Thursday, 9 October 2014

Happy blogversary!!!!

So I went from here, 7 years ago,  to today realizing I was missing my 7 year anniversary again.  I don't know why Oct 1 is so hard for me to remember, it's a date I should have marked:  the date I started blogging!     However, I am proud to be still be blogging, happy with what I've talked about here, books, and ideas, and especially, always, the wonderful people - YOU - that I've met on here.  You make blogging and talking about books fun, and memorable, and we have had many interesting book discussions over the years.  Many of you have become my friends in my personal life.  And, all those lovely books I've discovered because you talked about them.  Thank you, my friends and readers.  Let's go forward into another year and find some wonderful more books to read and let sink into our souls, shall we?

And, in the meantime, I did manage to have some brownies over the weekend, so let's say I had some birthday  blogversary celebration anyway.  These are Nigella Lawson's Everyday Brownies, dark deliciously chocolate - loaded with dark chocolate chips too - a family favourite, which I made for watching Dr Who on Saturday night.  One day soon I will do a post on the new Doctor (I really like him.) For now, come join me in some brownie goodness, and celebrate the simple things that bring joy into our lives: books, food, good company.  Thanks for being with me so far.


Monday, 6 October 2014

more books read

 RIP Books:
'The Hallowe'en Tree by Ray Bradbury - what a delight this book is.  I had never heard of it until Chris at Stuff Dreams are Made Of made a reference to it sometime in the past year or so.  At some point after I picked up a copy, and finally read it last weekend.  This is a true Hallowe'en story book.  A visit to the imagination of Bradbury, the history of Hallowe'en from the beginning of time, and a life and death quest, all told in the gentle voice of Bradbury.  As it's written for children, it balances scary parts with fun adventures through time and space.   Plus, illustrations and for me, a book cover I love.  This is a fine story to read to get into the Hallowe'en spirit.  The Day of the Dead will never be quite the same for me.  A remarkable story, and highly recommended.   
Rating: Read with a cup of hot chocolate and cookies/brownies, for a truly delightful Hallowe'en adventure, served with shivers.   

***The best I can find is a comment Chris made in 2012's RIP opening post  comment he made here:

A non-RIP book,for a change:  To Darkness and To Death, #4 in the Clare Fergusson/ Russ Van Alstyne mystery series by Julia Spencer-Fleming.  After Book 3 and the dark story at the heart of it - a truly horrifying story that has the horror muted by telling it through flashback, so it's only in realizing what the story is about - what happened - that the horror is really felt.  After that, I wasn't sure what to expect in Book 4.  Could it be better? I think this one is.  It is told as 24 hours in the life of Miller's Kill, a small town in New York State.  24 hours where there is a kidnapping, a murder, and a surprise twist at the end.  Very good mystery.  For once too, Clare is not involved in the danger so much as on the outskirts of it, helping in the search for the missing woman.  We the reader are on the inside, following the various people drawn into the search, the missing woman, what happens to her next, the fall-out from an assault on someone else, all because of a land-deal that is going to happen that evening.  It's told straight-forward, no flashbacks, and is as ever utterly gripping.  On top of that, Clare is preparing for the visit from her Archbishop, who has heard some things about her......At the heart of it, a novel about sacrifice, love, and bravery.  It also managed to make me cry at the ending.  Not bad for a Book 4 of a series!  One of my favourites in this series. 
Rating:  Unputdownable.  Read it when you have an evening clear to curl up in a chair and relax the night away.
Note: this series is so good.  I already have Books 5 and 6 bought for my Christmas box.  I enjoy the mysteries, the supporting cast are fun, and especially, Clare and Russ as they wrestle and come to admit how they feel to each other adds an emotional depth to each novel in the series.  I am very glad that in this one, they are not cast off alone somewhere in the wilderness again with one another.  This time, the danger is different. 

So what are you reading for RIP?  Now that there is a month left, have you discovered a favourite book yet for this challenge?  I have several more on my pile to read, starting with Mind of Winter, for next weekend in between cooking our turkey for our Thanksgiving. Happiness is dark scary books in amongst celebrating life - kind of what Hallowe'en is, about, death and life. 

