... not everything was brilliant but a lot of books were very good indeed and that's a really nice thing.

27. The Wizard's Butler - Nathan Lowell

28. The Horned God, edited by Michael Wheatley 

29. Mail Obsession - Mark Mason. Non-fiction. Not reviewed but this was a delightfully quirky book about the author's trip around the UK visiting every postcode region in the country. Loads of fascinating facts about all kinds of things, and quite funny in places.

30. Bleeding Hooks - Harriet Rutland

31. The Blood Gospel - James Rollins and Rebecca Cantrell 

32.  Sorry I'm Late, I Didn't Want to Come - Jessica Pan. Non-fiction, not reviewed. The author is on a quest to get out more and make more friends because she's a 'shy introvert' and this leads to a lot of loneliness. She's unable to strike up conversations with strangers, go to parties where she doesn't know anyone, that sort of thing. As an introvert I understood but I'm not a 'shy' one, I will happily speak to anyone and have listened to more life histories from complete strangers than I've had hot dinners. Interesting book, but I did find the sections about stand-up comedy and improv. a bit tedious.

33. Winter in Paradise - Elin Hilderbrand

34.  A Scream in Soho - John G. Brandon (To be reviewed.)

35. The Library - Bella Osborne (To be reviewed.)

36. Bringing in the Sheaves: Wheat and Chaff From My Years as a Priest - The Rev. Richard Coles. The author is well known as a Radio presenter and occasional TV personality, appearing briefly on Strictly several years ago. I thought his was oddly put together until I realised it was written as a series of thoughts and meanderings about The Church of England, being a priest within that institution, religious festivals etc. but also about life in general. I found it very thoughtful, funny in places, and it made me like him even more than I did already.

So, as I said, a pretty good reading month. Seven fiction and three non-fiction books were read. These were the three standouts:

The Blood Gospel was a rollicking good supernatural adventure yarn that I absolutely devoured.

Winter in Paradise was full of family secrets with a wonderful setting in the US Virgin Islands.

The Library by Bella Osborne is a tale of how two people, an old age pensioner and a sixteen year old boy, meet and connect via the local library and books. Wonderful. 

Honorable mentions go to The Wizard's Butler, A Scream in Soho, Mail Obsession and Bringing in the Sheaves.

So, onwards and upwards into May, a month I like very much as it's not usually too hot and the spring flowers everywhere are glorious. I hope you find some excellent books to read this month.