Wednesday 27 March 2024

Thank you

I just wanted to thank everyone who left such heartfelt and touching messages in reply to my post last week about Peter passing away. I read them all and feel so blessed to know each and every one of you through our mutual passion for reading. I'm doing ok. The sense of unreality and disbelief is still quite overwhelming as is the 'empty chair' syndrome - 50 years is a long time to be with someone. But I'm getting there and I'm so lucky to have two wonderful daughters and grandchildren who are looking after me, I couldn't ask for better to be honest. I will be back, probably in a few weeks, in the meantime I hope to catch up on a few of your blog posts I've missed and start to comment again. I miss it and feel it might comfort me to get back to what I love and I know Peter, a keen reader like myself, would want that. 

Thanks again and take care, all of you. xxx

Thursday 21 March 2024

Personal news

I'm sure some of you have noticed that I have suddenly disappeared and am not around commenting on posts or posting myself. The reason for this is that my husband, Peter, died suddenly of a heart attack on Sunday evening. Although he did have plenty of health issues to do with his heart, lungs, diabetes etc. there was absolutely nothing to suggest this was about to happen so of course myself, my daughters and their families are in deep shock. Peter and I were married for fifty years and that's a huge chunk of your life to be with one person. He was my rock and life will never be the same again for me. Time will heal I'm sure but for a few weeks I will be away from blogging and I know you'll all understand. 

Take care, be kind to yourselves and hug your loved ones like there's no tomorrow because sometimes there isn't.

Friday 8 March 2024

Catching up

I'm waaaay behind with my reviews - nothing new there - so I'll do one of my 'quick catch-up' posts because otherwise I'm never going to be up to date, and books that deserve talking about will not get any mention at all. Which would be a shame.

First up, Murder on Liberty Bay by Dennis Shock, which is a cosy mystery book that Margot spoke about in this video. 

Lily Pine is newly widowed, her husband, Marty, died about 12 months ago. It had always been his dearest wish to open a restaurant in the Pacific North West and to that end he had actually bought a place in the town of Poulsbo on the coast of Washington State. Now Lily feels up to going there to sort things out and actually make Marty's dream come true by getting the business going. What she doesn't bargain for is finding a dead body on the premises on her first day there. Wanting to get her business going as soon as she can, Lily gets involved in the solving of the murder and also finds herself with a couple of new admirers. So this was a fun, cosy mystery in an absolutely wonderful setting - coastal, mountains behind etc. what's not to love? I'm not the biggest cosy mystery fan, preferring my murder stories with a bit more edge, but I liked this a lot with its touch of romance, interesting characters and a plot where I had no idea until the end who had done the victim in. Recommend for cosy fans.

 

Next, Breaking Creed by Alex Kava. I'm not sure where I heard about this series but feel it has to be on Lark's blog. Anyway, this is book 1 in an 8 book series and there's also a previous series about Maggie O'Dell, an FBI agent who also features heavily in Breaking Creed.

Ryder Creed is a US army veteran who owns working dogs. He and his business partner hire them out for various jobs such as searching for drugs at airports and ports or at sea. On one such trip he takes Gracie, his Jack Russell terrier, and discovers a boat with hold full of trafficked children. Not long after, he rescues a panicked 14 year old girl at an airport and gives her shelter. What's the connection? It's not long before Maggie O'Dell, a previous associate who works with the FBI, becomes involved and Ryder and his dogs are called upon to do more than search for drugs and then walk away. I 'really' liked this first book in a new to me K9 series. It's quite hard hitting. Be warned, there's quite a bit about drug mules and it's not pleasant. A cosy this is 'not'. I liked Ryder a lot, Maggie too and the dogs were great, especially Gracie. I feel this could become a very good series and felt very lucky when I popped to the library last weekend and was able to grab the next few books. Happy Camper! 

 

Lastly, not a crime book but historical fiction this time. The Last Bookshop in London by Madeline Martin was amongst several left for me by Constance from  Staircase Wit when she visited us a couple of years ago. 

