Books, life the universe

Monday, 27 December 2010

With Christmas out of the way . . .

. . . it's back to the reading.

John Galsworthy - The Forsyte Saga - all nine volumes of it. I haven't read it since the BBC dramatised the books back in the 1960s with Nyree Dawn Porter and Irene and Kenneth More as young Jolyon. I find I am still seeing all those famous faces as I read!

Patricia Wentworth - The Gazebo - I do love these Golden Age detective story writers and it's great - form my point of view - that some at least are available as e-books.

Books read:

David Austin - Delivered Unto Lions - not my usual sort of book but I found it compelling reading. Daniel is 12 when he is sent to Oakdale - a psychiatric children's unit in the 1970s. It is written in the first person in a matter of fact style which makes it all the more effective. He is suffering from depression and the regime at Oakdale would be more likely to give anyone depression than cure it. Daniel is kept in the dark about just about everything and punished if he asks questions. I really hope children - or adults for that matter - are not treated like this now.

Ngaio Marsh - Final Curtain - Troy is commissioned to paint the portrait of an ageing Shakespearean actor dressed as Macbeth. Naturally he ends up dead which provides another case for Troy's husband Roderick Alleyn.

Anthony Powell's Dance to the Music of Time is starting to appear in e-book format.

Friday, 24 December 2010

Chocolate

I love chocolate. One of my favourite Christmas treats is Cocoa dusted French Truffles from Waitrose. There may be other places that stock them but if so I haven't managed to find them yet. I bought two boxes when I was in Norfolk the other week and started one of them the other day - yumm!!

They are just melt in the mouth gorgeous. I used to buy them quite often when I lived near Waitrose but they're only a Christmas treat now - or they were until I bothered to look at the box on Wednesday and found a web address - www.whoismontybojangles.com. They do mail order and have other varieties of chocolates and truffles.

I ordered some more on Wednesday evening and they arrived this morning so I would like to recommend this website to any chocoholics out there not just for marvellous chocolates but also for excellent service. They will be getting more of my custom.

Thursday, 16 December 2010

Latest books read and current reading

Ruth Rendell - The Monster in the Box - Wexford and a blast from his past. Much of the story is told in conversations between Burden and Wexford which could make for a boring story but all the ramifications of the past and the present keep the reader's interest. It's a long time since I read any of Ruth Rendell's novels and I enjoyed this one so I shall be looking for more - provided they are e-book format!

M C Beaton - Death of a Maid - in this case maid means cleaning lady. Hamish wins the services of a somewhat aggressive and unpleasant cleaning lady. He and her other customers don't know whether to pleased or sorry when she is found dead - hit over the head with her own bucket.

Hazel Holt - Mrs Malory and the festival Murder - this is the first Mrs Malory book I've read and I shall be looking out for more. They are English village murder stories with a literary and musical background. Crime in a classic mould.

M C Beaton - Death of a Dustman - Fergus is not the most popular dustman in the world and soon becomes even less popular when he is given a new uniform and more power . Is he murdered because he has been brow-beating the villagers into recycling everything or is it something more than that?

Current reading:

Still plodding through Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell by Susanna Clarke - one chapter at a time.

Amy Silver - Confessions of a Reluctant Recessionista - chick lit about Cassie who loses her job and her boyfriend and goes on spending sprees to make her feel better. Clearly she is heading for disaster. Well written and entertaining light reading.

M C Beaton - Death of a Celebrity - those who are bored with reading about Hamish Macbeth will be relieved to know I've almost come to the end of the available e-books in this series.

Julia Cameron - Mozart's Ghost - set in New York - a story about a medium who needs peace and quiet for her job but finds it disturbed by a pianist playing Mozart moving into her apartment block. I've read nearly 100 pages of this and I'm really not sure about it. I shall persevere - it may redeem itself.