Monday, 29 September 2014

RIP reviews - ghost, psychics, murder: lovely RIP books

      I have been reading some very good horror/ghost/mystery murder novels with a hint of superstition about them, for RIP.  It has been a banner month for reading for the challenge.  I am delighted to present to you the following books for your reading pleasure:
I Remember You - Yrsa Sigurdardottir.  Not one of the Thora Gudmundsdottir mystery series, this is a stand-alone ghost story.  And is it ever creepy.  The novel opens with three people going to an isolated fjord to do some house renovations.  At the same time, in another village across the fjord, a classroom is vandalized.  And in Reykavik, a doctor hears his son's name coming out of the mouth of a woman who doesn't know his family.  His dead son's name.   Links go back in time to an incident tied to the first vandalizing of the classroom 60 years ago.  How they are linked makes for a gripping ghost story as the story moves from the three people doing the renovations, who quickly realize they are being followed by someone who can't be there - this is a strictly summertime holiday village they are in - to the doctor who is trying to find out more about the woman who said his son's name, and a series of deaths.  There is a palpable sense of evil to the spirit haunting them all.  A chilling ghost story, highly recommended. 
Rating: To be read with the lights on.

Delia's Shadow - Jamie Lee Moyer.  This is a YA first novel, about a young heiress who has had to flee San Francisco after the 1906 earthquake and fire, because she sees the ghosts of the dead.  After the earthquake there were too many for her to deal with, especially as she didn't know what to do with or for them.  The book opens with her returning because a ghost has turned up by her bed in New York City, where she settled to teach, and she has realized it is insisting she return to San Francisco.  Once there, Delia discovers that the ghost is linked to a series of murders of women that have occurred both recently and in the distant past in San Francisco. 

This is a YA novel, a little bit uneven, though with very well-drawn characters, and decent dialogue.  A very spooky setting, as Delia sees ghosts everywhere she goes in SF, and the ghost appears whenever it wants to, as do other spirits in the novel.  The one ghost who comes to her in NY  she nicknames Shadow because she is always there.  This is the only ghost who desperately tries to communicate with Delia.  How is she linked to the serial killer?  Who is the killer? This was enjoyable and fun to read, and recommended especially for the teen age readers.
Rating:  Can be read with just one light.  Have a blanket handy.

The Raven Boys - Maggie Stiefvater - Really good YA novel about Blue, a girl who can see the spirits of the newly dead, one day a year, a year in advance.  She also enhances the 'gifts' of anyone who has psychic gifts of some sort, as most of her family do.  She also carries a curse - she will kill her true love with a kiss.  And along comes Gansey, son of a wealthy financier, whose ghost she sees in the lineup.  He attends the local rich boy's exclusive boarding school. And he is exploring ley lines in the area, trying to raise the spirit (or body) of the Welsh King Owain Glendower, who disappeared in 13c Wales; some say he sleeping somewhere in the earth until he is awakened, when he will grant the wakener with a wish.  The trouble is, Gansey is not the only one looking for Owain.  And a sacrifice has to be made in order to awaken the Welsh King. 

Most of this story is told through Blue's eyes, and some through Gansey's point of view.  It is well done, a lovely thrilling ghost story, with plenty of psychic gifts to thrill anyone who enjoys the supernatural.  All of Blue's family have psychic gifts, and there is a very fun card reading in Blue's house given by her mother and Blue's two 'aunts' (her mother's friends) for Gansey and his friends, which also turns out creepy and powerful when the other seeker also comes calling. 

I really enjoyed this book.  It had a few shocks I didn't expect, some unexpected twists, very good dialogue, and the story itself is interesting.  It's part of a cycle called The Raven Cycle, of which the second book, The Dream Thieves, is now out.   Raven is one of the creatures associated with Owen Glendower. It is good to see a Welsh legend (Owen Glendower did really exist long ago)  being used in fantasy, instead of Scottish or Irish, which are more commonly used. The psychic abilities are realistic and accurately portrayed, which I enjoyed also.  It is too easy to let psychic ability be the 'star' of a novel, or let it take the place of plot, which in this book it was used to enhance the story, not the focus of it. I enjoyed all the characters too.  All in all, a very good YA novel to read.
Rating:  Can be read with the lights off - though a blanket might be required. 