Grace Bennett has moved to London from Norfolk with her friend, Viv. It's August 1939 and everyone knows another terrible war is imminent. They move in with a friend of Grace's late mother, Mrs. Weatherford, and her son, Colin who is in his early twenties and of fighting age. Viv gets her dream job working in Harrods because she fakes a letter of recommendation. Grace's mean-spirited uncle would not give her one so Mrs. Weatherford arranges a job in a bookshop her. The owner of the bookshop, Mr. Evans, doesn't really want her there but she makes the best of it and starts to bring in changes which bring new customers. And then war with Germany is declared. I wasn't sure about this one at first. It seemed rather pedestrian. But then I got sucked into Grace's life at the bookshop, her relationships, the people who find the shop, how she 'does her bit' for the war effort and so on. The book is quite strong on the devastation of the The Blitz (if you want really strong I would recommend Life After Life by Kate Atkinson or Dear Mrs. Bird by A.J. Pearce) and what it did to people. Unimaginable for those of us lucky enough not to have lived through it. It's very much a 'found family' story, which is one of my favourite 'tropes'. To be honest, this is a 3.5 book which I upgraded to 4 because it brought me to tears a couple of times, despite the writing being a tiny bit average. One for my personal challenge of reading half a dozen 'world war' books this year.

So that's it, up to date, except that I've nearly finished another book which is A Death in the Parish, book 2 in the Reverand Richard Coles' 'Cannon Clement' series. Enjoying this a lot. Hope you're well and enjoying some good books this month.


Saturday 2 March 2024

Sharing a YT video. 'Why Read Fiction Books?'

If you have ten minutes to spare you could do a lot worse than spend it watching this excellent Youtube video from Rosamunde Bott at Books from my Bookshelf. In it she explains, very eloquently, why we should all read fiction, the joys and the benefits and what people who don't read it are missing out on. Beautifully put. 


Friday 1 March 2024

Books read in February

Just about everyone is wondering where February went... not just the old and knackered, like me, 'everyone'. Perhaps time really is speeding up (or I read too much speculative fiction...)

Anyway. Books read in February numbered nine and these are they.

9. The Christie Curse - Victoria Abbott

10. Maiden Voyages - Sian Evans

11. Murder at the Spring Ball - Benedict Brown 

12. Dr. Thorne - Anthony Trollope

13. Northbridge Rectory - Angela Thirkell 

14. The Grand Tour - Agatha Christie.  An enjoyable recounting of the famous author's voyage around the world in 1922 to advertise the upcoming British Empire Exhibition of 1924. Interesting, but not quite as fascinating as I had hoped. Come, Tell Me How You Live and her autobiography are much better examples of her non-fiction writing in my opinion. Mind, the book is based on her letters back to her family so you perhaps wouldn't expect the same kind of writing you get in her books.

15. The Lure of Atlantis: Strange Tales of the Sunken Continent, edited by Michael Wheatley. To be reviewed. Not bad, some good stories and some average ones, as is the norm with short story collections.

16. Murder on Liberty Bay - Dennis Shock. To be reviewed, a fun, cozy mystery novella, set in Washington State and recommended by Margot Kinberg HERE.

17. Breaking Creed - Alex Kava. To be reviewed but it was 'really' good, one of a number of K9 mystery series that are prevalent at the moment. Grabbing books two and three from the library when I can.

So, quite a good reading month. Seven fiction titles, two non-fiction. There was some old-fashioned English village and stately home reading (three books) but other than that I've been right around the world and back again on boats and visited three US states - Florida, Washington state and New York state. Plus, had a good ole poke around looking for Atlantis. Can't ask for more than that. 

So much so that I can't name a favourite book this month. Just a couple were not as good as I was hoping but all the rest were top-notch. 

Current reads are these two:



Both of which are 'dip in and out of' books being slowly read on my KF. I'm really at that 'choose a new book' stage and that comes with my usual dithering and prevaricating. Too much choice. 

I hope you all find lots of brilliant books to read in March and are keeping well.


Wednesday 21 February 2024

A few short reviews

Time for several short reviews to get myself caught up.

First up, Murder at the Spring Ball by Benedict Brown.

