My Friday Post: The Glass Room by Simon Mawer

Book Beginnings ButtonEvery Friday Book Beginnings on Friday is hosted by Gillion at Rose City Reader where you can share the first sentence (or so) of the book you are reading, along with your initial thoughts about the sentence, impressions of the book, or anything else the opener inspires.

This week’s book is The Glass Room by Simon Mawer, which I’ve just begun to read. It begins:

Oh yes, we’re here.

She knew after all these years. Something about the slope of the road, the way the trajectory of the car began to curve upwards, a perception of shape and motion that, despite being unused for thirty years, was still engraved on her mind, to be reawakened by the subtle coincidence of movement and inclination.

Friday 56

Also every Friday there is The Friday 56, hosted by Freda at Freda’s Voice.

These are the rules:

  1. Grab a book, any book.
  2. Turn to page 56, or 56% on your eReader.
  3. Find any sentence (or a few, just don’t spoil it) that grabs you.
  4. Post it.
  5. Add the URL to your post in the link on Freda’s most recent Friday 56 post.

Page 56:

Her eyes were blue, so pale that they gave the curious illusion of transparency, as though you were looking through them and seeing the sky.

He fumbled for his lighter and watched as she bent towards the flame. She wore a grey cloche hat and her hair was dark and cut short, not cropped as severely as Liesel’s and her friends’, but short enough to be a statement that she was a modern woman. A Slav he fancied.

It looks from the opening sentences and the extract from page 56 that this is going to be a detailed, descriptive book. I like that.

Synopsis from Goodreads:

High on a Czechoslovak hill, the Landauer House has been built for newlyweds Viktor and Liesel Landauer, a Jew married to a gentile. But, when the storm clouds of WW2 gather, the family must flee, accompanied by Viktor’s lover and her child. But the house’s story is far from over, as it passes from hand to hand, from Czech to Russian.

This is a work of fiction, but the house in Prague is real. Mawer follows it through all of the upheavals of 20th century Czech history.

First Chapter, First Paragraph

First chapterEvery Tuesday Diane at Bibliophile by the Sea hosts First Chapter First Paragraph Tuesday Intros, where you can share the first paragraph, or a few, of a book you are reading or thinking about reading soon.

I’ve just finished A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khalid Hosseini, a wonderful, heartbreaking book but now I feel in need of something lighter and more frivolous to read. High Rising by Angela Thirkell may be that book (one of my 20 books for Summer).

Blurb:

Successful lady novelist Laura Morland and her boisterous young son Tony set off to spend Christmas at her country home in the sleepy surrounds of High Rising. But Laura’s wealthy friend and neighbour George Knox has taken on a scheming secretary whose designs on marriage to her employer threaten the delicate social fabric of the village. Can clever, practical Laura rescue George from Miss Grey’s clutches and, what’s more, help his daughter Miss Sibyl Knox to secure her longed-for engagement?

Utterly charming and very funny, High Rising is irresistible comic entertainment.

It begins:

The headmaster’s wife twisted herself round in her chair to talk to Mrs Morland, who was sitting in the row just behind her.

‘I can’t make it out,’ she said reflectively, ‘why all the big boys seem to be at the bottom of preparatory schools and the small boys at the top. All those lower boys who got prizes were quite large, average children, but when we get to the upper forms they all look about seven, and undersized at that. Look at the head of the Remove for instance – he is just coming up the platform steps now.’

On the back cover it’s described as:

Irresistibly entertaining and witty, High Rising, originally published in 1933, was the first of Angela Thirkell’s celebrated classic comedies.

What do you think? If you’ve read it did you find it irresistibly entertaining and witty?

My Friday Post: Housekeeping

Book Beginnings ButtonEvery Friday Book Beginnings on Friday is hosted by Gillion at Rose City Reader where you can share the first sentence (or so) of the book you are reading, along with your initial thoughts about the sentence, impressions of the book, or anything else the opener inspires.

This week’s book is Housekeeping by Marilynne Robinson.

It begins:

My name is Ruth. I grew up with my younger sister, Lucille, under the care of my grandmother, Mrs Sylvia Foster, and then when she died, of her sisters-in-law, Misses Lily and Nona Foster, and when they fled of her daughter, Mrs Sylvia Fisher.

Friday 56

A sad opening, I thought. Two young children passed from pillar to post.

Also every Friday there is The Friday 56, hosted by Freda at Freda’s Voice.

These are the rules:

  1. Grab a book, any book.
  2. Turn to page 56, or 56% on your eReader.
  3. Find any sentence (or a few, just don’t spoil it) that grabs you.
  4. Post it.
  5. Add the URL to your post in the link on Freda’s most recent Friday 56 post.

Page 56:

Sylvie put her hands in her pockets. “I think I should stay for a while,” she said. The aunts are too old. I think it’s best for now, at least.”

See my previous post for the synopsis.

Adding to the TBRs

As usual I am behind with writing about the books I’ve read, with four to do. I’m in the middle of writing about The Voyage Out by Virginia Woolf, but it is taking me longer than I’d hoped and I haven’t finished my post yet.

So, here’s a post about the four books I’ve added to my TBRs this week:

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Stacking The Shelves is all about sharing the books you are adding to your shelves. This means you can include ‘real’ and ‘virtual’ books (ie physical and ebooks) you’ve bought, books you’ve borrowed from friends or the library, review books, and gifts.

I’ve added one paperback and three e-books:

  • The Watchmaker of Filigree Street by Natasha Pulley. A friend recommended this book to me and I was delighted to see that it is one of the Kindle Daily Deals this morning. It’s steam-punk, a genre completely new to me! It is described as:

Utterly beguiling, The Watchmaker of Filigree Street blends historical events with dazzling flights of fancy to plunge readers into a strange and magical past, where time, destiny, genius ? and a clockwork octopus ? collide.

I hope I’ll like it as much as my friend did!

  • John Le Carré: the Biography by Adam Sisman, because I want to know more about the author of Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy; The Night Manager and his other espionage books. During the 1950s and the 1960s, he worked for the Security Service and the Secret Intelligence Service, and began writing novels under a pen name. This is the definitive biography of a major writer, described by Ian McEwan as ‘perhaps the most significant novelist of the second half of the twentieth century in Britain’.
  • Time Heals No Wounds: a Baltic Sea crime novel by Hendrick Falkenberg. This is one of the free books for Amazon Prime members in May. German author Hendrik Falkenberg studied sports management and works in sports broadcasting. The magical allure that the sea holds for him comes alive in his stories, which are set on the north German coast. His first book, Die Zeit heilt keine Wunden (Time Heals No Wounds), was a #1 Kindle bestseller in Germany and has been translated for the first time into English.
  • And lastly, HeavenAli held a draw to give away some of Virginia Woolf’s books and I’m delighted that I won Orlando in the giveaway.

Orlando tells the tale of an extraordinary individual who lives through centuries of English history, first as a man, then as a woman; of his/her encounters with queens, kings, novelists, playwrights, and poets, and of his/her struggle to find fame and immortality not through actions, but through the written word. At its heart are the life and works of Woolf’s friend and lover, Vita Sackville-West, and Knole, the historic home of the Sackvilles. But as well as being a love letter to Vita, Orlando mocks the conventions of biography and history, teases the pretensions of contemporary men of letters, and wryly examines sexual double standards.

I’m looking forward to reading these books in the coming months!

First Chapter, First Paragraph: The Silver Pigs

Every Tuesday Diane at Bibliophile by the Sea hosts First Chapter First Paragraph Tuesday Intros, where you can share the first paragraph, or a few, of a book you are reading or thinking about reading soon.

This week I’m featuring The Silver Pigs by Lindsay Davis, a book that I started reading last night. Whilst this is a new-to-me series, The Silver Pigs was first published in 1989 and there are now 20 books in the series. Lindsey Davis also writes the Favia Alba Mystery series. She has won many literary awards, and was honorary president of the Classical Association from 1997 to 1998.

It begins:

When the girl came rushing up the steps, I decided she was wearing far too many clothes.

It was late summer. Rome frizzled like a pancake on a griddleplate. People unlaced their shoes but had to keep them on; not even an elephant could cross the street unshod. People flopped on stools in shadowed doorways, bare knees apart, naked to the waist – and in the backstreets of Aventine Sector where I lived, that was just the women.

This is historical crime fiction, the first of the Marcus Didius Falco novels. Set in Rome in 70AD, Vespasian is the new Roman emperor and Falco is a private informer, or private eye. In this first book he and his partner Helena Justina rescue a young girl in trouble. He is then catapulted into a dangerous game involving stolen imperial ingots, a dark political plot and, most hazardous of all, a senator’s daughter connected to the traitors Falco has sworn to expose.

My copy has an introduction by Lindsey Davis in which she tells of how she began to write historical fiction, setting a typical private eye figure in Rome two thousand years ago. It has maps and a Dramatis Personae.

And I do like the cover.

 

First Chapter, First Paragraph

First chapterEvery Tuesday Diane at Bibliophile by the Sea hosts First Chapter First Paragraph Tuesday Intros, where you can share the first paragraph, or a few, of a book you are reading or thinking about reading soon.

One of the books I’ll be reading soon is Alive, Alive Oh! And Other Things That Matter by Diana Athill OBE. From what I’ve read so far it promises to be very interesting. Born in 1917 Diana Athill helped Andre Deutsch establish his publishing company and worked as a literary editor for many years. She is also a novelist and has published several memoirs.

Alive, Alive Oh! And Other Things That Matter begins:

‘Sometimes I sits and thinks and sometimes I just sits’: I have forgotten who it is who is supposed to have said that, but it is a good description of a state quite often observed in a retirement home, and considered pitiable. Disconcertingly, I recently realized that I myself (not very often, just now and then) might say those very words if somebody asked me what I was doing. It is not a welcome thought, but less dreadful than it might be because I now know from experience that the state is not necessarily pitiable at all. It is even pleasant – or it can be. That probably depends on the nature of the person sitting. To me it has been, because the thinking turns out to be about events in the past which were enjoyable, and when the mind relaxes itself it is those same events which float in and out of it.

Blurb:

What matters in the end? In the final years of life, which memories stand out? Writing from her retirement home in Highgate, London, as she approaches her 100th year, Diana Athill reflects on what it is like to be in her nineties, and on the moments in her life which have risen to the surface and sustain her in her later years.

She recalls in sparkling detail the exact layout of the garden of her childhood, a vast and beautiful park attached to a large house, and writes with humour, clarity and honesty about her experiences of the First and Second World Wars, and her trips to Europe as a young woman. In the remarkable title chapter, Athill describes her pregnancy at the age of forty-three, losing the baby and almost losing her life, and her gratitude on discovering that she had survived.

With vivid memories of the past mingled with candid, wise and often very funny reflections on the experience of being very old, Alive, Alive Oh! reminds us of the joy and richness to be found at every stage of life.

Teaser Tuesday newTeaser Tuesday is a weekly bookish meme, hosted by MizB of Books and a Beat. ! Just do the following:

• Grab your current read
• Open to a random page
• Share two (2) “teaser” sentences from somewhere on that page

My teaser is from page 29:

It annoys me when someone describes this country in the late 1940s and 1950s as being dreary, an opinion usually based on the continuation of rationing for some years after the war’s end. People who see it like that can’t have lived through the war. Those of us still alive who did so see it differently.

It’s a short book – just 168 pages – but she seems to have packed so much into it.

My Week in Books: 13 April 2016

This Week in Books is a weekly round-up hosted by Lypsyy Lost & Found, about what I’ve been reading Now, Then & Next.

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A similar meme,  WWW Wednesday is run by Taking on a World of Words.

Now: Currently I’m reading three books, because I like to vary my reading. So, I have a classic, a crime fiction and a non-fiction book on the go:

Blurb:

George Eliot drew on her own anguished childhood when she depicted the stormy relationship between Maggie and Tom Tulliver. Maggie’s often tormented battle to do her duty and belong on the one hand, and to be  herself, wild and natural, on the other, propels her from one crisis to another. As the Tulliver fortunes decline and fall, the rift between Maggie and her family becomes almost irreconcilable. But Maggie’s biggest mistake of all is to fall in love with Stephen Guest who is engaged to another woman.

Both a sharp and observant picture of English rural life and a profoundly convincing analysis of a woman’s psychology, The Mill on the Floss is a novel that tackles the complexities of morality versus desire.

  • Bones and Silence by Reginald Hill – a Dalziel and Pascoe crime fiction novel. It’s book 11 in the series, which I’m reading totally out of order (there are over 20 in the series) and it is really good.

Blurb:

When Detective Superintendent Andy Dalziel witnesses a bizarre murder across the street from his own back garden, he is quite sure who the culprit is. After all, he’s got to believe what he sees with his own eyes. But what exactly does he see? And is he mistaken? Peter Pascoe thinks so.

Dalziel senses the doubters around him, which only strengthens his resolve. To make matters worse, he’s being pestered by an anonymous letter-writer, threatening suicide. Worse still, Pascoe seems intent on reminding him of the fact.

Meanwhile, the effervescent Eileen Chung is directing the Mystery Plays. And who does she have in mind for God? Daziel, of course. He shouldn’t have too much difficulty acting the part…

  • L S Lowry: A Life by Shelley Rohde. Lowry is one of my favourite artists, well known for his urban paintings of industrial towns but his work covers a wide range of themes and subjects, from landscapes and seascapes to portraits. This biography is based on collections of private papers held in The Lowry, Salford Quays.
  • Then: I’ve recently finished The Bean Trees by Barbara Kingsolver, her first novel. I’ve read some of her other books –  loved The Poisonwood Bible which I’ve read a few times, and Homeland, a book of short stories, but wasn’t so taken with The Lacuna. I thoroughly enjoyed The Bean Trees – my review will follow shortly:

Blurb:

Plucky Taylor Greer grows up poor in rural Kentucky with two goals: to avoid pregnancy and to get away. She succeeds on both counts when she buys an old car and heads west. But midway across the country motherhood catches up with her when she becomes the guardian of an abandoned baby girl she calls Turtle. In Tuscon they encounter an extraordinary array of people, and with their help, Taylor builds herself and her sweet, stunned child a life.

Next: I really don’t know.

What about you? What are you reading this week?

Stacking the Shelves: 9 April 2016

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Stacking The Shelves is all about sharing the books you are adding to your shelves. This means you can include ‘real’ and ‘virtual’ books (ie physical and ebooks) you’ve bought, books you’ve borrowed from friends or the library, review books, and gifts.

I’ve borrowed three library books this week, books by authors whose books I’ve read in the past and enjoyed:

  • The Cleaner of Chartres by Salley Vickers – I borrowed this because I’ve some of Salley Vickers’ books and loved them, in particular Miss Garnet’s Angel and Mr Golightly’s Holiday and Where Three Roads Meet, so I’m hoping I’ll love this one too.

Blurb:

There is something special about the ancient cathedral of Chartres, with its mismatched spires, astonishing stained glass and strange labyrinth. And there is something special too about Agnès Morel, the mysterious woman who is to be found cleaning it each morning.

No one quite knows where she came from – not the diffident Abbé Paul, who discovered her one morning twenty years ago, sleeping in the north porch; nor lonely Professor Jones, whose chaotic existence she helps to organise; nor Philippe Nevers, whose neurotic sister and newborn child she cares for; nor even the irreverent young restorer, Alain Fleury, who works alongside her each day and whose attention she catches with her tawny eyes, her colourful clothes and elusive manner. And yet everyone she encounters would surely agree that she is subtly transforming their lives, even if they couldn’t quite say how.

But with a chance meeting in the cathedral one day, the spectre of Agnès’ past returns, provoking malicious rumours from the prejudiced Madame Beck and her gossipy companion Madame Picot. As the hearsay grows uglier, Agnès is forced to confront her history, and the mystery of her origins finally unfolds.

Blurb:

Reading Gaol’s most famous prisoner is pitted against a ruthless and fiendishly clever serial killer. ‘Intelligent, amusing and entertaining’ Alexander McCall Smith It is 1897, Dieppe. Oscar Wilde, poet, playwright, novelist, raconteur and ex-convict, has fled the country after his release from Reading Gaol. Tonight he is sharing a drink and the story of his cruel imprisonment with a mysterious stranger. He has endured a harsh regime: the treadmill, solitary confinement, censored letters, no writing materials. Yet even in the midst of such deprivation, Oscar’s astonishing detective powers remain undiminished – and when first a brutal warder and then the prison chaplain are found murdered, who else should the governor turn to for help other than Reading Gaol’s most celebrated inmate?
In this, the latest novel in his acclaimed Oscar Wilde murder mystery series, Gyles Brandreth takes us deep into the dark heart of Wilde’s cruel incarceration.

Blurb:

Charlie Howard – struggling crime-writer by day, talented thief by night – has gone straight. But holing himself up in a crumbling palazzo in Venice in an attempt to concentrate on his next novel hasn’t got rid of the itch in his fingers. And to make matters worse, a striking Italian beauty has just broken into his apartment and made off with his most prized possession, leaving a puzzling calling card in its place.

It looks as though kicking the habit of a lifetime will be much more of a challenge than Charlie thought.

Sneaking out into Venice’s maze of murky canals, Charlie’s attempts to tame a cat burglar embroil him in a plot that is far bigger and more explosive than he could ever have imagined.

We should treasure our libraries.

Stacking the Shelves: 2 April 2016

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Stacking The Shelves is all about sharing the books you are adding to your shelves. This means you can include ‘real’ and ‘virtual’ books (ie physical and ebooks) you’ve bought, books you’ve borrowed from friends or the library, review books, and gifts.

I bought three books this week.

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I loved watching The Night Manager, adapted from John le Carré’s novel, so when I went to Main Street Trading on Tuesday I hoped they would have a copy. They didn’t – but they did have Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, a book I’ve wanted to read ever since I watched the BBC adaptation many years ago (Alec Guinness was George Smiley).

Blurb:

George Smiley, who is a troubled man of infinite compassion, is also a single-mindedly ruthless adversary as a spy.

The scene which he enters is a Cold War landscape of moles and lamplighters, scalp-hunters and pavement artists, where men are turned, burned or bought for stock. Smiley’s mission is to catch a Moscow Centre mole burrowed thirty years deep into the Circus itself.

Yesterday I went shopping and passing Berrydin in Books I had to go in and, of course, I had to buy a book – well two actually. First another book that I was prompted to read by a TV adaptation in 2012 – Birdsong by Sebastian Foulks.

Blurb:

A novel of overwhelming emotional power, Birdsong is a story of love, death, sex and survival. Stephen Wraysford, a young Englishman, arrives in Amiens in northern France in 1910 to stay with the Azaire family, and falls in love with unhappily married Isabelle. But, with the world on the brink of war, the relationship falters, and Stephen volunteers to fight on the Western Front. His love for Isabelle forever engraved on his heart, he experiences the unprecedented horrors of that conflict – from which neither he nor any reader of this book can emerge unchanged.

And also Citadel by Kate Mosse, because I like time-slip books. The main story is set in 1942-44 in Nazi-occupied  Carcassonne in France and moves back in time to 342, with a monk, Arinus trying to find a hiding place for a forbidden Codex.

Blurb:

1942, Nazi-occupied France. Sandrine, a spirited and courageous nineteen-year-old, finds herself drawn into a Resistance group in Carcassonne – codenamed ‘Citadel’ – made up of ordinary women who are prepared to risk everything for what is right.

And when she meets Raoul, they discover a shared passion for the cause, for their homeland, and for each other.

But in a world where the enemy now lies in every shadow – where neighbour informs on neighbour; where friends disappear without warning and often without trace – love can demand the highest price of all…

As soon as I read some of my TBR books (6 in March) it seems I just have to find more – at least it’s only three this time.

My Week in Books: 30 March 2016

This Week in Books is a weekly round-up hosted by Lypsyy Lost & Found, about what I’ve been reading Now, Then & Next.

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A similar meme,  WWW Wednesday is run by Taking on a World of Words.

Now:  I’ve decided to concentrate on books from my to-be-read shelves and picked People of the Book by Geraldine Brooks, a book I’ve owned for nearly eight years. I can’t think why I haven’t read it before as so far I’m loving it.

Blurb:

People of the Book takes place in the aftermath of the Bosnian War, as a young book conservator arrives in Sarajevo to restore a lost treasure.

