TBR Pile Challenge 2015

I’ve been dithering for some time now about taking on reading challenges because I really want to concentrate on reading without thinking whether the books I read fit any of the challenges I’ve joined, but I’ve decided that I’m not going to worry about that – if they do, they do and if they don’t it doesn’t matter and so here’s another challenge for 2015.

official tbr challengeAdam from Roof Beam Reader is running his TBR Pile Challenge for the SIXTH YEAR!

I’ve not joined in before because I’ve been doing Bev’s Mount TBR Challenge, but this is slightly different because the books you read must have been on your bookshelf or “To Be Read” list for AT LEAST one full year and you have to list them in advance. This means the books cannot have a publication date of 1/1/2014 or later (ie any book published in the year 2013 or earlier qualifies, as long as it has been on your TBR pile – Adam will be checking publication dates!)

The Goal: To finally read 12 books from your “to be read” pile (within 12 months). Books have to be listed and reviewed so that you can link back to Adam’s challenge. You are allowed two alternates just in case you just can’t finish a book for whatever reason.

For the full run-down of challenge details, see Adam’s blog (click on link above).

I’m a bit doubtful that I’ll complete this challenge because I often find that planning in advance what I’m going to read doesn’t work for me – I seem to find reasons for reading other books instead of the ones on my list! But I’m going to give it a go anyway – here’s my list:

  1. The House of the Spirits by Isabel Allende (pub 1994 – on my TBR since 2008)
  2. The Robber Bride by Margaret Atwood (pub 1994 – on my TBR since 2009)
  3. The Needle in the Blood by Sarah Bower (pub 2007 – on my TBR since 2007)
  4. The Burning by Jane Casey (pub 2010 – on my TBR since 2013)
  5. Martin Chuzzlewit by Charles Dickens (pub 1844 – on my TBR since 2007)
  6. Zen there was Murder by H R F Keating (pub 1960 – on my TBR since 2012
  7. Mrs Jordan’s Profession by Claire Tomalin (pub 1995 – on my TBR since 2011)
  8. Fresh from the Country by Miss Read (pub 1970 – on my TBR since 2012)
  9. The Interpretation of Murder by Jed Rubenfeld (pub 2006 – on my TBR since 2007)
  10. Bad Land by Jonathan Raban (pub 1985 – on my TBR since 2011)
  11. We Were the Mulvaneys by Joyce Carol Oates (pub 1997 – on my TBR since 2011)
  12. The Secret Keeper by Kate Morton (pub 2010 – on my TBR since 2013)


  1. Diamonds are Forever by Ian Fleming (pub 1956 – on my TBR since 2011)
  2. Nineteen Eighty Four by George Orwell (pub 1949 – on my TBR since 2011)

And here are the books:

TBR pile 2015

Read Scotland 2015

Read Scotland 2015Read Scotland 2015 is back again for a second year, Hosted by Peggy Ann @ Peggy Ann’s Post!

Challenge levels:

Just A Keek (a little look): 1-4 books
The Highlander: 5-8 books
The Hebridean: 9-12 books
Ben Nevis: 13-24 books
Back O’ Beyond: 25+ books

Read and review Scottish books -any genre, any form- written by a Scottish author (by birth or immigration) or about or set in Scotland.

Challenge runs January 1 to December 31, 2015

I’m going to do the “Just A Keek” level, 1-4 books to start with and maybe progress to the higher levels later.

The Books I Read in 2014

I’ve enjoyed this year of blogging and reading – some excellent books were read. Most of my reading was fiction with just 12 non-fiction books. And of the fiction nearly half was crime fiction. The full list of the books I read is on this page. There were just a handful of books that turned out to be disappointing, but the rest were all enjoyable.

These are some of my Favourite Books of 2014 (in the order I read them – links go to my posts):

  1. Shakespeare’s Restless World by Neil MacGregor (non-fiction)
  2. Cannery Row by John Steinbeck
  3. Crucible by S G MacLean
  4. Purple Hibiscus by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
  5. The Office of the Dead by Andrew Taylor
  6. The Potter’s Hand by A N Wilson
  7. Tantalus by Jane Jazz
  8. The Dance of Love by Angela Young
  9. A Whispered Name by William Brodrick
  10. Sisters of Sinai by Janet Soskice (non-fiction)
  11. In Our Time by Melvyn Bragg (non-fiction)
  12. Blue Heaven by C J Box

These are just the tip of the iceberg, because so many of the books I read were really good (I rated lots between 4 and 5 stars on Goodreads).

My main aim for 2015 is to feel relaxed about reading, reading what I want when I want, so this year I’m not setting any target on Goodreads for the number of books I’ll read – it’s the reading that matters not how many books I’ll read!