White Bones - Graham Masterton.  This was an unexpected purchase for me last week.  I knew that Masterton was a horror writer (I have one of his on my shelf to read).  He has just started to write a mystery series, set in Ireland, featuring Katie Maguire.  White Bones is the first one.  It is a stunner of mystery.  Katie is a detective, in charge of investigating serious crime in the Cork Garda.  When a series of bones is uncovered while digging through a foundation, everyone wonders, how could 11 women go missing and no one notice?  Then the forensic report comes through:  they were killed in 1915.  The little dolly attached to each left thigh leg can be dated to then. No one has seen the dollies before.  Katie is warned to ignore the bones, that it happened so long ago that no one is left alive who cares.  "They do, the women who died.  I want to bring them to justice," she says.
    Then, a hitchhiker goes missing. When her body is discovered, it bears the same mysterious dolly pinned to the thigh bone as the bones of the 11 other women killed so many years ago, also bears.  Is there a copycat killer?  Why?  Why were the original 11 killed?  The suspense ratches up when another girl is taken. 
     Katie is an interesting female character.  As one of a few women of rank in the Garda, everyone is watching her carefully.  Her husband has become a wheeler-dealer with the lowlifes of Cork, after a series of setbacks and the economy crashing.  When he makes a tremendously bad deal and gets into serious trouble, Katie faces a choice: reveal what her husband has been doing and risk losing her job, or try to make a deal with the crime lord in Cork to protect her husband.

This would be a good mystery, except Masterton throws in something extra:  the ritual used in killing the women, is part of a ritual used to raise  a supernatural being, so the raisee can be granted a wish. All power, etc.  The women are killed in a terrible manner.  I wasn't sure I would make it through the first one, it's not that it is graphic or horrible so much as what is done to her is awful.  The reason behind it is - well, you will have to read this novel for yourself to decide.  I ended up very much liking this book.  The characters, the setting, the story, it is all very well told.  Highly recommended, with the caveat you might have to skip the bits with the killer. 
Rating:  Can be read with lights off, though make sure all the doors are locked.

Like This, Forever - Sharon Bolton.  #3 in the Lacey Flint series. As you know, I have been a huge fan of Lacey Flint.  She is an astonishing character, likeable despite her many flaws.  Like This Forever, starts off almost where the previous one, Dead Scared, left off.  Except now we see Lacey beginning to fall apart, not yet recovered from her ordeal in Dead Scared.  She is off work, not seeing anyone, avoiding people, until the 11 year old boy next door, Barney, asks her for help one day.  Barney has been following the investigation into the murders of 10 and 11 year old boys in London over several months.  At first he is not concerned, but then the murders come closer together, and closer to home.  And Barney is hiding a secret he knows, a secret about his father. 

I really enjoy Lacey.  I did find in the beginning of this one that I wasn't sure if I still liked her, and then it all came together as she figures out she has a choice in how she is behaving in her life, and the man she loves might just leave if she can't get it together.  The interesting and clever part is that we know more about her than any other character but one in the entire series, and I find this puts me on her side, even when she does things I don't like her to do. A very clever way to involve the reader in the story, to make us invested in Lacey. 

The mystery in this novel is of course, who is killing these boys?  Why are they being drained of blood? When the revelation of the killer's identity comes, it is shocking.  And terribly, terrifically sad.  This is a clever mystery, told from two sets of eyes: Lacey's, as she gets involved in helping Barney, and Barney himself, a very interesting and odd boy.  I really enjoy this series, it is quickly becoming one of my favourites.  In this one we get to see a bit more of Mark's life, Lacey's want-to-be boyfriend, who also has a 10 year old boy that goes to the same school as Barney does.  It was good to meet Mark's son, and ex-wife, as this fleshes him out, and shows Lacey what she could be part of.  All in all, a very well done mystery. Perfect for RIP. 
Rating:  Must read, to be read in one day if possible - almost impossible to put down.  No ghosts, but the real terror of an 11 year old boy trying to plot where the killer will strike next, and watching his life fall apart - edge-of-your-seat suspense.

So, how have you been doing with RIP?  I haven't been able to post as much, as I have been trying to get to bed at a reasonable hour so I can get up with my daughter and get her off to school. She leaves the house early now in the mornings.  Which means, much as I'd love to stay, I have to go or I won't get enough sleep tonight. 

I am loving RIP, really happy with all the books I've read so far for it. Many thrills and scares and delicious moments of chills, ghosts and all the things that make me shiver.......

Saturday, 30 August 2014

R.I.P. IX is here! Can you believe it's been 9 years of wonderful ghost and horror novel reading???

Yes, oh yes, it's that time of year again.  I've been making my pile for a week now, wondering when Carl at Stainless Steel Droppings would put his post up.  Readers Imbibing Peril, or RIP, is beginning starting Monday Sept 1.  And.....he's letting us start earlier! 
R.I.P. IX officially runs from September 1st through October 31st. But lets go ahead and break the rules. Lets start today!!!  he writes, and I couldn't agree more.