When Hannah Heath gets a call in the middle of the night in her Sydney home about a precious medieval manuscript which has been recovered from the smouldering ruins of wartorn Sarajevo, she knows she is on the brink of the experience of a lifetime. A renowned book conservator, she must now make her way to Bosnia to start work on restoring The Sarajevo Haggadah, a Jewish prayer book – to discover its secrets and piece together the story of its miraculous survival. But the trip will also set in motion a series of events that threaten to rock Hannah’s orderly life, including her encounter with Ozren Karamen, the young librarian who risked his life to save the book.

Then: I’ve recently finished Wycliffe and the Tangled Web by W J Burley, another book from my to-be-read shelves.

Blurb:

A beautiful schoolgirl goes missing from a Cornish village on the day she has told her boyfriend and sister she is pregnant. The possibility that she has been raped or murdered – or both – grows with every passing hour, and Chief Superintendent Wycliffe is brought in on the case.

The investigation reveals a complex network of family relationships and rivalries centred on the girl; and then Wycliffe finds a body – but not the one he expects. Have there been two murders? And if so, are they connected?

Wycliffe digs deeper, and soon realises that just beneath the normal, day-to-day surface of the community lies a web of hatred and resentment – a web he will have to untangle if he is to find the key to the mystery . . .

My post will follow soon.

Next: I’m reluctant to say what I’ll be reading next because I usually change my mind when the time comes. But, I shall be reading The Mill on the Floss by George Eliot for the Classics Club Spin some time in April – yet another book I’ve owned for years.

Blurb:

George Eliot drew on her own anguished childhood when she depicted the stormy relationship between Maggie and Tom Tulliver. Maggie’s often tormented battle to do her duty and belong on the one hand, and to be  herself, wild and natural, on the other, propels her from one crisis to another. As the Tulliver fortunes decline and fall, the rift between Maggie and her family becomes almost irreconcilable. But Maggie’s biggest mistake of all is to fall in love with Stephen Guest who is engaged to another woman.

Both a sharp and observant picture of English rural life and a profoundly convincing analysis of a woman’s psychology, The Mill on the Floss is a novel that tackles the complexities of morality versus desire.

What about you? What are you reading this week?

My Friday Post: Book Beginnings & The Friday 56

Friday is book excerpts day on two blogs:

Book Beginnings ButtonBook Beginnings on Fridays hosted by Rose City Reader, where bloggers share the first sentence or more of a current read, as well as initial thoughts about the sentence(s), impressions of the book, or anything else that the opening inspires.  Friday 56

The Friday 56 hosted by Freda’s Voice, where you grab a book and turn to page 56 (or 56% of an ebook), find one or more sentences (no spoilers), and post them.

I’ve just started to read Wycliffe and the Tangled Web by W. J.  Burley. It begins:

The fair girl looked out of place in a doctor’s waiting room: she seemed to glow with health.

From page 56:

‘Alice has just come down from the village; she says the police are questioning Ralph Martin again; they’ve got him in their van on the quay.

After reading a few long books I fancied something shorter – this book has just 191 pages. It’s set in Cornwall where Chief Superintendent Wycliffe is investigating the case of a schoolgirl who went missing on the day that she told her boyfriend and sister she was pregnant. As he digs deeper Wycliffe finds a web of hatred and resentment – a web he will have to untangle.

It promises to be both easy reading and a satisfying mystery. I’ve read a few of Burley’s Wycliffe books and enjoyed them.

Weekend Cooking: Easy Baking

weekend cookingBeth Fish Reads’ Weekend Cooking is open to anyone who has any kind of food-related post to share: Book reviews (novel, nonfiction), cookbook reviews, movie reviews, recipes, random thoughts, gadgets, quotations, photographs, restaurant reviews, travel information, or fun food facts.

Easy Baking is a Marks & Spencer book of recipes for Cakes, Slices & Bars, Cookies and Small Bakes, and Desserts.

I thought this little book looked too tempting to resist and one afternoon decided to make the Sticky Toffee Cake, one of my favourite cakes – and I had all the ingredients to hand. It really is an easy recipe. You need:P1010876

  • 75g sultanas
  • 150g stoned dates, chopped
  • 1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
  • 25g butter
  • 200g soft dark brown sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 200g self-raising flour, sifted

Method:

Cover sultanas, dates and bicarb with boiling water and leave to soak. Preheat oven to 180°C/350°F and grease a 7 inch/18cm square cake tin. Mix butter and sugar together, beat in the eggs and fold in the flour, drain the soaked fruits, add to the bowl and mix. Spoon mixture into the cake tin and then bake for 35 to 40 minutes or until a skewer inserted into the centre comes out clean.

P1010872The recipe also includes a sticky toffee sauce, but I didn’t have the ingredients for that – it was still delicious, sweet and moist, without it. I’ll make it next time.

There are lots more recipes I’ll try making – including Jewel-topped Madeira Cake, which is topped with sliced glacé fruits glazed with honey, Chocolate Chip and Walnut Slices, Viennese Chocolate Fingers and Manhatton Cheesecake, which looks amazing with a digestive biscuit base and topped with a blueberry sauce.

My Friday Post: Book Beginnings & The Friday 56

Friday is book excerpts day on two blogs:

Book Beginnings ButtonBook Beginnings on Fridays hosted by Rose City Reader, where bloggers share the first sentence or more of a current read, as well as initial thoughts about the sentence(s), impressions of the book, or anything else that the opening inspires.  Friday 56

The Friday 56 hosted by Freda’s Voice, where you grab a book and turn to page 56 (or 56% of an ebook), find one or more sentences (no spoilers), and post them.

I’m currently reading The Legacy of Elizabeth Pringle by Kirsty Wark. (See this post for the synopsis)

It begins with a letter dated 1 January 2006:

Holmlea, 20 Shore Road, Lamlash, Isle of Arran

Dear Mrs Morrison,

A long time ago, almost thirty-four years past, you wrote to me requesting that I contact you should I ever wish to leave my home. I knew then that I would never live anywhere else, and so there was no point in my replying to you. I have lived in this house since I was eight years old but I am what people these days describe as ‘ancient’ and somewhat frail, and although I have managed perfectly well on my own until now, I know I am not long for this world. I have told my doctor I will move to a small nursing home as I realise it will be less trouble for him, and I have finally locked up the house.

My family such as it was, is long dead. There is no one alive but me.

I am instructing my solicitor to write to you at the address on your letter. Holmlea is yours if you still wish it.

Page 54 (pages 55 and 56 are blank pages)

It was Mary who raced to Benkiln that fateful September of 1918 clutching a newspaper from France. I have read the cutting so often I know it by heart. ‘Arran gunner in brave attack on the Hun. Sergeant James Allan Pringle showed conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty during an attack north of Bray-sur-Somme on 22 August. 

My thoughts

There were several things that caught my attention when I saw this book on display in the bookshop – first of all the cover, with its delicate colours, of a young woman entering a door, then the title with its hint of a past to be revealed, and thirdly the opening letter with its offer of a house on the Isle of Arran if Mrs Morrison still wished it. It’s a poignant letter, which saddened me a little with that sentence – There is no one alive but me. 

I’ve now read just over half of the book, which tells Elizabeth’s story along with that of Martha, Mrs Morrison’s daughter. I’ve never been to Arran, an island off the north-west coast of Scotland, but Kirsty Wark’s description is making me eager to see it for myself. The book has a quiet, gentle atmosphere, which is also very compelling reading, packed with the events of both Elizabeth’s and Martha’s lives.

Bartering, Borrowing and Buying Books

This is a Stacking the Shelves post in which you can share details of the books you’ve added to your shelves, be it buying or borrowing.

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In a week that began painfully with a dentist appointment where I had to suffer water torture during my visit to the hygienist, when the weather was mostly grey and miserable and when the national and international news continued to be bad, I was cheered up by bartering, borrowing and buying books.

Bartering:

Books Feb 2016

Last Tuesday I had another visit to Barter Books in Alnwick. I always enjoy going there and never fail to find books I want to read. One of the joys of going is that you never know what you’re going to find. I like to browse the shelves, looking for books by authors I haven’t read before as well as by my favourite authors.

On Tuesday I’d gone prepared with my list of books to check out, including some of Agatha Christie’s short story collections. It’s either feast or famine at Barter Books for Christie’s books and this time there was only one book of hers, which I’ve already read.

So I decided to browse and picked up a book, which caught my eye from one of the displays at the end of a bookcase and began reading it, sitting down at one of the tables with my cup of coffee. It’s by James Naughtie, a broadcaster who used to be one of the main presenters of Radio 4’s Today programme, so not entirely unknown to me but I haven’t read any of his books before. The Madness of July is his first novel. I read a few pages whilst I sat there, finishing my coffee, and realised that although it’s not the usual sort of book I like – it’s a political/spy thriller – I was enjoying what I read and wanted to read more. So into my basket it went.

Then I went to see if any of the books on my list were on the shelves. I found two – A Place of Execution by Val McDermid and An Officer and a Gentleman by Robert Harris, both books I’d read about on other book blogs – Val McDermid’s book on Kay’s A Reading Life and the Harris book on Roberta’s Books to the Ceiling.

I’ve been meaning to read McDermid’s books for a while now and when I read the opening paragraphs and blurb of A Place of Execution on Kay’s blog, I thought it sounded a book I would like, crime fiction set in the Peak District in the early 1960s about the disappearance of children – a taut psychological suspense thriller.

I seem to be on a roll with Robert Harris’s books, having recently read the last two of his Cicero trilogy. An Officer and a Spy tells the story of the Dreyfus Affair, at the end of the 19th and beginning of the 20th centuries. Alfred Dreyfus, a French military officer convicted of spying for the Germans, was sentenced to to life imprisonment at Devil’s Island.

I continued browsing, wandering round the book cases in the different rooms and finally settled on two more crime fiction books – a W J Burley book, Wycliffe and the Quiet Virgin, set in Penzance, in which a young girl goes missing after playing the part of the Virgin Mary in the local nativity play; and The Girl in the Cellar by Patricia Wentworth, in which Miss Silver helps Anne, who has lost her memory, but who thinks she has witnessed a murder.

Borrowing:

Mitchell bks P1010863

I went to the library yesterday morning to pick up a book I’d reserved, Slade House by David Mitchell, a much shorter book than Cloud Atlas, which I eventually enjoyed very much. This one is a scary collection of novellas about Slade House between the years 1979 to 2015 in which something nasty happens every nine years at the end of October.

And then because you can’t leave the library without at least a quick look at the shelves I also borrowed Watson’s Choice by Gladys Mitchell, which I gathered from the title and the pipe and deerstalker on the cover has some connection with Sherlock Holmes. And it does because at a party given to celebrate Homes’ anniversary the Hound of the Baskervilles turns up along with the other (invited) guests.

What a coincidence that both these books are by authors named Mitchell! Gladys Mitchell (21 April 1901 – 27 July 1983) was an English author best known for her creation of Mrs. Bradley, the heroine of 66 detective novels. And David Mitchell, the author is not to be confused with David Mitchell, the comedian.

Buying:

Kindle bks P1010866

 

Earlier in the week I bought the e-book of The Queen’s Man by Sharon Penman, when it was on offer as one of the Kindle Daily Deals. It’s set in 1193 when rumours abounded that Richard the Lionheart was dead. And this morning I chose Winter Men by Jesper Bugge Kold as my Kindle First book for February, about two brothers who were both coerced into serving in the SS and their guilt after Germany’s defeat.

Impressionist Gardens

Then yesterday afternoon when I was at the village hall playing carpet bowls (there’s a bookcase of secondhand books in the hall) I bought Impressionist Gardens by Judith Bumpus, a beautiful book of Impressionist paintings, from artists including Monet, Renoir, Pissaro and Sisley. I’m hoping this will inspire my efforts at painting.

I hope some books have come your way too this week!

 

First Chapter, First Paragraph: Runaway

First chapterEvery Tuesday Diane at Bibliophile by the Sea hosts First Chapter First Paragraph Tuesday Intros, where you can share the first paragraph, or a few, of a book you are reading or thinking about reading soon.

Runaway by Peter May is one of the books I’m thinking of reading this month. I’ve read some of his other books, the Lewis Trilogy and Entry Island and thoroughly enjoyed them, real page-turners. So I’m hoping that Runaway will be just as good.

It begins with a Prologue:

London

He wakes in a cold sweat from a dream pervaded by darkness and blood. And after a lifetime of being someone else in another land, he wonders who he is now. This man, who, he knows, is fading all too soon. A life squandered for a love lost. A life that seems to have passed in the blink of an eye.

and moves on to Chapter One in 2015:

Glasgow

Jack stepped down from the bus almost at the end of Battlefield Road and raised his head towards the darkening sky with a sense of foreboding. He took in the brooding silhouette of the smoke-stained Victoria Infirmary that climbed the hill above the field of battle where Mary, Queen of Scots, was once defeated by James VI, and felt as if someone had just walked over his grave.

Now, reading this, I am keen to read on. Flicking through the book I can see that it alternates between 1965 and 2015.

The back cover reveals that in 1965, five teenage friends fled Glasgow for London to pursue their dream of musical stardom. Yet before year’s end three returned, and returned damaged. In 2015, a brutal murder forces those three men, now in their sixties, to journey back to London and finally confront the dark truth they have run from for five decades.

 What do you think?

Would you keep reading?

First Chapter, First Paragraph: Dictator

First chapterEvery Tuesday Diane at Bibliophile by the Sea hosts First Chapter First Paragraph Tuesday Intros, where you can share the first paragraph, or a few, of a book you are reading or thinking about reading soon. I’m currently reading Dictator by Robert Harris, the third in his Cicero trilogy.

Dictator

It begins:

I remember the cries of Caesar’s war-horns chasing us over the darkened fields of Latium – their yearning, keening howls, like animals on heat – and how when they stopped there was only the slither of our shoes on the icy road and the urgent panting of our breath.

It was not enough for the immortal gods that Cicero should be spat at and reviled by his fellow citizens; not enough that in the middle of the night he be driven from the hearths and altars of his family and ancestors; not enough even that as we fled from Rome on foot he should look back and see his house in flames. To all these torments they deemed it necessary to add one further refinement: that he should be forced to hear his enemy’s army striking camp on the Field of Mars.

Blurb:

‘Laws are silent in times of war.’
Cicero

There was a time when Cicero held Caesar’s life in the palm of his hand. But now Caesar is the dominant figure and Cicero’s life is in ruins. Exiled, separated from his wife and children, his possessions confiscated, his life constantly in danger, Cicero is tormented by the knowledge that he has sacrificed power for the sake of his principles.

His comeback requires wit, skill and courage – and for a brief and glorious period, the legendary orator is once more the supreme senator in Rome. But politics is never static and no statesman, however cunning, can safeguard against the ambition and corruption of others.

Riveting and tumultuous, DICTATOR encompasses some of the most epic events in human history yet is also an intimate portrait of a brilliant, flawed, frequently fearful yet ultimately brave man – a hero for his time and for ours. This is an unforgettable tour de force from a master storyteller.

————————————————

I read in The Guardian that this last part of the trilogy marks the culmination of 12 years work. The trilogy as a whole has transported me back into the first century BC when Rome was engulfed in intrigue, conspiracies and civil war as the Roman Republic began to collapse and move into dictatorship and empire.  I’m loving the whole experience. Just as when I was reading the first two books, Imperium and Lustrum, I can’t wait to get back to it each time I have to stop reading.

Stacking the Shelves: 23 January 2016

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Stacking The Shelves is all about sharing the books you are adding to your shelves. This means you can include ‘real’ and ‘virtual’ books (ie physical and ebooks) you’ve bought, books you’ve borrowed from friends or the library, review books, and gifts.

Last night I finished reading Lustrum by Robert Harris, the second in his Cicero Trilogy (the first is Imperium). It ends as Cicero goes into exile and so this morning I had to buy the third book, Dictator, which covers the last fifteen years of his life.

Dictator

There was a time when Cicero held Caesar’s life in the palm of his hand. But now Caesar is the dominant figure and Cicero’s life is in ruins. Exiled, separated from his wife and children…

I’ve also borrowed these books from the library. My summaries are adapted from the blurbs.

Library bks Jan 2016

From top to bottom they are

  • Blue Genes by Val McDermid – I was put off reading her books several years ago when I just couldn’t stomach watching the violence and torture scenes in the TV series of The Wire. This sounds a bit different as it is a Kate Brannigan mystery, set in Manchester. The back cover reveals that Kate is having a bad week – her boyfriend has died, her plan to capture a team of fraudsters is in disarray and a neo-punk band wants her to find out who’s trashing their flyposters. It delves into the world of medical experimentation – I’m hoping it won’t be too gory!
  • Hunting Season by Andrea Camilleri – I’ve read a few of his Inspector Montalbano mysteries, but this is historical crime fiction set in Vigàta in Sicily in 1880, when a young man arrives in town and opens a pharmacy – then death arrives an the town and its most noble family will never be the same again …
  • Grace and Mary by Melvyn Bragg – he is one of my favourite authors. This novel is about memory and the slow fading of the mind as John visits his mother in a nursing home and finds that most of all she is longing for her mother, Grace, the mother she barely knew. Reaching from the late 19th century to the present, this becomes a deeply moving, reflective elegy on three generations linked by a chain of love, loss, and courage.
  • No Man’s Nightingale by Ruth Rendell, another favourite author. This is the 24th Inspector Wexford novel. The woman vicar of St Peter’s Church may not be popular among the community of Kingsmarkham. But it still comes as a profound shock when she is found strangled in her vicarage. Inspector Wexford is retired, but he retains a relish for solving mysteries especially when they are as close to home as this one is.

Stacking the Shelves: 19 December 2015

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Stacking The Shelves is all about sharing the books you are adding to your shelves. This means you can include ‘real’ and ‘virtual’ books (ie physical and ebooks) you’ve bought, books you’ve borrowed from friends or the library, review books, and gifts.

I’ve added just one book to my Kindle this week:

The Big Book of Christmas Mysteries: The Most Complete Collection of Yuletide Whodunits Ever Assembled

Blurb

Here, for your yuletide reading pleasure, are the collected crimes of Christmases Past and Present: sixty classic Christmas crime stories gathered together in the largest anthology of its kind ever assembled. And its an all-star line-up: Sherlock Holmes, Brother Cadfael, Miss Marple, Hercule Poirot, Ellery Queen, Rumpole of the Bailey, Inspector Morse, Inspector Ghote, A.J. Raffles, Nero Wolfe and many, many more of the world’s favourite detectives and crime fighters face unscrupulous Santas, festive felonies, deadly puddings, and misdemeanors under the mistletoe. Almost any kind of mystery you’re in the mood for – suspense, pure detection, humour, cozy, private eye, or police procedural – can be found within these pages.

Includes stories from (many of which are difficult or nearly impossible to find anywhere else): Arthur Conan Doyle, Robert Louis Stevenson, Thomas Hardy, Isaac Asimov, Sara Paretsky, Ed McBain, Agatha Christie, Ellis Peters, Mary Higgins Clark, H.F Keating, Donald E. Westlake and John Mortimer and more.

I couldn’t resist getting it! Some of the authors are familiar to me, some I’ve heard of and some are completely new-to-me. I hope to read some before Christmas.

I’ve also borrowed two from the library this week, which I’ll probably leave until after New Year. They are:

Blurb

A promise made to a dying man leads forensics ace Enzo Macleod, a Scot who’s been teaching in France for many years, to the study which the man’s heir has preserved for nearly twenty years. The dead man left several clues there designed to reveal the killer’s identity to the man’s son, but ironically the son died soon after the father.

So begins the fourth of seven cold cases written up in a bestselling book by Parisian journalist Roger Raffin that Enzo rashly boasted he could solve (he’s been successful with the first three). It takes Enzo to a tiny island off the coast of Brittany in France, where he must confront the hostility of locals who have no desire to see the infamous murder back in the headlines. An attractive widow, a man charged but acquitted of the murder–but still the viable suspect, a crime scene frozen in time, a dangerous hell hole by the cliffs, and a collection of impenetrable messages, make this one of Enzo’s most difficult cases.

I’ve enjoyed Peter May’s Lewis Trilogy. I hope this works well as a stand alone book as it’s the fourth Enzo Macleod book and I haven’t read the first three.

And

Blurb

This charming series of Victorian murder mysteries features mild-mannered Inspector Witherspoon of Scotland Yard and, more importantly, Mrs Jeffries, his housekeeper. A policeman’s widow herself, her quick wits allow her to nudge the Inspector in the right direction to solve the crime.

