Thursday 20 July 2023

A couple of reviews, one fantasy, one horror.

Two books to review today, an unusual fantasy involving The Fae and a horror story with a nice touch of humour.

First up, Emily Wilde's Encyclopedia of Faeries by Heather Fawcett.

The events of this book take place around 1909 to 1910. Emily Wilde is a Cambridge professor (so we're talking alt. universe here) specialising in faeries, who, in this reality, are very much real. They exist all over the world but there are different races with different ways of life and culture. Emily is utterly obsessed with them. The most secretive race of faeries are The Hidden Ones who live in Norway. Emily travels to an island off the coast of that country in order to try and find out more for their entry in the encyclopedia she's writing. It doesn't go well at first because Emily's independent and prickly nature does not encourage the villagers to be helpful. Things change when someone else joins her... Wendell Bambleby... a colleague and rival of sorts but also one of her few friends. Much to her annoyance he soon sorts out the villagers, freeing Emily to concentrate on her investigations... and get herself into heaps of trouble! So, this was a lot of fun. I adored the snowy Norwegian setting first of all. Also the academic 'feel' to the story as Emily tells us, in diary form, about various kinds of faeries and how they interact, or don't, with humans. I was reminded a bit of Marie Brennan's 'Memoirs of Lady Trent' series where Lady Trent goes about studying dragons. There's a bit of reluctant romance in the book but it's a small part and the book concentrates mainly on what happens to Emily in the frozen wastes of Norway and whether or not she finds her 'Hidden Ones'. This is to be a trilogy, the next book out next January. Can't wait. 

Lastly, The Southern Book Club's Guide to Slaying Vampires by Grady Hendrix.

The setting for this book is a village near Charleston, South Carolina in the 1980s and 90s. Patricia Campbell is married to Carter, a psychologist working in a hospital, and they have two teenage children. Also living in the house is Miss Mary, Carter's elderly and failing mother. Patricia looks after them all, pretty much unappreciated, but just gets on with it. She starts a new book club with four other refugees from another club and they read and enjoy a lot of true crime books. Their regular lives begin to change when James Harris moves into the neighbourhood. When Patricia hires Mrs. Greene to help look after Miss Mary, she discovers that children are disappearing from the black community that Mrs. Greene belongs to. By this time James has insinuated himself into her family's life and is especially close to her young son. Is the book club reading too much frightening true crime, or is there something really terrifying going on in their once safe and peaceful village? So, this one started out really quite light-hearted with a lot of comments and situations which made me laugh a lot. But I also really felt for Patricia whose husband clearly thinks she has too much time on her hands when in reality she never stops. The story slowly shifts from a narrative of 'southern moms' and their busy 'at home' lives to one of real horror. It was doubly shocking as the first few chapters were so benign. I believe Grady Hendrix is an author who is in vogue at the moment and I can see why. The writing is superb and although I don't know any southern moms it struck me that he'd got them down pat. I must emphasize that this is not a book for the faint of heart. There is real humour and real life in the story but gosh is it a scary read. And frustrating too, the husbands in this are not a pleasant lot in that they can't seem to take their wives' concerns seriously, turning this into a 'girl power' sort of book, or, more accurately, 'middle-aged moms' power'. As the author says:

"With this book I wanted to pit a man freed from all responsibilities but his appetite against women whose lives are shaped by their endless responsibilities. I wanted to pit Dracula against my mom.

As you'll see, it's not a fair fight."

I hope you're all well and finding some good books to read in July. I also hope no one is being too affected by the awful heat in places such as southern Europe and the southern USA.

Sunday 9 July 2023

I have been reading...

I just DNFed a book I was really looking forward to reading. Isn't it disappointing when that happens? I'd waited for the Kindle price to come down, grabbed it when it did, and there it sat waiting for the right moment. 'Summer' I thought (and actually it turned out to be a 'winter' sea setting, not a summer one, 'duh'). But it turned out I 'really' didn't like one half of the detective duo, couldn't seem to recall who the heck was who and didn't care about them when I did. 31% in and I just had to give it up. Sometimes you just have to do what you have to do.

On to more positive things. Two crime books I loved.

Dead Level by Damien Boyd is book 5 in his DI Nick Dixon series. This police procedural series is set here in the south west of England where I live, it covers the Bristol area, Somerset and creeps into Devon occasionally. So everything is very familiar and I really like that. This instalment starts with the brutal murder of the pregnant wife of Conservative candidate of an upcoming by-election. Is the murder politically motivated? If so, why kill the wife and not the candidate? Dixon is on suspension so another officer takes charge of the case but he sticks his oar in nevertheless because his partner is on the case. Making life difficult is that this was the year the Somerset Levels flooded, 2014: it did make for interesting reading to be reminded of all that happened that year. I gave this fives stars on Goodreads because it is very good indeed. Boyd has got into his stride with this series now, the last two were also very good. Dixon is very driven but not troubled or alcoholic and that makes a nice change. There's a lot of 'normal life' going on too, pizza in front of the telly with the dog, walking said dog on various beaches... The books are just great and this is another excellent instalment. 