Wednesday, 8 December 2010

More reading

Sue Moorcroft - Want to Know a Secret? - Diane and Gareth have been married 25 years and live in an isolated Fenland village counting the pennies in order to make ends meet. Then Diane is told Gareth has been seriously injured in a helicopter crash and Gareth's secret life unravels. The characters are well done - the feisty Diane and the controlling and manipulative Gareth. The outcome is not what you might expect for many of the characters and all are changed by the end of the story. I really enjoyed it if you want something more than 20 something heroines with problems revolving around their lack of boyfriends.

Rebecca Tope - A Cotswold Mystery - Thea Osborne has to look after and house and an elderly lady next door who may or may not be as senile as you might think. The fourth novel in this interesting series includes Thea's daughter Jessica but only a very brief appearance by Phil Hollis - Thea's significant other.

M C Beaton - Death of a Scriptwriter - a darker novel in this series featuring Highland policeman - Hamish Macbeth

Currently reading

Shannon Hale - Austenland - Jane's aunt leaves her a 3 week Jane Austen experience when she stays in a country house and has to pretend to be a young lady of the Regency period. Interesting concept though some of the details are not right - the title Sir is used with the person's Christian name not his surname. The author is America - as is the heroine.

M C Beaton - Death of a Dreamer - an artist has her own fantasy life and ends up dead - Hamish thinks it's murder - Blair thinks it's suicide.

Friday, 3 December 2010

Books and a good web site for crime novels

M C Beaton's Death of a Poison Pen - a Hamish Macbeth story. Poison pen letters lead to a suicide or is it murder? I wasn't sure about this series at first but I was sufficiently interested to keep reading and it is definitely growing on me.

Rebecca Tope - A Cotswold Killing - the first in her series about Thea Osbourne - a widow - who takes on house sitting assignments and gets involved in investigating murders. The second in the series is A Cotswold Ordeal. I seem to remember reading one of this series some years ago and wasn't keen but I have gone back to them and found them interesting. Thea is growing on me as a character and the plots are nice and complicated.

Currently reading:

Polly Samson - Perfect Lives - this is a book which has been in the news recently because of some Amazon reviews which were less than favourable. I'm not sure I would have bought it myself but it is quite good. It is a book of interlinked short stories and the writing is a little too self conscious for my taste. I shall persevere and hope when I post a review on Amazon it doesn't attract too much criticism.

Rebecca Tope - Death in the Cotswolds - the third in the series and narrated by someone in the village where Thea Osbourne goes to stay with Phil Hollis - a police superintendent. Pagan undertones, village life and the plot centres round a prehistoric barrow and the pagan festival of Samhain.

Susanna Clarke - Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell - a very long book about magic in the 19th century with pictures and footnotes. I have mixed feelings about this but I will persevere with it.

Web site - for those of us who like cozy mysteries - www.cozy-mystery.com For the uninitiated - cozy (or cosy if you prefer) are crime or mystery novels which have very little violence and usually feature every day situations and characters often with a theme - such as candlemaking, cooking, knitting etc.. All the above crime novels fall into this category. It is a genre which is perhaps more popular in America than here. The Golden Age authors fall into this category - Agatha Christie, Georgette Heyer, Dorothy L Sayers.

Thursday, 25 November 2010

More books read and in progress

Dawn French's A Tiny Bit Marvellous - about the Battle family - Mo - nearly 50 - mother, wife,child psychologist - writing a book about teenagers. Dora - 18 year old daughter - full of angst. Son Peter - channelling Oscar Wilde so prefers to be called Oscar and dresses accordingly. Father - who is just always there in the background and turns up trumps in the end. The book is narrated in alternate chapters by Mo, Oscar and Dora. It reads a bit like a sit com but something kept me reading it.

Barbara Erskine's Whispers in the Sand - time-slip novel about Anna who goes on a Nile cruise to get over her divorce and gets involved in some unfinished business from thousands of years ago. I stopped reading this half way through when it first came out but decided to give it another go. I found it totally absorbing the second time round.

Ruth Newman's Twisted Wing - serial killer in Cambridge college. More violence than I usually like and some of the characters were perhaps a little cardboard cut out but I found myself totally gripped by it. The psychological aspects of it make it worthwhile. I found I had to keep reading the second half and stayed up way past my usual bed time to find out who the killer actually was.