The Way Through The Woods by Colin Dexter: Mini Review

I really enjoyed reading Colin Dexter’s The Way Through The Woods, the tenth book in his Inspector Morse series. It’s nicely complicated and full of puzzles as Morse aided by Sergeant Lewis investigate the case of a beautiful young Swedish tourist who had disappeared on a hot summer’s day somewhere near Oxford twelve months earlier. After unsuccessfully searching the woods of the nearby Blenheim Estate the case was unsolved, and Karin Eriksson had been recorded as a missing person.

A year later Morse is on holiday at Lyme Regis when The Times published an article on the missing woman together with an anonymous poem that had been sent in that the police thought could help pinpoint the whereabouts of her body. This sets in motion more letters to The Times and ultimately to Morse being assigned to re-open the case.

I was completely engrossed in this book, trying to follow all the possible interpretations of the poem and the witness statements as Morse and Lewis go over the old evidence and turn up new information. This involves a trip to Wales for Morse and one to Sweden for Lewis, Wytham Woods is searched and a body is found – but whose is it? This book sees the first appearance of forensic pathologist, Dr Laura Hobson. But it’s not just the mystery, the crossword type clues, the characterisation and all the twist and turns that make this book so enjoyable, it’s the writing, the descriptions of the scenery and locations bringing them vividly to my mind.

This book has been sitting unread on my shelves for three years and is the last of my to-be-read books of 2014. An excellent book!

Corvus: A Life With Birds by Esther Woolfson

Corvus by Esther Woolfson is a remarkable book about the birds she has has had living with her; birds that were found out of the nest that would not have survived if she had not taken them in.

‘Corvus’ is a genus of birds including jackdaws, ravens, crows, magpies and rooks. The specific birds Esther Woolfson has looked after are a rook, called Chicken (short for Madame Chickieboumskaya), a young crow, a cockatiel, a magpie, two small parrots and two canaries. But it all started with doves, which live in an outhouse, converted from a coal store into a dove-house, or as they live in Aberdeen in Scotland, a doo’cot.

Although the book is mainly about the rook, Chicken, Esther Woolfson also writes in detail about natural history, the desirability or otherwise of keeping birds, and a plethora of facts about birds, their physiology, mechanics of flight, bird song and so on. As with all good non-fiction Corvus has an extensive index, which gives a good idea of the scope of the book. Here are just a few entries for example under ‘birds’ the entries include – aggression in, evolution of, navigation, in poetry, speeds of, vision, wildness of, wings’

It’s part memoir and part nature study and for me it works best when Esther Woolfson is writing about Chicken and the other birds living in her house, how she fed them, cleared up after them, and tried to understand them. Although at times I had that feeling I get when I visit a zoo – these are wild birds kept captivity and I’m not very comfortable with that, I am reassured by Esther Woolfson’s clarification that reintroducing these birds to the wild was unlikely to be successful and indeed they lived longer than they would have done in the wild. Though Chicken and Spike (and the other birds) live domesticated lives they are still wild birds:

I realise that if ‘wild’ was once the word for Chicken, it still is, for nothing in her or about her contains any of the suggestions hinted at by the word ‘tame’. Chicken, Spike, Max, all the birds I have known over the years, live or lived their lives as they did by necessity or otherwise, but were and are not ‘tame’. They are afraid of the things they always were, of which their fellow corvids are, judiciously, sensibly; of some people, of hands and perceived danger, of cats and hawks, of things they do not know and things of which I too am afraid. ‘Not tamed or diminished’. (pages 115-6)

At times, where Esther Woolfson goes into intricate detail, for example in the chapter on ‘Of Flight and Feathers‘ I soon became completely out of my depth, lost in the infinity of specialised wing shapes and the complexities of the structure of feathers. But that is a minor criticism, far out weighed by her acute observations of the birds, her joy in their lives and her grief at their deaths – her description of Spike’s unexpected death and her reaction is so moving:

I wept the night he died. Sitting in bed, filled with the utter loss of his person, I felt diminished, bereft. I talked about him, but not very much, in the main to members of the family, who felt the same, but to few others.

It’s the only way, this compact and measured grief, for those of us who are aware that there has to be proportion in loss and mourning; we laugh at ourselves for our grief, trying to deal with this feeling that is different in quality, incomparable with the loss of a human being.

We felt – we knew – that something immeasurable had gone. (page 209)

Anyone who has lived through the death of a loved animal can recognise that sense of loss.

Corvus is a beautiful book and I have learned so much by reading it. I must also mention the beautiful black and white illustrations by Helen Macdonald – I think this is the Helen Macdonald who was awarded the 2014 Samuel Johnson Prize for Non-Fiction for H is For Hawk.