Next, The Fatal Flying Affair by T.E. Kinsey.

This is book 7 of the author's Lady Hardcastle mysteries. Lady Emily Hardcastle and her companion/maid, Florence Armstrong, moved to the countryside in book 1 for a quieter life, ho ho. Murders ensued of course and now they're working for the government doing a bit of casual spying, as you do. It's 1911 and Lady Hardcastle's brother asks her to express an interest in buying an aeroplane from a company in Bristol. Not hard, as she is interested in cars, planes and so forth. There's been a death, a young man died when he jumped out of a plane testing the new fangled 'parachutes', but he shouldn't have done as they are now considered safe. Lady Hardcastle and Flo do some clandestine snooping of course and a great deal of excitement ensues. Another series I really love but in a different way. It doesn't take itself seriously, a lot of the action's a bit unlikely or completely bonkers and I'm sure two women would not've got away with what they get away with in 1911 but I'm fine with that because the dialogue is joyous as the two main characters rib each other endlessly and the brother joins in. Great stuff... I think there're 10 in the series now and I plan to read all of them. 

I've just finished a book I've been reading off and on for a year, A Truth Universally Acknowledged: 33 Reasons Why We Can't Stop Reading Jane Austen (that rolls readily off the tongue...) edited by Susannah Carson. Essays by authors such as E.M Forster, Virginia Woolf, Martin Amis, Susanna Clarke, J.B Priestley, A.S. Byatt and lots more. Very good if you're a keen Jane Austen fan, I loved reading discussions of the 6 novels or of Austen's life, lots of opinions I'd not thought of, a keeper. 

So then I DNFed the book I mentioned at the beginning, a bit disgusted but not sure whether that's with myself or the book! LOL

And now I'm reading this one:

The premise of Emily Wilde's Encyclopaedia of Fairies by Heather Fawcett is that they are real and that there all kinds of different ones around the world and there are scientists in 1924 studying them. One of them, Emily Wilde, is on an island off the northern coast of Norway looking to find out about The Hidden Ones, a race of faeries who are enigmatic, secretive and very dangerous as they're taking children. I absolutely 'love' it.

So, that's me all caught up. I hope you're keeping well and reading lots of excellent books.

Saturday 1 July 2023

Books read in June

Looking purely at the numbers it might seem I spent the entirety of June reading books. Which is not true, so how I managed to read a dozen when I'm in no way a quick reader I just don't know. I'm trying to slow down but short of picking up several 900 pagers for the month of July I can't see that happening. I think the problem is that some of June's books were so good I devoured them in a day or two. Not exactly a terrible problem though is it?

Anyway, the books:

47. Death of an Author - E.C.R. Lorac

48. A Dark Matter - Doug Johnstone

49. How to Fail - Elizabeth Day 

50. The Hunt for Mount Everest - Craig Storti

51. The Bird in the Tree - Elizabeth Goudge 

52. The Midnight Library - Matt Haig

53. The Thirteen Problems - Agatha Christie.

54. Retreat to the Spanish Sun - Jo Thomas

55. Sea of Tranquility - Emily St. John Mandel 

56.  The Burglar Who Liked to Quote Kipling - Lawrence Block. Good, solid, enjoyable crime yarn from 1979, set in New York. I had no idea how prolific Block was until I checked on Fantastic Fiction. I wouldn't mind trying some of his other series.

57. Marple - Various authors, can't see mention of an editor. This is a new collection of stories about Agatha Christie's 'Miss Marple'. While there were a few good stories in this one - the best in my opinion being Unravelled by Natalie Haynes and Murder at the Villa Rosa by Elly Griffiths - overall I found the collection to be nicely readable but not amazing. 

58. Dead Level by Damien Boyd. To be reviewed but I gave it 5 stars on Goodreads so that's how much I liked this crime yarn.

So, 12 books, 10 fiction, 2 non-fiction. I stayed mainly in the UK in June but with forays to Mount Everest, Spain and New York. Favourite books? Death of an Author by E.C.R. Lorac, A Dark Matter by Doug Johnstone, Retreat to the Spanish Sun by Jo Thomas, The Bird in the Tree by Elizabeth Goudge, The Thirteen Problems by Agatha Christie. But my overall favourite was this:

Dead Level is book 5 in Damien Boyd's 'Inspector Nick Dixon' series set in Bristol, Somerset and Devon. I think he hit his stride with book 3, Swansong, and now they're just getting better and better. I know it helps that I live in the same area but, regardless, this series is 'good'. And the series has quite a famous fan, Dana Stabenow, author of the Kate Shugak series set in Alaska.

So, we're now halfway through the year and the longest day is behind us. June flew by and I hope July does too as it's a month I don't particularly like. I hope you're all keeping well and finding some good books to read.