Currently reading . . .

Barbara Erskine's The Sands of Time - short story collection which includes two stories which follow on from Whispers in the Sand.

Patricia Wentworth's The Fingerprint - A Miss Silver mystery. Golden Age type detective story - several suspects in a country house.

Tuesday, 16 November 2010

Books, books and yet more books

Jenni Mills - Buried Circle - very good novel with two inter-twined stories - from the 1930s and the present day. Set around the Avebury stone circle.

Georgette Heyer - A Blunt Instrument - body in the study and plenty of suspects not to mention a Bible quoting PC. Another case for Hannasyde and Hemingway.

Trisha Ashley - Twelve Days of Christmas - chick lit set around Christmas with widow Holly Brown coming to terms with her grief for her late husband. Serious issues but feel good factor too.

Veronica Heley - False Money - latest instalment in the Abbot Agency series. Cosy crime with interesting characters and fascinating scenarios.

Elizabeth Buchan - That Certain Age - two women sixty years apart - facing very similar problems in balancing their own lives with family life

Angela Thirkell - Wild Strawberries - I first read this book about forty years ago and had forgotten how good it is if you like reading about life for the upper classes in the 1930s. Her dialogue and witty descriptions raises this author's work above run of the mill novels.

M C Beaton - Death of a Gossip - first in the Hamish Macbeth series - good light reading.

Anna Dale - Magical Mischief - a children's book but still worth reading for adults - Mr Hardbattle's bookshop has been taken over by magic. We see drawing pins sending messages, a velour elephant which marches up and down a shelf, a step that turns to custard and books that rearrange themselves in the colours of the rainbow when no one is looking. Fun for any age.

Trisha Ashley, Angela Thirkell and Veronica Heley were books the rest were e-books.

Thursday, 4 November 2010

Trouble in the book world

You may have seen the articles about the Agency Pricing model for e-books. This is widespread in the USA but until 1 November did not exist in the UK. Those who follow such things may recall that the Net Book Agreement was abolished back in the mid 1990s. This agreement allowed publishers to dictate the price at which books were sold by retailers.

This was abandoned before it was ruled to be illegal and anti-competitive. Now some publishers - most notably the Hachette group which includes such big names as Penguin and Harper Collins - are saying that anyone selling their e-books, whatever format, must sell them at the price dictated by the publisher - i.e. retailers are acting as the publisher's agents and selling on their behalf.

This to me is price fixing under another name and is, I think, illegal in the UK under EU and UK law. Even if it is illegal it would seem that the publishers are likely to shoot themselves in the foot with this as in some cases the e-book price is turning out to be considerably higher than the hardback price. This piece of nonsense arises because retailers can discount hardbacks and paperbacks as much as they like but cannot alter the price of e-books from some publishers.

I'm aware both publishers and authors need to make a living and like most people who read I have no problem paying a fair price for a book I want to read. Ultimately I shall do with e-books what I have always done with tree books - look at the price for the cheapest format and make my choice accordingly based on whether I want to keep the book or read it once and dispose of it. What I am against is people trying to sell to me at a higher price because it keeps the market dynamic and gives consumers more choice as one publisher tried to say. So making every retailer sell an e-book is giving consumers more choice and keeping the market dynamic? I don't think I'd want him working for me if I was running a company!

I don't see there are any baddies or goodies in this situation - it is just a new market trying to establish itself and stabilise. I shan't be boycotting any publishers but I will be making my book buying decisions based on price and how much I want to read the book concerned. If the price fixed bears some resemblance to the paperback price of the book then I may buy it. If it is way more than the hardback then I shall wait for it to come down or not as the case may be. I read between 250 and 300 books per year. I can't see me running out of e-books to read - many of which are free.

Saturday, 30 October 2010

Busy Kindling . . .

