Still Catching Up

I’ve been missing from my blog for most of September, but I’ve still been reading. We’ve just returned from a  few days in the Lake District – such a beautiful part of the UK!

Caldbeck, Cumbria

Caldbeck, Cumbria

I managed to squeeze in some reading time as well as walking in the fells near Caldbeck and visiting the Pencil Museum in Keswick, Castlerigg Stone Circle, the Honister Pass, Ullswater and Aira Force. I’ll post some photos later on.

I took two books with me that I had already begun reading and finished one of them – Entry Island by Peter May. I’ve previously read May’s Lewis Trilogy - The Blackhouse, The Lewis Man and The Chessmen all of which I loved and whilst I did enjoy Entry Island I don’t think it quite lives up to the Lewis books. However, as I discovered when I came home this weekend Entry Island has been awarded the third annual Deanston Scottish Crime Book of the Year Award at the Bloody Scotland Crime Writing Festival.

Entry Island is set in present day Magdalen Islands, part of the province of Quebec, in the Gulf of St Lawrence, and in the nineteenth century on the Isle of Lewis at the time of the Highland Clearances.  It mixes together two stories and two genres, crime fiction and historical fiction. It has a strong sense of place in both locations and beautiful descriptions of the landscape as for example in this passage:

It was another ten minutes before the ferry slipped out of the harbour, gliding past the outer breakwater on a sea like glass, to reveal Entry Island in the far distance, stretched out on the far side of the bay, the sun only now rising above a gathering of dark morning cloud beyond it. The island drew Sime’s focus and held it there, almost trancelike, as the sun sent its reflection careening towards him, creating what was almost a halo effect around the island itself. There was something magical about it. Almost mystical. (page 14)

The characters are convincing – Detective Sime Mackenzie, based in Montreal is part of the team sent to Entry Island to investigate the death of the wealthy businessman, James Cowell found stabbed to death. His wife, Kirsty is the obvious suspect. Sime is suffering from insomnia, a situation made worse by the fact that his ex-wife is also on the investigating team. Sime is convinced that he knows Kirsty, although they have never met before and he doubts that she is the culprit. Running parallel to this crime fiction element is the historical one, linked by Sime’s ancestor, also called Sime who was a crofter’s son on the Isle of Lewis and whose love for the laird’s daughter seemed doomed from the start. The story of life on Lewis and the harsh treatment the crofters received during the potato famine, followed by the terrible conditions they endured during their transportation to Canada is powerfully and emotionally portrayed.

The two stories are linked together well, but I found the present day investigation not too convincing and rather contrived as the team seemed to jump to conclusions without much thought or thorough investigation of the evidence. And I thought that the historical element was dominant at the expense of the modern day crime story making the book a little unbalanced. However, as I said I liked the book, which is an entertaining read that held my interest to the end.

Peter May is a prolific author. He was born and brought up in Scotland, but he now lives in France. As well as The Lewis Trilogy he has also written The Enzo Files, a series of seven books featuring Scottish forensic scientist, Enzo MacLeod, who lives in France, teaches at a university in Toulouse, and is working on solving seven of France’s most famous cold cases by applying the latest scientific techniques and The China Thrillers, a series of six books featuring Beijing detective Li Yan and Margaret Campbell, forensic pathologist from Chicago. He has also had a successful career as a television writer, creator, and producer. 

I still have three other books to write about, including my first book for this year’s R.I.P. Challenge, Testament of a Witch, which like Entry Island also qualifies for the Read Scotland 2014 Challenge. Will I ever catch up with myself?

