Looking Ahead

I rarely plan ahead which books I’m going to read, but as it’s 1 December tomorrow and not much reading time left in the year I thought I’d concentrate on reading from my to-be-read shelves. These are the books I think I’ll read:

Dec bks 2014

From the bottom up they are:

  • I’m currently reading Portrait in Sepia by Isabel Allende and finding it a bit of a struggle – mainly because the font is quite small and it’s difficult to see except in bright lighting – not good for reading in bed. This is historical fiction, a family epic set at the end of the nineteenth century in Chile and San Francisco.  Isabel Allende is a new-to-me author.
  • The Soul of Kindness by Elizabeth Taylor, according to the book jacket this is a study in self-deception of a young newly married woman who believes she is ‘the soul of kindness’ and yet she wrecks everyone’s life she comes in contact with. I’ve not read any of Elizabeth Taylor’s books before (the author, not the actress).
  • An Awfully Big Adventure by Beryl Bainbridge – set in 1950 this is also historical fiction. A Liverpool repertory theatre company are rehearsing its Christmas production of Peter Pan. The story centres around Stella, the assistant stage manager. I’ve enjoyed the Beryl Bainbridge books I’ve read so far, so I’m hoping this one is just as good.
  • And finally crime fiction, an Agatha Christie book because I haven’t read one of hers for a while. This is Hallowe’en Party, with Poirot and Ariadne Oliver in search of the killer of Joyce, a boastful thirteen-year-old found drowned in an apple-bobbing tub.

It remains to be seen if these are the books I’ll read in December!

Posted in Books, Fiction, Mount TBR Challenge 2014 | 3 Comments

Service of All the Dead by Colin Dexter

Colin Dexter 001A question on the TV show Pointless about the novels of Colin Dexter reminded me I have a few of his books to read, Service of All the Dead being one of them – and it was one of the pointless answers too! So that gave me the push to read it.  My copy is a secondhand book – an Omnibus containing  The Silent World of Nicholas Quinn as well as Service of All the Dead.

It really is one of the most puzzling crime fiction books I’ve read – if not the most puzzling! CI Morse sums it up himself:

There are some extremely odd points in this case, Lewis – or rather there were – each of them in itself suggestive but also puzzling. They puzzled all of us, and perhaps still do to some extent, because by the time we’d finished we’d got no less than five bodies on our hands and we were never in a position to learn what any of the five could have told us. (page 295)

Morse was on holiday, bored and at a loose end, when, stepping off a bus near St Frideswide’s Church in Oxford, he saw a notice advertising a jumble sale at the church – it seemed to him pre-ordained that he should enter the church. This set in motion his fascination with the death of the churchwarden, killed in the church the previous year and his subsequent discovery of the deaths of four more people. His interest is enhanced by the attraction he feels for Ruth Rawlinson, who cleans the church.

Aided by Sergeant Lewis, he digs into the history of the churchwarden, the vicar and members of the church and uncovers an intricate web of lies and deceit. Morse acts on instinct and consequently both Lewis and myself were in the dark for a great part of this book. He proposes several motives for the murders and alternate scenarios of what had happened before untangling the complex mess. There are plenty of red herrings and twists and turns.

Even though I was lost in the plot I found the book compelling reading – it’s a superbly constructed puzzle. This is certainly not a police procedural in the normal sense – there is little account of forensic evidence for example. It is strong on character and on place. The scene of the murders is St Frideswide’s, a fictional church, possibly based a couple of Oxford churches, St Michael-by-the-North-Gate with a Saxon tower and St Mary Magdalen and it is there in the tower that Morse suffers from his great fear of heights.

Service of All the Dead was first published in 1979. I suppose I must have seen the TV version of this book, as I watched all the episodes and this one was shown in 1987 – I don’t remember it! Inevitably as I read it I could see John Thaw as Morse and Kevin Whately as Lewis.

Posted in Book Reviews, Books, Challenges, Crime Fiction, Fiction, Mount TBR Challenge 2014, My Kind of Mystery Challenge | Tagged , , | 7 Comments

Sausage Hall by Christina James

When the publishers of Sausage Hall emailed me offering a review copy of the book I thought it sounded interesting, although I wasn’t keen on the title – I thought it sounded a bit gimmicky and it nearly putting me off reading it.  But I’m glad it didn’t because I would have missed out on a good story, a crime mystery with a sinister undercurrent exploring the murky world of illegal immigrants, and a well researched historical element. I enjoyed it.