Is Kindling a verb created from a noun or is it just a new meaning for the word which means the wood you use to light a fire with? I seem to spend a lot of time reading at the moment and the novelty of my Kindle has not yet worn off.

Recent reads in e-book have been:

Georgette Heyer - Death in the Stocks - a body is found in the village stocks and leads Superintendent down some very murky byways of family life

Wendy Holden - Gallery Girl - this was a paperback - I enjoyed it though not as much as some of hers. I did enjoy the jibes at the pretensions of some of the more way out parts of the art world - artificial legs sprayed gold and hung on a washing line - your for £20 million. There are some absolutely priceless scenes towards the end of the book which make the whole thing worth while.

Georgette Heyer - Footsteps in the Dark - a brother and two sisters inherit a dilapidated country house only to find that it appears to have a resident ghost or two. They quickly realise that the ghost may be rather more corporeal than it would like them to think.

Richard Wiseman - 59 seconds - sort of distilled self help and psychology. It was interesting but as I can't remember anything about it now it clearly wasn't that memorable!

The Complete Idiot's Guide to dealing with Difficult People - interesting with a few tips I shall make use of such as lowering your voice when someone is getting angry. It reminds the reader that you can never control the behaviour of others - only how you react to that behaviour.

Currently reading:

Georgette Heyer - Detection Unlimited - murder of a very unlikeable solicitor in a country village - featuring Chief Inspector Hemingway.

Jenni Mills - The Buried Circle - set around Avebury featuring two parallel narratives from the point of view of India in the present day and Frannie, her grandmother in the late 1930s and early 1940s.

Trisha Ashley - The Twelve Days of Christmas - this is a paperback which I'd bought before I realised there was an e-book. I'm getting through it slowly and I'm starting to think her recent books are not as good as early ones.

Saturday, 23 October 2010

And yet more reading . . .


Death at the Opera by Gladys Mitchell - e-book - the first I've read by this author and very enjoyable it was too. She is one of the Golden Age of detective fiction writers from the 1920s and 1930s. This story features psycho-analyst Beatrice Lestrange Bradley trying to find out why a school teacher apparently committed suicide during the school's performance of Gilbert and Sullivan's The Mikado.

Georgette Heyer's Penhallow - e-book - not what I was expecting because the reader knows who the murderer is and how it was done. The portrait of a family tyrant - Adam Penhallow - and the effect he has on his nearest and dearest deserves to be better known. It is an excellent psychological novel

Games People Play by Eric Berne - I first read this about 30 years ago and had forgotten a great deal of it. Very instructive about the way people operate and you find yourself looking out for the games people play in every day life.

Currently reading:

Georgette Heyer - Death in the Stocks - e-book - a body is found in the stocks on the village green. Superintendent Hannasyde is his usual self and the story exposes a very strange family set up.

Risk: the science and politics of fear by Dan Gardner - e-book - fascinating book about how bad human beings are at assessing relative risk

Tuesday, 12 October 2010

Doesn't time fly . . . .

Reading in the last week:

Coffin, Scarcely used by Colin Watson - 1950s crime in seaside town in Lincolnshire - paperback

Our Lady of Pain by M C Beaton - Edwardian Crime featuring Lady Rose Summer and Captain Harry Cathcart - private investigator - e-book

Pursued by Love by Georgia Hill - love story set against the filming of Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice - e-book.

The Attenbury Emeralds by Jill Paton Walsh which is a new Peter Wimsey/Harriet Vane story set in 1951 and featuring a case which is mentioned in other Peter Wimsey books. It is very good and I could imagine Sayers herself writing this one - paperback.

What's Up Doc? by Hilary Jones - the doctor who appears regularly on TV - good but not as good as some - e-book.

Cranford by Mrs Gaskell - Victorian life from a female perspective, e-book.

A Medal for Murder: a Kate Shackleton Mystery by Frances Brody - Yorkshire crime set in the 1920s - very good it was as well - I can thoroughly recommend this series. Paperback

A predominance of crime set in other eras.