When a doctor is discovered dead in his own office, Mrs Jeffries is on the look-out for a prescription for murder, determined to discover the culprit, despite how her employer feels about interviewing suspects . . . “He hated questioning people. He could never tell whether or not someone was actually lying to him, and he knew, shocking as it was, that there were some people who lied to the police on a regular basis.”

Emily Brightwell is a new-to-me author. I thought I’d see what this one is like.

Stacking the Shelves: 26 September

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Stacking The Shelves is all about sharing the books you are adding to your shelves. This means you can include ‘real’ and ‘virtual’ books (ie physical and ebooks) you’ve bought, books you’ve borrowed from friends or the library, review books, and gifts.

Here are my recent additions to my bookshelves. First crime fiction:

Blood Atonement etc P1010673

  • Murder in the Afternoon by Frances Brody – the 3rd Kate Shackleton Mystery. I’ve read the first two. Crime fiction set in the 1920s.
  • Blood Atonement by Dan Waddell – the 2nd Nigel Barnes novel. I’ve read the first one, Blood Detective. Barnes is a genealogist helping DCI Grant Foster to solve modern day crimes.
  • The Tree of Hands by Ruth Rendell – a psychological thriller. The death of a child sets in motion a chain of deception, kidnap and murder.

And also these:

Moon Tiger Gate of Angels P1010674

  • The Gate of Angels by Penelope Fitzgerald – described on the back cover as a metaphysical novel and a love story, amusing, disturbing and provoking reflection. Shortlisted for the Booker Prize in 1990.
  • Moon Tiger by Penelope Lively – 1987 Booker Prize winner – a novel about a historian in her seventies looking back over her life.

What books have you added to your shelves this week?

First Chapter, First Paragraph: The Ghosts of Altona

First chapterEvery Tuesday Diane at Bibliophile by the Sea hosts First Chapter First Paragraph Tuesday Intros, where you can share the first paragraph, or a few, of a book you are reading or thinking about reading soon.

I started reading The Ghosts of Altona by Craig Russell yesterday.

It begins:

The sky that day, he would later remember, had been the colour of pewter. When he thought back on it, that was what he would remember, the lack of colour in the sky, the lack of colour in everything. And he hadn’t noticed at the time.

Winter had been half-hearted that day.

‘So why, exactly, are we talking to this guy more than any other neighbours?’ asked Anna Wolff as she and Fabel got out of the unmarked police BMW. ‘Schalthoff has no record … never been so much as a suspect for anything and has no dodgy connections that we can find. I just don’t get why you get a vibe from him. What is it – some kind of hunch?

This book won the 2015 Bloody Scotland Crime Novel of the Year. It’s the first book by Craig Russell’s that I’ve noticed. How could I have missed the others? This is his seventh Jan Fabel book!

Blurb:

Jan Fabel is a changed man. Head of the Polizei Hamburg’s Murder Commission, Fabel has dealt with the dead for nearly two decades, but when a routine enquiry becomes a life-threatening – and life-altering – experience, he finds himself on much closer terms with death than ever before.

Fabel’s first case at the Murder Commission comes back to haunt him: Monika Krone’s body is found at last, fifteen years after she went missing. Monika – ethereally beautiful, intelligent, cruel – was the centre of a group of students obsessed with the gothic. Fabel re-opens the case. What happened that night, when Monika left a party and disappeared into thin air?

Meanwhile, Hamburg’s most dangerous serial rapist has escaped from high-security prison. Fabel is convinced he had outside help, but from whom? His suspicions that the escape is connected to the discovery of Monika’s body seem to lead to nothing when there are no sightings of the fugitive, but little can he imagine the real purpose for which this monster has been unleashed.

When men involved with Monika start turning up dead, the crime scenes full of gothic symbolism, Fabel realizes he is looking for a killer with both a hunger for vengeance and a terrifying taste for the macabre. A true gothic demon is stalking the streets of Hamburg…

I’m enjoying what I’ve read so far. What do you think – have you read any of Craig Russell’s books? Would you read on?

Stacking the Shelves: 12 September 2015

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Stacking The Shelves is all about sharing the books you are adding to your shelves. This means you can include ‘real’ and ‘virtual’ books (ie physical and ebooks) you’ve bought, books you’ve borrowed from friends or the library, review books, and gifts.

Even though I have plenty of TBR books I couldn’t resist adding a few books this week:

First on Kindle is The Moth Catcher by Ann Cleeves. This was first published this week and is the seventh and latest book in the Vera Stanhope series.  Set in a lonely valley in Northumberland, Patrick, a young ecologist is found dead in a ditch and a second body is found in the attic of the house that Patrick was looking after whilst the owners were away. I have started to read this already!

 

I’ve also downloaded In Bitter Chill by Sarah Ward. This is her debut book, published in June this year. Sarah Ward writes a blog reviewing crime fiction – Crimepieces, which I regularly read. She has also reviewed for Eurocrime and Crimesquad and is a judge for the Petrona Award for Scandinavian translated crime novels. In Bitter Chill is set in Derbyshire, where in 1978 two girls, Rachel and Sophie had gone missing. Rachel returned and when Sophie’s mother commits suicide thirty years later, she is determined to find out what had happened and the case is reopened.

Lastly, I received  a copy of The Monocled Mutineer by John Fairly and William Allison for review courtesy of the Souvenir Press Ltd. With a new introduction by John Fairly this is the 2nd revised edition of the original book first published in 1979. I remember watching the 1986 BBC dramatisation of this with Paul McGann playing the role of Percy Toplis, the leader of an army mutiny in 1917 in Étaples in northern France – a story that has remained one of the best-kept secrets of the First World War. Although Toplis was named as the ringleader of the Mutiny, there are still a host of unanswered questions about him and his role, if any.

What books have you added to your shelves this week?

My Tuesday Post: After the Fire

First chapterEvery Tuesday Diane at Bibliophile by the Sea hosts First Chapter First Paragraph Tuesday Intros, where you can share the first paragraph, or a few, of a book you are reading or thinking about reading soon.

The book I’ve chosen this week is After the Fire by Jane Casey.  I read this in June and have not got round to writing about it yet.

It begins:

There were 224 residents of Murchison House on the Maudling Estate in north London, and on a cold grey late November day  not one of them was expecting to die. Some were hoping to die. some were waiting to die. but no one actually expected to die that day.

This is the sixth book in the Maeve Kerrigan series. It stands well on it’s own, although there are references to past events and storylines that appear in the earlier books.

The Maudling Estate and some of the minor characters featured in the 5th book, The Kill.

Blurb:
After a fire rips through a North London tower block, two bodies are found locked in an 11th floor flat. But it’s the third victim that ensures the presence of detective Maeve Kerrigan and the murder squad. It appears that controversial MP Geoff Armstrong, trapped by the fire, chose to jump to his death rather than wait for rescue. But what was such a right wing politician doing in the deprived, culturally diverse Maudling Estate?
As Maeve and her senior colleague, Derwent, pick through the wreckage, they uncover the secret world of the 11th floor, where everyone seems to have something to hide…

Would you read on? I did and thoroughly enjoyed this book.

Teaser Tuesday is a weekly bookish meme, hosted by MizB of A Daily Rhythm. Anyone can play along! Just do the following:

• Grab your current read
• Open to a random page
• Share two (2) “teaser” sentences from somewhere on that page

Here’s a teaser from 32% on my Kindle (rather more than 2 sentences!):

I felt the familiar rush, the moment a shape began to emerge from the darkness that surrounded the case. A pattern. A connection. A witness and a suspect.

A killer with a face and a name.

Maybe.

Book Beginnings: The Outcast Dead

Book Beginnings ButtonEvery Friday Book Beginnings on Friday is hosted by Gillion at Rose City Reader where you can share the first sentence (or so) of the book you are reading, along with your initial thoughts about the sentence, impressions of the book, or anything else the opener inspires.

This week’s book is The Outcast Dead by Elly Griffiths, which I’m planning to read soon. It begins:

‘And we ask your abundant blessing, Lord, on these, the outcast dead.

There is a murmured response from the group gathered on the bank below the castle walls. But Ruth Galloway, standing at the back, says nothing. She is wearing the expression of polite neutrality she assumes whenever God is mentioned. This mask has stood her in good stead over the years and she sees no reason to drop it now. But she approves of the Prayers for the Outcast Dead. This brief ecumenical service is held every year for the unknown dead of Norwich: the bodies thrown into unmarked graves, the paupers, the plague victims, forgotten, unmourned, except this motley collection of archaeologists, historians and sundry hangers-on.

Friday 56Also every Friday there is The Friday 56, hosted by Freda at Freda’s Voice.

These are the rules:

  1. Grab a book, any book.
  2. Turn to page 56, or 56% on your eReader.
  3. Find any sentence (or a few, just don’t spoil it) that grabs you.
  4. Post it.
  5. Add the URL to your post in the link on Freda’s most recent Friday 56 post.

Page 56:

Ruth drinks her cold cappuccino and wonders how Cathbad always manages to make her feel so guilty. It’s not her fault that his friend’s been arrested.

Blurb:

Forensic archaeologist Ruth Galloway has excavated a body from the grounds of Norwich Castle, once a prison. The body may be that of Victorian murderess Jemima Green. Called Mother Hook for her claw-like hand, Jemima was hanged for the murder of five children.

DCI Harry Nelson has no time for long-ago killers. Investigating the case of three infants found dead, one after the other, in their King’s Lynn home, he’s convinced that their mother is responsible.

Then a child goes missing. Could the abduction be linked to the long-dead Mother Hook? Ruth is pulled into the case, and back towards Nelson.

I always enjoy the Ruth Galloway books, despite the fact that they are written in the present tense, so I’m hoping this one is just as good as the earlier books. This is the sixth in the series. (I’m behind with this series – the seventh book was published earlier this year.) They are a mix of modern day murder mysteries and archaeology, with an added element of the supernatural.

Book Beginnings: An Astronaut’s Guide to Life on Earth

Book Beginnings ButtonEvery Friday Book Beginnings on Friday is hosted by Gillion at Rose City Reader where you can share the first sentence (or so) of the book you are reading, along with your initial thoughts about the sentence, impressions of the book, or anything else the opener inspires.

This morning I have started to read An Astronaut’s Guide to Life on Earth by Chris Hadfield.

It begins with an Introduction: Mission Impossible

The windows of a spaceship casually frame miracles. Every 92 seconds, another sunrise: a layer cake that starts with orange, then a thick wedge of blue, then the richest, darkest icing decorated with stars.

Moving on to the first chapter:The Trip Takes a Lifetime

One morning a strange thought  occurs to me shortly after waking: the socks I am about to put on are the ones I’ll wear to leave Earth. That prospect feels real yet surreal, the way a particularly vivid dream does. The feeling intensifies at breakfast, when reporters jostle each other to get a good photo, as though I’m a condemned man and this is my last meal.

I first heard of this book when Chris Hadfield appeared on Sunday Brunch and then Jackie of Farm Lane Books Blog wrote about his book, which reminded me I wanted to read it.

What an amazing  experience to be looking down on Earth, seeing its entirety and beauty from a totally different perspective!

First Chapter ∼ First Paragraph: Go Set a Watchman

First chapterEvery Tuesday Diane at Bibliophile by the Sea hosts First Chapter ∼ First Paragraph Tuesday Intros, where you can share the first paragraph, or a few, of a book you are reading or thinking about reading soon.

My choice this week is Go Set a Watchman by Harper Lee which is published today. It begins:

Since Atlanta, she had looked out the dining-car window with a delight almost physical. Over her breakfast coffee, she watched the last of Georgia’s hills recede and the red earth appear, and with it tin-roofed houses set in the middle of swept yards, and in the yards the inevitable verbena grew, surrounded by whitewashed tires. She grinned when she saw her first TV antenna atop an unpainted Negro house; as they multiplied her joy rose.

Jean Louise Finch always made this journey by air, but she decided to go by train from New York to Maycomb Junction on her fifth annual trip home. For one thing, she had the life scared out of her the last time she was on a plane: the pilot had elected to fly through a tornado. For another, flying home meant her father rising at three in the morning, driving a hundred miles to meet her in Mobile, and doing a full day’s work afterwards: he was seventy-two now and this was no longer fair.

I loved To Kill a Mockingbird when I read it a couple of years ago but I’m still not sure I want to read Go Set a Watchman, so I downloaded a sample on my Kindle to have a look at the beginning.

What do you think? Are you going to read it?

Stacking the Shelves: 11 July 2015

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Stacking The Shelves is all about sharing the books you are adding to your shelves. This means you can include ‘real’ and ‘virtual’ books (ie physical and ebooks) you’ve bought, books you’ve borrowed from friends or the library, review books, and gifts.

Another visit to Barter Books on Tuesday resulted in bringing these books home – a fair exchange for some computer books I thought. (If you can visit Alnwick it’s well worth looking in at Barter Books.)

Books July15From top to bottom they are:

  • Poirot’s Early Cases by Agatha Christie. I’ve been hoping this book would turn up at Barter Books – a collection of short stories, all first published in magazines between 1923 and 1935.
  • Death is Now My Neighbour by Colin Dexter – the 12th Inspector Morse mystery. I haven’t read many of the Morse books, although I’ve watched all the TV adaptations. A young woman is murdered – the trail leads Morse to Lonsdale college where there is a contest for the coveted position of Master.
  • He Who Whispers by John Dickson Carr. As I’ve been reading The Golden Age of Murder by Martin Edwards I looked for books by the authors he mentions in his book. He Who Whispers was the only book I found (I don’t think it’s mentioned in Edwards’ book). It’s a Doctor Gideon Fell murder mystery, first published in 1946. My copy is a green and white Penguin paperback.
  • Old Filth by Jane Gardam (Failed in London Try London). I first read this several years ago – a library book – but as I’ve been reading the next two in the trilogy I wanted to refresh my memory about this first one.
  • Apple Tree Yard by Louise Doughty, described as a psychological thriller. The quotes on the back cover convinced me to try this book – ‘Brilliant and bruising. Obsession, betrayal and blood letting …‘ Ian Rankin and this from Val McDermid, ‘ Realised I’d been holding my breath for the last forty pages. Gripping.’

Do let me know if you’ve read any of these and what you found to add to your shelves this week.

First Chapter ∼ First Paragraph

First chapterEvery Tuesday Diane at Bibliophile by the Sea hosts First Chapter ∼ First Paragraph Tuesday Intros, where you can share the first paragraph, or a few, of a book you are reading or thinking about reading soon.

I read Old Filth by Jane Gardam in 2008 and loved it, without realising at that time that there were more books about Old Filth QC (Failed in London, Try Hong Kong). So I was delighted to find there are two more.

I’ve recently read the second book, The Man in the Wooden Hat, and I’m currently reading the third, Last Friends – nearly finished it actually.

 

It begins:

The Titans were gone. They had clashed their last. Sir Edward Feathers, affectionately known as Filth (Failed in London, Try Hong Kong), and Sir Terence Veneering, the two greatest exponents of English and International Law in the engineering and construction industry and the current experts upon the Ethics of Pollution, were dead. Their well-worn armour had fallen from them with hardly a clatter and the quiet Dorset village to which they had retired within a very few years of each other (accidentally, for they had hated one another for over fifty years) mourned their passing and wondered who would be distinguished enough to buy their houses.

My reviews of  Last Friends and The Man in the Wooden Hat will follow shortly.

Stacking the Shelves: 4 July 2015

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Stacking The Shelves is all about sharing the books you are adding to your shelves. This means you can include ‘real’ and ‘virtual’ books (ie physical and ebooks) you’ve bought, books you’ve borrowed from friends or the library, review books, and gifts.

I’ve added just a few books this last week. First an e-book – Crooked Little Lies by Barbara Taylor Sissel – a Kindle First Pick. The paperback is due to be published on 1st August 2015. A new-to-me author, but I see she has written five other books.

Blurb:

On a cool October morning, Lauren Wilder is shaken when she comes close to striking Bo Laughlin with her car as he’s walking along the road’s edge. A young man well known in their small town of Hardys Walk, Texas, Bo seems fine, even if Lauren’s intuition says otherwise. Since the accident two years ago that left her brain in a fragile state, she can’t trust her own instincts—and neither can her family. Then Bo vanishes, and as the search for him ensues, the police question whether she’s responsible. Lauren is terrified, not of what she remembers but of what she doesn’t.

Unable to trust herself and unwilling to trust anyone else, Lauren begins her own investigation into the mystery of Bo’s disappearance. But the truth can prove to be as shocking as any lie, and as Lauren exposes each one, from her family, from her friends, she isn’t the only one who will face heart-stopping repercussions.

Second a paperback – Thin Air by Ann Cleeves, the sixth in her Shetland series. I’ve read the other 5 books, so I just have to read this one too.

Blurb:

A group of old university friends leave the bright lights of London and travel to Unst, Shetland’s most northerly island, to celebrate the marriage of one of their friends to a Shetlander. But late on the night of the wedding party, one of them, Eleanor, disappears – apparently into thin air. It’s mid-summer, a time of light nights and unexpected mists. The following day, Eleanor’s friend Polly receives an email. It appears to be a suicide note, saying she’ll never be found alive. And then Eleanor’s body is discovered, lying in a small loch close to the cliff edge.

Detectives Jimmy Perez and Willow Reeves are dispatched to Unst to investigate. Before she went missing, Eleanor claimed to have seen the ghost of a local child who drowned in the 1920s. Her interest in the ghost had seemed unhealthy – obsessive, even – to her friends: an indication of a troubled mind. But Jimmy and Willow are convinced that there is more to Eleanor’s death than they first thought.

Is there a secret that lies behind the myth? One so shocking that someone would kill – many years later – to protect?

Ann Cleeves’ striking Shetland novel explores the tensions between tradition and modernity that lie deep at the heart of a community, and how events from the past can have devastating effects on the present.

And finally  these library books, all from the mobile library van that visits here once a fortnight:

Lib bks 4 July 15

I love the library visits and always find a good variety of books to choose from. From top to bottom they are:

  • Country Dance written and illustrated by Henry Brewis – a Northumberland author. This was first published in 1992 and is described on the back cover as a ‘contemporary fable, the story of a family farm being dismembered and ‘developed’, of newcomers face-to-face with the old peasantry.’
  • The Other Queen by Philippa Gregory – about Mary Queen of Scots, after she fled from Scotland and was imprisoned by Elizabeth I. When I first saw this I thought I’d read it – but then realised I hadn’t, I’d read The Other Boleyn Girl by Philippa Gregory( a bit confusing having two similar titles).
  • A Possible Life: a Novel in Five Parts by Sebastian Faulks. This looks like five separate stories about five people at different times and in different places. At the moment I don’t know how they are linked.
  • This Is How It Ends by Kathleen MacMahon, set in 2008 in Dublin, where Bruno, an American, has come to search for his roots. He meets and falls in love with Addie, an out-of-work architect, recovering from heartbreak while looking after her infirm father.

Do let me know if you’ve read any of these and what you found to add to your shelves this week.

First Chapter ∼ First Paragraph Intros

First chapterEvery Tuesday Diane at Bibliophile by the Sea hosts First Chapter ∼ First Paragraph Tuesday Intros, where you can share the first paragraph, or a few, of a book you are reading or thinking about reading soon.

I’m currently reading The Golden Age of Murder by Martin Edwards, described on the back cover as

‘the extraordinary story of British detective fiction between the two World Wars, and the fascinating people who wrote it. A gripping real-life detective story, this book investigates how Agatha Christie and her colleagues in the mysterious Detection Club transformed crime fiction. Their work cast new light on unsolved murders, whilst hiding clues to their authors’ darkest secrets, and their complex and sometimes bizarre private lives.

First Chapter:

Chapter I, The Ritual in the Dark

On a summer evening in 1937, a group of men and women gathered in the darkness to perform a macabre ceremony. They had invited a special guest to witness their ceremony. She was visiting London from New Zealand and a thrill of excitement ran through her as the appointed time drew near. She loved drama, and at home she worked in the theatre. Now she felt as tense as when the curtain was about to rise. To be a guest at this dinner was a special honour. What would happen next she could not imagine.

Many congratulations to Martin Edwards who is to be the next President of  the Detection Club when Simon Brett, the current President retires in November. I really cannot think of a better choice than Martin, a well-deserved honour indeed!