Posted in Books, Crime Fiction, Cumbria, England, Fiction, Historical Fiction, Lake District, My Kind of Mystery Challenge, Read Scotland 2014 | Tagged , , | 4 Comments

Catching Up

Half of September has gone! I’ve read 5 books and haven’t written about any of them (except for one and that’s for the Shiny New Books blog – more about that book later). The other four books are:

  1. The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt (on Kindle)
  2. Wycliffe and the House of Fear by W J Burley
  3. Testament of a Witch by Douglas Watt (on Kindle)
  4. The Moving Finger by Agatha Christie

It’s much easier to write about a book straight after I’ve read it, so today’s post is about the last book I’ve finished, which is The Moving Finger by Agatha Christie. I’ll try to nudge my brain into writing about the other books as soon as I can.

The Moving Finger is a book I’ve had for a few years now, so it’s one off my to-be-read shelves. It is described as a Miss Marple mystery, but as she doesn’t appear in the book until three-quarters of the way through and after there have been two deaths, she doesn’t have a big part, although she is instrumental in unveiling the murderer.

The story is narrated by Jerry Burton, who has recently moved into the market town of Lymstock with his sister, Joanna. His doctor had instructed him to move to the country where he can take things slowly and easily whilst he recovers from a flying accident. Lymstock seems to be a ‘peaceful backwater where nothing happens‘, but soon after the Burtons have moved in Joanna receives a very nasty anonymous poison-pen letter. They discover that other people have also received them, and soon afterwards Mrs Symmington apparently commits suicide followed by the death of her maid, Agnes, which is without doubt murder.

I liked The Moving Finger. As usual with Agatha Christie’s novels there are plenty of suspects, including Mrs Cleat, well-known as the ‘local witch’, and there are plenty of clues, with a good deal of misdirection throwing me into confusion about who could possibly be the culprit. She captures the nastiness of the anonymous letters well with their accusations of illicit sexual activities. I always think Agatha Christie excels with her dialogue. It’s all so natural and I have no difficulty following who is speaking. I was also convinced about the characters, especially Megan Hunter, Mrs Symmington’s twenty-year old daughter and her relationship with her step-father. Lymstock, itself is a place about fifty years behind the times, but by no means the ‘peaceful backwater where nothing happens‘ that Jerry Burton was seeking.

The police are eventually called in, in the person of Superintendent Nash who then requests help from an expert from London on anonymous letters – Inspector Graves. But the vicar’s wife, Mrs Dane Calthrop isn’t satisfied and brings in an expert of her own, an expert who ‘knows people‘, ‘someone who knows a great deal about wickedness‘ and that person is of course, Miss Marple.

The Moving Finger was first published in 1942 in New York and then in the United Kingdom in the spring of 1943. Along with the puzzle, Agatha Christie, speaking through her characters. makes several comments that interested me – on work/idleness for example. The local doctor’s sister, Miss Griffith, who is a Girl Guide leader, states that idleness is an unforgivable sin, and in response Jerry Burton says:

Sir Edward Grey … afterwards our foreign minister was sent down from Oxford for incorrigible idleness. The Duke of Wellington, I’ve heard, was both dull and inattentive to his books. And has it ever occurred to you, Miss Griffith, that you would probably not be able to take a good express train to London if little Georgie Stephenson had been out with his youth movement instead of lolling about, bored, in his mother’s kitchen until the curious behaviour of the kettle lid attracted the attention of his idle mind?

Another example – considering whether Providence/the Almighty/God would permit dreadful things to happen ‘to awaken us to a sense of our own shortcomings‘, Jerry Burton responds:

There’s too much tendency to attribute to God the evils that man does of his own free will. I might concede you the Devil. God doesn’t really need to punish us, Miss Barton. We’re so very busy punishing ourselves.

Re-reading at her detective novels, Agatha Christie wrote in her Autobiography:

I find that one I am really pleased with is The Moving Finger. It is a great test to re-read what one has written some seventeen or eighteen years later. One’s views change. Some do not stand the test of time, others do.