Currently reading:

The Hedge Fund Wives by Tatiana Boncompagni - chick lit with bling and shopping but seems pretty well written - paperback

Wives and Daughters by Mrs Gaskell - 19th century literature - e-book

What would Jane Austen do? by Laurie Brown - time travel and ghosts - e-book

59 seconds by Richard Wiseman - sort of self help/popular psychology - e-book - I will be writing a post shortly about this type of book - which I've always enjoyed reading.

Saturday, 2 October 2010

More reading . . .


Confessions of a Jane Austen Addict by Laurie Viera Rigler turned out to be pretty good - more like an historical novel with Jane Austen related asides. Not great literature but still entertaining reading.


I have also read Holday SOS by Brian McFarlane about a doctor who was involved in repatriating people who had been injured or taken ill when abroad. It was interesting reading and showed how complex the situation becomes if you need to be repatriated while abroad. It is also a reminder to make sure you have adequate travel insurance cover!

I finished Merchants of Culture by John B Thompson and thought it was interesting and well written even if it did take some getting through because it was packed full of information.

Then I've read another in M C Beaton's Edwardian mystery series featuring Lady Rose Summer and Captain Harry Cathcart. This was the third one in the series - Sick of Shadows. It is entertaining reading and I am currently part way through the fourth one - Our Lady of Pain.

I'm currently reading Thomas Love Peacock's Nightmare Abbey - which is a bit of an acquired taste. As light relief I'm also reading Pursued by Love by Georgia Hill - romantic comedy set against the filming of a new version of Pride and Prejudice. There are just so many Pride and Prejudice spin offs - whether set in the present day or the past. Some better than others of course.
Also reading: Frances Brody - A Medal for Murder

Sunday, 26 September 2010

Latest reading

Blue Lights and Long Nights by Les Pringle which is about his experiences in the ambulance service in the 1970s. Poignant, funny and thought provoking as are most books like this.

I'm still ploughing through Merchants of Culture by John B Thompson - which is fascinating - but heavy to hold. I've always been interested in the way publishers work and this provides a lot of information. I could have done without so much information about American publishing but it's still worth reading. When you consider how big the US is it publishes - relatively speaking - fewer new books each year that the UK does - 194,000 new titles a year in 2008 compared with the UK's 120,000. What is interesting is that those figures only relate to trade publishers and the books reckons you can double the number of new titles if you include self publishing, print on demand etc. Books are alive and well and living everywhere.

I've currently just started a Jane Austen spin off which I've been debating reading for a while - Laura Viera Rigler's Confessions of a Jane Austen Addict. All American girl wakes up one morning to find herself in Austen's England inhabiting someone else's body - that of Jane Mansfield. Light reading but interesting and amusing for all that.

I have downloaded e-book versions of the whole of Anthony Trollope and the whole of Charles Dickens not to speak of the whole of Mrs Gaskell - plenty of reading there for cold winter evenings! They are such ridiculously cheap prices - or completely free that I couldn't resist.

Wednesday, 22 September 2010

Still reading . .

I have read in the last few days - Erica James - The Queen of New Beginnings; M C Beaton - Hasty Death and I'm currently reading Defending the Guilty by Alex McBride - about his work as a barrister with lots of historical asides about the evolution of the criminal justice system. I'm also reading Merchants of Culture by John B Thompson - which is about the publishing industry over the last 40 years in the UK and the USA. It is interesting reading though a shade heavy going - both physically as it's a heavy hardback and in the brain sense.

I enjoyed the Erica James and while it did have its light hearted and funny moments it had heavyweight themes in at as well about the fickleness of public opinion and the disadvantages of quarrelling with ones parents.

The M C Beaton is one of her Edwardian crime series featuring Lady Rose Summer and Captain Harry Cathcart - not to speak of Daisy the lady's maid with hidden talents. Very light reading but well written.

I'm always interested in people's job so the Alex McBride is good reading for me - not to everyone's taste perhaps.