Stacking the Shelves: 20 June 2015

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Stacking The Shelves is all about sharing the books you are adding to your shelves. This means you can include ‘real’ and ‘virtual’ books (ie physical and ebooks) you’ve bought, books you’ve borrowed from friends or the library, review books, and gifts.

This week I’ve added two books to my Kindle:

After the fire The one I was

  • After the Fire by Jane Casey, which was published on 18 June. It’s the sixth Maeve Kerrigan book. I’ve read the previous five and just have to read this one too.
  • The One I Was by Eliza Graham – I read her first book, Playing with the Moon  back in 2007 and have been meaning to read more of her books, so when this one came up on the Kindle Daily Deal earlier this week I snapped it up. She’s written three more books since then, which I’ve missed.

and a pile of library books:

Liby Bks June 2015

They are from top to bottom:

  • Five Red Herrings by Dorothy L Sayers – a Lord Peter Wimsey mystery.
  • The Outcast Dead by Elly Griffiths – the sixth Ruth Galloway book. I’m behind with this series – the seventh book was published earlier this year.
  • The North (And Almost Everything In It) by Paul Morley – this is about the north of England. I can’t remember where I read about this book, but it looked interesting and as I’m a northerner I thought I’d have a look at it and reserved it.
  • The Balmoral Incident (Rose McQuinn series 8) by Alanna Knight. I’ve read the first book in the series, so this is another series I’ll be reading out of order.
  • The Monogram Murders (The new Hercule Poirot mystery) by Sophie Hannah – I’m not at all sure that I’ll read this book. My experience of reading prequels and sequels by a different author than the original has not been good. I’ve read reviews both praising and criticising this book, so when I saw it in the library I was tempted to borrow it.
  • An Astronaut’s Guide to Life on Earth by Chris Hadfield. I saw Chris Hadfield on Sunday Brunch on Channel 4 a little while ago and thought he was brilliant and after I read Jackie’s review on her Farm Lane Books Blog I reserved the book.

Books like these are the reasons I don’t get round to reading my own unread books – those to-be-reads that I’ve had for years!

If you’ve read any of these do let me know what you think of them and also what you found to add to your shelves this week.

First Chapter ∼ First Paragraph Tuesday: Parker Pyne

First chapterEvery Tuesday Diane at Bibliophile by the Sea hosts First Chapter ∼ First Paragraph Tuesday Intros, where you can share the first paragraph, or a few, of a book you are reading or thinking about reading soon.

I’ve been looking at some of Agatha Christie’s short stories and wondering which to read first. One of the collections I own is The Complete Parker Pyne: Private Eye. It looks a good place to start.

In the Author’s Foreword Agatha Christie tells how she came to write these stories:

One day, having lunch at a Corner House, I was enraptured by a conversation on statistics going on at a table behind me. I turned my head and caught a vague glimpse of a bald head, glasses and a beaming smile – I caught sight that is, of Mr Parker Pyne. I had never thought about statistics before (and indeed seldom think about them now!) but the enthusiasm with which they were being discussed awakened my interest. I was just considering a new series of short stories and then and there I decided on the general treatment and scope, and in due course enjoyed writing them.

I like the details she gives – the Corner Houses, smarter and grander than tea shops and noted for their art deco style first appeared in 1909 and  remained until 1977. And I love the fact that she was eavesdropping on the conversation going on behind her and the insight this gives into how she got ideas for her stories.

The stories were all written in the 1930s and first appeared in various UK and US magazines. The first story in this collection is The Case of the Middle-Aged Wife and it begins:

Four grunts, an indignant voice asking why nobody could leave a hat alone, a slammed door, and Mr Packington had departed to catch the eight forty-five to the city. Mrs Packington sat on at the breakfast table. Her face was flushed, her lips were pursed, and the only reason she was not crying was that at the last minute anger had taken the place of grief, ‘I won’t stand it,’ said Mrs Packington. ‘I won’t stand it!’ She remained for some moments brooding , and then murmured: ‘The minx. Nasty sly little cat! How can George be such a fool!’

First Chapter First Paragraph: Appointment with Death

First chapterEvery Tuesday Diane at Bibliophile by the Sea hosts First Chapter First Paragraph Tuesday Intros, where you can share the first paragraph, or a few, of a book you are reading or thinking about reading soon.

My choice this week is Appointment with Death by Agatha Christie, one of the few novels of hers that I haven’t read. It’s one of the earlier Poirot books, first published in 1938. It begins:

‘You do see, don’t you, that she’s got to be killed?’

The question floated out into the still night air, seemed to hang there a moment and then drift away down into  the darkness towards the Dead Sea.

Hercule Poirot paused a minute with his hand on the window catch. Frowning, he shut it decisively, thereby excluding any injurious night air! Hercule Poirot had been brought up to believe that all outside air was best left outside, and that night air was especially dangerous to the health.

Of course, this has me wondering who ‘she’ is, why she has to be killed and who is talking.

I don’t remember reading before about Poirot’s upbringing – intriguing to think of him as a child!

 

Stacking the Shelves: 6 June 2015

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Stacking The Shelves is all about sharing the books you are adding to your shelves. This means you can include ‘real’ and ‘virtual’ books (ie physical and ebooks) you’ve bought, books you’ve borrowed from friends or the library, review books, and gifts.

I’ve added just a few books this last week. First two e-books- A Man of Some Repute by Elizabeth Edmundson – a Kindle First pick. The paperback is due to be published on 1st July 2015.

Blurb from Amazon

Truth is rarely pure and never simple…

Selchester Castle in 1953 sits quiet and near-empty, its corridors echoing with glories of the past.

Or so it seems to intelligence officer Hugo Hawksworth, wounded on a secret mission and now reluctantly assuming an altogether less perilous role at Selchester.

The Castle’s faded grandeur hides a web of secrets and scandals—the Earl has been missing for seven years, lost without a trace since the night he left his guests and walked out into a blizzard.

When a skeleton is uncovered beneath the flagstones of the Old Chapel, the police produce a suspect and declare the case closed.

Hugo is not convinced. With the help of the spirited Freya Wryton, the Earl’s niece, he is drawn back into active service, and the ancient town of Selchester is dragged into the intrigues and conspiracies of the Cold War era.

With a touch of Downton Abbey, a whisper of Agatha Christie and a nod to Le Carré, A Man of Some Repute is the first book in this delightfully classic and witty murder mystery series.

And also Red Clover by Florence Osmund.

Blurb from Goodreads

Imagine feeling like an outsider. Now imagine feeling like an outsider in your own family.

The troubled son of a callous father and socialite mother determines his own meaning of success after learning shocking family secrets that cause him to rethink who he is and where heʼs going. In Lee Winekoop’s reinvention of himself he discovers that lifeʾs bitter circumstances can actually give rise to meaningful consequences.

I was delighted to receive a copy of A Game for All the Family by Sophie Hannah  from Lovereading. It’s due to be published on 13th August:

 

Blurb from Lovereading:

Justine thought she knew who she was, until an anonymous caller seemed to know better… After escaping London and a career that nearly destroyed her, Justine plans to spend her days doing as little as possible in her beautiful home in Devon. But soon after the move, her daughter Ellen starts to withdraw when her new best friend, George, is unfairly expelled from school. Justine begs the head teacher to reconsider, only to be told that nobody’s been expelled – there is, and was, no George. Then the anonymous calls start: a stranger, making threats that suggest she and Justine share a traumatic past and a guilty secret – yet Justine doesn’t recognise her voice. When the caller starts to talk about three graves – two big and one small, to fit a child – Justine fears for her family’s safety. If the police can’t help, she’ll have to eliminate the danger herself, but first she must work out who she’s supposed to be…

Finally this book from the mobile library which visited this week:

Blink of an Eye by Cath Staincliffe – This one looks good and according to Ann Cleeves (on the back cover) it’s a ‘book about courage and compromise, about how sometimes it’s kinder and braver to lie. Stunning.’

Blurb from the back cover:

Imagine a sunny Sunday afternoon. A family barbecue. A celebration. Then tragedy strikes. You wake in hospital, traumatized. Your mother tells you about the accident, a nine-year-old dead, your partner bloody and bruised, the lives of three families torn apart.

You face prosecution for causing death by dangerous driving. It could mean 14 years in jail. What have you done?

Do let me know if you’ve read any of these and what you found to add to your shelves this week.

My Friday Post

Book Beginnings ButtonEvery Friday Book Beginnings on Friday is hosted by Gillion at Rose City Reader where you can share the first sentence (or so) of the book you are reading, along with your initial thoughts about the sentence, impressions of the book, or anything else the opener inspires.

Today I began reading Sad Cypress by Agatha Christie. It’s a Poirot mystery first published in 1940.

Sad cypress

It begins:

Prologue

Elinor Katharine Carlisle. You have been charged upon this indictment with the murder of Mary Gerrard upon the 27th of July last. Are you guilty or not guilty?

Elinor Carlisle stood very straight, her head raised. It was a graceful head, the modelling of the bones sharp and well defined. The eyes were a deep vivid blue, the hair black. The brows had been plucked to a faint thin line.

There was a silence – quite a noticeable silence.

Friday 56Also every Friday there is The Friday 56, hosted by Freda at Freda’s Voice.

These are the rules:

  1. Grab a book, any book.
  2. Turn to page 56, or 56% on your eReader.
  3. Find any sentence (or a few, just don’t spoil it) that grabs you.
  4. Post it.
  5. Add the URL to your post in the link on Freda’s most recent Friday 56 post.

Page 56:

Mrs Wellman may have thought she wanted to die; but side by side with that feeling there ran the hope that she would recover absolutely. And because of that hope, I think she felt that to make a will would be unlucky.

I’ve read up to page 75 and so far Poirot hasn’t appeared, except in the Prologue during Elinor’s trial: Hercule Poirot, his head a little on one side, his eyes thoughtful, was watching her.

Stacking the Shelves: 23 May 2015

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Stacking The Shelves is all about sharing the books you are adding to your shelves. This means you can include ‘real’ and ‘virtual’ books (ie physical and ebooks) you’ve bought, books you’ve borrowed from friends or the library, review books, and gifts.

A bumper week for adding to the TBRs! I took back a pile of books to Barter Books in Alnwick and came home with these:

Bks May 2015

When I go to Barter Books I take a list of books to look for. This time I found three  – shown in the basket from left to right:

  • Like This For Ever by S J Bolton, the 3rd in the Lacey Flint series. I’ve read the first one, Now You See Me and have the second one which I haven’t read yet, so it will be a while before I get round to reading this one.
  • In a Dry Season by Peter Robinson, the 10th in the Inspector Banks series. I’m reading this series as I find the books not in the series order and I wrote about the 7th book, Dry Bones That Dream on Monday. Kay commented that she had enjoyed In a Dry Season very much so when I saw it on the shelf at Barter Books I put it in my basket.
  • Letters From Skye by Jessica Brockmole. I saw this book on Irene’s blog – she’s reading it and I thought it looked interesting so when I found it on the shelf as well I thought it was too much of a coincidence not to get it. It’s a novel told in a series of letters written spanning the years from the First World War to the Second between a poet living on Skye and a fan of hers living in Illinois.

Next I just browsed the shelves for anything that caught my eye and found these:

Hamlet, Revenge! by Michael Innes (shown in my photo in the basket cover face down! on top of a stack of books). This is from the Golden Age of crime fiction, first published in 1937, the second of his Inspector Appleby series. I’ve read the first book in the series, Death at the President’s Lodging, which I enjoyed immensely.

Underneath Hamlet, Revenge! is a sealed pack of 6 crime fiction books, containing:

  • Last Seen in Massilia by Stephen Saylor
  • A Sight for Sore Eyes by Ruth Rendell
  • The Soul Catcher by Alex Kava
  • Frost at Christmas by R D Wingfield
  • Good News Bad News by David Wolstencroft
  • Break No Bones by Kathy Reichs

These are books that you can’t take back to Barter Books and cost just £1.20. I bought the pack because it contains books by Ruth Rendell, R D Wingfield and Steven Saylor – I don’t know the other authors.

On the way home from Barter Books we stopped at Cragside for a snack lunch, but it was packed with people and there was a long queue for the cafe, so I just went in the NT shop and couldn’t resist buying Scone With The Wind: Cakes and Bakes with a Literary Twist by Miss Victoria Sponge. It contains 72 novel recipes – like Life of Pecan Pie, Don Biscotti, Much Ado About Muffins and Wuthering Bites and many more.

And finally when we went shopping yesterday there was a secondhand book sale in the Buttermarket and I bought The Riddle and the Knight: In Search of Sir John Mandeville by Giles Milton – an investigation into Mandeville’s claim in 1322 that it was possible to circumnavigate the globe. I’ve read and enjoyed Milton’s Nathaniel’s Nutmeg, so I’m hoping I’ll like this book too.

It’s no wonder I never get to the end of my TBRs – but there are so many tempting books out there, it would be a shame to miss out too many!

Book Beginnings: Firmin

Book Beginnings ButtonEvery Friday Book Beginnings on Friday is hosted by Gillion at Rose City Reader where you can share the first sentence (or so) of the book you are reading, along with your initial thoughts about the sentence, impressions of the book, or anything else the opener inspires.

I’ve been meaning to read this book for ages and I’ve listed it as one of the books to read for Once Upon A Time IX this year, so now is the time to read it. It is Firmin: Adventures of a Metropolitan Lowlife by Sam Savage – the tale of a rat living in the basement of a bookstore who develops the ability to read.

It begins:

I had always imagined that my life story, if and when I wrote it, would have a great first line: ‘Lolita. light of my life, fire of my loins’; or, if I could not do lyric, then something sweeping like Tolstoy’s ‘All happy families are alike, but every happy family is unhappy in it’s own way.’ People remember those words, even when they have forgotten everything else about the books. When it comes to openers, though, the best in my view has to be Ford Madox Ford’s The Good Soldier: ‘This is the saddest story I have ever read.’ I’ve read that one dozens of times and it still knocks my socks off. Ford Madox Ford was a Big One.

Not just one book beginning, but four!

From the back cover:

Firmin is a debonair soul, trapped in a rat’s body. He lives in the basement of a ramshackle old bookstore run by Norman Shine, where as the runt of his litter, he chews the books around him in order to survive. Thanks to his unusual diet Firmin develops the ability to read … and a very unratlike sense of the world and his place in it.

This week I’m joining in with The Friday 56, hosted by Freda at Freda’s Voice.

These are the rules:

  1. Grab a book, any book.
  2. Turn to page 56, or 56% on your eReader.
  3. Find any sentence (or a few, just don’t spoil it) that grabs you.
  4. Post it.
  5. Add the URL to your post in the link on Freda’s most recent Friday 56 post.

Page 56:

My intellect grew sharper than my teeth. Soon I could do a four-hundred-page novel in an hour, knock off Spinoza in a day.

Stacking the Shelves

STSmallStacking The Shelves is all about sharing the books you are adding to your shelves. This means you can include ‘real’ and ‘virtual’ books (ie physical and ebooks) you’ve bought, books you’ve borrowed from friends or the library, review books, and gifts.

This last week has been an excellent week for Stacking the Shelves, as I’ve added seven new/new-to-me books – two of them on Kindle.

These are the physical books – the first three all arrived on the same day – Thursday:

Stacking the Shelves 9 May 15I’ve been looking forward to reading The Golden Age of Murder by Martin Edwards and I ordered it to arrive on its publication day – which was Thursday. I have, of course, already started to read it and it’s promising to be excellent.

From the back cover:

The Golden Age of Murder tells for the first time the extraordinary story of British detective fiction between the two World Wars, and the fascinating people who wrote it. A gripping real-life detective story, this book investigates how Agatha Christie and her colleagues in the mysterious Detection Club transformed crime fiction. Their work cast new light on unsolved murders whilst hiding clues to their authors’ darkest secrets, and their complex and sometimes bizarre lives.

Civil War by Peter Ackroyd was also published in paperback on Thursday. This is volume III of Ackroyd’s series, The History of England. I’d read Jessica’s review of the book on The Bookworm Chronicles and thought I’d like to read it.

It’s the history of the 17th century, the monarchy and the Civil War which led to the execution of Charles I and the despotic reign of Oliver Cromwell. It also covers the cultural and social life of the period including Shakespeare’s later plays, the poetry of John Donne and Milton, as well as details of the lives of ordinary people against the backdrop of constant disruption and uncertainty.

The Hundred-Foot Journey by Richard C Morais is my book group’s choice for June.

This is the story of Hassan Haji, a boy from Mumbai, and his family who open a restaurant in a French village. A culinary war ensues against the cordon bleu Michelin starred restaurant opposite. Full of eccentric characters, delicious meals and hilarious cultural mishaps, according to the back cover.

I bought A Shilling for Candles by Josephine Tey from the secondhand book table at the village hall when I went to vote on Thursday.

It’s an Inspector Grant mystery.  A beautiful young film actress is found lying dead on the beach one morning. Is it suicide or murder?

The last of the physical books is a complimentary copy of William and Kate’s Britain: an Insider’s Guide to the haunts of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge by Claudia Joseph – it contains one of my photos of the Hirsel Country Park at Coldstream.

There are many more photos in this beautiful book – photos of royal palaces, castles,  churches, hotels, pubs, towns and villages as well as country parks and much more. It’s packed with fascinating facts.

I also got an e-book of Agatha Christie’s first full length novel featuring Miss Marple – The Murder at the Vicarage. I’ve read (and re-read) many of her books, but missed this one.

Colonel Protheroe is found shot dead in the vicar’s study. There are many suspects for Miss Marple to question about the murder as he was not a popular man and everyone including the vicar seems to have a reason to want the Colonel dead.

And finally, fellow blogger Dorte Hummelshoj Jakobsen sent me an e-copy of her third standalone novel, Crystal Nights, a Scandinavian psychological mystery of the violence and evil that rips through a cosy and peaceful Danish village in the 1960s. It begins with a quotation from Hans Christian Anderson’s The Snow Queen, one of my favourite fairytales!

And what about you?  What books did you find this week?

First Chapter First Paragraph: The Ghost Riders of Ordebec

First chapterEvery Tuesday Diane at Bibliophile by the Sea hosts First Chapter First Paragraph Tuesday Intros, where you can share the first paragraph, or a few, of a book you are reading or thinking about reading soon.

My book this week is a library book that I’m thinking about reading soon. It’s The Ghost Riders of Ordebec by Fred Vargas, translated from the French by Sian Reynolds.

It begins:

A trail of tiny crumbs led from the kitchen into the bedroom, as far as the spotless sheets where the old woman lay dead, her mouth open. Commissaire Adamsberg looked down at the crumbs in silence, pacing to and fro, wondering what kind of Tom Thumb – or what ogre in this case – might have dropped them there. He was in a small, dark, ground-floor apartment, with just three rooms, in the eighteenth arrondissement, in northern Paris.

Blurb:

‘People will die,’ says the panic-stricken woman outside police headquarters.

She refuses to speak to anyone besides Commissaire Adamsberg. Her daughter has seen a vision: ghostly horsemen who target the most nefarious characters in Normandy. Since the middle ages there have been stories of murderers, rapists, those with serious crimes on their conscience, meeting a grisly end following a visitation by the riders.

Soon after the young woman’s vision a notoriously vicious and cruel man disappears. Although the case is far outside his jurisdiction, Adamsberg agrees to investigate the strange happenings in a village terrorised by wild rumours and ancient feuds.

What do you think? Would you keep on reading?

Stacking the Shelves

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Stacking The Shelves is all about sharing the books you are adding to your shelves. This means you can include ‘real’ and ‘virtual’ books (ie physical and ebooks) you’ve bought, books you’ve borrowed from friends or the library, review books, and gifts.

This week I borrowed these books from the library:

Ragnarok

Ragnarok by A S Byatt – I first came across this book a few years ago on a book blog (not sure now which one) and thought it looked interesting.

Blurb:

Recently evacuated to the British countryside and with World War Two raging around her, one young girl is struggling to make sense of her life. She is given a book of ancient Norse legends and her inner and outer worlds are transformed…

The Ragnarok myth, otherwise known as the Twilight of the Gods, plays out the endgame of Norse mythology. It is the myth in which the gods Odin, Freya and Thor die, the sun and moon are swallowed by the wolf Fenrir, and the serpent Jörmungandr eats her own tale as she crushes the world and the seas boil with poison. This epic struggle provided the fitting climax to Wagner’s Ring Cycle; Byatt has taken this remarkable finale and used it as the underpinning of a highly personal and politically charged retelling.