Posted in Agatha Christie Reading Challenge, Book Reviews, Books, Crime Fiction, Fiction, Mount TBR Challenge 2014, My Kind of Mystery Challenge, RIP Challenge | Tagged , | 6 Comments

Saturday Snapshot – Glen Etive

Here are some more photos from our recent holiday in Scotland. They are of Glen Etive in the Highlands. We drove down a little track alongside the River Etive:

River Etive P1000071until we got to Loch Etive:

Loch Etive P1000091Loch Etive is a sea loch and is part of the Rathad Mara Project to transport timber from the forests using a mobile floating pier, now derelict:

Floating Pier Loch Etive P1000090

An interpretation board by the loch side records that Glen Etive was the home of ‘Deirdre of the Sorrows‘, a first century Pictish princess who was betrothed to Conchobar, the High King of Ulster. According to Celtic tales she fled to Scotland to Glen Etive, with her lover Naoise and his two brothers, where she spent a most idyllic and peaceful time. But promised safe conduct and hospitality by Conchobar, they reluctantly leave Etive for Ireland. It ends in tragedy because Conchobar’s promise is broken, Naoise and his brothers are murdered and Deirdre according to one tale kills her self by falling from a chariot, dashing her head against a rock. In another version she simply dies of a broken heart.

Glen Etive Int Bd P1000075For more Saturday Snapshots see Melinda’s blog West Metro Mommy Reads.

 

Posted in Glen Etive, Saturday Snapshot, Scotland, Weekly Events | Tagged | 12 Comments

Agatha Christie Reading Challenge – Update

In September 2008 Kerrie at Mysteries in Paradise launched the Agatha Christie Reading Challenge to read her way through Agatha Christie’s novels, in the order in which they were written.  I joined in but decided to read the books as I come across them rather than in order of publication. There are 66 mystery and detective novels and numerous collections of short stories.

Up to now I’ve read 54 books and 4 short story collections. The list of the books I’ve read is on my Agatha Christie Reading Challenge page. Just 11 or 12 books left for me to read (plus the short stories!):

  1. 1925 – The Secret of Chimneys – I think I’ve read this one! But I can’t find a record of it or the book, so maybe I haven’t!
  2. 1930 – The Murder at the Vicarage
  3. 1931 – The Sittaford Mystery
  4. 1935 – Three Act Tragedy*
  5. 1938 – Appointment with Death
  6. 1940 – Sad Cypress
  7. 1942 – The Moving Finger*
  8. 1944 – Towards Zero*
  9. 1944 – Death Comes as an End
  10. 1945 – Sparkling Cyanide
  11. 1945 – Destination Unknown
  12. 1969 – Hallowe’en Party*

* books I own

I also have The Mouse Trap to read and some of the short story collections  - Wikipedia lists these and there are a lot! Then there are the books Agatha Christie wrote under the pseudonym of Mary Westmacott. I’ve read her Autobiography, but there is also an earlier book, Come, Tell Me How You Live under the name of Agatha Christie Mallowan.

Posted in Agatha Christie Reading Challenge, Books, Crime Fiction, Fiction | Tagged | 6 Comments

New-To-Me Books

None of these are newly published books. They are books I found in Barter Books in Alnwick yesterday. The e-book has not taken over the book world yet as Barter Books was crowded, full of people all searching for ‘real’ books!

the idiot I got two Agatha Christies – Hallowe’en Party and Three-Act Tragedy, both Poirot books. I’ve been reading my way through Agatha Christie’s books for a few years now and I think I’ve only got a few left to read.

Next in the pile is Wycliffe and the Tangled Web by W J Burley. I’ve only read a few of these Wycliffe mysteries. Maybe when I come to the end of the Agatha Christies I’ll look out for more of them as I do like them, all (I think) set in Cornwall.

Then, The Glass Room by Simon Mawer. I’ve been looking out for this book each time I go to Barter Books and yesterday my luck was in – it was there! I’ve read two other books by Mawer, both of which I enjoyed and I read about The Glass Room when it was shortlisted a few years ago for the Man Booker Prize.