It's 1925 and Lord Edgington is a retired police detective aged 76. He lost his wife ten years ago and for that ten years he's been frozen  in time rather - a recluse in a huge mansion of a house. Waking up from this self-induced coma he decides on a magnificent ball such as the hall used to host in the old days. What he doesn't bargain for is for his sister to keel over, dead, poisoned by the champagne she couldn't wait to sample before everyone else. It's clear someone is after killing the whole family off. Lord Edgington, feeling the actual police are incompetent, sets about solving the murder himself along with the help of his teenage grandson, Christopher. This was huge fun and if you enjoy a country-house murder mystery you might like this. Lord Edgingtom is a bit autocratic but very clever and I like how he takes Christopher under his wing, believing in him when no else has time for the boy. There's a nice sense of a country mansion and a load of grasping, not very pleasant relatives, all with their own secrets of course. I'll definitely be reading on in this series as book 2, A Body at a Boarding School, is, as the title suggests, a 'school' mystery and I'm always up for one of those. 

Next, a classic, Dr. Thorne by Anthony Trollope which is the third book in his Chronicles of Barsetshire series.

Mary Thorne is Dr. Thorne's illegitimate neice and she's lived with him most of her life. Her father was the doctor's brother, Henry, her mother, Mary Scatcherd, from a rough family in the local town. Henry was not much good, and ended up being accidently killed by Mary Scatcherd's brother who went to prison for his crime. Dr. Thorne persuaded Mary to leave the baby with him and go off to America with her fiancĂ© who wanted Mary, but not someone else's baby. Fast forward 20 years and the two live in Greshamsbury and are very friendly with the local squire. Young Mary is in fact almost part of the family and very attached to two of the daughters and the eldest son, Frank Gresham, is in love with Mary Thorne. This is Not Good. Frank's father has squandered money left, right and centre and in order to save the house and the family, Frank must marry money. Mary Thorne has none. So that's the setting for what I gather Trollope felt was his best novel. I can see why, it's beautifully written, the problems and obstacles are so engrossing to read about and I loved it. Hypocrisy is very much the theme of this book, especially around money and blood. Some of these upper crust families desperately needed money so they happily married someone rich with a trade background - perhaps not 'happily' but 'needs must' sort of thing - but heaven forbid one of them wanted to marry a delightful girl from a good family but uncertain parentage and no money. And of course the one to really suffer is not the squire's family but Mary... the details of which I won't go into because of spoilers. Trollope relates the story of Mary Thorne and Frank Gresham in an extremely engaging manner, really funny in places and I loved his authorial voice breaking in occasionally to reassure or explain. Superb, and I will read more by Trollope this year, possibly the next book in the Barsetshire series, Framley Parsonage, or one of his multitude of standalone books. I'd completely forgotten what a brillaint writer he was. 

Lastly, Northbridge Rectory by Angela Thirkell.

So, this is weird because of course I knew that Angela Thirkell set her books in Trollope's fictional Barsetshire but I didn't expect to see families from Dr. Thorne still around and getting mentions in Northbridge Rectory. This is book 10 in her series and the second book which features WW2. Verena Villars is the wife of the local rector in Northbridge. They've been there a year or so and have already settled into their new home and have a lot of friends. Officers from the services are also billeted with them and then there's the vicarage staff who bring all their various trials and tribulations to Verena. This isn't a book where a lot happens, it's about people and how they interact with each other, but unlike most of Thirkell's output this one also has to cover how people coped during the war years. I think it's definitely the funniest one I've read so far. Miss Pemberton protecting Mr. Downing, her academic lodger, who writes books about Provencal troubadoors that no one reads, from other women is hilarious. Of course he gets away, but is that what he really wants? There's Mrs. Turner and her two nieces, whose home is comfortable and welcoming but sheer bedlam. And Mr. Holden, billeted with the Villars, and who has a bad crush on Verena and keeps telling her she looks tired. The vicar is of course pretty much oblivious to all of this... This is now one of my favourites from the series. Thirkell's narrative voice is so funny it reminded me slightly of The Diary of a Provincial Lady by E.M. Delafield. I wondered where Barsetshire actually was, where Trollope had in mind, and I gather it was Somerset and possibly parts of Dorset and Wiltshire and that does indeed 'feel' right... to me anyway. 

So three good books and all authors with the potential for a 'lot' more reading this year. Can't wait.

I hope your February reading is going as well as mine? 