Dry Bones that Dream by Peter Robinson, the 7th Inspector Banks book. I’m reading these books totally out of order, just as I find them.

Blurb:

It was 2.47am when Chief Inspector Alan Banks arrived at the barn and saw the body of Keith Rothwell for the first time. Only hours earlier two masked men had walked the mild-mannered accountant out of his farmhouse and clinically blasted him with a shotgun.

Clearly this is a professional hit – but Keith was hardly the sort of person to make deadly enemies. Or was he? For the police investigation soon raises more questions than answers. And who, exactly, is Robert Calvert?

The more Banks scratches the surface, the more he wonders what lies beneath the veneer of the apparently happy Rothwell family. And when his old sparring partner Detective Superintendent Richard Burgess arrives from Scotland Yard, the case takes yet another unexpected twist . . .

Poirot and Me by David Suchet – an absolute must read for me. David Suchet was Poirot!

From the book cover:

Through his television performance in TV’s Agatha Christie’s Poirot, David Suchet has become inextricably linked with the ‘little Belgian’, a man whom he has grown to love dearly through an intimate relationship lasting more than twenty years. …

In Poirot and Me, he shares his many memories of creating this iconic television series and reflects on what the detective has meant to him over the years.

Also new this week is an advance proof copy of The Lost Garden by Katharine Swartz, due to be published in May:

Blurb:

Marin Ellis is in search of a new start after her father and his second wife die in a car accident, and at thirty-seven she is made guardian of her fifteen-year-old half-sister Rebecca. They leave Hampshire for the picturesque village of Goswell on the Cumbrian coast, and settle into Bower House on the edge of the church property. When a door to a walled garden captures Rebecca’s interest, Marin becomes determined to open it and discover what is hidden beneath the bramble inside. She enlists the help of local gardener Joss Fowler, and together the three of them begin to uncover the garden’s secrets.

I’d better get reading!

Stacking the Shelves: April 18

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Stacking The Shelves is all about sharing the books you are adding to your shelves. This means you can include ‘real’ and ‘virtual’ books (ie physical and ebooks) you’ve bought, books you’ve borrowed from friends or the library, review books, and gifts.

These are the latest arrivals from the mobile library:

Vargas

Gently North West by Alan Hunter – I’ve read a couple of the Inspector Gently books and I really like the TV dramatisation of these books. (Coincidently the BBC are showing a trailer of the new series of Inspector Gently coming soon.) This book is a bit different as it’s set in Scotland where Gently is on holiday. Inevitably, his holiday is put on hold as he stalks a murderer in the mountains!

Harbour Street by Ann Cleeves – I’ve seen the TV version but not  read the book. This is the 6th Vera book. It’s set in the quiet Northumberland town of Mardle (filmed at Alnmouth) where DI Vera Stanhope is investigating the deaths of two women – but the residents of Harbour Street are reluctant to speak.

Bright Hair About The Bone by Barbara Cleverly – this is by a new-to-me author and I picked the book off the shelf as the title struck me as rather strange. It’s historical crime fiction set in France in 1926, where an ancient church is being excavated in Burgundy. Archaeologist Laetitia Talbot investigates the death of her godfather, Daniel Thorndon. I hope it’s as interesting as it appears.

The Ghost Riders of Ordebec by Fred Vargas. I’ve read a few of her Commissaire Adamsberg books. This one looks really interesting, set in a village far outside Adamsberg’s jurisdiction (like the Gently book!) he agrees to investigate the strange happenings in the village which is terrorised by wild rumours and ancient feuds.

Have you read any of these – and what books have you found this week?

Stacking the Shelves

STSmall

Stacking The Shelves is all about sharing the books you are adding to your shelves. This means you can include ‘real’ and ‘virtual’ books (ie physical and ebooks) you’ve bought, books you’ve borrowed from friends or the library, review books, and gifts.

This is my first entry in Stacking the Shelves. These are last week’s new arrivals:

In the heart of the sea

First ‘real’ books. It was Mother’s Day last Sunday and my son bought me this book, In the Heart of the Sea: the Epic True Story that Inspired Moby Dick by Nathaniel Philbrick – wonderful!

From the back cover:

The sinking of the Nantucket whaleship Essex by an enraged spermwhale far out in the Pacific in November 1820 set in train one of the most dramatic sea stories of all time. Accounts of the unprecedented whale attack inspired Herman Melville’s mighty novel Moby Dick, but In the Heart of the Sea goes beyond these events to describe what happened when the twenty mixed-race crewmen took to three small boats and what, three months later, the whaleship Dauphin, cruising off the coast of South America, discovered when it spotted a tiny boat sailing erratically across an open ocean.

The other books in the photo above are library books:

  • Collins Artist’s Little Book of Inspiration by Hazel Soan – a lovely little book looking at the basics elements of a painting using watercolours, oils and acrylics, with demonstrations and projects to try. I like just looking at the paintings!
  • The Reckoning by Jane Casey, the second in her Maeve Kerrigan series. I reserved this because I’d enjoyed the first one, The Burning and wanted to read more. This one begins with the murders of two paedophiles.
  • Conan Doyle: the Man who Created Sherlock Holmes by Andrew Lycett. This book was on a display stand and even though it’s a huge, heavy book I fancied reading it. It was probably on display following the  recent TV drama Arthur and George, which I enjoyed. I read Julian Barnes’ book of the same name some years ago, which pre-dates this biography.

When Lovereading offered a review copy of Dacre’s War by Rosemary Goring I didn’t hesitate because I’d loved Rosemary Goring’s earlier novel, After Flodden.

Dacres War

Dacre’s War is set 10 years after the battle of Flodden in the Scottish and English borders, a story of ‘personal and political vengeance’ as Adam Crozier sets out to take revenge on Lord Thomas Dacre, who had ordered the death of his father. It’s due to be published on 14 May 2015.

Lastly, the latest ebook I’ve downloaded is today’s Kindle Daily Deal, Last Man in Tower by Aravind Adiga. A. N. Wilson ‘was absolutely mesmerized by this novel’ and thinks ‘that Aravind Adiga is already, with this, his second book, the most exciting novelist writing in English today.’ 

Last Man in Tower

First Chapter – First Paragraph

It will be a while before I can write a book review post as I’m in the middle of reading Gaudy Night by Dorothy L Sayers and it’s quite long – and complicated. So in the meantime here is a First Chapter – First Paragraph post.

First chapterEvery Tuesday Diane at Bibliophile by the Sea hosts First Chapter First Paragraph Tuesday Intros, where you can share the first paragraph, or a few, of a book you are reading or thinking about reading soon.

My choice this week is A Trick of the Light by Louise Penny, a book I’ve borrowed from the library.

 

It begins:

Oh, no no no, thought Clare Morrow as she walked towards the closed doors.

She could see shadows, shapes, like wraiths moving back and forth, back and forth across the frosted glass. Appearing and disappearing. Distorted, but still moving.

Still the dead one lay moaning.

The words had been going through her head all day, appearing and disappearing. A poem, half remembered. Words floating to the surface, then going under. The body of the poem beyond her grasp.

The title of this one caught my eye on the library van’s shelves and reading the opening paragraphs I decided to borrow it – mainly because the poem Clare can’t quite remember is one of my favourites. It’s Not Waving, but Drowning by Stevie Smith and I wondered what relevance it has to this book. There will be a body, I expect.

What do you think? Would you carry on reading?

A Trick of the Light is the 7th in Louise Penny’s Chief Inspector Gamache series and I’m hoping it will stand well on its own as I haven’t read the first six books even though I’ve seen them recommended on other book blogs.

If you’ve read Louise Penny’s books do you think they do stand well on their own – or should they really be read in sequence? Am I missing something by beginning with book 7?

First Chapter First Paragraph: The Zig Zag Girl

Every Tuesday Diane at Bibliophile by the Sea hosts First Chapter First Paragraph Tuesday Intros, where you can share the first paragraph, or a few, of a book you are reading or thinking about reading soon.

My choice this week is: The Zig Zag Girl by Elly Griffiths, a book I have just finished reading.

It begins:

 ‘Looks as if someone’s sliced her into three,’ said Solomon Carter, the police surgeon chattily. ‘We’re just missing the middle bit.’

I must not be sick, thought Edgar Stephens. That’s what he wants. Stay calm and professional at all times. You’re the policeman, after all.

What do you think? Would you read on?

I did. I’m a squeamish reader and don’t like anything too graphically gory and you might think this opening would put me off. But it didn’t – for one thing, it doesn’t go into detail about how the body got cut into three. Well, yes later down the page there’s mention of ‘clotted blood and smell of decaying flesh‘, but that’s it, it’s all secondhand, no scenes where the murderer is described doing the terrible act, no dwelling on what he/she was doing to the other person.

Blurb from the inside flap:

Brighton, 1950 – a post-war world of rationing, austerity, pea-souper fogs and seedy seaside resorts. When the body of a girl is found, cut into three, DI Edgar Stephens recalls a magic trick that he saw as a boy. The illusion is called the Zig Zag Girl and its inventor, Max Mephisto, is an old friend of his. They served together in the war as part of a shadowy unit called the Magic Men, formed to use stage trickery to confuse the enemy.

Edgar tracks down Max and asks for his help. Max is still on the circuit, touring seaside towns in the company of ventriloquists, sword-swallowers and dancing girls. Max is reluctant to get involved but the changes his mind when the dead girl turns out to be his former stage assistant. Another death follows, again gruesomely staged to resemble a magic trick, the Sword Cabinet.

Edgar and Max become convinced that the answer to the murders lies back in their army days and the antics of the Magic Men.

When Edgar receives a letter warning of another ‘trick’, he knows that they are all in danger. The Wolf Trap is the deadliest illusion of all, but who will be the next victim?

I’ve read some of Elly Griffiths’ Ruth Galloway, forensic archaeologist, crime novels, which I have enjoyed despite wishing they weren’t written in the present tense. So it was with relief that I came to The Zig Zag Girl and found it’s written in the past tense.

I enjoyed it in several ways – for its characters, particularly Edgar Stephens and its setting, recalling the atmosphere of the 1950s and how times were changing. The theatrical elements are fascinating – life on the variety circuit was not all glitz and glamour; and the activities of the  Magic Men unit during the war had of course an immense effect on all their lives. I worked out quite early on who the murderer was – but not why, which only dawned on me at the end of the book.

I don’t know if this is going to be the start of a new series – I’d read more if it is.

First Chapter: The Secret Keeper

First chapterEvery Tuesday Diane at Bibliophile by the Sea hosts First Chapter First Paragraph Tuesday Intros, where you can share the first paragraph, or a few, of a book you are reading or thinking about reading soon.

My choice this week is: The Secret Keeper by Kate Morton, a book from my TBR Pile Challenge 2015.

It begins:

Rural England, a farmhouse in the middle of nowhere, a summer’s day at the start of the nineteen sixties. The house is unassuming: half-timbered with white paint peeling gently on the western side and clematis scrambling up the plaster. The chimney pots are steaming and you know, just by looking, that there’s something on the stove top beneath. It’s something the way the vegetable patch has been laid out, just so, at the back of the house; the proud gleam of the leadlight windows; the careful patching of the roofing tiles.

A rustic fence hems the house and a wooden gate sparates the tame garden from the meadows on either side, the copse beyond. Through the knotted trees a stream trickles lightly over stones, flitting between sunlight and shadow as it has done for centuries; but it can’t be heard from here. It’s too far away. The house is quite alone, sitting at the end of a long dusty driveway, invisible from the country lane whose name it shares.

I’m immediately attracted to this book from these two opening paragraphs, setting the scene. I can easily paint a picture of it in my mind – I can see it! You know that in such an idyllic setting something is about to happen to upset everything; at least that is what I am anticipating  and I know from the title that there is at least one secret someone is keeping .

I also know from the description on the back cover that this is a book that switches from the 1930s, to the 1960s and the present day, which often works well for me, and that there are not only mysteries and secrets but also murder and enduring love.

Will I like it? LibraryThing thinks I probably will like The Secret Keeper (prediction confidence: very high) – we’ll see.

Heidi’s Cat- Log

H & computerHi, I’m Heidi and Margaret has asked me to fill in for her on her blog as she is busy reading books, rather than writing about them and has lots of other things to do as well. So here I am – looking at the computer screen wondering where to start …

Maybe I should start at the beginning – well when I first came to live with Margaret and David. They rescued me and at first I was very scared and kept trying to hide in boxes, behind furniture and even on the top of wardrobes and tall cupboards.

Now I’m very much at home and love living here. There are lots of nice things and best of all lots of mice in the garden. Mice are Nice, but M & D don’t think so – they say Do Not Bring Mice Into the House – that’s not a Good Thing to do. I don’t really agree. It’s great fun to bring them in and let them run around whilst I stalk them and play with them. Sometimes they won’t play and go very still – and then I can eat them – they’re very tasty.

M & D had a lot of trouble with Mice in the House before I came. They got under the floors and nibble at the lagging on the water pipes and even gnawed the pipes and made holes. The water came out, which no doubt the Mice liked – but then the boiler stopped working and M & D had no hot water and no nice warm radiators.

The other thing that I like is watching the birds. They are like Mice but have Wings and Fly so that I can’t catch them (I have actually caught a few, but not for a very long time). Anyway D has very kindly put some birdseed on the windowsill outside and I can see them eating. It’s fascinating – see this video D did:

That’s enough for today. Maybe Margaret will let me write more Cat-Logs sometime and I can tell you some more.

She says this cat-post is just right for Saturday Snapshots run by Melinda  – you can see more on her blog  West Metro Mommy Reads. 

Book Beginnings: Spilling the Beans

As I have several books on the go right now (listed on the side bar), it will be some time before I can write a full post about any of them. So I thought I give a taster of one of them to be going on with.

It’s Spilling the Beans by Clarissa Dickson Wright, her autobiography. It begins:

I was conceived in a bath in Norfolk in September 1946. How can I know? Well my mother told me. As she put it they were all exhausted after the war and there weren’t that many opportune occasions. I was born in the London Clinic on 24 June 1947 and my first journey in the world was in a London taxi. My mother had become bored waiting for my father to collect us, so she wrapped me in a blanket, went outside, hailed a taxi and took me home, leaving the luggage for my father to pick up later. The only really good advice my mother ever gave me was, ‘If in doubt take a taxi,’ and I have followed it ever since.

Clarissa Dickson Wright was an English celebrity chef – one of the Two Fat Ladies, a television personality, writer, businesswoman, and former barrister. She died last year on 15 March in the Edinburgh Royal Infirmary. Clarissa was a huge character in more than her size! Her autobiography is fascinating, coming from a privileged and wealthy background she had a difficult childhood- her father, a well respected surgeon was also an alcoholic who beat his wife and Clarissa.

I’ve been reading this book slowly over the last few weeks and have read nearly half of it. After her mother died she took comfort from alcohol and at the mid point of the book she was as she described it ‘sunk in gin’ and homeless. I am looking forward to reading about her road to recovery.

Book Beginnings Button

Every Friday Book Beginnings on Friday is hosted by Gillion at Rose City Reader where you can share the first sentence (or so) of the book you are reading, along with your initial thoughts about the sentence, impressions of the book, or anything else the opener inspires.

First Chapter, First Paragraph

First chapterEvery Tuesday Diane at Bibliophile by the Sea hosts First Chapter First Paragraph Tuesday Intros, where you can share the first paragraph, or a few, of a book you are reading or thinking about reading soon.

My choice this week is:

Isa and May by Margaret Forster. It begins:

The hardest thing to tell Isa and May was where, and how, I met Ian. I thought seriously about lying. I could claim I’d met him at a party, which would have satisfied May but maybe not Isa. Isa is the sort of morally upright person who can sense a lie at once. She would have wanted to know who had given this party, where it had been held, and a load of other questions hinting at her suspicions. So I told the truth, but not the whole truth. I said I’d met him at the airport. I didn’t say I’d tried to pick him up. The meeting place was scandalous enough for them.

My copy is a library book and I borrowed it because I’ve read a few of Margaret Forster’s books and enjoyed them. Isa and May are the narrator’s grandmothers.

The Lake District – Honister Pass

Honister Pass P1010084
Honister Pass

Whilst we were staying in the Lake District a few weeks ago we drove through the Honister Pass, one of the highest passes in Cumbria. It connects the Buttermere Valley with the eastern end of Borrowdale Valley. There is a slate mine but we didn’t have time to take a tour – just enough time for a quick drink and a look round the cafe/shop/showroom and stone garden.

Honister Slate mine P1010070
Honister Slate Mine entrance
Honister Sky High Cafe P1010069
Honister Sky High Cafe

The little stone garden is most unusual:

Honister - stone garden
Honister – stone garden
Honister - stone garden
Honister – stone garden

and they fly the flag in the cafe:

Honister Sky High Cafe
Honister Sky High Cafe

as well as in words on this slate at the entrance:

Fly the Flag
Fly the Flag

For more Saturday Snapshots see Melinda’s blog West Metro Mommy Reads.

First Chapter, First Paragraph: Cauldstane

First chapterEvery Tuesday Diane at Bibliophile by the Sea hosts First Chapter First Paragraph Tuesday Intros, where you can share the first paragraph, or a few, of a book you are reading or thinking about reading soon.

My choice this week is Cauldstane by Linda Gillard. It begins:

Sometimes I think I can still hear – very faintly – the strains of a harpsichord. Impossible, of course. There’s been no harpsichord at Cauldstane for over a year now. Meredith’s has never been replaced. Never will be replaced.

As the cover shows Cauldstane is set in a castle – a Scottish castle, a remote and decaying 16th century castle, the family home of the MacNabs. Ghostwriter Jenny Ryan is commissioned to write the memoirs of the current Laird, Sholto MacNab. There are secrets, sins to be revealed – and an ancient curse.

If you want to know more about Linda Gillard’s books here is the link to her website.

The Lake District: Aira Force

Last Saturday I wrote about our trip on Ullswater on a grey, overcast morning, a couple of weeks ago. That same day the the sky cleared, and the sun shone as we went to see Aira Force, below Gowbarrow Fell above the shores of Ullswater.  You wouldn’t have thought it was the same day, as the extra layers of clothing had to come off!

Aira Force (from ‘fors’ the Viking word for waterfall) is a beautiful, wonderful place – a series of waterfalls, cascading down a fracture in the ancient volcanic rocks in a deep gorge. People have been visiting Aira Force for about 250 years. This is the plan of Aira Force on the National Trust board at the entrance to the Glade (with my added notation):

Aira Force plan P1010130

 From the Glade you start to ascend the waterfall walking through the Pinetum, which includes firs, pines, spruces, cedars and yews planted in the 19th century. The photo below shows the trunk of a Monkey Puzzle tree, the top way above me:

Pinetum P1010133The paths are circular, most of them dating back to the early 19th century when visitors were escorted by tour guides. There are three bridges across the Aira Beck – the first reference to a bridge was by Wordsworth in 1787. Below is a view of one of the bridges:

Bridge P1010140There are also several sets of steps:

Steps P1010144and of course, the cascades, falling 66 feet from the top to the bottom:

Waterfall P1010149I managed to snap a rainbow:

Rainbow P1010148

For more Saturday Snapshots see Melinda’s blog West Metro Mommy Reads.

First Chapter, First Paragraph: Time’s Echo

First chapterEvery Tuesday Diane at Bibliophile by the Sea hosts First Chapter First Paragraph Tuesday Intros, where you can share the first paragraph, or a few, of a book you are reading or thinking about reading soon.

My choice this week is Time’s Echo by Pamela Hartshorne, historical timeslip fiction.

It begins:

I feel no fear, not yet. I am just astounded to find myself in the air, looking down the murky rush of the river. It is as if time itself has paused, and I am somehow suspended between the sky and the wate, between the past and the present, between then and now. Between disbelief and horror.

It is All Hallows’ Eve, and I am going to die.

Time’s Echo mixes time as Grace Trewe is drawn into Hawise Aske’s life, four and a half centuries earlier in York, 1577. I saw this book in the library and although I hadn’t heard of Pamela Hartshorne I thought the title was interesting, and from the description on the back cover and the opening paragraphs, I thought it was worth borrowing.  From what I’ve read so far I’m hoping it will be an enjoyable book.

The Lake District: Ullswater

The shore of Ullswater is famous as the place that inspired Wordsworth to write his poem ‘I wandered lonely as a cloud‘, after a lakeshore walk in 1802, and it’s also where Donald Campbell broke the world water speed record on 23 July 1955 in the jet powered Bluebird K7. The lake is a ribbon lake formed after the last ice age, sculpted by three separate glaciers.