Friday, 17 September 2010

Classics

This week I have read Stella Gibbons Cold Comfort Farm. Everyone has been telling me for years that it is good but I never got around to reading it. I love Flora Poste - she's an absolute gem of a fictional character as is Aunt Ada Doom - 'something nasty in the woodshed'. The names for the characters are pretty good as well; the cows, Graceless, Aimless,Feckless and Pointless and the bull Big Business not to speak of Seth and Reuben - the sons and Amos- the father - the hell fire and damnation preacher. How Flora manages to change everything on the farm and many of the people is brilliant. If you haven't read it then you're in for a treat.

I've also read George and Weedon Grossmith's Diary of a Nobody and I love Mr Pooter. His staunch principles, his loyalty to his employer and his love for his wife and son even when they annoy him are marvellous. Yes he gets irritated by some not very important things but often he tears up his letters of complaint and doesn't post them. When given more compensation for his ruined handkerchiefs than the handkerchiefs cost new he is scrupulous about returning the amount he isn't entitled to - which to me sums him up. An absolutely marvellous book and I really should have read it years ago.

Sunday, 12 September 2010

Do people complain about nothing these days?

I've been frequenting the Kindle forum on Amazon and found the following complaints about the Kindle which seem to me extremely petty:
  1. The Amazon-Kindle logo on the screen surround irritates me - does anyone know how I can remove it?
  2. I don't like the screensavers which come with it - they're just black/grey pictures of authors etc - can I change them?
  3. I can't buy books from Waterstone's - why do Amazon insist you only buy books from them?
  4. I don't like the size of the margin on the page - I want it smaller
  5. The screen goes black when the page changes - it irritates me
  6. Why isn't there a memory card slot?
  7. I don't like having lots of small transactions on my credit card for Kindle books because my card provider has queried some of my transactions.
  8. I want a Kindle in white not grey

My answers were:

  1. You don't notice it when you're reading but something like T-Cut might get it off if it's really annoying
  2. Do you look at the screensavers when you're reading a book?
  3. Amazon don't insist you only buy from them. In fact they specifically direct you to other sites where you can download books for free and the Kindle supports some other formats as well.
  4. Size of the margin varies from book to book and if you change the text size and the number of words per line - try experimenting
  5. Duh! All e-book readers do this - it is for a fraction of a second only and you could try blinking when it changes then you won't notice.
  6. Do you really intend buying more than 3,500 books? If you do try deleting them when you need more space as Amazon keep a list of everything downloaded from them and you can always re-download them if you want.
  7. Credit card providers get used to your spending pattern and query transactions outside the norm for you. I'm all for them querying transactions myself so I can't see the problem
  8. Grey is easier to read from - a white surround will distract you from the page you're reading. You could always try painting it ;-)

I didn't actually answer some of the questions because my answers would probably have got me severely criticised. But seriously all these points could have been clarified from reading the product page BEFORE purchase. One person sent their Kindle back because of the page change thing even though he'd been told by everyone who responded that all e-book readers do this and you don't notice after a while.

Do people look for things to criticise? As for the person who said the screensaver picture of Jane Austen frightened her - well words fail me!

Thursday, 9 September 2010

Good book


I've just finished reading Elizabeth Buchan's Separate Beds. From the cover it looks like something light and frothy but it's actually quite serious and covers a great many problems faced by families today: falling out with nearly adult children, facing up to redundancy in middle age; female breadwinners, caring for children when parents are at work, looking after elderly relatives etc. Tom and Annie have three children - Mia and Jake, twins, and Emily. It is clear from the start of the book that Mia's abrupt exit from the family home five years ago is still having repercussions now and is the cause of the separate beds - actually separate rooms. But Tom's unexpected redundancy from a well paid post at the BBC throws the family into turmoil.

The house suddenly becomes overcrowded when Jake returns home with his small daughter Maisie and Tom's redundancy causes his mother Hermione to move in with them as her care home can no longer be funded. The small irritations of every day family life are recognisably real and even Hermione - the aged relative from hell - has her good points as well as her bad ones. I loved all the characters - faults and all - and wanted things to work out for them. The book provides no trite answers to the problems but shows clearly that family life is based on compromise. I enjoyed it and would recommend this author's thoughtful and thought provoking novels of family life and marriage.