Sunday 11 February 2024

Maiden Voyages by Sian Evans

My second 5 star non-fiction read of the year is, Maiden Voyages by Sian Evans. I didn't find this book myself, I saw it mentioned on Susan at Bloggin' 'bout Books 'Top Ten Tuesday' post for the 28th. November, '23, featuring 'books set at sea'. Being a sucker for a sea-based book I reserved it from the library and am very pleased I did.

 

Up until the middle of the 20th. century (can't believe I'm talking about when I was actually 'born') if you wanted to cross the Atlantic it was pretty certain that your method of transport would be an ocean-going liner. By that time women were an accepted part of the deal, there were stewardesses to look after the wealthy and conductresses who kept an eye on female passangers in steerage. But of course, this wasn't always so. 

It was Cunard who first started employing women to look after women onboard ship when it was realised that in Victorian times it was not appropriate for a male steward to, for instance, look after the captain's wife. And then women passengers started to cross the Atlantic in ever greater numbers. Wealthy socialites first, then women with responsible jobs such as fashion buyers for the big stores, female authors promoting their books and, most of all, an absolute stream of women in steerage, emigrating to the USA, some with their families, some alone: they all needed looking after, guidance, or protection. 

The women they took on for these stewardess type roles were often women desperate for a job. Violet Jessop, for instance, went to sea to support an ailing mother  and five siblings. The shipping company's policy was actually to employ middle-aged women who were less attractive to the male crew. Violet was unusual in that she was young and pretty. She ended up with the moniker of the 'Unsinkable Stewardess' because she not only survived the sinking of the Titanic, she survived two other maritime disasters as well.

Violet is just one of the female ocean-going crew featured in this book. Edith Sowerbutts was the very first female conductress. Anne Runcie and Mary Ann McLeod (the mother of Donald Trump) sailed the Atlantic as hairdressers and beauticians to the wealthy. Hilda James, a famous swimmer of her day, went to work on the liners as a swimming instructor. Victoria Drummond the first female sea-going engineer, saved the cargo ship Bonita from sinking when it was attacked mid-Atlantic by a German bomber in 1941 and got herself an MBE. The list is fascinating and I love the way the author tells the story of a few of these women and their experiences at sea, throughout the book.

The thing I really loved was the history recounted as it affected ocean travel. So, of course the two world wars are covered extensively. But we also hear about the sinking of the Titanic, the Lusitania in WW1, Prohibition, Edward VIII and Mrs. Simpson, GI brides. Women such as Nancy Astor, Nancy Cunard, Martha Gellhorn, Josephine Baker, Tallulah Bankhead, have their stories related in a very readable and accessible manner. Like all excellent books it has made me want to read more on some of the subjects the author touched on, and that actually includes most of the subjects and people I've listed. For me that's the sign of an excellent book.

The author suggests that millions of women's lives were profoundly changed by sea travel in the first half of the 20th. century. She illustrates that brilliantly in Maiden Voyages and I can't recommend it highly enough.

 

Monday 5 February 2024

Several crime titles

I'm behind with my crime fiction reviews - nothing new there - so this is a three-book post today, starting with A Death in Door County by Annalise Ryan.

Morgan Carter is a cryptozoologist (those who search for legendary animals like The Loch Ness Monster or Bigfoot) who lives in Wisconsin on the shores of Lake Michigan. She owns a bookstore there but it's not your usual bookshop, it also sells weird and macabre items. Morgan is enlisted to help the local police when a dead body is washed up that has some huge bite marks on it. There's always been rumours of something Nessie-like in their area of the lake and, although the police chief doesn't really believe it, he needs an expert to advise him. When a second body, likewise mutilated, turns up, the police chief has no choice but to seriously review his beliefs. So this mystery had an excellent sense of place, the lake where it joins Green Bay, known as Death's Door, the islands, cliffs, forests, beaches... beautiful. I liked the budding relationship between Jon Flanders and Morgan, and the dog, Newt, was lovely. I wish there had been more of the cryptozoologist element though because that was why I picked it up. But it seemed like not even the cryptozoologist herself took that seriously. Anyway, a good start to a new series, book two is out already, Death in the Dark Woods, and I may pick that up when the price comes down a bit. 

Next, Elephants Can Remember by Agatha Christie. 

