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Wednesday, 28 May 2014

Abridged Reading List 2014

I am behind this year, however, I shall endeavour to discuss a few of the books that I have read so far this year, and also some of the books that I intend to read.

20th Jan: The Last Kingdom, Bernard Cornwell 

I have read this book before, and when I clear some space on my reading list, I intend to re-read the rest of this series.

This is the first book in the Saxon Chronicles, and follows the start of the life of young Uhtred of Bebbanburgh, as he goes from younger son, to usurped nephew, to viking captive, to adopted viking son.

He meets King Alfred, and he is our guide as the novel takes us, via Uhtred's blood feuds (he is quite good at collecting these) through what is left of England, and the Danelaw, through the odd Shieldwall.

The book is fast paced and exciting, the characters are well written, and the reader finds themselves rooting for Uhtred, and his friends and family. The ending is left open enough to leave the reader looking forward to the next installment (The Pale Horseman), but satisfying enough for a single book read. 

I gave it 5/5


14 March: Dominion, CJ Sansom

Dominion is set in England in 1952, but it is an alternate 1950's, one in which Churchill was never Prime Minister and the appeasers surrendered to Germany in 1940. Germany is still at war with Russia, and English politics has become gradually more and more right wing, until mid-way through this book, the English Jews are being forcably removed from their homes and sent 'away'.

David, has been spying for the resistance, unfortunately, a slip up blows his cover, but he has one final job to do for the resistance, to help his old uni-friend, Frank, escape from a mental institute so that whatever it is he knows, isn't tortured out of him by the SS.

This is mainly an espionage thriller, and much slower paced that my usual fayre. It is, however, incredibly moving in parts. I wasn't keen on the relationship dynamic between David and his wife, or his affaire with Natalia, but I think that his dysfunctional marriage is rather pivotal, however the affaire doesn't detract from the rest of the plot and it was, in parts, hard to put down.

Overall 4/5


31 March: The Sleeping and the Dead, Ann Cleeves

This is a standalone murder mystery from the author of the Shetland series, and the Vera books (both now TV series').

Detective Peter Porteous has moved to a quiet backwater after (I presume) some sort of break down (which I don't remember being explained fully). During a particularly warm summer, the local lake level is lower than it has been for many years and a canoe instructor at the water-sports centre discovers a body.

The pace was rather plodding for my taste, and I found some of the leads the detective followed to be tenuous, I think a little more foreshadowing would have been better, but I still figured out who dunnit, and part of the why. 

The ending felt a little awkward, and some parts of the plot felt a little too contrived, but I wouldn't discount the author.

Only 3/5 for this one.


15 April: A Place of Execution, Val McDermid

This is a book of two parts.

Part I : 1960's Derbyshire:
Two children in the Greater Manchester area have gone missing, and when a young girl in Derbyshire vanishes in similar circumstances, young detective, George Bennett is determined not to let the journalists link the cases together. 

This part of the book is told in third person pov using George Bennet as the main protagonist, and follows the case from the initial report of the missing teenager, through to the culmination of the eventual court case.

Part II: 35 years later:
Most of the major players in the original case have moved on and the girl's mother has died. When a journalist approaches George, through his son, to be able to write a book based on the case, which has been an important precendent in later court cases. Everything is going fine, until George sends the author a note withdrawing his support, quite close to the end, and then promptly has a heart attack. All he says is that new evidence has come to light. The author then has to turn detective to try to find out what has upset George so much.

The plot itself is intricate and I worked out some, but not all of it. My biggest problem was that the two children referenced as being missing from Greater Manchester in Part I, and the boy who goes missing some time later in part I, aren't fictional. Those children were the victims of the now infamous Moors Murderers, although that wouldn't have been known when the first part of the book was set. I can see why they were referenced, but it left a sour taste for me.

Overall, I was pleased that I was able to work out some of the who, how and why (even if some of the finer details had to be spelled out to me), and I did like the ending, it genuinely worked.

I gave 4/5.

22 May: The Book Thief, Markus Zusak

I saw the film adaptation of this book before I read the book, and I loved it! As always, the book is better!

The book is mainly about a girl, called Liesel Meminger, who is a book thief (as the title suggests). However the book is told from the perspective of Death.

Liesel grows up in foster care, in Nazi Germany. Being British, I am very used to novels about WWII which depict air raid sirens, shelters and normal people trying to get through the war, the blitz and being bombed. We tend to forget that in Germany, ordinary people had exactly the same issues, along with their Communist and Jewish friends or family being persecuted. This novel discusses diverse issues, included what happened to people who didn't join the Nazi Party, people who helped Jewish people in their community, the lack of food, work and money for ordinary families, as well as the air raids, the bombings and Hitler being in charge.

At the start of the book, I found the writing style slightly odd, but it's fast paced, the characters are vivid and personable and this novel will draw you in, and make you cry for thee characters on it's pages.

5/5.

27 May: Fleshmarket Close, Ian Rankin

Where to start! So much happens in this novel, but it is all interlinked, eventually!