Friday, 3 September 2010

Busy week

I seem to have been spending less time on the computer and more on the Kindle this week and I'm still really pleased with it. I love the free samples of books you can download - try before you buy. I have about 20 free samples to read on mine at the moment and have bought a couple of books having read the sample - most notably John O'Farrell's An Utterly Impartial History of Britain. This is somewhat in the vein of the immortal 1066 and All That by Sellars and Yeatman but contains more facts and no test papers. I particularly like his imaginary conversations between famous people as well as between the not so famous. If you like reading history then give it a go.

I've also cleaned the car and done various things about the house including housework - shock! horror! In fact I'm not sure where the week's gone and I've been busy most of the time.

I'm currently reading the John O'Farrell and some of G K Chesterton's Father Brown stories - which were free to download. I've also started re-reading for the first time in years Winnie the Pooh and Edward Lear's Book of Nonsense. It's amazing what you can find free or very cheap.

Sunday, 29 August 2010

I'm not a gadget person but . . . .

My Amazon Kindle e-book reader arrived yesterday and I love it! Very easy to use straight out of the box though I did skim through the manual while it was charging just to get used to using it. I tried buying and downloading a book via the 3G telephone network but it is slow partly because there isn't a terribly good signal here. Now it's set up on our wi-fi network and downloading is very quick. It's pretty intuitive to use if you've ever used a mobile phone or a computer. What really intrigues and amuses me is that I can be using the computer and see an e-book I want so I buy it and it's then downloaded to my Kindle provided it is on and the wi-fi connection is switched on. You can switch it off to save battery life.

I was going to say it's like reading a book but it's actually better in some ways than reading a book. You can change text size and appearance, line spacing and the number of words per line. You don't get text lost at the edge of the page as you do when reading a tightly bound paperback. Of course the big advantage is you can store up to 3500 books on it and pretty well anything out of copyright is free or less than £1. Other books - unless they're only just published - are cheaper than paperbacks.

It has to be one of the best things I've bought.

Thursday, 26 August 2010

Eek! Where has this week gone?


Time seems to have gone really quickly this week and it's Thursday already! Current reading: M C Beaton's Snobbery with Violence - historical crime featuring Lady Rose who has ruined her reputation by being involved with the suffragette movement. This was originally published under the name of Marion Chesney and I would think has been re-published under M C Beaton to try and entice readers of the Agatha Raisin and Hamish Macbeth books. I've read about 40 pages and it seems pretty good.

I'm also reading The Fan Tan Players by Julian Lees which has a really pleasing cover picture. It's set in Macao and Scotland among other places in the early to mid 20th century. Well written with some glorious descriptions of places and food, it features Nadia a White Russian exile and Iain a Scot working for an early version of MI6.

Then there's Being Wrong: Adventures in the Margin of Error by Kathryn Schulz which I'm still ploughing through. It is interesting but not that sort of thing you want to read for hours at a time.

I've nearly finished Mean Spirit by Will Kingdom - not I think as good as his Merrily Watkins series written under his real name but still worth reading.

Sunday, 22 August 2010

Reading and read

I finished Will Kingdom's The Cold Calling - and enjoyed it. Some memorable characters and a frightening plot. 'Cindy' Mars-Lewis the cross dressing shaman with Kelvyn Kite - the talking bird. Grayle - 'Holy Grayle' - the American journalist looking for her sister, Ersula, and Bobby Maiden - the police inspector whose returned from the dead. The background is the supernatural, shamanism and prehistoric stones as well as the Green Man and someone who is killing people in order to return their blood to the earth. I'm now reading the same author's Mean Spirit which is equally good and includes some of the same characters.

I also finished Kate Muir's Suffragette City and enjoyed it. Some very funny scenes and some interesting characters as well the historical background of suffragette activity in the early 20th century.