And lastly, The Idiot by Fyodor Dostoevsky. I’ve been reading The Goldfinch and the main character, Theo at one point reads The Idiot, which got me thinking I’d like to read it, so it was in my mind yesterday morning. It was there on the shelf on the ‘D’ shelf, face out so I couldn’t miss it. It may be a while until I read it though – it’s another long book and no doubt full of Russian names. But I did like The Brothers Karamazov, so I’m hoping to like this one too.

Posted in Books, Fiction | 17 Comments

My Sunday Selection

I haven’t been writing many blog posts recently for a number of reasons – one being the length of some of the books I’m reading.

Donna Tartt’s The Goldfinch for example at 771 pages is not a quick read. I’m nearing the end on page 623, but even so my Kindle tells me that it will take me another 2 hours and 38 minutes to finish the book. I’m not sure I really like this feature, maybe it sounds better saying I’ve read 81%, or that I have 148 pages left to read! I began to think this book was too long ages ago, with too much description and too many minor characters, but then I come across sections that have me gripped and wanting to carry on regardless. So, I will be glad to finish it – the story could really have been over pages ago!

One of the other books I’m reading is also long at nearly 600 pages. This is non-fiction, though, and I’m deliberately taking it slowly, reading short sections most days. It’s In Our Time edited by Melvyn Bragg, which has episodes from his radio programmes – a selection from several hundred episodes broadcast over eleven years. It’s ideal for anyone, who like me, likes to read a wide variety of subjects. It covers such a wide range of subjects, such as The Field of the Cloth of Gold in 1520, programmes about Darwin, The Peasants’ Revolt in 1381 (I haven’t got to this chapter yet), programmes about the Origins of Mathematics, and Anti Matter, Shakespeare’s Language and J S Mill to mention just a few. My copy is a hardback book, which is a pleasure to read – even if a little heavy to hold, so I can’t read it in bed. I have no idea how long it will take me to finish it, but in contrast to The Goldfinch, I’ll be sorry when I reach the end.

I entered the Classics Club Spin, which gave me Gulliver’s Travels to read by the beginning of October. But, I’ve not even started it yet and can’t see myself reading it soon. I keep getting distracted by other books and wanting to read anything but Gulliver’s Travels. I’ve decided that it’s reading to ‘deadlines’ that is my problem – I don’t like it. Reading is my hobby, something I choose to do in my own time and at my own pace. I occasionally accept review books (and currently I have some still to write about), but I’ve come to the conclusion that this is not a good thing for me to do – so from now on (when I’ve completed the books I’ve accepted) I’m not going to accept any more books for the foreseeable future.

As always I keep looking at my TBRs – those books that I’ve had for a while (years for some of them) and I find myself itching to read them. So this morning whilst my Kindle was re-charging I got Wycliffe and the House of Fear down off the shelves and began that. I think it’s just starting to rain so I’m going to get back to it this afternoon (and maybe read a bit of The Goldfinch too).

Posted in Books, Crime Fiction, Fiction, Non-fiction | 13 Comments

August’s Books

In August I read/finished reading 8 books – seven fiction and one non-fiction. These are the books with links are to my posts on the books, where they exist (in the order I finished them):

The Crow Road by Iain Banks – this book is really good! I wrote about its explosive opening in this Book Beginnings post.

The Shadows in the Street by Susan Hill -this book has been on my shelves for ages, so it’s good to get it off by TBR list. It’s the fifth Simon Serrailler crime novel and I think you need to read them in order.  These books  whilst being crime fiction, concern moral and social issues. They also follow the lives of the Serrailler family, the main characters being Simon and his sister, Dr Cat Deerbon. There are two major themes in this book - prostitution and manic depression. It’s a complex book, but it is immensely readable. I really enjoyed it. (TBR)

Dark Matter: The Private Life of Sir Isaac Newton by Philip Kerr -another book off the TBR list! It’s historical crime fiction, set in 1696 when Newton was the Warden of the Royal Mint at the Tower of London. It’s very atmospheric, full of intrigue, murder, counterfeiters, plots against Roman Catholics, astronomy and alchemy. (TBR)

All Change by Elizabeth Jane Howard — the last in the Cazalet Chronicles series. A huge family saga. This book covers the years 1956-1958 – it was a treat to read.