St Leonards has closed and DI Rebus and DS Clarke have been moved into Gayfield Square, where they are being made to feel less than welcome. They seem to be unable to find their place, and end up working diverse cases for other areas, under different lead investigators.

Rebus is helping with an apparently racially motivated stabbing on the fictional Knoxland Estate, Siobahn has been approached by a family who she has worked with before, when their 18 year old daughter goes missing. The police don't think a missing 18 year old is a big deal, but Siobahn agrees to help, unofficially. In doing so, she accidentally finds herself assisting in a muder investigation well out of town. On top of which, there is the discovery of two skeletons in a cellar on Fleshmarket Close, which both Rebus and Siobahn attended, and at which something... well, many things... are not right.

The novel then introduces the topic of immigration, through the fictional detention centre of Whitemire. Introducing new characters, and old. The plot itself was engaging, although I found myself becoming frustrated at Siobahn. I was also disappointed with the overall outcome, and how Rebus got there, as well as some parts of the missing persons resolution, which just felt rushed, and too heavily edited so that it didn't make enough sense.

Not my favourite Rebus novel, not least because most of the locations the novel was set in were fictional, and I do enjoy being lead around Edinburgh by Inspector Rebus. But not one I would recommend to someone just starting to read Rebus for the first time!

Overall 4/5.

UPCOMING READS:

I am still re-reading Elizabeth Chadwick's The Greatest Knight, as well as 12 Years a Slave by Solomon Northup and Her Privates We by Frederic Manning. I also have the second and third Miss Marple Novels (The 13 Problems and The Body in the Library, both by Agatha Christie) lined up, and Intractable Heart: A Story of Katheryn Parr by Judith Arnopp.

Tuesday, 20 May 2014

Cricket, thunder, lightning and heavy rain

Well, yesterday, as I finished my blog post, I duly left the house to collect Itsy from Rainbows, and walked her the entire 10metres across to Cricket Club. She loved it!
They did some warming up (running round), they practiced catching and throwing and bowling (or running after a small ball), they practiced batting a ball balanced on a cone... then running after it to pick it up, and finally bowling at each other in pairs, and swapping who was the batsman, and who was running after the ball... finally, they played a mini-match where they took it in turns as bowler, wicket keeper, batsman, fielder and sitter on the bench waiting for my turn-er... She said that she really enjoyed it, and wants to go again. I have no objection, although next week, I'm taking my coat. You see, it was a warm sunny afternoon/evening, and it's a five minute walk, so I walked up with her coat (in case she got cold), her drink and a banana for her (she'd eaten on the way to Rainbows earlier). Then, I sat outside, in the warm spring evening, watching my daughter play cricket, with a drink in hand (soft drink, but a nice cold one), and reading some more of Fleshmarket Close... and then, there was a rumble. Then some lightning, and just as the kids stopped playing cricket, it started to rain, big fat raindrops, the kind that soak right through your rubbish t-shirt and linen cropped trousers. Luckily, the clubhouse (read bar) was open, so Itsy and I sat in the clubhouse where Itsy had a glass of lemonade and a packet of space raider (also known as best crisps ever, apart from nachos, apparently) and I had a glass of wine. We then phoned beloved (who handily finished teaching karate around 10 minutes later) and asked if he would collect us on his way past... with the car. So for the second day on the trot, my beloved husband was my knight in shining car.
We then got home JUST in time for Game of Thrones, Itsy had to go to bed... I feel bad, she'd love it, but the nudity and swearing... oh, and all the death... yeah, not suitable for a six year old!

Tonight is my Nordic Walking class, so I shall leave you now and go trotting round the forest with my poles and my poor blistered foot... 

Monday, 19 May 2014

... and the trees hugged overhead, as Linda shimmied in her backpack...

Walking Club's first outing yesterday, saw us attempt the Wirral Way (Hooton Station to West Kirby). We took two detours (to find pubs), and due in part to the novices blister (the novice being me) we stopped short of West Kirby, and at Thurstaston headed to a pub to enjoy a starter and drink whilst awaiting rescue by my knight in shining armour (or husband and car)...

It was a lovely day, and I remembered to repeatedly apply suncream, I even wore a sunhat, and the walk is really lovely.

I didn't take my camera, so it's phone photo's only, and there are some I wish that I had taken, but didn't... however, we have agreed that we will try this one again... preferably with my camera and blister socks that actually prevent blisters, because the ones that I bought do NOT!

First Pub Stop - Pollards Inn - I recommend this one!

A foal in a field by the path, Mamma was just out of shot

Most of the walk follows the old disused railway line, and this part was in a sandstone gorge. I loved the patterns in the sandstone

A few times we had to leave the footpaths and walk down a road a short way... at least it was well signed!

Little bridge around Neston

This used to be part of the Dee estury, now a wetlands reserve

Not the best photo - but a few ponies at a sanctury at the far side of the field

I swear, there's a butterfly in this

Second attempt at that butterfly

This boundary marks the border of Cheshire and Wirral



Map of the Wirral Way, not necessarily the route that we took


The pub we were rescued from


I really wish I had taken more photos, or had my proper camera. We saw lots of wildlife, loads of robins, horses in fields, or on the bridlepath, dogs, a water vole, butterflies, strange and exotic looking birds!

