Agatha Christie Reading Challenge – Update

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

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

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

* books I own

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

Posted in Agatha Christie Reading Challenge, Books, Crime Fiction, Fiction | Tagged | 8 Comments

New-To-Me Books

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

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

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

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

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

Posted in Books, Fiction | 17 Comments

My Sunday Selection

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

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

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

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

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

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

August’s Books

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Three Graces by Jane Wallman-Girdlestone

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

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

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

My view:

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

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

About the author (From Amazon):

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

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

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

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

It’s Time for R.I.P. IX

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

Dark Fantasy.

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

And you can start today!!!

I’m going to participate in just one:


Peril the First:

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

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

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

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

Posted in Books, RIP Challenge | 17 Comments

Scottish Scenes from Our Holiday

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

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

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

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

McCaig's Tower from below P1000051

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

McCaig's Tower P1000034


Oban from McCaig's Tower P1000042

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

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

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

Put On By Cunning by Ruth Rendell

book cover of </p><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br />
<p>Put On By Cunning </p><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br />
<p>Put On By Cunning, aka in America as Death Notes is another book off my to-be-read shelves, an enjoyable read. It was first published in 1981.

The epigraph indicates just what is to follow:

So shall you hear …
Of deaths put on by cunning and forc’d cause;
Fall’n on th’inventors’ heads – all this can I
Truly deliver.


It is a tale of great complexity, a tale of murder and conspiracy to murder. A wealthy old man, Sir Manuel Camargue, one of greatest flautists of his time is found dead. Ankle deap in snow he had lost his footing in the dark and slipped into an icy lake and became trapped. His heiress, his daughter Natalie, had only recently been reunited with him after an absence of nineteen years. Although it seems a straight forward death, Camargue’s much younger fiancée, puts doubts in Chief Inspector Wexford’s mind when she tells him that Camargue had said that the woman who presented herself as Natalie was an imposter.

As is Wexford’s way he becomes obsessed with finding the truth and wonders if Camargue’s death was actually murder, despite the Chief Constable’s insistence that he forgets about it as the evidence all points to his death being an accident. Indeed, the verdict of the inquest is ‘Misadventure’. Wexford, however, is persistent in his doubts and convinced Natalie is an imposter, he is determined to investigate, which leads him to both California and France.

There is much I enjoyed in this, the eleventh Wexford book. It begins well, Ruth Rendell sets an excellent scene, and I could easily visualise the locations and characters, with beautiful descriptive passages. Inevitably, as both Wexford and Inspector Burden, begin to unravel the mystery more and more characters are implicated, until it really does seem a complex case becoming even more complicated, with too many coincidences and characters.

I thought that Wexford was keeping far too much to himself – leaving both Burden and me too much in the dark. The ending came as somewhat of an anti-climax as Wexford explained what had really happened and revealed all the false leads. Still, it kept me guessing to the end and I wondered (as I often do) just what clues I had missed along the way.

And now I’m wondering if I could attempt a ‘Ruth Rendell/Barbara Vine Reading Challenge’, along the lines of the ‘Agatha  Christie Reading Challenge’, ie to read all her books. I’ve read several already.

Posted in Book Reviews, Books, Crime Fiction, Fiction, Mount TBR Challenge 2014, My Kind of Mystery Challenge | Tagged , , | 4 Comments

Library Loot

I’ve picked up several books from the library recently (both from the mobile library van and from my local branch library) and here is a selection that I’m looking forward to reading.

Lib bks Aug 14 From top to bottom they are:

  • Under the Wide and Starry Sky by Nancy Horan. I’ve had this book on my wishlist since I read about it on Barbara’s blog, Views from the Countryside, so I was really pleased to see this on the library shelves. It’s a novel about Robert Louis Stevenson (who liked to be called Louis) and his American wife Fanny. Barbara thought it was wonderful and recommended it highly.
  • The Tell-Tale Heart by Jill Dawson. I chose this book because I think I’ve seen it mentioned on a few book blogs – and it has the same title as the Edgar Allen Poe story. It’s a novel about a heart transplant and I thought it would be interesting to compare it to Hazel McHaffie’s book, Over My Dead Body, also a novel about organ transplants, which I read last October.
  • We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves by Karen Joy Fowler (a new-to-me author) – this book and the one below are both on the Longlist for the Man Booker Prize this year. Rosemary had a sister and a brother, but now she’s an only child. They’ve vanished from her life and she doesn’t know why.
  • The Blazing World by Siri Hustvedt – when I saw this was on the Longlist I immediately wanted to read it because I’ve read other books by her and loved them. This one is about an artist whose work had been ignored and is described as an ‘intricately conceived diabolical puzzle’.
  • Entry Island by Peter May. I’ve borrowed this book because I loved May’s Lewis Trilogy and I want to try some of his other books. This is a standalone crime novel about the murder of a wealthy man on an island in the Gulf of St Lawrence. Detective Sime Mackenzie is sent from Montreal to investigate the murder but what had initially seemed an open-and-shut case takes on a disturbing dimension when he meets the prime suspect, the victim’s wife, and is convinced that he knows her – even though they have never met.
Posted in Books, Fiction, Library Loot | 6 Comments