Sausage Hall is the third book in the DI Yates series and although I haven’t read the first two that wasn’t a problem – it stands well on its own, but I’d like to read the two earlier books. This is set in the South Lincolnshire Fens and is an intricately plotted crime mystery, uncovering a crime from the past whilst investigating a modern day murder.

Synopsis from the back cover:

Sausage Hall: home to millionaire Kevan de Vries, grandson of a Dutch immigrant farmer. De Vries has built up a huge farming and food packing empire which extends, via the banana trade, to the West Indies. But Sleazy MD, Tony Sentance, persuades de Vries to branch out into the luxury holiday trade. De Vries and wife, Joanna, take the first cruise out to explore the potentially lucrative possibilities. However, back at home, a break-in at Sausage Hall uncovers a truly gruesome historical discovery. And when a young employee of de Vries is found dead in the woods, D.I. Yates is immediately called in … 

The narrative switches between the first person present tense (Kevan) and the third person past tense, which took me a bit to get used to. Actually I thought this worked very well; even though the use of the first person present tense usually irritates me, it didn’t in this book and it gives a good insight into Kevan’s character as well as providing essential information about his background and relationships.

I particularly liked DC Juliet Armstrong, DI Tim Yates’ colleague – the two make a good combination, even though Juliet spends a good part of the book isolated in hospital with Weil’s disease, having been bitten by a rat. In fact of the two characters I thought Juliet was the most clearly defined. Maybe a second reading would help clarify Yates’ character for me, or maybe this is where not reading the two earlier books is a drawback. This is not a book you can read quickly as there are plenty of characters and several plot threads that need to be kept in my mind as you read the book.

I liked the historical elements of the plot and the way Christina James has connected the modern and historical crimes, interwoven with the history of Kevan’s home, Laurieston House, known to the locals as ‘Sausage Hall’ and the secrets of its cellar – just what is the link between Cecil Rhodes, the Victorian financier, statesman, and empire builder of British South Africa, and the Jacobs family who were the previous owners of Sausage Hall?

Added to this is the mystery of the death of a young woman found dead in the woods near the De Vries food-packing plant in Norfolk. It seems she was employed at the plant although the supervisors there deny any knowledge of her. DI York suspects she is an Eastern European illegal immigrant. And as for Tony Sentance, just what is his hold over Kevan and his wife and their son, Archie? It was only just before the end that I suspected the truth. 

Publishers’ Biographical Note: ‘C.A. James was born in Spalding and sets her novels in the evocative Fenland countryside of South Lincolnshire. She works as a bookseller, researcher and teacher. She has a lifelong fascination with crime fiction and its history. She is also a well-established non-fiction writer, under a separate name.’

There is more information about Christina James and her books on her blog The earlier DI Yates books are In the Family and Almost Love.

  • Paperback: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Salt Publishing (17 Nov 2014)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1907773827
  • ISBN-13: 978-1907773822
  • Source: review copy from the publishers
Posted in Book Reviews, Books, Crime Fiction, Fiction, My Kind of Mystery Challenge, Review Copy | Tagged , , | 8 Comments

What’s In A Name 2015

The eighth annual What’s In A Name Challenge is being hosted again next year by Charlie at The Worm HoleWhat's in a name 2015

The challenge runs from January to December. During this time you choose a book to read from each of the following categories (Charlie has included examples of books you could choose in brackets):

  • A word including ‘ing’ in it (The Time Of Singing, Dancing To The Flute, Lex Trent Fighting With Fire) These examples are verbs but you can of course use other words.
  • A colour (The Red Queen, White Truffles In Winter, On Gold Mountain)
  • A familial relation (Daughter Of Smoke And Bone, Dombey And Son, My Cousin Rachel) By all means include in-laws, step, and halves.
  • A body of water (The River Of No Return, Black Lake, Beside The Sea)
  • A city (Barcelona Shadows, Shanghai Girls, Under The Tripoli Sky)
  • An animal (Black Swan Rising, The Leopard Unleashed, The Horse And His Boy)

The books may be in any form (audio, print, e-book). It is preferred that the books don’t overlap other challenges, but it’s not against the rules. Books cannot, however, overlap categories and it’s not necessary to make a list of books before hand.