Esther Woolfson was brought up in Glasgow and studied Chinese at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and Edinburgh University. Her acclaimed short stories have appeared in many anthologies and have been read on Radio 4. She has won prizes for both her stories and her nature writing and has been the recipient of a Scottish Arts Council Travel Grant and a Writer’s Bursary. Her latest book, Field Notes from a Hidden City (Granta Books), was shortlisted for the 2014 Thwaites Wainwright Prize for Nature and Travel Writing. She lives in Aberdeen. For more information see her website.

Mount TBR 2014: Final Checkpoint

It’s time for the Final Checkpoint for Bev’s 2014 Mount TBR Challenge. This is my favourite challenge as it really encourages me to read from my own bookshelves. It’s the most simple challenge – read your own books – that is, books you’ve owned prior to January 1, 2014.

My target for 2014 was to reach Mt Ararat and I made it to the top (50 books read) and even a short way up Mt Kilimanjaro, reading a total of 53 of my TBR books!

Agry(ararat) view from plane under naxcivan sharur

These are the books I read with links to my posts:

  1. Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell
  2. The Uncertain Midnight by Edmund Cooper
  3. Not Dead Enough by Peter James
  4. Cannery Row by John Steinbeck
  5. Shakespeare’s Restless World by Neil MacGregor
  6. The Crow Trap by Ann Cleeves
  7. Playing With Fire by Peter Robinson
  8. Five Little Pigs by Agatha Christie
  9. The Grass is Singing by Doris Lessing
  10. Dying in the Wool by Frances Brody
  11. Crucible by S G MacLean
  12. The Steel Bonnets by George MacDonald Fraser – reached Pike’s Peak
  13. The Thirty-Nine Steps by John Buchan
  14. Ethan Frome by Edith Wharton
  15. The Breaker by Minette Walters
  16. Purple Hibiscus by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
  17. Her Fearful Symmetry by Audrey Niffenegger
  18. Death Under Sail by C P Snow
  19. They Do It With Mirrors by Agatha Christie
  20. The English by Jeremy Paxman
  21. The King’s Evil by Edward Marston
  22. The Office of the Dead by Andrew Taylor
  23. The Time Machine by H G Wells
  24. The Last Enchantment by Mary Stewart – Mont Blanc
  25. The Lost Army of Cambyses by Paul Sussman
  26. Nemesis by Agatha Christie
  27. The Sea Change by Joanna Rossiter
  28. Pictures at an Exhibition by Camilla Macpherson
  29. The Book of Lost Things by John Connolly
  30. Mansfield Park by Jane Austen
  31. Midnight in St Petersburg by Vanora Bennett
  32. Shakespeare: a Biography by Peter Ackroyd
  33. Charles Dickens: a Life by Claire Tomain
  34. The Shadows in the Street by Susan Hill
  35. Dark Matter by Philip Kerr
  36. Put On By Cunning by Ruth Rendell – Mount Vancouver
  37. The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt
  38. Wycliffe and the House of Fear by W J Burley
  39. The Moving Finger by Agatha Christie
  40. The Brimstone Wedding by Barbara Vine
  41. The Brief History of the Dead by Kevin Brockmeier
  42. In Our Time by Melvyn Bragg
  43. A Study in Scarlet by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
  44. Blue Heaven by C J Box
  45. Service of All the Dead by Colin Dexter
  46. Portrait in Sepia by Isabel Allende
  47. An Awfully Big Adventure by Beryl Bainbridge
  48. The Call of the Wild by Jack London
  49. Seven White Gates by Malcolm Saville – TBR – Mt. Ararat!
  50. The Adventure of the Christmas Pudding by Agatha Christie
  51. Cause of Death by Patricia Cornwell
  52. Corvus: a Life with Birds by Esther Woolfson
  53. The Way Through the Woods by Colin Dexter

The Year in Review According to Mount TBR: Using the titles of the books you read this year, please associate as many statements as you can with a book read on your journey up the Mountain.

Describe yourself: A Study in Scarlet
Describe where you currently live: Blue Heaven
If you could go anywhere where would you go?:  Shakespeare’s Restless World via The Time Machine
Every Monday morning I look like: a Portrait in Sepia
The last time I went to the doctor/therapist was because: I ate too much Dark Matter
The last meal I ate was at: Midnight in St Petersburg 
When a creepy guy/girl asks me for my phone number, I know it would be: Playing With Fire
Ignorant politicians make me think they are: the Cause of Death
Some people need to spend more time looking for: The Way through the Woods 
My memoir could be titled: An Awfully Big Adventure
If I could, I would tell my teenage self: to beware of The Shadows in the Street
I’ve always wondered why: The Grass is Singing

Thanks, Bev for hosting and for your encouragement this year to climb mountains – I’m looking forward to climbing more mountains next year.