The trees offer plenty of shade across a lot of the route, in some places the canopy meets and it appears that the trees are hugging. There is one particular pair of trees which looked just like barmaids hugging over a bar, although there was a footpath, rather than a bar. I need to get a picture of that next time! 

My blister, for those who care, is heart shaped... awww... still hurts like [insert rude word here] though!

Linda, my not-a-novice walking companion, was road testing a new backpack on this walk... you can tell she does this sort of thing a lot. She had a spare pair of socks, also sandals, and first aid kits, and a proper backpack, not a borrowed it from girl child, it's a kids one and it chafes your shoulders after a while. She was very impressed with her new, frameless, backpack. It was still comfortable after over seven hours, even if and when she was shimmying, because it stayed put, and it had a mesh thing to allow air to circulate and prevent the dreaded 'sweaty back'. If you'd like to read Linda's slightly more directionally based blog post about our walk, you can read it at her blog; Somewhere Slowly.

I know that I ache today, but I will definitely do this again. Not just the Wirral Way either... we have plans to walk in other locations too!

Anyway, I've also been doing some proof-reading. Short stories for an anthology for a friend. She hasn't written them all, and to be honest, I've found it rather weird. There are parts I just want to completely rewrite. But I can't, I just point out any inaccuracies, I correct spelling errors and random words, whether omitted or added. I can't review them, not until they have been published, but you can tell that the different stories have been written by different authors, and they vary in style and quality! My friend is editing the anthology, and I am looking forward to reading it as a complete entity once it's finished... 

I haven't finished either of the group reads that I started last week, but I'm working on them both. If I finish them both this week, I plan to revisit Agatha Christie's Miss Marple books. I read the first book last year, and have two and three on my book shelf. Luckily, there is another bank holiday weekend smiling towards us, and I hope to be able to review the books by next Monday!

Just now, however, I am walking (sore hips, blister and all) to collect girl child from Rainbows and then take her to Cricket club. Cricket lasts two hours, and I can stay in the club house, so I should be able to either proof read another short story, or read some more of my book, before Itsy and I walk back home, ideally through Runcorn Hill again... which reminds me, on our travels last week, Itsy and I met our Lady Mayor! There is a European election on Thursday, so we can probably expect to meet some more politicians this week!

Monday, 12 May 2014

Plodding Along

I am learning Norwegian. I am learning by audiobook, which means that my pronounciation isn't as bad as I'd feared, but I can't spell! I'm enjoying it though... not sure my Norwegian friend is, although she's being very kind and helpful when I try to speak to her in Norwegian!

I have to travel for work this week, so I'm looking forward to catching up on the next chapter of learning Norwegian, and I'd like to listen to the Book Thief, or some of it at least. I am reading the book and I loved the film, that will help to make the journey go a little faster!

I'm missing my Nordic Walking class this week, as I won't be back from my work's trip in time, however, I am taking Itsy for a walk up Runcorn Hill later on this evening, so I can take some photographs of her. I am also, being exceptionally brave, and I will be going for a walk on Sunday... Along the Wirral Way! I remember my parents taking us on this one, which is based in a disused railway line. I seem to remember that they hadn't realised just how far it would be for little ones, and they never took us again. But, I am going to take a picnic, a friend who knows where we're going, and we are going for a rather long walk, which will, I hope, be very good for me.

If it goes well, I may try other walks, I understand that there are, locally, walking groups, who have different levels of walk, including one which caters for parents and children, which walks in pretty places with tea rooms along the route for 'convenience' stops and cake! It sounds like it might be something we could take Itsy to as she is rather fond of the forest, especially the tea rooms (for hot chocolate and cake).

Busy on the reading front at present too. Book Club group read (to be read before 1st June) is 12 Years a Slave by Solomon Northup. I am also in two other read alongs this month, one is reading Fleshmarket Close by Ian Rankin. It's a Rebus novel, which I've read before, but it was a long time ago and I can't remember whodunnit, which is rather annoying, because I am fairly certain that this one was one of the tv film episodes with Ken Stott in which was on television a while ago! Our historical group read is Elizabeth Chadwick's The Greatest Knight. I have read this before too, but not forgotten much about it! If you haven't read this book, then I must recommend it. I'm only up to chapter eight in my re-read so far, but I am loving it!

I will also, over the next few months, be trying to read as many of the physical books that I own, as I possibly can. The deal is, any that I collect, I can keep but any others, I should read and get rid of because we have entirely run out of space now! Any that I want to keep, I will need to purchase in e-book form!

However, just now, I need to finish up so I can walk up to collect Itsy, and take her for a walk up the hill! 

Tuesday, 6 May 2014

...and the winner is...

Congratulations to Rita Hayward!

If you are happy to contact me (email through here/private message through Facebook should be fine) and provide me your address, I shall post the book out to you as soon as possible!

In the interests of fairness, I allocated each comment (excluding my replies) a number (just in order) and then used random.org to generate a random number...