The Reluctant Detective by Martha Ockley -this was a review book I was sent via LibraryThing. Crime fiction of the cosy-ish variety. Faith Morgan is a priest and who used to be a policewoman, a very likeable character. I want to read more of this series.

The Three Graces by Jane Wallman-Girdlestone – a bit of an unusual novel for me, but a real eye-opener about schizophrenia. Grace Hunter is the new Rector (coincidentally the second woman priest to feature in a novel I’ve read this month). But all is not well with her as her life moves away from reality.

Mortality by Christopher Hitchens – this is the only non-fiction book I read in August. It’s short and absolutely fascinating – a series of essays Hitchins wrote recording his reactions to death and his treatment for oesophageal cancer. He doesn’t spare any details. Most memorable for me are his thoughts on religion and prayer (he was an atheist).

Put On By Cunning by Ruth Rendell. This is a Chief Inspector Wexford novel. Another book I’ve had for a while, it’s a tale of great complexity, a tale of murder and conspiracy to murder. (TBR)

I really can’t decide which book I enjoyed the most!

Although I’ve joined several challenges I read what I like and if they fit into the challenge categories that is good. In August I’ve updated some of the challenges:

  • Mount TBR Reading Challenge – I read 3 TBRs.
  • Read Scotland Challenge – 3 books that fitted the categories for this challenge.
  • Historical Fiction Challenge – just one book
  • My Kind of Mystery Challenge – 4 books.
  • Reading Non-Fiction in 2014 - this is my own ‘challenge’ to record the non-fiction I read. One book.
Posted in Books | 6 Comments

The Three Graces by Jane Wallman-Girdlestone

I’ve read a couple of novels this year that deal with mental illness – The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath, which I found a bit confusing and disjointed and The Grass is Singing by Doris Lessing. My reaction to both books was that they are bleak and depressing, showing the breakdown of a personality and I struggled to read them. (See my thoughts on Doris Lessing’s book in this post.)

So, I was a bit hesitant about reading The Three Graces when I realised that it was a novel dealing with the subject of schizophrenia. I needn’t have been concerned as it is by no means a depressing novel. This is Jane Wallman-Girdlestone’s description of her book (taken from her website):

… Grace Hunter, the newly appointed Team Rector for the town, turns out to be nothing like people expect.  Nobody suspects that she has a guilty secret.  No one guesses that the local funeral director is the answer to the Rector’s prayers.  No one in their right mind would have thought that workaholic Grace was tormented by imaginary friends who dominated everything she did. 

My view:

Grace Hunter is trying to adjust to her new appointment as Team Rector, but her confusion grows as she begins to have hallucinations. It’s a remarkable book because although told in the third person at times I wasn’t sure that the people she sees were just in Grace’s head. I think it’s a very clever portrayal as the reader sees things through Grace’s eyes and mind whilst she is carrying on with everyday living and her job as Rector. Grace’s behaviour becomes reckless, at times divorced from reality. It clearly demonstrates how difficult/impossible it is for her to distinguish between what is real and what is not.

The Three Graces follows Grace’s life and to a lesser extent that of her family – husband Tom, Josh and Ros her step-children and her father-in-law, Charlie. They are all having to adjust to Tom and Grace’s marriage and the move to St Anthony’s, their third in five years. And they’re all feeling very unsettled. The dominant character in the novel is Grace; it all revolves around her and as her confusion grows it affects them all. It is an engrossing book, the writing is clear and concise, and the characters are clearly defined. It’s a well-structured novel, the tension and emotional atmosphere gradually rising and Grace’s feelings of despair and confusion and are all very evident. The book is certainly an enlightening read for me.