There were no speed boats on the lake, they’re banned now, and the season for daffodils was over on the dull, cloudy morning when we went on a ‘steamer’ on Ullswater, during our recent holiday in the Lake District. The Ullswater ‘Steamers’ have been sailing on the lake since 1859 and the oldest boat currently still in use is the Lady of the Lake, built in 1877, believed to be the oldest working passenger vessel in the world. It was in steam until the 1930s and it was the boat we boarded for our trip down the length of the lake and back again.

Waiting for the boat at Glenridding Pier
Waiting for the boat at Glenridding Pier
Lady of the Lake P1010111
On board the Lady of the Lake

Even though the weather wasn’t very good it wasn’t raining and we had a pleasant trip with views of both sides of the lake and the mountains .

Norfolk Island, Ullswater P1010103
Norfolk Island, Ullswater
Pooley Bridge pier P1010112
Pooley Bridge Pier
return journey P1010120
Ullswater

For more Saturday Snapshots see Melinda’s blog West Metro Mommy Reads.

Castlerigg Stone Circle

Stone circles are amongst the most tangible and durable connections to the past. They have fascinated me ever since I was a young teenager and saw Stonehenge. We were on our way to Girl Guide camp in the New Forest, travelling overnight by coach from Cheshire and reached Stonehenge just before dawn. I was just about awake as we scrambled down from the coach and made our way over the field to be at Stonehenge as the sun came up. It was magical.

We were the only people there and in those days Stonehenge was fully accessible. I’ve been there since, and seen it on TV but I am so glad I had that experience before full access to Stonehenge was available, before there was a carpark and a visitor centre, shop and café. Now you can only view the stones from a short distance away along a tarmac pathway – after you’ve planned your visit in advance, parked your car and been driven 10 minutes by a shuttle bus, because entry to Stonehenge is by timed tickets. (Access is free at the solstices.)  I understand the need for all this but it still makes me shudder.

When I discovered that there is a stone circle near Keswick I was keen to go there whilst we were staying in the Lake District last week. Although there were more people at Castlerigg Stone Circle than I would have liked I really did appreciate the informality of the site.  There are no restrictions and you can wander around the stones as much you like. I suppose you’d have to get there at dawn or at least a lot earlier than we did to be there on your own.

Castlerigg is set on a plateau near Keswick, surrounded by hills, including Skiddaw and Blencathra. There is no carpark, visitor centre or shop – and I hope it stays that way. You can park in a little lane, where there was an ice-cream van selling delicious home-made ice-cream on the day we were there.

This was our first sight of the stones:

Approaching Castlerigg Stone Circle (1)  P1010056

Stone circles are ancient monuments. There are over 50 stone circles in the Lake District, made with locally available stones. Nobody knows what their function was, although there is much debate about whether they had a ritual and religious use, an astronomical significance or an economic function.

Castlerigg dates from around 5,200 BC which makes it older than the pyramids! Here is part of the circle. It is about 30 metres in diameter, which makes it quite difficult to take photos of the whole circle:

Castlerigg view 2

As you can see that the stones vary in size. The tallest stone is 2.3 metres and the largest weighs about 16 tonnes.

Castlerigg P1010061

And here are two photos of parts of the interpretation boards:

Int Bd Castlerigg P1010051

Int Bd Castlerigg P1010052

Castlerigg Stone Circle is described A Guide to the Stone Circles of the Lake District by David Watson, published in 2009 with colour photographs, maps and directions to the sites. The cover photo shows Castlerigg Stone Circle.

For more Saturday Snapshots see Melinda’s blog West Metro Mommy Reads.

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.

 

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.

Book Beginnings: The Crow Road by Iain Banks

It was the day that my grandmother exploded. I sat in the crematorium, listening to my Uncle Hamish quietly snoring in harmony to Bach’s Mass in B Minor, and I reflected that it always seemed to be death that drew me back to Gallanach.

A dramatic opening that caught my attention when I began reading Iain Bank’s novel The Crow Road. I’ve read on further and so far I’m intrigued and amused by this family saga of the McHoans, that switches about between the generations.

Every Friday Book Beginnings on Friday is hosted by Gillion at Rose City Reader where you can share the first sentence (or so) of the book you are reading, along with your initial thoughts about the sentence, impressions of the book, or anything else the opener inspires.

First Chapter First Paragraph: A Change of Climate

First chapterEvery Tuesday Diane at Bibliophile by the Sea hosts First Chapter First Paragraph Tuesday Intros, where you can share the first paragraph, or a few, of a book you are reading or thinking about reading soon.

Today’s choice is A Change of Climate by Hilary Mantel, a book I’ve borrowed from my local library. It begins:

1970

SAD CASES, GOOD SOULS

One day when Kit was ten years old, a visitor cut her wrists in the kitchen. She was just beginning on this cold, difficult form of death when Kit came in to get a glass of milk.

The woman Joan was sixty years old, and wore a polyester dress from a charity shop. A housewifely type, she had chosen to drip her blood into the kitchen sink. When Kit touched her on the elbow, she threw the knife on to the draining board and attempted with her good hand to cover Kit’s eyes.

By this stage in her life Kit was not much surprised by anything. As she ducked under the woman’s arm she thought that’s our bread-knife, if you don’t mind; but she said, ‘You shouldn’t be doing that Joan, why don’t you come away from the sink, why don’t you sit down on this chair and I’ll get a first-aid kit?’

I haven’t read much more than this but these opening paragraphs have made me want to know more about the ‘Good Souls‘ and the ‘Sad Cases‘.

Hilary Mantel’s work is so diverse with books ranging from  personal memoir and short stories to historical fiction and essays. A Change of Climate is one of her early books, first published in 1994, described on the back cover as ‘a literary family saga’ and ‘a first rate thriller’

At the end of the book there is an About the Author section, which I’ve just glanced over. In answer to one of the interviewer’s questions about the theme of the book, Hilary Mantel replied that there is a central secret, an enormous destructive secret. I didn’t want to spoil the book for myself so I didn’t read any more of her answers. I’ll read the book to find out what that secret is.

What do you think? Would you keep reading?

Cragside: The Turkish Baths

I haven’t done a Saturday Snapshot for months!

Turkish Bath P1090264

Here are some photos of the Turkish Baths at Cragside, in Northumberland that I’ve been meaning to post since our last visit. There’s a lot to see at Cragside. It’s now owned by the National Trust and was formerly the home of William George Armstrong (1810 – 1900). We didn’t manage to see this suite of rooms the first time we visited as there was quite a queue.  But on our second visit there weren’t as many people. You go down stairs from the Library lobby to go into the rooms below the Library. The guide book describes them as:

The suite of rooms includes a steam bath, a cold plunge, a hot bath and a shower, as well as water closets and a changing room. They are the lowest and the first completed part of Norman Shaw’s first addition to the original house. His plan, which shows that modifications were still being made, is dated 5 May 1870, and Armstrong’s friend, Thomas Sopwith, recorded in his diary that ‘the Turkish Bath at Cragside was used for the first time on November 4th 1870′.
The baths were part of Lord Armstrong’s innovative provision of central heating for the whole house. The space occupied by the baths is cleverly situated between chambers with huge water-pipe coils, which, heated from the boiler to the north, were the source of hot air that was ducted up into the main house. (NT guide book for Cragside)

Turkish Bath P1090265

Turkish Bath P1090266Apparently, Lord Armstrong was keen to build up foreign business and thought that:

Chinese or Burmese, or Japanese arms ministers would be more likely to agree to handsome contracts, if they were both well entertained and comfortable – even in a Northumbrian winter. (NT guide book for Cragside)

I think it’s an excellent idea and wish we had space for something similar!

Book Beginning: The Lost Army of Cambyses

After a month of reading library books and new books I’ve got this year I thought it was time to get back into my stock of to-be-read books and picked one at random. It’s The Lost Army of Cambyses by Paul Sussman. Before I began this blog I read Sussman’s The Last Secret of the Temple, which I thought was excellent, so I was looking out for more of his books. Three years later I found this book and it has been sitting unread for the last four years! Time to read it …

The Lost Army of Cambyses is his first book, featuring Inspector Yusuf Khalifa of the Luxor police (as in The Last Secret of the Temple). It begins in 523BC as the Persian army of Cambyses is crossing Egypt’s western desert on their way to destroy the oracle at Siwa:

The Prologue: The Western Desert, 523 BC

The fly had been pestering the Greek all morning. As if the furnace-like heat of the desert wasn’t enough, and the forced marches, and the stale rations, now he had this added torment. He cursed the gods and landed a heavy blow on his cheek, dislodging a shower of sweat droplets, but missing the insect by some way.

‘Damned flies!’ he spat!

As the  account by Herodotus quoted at the front of the book reveals, the story goes that this army never reached its destination and never returned – it was engulfed by a violent sandstorm and disappeared forever.

Chapter 1 picks up the story in Cairo, September 2000, where a mutilated corpse is washed up on the banks of the Nile at Luxor, an antiques dealer is savagely murdered in Cairo, and an eminent British archaeologist is found dead at the ancient necropolis of Saqqara.

The whole thing intrigues me and I’m eagerly reading on …

Every Friday Book Beginnings on Friday is hosted by Gillion at Rose City Reader where you can share the first sentence (or so) of the book you are reading, along with your initial thoughts about the sentence, impressions of the book, or anything else the opener inspires.

Book Beginnings: The Chosen Dead

What to read next is nearly always a difficult question, the problem being that I have so many books I’ve bought/borrowed that I really want to read right now and much as I would like to I can’t read them all at once.

So, this morning here I am nearly ready to start a new book and wondering which one to go for. It could be The Chosen Dead by M R Hall, his fifth novel in the Coroner Jenny Cooper series.

It begins:

Scottsdale Arizona, 12 March 1982

The last thing Roy Emmett Hudson was expecting on the eve of his forty-first birthday was a bullet in the head, but life and death are only a single breath apart, and as a biologist, he appreciated that more than most. Even as he strolled across the company lot to the Mercedes Coupé he had driven all winter without once raising the roof, his killers’ thoughts were already moving on to where they might dump his body so that it might never be found.

I’ve read three of the earlier books in the series, and liked them, so I’m hoping this one will be good. It’s an intriguing beginning because it doesn’t seem likely that Coroner Jenny Cooper could be involved in investigating this death as she is a Bristol coroner …

Synopsis from the back cover:

When Bristol Coroner Jenny Cooper investigates the fatal plunge of a man from a motorway bridge, she little suspects that it has any connection with the sudden death of a friend’s thirteen year old daughter from a deadly strain of meningitis. But as Jenny pieces together the dead man’s last days, she’s drawn into a mystery whose dark ripples stretch across continents and back through decades. In an investigation which will take her into the sinister realms of unbridled human ambition and corrupt scientific endeavour, Jenny is soon forced to risk the love and lives of those closest to her, as a deadly race to uncover the truth begins . . .

Every Friday Book Beginnings on Friday is hosted by Gillion at Rose City Reader where you can share the first sentence (or so) of the book you are reading, along with your initial thoughts about the sentence, impressions of the book, or anything else the opener inspires.

First Chapter, First Paragraph: Burial of Ghosts

First chapterEvery Tuesday Diane at Bibliophile by the Sea hosts First Chapter First Paragraph Tuesday Intros, where you can share the first paragraph, or a few, of a book you are reading or thinking about reading soon.

Today’s pick is a book that I mentioned in my post the other day on New Additions at BooksPlease. It’s Burial of Ghosts by Ann Cleeves.

It begins:

My nightmares feature knives and blades and blood. I don’t do falling down holes or being chased through deserted streets. And though I usually dream in black and white, the blood is very red, glossy, and it slides out from the rest of the scene, which is flat and dull. The worst thing is that when I wake, I realise it wasn’t a dream at all.

I’m in Blyth. It’s market day and I’m there to shop for Jess. There’s a stall where she buys all her fruit and veg – she knows the bloke who runs it and he always gives her a good deal. It’s mid-morning , with lots of people about. It’s not long before Christmas and everyone’s in the mood when they have to buy, even if the stuff’s crap, otherwise they feel they’re not prepared. A foggy, drizzly day, and cold with it. There’s a raw east wind which cuts into the skin. But it doesn’t draw blood. Not like the scissors I buy in Woolworths. I ask the assistant to take them out of the plastic packet to check they’re sharp. I run my thumb across the blade and there’s a small read line and then tiny, perfectly round red drops like jewels. I fumble with the money when I pay, not because of the cut, which is already healing, but because my hands are freezing.

What do you think? Would you keep reading?

Burial of Ghosts is a standalone book. It’s not a new book as it was first published in 2003 It’s now available in a new Pan paperback edition, which was published in September 2013.

Note: I see ITV are trailing series four of Vera when the first episode will be an adaptation of Harbour Street, the sixth and latest Vera Stanhope book. I really must read that one soon.

Book Beginning: Sweet Thursday by John Steinbeck

Book Beginnings ButtonEvery Friday Gilion at Rose City Reader hosts Book Beginnings on Friday, where you can share the first sentence (or so) of the book you are reading, along with your initial thoughts about the sentence, impressions of the book, or anything else the opener inspires.

With just a few days left to go to the end of the TBR Triple Dog Dare I’m still reading from my TBR books and enjoying it. But I’m looking forward to next week when I’m going to start reading some of the books I’ve recently bought. One of them is Sweet Thursday by John Steinbeck, which begins with a Prologue:

One night Mack lay back on his bed in the Palace flop-house and he said, “I ain’t never been satisfied with that book Cannery Row, I would have went about it different.”

And after a while he rolled over and raised his head on his hand and he said, “I guess I’m just a critic. But if I ever come across the guy that wrote that book I could tell him a few things.”

I like this humorous opening, carrying on with the story Steinbeck began in Cannery Row, which I thoroughly enjoyed. Mack is a great character and I’m expecting to find out what happened to him and his friends after the end of the Second World War.

Book Beginnings: The Potter’s Hand by A N Wilson

Whilst I’ve been reading from my own book shelves this year so far, I’ve accumulated a pile of library books that are tempting me away from them. One of these books is The Potter’s Hand by A N Wilson.

It begins:

The unoiled hinge joined its melancholy whine to the opium-dosed whimper of the patient who st gagged in his chair, and to the swift rasping of the saw. The door creaked ajar in the very moment that the doctor sawed off the leg of Sukey’s pa.

Such a dramatic opening that immediately grabbed my attention, conjuring up such a vivid picture complete with sound effects! The year is 1768. Sukey (Susannah), who later became the mother of Charles Darwin, was the daughter of Josiah Wedgwood,  an English potter and founder of the Wedgwood company.

The Potter’s Hand is a novel about Josiah Wedgwood and his family. Wilson explains in an Afterword that the broad outlines of the story and most of the details are true, but he has altered dates and rearranged historical events and nearly all the letters are invented. It is ‘meant to be read as fiction, even thought it is intended in part, as an act of homage to one of the great men of our history.’

I’ve read the first two chapters and think I’ll have to read on soon, after I’ve finished Death Under Sail by C P Snow, a crime fiction novel, if not sooner.

Book Beginnings ButtonEvery Friday Gilion at Rose City Reader hosts Book Beginnings on Friday, where you can share the first sentence (or so) of the book you are reading, along with your initial thoughts about the sentence, impressions of the book, or anything else the opener inspires.

Book Beginnings – The Flower Book

Yesterday I finished reading Purple Hibiscus by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, which I thought was an amazing book that kept me captivated even though it’s a challenging book to read because of its subject matter. I’ll write more about that in a later post.

It has left me with the usual problem of deciding what to read next and I’ve picked up and started so many books, none of which seem good enough after Purple Hibiscus. I’ve been reading from my own bookshelves this year, but I’m thinking of having a little break from that and reading a library book. It’s one I picked off the mobile library van, not knowing anything about it or about the author, Catherine Law – The Flower Book. It’s set in 1914 and also in 1936.

It begins in Cornwall in March 1914:

On certain nights if the wind was right, you could hear the sea from Old Trellick. So the legend has it, although Violet had never heard the waves and her parents would not try, due to the fact, she decided, that they had no imagination.

As a child she’d stand at the French windows and implore them to be quiet, to stop what they were doing and to concentrate with her, to catch this magical and elusive sound.

Every Friday Gilion at Rose City Reader hosts Book Beginnings on Friday, where you can share the first sentence (or so) of the book you are reading, along with your initial thoughts about the sentence, impressions of the book, or anything else the opener inspires.

I like the images the beginning of this book conjures and also the sounds. I always like the sight and sound of the waves breaking on the shore; to me too that has a certain magic. So this appealed to me straight away. Couple that with a story set against the backdrop of World War I as Aster Fairling searches for the truth behind her parents’ tragic love through the pages of her mother journal and I want to know more.

The Flower Book is Catherine Law’s third book.

First Chapter First Paragraph

First chapterEvery Tuesday Diane at Bibliophile by the Sea hosts First Chapter First Paragraph Tuesday Intros, where you can share the first paragraph, or a few, of a book you are reading or thinking about reading soon.

Today’s pick is a book that I’m currently reading from my TBR books, Playing With Fire by Peter Robinson, a DCI Banks book (incidentally a new series of DCI Banks started last night on ITV1 – I haven’t watched it yet).

Chapter 1 begins:

‘The barge she sat in, like a burnish’d throne, burn’d on the water,’ Banks whispered. As he spoke, his breath formed plumes of mist in the chill January air.

Detective Inspector Annie Cabot, standing beside him, must have heard because she said, ‘You what? Come again.’

‘A quotation,’ said Banks. ‘From Anthony and Cleopatra.’

‘You don’t usually go around quoting Shakespeare like a copper in a book,’ Annie commented.

Banks and Annie are watching as two narrow boats are burning on a dead-end stretch of the Eastvale canal – inside they find the remains of two dead bodies. Was this an accident or murder?

Saturday Snapshot

Some time ago I posted a photo of Heidi in her little tepee. She still likes to sleep in it but she has other favourite places to nod off, one of which is our settee, so we cover the seat with a towel as she’s not very good at wiping her wet feet!

The other day we found her like this:

Heidi asleep P1090353
Fast asleep

She didn’t even move when David leant over towards her:

Cat napping

For more Saturday Snapshots see Melinda’s blog West Metro Mommy Reads.

First Chapter: The Observations

First chapterEvery Tuesday Diane at Bibliophile by the Sea hosts First Chapter First Paragraph Tuesday Intros, where you can share the first paragraph or (a few) of a book you are reading or thinking about reading soon.

My choice this week is a book I’ll be reading soon. It’s The Observations by Jane Harris and Chapter 1 ‘I Find a New Place‘ begins:

I had reason to leave Glasgow, this would have been about three or four years ago, and I had been on the Great Road about five hours when I seen a track to the left and a sign that said ‘Castle Haivers’. Now there’s a coincidence I thought to myself, because here I was on my way across Scratchland to have a look at Edinburgh castle and perhaps get a job there and who knows marry a young nobleman or prince. I was only 15 with a head full of sugar and I had a notion to work in a grand establishment.

Jane Harris was born in Belfast and grew up in Scotland before moving to England in her 20s.  The Observations, her first book is set in Scotland in 1863. It was shortlisted for the Orange Prize for Fiction in 2007 and the Prix du Premier Roman Etranger in 2009. Her second novel Gillespie and I, which I read just over two years ago, was shortlisted for the National Book Awards in 2011 and the Scottish Book Awards in 2012.

I enjoyed Gillespie and I, a book that lingered in my mind long after I’d finished reading it, so I’m hoping I’ll have a similar reaction to this book.

Book Beginning: A Sight for Sore Eyes by Ruth Rendell

The library van came round this week and I borrowed another Ruth Rendell book: A Sight for Sore Eyes, first published in 1998. I don’t really check what the book is about when it’s one by Ruth Rendell, as I usually enjoy her books. This one begins:

They were to hold hands and look at one another. Deeply, into each other’s eyes.

‘It’s not a sitting,’ she said, ‘it’s a standing. Why can’t I sit on his knee?’

He laughed. Everything she said amused him or delighted him, everything about her captivated him from her dark-red curly hair to her small white feet. The painter’s instructions were that he should look at her as if in love and she at him as if enthralled. This was easy, this was to act naturally.

