Sunday, 28 February 2010

February’s books

•    The Cat Who Saw Stars by Lilian Jackson Braun
•    The Forgotten Beasts of Eld by Patricia McKillip
•    Footsteps in the Dark by Georgette Heyer
•    The Winter Garden Mystery by Carola Dunn
•    The Serpent Pool by Martin Edwards
•    What's Bred in the Bone by Robertson Davies
•    Timoleon Vieta Come Home by Dan Rhodes
•    Clouds Among the Stars - reread
•    Death at Wentwater Court by Carola Dunn
•    The Green Library by Janice Kulyk Keefer
•    Practically Perfect by Katie Fforde
•    Three Houses by Angela Thirkell
•    The Cat Who Tailed a Thief by Lilian Jackson Braun

Goodness, another month gone by already. There are reviews for several of these books to come, particularly for the Robertson Davies Cornish trilogy, which I have decided to tackle in one post. It’s a re-read, for the Canadian Book Challenge, and I’m enjoying it immensely. A new discovery is Carola Dunn’s Daisy Dalrymple series, which is fun. Following my last visit to visit the Aged Parents, I was rather unwell for a couple of days – once I was capable of reading again I waded through What’s Bred in the Bone followed by The Winter Garden Mystery, which had a suitably restorative effect. I managed to schedule some reviews, too, courtesy of my new amanuensis. Just as well, as the days until the annual conference that I organise are ticking by fast, and I’m up to my neck in work.

Saturday, 20 February 2010

The Serpent Pool by Martin Edwards

Martin Edwards is tremendous at writing witnesses/suspects so insolent that even the reader wants all policing rules forgotten so that a beefy sergeant can do them over in a secluded cell. By the end of his books you’re not so much trying to eliminate suspects you like as find reasons to arrest the lot of them. Bring back hanging! I shout, ignoring the fact that my pleasure in a good whodunnit is, like Lord Peter Wimsey’s, usually ever-so-slightly marred by the knowledge that the perpetrator will hang (I think perhaps Lord Peter felt it a little more keenly than I, but I am prone to brooding).

In The Serpent Pool, the latest in the excellent series featuring historian Daniel Kind and DCI Hannah Scarlett, a book collector is found burnt to death along with his library. This allows Edwards plenty of opportunity for musing on the pleasures of books, a subject which he knows is dear to many of his readers, while providing those readers with the chance to feel superior to his characters because we are much more discerning and have, of course, read all of the books in our collections (haven't we?). There’s a nice shudder of horror at the thought of all that wanton destruction - not of the victim but the library. The burning of even imaginary books is anathema to the bibliophile.

Our ‘official’ detective Hannah is investigating another of her cold cases – this time of a young woman found bound and drowned in the Serpent Pool, coincidentally within walking distance of the new home purchased with her bookseller boyfriend, Marc. We’ve known from previous books that Marc has few redeeming qualities, so we’re not at all surprised to find that he knows both victims, nor that he fails to tell Hannah about his acquaintance with the drowned woman. In fact, despite the new house Hannah and Marc are barely rubbing along together, with Hannah recognising that it might just be reluctance to make a break that keeps them together. Whenever she thinks of this she suppresses it pretty firmly, so that you feel it will take a real shock to break them up.

Daniel, meanwhile, has decided to write a book on Thomas de Quincy, who has, of course, credentials as a Lakeland writer. He’s having trouble getting down to it, not least because he is being distracted by a visit from his sister Louise. She’s a bit of a flake, really, though we wouldn’t admit it to Daniel, who is very loyal to her, always making allowances for her because she was hurt by the defection of their policeman father. Louise has been spending Christmas with Stuart Wagg, another local book collector and a perfectly ghastly man. She's not awfully good at choosing men, either.

Apart from Marc, Hannah has another thorn in her flesh, in the shape of a new sergeant in her team. Greg Wharf is brash and blustering, full of himself and unpleasantly prone to insinuating remarks. Furthermore, the whole squad is afflicted by a bug that is doing the rounds, and consequently short-handed, so yet another murder is a burden they could do without, especially when it begins to look as though there might be links between the recent deaths and Hannah’s cold case.

A digression here - I used to live on the edge of the Lake District and I don’t remember that it was populated entirely by horrible people! It seems to have become as dangerous as Midsomer! Of course, a high body count always seems to follow when a gifted amateur sleuth moves into a small community, but if I were Daniel I’d be starting to wonder why I never met any nice neighbours. More seriously, I think Martin Edwards catches the atmosphere of living in small communities well:  that knowledge that if you so much as sneeze someone will be talking about it and probably not too kindly. It’s a terrible admission, I know, but I used to find the Lakes a little claustrophobic (actually in terms of its physical scale - it seemed very small after the Highlands) and I rediscover that sense of constriction whenever I read this series: no wonder they are all crazy about striding across the fells or venturing up all those jagged hills, they have to in order to be able to breathe! No, I’m not just showing my prejudices here, honestly - I enjoy the way that Edwards evokes the landscape and spirit of the Lakes. If perhaps he evokes less of the spirit of its people, that is because many of his characters are incomers. Like every desirable part of the country, the Lakes attract people who want to settle there, just as Daniel has done, but they are not all as benign, and Edwards has shown himself good at depicting people who’ve made their money in the cities and then move into rural communities where they buy up the houses and then shut themselves behind security gates.