The Reluctant Detective by Martha Ockley

17742272I had little idea what to expect from Martha Ockley’s first Faith Morgan mysteryThe Reluctant Detective as I hadn’t come across the author before and all I had to go on was the description on LibraryThing’s Early Reviewers page last month:

‘Former cop Faith Morgan may have quit the world of crime, but crime has not let her go. Now a priest in the Church of England, she is assigned to the improbably named village of Little Worthy, and within an hour of her arrival she witnesses the sudden, shocking death of a fellow priest. To her distress, the detective assigned to the case is Ben, her former partner and former boyfriend.

As she meets her parishioners she learns some surprising details about her apparently well-loved predecessor, and starts to suspect a motive for his death. The cop may have donned a clerical collar, but the questions keep coming. How will she reconcile her present calling with her past instincts? Is she in danger herself? What should she do about Ben?’

I thought a detective who  was a priest and who used to be a policewoman sounded interesting. So, I am very pleased that The Reluctant Detective turned out to be a good read. Faith Morgan is a well-rounded character; she’s very likeable, observant, compassionate and the sort of person that people feel comfortable talking to – a bit like a young Miss Marple. Indeed, the book has an Agatha Christie feel to it – set in an apparently idyllic country village, with interesting and somewhat quirky characters and although there is one rather gruesome death, it’s not a gory thriller. In short it’s the type of murder mystery that I like, with plenty of complications that kept me guessing about the identity of the murderer for most of the book.

The church and village location are convincing. The parish church of St John is an old building dating from Saxon times, with a tower and church bells, set in the English countryside:

Faith avoided the main approach and followed a gravel path around the back of the church. A creamy cloud of ivory clematis cascaded over a grey stone wall. Beyond a solitary pony raised its chestnut head to gaze mournfully at her from a field of weeds. Some way off squatted a group of ramshackle farm buildings. (page 9)

Faith’s ex – Detective Inspector Ben Shorter, reluctantly allows Faith to contribute to the search for the murderer and the chemistry between the two of them is clearly evident even though he can’t understand why she left the police force for the church. Indeed, Faith herself wonders if she has done the right thing, cutting herself off from her old life and her old self as she realises that she likes investigating, and analyzing people, their expressions and body language and working out what makes them tick. But these are assets for a priest as well as for a police officer. And as for death:

It struck Faith how death is always startling, facing us with the greatest mystery: how the particular and the individual can vanish from this world so completely in a moment. (page 17)

The back cover reveals that Martha Ockley lives in the North East of England and has close links with the church, having grown up as the daughter of a minister. She is a full-time writer of both fiction and non-fiction. I was curious about Martha Ockley and wondered why she had given ‘special thanks to Rebecca Jenkins’ on the title page, so I searched online and discovered that ‘Martha Ockley’ is actually a pseudonym of Rebecca Jenkins, the daughter of the Rev David Jenkins, formerly the Bishop of Durham.

Thanks to LibraryThing and Lion Fiction/Kregel Publications for providing a copy for review. Based on my reading of The Reluctant Detective I shall certainly seek out more books by Martha Ockley/Rebecca Jenkins. There are two more Faith Morgan books:

  • The Advent of Murder
  • A Saintly Killing (to be published in October 2014)

And writing as Rebecca Jenkins:

The R F Jarrett books (the Regency Detective)

  • The Duke’s Agent (1997)
  • Death of a Radical (2010)

also Non Fiction:

  • Free to Believe (David Jenkins and Rebecca Jenkins (1991)
  • Fanny Kemble: a reluctant celebrity (2005)
  • The First London Olympics 1908 (2008)
Posted in Book Reviews, Books, Cosy Mysteries, Crime Fiction, Early Reviewer, Fiction, LibraryThing, My Kind of Mystery Challenge, Review Copy | Tagged , , , | 7 Comments