This could be the opening to a love story, but this is a Ruth Rendell book and I’m expecting it to be something darker and more mysterious. Indeed, the information on the back cover warns that this is ‘Masterfully spooky. Don’t read this alone.’

For more Book Beginnings see Gilion’s blog Rose City Reader.

The Cupboard by Rose Tremain

I’ve never read any of Rose Tremain’s books, but when I saw The Cupboard on the library van’s shelves the plainness of the title and the photo on the cover interested me, because they just didn’t seem to match.

The Cupboard 001

I took it off the shelf and read the back cover, where the newspaper critics’ quotations are glowing with praise for Rose Tremain: ‘one of the finest writers in English’ from the Daily Telegraph, ‘Rose Tremain’s fiction is my gold standard’, from The Independent on Sunday’, and ‘Miss Tremain has fashioned the totality of one life – and conveyed the evanescence of all human existence’ from the Sunday Telegraph. So I thought I should have a look inside the book, where I see that Rose Tremain has won many prizes for her books.

But it was the opening paragraph that really caught my attention and is the reason I borrowed the book:

At the age of eighty-seven, Erica March died in a cupboard. She wrapped her body in a chenille tablecloth, laid it out neatly under a few skirts and dresses that still hung on the clothes rail and put it to death very quietly, pill by pill.

Now that makes me want to read on to find out why she did that! Not the accolades or the awards, but the words.

For more Book Beginnings see Gilion’s blog Rose City Reader.

The Steel Bonnets: the opening chapter

A friend has just lent me The Steel Bonnets : the Story of the Anglo-Scottish Border Reivers by George MacDonald Fraser and having looked at the opening chapter I know I just have to read on, rather than waiting for January when Peggy Ann’s Read Scotland 2014 Challenge starts. It’s a long, detailed book so I shall probably still be reading it in January anyway.

The Steel Bonnets 001I live on the English side of the Border with Scotland and the history of the area just fascinates me. The Steel Bonnets covers the period from the building of Hadrian’s Wall to 1603, when James VI of Scotland became James I of England. Four hundred or so years ago it was all very different around here and as the history of the Border Reivers is very complicated I’m hoping this book will guide me through it.

The opening paragraph took me by surprise:

At one moment when President Richard Nixon was taking part in his inauguration ceremony, he appeared flanked by Lyndon Johnson and Billy Graham. To anyone familiar with Border history it was one of those historical coincidences which send a little shudder through the mind: in that moment, thousands of miles and centuries away in time away from the Debateable Land, the threads came together again; the descendants of three notable Anglo-Scottish Border tribes – families who lived and fought within a few miles of each other on the West Marches in Queen Elizabeth’s time – were standing side by side, and it took very little effort of the imagination to replace the custom-made suits with leather jacks or backs-and-breasts. Only a political commentator would be tactless enough to pursue the resemblance to Border reivers beyond the physical, but there the similarity is strong.

In the following paragraphs he goes on to describe their physical features, particularly those of Nixon and Johnson, as ‘excellent specimens of two distinct but common Border types.’ I hadn’t expected this at all.

For more Book Beginnings see Gilion’s blog Rose City Reader.

First Chapter: Shakespeare the Biography by Peter Ackroyd

First chapterEvery Tuesday Diane at Bibliophile by the Sea hosts First Chapter First Paragraph Tuesday Intros, where you can share the first paragraph or (a few) of a book you are reading or thinking about reading soon.

In my last post I mentioned Peter Ackroyd’s biography of William Shakespeare when deciding which book to read next. As soon as I began the first chapter I knew that this is the next non fiction book I’ll be reading.

The first paragraph is:

William Shakespeare is popularly supposed to have been born on 23 April 1564, or St George’s Day. The date may in fact have been 21 April or 22 April, but the coincidence of the national festival is at least appropriate.

But it is the second paragraph that caught my attention, after all Shakespeare’s birthday or supposed birthday was not a surprise to me. The second paragraph, however, gives me information I hadn’t known before:

When he emerged from the womb into the world of time, with the assistance of a midwife, an infant of the sixteenth century was washed and then ‘swaddled’ by being wrapped tightly in soft cloth. Then he was carried downstairs in order to be presented to the father. After this ritual greeting, he was taken back to the birth-chamber, still warm and dark where he was lain beside the mother. She was meant to ‘draw to her all the diseases from the child’, before her infant was put in a cradle. A small portion of butter and honey was usually placed in the baby’s mouth. It was the custom in Warwickshire to give the suckling child hare’s brains reduced to jelly. ( page 3)

Ackroyd is not of course saying that this is what happened when Shakespeare was born, merely that this was the ritual at the time and he refers to David Cressy’s book, Birth, Marriage, and Death: Ritual, Religion, and the Life Cycle in Tudor and Stuart England as the source of his information. But it is fascinating, nonetheless to think of the infant William wrapped in swaddling clothes and sucking hare’s brain jelly! Butter and honey sounds far more delectable. And how different from birth today.

Saturday Snapshots

Last Saturday I posted a photo of the little Japanese Maple still bearing its flame red leaves. We’ve had some high winds this week and this is what it looks like today – what a difference a week makes!

Japanese Maple 23 Nov 2013Just a few leaves are still clinging to its branches:

Japanese Maple 23 Nov 2013 P1090329

The rest are on the ground or have blown away.

Autumn Leaves P1090328

For more Saturday Snapshots see Melinda’s blog West Metro Mommy Reads.

Saturday Snapshots

Autumn in the garden:

Jap Maple Nov 2013 P1090302

The leaves are falling from some of the trees now, but our little Japanese Maple is still bearing its flame-coloured leaves.

Autumn trees Nov 2013 P1090305The Wych Elm leaves are a glorious golden colour.

Autumn leaves Nov 2013 P1090313And in our little wood the ground is now a carpet of rustling brown leaves.

D up ladder P1090314

Finally, here’s D up a ladder doing repairs to the roof – I had to watch because falling leaves are one thing …

For more Saturday Snapshots see Melinda’s blog West Metro Mommy Writes.

Book Beginnings: The Midwich Cuckoos

Every Friday Gilion at Rose City Reader hosts Book Beginnings on Friday, where you can share the first sentence (or so) of the book you are reading, along with your initial thoughts about the sentence, impressions of the book, or anything else the opener inspires..

I’ve borrowed The Midwich Cuckoos by John Wyndham from the Kindle Lending Library and have only read the opening paragraphs so far. I’ve liked other books by Wyndham, such as Chocky, The Chrysalids, and The Kraken Wakes, so I’m expecting to enjoy this one too.

It begins:

One of the luckiest accidents in my wife’s life is that she happened to marry a man who was born on the 26th of September. But for that, we should both of us undoubtedly have been at home in Midwich on the night of the 26th-27th, with consequences which, I have never ceased to be thankful, she was spared.

According to the reviews on Amazon this Kindle version is full of grammatical errors and typos, so I’m hoping I can overlook them and enjoy this book set in the sleepy English village of Midwich, where a mysterious silver object appears and all the inhabitants fall unconscious.

First Chapter: Instructions for a Heatwave

First chapterEvery Tuesday Diane at Bibliophile by the Sea hosts First Chapter First Paragraph Tuesday Intros, where you can share the first paragraph or (a few) of a book you are reading or thinking about reading soon.

I’ve just started to read Instructions for a Heatwave by Maggie O’Farrell. I loved an earlier book by her, The Hand That First Held Mine, and so far this one looks just as good.

It begins:

The heat, the heat. It wakes Gretta just after dawn, propelling her from her bed and down the stairs. It inhabits the house like a guest who has outstayed his welcome: it lies along corridors, it circles around curtains, it lolls heavily on sofas and chairs. The air in the kitchen is like a solid entity filling the space, pushing Gretta down onto the floor, against the side of the table.

Only she would choose to bake bread in such weather.

I like this opening, setting the scene and establishing the heat as a physical presence, a character to be reckoned with. This is July 1976 and London is in the grip of a heatwave. (It was not just London, because I remember it very well where I was living in Cheshire in the north-west.) Gretta’s husband pops out of the house to buy a newspaper – but he doesn’t come back – this is a story of a family in crisis.

I’m drawn into this book right from the beginning – what do you think? Would you keep reading?

Library Loot/Saturday Snaphot

After my last post about reading from my own shelves I’m almost ashamed to write about the library books I’ve got out on loan at the moment.

Mobile Library Van

But you see they’re from the mobile library and if we don’t use it the service will close down and that would not be a good thing!  The library van comes once a fortnight and is an invaluable resource. And it’s so convenient as it stops just a short walk from our house.

Lib Loot Nov 13 P1090297

The books from top to bottom are:

  • In the Woods by Tana French – a book I’ve read about and have been hoping to find in the library. It’s crime fiction, a psychological thriller, a murder mystery about a little girl’s death in an Irish wood. It has very mixed reviews on Amazon UK so I’m not getting my hopes too high.
  • Below Zero by C J Box. I keep seeing Box’s name on other book blogs and have wondered about reading one of his books. This is the 9th in his Joe Pickett series – Pickett is a Wyoming game warden. Below Zero is another book about a young girl who had been killed years earlier – or had she?
  • Perfect by Rachel Joyce. This book looks intriguing – in 1972 two seconds were added to time and the question that bothers James Lowe is ‘how can time change?’ I still haven’t read Joyce’s first book, The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry (I have a copy which will be a TBR next year), but as they are two stand-alone books that isn’t a problem.
  • The Day of the Lie by William Brodrick. I’ve read two of his earlier Father Anselm books, so I’m hoping this one is just as good. It’s yet another murder mystery – this time with a monk as the detective, described on the book cover as ‘an unforgettable tale of love, death and redemption.’

For more of this week’s Library Loot posts see The Captive Reader.

For more Saturday Snapshots see Melinda’s blog West Metro Mommy Reads.

First Chapter First Paragraph: Julius

First chapterEvery Tuesday Diane at Bibliophile by the Sea hosts First Chapter First Paragraph Tuesday Intros, where you can share the first paragraph or (a few) of a book you are reading or thinking about reading soon.

One of the books I’m currently reading is Julius by Daphne du Maurier. The first chapter is called Childhood (1860-1872). It begins:

 His first instinct was to stretch out his hands to the sky. The white clouds seemed so near to him, surely they were easy to hold and to caress, strange-moving, things belonging to the wide blue space of heaven.

They floated just above his head, they almost brushed his eyelids as they passed, and he only had to grasp the long curling fringe of them with his fingers and they would belong to him instead, becoming part of him for ever. Something in him whispered that he must clutch at the clouds and bring them down from the sky. So he held out his hands to them and they did not come. He cried out to them and they did not come. They passed away from him as though they had never been, indifferent and aloof; like wreaths of white smoke they were carried away by the wind, born of nothing, dissolving into nothing, a momentary breath that vanished in the air.

What do you think? Would you keep reading?

I did and I’m finding it quite captivating. The ‘he’ in these first two paragraphs is Julius and right from his birth you can see him reaching out for things beyond his grasp.

Saturday Snapshots

A few weeks ago I posted about the Attack of the Sparrows on the House Martins’ nest. A couple of weeks later the house martins all left and flew off to spend the winter in Africa. Each year they use our house as a building site for their nests. They are beautiful little birds and I love to see them flying high in the sky above our house and the chicks as they poke their heads out of the nest waiting to be fed.

It’s illegal to remove their nests whilst they are building or using them as they’re protected under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 and you could get fined up to £5,000 and/or a 6 month prison sentence for every bird, egg or nest destroyed. And as they’re on the Amber list (because of recent decline in numbers) the RSPB is encouraging people to help them nest.

Well, they didn’t need any encouragement from us and built four nests in the eaves of our house. One was above the living room window, so you can imagine the mess their droppings made on the window and window sill. But now they’ve gone David has taken the nests down and cleaned up the mess they left behind, so he could sadolin the soffits and fascias. The nests came away mainly in one piece. My photos show how they’re constructed – mainly of mud and sticks formed into a cup shape.

House Martins nest P1010917

House Martins nest P1010918For more Saturday Snapshots see Melinda’s blog A West Metro Mommy Reads.

Saturday Snapshots

I’ve been spending more time in the garden recently and so have had less time to write on my blog. The garden has definitely been looking as though it needs tidying, deadheading and cutting back to do, and weeds are getting on top of everything!

So when the weather hasn’t been too wet I’ve been out there with my secateurs, garden fork and my dumper truck, cutting, digging and pulling up weeds – nettles, bindweed, ground elder, creeping buttercups, and other weeds whose names I don’t know.

The dumper truck is one of the best things we’ve bought recently and it has made collecting and moving weeds so much easier. Here it is empty:

Dumper truck P1010882and here it is full:

Weeds P1010892These weeds all have strong roots (don’t I know it!) and spread enormously with long, white runners forming a dense network. If you simply break them off they regenerate (I know that too!!). Even though I tried to get rid of these in the spring, they are still in the ground.

The nettles are difficult to tackle earlier in the year when their stings are so painful and they’re growing next to, behind, and in between rose bushes with particularly sharp thorns. What makes it worse is that their roots are the other side of the fence. At this time of year the effect of their sting is only minor and soon disappears and I managed to get at them better.

I hate bindweed – it chokes everything within its reach. I read in Richard Mabey’s book Weeds that the vernacular name for bindweed is ‘Devil’s guts’ – how appropriate.

I think I shall have to resort to weedkiller!

For more Saturday Snapshots see Melinda’s blog West Metro Mommy Reads.

 

Book Beginnings

Book Beginnings ButtonGilion at Rose City Reader hosts Book Beginnings on Friday in which you share the first sentence (or so) of the book you are reading, along with your initial thoughts about the sentence, impressions of the book, or anything else the opener inspires.

I was looking at some of my books that I’ve had for a long time and wondering which one to read next and I came across Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell. This was immensely popular when it first came out in 2004 and so I bought a copy and began to read it. Although the opening pages intrigued me after a few more pages I put it down; I just couldn’t get into it. After a while I tried it again, and again and still found it not very interesting and when I looked forward in the book I found it looked very disjointed and I gave up. There were plenty of books to read without struggling to read one that wasn’t interesting me.

Then they made a film and people started enthusing about it again. So, how many times do I try to read this book? It begins:

Thursday, 7th November –

Beyond the Indian hamlet, on a forlorn strand, I happened upon on trail of recent footprints. Through rotting kelp, sea cocoanuts & bamboo, the tracks led me to their maker, a white man, his trowsers & Pea-jacket rolled up, sporting a kempt board & an outsized Beaver, shovelling & sifting the cindery sand with a tea-spoon so intently that he noticed me only after I hailed him from ten yards away. Thus it was, I made the acquaintance of Dr Henry Goose, surgeon to the London nobility. His nationality was no surprise. If there be any eyrie so desolate, or isle so remote that one may resort unchallenged by an Englishman, ’tis not down on any map I ever saw.

From the back cover:

Six interlocking lives – one amazing adventure. In a narrative that circles the globe and reaches from the 19th century to a post-apocalyptic future, David Mitchell erases the boundaries of time, genre and language to offer an enthralling vision of humanity’s will to power, and where it will lead us.

It knits together science fiction, political thriller and historical pastiche with musical virtuosity and linguistic exuberance …

It sounds amazing and extraordinary, but I’m still not sure because when I actually start reading it, the first chapter ends in the middle of a sentence. Is that really meant to make me want to read on when the next chapter seems totally unconnected? It reminds me of Italo Calvino’s If on a Winter’s Night a Traveller, a book I didn’t finish reading, although I loved the beginning of that book.

Is Cloud Atlas really so good! If you have read it, what do you think? Please let me know.

Saturday Snapshot – Flodden

It’s the 500th anniversary of the Battle of Flodden this year – it was on 9th September 1513 that the armies of England and Scotland met at Flodden Field, near Branxton in Northumberland. There have been events this year to commemorate the battle and the men from both nations who died in this last medieval battle between England and Scotland.

Living not far from the site of the battle this week we went to see what had changed as a result of the anniversary. There’s now a surfaced path leading up to the Monument.

(Click on the photos to see them enlarged)

500th anniversary P1010826

There are some more information boards and signs to guide you round the Battlefield Trail:

Battlefield trail signpost P1010837The monument isn’t actually on the site of the battle but stands on Piper’s Hill.

Flodden MonumentFrom the monument you can look towards the north down on the village of Branxton:

Branxton P1010831The two armies lined up south of the monument with a marshy dip between them. The Scots advanced first, unaware of the of the ground conditions below them. Now it’s a ditch but in 1513 there was a brook surrounded by a reeded quagmire downhill – where the Scots were bogged down, the rear ranks pushing forward into the front ranks, crushing the fallen bodies and causing chaos. They were then easy prey for the deadly English billhooks.

It looks like this now – the ditch between the hedge and fence is now nearly dry, after weeks of rain in 1513 it was a quagmire:

Boggy Ground P1010835

 and the two armies came face to face:

Tthe Killing Fields P1010858

Flodden 1513: Scotland’s Greatest Defeat by John Sadler is an excellent account of the strategies and tactics of both armies, with maps and plans showing how the battle began and a time timeline of the various conflicts giving a detailed account of events.

Having read this book and the information boards around the trail I was able to visualise the battle, even on a peaceful weekday afternoon 500 years later. The Scottish troops had moved from their original position on Flodden Edge as the English approached the battlefield, putting them at a disadvantage. The outcome could have been different if they had seen the dip below them as they charged down the hill – or even if the English had attacked first.

But then, the battle needn’t have taken place at all if James IV of Scotland had not invaded England in an attempt to divert English troops from their fight against the French. Indeed he had entered into a Treaty of Perpetual Peace with England in 1502. But in 1512 he had also renewed the Auld Alliance with the French, putting him in the position of either declaring for France against Henry VIII (James’s brother-in-law) or remaining neutral, which would make him vulnerable to any further English expansion, as Henry had revived his claim to the Scottish throne.

Despite pressure from senior members of his council to avoid an outright breach with England, when Henry arrived in Calais preparing to wage war against the French, James decided to go to war against the English. Prior to the battle at Flodden he had crossed the River Tweed into England where he then attacked and captured Norham Castle, and then destroyed both Etal and Ford Castles whilst the English were still mustering their troops. But the outcome was a disaster for Scotland and James was killed on Flodden Field:

The king’s was but one of many hundreds of bodies, sprawled and piled on the bloodied turf. The whole hillside from the brook northwards was a killing ground, the dead, maimed and horribly injured competing for space, severed limbs and streaming entrails spilling fresh gore. The din would have been terrific, with hoarse shouts and the screams of the dying men, the crash of spears, a crescendo rising and spilling like breakers against the shore. (page 82, Flodden 1513 by John Sadler)

Each time I go to Branxton, or see the monument as we drive south along the A697, I think about the battle and all those who died there in 1513.

For more Saturday Snapshots see Melinda’s blog West Metro Mommy Reads.

Saturday Snapshots

It’s been a busy time here recently, as these photos of some of the places we’ve visited show:

We’ve been away visiting family. We stayed at Marlow in Buckinghamshire. The photo below shows the Marlow Bridge – a road and footbridge across the River Thames. The original crossing probably dates back to 1309. The current suspension bridge was built 1829 and 1832 and was restored in 1956-7.

Marlow Bridge P1090134

There were the usual boats, ducks and swans but we were surprised to see this driving up the Thames:

Amphibious car Marlow P1090141We had a flying visit to Eton and Windsor, not far from Marlow. We had lunch at the 300 year old George Inn at Eton on one side of the Thames:

George Inn Eton P1090082and then we crossed the bridge into Windsor for a quick look at Windsor Castle:

Windsor Castle P1090097

 Other trips out were to Silverstone in Northamptonshire where our nephew has a hospitality suite and we watched the practice for the British MotoGP. His suite, located right over the pit lane, has fantastic views over the start/finish straight.

Silverstone P1090230And then we were off to Coventry to see our other nephew’s show The Prodigals (he’s the musical supervisor/director). Before  the show we managed to go to Coventry Cathedral, but only to see the outside as it was near to closing time for the Cathedral and opening time for the show. The photo below shows the entrance to the Cathedral through the huge Screen of Saints and Angels, with a reflection of the ruins of the old Cathedral:

Coventry Cathedral P1090236and finally the next photo shows the enormous bronze statues, designed by Sir Jacob Epstein, of St Michael defeating the Devil:

Coventry Cathedral P1090238

I’ve got more photos – plenty for several Saturday Snapshot posts!

For more Saturday Snapshots see Melinda’s blog West Metro Mommy Reads.