I’ve checked my books and found plenty of choice for the category of books with the word ‘ing‘ in the title and a some for the other categories, but I’m not listing them here (too many) and will wait and see what I do eventually read.

For full details and the sign up post go to The Worm Hole.

Posted in Books, Challenges, What's In a Name | 4 Comments

Lamentation by C J Sansom

Once again I am behind myself with writing about the books I’ve read! So here are just a few thoughts about C J Sansom’s historical novel, Lamentation, the sixth Matthew Shardlake book.

I have enjoyed the earlier books in the series so I had great expectations for Lamentation and I wasn’t disappointed. It’s set in 1546, the last year of Henry VIII’s life. Shardlake, a lawyer is asked by Queen Catherine (Parr) for help in discovering who has stolen her confessional book, Lamentation of a Sinner. What I like about these books is their historical setting and the Historical Notes giving yet more background to the period and emphasising that because the sources are ‘very thin’ that inevitably this is Sansom’s own interpretation of events and clarifying that Catherine Parr’s book was not, in the real world, stolen.

The book evokes the people, the sights, smells and atmosphere of Henry’s last year and at the same time it’s an ingenious crime mystery, full of suspense and tension. It begins as Shardlake is ordered to watch the burning at the stake of Anne Askew and other heretics (a real event). I’m not good at reading horrific scenes, but I managed this one without too much mental aversion of my eyes. Along with the mystery of the missing book, Shardlake is working on the Cotterstoke dispute between rival siblings, and has problems at home with his domestic servants.

I was also very taken with Shardlake’s introduction in Lamentation to William Cecil, Mary Tudor and a young Elizabeth I. I hope Sansom has more Shardlake books in mind.

Posted in Book Notes, Books, Crime Fiction, Fiction, Historical Fiction, Historical Fiction Challenge, My Kind of Mystery Challenge | Tagged , , | 3 Comments

The Classics Club: Survey

The Classics ClubI’ve just finished reading a very long book (Dominion by C J Sansom), and it will take me some time to write a review post, so I thought I’d answer some of the Classics Club survey questions in the meantime  – there are 50 in total, but I’ve just answered 15.

1. Share a link to your club list.
My list

2. When did you join The Classics Club? How many titles have you read for the club?
I joined in April 2013 and have read 9 books so far.

3. What are you currently reading?
For the Classics Club: Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte, (a re-read – I first read it in my teens) and White Fang by Jack London.

4. What did you just finish reading and what did you think of it?
For the Classics Club: Mansfield Park by Jane Austen. For years I’d thought I’d read all of Jane Austen’s books, apart from Lady Susan/The Watsons/Sanditon, but then last year I realised I hadn’t read Mansfield Park. I really liked it.

5. What are you reading next? Why?
I’ll be starting The Call of the Wild by Jack London soon as it’s my Classics Spin book.

6. Best book you’ve read so far with the club, and why?
It’s so hard to decide on just one! To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee is a wonderful book, full of strong characters and exploring issues such as hypocrisy, prejudice and social injustice. I also loved Ethan Frome by Edith Wharton. This book took  me completely by surprise as I’d previously failed to finish The House of Mirth, but Ethan Frome is so different –  in contrast to the New York society life depicted in The House of Mirth, it’s a rural tragedy that reminded me of Thomas Hardy’s books.

7. Book you most anticipate (or, anticipated) on your club list?
Parade’s End by Ford Madox Ford, I really enjoyed the TV version with Benedict Cumberbatch.

8. First classic you ever read?
I can’t really remember, but it could have been Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.

9. Toughest classic you ever read?
The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoyevsky – because of the names and the different versions of the names, once I’d got that worked out it was OK!

10. Longest classic you’ve read? Longest classic left on your club list?
The longest I’ve read is probably Les Miserables . The longest book left on my list is Don Quixote.