So, this is number 42 in Christie's Hercule Poirot series but for me it was as much an Ariadne Oliver mystery as a Poirot one. She goes off to a literary lunch, which is not really her thing, but while there she's approached by an obnoxious woman whose son is engaged to a girl whose parents died in mysterious circumstances, 15 years ago. They were found dead at the top of a cliff in Devon, both shot, but the police had no idea who shot whom first and have never been able to discover the answer. The woman wants Ariadne to try to find out as the fiance is Ariadne's God daughter. At a loss, the writer enlists the help of Hercule Poirot to help her find some 'elephants' who might recall some pertinent clues as to what happened. This one has got some rather poor star ratings on Goodreads, people seem to think it's not great because Christie was approaching the end of her life when she was was writing it and maybe losing some of her faculties. Be that as it may, I still enjoyed it very much. I like Ariadne Oliver as a character anyway and always think she brings quite a lot to a Poirot mystery. I liked how, between the two of them, they eventually managed to tease the truth out of people, Ariadne using her doggedly determined questioning skills and Poirot his little grey cells. Not the best Christie I've read but still an enjoyable read.

And finally, my first book for February, The Christie Curse by Victoria Abbott.

Jordan Bingham is back in her home-town of Harrison Falls, in the north of New York state. She's looking for a job that doesn't involve living with her uncles, who she adores but who exist on the wrong side of the law a lot of the time. She answers an ad from Vera Van Alst, an elderly invalid who lives in a huge house on the outskirts of town. Vera is a serious book collector who got wind of a possible secret manuscript of a play Agatha Christie might have written during her eleven day disappearance. Jordan gets the job and sets about her search only to dicover that her predecessor died in mysterious circumstances in New York City. Then people around her start to get attacked and Jordan realises this is not the cushy number she was hoping for. So, this was a fun 'Cosy', I suppose you would call it, which is not always my thing, but this was well written and engaging with some interesting characters. I liked cranky Vera, and the uncles, and was very intrigued by the cat coming and going. Also I had no idea until the end what was going on and why. There was a very nice sense of place too, made more so by the fact that I have been to the area. All in all, a fun read and likely as not I'll read on. There are only 5 books, all concerning famous crime authors such as Dorothy L. Sayers, Rex Stout etc. The mother and daughter team seem to have written these 5 and then stopped. I always wonder 'why?' when that happens.

Anyway. I hope your February is going well, and that you're finding some good books to read.


Wednesday 31 January 2024

Books read in January

My reading year has started quite nicely. I decided I wanted to scale back a bit and read a bit less compulsively in 2024, so this winter I'm enjoying a bit of jigsaw puzzling and reacquainting myself with cryptic crosswords as well as reading books and so far it's working, apart from the fact that I don't seem to be 'buying' less books. I'm just a sucker for a book bargain, that's my problem.

So, I read eight books in January and these are they:

1.  The Awakening - Nora Roberts

2. Children of Time - Adrian Tchaikovsky

3. Nature Tales for Winter Nights ed. by Nancy Campbell. This promised more than it delivered, and annoyed me because it gave the title of the essay or short piece of fiction at the start but not the author. So you had to flick to the end of the piece to see who had written it. There were, however, one or two very nice pieces in this collection and I'm sure it would suit others more than it did me.

4. Vesper Flights - Helen MacDonald. More enjoyable nature themed essays than the previous book, beautiful writing and reflections on nature in modern life. 

5. The Casebook of Sherlock Holmes - Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. A reread brought on by watching Lucy Worsley's latest three part documentary series on the author. It was so well done and so watchable. She mentioned that this was the last collection written by Conan-Doyle and how weird it was, so of course I had to grab my copy for a reread. Very good and yes, very weird! Recommend The Adventure of the Creeping Man and the Sussex Vampire one but all are good.

6. Mudlarking - Lara Maiklem

7. A Death in Door County - Annelise Ryan (to be reviewed)

8. Elephants Can Remember - Agatha Christie (to be reviewed) 

So, five fiction books read and three non-fiction. I've mixed the fiction genres quite a bit - fantasy, sci-fi, murder mysteries and short stories. Plus three non-fictions, one of which will make my best non-fiction list of 2024. So that's not bad, is it? You can't sask for much more than that.