Saturday Snapshots: Pisa

I’ve been looking through some old holiday photos – these are from 2000 when we visited Pisa whilst staying near Florence.

This is our first view of the Leaning Tower, which doesn’t actually look as though it’s leaning much at this angle:

View Leaning Tower Pisa DCP_0104But when we got nearer you can see just how far it leans:

Leaning tower Pisa DCP_0105That’s me in the sun hat.

And here’s another view of the Tower taken from the roof of the Cathedral:

View Leaning tower Pisa DCP_0133We didn’t have long to spend in Pisa itself after we had looked round the Cathedral, but I was interested in this little church we passed on the way to the Cathedral Square. It’s Santa Maria della Spina, tucked away next to the river Arno:

Santa Maria della Spina, Pisa DCP_0101A lovely Gothic church, in sparkling white marble and very eye-catching as we walked by. I wished we’d had time to see more but we had to catch the train.

(Click on photos to enlarge)

For more Saturday Snapshots see Melinda’s blog West Metro Mommy Reads.

First Chapter First Paragraph Tuesday Intros

Every Tuesday Diane at Bibliophile By the Sea hosts First Chapter First Paragraph First chapterTuesday Intros, to share the first paragraph or (a few) of a book you are reading or thinking about reading soon.

The Cabinet Room, 10 Downing Street, London, 4.30pm, 9 May 1940

Churchill was last to arrive. He knocked once, sharply, and entered. Through the tall windows the warm spring day was fading, shadows lengthening on Horse Guards Parade. Margesson, the Conservative Chief Whip, sat with Prime Minister Chamberlain and Foreign Secretary Lord Halifax at the far end of the long, coffin-shaped table which dominated the Cabinet Room. As Churchill approached them Margesson, formally dressed as ever in immaculate black morning coat stood up.

‘Winston.’

Churchill nodded at the Chief Whip, looking him sternly in the eye. Margesson, who was Chamberlain’s creature, had made life difficult for him when he had stood out against party policy over India and Germany in the years before the war.He turned to Chamberlain and Halifax, the Prime Minister’s right-hand man in the government’s appeasement of Germany. ‘Neville. Edward.’ Both men looked back; no sign today of Chamberlain’s habitual half-sneer, nor of the snappy arrogance which had alienated the House of Commons during yesterday’s debate over the military defeat of Norway. Ninety Conservatives had voted with the Opposition or abstained; Chamberlain had left the chamber followed by shouts of ‘Go!’ The Prime Minister’s eyes were red from lack of sleep or perhaps even tears – though it was hard to image Neville Chamberlain weeping. Last night the word around a feverish House of Commons was that his leadership would not survive.

This is the opening of Dominion by C J Sansom, a novel about what might have happened, an alternative history, if Germany had been triumphant in the Second World War. All events that take place in this book after 5 p.m. on 9 May 1940 are imaginary.

I’ve read and enjoyed Sansom’s earlier books, the five Matthew Shardlake historical mysteries and Winter in Madrid, historical fiction set in Spain in 1940, but I wasn’t sure I wanted to read Dominion, his latest book, described on the book jacket as ‘a vivid, haunting re-imagining of 1950s Britain’ and ‘a gripping, humane spy thriller and a poignant love story.’

I like the opening paragraphs I’m still not sure because ‘re-imaginings’ don’t exactly appeal to me. I prefer historical fiction to be historical and fiction to be fiction, not  an alternative version of history. But when I saw a copy on the library shelves I was tempted to at least look at it and brought it home to see if it’s any good. After all it’s written by C J Sansom, so it can’t be bad, can it?

Saturday Snapshots: Wallington

Griffins' heads, Wallington

Wallington is now owned by the National Trust but was for generations the home of the Blackett and Trevelyan families. It’s in the village of Cambo, Northumberland, to the west of Morpeth, approached down a series of country lanes. We visited it just over a week ago, never having heard of it or of Cambo until I looked in the NT handbook. There’s a lot to see, including these strange objects on the front lawn – they’re griffin heads that were originally on Bishopsgate in London (according to wikipedia this was the gate where the heads of criminals were displayed on spikes).

I took lots of photos, mainly inside the house, which was built in the late 17th century. We didn’t have time to see everything and spent most of the time looking round the house. I’ve just posted a few of my photos today (click on them to enlarge):

First the entrance to the property is under a Clock Tower topped by a cupola on nine Doric columns:

Clock Tower, Wallington

This opens into a grassed courtyard where people were sitting having picnics and children were playing ball games. Crossing the grass takes you to the entrance to the house:

Wallington entranceI think the Central Hall is impressive, but one of the house stewards told me not all visitors like it. I suppose not everybody thinks an Italianate Renaissance palazzo type courtyard is right for the house, or perhaps it’s the wall paintings they don’t like.

Central Hall, Wallington P1080991The wall paintings illustrate the history of Northumberland. They are the work of William Bell Scott, a friend of Dante Gabriel Rossetti. The photo below shows three of the paintings, featuring Egfrid, King of Northumberland with St Cuthbert, Danish Vikings landing at Tynemouth and the death of the Venerable Bede.

Wall paintings, Wallington P1080993Just a few more photos – below a photo of one of the cabinets containing a collection of model soldiers, 3,800 in total. These belonged to the three sons of Sir George Otto Trevelyan. They set them out following the plans of the battles of Marlborough and Napoleonic wars to re-enact the battles. Now they are laid out in regiments:

Model soldiers, Wallington P1090002There are the usual rooms – Kitchen (my photos of this are a bit dark), Parlour, Study, Drawing Room, Dining Room, Library, Nusery, Bedrooms and Galleries, all with many paintings, sculptures, beautiful furniture and collections of ceramics and textiles.

I was intrigued by this large boot in one of the bedrooms:

Boot Bath, Wallington P1090021It’s a Boot Bath – used by Sir William Blackett in the 18th century. It’s made of metal sheets soldered together. I don’t think I’d have liked using it, but it was designed for modesty – just your head and shoulders could be seen when you’re sitting in it – and for warmth! It was originally used in a bedroom downstairs and placed near a fire. I don’t think I’d like to have been one of the servants either, whose job it was to fill it up or empty it.

One final photo. After going round the house and part of the garden we needed some refreshment: a cup of Earl Grey tea with coffee and walnut cake for me and and mug of coffee with chocolate fudge cake for David (you can see my reflection in the teapot):

Teatime, Wallington P1090036

That’s enough for now – more photos another day, maybe of the Cabinet of Curiosities on the top floor of the house.

For more Saturday Snapshots see Melinda’s blog West Metro Mommy Reads.

Peacock Butterfly: Saturday Snapshot

Peacock butterflyWe’ve seen lots of butterflies in the garden recently and I just managed to get a photo of this beautiful Peacock Butterfly when it landed on the decking the other day. It’s quite a big butterfly, as butterflies go, and is easily recognised by the eye-spots on its wings. It flew away before I could creep around it to get a better shot, but you can still see the eye-spots.

For more Saturday Snapshots see Melinda’s blog West Metro Mommy Reads.

First Chapter First Paragraph: The Sea Change

Every Tuesday Diane at Bibliophile by the Sea hosts First Chapter First Paragraph Tuesday Intros, to share the first paragraph or (a few) of a book she is reading or thinking about reading soon.

The Sea Change

This week I’m featuring a book that was published in May this year. It is The Sea Change, a debut novel by Joanna Rossiter.

It begins with a Prologue, set in Kanyakumari India, in 1971 where Alice is thousands of miles away from home the day after her wedding:

It is there before we know about it. Being Born. A Persian rug, unrolling. Our wave, heavy like death.

‘Up! Up!’ a voice shouts from outside the guesthouse. It doesn’t belong to James. ‘It’s coming!’

Where is he?

Stone. Bone. think hard and then harder. That’s how it hits the shore. It takes the beach in one breathtaking gulp, palm trees dominoing down and fishing boats scattering as easily as the seeds of a dandelion. Streets fuse into the flesh of the water, like new limbs, new skin, until it morphs into a moving city. Trucks and tuk-tuks roll over and over like shorts in a washer: houses are picked up whole. Then, with sea-soaked hands, the water sets itself alight. flames – blinding and orange – buoy themselves forward on black, black, mirrorless liquid.

I’ve quoted more than the first paragraph because the words drew my eyes on down the page with such dramatic images of the destructive power of the sea and our powerlessness as it sweeps across the landscape. I can visualise it so easily. And where is James?

Saturday Snapshot: Ben

Today my Saturday Snapshots are from old photos. This is Ben, the X-Border Collie when he was a puppy.

Ben - puppy 01

He never grew very big and had health problems all his life. As a puppy he had pancreatitis. When he was older he developed diabetes and we had to give him an injection every day, but he never complained.

Ben 003

 

He was a lovely dog.

For more Saturday Snapshots see Melinda’s blog West Metro Mommy Reads.

 

First Chapter First Paragraph Tuesday Intros

First chapterEvery Tuesday Diane at Bibliophile by the Sea hosts First Chapter First Paragraph Tuesday Intros, to share the first paragraph or (a few) of a book she is reading or thinking about reading soon.

This week I’m featuring a book that I’ve known about for many years, but have never read until now. It is To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee and although I haven’t finished it yet it’s promising to be one of the best books I’ve read for a long time. Although she had written some long short stories before this was her first novel (and only novel!) and published in 1960 it became an immediate best seller.

It begins:

When he was nearly thirteen my brother Jem got his arm badly broken at the elbow. When it healed, and Jem’s fears of never being able to play football were assuaged, he was seldom self-conscious about his injury. His left arm was somewhat shorter than his right ; when he stood or walked the back of his hand was at right-angles to his body, his thumb parallel to his thigh. He couldn’t have cared less, so long as he could pass and punt.

When enough years had gone by to enable us to look back on them, we sometimes discussed the events leading to his accident. I maintain that the Ewells started it all, but Jem, who was four years my senior, said it began the summer Dill came to us, when Dill first gave us the idea of making Boo Radley come out.

I’m not writing any more about it right now – not until I’ve finished it (less than 100 pages from the end) – except that it has captured my imagination completely and given me plenty to think about!

First Chapter First Paragraph Tuesday Intros

First chapterEvery Tuesday Diane at  Bibliophile by the Sea hosts First Chapter First Paragraph Tuesday Intros, sharing the first paragraph or (a few) of a book she’s reading or thinking about reading soon.

Today I’m in the mood for reading short fiction and picked this book off my to-be-read shelves. It’s Tamburlaine Must Die by Louise Welsh, set in 1593 it tells the story of playwright, Christopher Marlowe’s last days, weaving together fact and fiction. It’s only 140 pages.

Tamburlaine

It begins:

I have four candles and one evening in which to write this account. Tomorrow I will lodge these papers with my last true friend. If I survive the day, they will light our pipes. But should I not return, he has instructions to secrete this chronicle where it will lie undiscovered for a long span, in the hope that when these pages are found, the age will be different and my words may be judged by honest eyes.

When I read the first four words I immediately thought of the Ronnie Barker and Ronnie Corbett sketch from years ago in the Two RonniesThe Four Candles. I don’t suppose that is the response Louise Welsh would have expected, but there it is, that’s what came to my mind. But this is not a comedy as this summary from Amazon reveals:

London, 1593. A city on edge. Under threat from plague and war, strangers are unwelcome, suspicion is wholesale, severed heads grin from the spikes on Tower Bridge. Playwright, poet and spy, Christopher Marlowe walks the city’s mean streets with just three days to find the murderous Tamburlaine, a killer escaped from the pages of his most violent play. Tamburlaine Must Die is the searing adventure of a man who dares to defy both God and the state and whose murder remains a taunting mystery to the present day.

What do you think? Would you keep reading?

Saturday Snapshots

Today’s Saturday Snapshots are from our visit last week to Polkommet Country Park, West Lothian in Scotland. The Park has some lovely woodland walks alongside the River Almond:

River Almond P1080925Our granddaughter couldn’t resist getting her feet wet:

E & River Almond P1080937 For more Saturday Snapshots see Melinda’s blog West Metro Mommy Reads.

Searching for The Secret River: a Book Beginnings Post

Book Beginnings ButtonGilion at Rose City Reader hosts Book Beginnings on Friday in which you share the first sentence (or so) of the book you are reading, along with your initial thoughts about the sentence, impressions of the book, or anything else the opener inspires.

I’m currently reading Searching for The Secret River by Kate Grenville. It begins:

In the puritan Australia of my childhood, you could only get a drink on a Sunday if you were a ‘bona fide traveller’. That meant you had to have travelled fifty miles or more. Around Sydney a ring of townships at exactly the fifty-mile mark filled with cheerful people every Sunday. One of them was a little place called Wiseman’s Ferry.

I loved Kate Grenville’s book The Secret River, so when I discovered that she had written a book about how she came to write it I just had to get a copy. Her interest began with her great-great-great grandfather, Solomon Wiseman,the original ferryman at Wiseman’s Ferry. Her mother had told her stories about him, but she wanted to know more about, what he was like and what he might have done when he first encountered Aboriginal people … she needed to know.

I haven’t finished the book yet, but it is fascinating – seeing how she went about her research into family history and how she imagined his life from facts gleaned from the records and the places he had lived.

Wondrous Words

wondrous2Wondrous Words Wednesday is a weekly meme run by Kathy at Bermuda Onion’s Weblog where you can share new words that you’ve encountered or spotlight words you love.

These are some words from Barnaby Rudge by Charles Dickens:

Usquebaugh – ‘what does my noble captain drink – is it brandy, rum, usquebaugh?’

This is obviously a drink of some sort, but I didn’t know what. Usquebaugh is Gaelic meaning “Water of Life”, phonetically it became “usky” and then “whisky” in English.

Flip – ‘every man … put down his sixpence for a can of flip, which grateful beverage was brewed with all dispatch, and set down in the midst of them on the brick floor; both that it might simmer and stew before the fire, and that its fragrant steam, rising up among them, and mixing with the wreaths of vapour from their pipes, might shroud them in a delicious atmosphere of their own and shut out all the world.’

Another intoxicating drink, I thought. Flip is eggnog, a drink of eggs and hot beer or spirits. I was interested to see it came in a can! Canning food was invented by a French chef in 1795 to preserve military food for Napoleon’s army. Barnaby Rudge, although written in 1839-41 when sealed cans similar to those we use now would have been in use, is set in 1775 and 1780 so Dickens was probably using the word to mean a container for holding liquid – or it’s an anachronism?

Poussetting – ‘Joe Willet rode leisurely along in his desponding mood, picturing the locksmith’s daughter going down long country dances, and poussetting dreadfully with bold strangers – which was almost too much to bear ...’

Poussette is simply a figure in country dancing when the couples hold hands and move up or down the set changing places with the next couple. And by the way Joe describes it he was thinking the locksmith’s daughter was being too familiar with strangers.

Saturday Snapshots: Wych Elm

We have a wych elm in the back garden. This year it’s been absolutely full of seeds, many more than usual:

Wych elm P1080810

The seeds have been blowing all over the garden, covering the lawn and borders. They grow in clusters:Wych elm P1080813One got caught in a cobweb:

Wych elm seed P1010780Here it is in close-up:

Wych elm seed P1080809Wych Elms are hardy trees and have greater resistance to Dutch elm disease than other elms. The name ‘wych’ comes from an Anglo-Saxon word meaning pliable and refers to the tree’s twigs. Its wood has many uses, including underground water pipes (in the past), boat building and the seats of chairs – it’s also the traditional wood used for coffins.

I love trees – and they are good for you:

A garden without trees is as hard to envisage as an art gallery with pictures. Trees soften the landscape. They provide shade in the summer and protection during the winter. A screen of trees around the house can provide enough wind-shelter to reduce by a tenth the energy consumption in the home. Their canopy of leaves acts as a highly effective pollution filter, absorbing many of the major atmospheric pollution gases, including carbon monoxide, nitrogen and sulphur dioxide. Research also reveals that we are happier and more relaxed when we are in leafy surroundings … (The Therapeutic Garden by Donald Norfolk page 105)

For more Saturday Snapshots see Melinda’s blog West Metro Mommy Reads.

Click on the photos to enlarge.

Saturday Snapshots: Loch Ness

My Saturday Snapshots are some more photos from our last holiday in Scotland. We had been to Inverness and decided to drive back to Coylumbridge along the road following the western shore of Loch Ness. We stopped and went down these steps from the road.Loch Ness steps P1080650It was a calm peaceful scene – no sign of anything on the loch – not a monster in sight.Loch Ness P1080647There are a few interpretation boards by the side of the road above Loch Ness. They are not in very good condition now, a bit dirty, but you can still read them. The one below states that St Columba is said to have seen the monster in the 6th century, that ospreys fish in the loch and that seals sometimes visit chasing salmon and trout. What I didn’t know is that a Wellington bomber had crashed in the loch during a snowstorm in 1940.

Loch Ness Interpr Board P1080651

The next board states that the loch is 38km long and up to 238m deep, rivers feeding into the loch generate hydro-electricity that was first used industrially in 1895 for smelting  aluminium. This board includes information about the Caledonian Canal, which links Inverness in the north to Fort William about 60 miles to the south. The canal, constructed by Thomas Telford and completed in 1822, is really a system of four canals linking to the lochs, one of which is Loch Ness.Loch Ness Interpr Bd P1080653I think it’s time for some new interpretation boards to replace these old and grubby ones!

For more Saturday Snapshots see Melinda’s blog West Metro Mommy Reads

First Chapter ~ First Paragraph Tuesday Intros

First chapterEvery Tuesday Diane at  Bibliophile by the Sea hosts First Chapter First Paragraph Tuesday Intros, sharing the first paragraph or (a few) of a book she’s reading or thinking about reading soon.

Recently I was looking through my many shelves of unread books and came across Not the End of the World by Christopher Brookmyre, a book I started some time again and put to one side, intending to get back to it quite soon. Time has since whizzed by and now, even though I have a bookmark indicating where I got up to, I’ll have to start it again.

It begins with a Prologue:

Joey Murphy was a fisherman. He was the captain and proprietor of a small trawler that was the whole world to him, but which he knew to be merely a speck on the endlessness that was the Pacific Ocean.

He believed in God.

He believed in Jesus.

He believed in His death, resurrection and bodily ascension.

I could have stopped quoting the opening paragraphs here, but that would not really have given a clear indication of the tone of this book. It continues:

He also believed in ghosts, poltergeists, demonic possession, Satanic possession, flying saucers, alien abduction, Roswell, Bigfoot, the Loch Ness monster, the Bermuda Triangle, telepathy, telekinesis, pyrokinesis, spontaneous combustion, levitation, reincarnation, out-of-body consciousness and the rapture.

There’s more, but I think this should be enough to get the picture that Joey believes in ‘stuff that makes the world seem a more interesting place.

Unlike other books by Brookmyre this is not set in Scotland, but in Los Angeles with Lt Larry Freeman of the LAPD investigating the disappearance of the crew of an oceanic research vessel who had gone missing in the Pacific along with their mini-submarine. But there is ‘a Glaswegian photographer with an indecipherable accent and a strong dislike of hypocrisy or of a terrorist who seems to have access to plutonium as well as Semtex.’ (source: Brookmyre)

Lilian’s Story by Kate Grenville: a Book Beginnings post

Book Beginnings ButtonBook Beginnings on Friday at Gilion’s blog Rose City Reader is the place to share the first sentence (or so) of the book you are reading, along with your initial thoughts about the sentence, impressions of the book, or anything else the opener inspires.

Lilian’s Story by Kate Grenville begins:

It was a wild night in the year of the Federation that the birth took place. Horses kicked down their stables. Pigs flew, figs grew thorns. the infant mewled and stared and the doctor assured the mother that a caul was a lucky sign. A girl? the father exclaimed, outside in the waiting room, tiled as if for horrible emergencies. This was a contingency he was not prepared for, but he rallied within a day and announced: Lilian. She will be called Lilian Una.

When I returned Sarah Thornhill by Kate Grenville to the library the other day Lilian’s Story was sitting on the shelf and because I’d enjoyed Sarah Thornhill and before that The Secret River I decided to borrow this book, even though I’ve got more than enough books of my own to keep me busy for a long time.

The back cover tells me that Lilian begins life as the daughter of a prosperous middle-class family and ends it as an eccentric bag-lady living on the streets, quoting Shakespeare for a living. I’m hoping it will be as good as the other two of Grenville’s books that I’ve read! This opening is promising, I think.