About the author (From Amazon):

Jane Wallman-Girdlestone was born and grew up in Tooting, South London. She began writing about her life experiences at eight. Jane taught briefly before working in theatre as a writer and director. She later worked as a Vicar and chaplain for some years before lecturing in Theology and Spirituality. Jane works with people who are on retreat offering creative and spiritual mentoring and as a counsellor.

Jane lives in the Highlands of Scotland in the UK, where she writes and paints. She is married and has three Newfoundland dogs and a cat.

The Three Graces is the second book in the Brayston series. Sausages and Trash is the first and the third, with the working title Sleight of Hand, will be published on Kindle in December. This will feature some of the characters from the first two books and I’ll be looking out for it.

Posted in Book Reviews, Books, e-books, Fiction, Read Scotland 2014 | Tagged , | 3 Comments

It’s Time for R.I.P. IX

Can you believe it? September 1st is right around the corner. And it is time to begin the 9th R.I. P. challenge hosted by Carl at Stainless Steel Droppings. It runs from 1 September right through to 31 October and involves reading from the following categories:

Mystery.
Suspense.
Thriller.
Dark Fantasy.
Gothic.
Horror.
Supernatural.

Or anything sufficiently moody that shares a kinship with the above.

And you can start today!!!

I’m going to participate in just one:

ripnineperilfirst

Peril the First:

Read four books, any length, that you feel fit (the very broad definitions) of R.I.P. literature. It could be King or Conan Doyle, Penny or Poe, Chandler or Collins, Lovecraft or Leroux…or anyone in between.

Here are some of the books I’m thinking of reading. I’m sure I have more that fit into the categories, both on the bookshelves and on my Kindle, but these came to mind first:

  • The Wasp Factory by Iain Banks
  • A Song of Stone by Iain Banks
  • The Haunted Hotel by Wilkie Collins
  • Cauldstane by Linda Gillard
  • The Yellow Wallpaper by Charlotte Perkins Gilman
  • The Brimstone Wedding by Barbara Vine
  • Testament of a Witch by Douglas Watt

Thank you so much to Carl for doing this, once more. I won’t be starting today as I’m still reading a few books and one in particular - The Goldfinch – is too long!!! But I’ll get going very soon.

Posted in Books, RIP Challenge | 17 Comments

Scottish Scenes from Our Holiday

Whilst we were on holiday this summer in and around Glencoe we visited Castle Stalker again. We first saw it nearly two years ago at the end of an afternoon as the light was fading. So this time we went in the morning and looked at it from both sides. We were staying at Kentallen near Glencoe – Castle Stalker is on the same road, the A828 between Kentallen and Oban and there is a view point behind the View Cafe. Just a short distance along the road there is another viewpoint via an old lane. This takes you down to the shore of Loch Linnhe:

Castle Stalker 1and here it is in close-up:

Castle Stalker 2When I say we ‘visited’ Castle Stalker it’s not strictly accurate as although it is open to visitors that’s only for five days a year  - and not during the time we were there.

From Castle Stalker we drove on to Oban, which as it was the holiday season was packed. But we walked up the hillside above Oban to McCaig’s Tower overlooking the town and it was much quieter there. It’s not actually a tower but a Roman style Colosseum built over a five year period from 1895 until his death in 1902 by John Stuart McCaig. It was unfinished at the time of his death. He intended it to have a roof and a central tower.

McCaig's Tower from below P1000051

Inside the tower is a garden with spectacular views over the town, the harbour and out to  the islands of KerreraLismore and Mull.

McCaig's Tower P1000034

 

Oban from McCaig's Tower P1000042

I have more photos to show another day of Glen Etive, a beautiful glen in the Central Highlands.

 Saturday Snapshot is a weekly event hosted by West Metro Mommy Reads.

Posted in Loch Linnhe, Oban, Saturday Snapshot, Scotland, Weekly Events | Tagged , | 11 Comments