Monday, 30 September 2013

September round-up

A quick summary of recent reading. I’m trying to get back to regular posting here, I promise, but being self-employed is horribly time-consuming – whyever did I think it would be preferable to having a “proper” job where you could come home at 5pm and do whatever you want? No doubt one day I will achieve some sort of routine but, being me, I complicated things by deciding I would try to develop a creative life as well as an everyday one. So now there’s always a choice when I have any free time – do I blog, or do I draw? For the moment, the latter has been winning, but I want a better balance. We shall see…

Another change is that I’ve been using our mobile library instead of going to into town. We’re very, very lucky to have this service (particularly since our branch libraries are about to go self-service), and I’m pleased to be at home reliably enough to support it, but the choice of books is inevitably more limited, at least until I get my requests organised. Since the TBR pile has reached epic proportions, this really shouldn’t matter, but it does tip the genres in favour of crime rather than fantasy/scifi for now – I’m afraid stay-at-home readers don’t appear to be fans of the likes of John Scalzi and Jim Butcher!

Anyway, to the books themselves – a selection of the last month’s reading:

Silent Voices by Ann Cleeves: Vera Stanhope has such a strong voice, I can hear Brenda Blethyn all the time I’m reading. I’ve seen the television adaptation of this one, but I never mind that. Vera finds a woman dead at the local health club she’s attending – her irritation at the possibility of having to kick off a murder investigation while still in her swimming cozzy is superb. The dead woman turns out to be a social worker and there may be ties to a child abuse case. The north-eastern setting is great: it feels familiar, and Cleeves seems to have a real knack for expressing the parochialism that becomes more distinctive the further you get from London. There's a lovely balance, too, between Vera's gruffness and her empathy for the people involved in the investigation.

The Cadaver Game by Kate Ellis: Another writer I read because she deals with familiar territory, this time the South Hams in Devon. Ellis isn’t anything like as good at it as Cleeves, though, I can’t help feeling that this could be anywhere. Nothing really picks it out as Devon except the thinly disguised placenames. I persist, however, in the hope that she’ll crack it someday. The plots, featuring police inspector Wesley Patterson, are always liked to historical events: in this case to two 18th-century stories, the first that of a mysterious “princess” who turned up apparently speaking a language that no-one could recognise, the second that of a local squire who conducted manhunts on his land for entertainment. The local archaeologist, and Wesley’s best friend, should be banned from all digs as he is guaranteed to find a recent body wherever he puts his trowel. 

Home to Roost by Tessa Hainsworth: I never know how to categorise books like this – ostensibly true accounts of country life which must, at the very least, have various names and situations disguised. At worst (best?) I assume a good deal of license has been taken with the “facts”. Perhaps this is relatively true to life, since I notice that there is almost no reference to the couple’s children; indeed, I wasn’t sure of they had any until quite late in the book. Tessa and her husband are incomers to Cornwall, but have been there long enough to settle into their village reasonably happily. Tessa is a postwoman, her partner – an actor – helps out at a local café. New neighbours, who don’t fit in so well, disrupt village life, but the book’s mostly about very everyday events. Sort of Miss Read de nos jours. It does have some flavour, but it’s a bit like the Walls version of Cornish ice cream.

Death of a Witch by M.C. Beaton: I quite like Beaton’s Agatha Raisin books, although I find her habit of giving me information rather than letting me discover it for myself rather irritating. Until now I’ve avoided the Hamish Macbeth books because I feared the West Highland setting and characters wouldn’t work, but I thought it came off quite well. One of the things that rang true was just how much time people have to spend driving out of the Highlands, since most of Scotland’s population lives further south. Hamish always seems to be whizzing off to Perth or Inverness. But the roads have improved since my childhood, when Perth, 27 miles south, was a day trip.

The Boy Who Could See Demons by Carolyn Jess-Cooke: I was supposed to read this for a Goodreads North-East group read – my apologies to others in the group, but everyday life intervened and I hadn’t even started it by the end-date. I thought at first it was too  much like Patrick Ness’s A Monster Calls, which I read a month earlier, but a second narrative strand took it in a rather different direction. The story of a young boy who may be schizophrenic and his psychiatrist, it is set in Northern Ireland and depicts some of the appalling effects on children which the Troubles was inevitably responsible for. Despite its grim background, it’s a sensitive portrayal of grief and guilt and could be a good starting point for discussion of mental health issues and/or terrorism with young people.