I am of course going to be doing 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 is my list of books I am thinking/hoping/planning to read during this challenge reading pleasure time:

Mind over Matter - Laura Kasischke  A new to me author and just published novel, it sounds creepy and good: "Something had followed them home from Russia."  *****Edited to add:  I just realized that it was Chris at Chrisbookarama that brought this to my attention.  Here is her review.
Mayhem - Sarah Pinborough  I have been on the waiting list for 6 months for this book!  Both Cath at Read-Warbler and Bride at Bride of the Book God reviewed this for last year's RIP reading challenge. Yes, it's taken me that long to get the book from our library (it only came out in Jan here, and even longer for our library to get a copy), and it just arrived last week!  I"m so happy!
 -  of course, since both made the comparison to Drood  by Dan Simmons which I have not read yet, it will go on my list again.  I'm not sure why I am resisting this one. I did start it last year.  I loved The Terror, and read the book after Drood that came out last year, The Abominable, with a mostly good review (sans as much terror as I hoped for, though it kicked off a huge mountain climbing reading venture for me in the winter).  So, it's on my list as a maybe.
 Deadline - Mira Grant - excellent zombie series, first one, Feed, reviewed here by me in 2011.
Vanished - Kat Richardson - 4th in the Harper Blaine PI series, in which Harper can see the souls of the dead, and other things.  Paranormal series that I love.
    Greywalker (book 1) reviewed here.
    Poltergeist (book 2) reviewed here
       I know I read Book 3 last year or the year before, but didn't review it. Not sure why, as it was very good, one of the best in the series so far.  I have high hopes for Vanished, where she has to discover what in her past might have led her to be able to be a greywalker when she died for 2 minutes in the first book.
 London Falling - Paul Cornell - London police suddenly develop the Sight and can see the otherworldly creatures haunting London's streets.
Frost Burned - Patricia Briggs  I have read every book in the series since they came out. Clever and fun series featuring shape-changer Mercy Thompson who is a Coyote, and how she handles all the fae, dwarves, werewolves, magic and the modern world is not to be missed. Some of my book reviews for her are linked here Moon-Called, (book 1) is reviewed here, Blood Bound (book) 2 and Iron-Kissed (book 3) are reviewed hereBone Crossed, Book 4, here.
Moon Over Soho - Ben Aaronovitch  I thought I had reviewed the first one, Midnight Riot, read a couple of years ago. I can't find the review, so I might not have.  I really liked it, enjoyable and a little dark police constable who sees ghosts, but it's not just ghosts that are involved.  Good mystery set-up.
The Troop - Nick Cutter - horror novel from a Canadian writer, my good friend Sue read it and she really enjoyed it.  She is a horror connoisseur, so if she says it.....
Delia's Shadow - Jaime Lee Moyer - a young woman in early 20th century San Francisco can see ghosts.  After the Great Earthquake in 1906 she flees to Europe until one determined ghost appears.....the ghost of a victim of a serial killer who has not been caught.
The Unquiet House - Alison Littlewood  - This is a new author to me, although she has been putting out novels in England for a little while now.  This is a haunted house novel, with the main character inheriting a house from a distant relation, only she discovers that she might not be alone in the house.  Are there ghostly figures?  or is a distant cousin trying to scare her away from the house?
The Silent Land - Graham Joyce I've read several of his other novels, The Limits of Enchantment reviewed here, Some Kind of Fairy Tale reviewed here.  Joyce is a kind of supernatural writer unlike anyone out there.  His characters are all down-to-earth, plucked from our real world and set into a world where the rules aren't the same. In The Silent Land, the main characters might be dead already. 

And short stories from various collections, including:
Ellen Datlow's Year's Best Horror Volume 1
Don't Look Now and other Stories - Daphne Du Maurier
The Lottery - Shirley Jackson
In Space, No One Can Hear You Scream - ed by Hank Davis, lots of good horror sci fi short stories
The Mammoth Book of Ghost Stories by Women - ed. by Marie O'Regan
Elizabeth Bowen ghost stories in her Collected Stories collection

Some poetry:
Also, if I can find my Edgar Allen Poe book, some horror poetry.  And other dark poems too by  poets.  I know they are out there. I think I will look into some of the Terri Windling and Ellen Datlow various (and many) collections I have of fairy tales, dark fantasy and horror that I have.  I'll review them as I find them, as part of my poetry reading year (blog post is upcoming very shortly as I finalize how I want to do this).