11. Favorite biography about a classic author you’ve read — or, the biography on a classic author you most want to read, if any?
Claire Tomalin’s Jane Austen: A Life.

12. Favorite movie adaption of a classic?
I’m not keen on movie adaptations, especially if I’ve read the book first, so this is a difficult question for me, but I did enjoy the BBC version of John Buchan’s The Thirty-Nine Steps with Rupert Penry-Jones as Richard Hannay – it inspired me to read the book. And I think the recent versions of Sherlock Holmes with Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman are excellent.

13. Classic author you’ve read the most works by?
Jane Austen.

14. Classic author who has the most works on your club list?
Charles Dickens.

15. List five fellow clubbers whose blogs you visit regularly.
The Bookworm Chronicles
Fleur in her World
Lakeside Musing
She Reads Books

Posted in Books | 3 Comments

Color Coded Challenge 2015

The Color Coded Challenge is running again next year. Bev has made a change – the colourColour coded may either be named in the title or it may appear as the dominant colour for the cover of the book. For “implies colour” the image implying colour should dominate the cover–for instance a large rainbow, a field of flowers, or the image of a painter.

Here are the rules:

*Read nine books in the following categories. The title shown in italics are my initial choices (mostly on my Kindle) – these could easily change over the course of 2015, especially as I like the idea of using the dominant colour of the cover of the book instead of the title. And these books will also qualify for the Mount TBR Reading Challenge 2015.

1. A book with “Blue” or any shade of Blue (Turquoise, Aquamarine, Navy, etc) in the title/on the cover. Blue Mercy by Orna Ross (Kindle)

2. A book with “Red” or any shade of Red (Scarlet, Crimson, Burgundy etc) in the title/on the cover. The Redbreast by Jo Nesbo (Kindle)

3. A book with “Yellow” or any shade of Yellow (Gold, Lemon, Maize, etc.)in the title/on the cover. The Hare with Amber Eyes by Edmund de Waal

4. A book with “Green” or any shade of Green (Emerald, Lime, Jade, etc) in the title/on the cover. Greenmantle by John Buchan (Kindle)

5. A book with “Brown” or any shade of Brown (Tan, Chocolate, Beige, etc) in the title/on the cover. The Various Flavours of Coffee by Anthony Capella.

6. A book with “Black” or any shade of Black (Jet, Ebony, Charcoal, etc) in the title/on the cover. Black Roses by Jane Thynne (Kindle)

7. A book with “White” or any shade of White (Ivory, Eggshell, Cream, etc) in the title/on the cover. Whitethorn Woods by Maeve Binchy

8. A book with any other colour in the title/on the cover (Purple, Orange, Silver, Pink, Magneta, etc.). Silver Lives by Ann Parker (Kindle)

9. A book with a word that implies colour (Rainbow, Polka-dot, Plaid, Paisley, Stripe, etc.). A Crown of Lights by Phil Rickman (Kindle)

* Any book read from January 1 through December 31, 2015 will count.

*Crossovers with other challenges are fine.

*Everyone who completes all nine categories will be entered in a year-end drawing for a book-related prize package.

Posted in Books, Color Coded Challenge | 4 Comments

Victorian Bingo Challenge 2015

Victorian Bingo

I read about The Victorian Bingo Challenge hosted by Becky at Becky’s Book Reviews on Cath’s blog, Read Warbler and thought it looked interesting.

The goal is to get a Bingo (horizontal, vertical, diagonal, four corners and centre square). This will require a minimum of five books.

One book per square. For example: Oliver Twist can count for “Book with a name as the title” or “Charles Dickens” or “Book published 1837-1940″ or “Book published in serial format” or “Book over 400 pages” or “Book that has been adapted into a movie” or “Book set in England.” But obviously, it can only count once.