Cause of Death by Patricia Cornwell

Cause for Death is the seventh book in the Dr Kay Scarpetta murder mystery series. It’s a secondhand copy that had been on my TBR shelves for several years and I think I must have started to read it before as the opening chapter seemed very familiar.

It begins well enough when a reported is found dead in the Elizabeth River in Virginia on New Year’s Eve.

From the back cover:

New Year’s Eve and the final murder scene of Virginia’s bloodiest year takes Scarpetta thirty feet below the Elizabeth River’s icy surface. A diver, Ted Eddings, is dead, an investigative reporter who was a favourite at the Medical Examiner’s office. Was Eddings probing the frigid depths of the Inactive Shipyard for a story, or simply diving for sunken trinkets? And why did Scarpetta receive a phone call from someone reporting the death before the police were notified?

The case envelops Scarpetta, her niece Lucy, and police captain Pete Marino in a world where both cutting-edge technology and old-fashioned detective work are critical offensive weapons. Together they follow the trail of death to a well of violence as dark and forbidding as water that swirled over Ted Eddings.

However, although the murder investigation was interesting I wasn’t all interested in the terrorist/FBI/religious fanatics scenes that followed.  I don’t think I’ll bother reading any more of these books.

A Christmas Carol in Prose

I’m reading A Christmas Carol for the umpteenth time. It’s one of my favourite books but I hadn’t noticed before its full title: A Christmas Carol in Prose Being A Ghost Story of Christmas.

This is the cover of my current copy, showing Mr Fezziwig’s Ball:

Here’s an extract from the end of the book when Scrooge wakes up on Christmas Day a changed man:

He dressed himself “all in his best”, and at last got out into the streets. The people were by this time pouring forth, as he had seen them with the Ghost of Christmas Present; and walking with his hands behind him, Scrooge regarded every one with a delighted smile. He looked so irresistibly pleasant, that three or four good-humoured fellows said, “Good morning, sir! A merry Christmas to you!” and Scrooge said often afterwards, that of all the blithe sounds he had ever heard, those were the blithest in his ears.

so I’m ending this post by wishing everyone a Merry Christmas! And as Tiny Tim said, “God bless Us, Everyone!”

The Adventure of the Christmas Pudding by Agatha Christie

The Adventure of the Christmas Pudding: Christie, AgathaIt seemed the right time of year to read The Adventure of the Christmas Pudding and a Selection of Entrées by Agatha Christie. It’s a collection of six short stories but only the first one, the title story, has any Christmas connection.

As Agatha Christie explained in her Foreword this story was an ‘indulgence‘, recalling the Christmases of her youth, spent at Abney Hall:

The Christmas fare was of gargantuan proportions. I was a skinny child, appearing delicate, but actually of robust health and perpetually hungry! The boys of the family and I used to vie with each other as to who could eat the most on Christmas Day. Oyster Soup and Turbot went down without undue zest, but then came Roast Turkey, Boiled Turkey and an enormous Sirloin of Beef. The boys and I had two helpings of all three! We then had Plum Pudding, Mince-Pies, Trifle and every kind of dessert. During the afternoon we ate chocolates solidly. We neither felt, nor were sick! How lovely to be eleven years old and greedy!

But I don’t think this story reflects her own Christmas experience apart from the setting, that is, for this is a collection of crime fiction! Poirot is invited to spend ‘a good old-fashioned Christmas in the English countryside’ in a 14th century English manor house, a prospect that fills him with apprehension, only agreeing to go when he hears there is oil-fired central heating in the house. There is of course a reason for inviting him – for a discreet investigation into the theft of a priceless ruby stolen from a Far Eastern prince. The Christmas Pudding in question is a ‘large football of a pudding, a piece of holly stuck in it and glorious flames of blue and red rising round it’. For a short story this is really complicated with several twists for Poirot to work through.

Four of the other stories feature Poirot, with the last one, Greenshaw’s Folly being a Miss Marple mystery, which I read last year in Miss Marple and Mystery.  Greenshaw’s Folly is a house, an architectural monstrosity, visited by Raymond West (Miss Marple’s nephew) and Horace Bindler, a literary critic. Later, Miss Greenshaw having drawn up a new will, is found murdered.

The remaining four stories concern the murder of a man found a Spanish chest (The Mystery of the Spanish Chest), a widow who is convinced her nephew had not killed her husband despite all the evidence against him (The Under Dog), a man who has inexplicable changed his eating habits is found dead (Four and Twenty Blackbirds), and a man who has the same dream night after night that he shoots himself is found dead (The Dream).

I enjoyed reading these stories. They are of varying length and are all cleverly done, if a little predictable.

A book lover writes about this, that and the other