I hope you will join in RIP, if you haven't done this before. And if you have, you know what great fun it is, to read scary and spooky stories, and share them with eachother.  Almost like sitting up late at night scaring one another......

Happy spooky reading, everyone!

 Thank you so much to Carl for doing this, once more.  This is a wonderful reading experience, one of my favourite challenges that I look forward to every year.  Ever since I discovered it in the third year, autumn reading has never been so fun.  6 years of fabulous ghost stories and horror novels read and discovered from all the wonderful readers who join in.

Thursday, 21 August 2014

The strangest thing happened when I read this book.....

I have been reading so many good mysteries, which I will be doing short reviews for over the coming few weeks.  One of my favourite new series I have to thank Cath at Read-Warbler for.  Her review of Julia Spencer-Fleming's 3rd book, Out of the Deep I Cry, the Reverend Clare Fergusson series, got me finally to read the first book, In The Bleak Midwinter, in July, which I had had on my shelf for years.  And a funny thing happened when I read that book. Not only was I hooked on the series - especially the two main characters, Reverend Clare and Sheriff Russ Van Alstyne, but the reverend herself.  Something happened within me, and I realized that I wanted to be like Clare.  It was quite a shock to me when I realized I was jealous of a book character! 

Then I had to consider what this meant.  Did I want to be a minister?  A reverend?  And I came to the conclusion that if my life had been very different, yes, I would.  But, my life went in a very different route when I was very young, and looking at Reverend Clare Fergusson, I came to see that I wanted more spirituality in my life. Not just spirituality, which is vague and not directed towards anything.  I wanted to know my personal belief figure better (for lack of a better generic way to put it!).  For a very long time, most of my life, I have known there was a spiritual part to life that I am attracted to, and interested in.  A way of contemplating the universe, if you will.  I've only ever lingered at the edge, until this summer, when this fictional character woke up in me the recognition of what I want to do for myself.  At the same time, I picked up St Teresa de Avila's The Interior Castle because I had heard about it somewhere as a way to understand the longing we have to behold the sacred.  I am not about to go all religious, don't worry!  That was part of the path I turned from so very long ago.  What I am interested in, is answering the call, that longing.  I don't know where it will lead to yet, just that being more silent is part of it.  So I have to thank Cath and the Reverend Clare very much!  Besides all this, it really is a well-written mystery series, and I have been reading them as fast as I can get them.  I have just finished Out of the Deep I Cry last week.  It's a bit annoying on how the two main characters always keep ending up in deadly fixes together, though this is part of their attraction to each other that they are figuring out.  I will do a review on each of the books later.  I am fascinated to see what Clare does next, and how she has the patience to tend to everyone who comes to her door is a marvel to see.  Sadly it is after 1 a.m. and I have to get to bed!

So in lieu of a book review because it's so very late at night, here is what is on my table beside my computer right now, so you can know what I'm reading since I started realizing what I wanted more of in my life:

Collected Poems - Jane Kenyon (been reading all summer)
London - Edward Rutherford (just started)
The Wise Man's Fear - Patrick Rothfuss (about 3/4 read)
Answering the Contemplative Call - Carl McColman (almost finished)
The Old Ways - Robert MacFarlane
A Book of Silence - Sara Maitland (begun again after last summer when I started it , didn't get far)
The Myth of the Goddess - Anne Baring and Jules Cashland
The Interior Castle - St Teresa de Avila (slowly reading)
Trust Your Vibes - Sonia Choquette (half-way done)
The Poetry of Robert Frost (just begun)

I have a half-formed plan of reading a poem a day for  a year, and posting about the poem (or at least the title!) here.  I like the idea, it's deciding on the day to start! I'll let you know when I do.

So, I am back.  I did not plan on being away this long. I did not know I was even going to take a break from blogging.  As some of you know, last summer I decided to learn how to be more quiet in my life, to make time for some silence each day.  I now know that I was hearing that call.  I still feel the need, and yet funnily enough because of it, I value my friendships and family that much more.  I do want to keep blogging.  I am figuring out how I want to blog while I explore my spiritual requirements, and learning how to say again what I want to say about books.  I have been popping in to see many of your blogs over the past few months, and leaving comments once in a while.  I have wanted to know what you were reading!  I came here many times, wondering if I could post, though it turned out I couldn't, even though I have been reading many superb mysteries and other books this spring and summer.  That is the way of the soul, it sometimes needs something different.  I'm just glad I can write here again, at last.  