This is the bingo card:

Bingo cardMore details:

1. Fiction or nonfiction.

2. Books, e-books, audio books all are fine.

3. Books and movies can be reviewed together or separately.

4. You can create a reading list if you want, but it’s not a requirement. 

5. If you do make a list, consider adding a list of five books you’d recommend to others

6. If possible try to try a new-to-you author! I know it can be really tempting to stick with familiar favorites.

7. Children’s books published during these years should not be forgotten!

8. Rereads are definitely allowed if you have favourites!

I’ve not done a bingo style challenge before – selecting books to fit into the categories looks a bit daunting, but I’m going to have a go. I’m not sure I’ll complete this challenge but the only way for me I think is to read what I want to read and see if the books qualify for any of the squares. I’ll be choosing books by Charles Dickens, Elizabeth Gaskell, Anthony Trollope, George Eliot, Thomas Hardy, R L Stevenson and Wilkie Collins – books on my Kindle and on my shelves.

These are a few of my paper copies:

Victorian bksI’ll see where I can fit them into the bingo card!

Posted in Books, Challenges, Fiction, Victorian Bingo Challenge 2015, Victorian Literature | 4 Comments

Wycliffe in Paul’s Court by W J Burley

We had to spend nearly 4 hours yesterday in the Newcastle Emergency Eye Department as D has a corneal abrasion. As my Kindle needed charging I picked up a lightweight paperback to slip into my bag to while away the time – and I nearly finished it whilst we were there! It was Wycliffe in Paul’s Court by W J Burley.

Synopsis from the back cover:

Paul’s Court is a quiet corner in the heart of the city: an oasis of peace and safety – until the night when there are two violent deaths. Willy Goppel, an émigré from Germany, is found hanging from a beam in his home; and fifteen-year-old Yvette Cole, who may or may not have lived up to her wild reputation, is strangled and thrown half naked over the churchyard hedge.

Chief Superintendent Wycliffe has the aid of a shrewd local sergeant, Kersey, but they still find this a difficult case to crack. Did Willy assault the girl and then hang himself? Or was his death not suicide after all? As Wycliffe and Kersey dig deeper they gradually untangle a complex network of secrets in the quiet of Paul’s Court …

My thoughts

Although there are plenty of suspects, all from the five houses in Paul’s Court I could easily distinguish them, even with the distractions of a hospital waiting room from children crying that they wanted to go home and people talking loudly next to me. On the other hand, I wasn’t able to concentrate enough to follow all the clues and it was only just before the culprit was revealed that I had any idea who it was. But it was still an enjoyable read.

Wycliffe is a quiet, thoughtful detective who doesn’t let himself become desk-bound and gets very involved with the investigation. This is the first time he has worked with Kersey, who sized him up thus:

He saw a man with a clear view of right and wrong who was not a bigot; he recognised a close-grained moral toughness with a hint of old-fashioned puritan zeal, but no wish to burn heretics. A man of compassion but no sentimentalist, a reformer but not a do-gooder. (page 70)

Wycliffe and Kersey make a good team; Kersey knows not just the area very well but also the local people and is able to give Wycliffe ‘vivid thumb-nail sketches of the inhabitants of Paul’s Court’. They are ordinary people, living ordinary lives but who find themselves in the middle of a murder investigation. W J Burley was very good at creating believable people caught up in extraordinary situations. I’ve read just a few of his 22 Wycliffe books – plenty more to read yet!

W.J. Burley (1914 – 20020 was first an engineer, and later went to Balliol to read zoology as a mature student. On leaving Oxford he went into teaching and, until his retirement, was senior biology master in a large mixed grammar school in Newquay. He created Inspector Wycliffe in 1966 and the series has been televised with Jack Shepherd starring in the title role. Wycliffe in Paul’s Court was first published in 1980.

Posted in Book Reviews, Books, Crime Fiction, Fiction, Library Books, My Kind of Mystery Challenge | Tagged , | 8 Comments

The Spin Result is …

… Number 13 in the Classics Club Spin.

For me that is The Call of the Wild by Jack London, the story of the dog, Buck and his adventures in the Klondike.

Call of the wild

I am delighted with this choice. That’s not so surprising as I want to read all the books on my Classics Club list, but I’m particularly pleased with this one because I’ve been meaning to read it for years! Both this and White Fang are books that belonged to my mother and I just cannot imagine why I’ve never read either of them before – it seems I need this push from the Spin to get round to it. As The Call of the Wild is so short I’m going to read White Fang as well.

Posted in Books, The Classics Club | Tagged , | 5 Comments