A real nail-biter of a denouement will keep fans of Martin’s books very happy – the tension really builds in the second half. Definitely one to save for a weekend, or an indulgent day off. With a good fire and a nice cup of tea to ward off that chilly Lakeland fog I can promise you will be in for a good read.

Sunday, 7 February 2010

Support Your Local Library Challenge – quick update

This is a very quick update: last January I signed up for the Support Your Local Library Challenge, but life got so complicated later in the year that I stopped adding my links to the site. For the sake of tidiness, I'm posting my list of books completed and reviewed below. Out of the 50 I had planned to read, I managed 31 which wasn't bad, in the circumstances, and I reviewed 23.

The challenge did encourage me to make more use of the library, especially as I started to use the request facility much more. The library has is using a new system which improves searching and holding books, apart from the odd glitch, such as when they "held" a book for me at Allendale Library, a mere 80 miles away! The library staff, as charming and helpful as ever, sorted it out, and I duly collected the book a couple of days later. Thanks, guys.

By the end of 2009, 1307 links had been posted to the review site - my belated thanks go to J. Kaye for hosting - it was a terrific idea.

My Country Childhood ed. Susy Smith
Folklore of the Northern Counties of England and the Borders by William Henderson
The Tides of Time: Archaeology on the Northumbrian Coast by Caroline Hardy and Sarah Rushton
The Day Job by Mark Wallington
The Cipher Garden by Martin Edwards
The Coroner's Lunch by Colin Cotterrill
The Winter Ground by Catriona MacPherson
Markham Thorpe by Giles Waterfield
Shot by Sarah Quigley
The Careful Use of Compliments by Alexander McCall Smith
A Bit of Earth by Rebecca Smith
The Risk of Darkness by Susan Hill
Howards End is on the Landing by Susan Hill
The Children's Book by A.S. Byatt
Kept: A Victorian Mystery by D.M. Taylor
The Diary of a Provincial Lady by E.M. Delafield
After the Armistice Ball by Catriona McPherson
The View from Downshire Hill by Elizabeth Jenkins
The Day Job by Mark Wallington
Gathering the Water by Robert Edric
My Country Childhood ed. Susy Smith
Brother and Sister by Joanna Trollope
A Tale Etched in Blood and Hard Black Pencil by Christopher Brookmyre
The Lost Garden by Helen Humphreys
The Merchant's Mark by Pat McIntosh
Renegade's Magic by Robin Hobb
The Cat Who Brought Down the House by Lilian Jackson Braun
The Cat Who Talked Turkey by Lilian Jackson Braun
The Cat Who Dropped a Bombshell by Lilian Jackson Braun
Agatha Raisin and the Love from Hell by M.C. Beaton
Pride and Prescience by Carrie Bebris

Thursday, 4 February 2010

January’s Books (2010)

Appleby and the Ospreys by Michael Innes
The Caxley Chronicles by Miss Read
One Fine Day by Mollie Panter-Downes - re-read
Airs Above the Ground by Mary Stewart – re-read
Tulku by Peter Dickinson - reread
The Nebuly Coat by John Meade Falkner
More Work for the Undertaker by Margery Allingham
The Cat Who Said Cheese by Lilian Jackson Braun
Ankle Deep by Angela Thirkell
The Riddle-Master of Hed by Patricia McKillip - reread
The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie by Alan Bradley
Death and the Penguin by Andrey Kurkov
Don't Tell Alfred by Nancy Mitford

The first reading round-up of the year! As usual, only a couple of reviews completed (I’m resigned now to not reviewing everything I read); there are reviews of some to come (Tulku, Ankle Deep, and an overdue one for Rebel Angels amongst them) but here are brief thoughts on a few of the others.

Wednesday, 3 February 2010

Compulsive list-making

I’ve added new pages with lists of books read in 2009 and 2008, thanks to the new Blogger Pages – I’ve been waiting for that for ages! Here are some statistics for last year, which I meant to post in January; they are pretty similar to the previous year.

Number of books read in 2009: 158
Fiction/Non-Fiction ratio: 146 fiction (including 1 play), 12 non-fiction
Male/Female authors: 42 men; 63 women
Favourite book read: The Children’s Book by A.S. Byatt. Loved it.
Least favourite: Primitive by Mark Nykanen – not on the list because I refused to finish it
Oldest book read: Anne of Ingleside by L.M. Montgomery
Newest book read: Primitive
Number of re-reads: 26
Books in translation: 2 - Last Rituals (translated from Icelandic); Lock 14 (French)
Library books: 27

Finally, a book recommended by a blogger: After the Armistice Ball by Catriona Macpherson was recommended by Juxtabook. There were lots of others, but this one stood out, it was such fun. The third in the series, The Winter Ground, was even better.