Wednesday, 7 May 2014

my TBR mystery pile, in a photo

   I thought you would enjoy seeing what my TBR mystery pile looks like:

 Yes, it's true, I have had these and haven't read them yet, and they are all ones I really want to read, which is why they are pulled into these stacks.

If you look at my blog header, I have added a new one for reading 50 mysteries for this year.  I updated 2013 so you can see I only read 32, far short of my goal.  This year I will!  And I will get these stacks read!

If you want some more good crime writing to read:

Of course, all this was triggered by the announcement of the Theakston's Old Peculiar Crime Writing List:  Theakston's Old Peculiar Crime Novel of the Year has announced the longlist for 2014.  Look at this list and see if your mouth doesn't water:

 Rubbernecker, by Belinda Bauer (Bantam Press)
 The Shining Girls, by Lauren Beukes (HarperCollins)
 The Dying Hours, by Mark Billingham (Little, Brown)
 Like This, For Ever, by Sharon Bolton (Bantam Press)
 A Wanted Man, by Lee Child (Bantam Press)
 The Honey Guide, by Richard Crompton (Weidenfeld & Nicolson)
 The Cry, by Helen Fitzgerald (Faber & Faber)
 Dying Fall, by Elly Griffiths (Quercus)
 Until You’re Mine, by Samantha Hayes (Century)
 The Necessary Death of Lewis Winter, by Malcolm Mackay (Mantle)
 The Chessmen, by Peter May (Quercus)
 I Hear the Sirens in the Street, by Adrian McKinty (Serpent’s Tail)
 The Red Road, by Denise Mina (Orion)
 Ratlines, by Stuart Neville (Harvill Secker)
 Standing in Another Man’s Grave, by Ian Rankin (Orion)
 Children of the Revolution, by Peter Robinson (Hodder & Stoughton)
 Eleven Days, by Stav Sherez (Faber & Faber)
 Weirdo, by Cathi Unsworth (Serpent’s Tail)

I've linked you to the original site, so you can drool like I do over the dream of one day attending this festival.  It honours the best in crime writing published in softcover in the UK and Ireland the year before.  

I am happy to say I have already read three books on the list!  Standing in Another Man's Grave by Ian Rankin, Dying Fall by Elly Griffiths, and The Shining Girls by Lauren Beukes.  I see I haven't reveiwed 2 of them yet, my bad.  I will by the weekend, as they are both very good and I should have reviewed them last year when I read them. Certainly they both return in my thoughts frequently, always a sign that books are working away inside me, especially The Shining Girls, and all of Elly Griffith's books.  Rebus I just plain love.....

Although, this means I have many good books to catch up with.  Several are already on my to-get list as soon as we get them in softcover over here:  Ratlines by Stuart Neville, Children of the Revolution by Peter Robinson, and Like This, Forever by Sharon Bolton.  I already own The Chessmen by Peter May, although I'd like to read the one before it, first (you can see it in the photos - The Lewis Man).  I also own the first in the Adrian McKinty books, The Cold Cold Ground, and it's on my TBR pile too...

I really want to read some of the Theakston's list.  And I haven't even got started on wanting to read this year's Edgar Award winner, Ordinary Grace by William Kent Krueger. I first heard about it earlier this week on Praire Horizons, here.  Now of course I want to read it as soon as possible!  

I do believe that I will always have stacks like that of books to read, it's just the titles that will change as I read one and replace it with another.  I am so very rich, even I am not wealthy with money, with the abundance of books I have to read (and want to read). For this I am very thankful, on this sunny Wednesday afternoon.  I am recovering from visiting the dentist yesterday and having 2 crowns and 6 fillings added.  I think a new book and some reading time is just the thing to heal with, don't you?

What's on your book stacks that you have been wanting to read for a while?

Saturday, 3 May 2014

two mystery reviews

      April was one of my worst reading months in years.  I read all of two books, although a few others are on the go.  I had a really difficult time settling down to read.  So I challenged myself today and read a book this afternoon:   Death of a Perfect Wife, #4 in the Hamish McBeth mystery series by M.C. Beaton.                          

