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.