Two favourite books this month:


And:

So, onwards into February, and I'm currently reading these two:


 

Happy reading in February. It's our cold month in the UK and I gather there has been some mention of snow mid-month. We'll see, I have a hibernating nature in winter so that may be what my February plans are. Stay safe.


Wednesday 24 January 2024

Mudlarking by Lara Maiklem

I'm always on the look-out for readable, fun, but informative, non-fiction books to read. I was lucky last year and found quite a few, some of which I featured in my Best Non-fiction of 2023 post. I say 'lucky' but I put a lot of effort in finding just the right books that will keep me reading day after day and not bore me to tears. So far this month I've read three non-fiction books and it was when I got to the third one that I found my first 'gem'. 

 


Mudlarking: Lost and Found on the River Thames by Lara Maiklem is the author's debut book, first published in 2019. There was a bit of hype about it, I seem to recall. I saw articles on TV, thought it sounded like my kind of quirky read, and made a mental note to read it at some stage: here I am in 2024 just getting to it. Better late than never but also I'm a great believer in the idea that the appropriate book will find you when the time is right to read it. 

Lara Maiklem is not actually a born and bred Londoner, she was a farm girl drawn to London, as many people are, by the idea of the bright lights and possibilities of city life. It was years before she discovered the river, but once she did and started to see that there were things on the foreshore, washed up or stuck in the mud, that these things were often historical in nature and that the collecting of them is known as 'Mudlarking', she has not looked back.

A lot of people apparently do not know that The Thames is a tidal river. I'm not sure I did until I was in my forties and started to go to London occasionally, before that I had not given the matter any thought. The tidal head of the river is at Teddington apparently and it's also the limit of the Thames Waterman license, which is one of those iconic occupations that seems to belong to the world of Charles Dickens. In fact, mudlarking has been going on since then when it was urchins who were scouring the foreshore, looking for things to sell so they could eat. These days it's a hobby, but you need a license and that's not easy to get as the amount of people wanting to do it have rocketed and the the authorities have had to cap the numbers.

We're told that mudlarkers tend to fall into two categories, Hunters and Gatherers. By and large, men do the former, women the latter. Women stroll along the foreshore picking up what they see, men come armed with metal detectors and shovels and start digging, (although you're only allowed to dig to a certain depth: the rules are very strict). For some reason this amused me and rang true. (And reminded me of The Accidental Detectorist by Nigel Richardson, another gem of a book.)

Maiklem organises her book into chapters headed with areas of London that are on the river - Hammersmith, Vauxhall Bridge, London Bridge, Tower beach, The Pool of London, Greenwich, Tilbury, Wapping and so on. These are the areas where she searches and often finds her treasures. When I say 'treasure' I don't mean hoards of gold doubloons, although she has found a lot of coins, what I mean is artifacts that are ordinary things which historical Londoners have used or worn over the years, dating back to Roman times. It seems that city dwellers have been dumping their rubbish into the river for centuries, in fact at one stage The Thames was declared 'a dead river' because of it, but since then it's been cleaned up and fish have now returned.

I could go on and on about this book. It is a 'delight'. It's one of those books that combines an author's present day search or experiences of their subject with nuggets of historical information on the finds. So we hear about Henry VIII and his palace at Greenwich, the sewage problem Victorians faced (The Great Stink), the notorious Thames fogs, the history of the pipes used for smoking, coin production, about how a beach in front of the Tower of London was converted into a proper beach for Londoners to use, the list is endless and I loved every single chapter. It is extremely strong on atmosphere - London and its history, the river, the people who lived and worked along it - they live and breathe in this book. And like all wonderful books it's made me look at my shelves to see what else I have to read that's connected. So I have:

London Clay - Tom Chivers

Thames: Sacred River - Peter Ackroyd

Old London Bridge - Patricia Pierce

1700 - Scenes from London Life -  Maureen Waller

London Fog -  Christine L. Corton

And fiction:

Our Mutual Friend - Charles Dickens

The Port of London Murders - Josephine Bell 

So, that's just by having a cursory look at my bookshelves and Kindle. Suspect a serious search will reveal more but that's enough to last me through the year on a casual basis because that's how I'm reading this year... casually, according to my mood.  

So, Mudlarking was my first 5 star non-fiction book of 2024. I hope, hope, hope there are more to come in this vein. And if you're interested in London, British social history, rivers, books about people with a serious  quirky hobby, then I cannot recommend this fantastic book highly enough.