 I love M.C Beaton; her Hamish McBeth mysteries are perfect when I want something light and good and often funny. The Hamish McBeth mystery series are cozy village mysteries.   Hamish is the perfect Highlands policeman, tall, lanky, red-haired, able to look after himeself quite well, and pining away for the young lady of the mansion on the hill, the aristocrats of the area, Priscilla Haliburton-Smythes. Hamish is resourceful, courageous, clever, kind, thoughtful, and responsible.  He is an ideal village bobby, enjoying his life, a part of the village life, and yet able to interview suspects by being frank and open with them.  If he has to investigate a crime, he tells the person he has to question them to clear them.  No one resents him though they do have opinions, and it's hilarious to see the real thoughts, likes and dislikes of the villagers as they try to live together peaceably.
 In this ideal world of Loch Dubh, in the mountains of Highland Scotland, Hamish investigates a murder or two in each book of the series.  Sometimes smuggling or poaching are the major crimes, but there is always a body, almost always of an outsider or newcomer to the village.
 In Death of a Perfect Wife, Trixie and Paul Thomas move to Loch Dubh from London, buying a dilapidated house and turning it into a room and board hotel.   Not too long after arriving, Trixie has turned the town upside down with her magnetic personality, convincing many of the village women that the way to be happy is to have a clean house and protest things that want changing.  Secretly she is up to something not so nice.  Trixie's influence on the village is funny at first as she convinces the doctor's wife that the doctor needs a healthier diet and a cleaner house.  But as she begins to play husbands against wives, and Priscilla against Hamish, she is revealed to be quite nasty, and it is a shock but not a surprise when she is found dead one day.  Suspects are many, as are motive, and Hamish has to investigate many of his neighbors before the culprit is uncovered.

 There is nothing better to cozy up with on a rainy Saturday afternoon for a few hours, than a trip to northern Scotland and watching Hamish outwit his boor of a superior officer DCI Blair. DCI Blair  loathes Hamish, mostly because Hamish is always solving the crime.   Hamish lets Blair take the success is because Hamish doesn't want to leave his village.  He has everything he needs there, and he is contented with his small police office, tiny tenant farm at the back where he raises sheep and chickens and eggs, his dog Towser at his side, and the occasional crime to solve. 

At Christmas I read two of the books in the series, and decided to read these in order - there are 21 now in the series:

Hamish Macbeth
1. Death of a Gossip (1985)
2. Death of a Cad (1987)
3. Death of an Outsider (1988)
4. Death of a Perfect Wife (1989)
5. Death of a Hussy (1990)
6. Death of a Snob (1991)
7. Death of a Prankster (1992)
8. Death of a Glutton (1993)
     aka Death of a Greedy Woman
9. Death of a Travelling Man (1993)
10. Death of a Charming Man (1994)
11. Death of a Nag (1995)
12. Death of a Macho Man (1995)
13. Death of a Dentist (1997)
14. Death of a Scriptwriter (1998)
15. Death of an Addict (1999)
16. Death of a Dustman (2001)
17. Death of a Celebrity (2002)
18. Death of a Village (2003)
19. Death of a Poison Pen (2004)
20. Death of a Bore (2005)
21. Death of a Dreamer (2006)
22. Death of a Maid (2007)
23. Death of a Gentle Lady (2008)
24. Death of a Witch (2009)
25. Death of a Valentine (2009)
26. Death of a Chimney Sweep (2011)
     aka Death of a Sweep
27. Death of a Kingfisher (2012)
28. Death of Yesterday (2013)
29. Death of a Policeman (2014)
A Highland Christmas (1999)

I now have read the first four in the series, as well as A Highland Christmas, which was quite good and enjoyable to read over the holidays this past Christmas.  I will do a more thorough review of them in a post soon.  I have also read two others in the series over the past few years, while I decided if I wanted to read it sequentially.  I do!  There is a progression in this series, and references once in a while to past events, so reading them as they were written is a good idea, though not necessary. Depends on if you like dipping into a series or not.  I highly recommend these for anyone looking for a comforting, enjoyable mystery series to read. 

One of the 2 books I read in April was Bellfield Hall (re-named A Moment of Silence in the UK), by Anna Dean.  This is the first in the Deductions of Dido Kent mystery series.  I really enjoyed it.  I had picked it up last year, but hadn't read it, and then Cath at Read-Warbler read it and loved it.  So her post convinced me to give it a try.  