Jane Austen Stole My Boyfriend by Cora Harrison: this author’s historical crime series featuring a woman legal expert in the sixteenth century (the Burren series) is one I pounce on when I find it. This YA novel was okay but rather instantly forgettable. I liked the inclusion of the court case against JA’s aunt, Mrs Leigh-Perrot, though. It might intrigue a young reader enough to get them to try one of the many excellent biographies of Jane Austen.

Wycliffe in Paul's Court by W.J. Burley: I haven’t read a Wycliffe for years. OH and I used to love the series on television, with Jack Shepherd scowling and Kersey being bumbling and Cornish, we watched all of them at least three times, I think, and I rather miss them – TV crime is so gritty these days! The books themselves are good workmanlike examples of the genre, not great art but good entertainment.


  1. Vera is one of my favourite crime series on TV. I think Brenda Blethyn is a genius, so wonderful to have a female heroine who is not a stick insect or glamorous in any way.

    I have Tessa Hainsworth's Up With the Larks but have not read it yet. I must. I can't be Cornish and not read every Cornish book available can I? LOL

    Ah yes, Wycliffe. What a misery the actor was but I still liked the series very much. Location spotting was my favourite bit of watching it.

    Nice post. And nice to see you posting again.

    1. Thanks, Cath - it's good to be back, but it does feel a bit like starting over.

      I thought of you while reading the Tessa Hainsworth book - be interested to know what you make of it.

  2. This was a good update, and I am sure I am not the only one who is looking forward to more of the kind :-)
    It is so good being able to support your mobile library. I used to LOVE going to ours when I was a kid; at that time, I never thought I would end up becoming a librarian myself, working at the central library which fed that same mobile one I went to all those years ago.

  3. yaay, you're back! lol I've been missing you this summer/year, though it's understandable with everything going on for you this year. It's good to see a post from you - and one that has added to my list of books I want, I might add! lol must look into the Burran series!

    I quite like the Hamish McBeth series - at first I avoided them because I enjoyed the tv series so much. Then I missed the tv series so I decided to try the books. I am slowly going through them. They are fun, cozy, and delightful with the Scottish characters and the settings. I like Hamish very much too. he is much more serious and thoughtful than comes across in the series.

    I've been reading Cleeves' other series, the Shetland series, so while I wait for the newest one to come out here, I was looking at the Vera series - it does look interesting and she looks like quite a character. I think if you and Cath enjoy it so much, I will give her a go. I know we've had the tv series over here occasionally, but not sure where it is right now.

    Lovely catch up post, and good luck with the drawing (you have to tell us more!!) and self-employment. It is a little scary and exhilarating - I was self-employed for 4 years in the 1990s.

    1. I've really missed blogging, Susan, and all the friends I've made through it. And I'm always happy to add to other people's book lists :-)

      I haven't read the Shetland series, though we watched it on television (very good) but we adore Vera - really recommend it both for reading and watching. And of course I love the Northumberland setting in the TV series, it's wonderfully bleak at times. I shall get the Shetland ones from the library.

      News of the drawing and other ventures will no doubt start to creep in over the winter, though I've got copy-editing work at the moment so I don't have much time. But I'm still a bit nervous of talking about it too much!

  4. I just finished Murder in Thrall by Cleeve's, the first in a new series. And I read The Boy Who Could See Demons this summer. I liked both of them very much!

    1. I thought The Boy Who Could See Demons was very good, must see if the author has written anything else. I liked the Patrick Ness book a lot too, I don't think I said.

  5. Good to see you back. It really is hard to juggle self-employment and regular blogging. It is a battle I am currently loosing!

    1. For me the loss of routine is difficult, especially as the work is intermittent. I should be able to plan ahead better than I do currently - prepare some posts in the quiet times that will do for the busy ones. But I do find that if they hang around too long they sort of go off the boil...

  6. I really have to give Ann Cleeves a second chance. I have failed miserably with her Vera Stanhope books - I simply couldn't believe in her as a character - but perhaps I would fair better with the Shetland series. I think I have the first one on my e-reader account so when I've finished what I'm reading there I must give it a go.