Thursday 11 January 2024

First books of 2024.

Unlike January 2023, 'this' year has started well as regards books. (Last year started with The Starless Sea by Erin Morgenstern and Lagoon by Nnedi Okorafar neither of which were all that great, in fact the latter got my only 2 star rating of 2023, if memory serves.)  My first book, The Awakening by Nora Roberts, was unfinished from 2023, so doesn't really feel like the first book for this year, but Children of Time does and it was an excellent book to start a new year with.

First up, The Awakening by Nora Roberts. My daughter recommended this trilogy and, although I'm not a massive fan of the author's Fey, Irish books, I'm nevertheless  willing to try almost anything. 

Breen Kelly lives in Philadelphia, sharing a flat with her gay best friend, Marco. She's a teacher who hates teaching but was rather forced into it by a domineering mother who has convinced Breen that she will never be more than 'average'. Looking after her mother's house one day, while her mother is away, Breen discovers that she has money, lots of it, left to her by her Irish father who disappeared when she was 10: her mother has kept this information from her. It is life changing of course and Breen makes the decision to go to Ireland to see if she can discover what happened to her father and also to see if she can kick-start the writing career that she's always dreamed of. So that's how the story begins. It turns into something very different of course as Breen discovers a portal into another realm and thus where her father went and the family she never knew about. I haven't read enough of Nora Roberts' Fey books, set in Ireland, to judge whether this is a good representation of them or not. (I read one, eons ago, and wasn't struck.) So, I have to judge it on its own merit as something new to me, and I did actually rather enjoy it. Yes, it was quite predictable, and I did think it got a bit bogged down in the detail of Breen's 'learning' in the middle. I also found the hero character rather abrasive but suspect his appeal is not aimed at a jaded old biddy like me. But what I loved was the setting on the west coast of Ireland. It shone like a wonderful character in its own right and oh gosh would I love a cottage like that on the shores of a bay in Ireland. Wild and woolly, Atlantic storms, what's not to love? The other realm was well depicted too and I did rather like the people she found there. So, swings and roundabouts but basically a success with me and I will read book 2, The Becoming, sometime this year, luckily my local library has it. 

So, in my mind, my first book of 2024 was Children of Time by Adrian Tchaikovsky. This is a sweeping space opera of a book which I've been meaning to read since I bought it in 2022. 

Hmm, this one's going to be difficult to describe. So, there's this planet which is being terraformed by the last of a sort of super-race from Earth, Dr. Avrana Kern. She presses the button, so to speak, releases a capsule of monkeys who carry a virus which means they will advance quickly, but there's a sabateur on her ship, all goes pear-shaped, and she has no idea whether said monkeys survive to inhabit the planet. Fast forward a couple of thousand years and her brain is inside a computer when another ship approaches. It's from Earth and is an Ark ship, carrying the remnants of the civilisation that followed Kern's. Earth is dead and thousands of people in stasis have nowhere to go, except Kern's planet. She's not having any of that for one reason or another and sends them on their way, but not before they get a glimpse of what is actually on the planet and the civilisation it's building. So, I've tried to make this spoiler free although anyone who knows of this book is probably aware of the twist. This is my first book by sci-fi writer, Adrian Tchaikovsky. His reputation goes before him so I was intrigued to read something and I was not disappointed. I'd heard that characteristaion was not his strongest point and I would say, yes, perhaps. People talk about his world building and that I would very much agree with. The beings on the planet, the world they have created: brilliant. The book is written from two perspectives, that of the people on the ship coming from Earth and that of the inhabitants of the planet. I preferred the latter but both were excellent. There were difficult decisions, ethical dilemmas, both on the ship and on the planet. It was fascinating. And the end surprised me. I gave this one 5 stars on Goodreads, if 4.5 was available it probably would've got that as I did think it wouldn't have harmed to lose a few pages. But all in all an amazing sci-fi read and as it's part one of a trilogy I'll be reading on sometime this year.

So, two very good books to start my reading for 2024. One hundred per cent better than last year. I hope you too have started your reading year well? Also that you're staying safe and well. Happy January reading.