I think I had hesitated to read it because I was afraid that it would be too Jane Austen-like. By this I mean, the temptation to write a character like Jane Austen would, or like Jane herself could have been, is immense these days.  I don't like either.  To me, Jane Austen and her characters belong to her, the author, and while I know many people enjoy the spin-offs from her novels, I have great difficulty reading them. In any case, even though the main character in this series, Dido Kent, is a spinster, and rather Jane-like in her sharp acuity in noticing people and their expressions around her, the similarity to Jane ends there.  The books are set in 1805, right at the time of many of Jane's novels, Regency England.  The social mores, conventions, and conversations and society rules are the same as in Jane's novels, because it is the same time period. However, the characters are Anna Dean's own creations. I am so happy to report this!   Reading Bellfield Hall is like having a series set in the wonderful time of Jane Austen.  We get to see more of Regency England, the way that women can and can't move around by themselves to go anywhere, and how spinsters rely on the goodwill of family members to support them.  Dido is 35, so considered out of the dating game by then, an old maid.  She is summoned to Bellfield Hall, home of the Montagues, where her niece had just announced her engagement to a wealthy country man, Richard Montague, at an engagement party. Catherine is distraught because her fiancé has tried to end their engagement during the party.  Catherine refuses to believe that Richard is serious, and asks Dido to come and try to track down where her fiancé has disappeared to.  She wants an explanation, for she thinks the letter he left doesn't explain anything to her.   However, upon her arrival, a dead body is discovered on the property:  a young woman, murdered. Who is she?  Is there a link to Richard's sudden disappearance?

Dido comes because Catherine is her favourite niece, and because her brother Francis (Catherine's father) asks her to.  Or as she says to her sister Eliza, Catherine has told her father she wants Dido with her, and so what Catherine wants, her father gives her. Dependent on him as on all of her brothers for her income, Dido goes where she is summoned, and her time is considered theirs to use.  In this way, we see some of what befalls unmarried women in Regency England. 

The fact that she is a spinster, and not wealthy of her own accord, allows Dido to approach the servants and socialize at the dinner engagements equally.  I am not sure that Dido would have been able to move so freely in a country house without being noticed that she was talking to the servants, but both of Richard's parents are otherwise occupied, and of course pay her no mind as she is just the spinster aunt of their son's fiancée.  

Part of the novel is constructed in letters Dido writes to her sister Eliza, which is very much in keeping with the letters Jane Austen wrote to her sister Eliza.  I kept thinking of Jane and Cassandra corresponding like this, and having recently read some of Jane's letters to her family, My Dear Cassandra, I was able to see that the tone in the letters in this novel as well as the tone of the book itself is close to perfect. It is like stepping into Regency England, with the the lightness and delicacy of touch that Jane Austen had, without the novel being Jane Austen like.  Dido is a woman in her own right, and her investigation is well-done with plenty of clues, questioning, searching out the truth hidden in plain sight, and concern for the people in the house.  Who could be the killer?  Was it a family member, a potential member of Catherine's family, and so of Dido's? What happened to Richard?  Why did he leave the engagement party without a word being said?  

A few of the things that elevates this book is that while Dido investigates, she has to do so carefully, aware that a killer is in their midst, and that she is there as a guest.  There is no real investigation into the death because there are no policeman at that time, no village bobby to call.  The local coroner investigates a little, but only so much as to determine the woman was murdered, by persons unknown.  Dido investigates in order to clear her niece's fiancé; Lord Montague, Richard's father, doesn't want scandal to touch the family, and so no real inquest is held, it is thought that someone outside the family happened by and killed the unknown lady.  Many of Dido's clues come because she talks to the servants, who are the ones who know what happens in the house, although they have no one to tell, except amongst themselves.  

And Dido falls in love.  It is most unexpected, and fun to watch happen.  It is even better that is possibly returned.....except that there is of course, something in the way.  He is a man of values, to esteem, after all. And the mystery ends on the happy note of the mystery solved and romance in the air, in the genteel sweet air of Austen's novels.  Lovely.

It is an enjoyable mystery, with interesting characters, and Dido shows herself to be skilled at reading people and understanding motives.  She is clever, and I liked her.  So thank you, Cath.  I have a new series!  Hurray!  Well worth reading, especially for country house mystery fans, Regency readers, and anyone who loves Jane Austen.

And in case you wanted another new mystery series to start:

And for those looking for a new paranormal mystery series, this one reviewed over at Lesa's Book Critiques looks very good:  Ghost Seer by Robin D. Owens.  Just released, and it looks interesting. 

Other reviews:
Bellfield Hall
Kittling Books
S.Krishna's Books
Eva at A Striped Armchair