Saturday 6 January 2024

My Life in Books 2023

I've done this 'My Life in Books' meme for several years now. Always have a lot of fun doing it, the idea being simply to answer the questions with the titles of books you read last year.

In high school I (liked): To be Taught if Fortunate - Becky Chambers

People might be surprised by: Who Killed the Curate? - Joan Coggin

I will never be:  Behind the Sequins - Shirley Ballas

My fantasy Job is: The Left-handed Booksellers of London - Garth Nix

At the end of a long day I need: The Pleasure of Reading - ed. Antonia Fraser

I hate being: Rotten to the Core - T.E. Kinsey

I wish I had: A Year of Living Simply - Kate Humble

My family reunions are: A Scream In Soho - John Brandon

At a party you’d find me (saying): I'm Sorry I'm Late, I Didn't Want to Come - Jessica Pan

I’ve never been to: The Bright Edge of the World - Eowyn Ivey

A happy day includes:  Red Sauce, Brown Sauce - Felicity Cloake

Motto I live by: Sea of Tranquility - Emily St. John Mandel

On my bucket list is: The Pavilion in the Clouds - A. McCall-Smith

In my next life, I want to have: A Ship of Magic - Robin Hobb

Would love to see other people's answers! 


Wednesday 3 January 2024

Best non-fiction, 2023.

So, just twenty two non-fiction books read last year but there were some really good books amongst those so I thought I would do a separate post to talk about a few of them.

First, I must apologise for being a bit AWOL in commenting on posts for a couple of days. I took a tumble in the kitchen and knocked my head quite badly, so took a day or two to be quiet and get over it. I'm fine now but my head still has a nice lump and I have a really impressive black eye! Not a great start to 2024. 

So, books. In 2023 I read a few less non-fiction books than other years but those I did read were excellent and very memorable. These are a few of the best:

La Vie: A Year in Rural France by John Lewis-Stempel is what it says on the tin - a recounting of the author's move to France and how he settled in, started a garden and got to know the locals in the village. The writing was 'sublime' and I absolutely loved this short little book.


The Hunt for Mount Everest by Craig Storti is a historical account of the discovery of Mount Everest. I say 'discovery'... the locals always knew it was there, obviously, but it was a bit of a myth to western explorers and even when its existance was confirmed the Dalai Llama managed to keep the world at bay for many more years. Lots of interesting political history in this one and I do love books about climbing and how it emmerged as a serious 'thing' amongst Europeans.


Jane Austen: A Life by Claire Tomalin is self explanatory. I didn't review this but that doesn't mean I didn't think it was absolutely superb. I learnt so much and want to read more biographical works about Austen and her works now. I have Lucy Worsley's book to start me off, hopefully get to that this year. 


The Accidental Detectorist by Nigel Richardson was such a fun, enjoyable read. Quirky and bonkers in places but also a lot of history and information about the various buried hoards that have been found all around the UK. Plus, you know, 'mad' people. (My favourite sort.) LOL! Highly recommended.

 

Outlandish by Nick Hunt. The authour considers the various landscape anomalies that exist in several European countries and goes to look at and experience them. I still think about this book, it was outstanding quite honestly, 'beautifully' written and so informative and full of atmosphere. Absolutely loved it and hope to read his, Walking the Woods and the Water this year. 

 

Along the Enchanted Way by William Blacker. This is another book I'm still thinking about. The author goes to live in the Maramures region of northern Romania, a region that has not changed in centuries. He's practically adopted by the community he lives with and also gets to know the local gypsy population too. I don't know when I've ever read a book with a more intense sense of place: forests, villages, wintery landscapes, it was like moving back to the middle ages. Wonderful. 

So that's just six of my favourite non-fiction books for 2023. It's a cracking year when I can pick out six superb books like this and could easily have included a handful more.

Some honorable mentions. Two books by Kate Humble, A Year of Living Simply and Home Cooked, both gorgeous. Bringing in the Sheaves by The Reverand Richard Coles charts the life of a well known TV Vicar - enjoyed it a lot. A Spoonful of Sugar by Brenda Ashford - nannying during WW2. 50 Shades of the USA by Anna McNuff - cycling across the 50 states of the USA. I could go on and on, it's been a stellar year for me for non-fiction. Let's hope 2024 is equally as good.