I'm currently reading David Hamilton's How Your Mind Can Heal Your Body which is very interesting. Visualisation as a way of helping to heal your body. He makes clear that people shouldn't give up their conventional medication but use visualisation as something extra. He is also honest enough to say that the personal stories he quotes have not been medically verified and they're just how people have sent them to him. As I'm interested in the mind/body link I'm finding it fascinating.

I've also just started reading this Being Wrong: Adventures in the Margin of Error by Kathryn Schulz - about how we are so attached to being right. I've only read about 30 pages so far so maybe more about this later.

Monday, 16 August 2010

Reading . . .

I am currently reading The Cold Calling by Will Kingdom (Phil Rickman under another name) - very good but not as good as the Merrily Watkins series. Then there's Kate Atkinson's Started Early, Took my Dog which is improving the more I read of it and I'm familiar with much of the geographical area she writes about which has to be a bonus. The first 30 pages didn't impress me but it's growing on me.

Also reading Suffragette City by Kate Muir which I've had kicking around for ages. I finally picked it up and started reading it on Saturday and was hooked by it. Albertina is living a somewhat Bohemian life in New York when her grandmother gives her a trunk belonging to Agnes - Albertina's great great grandmother. The problem is that Agnes - in spirit form - keeps turning up and haranguing Albertina about her life and how she's wasting it. Funny and historically interesting.

Pretty mixed bunch there and I'm also still listening to Bill Bryson's At Home - on disc 13 of 14.

Wednesday, 11 August 2010

Different viewpoints

I was intrigued when someone in the course of a discussion on the internet said to me that they couldn't imagine why anyone would want to live in a village. The main reason for their comment? They would be lonely without hordes of people around them. They didn't seem to understand my comment that you can be lonely in a crowd.

I have no problem with people wanting to live in cities - it's just not my thing. I find people in villages very friendly. When I walk to the the post office - about 5 minutes - I find that everyone speaks to you. The same in the post office and shop. When I go to the hairdressers the conversation is often general and involves the hairdresser's three staff and all the customers there at the time. Same with the doctor's waiting room.

The walk to the post office has been known to take me more than an hour because I've met so many people to talk to. In spite of that life is quiet and much slower than city life. If I wake up about 2.00 or 3.00am everything is quiet outside which it never would be in a city.

Yes there are disadvantages. No theatres nearby, though there is a cinema about 6 miles away. There are libraries and mobile libraries but no art galleries unless you want to travel about 40 miles. There are some specialist museums - such as the bulb museum - that's flower bulbs not electric light bulbs; and there are big houses to visit not that far away - nearest is 10 miles away. With mail order and the internet you can get anything you want delivered and there is a furniture shop about 5 miles away which is very good and very reasonably priced in spite of a captive audience.

I like being able to walk into the doctors and be addressed by name by the receptionists - it makes me feel I belong - though it could indicate I go there too often! Crime is low - virtually non-existent in this village. It's a bit higher in the two neighbouring towns though in both of them you could walk through the town centre at night on your own without any qualms about safety.

Saturday, 7 August 2010

Scandalous


Scandalous by Tilly Bagshawe looks like your typical blockbuster, sex and shopping holiday read but actually it is rather more than that. Sasha is clever and gains a place at Cambridge to study physics. It looks as though she has a bright future ahead of her as a scientist. But thanks to Theo Dexter this is not what happens. Revenge is what motivates Sasha to make a career for herself as a business woman in the USA . But all the time she is looking out for a suitable way of getting her own back.

Set in Cambridge and New York this is a well written book with many very funny one liners and some believable characters. Theo's wife Theresa - a Shakespearean scholar - is one of the protagonists. Both Sasha and Theresa have their faults which make them human. I'm always wary of reading this type of blockbuster fiction because it frequently promises a lot and delivers little. Scandalous is a satisfying read with an intriguing finale. I enjoyed it. Not quite a 5* read but certainly 4*s.

Wednesday, 4 August 2010

Lessons learned

I have been involved in an argument on an Amazon forum during the course of the last few months. Please bear in mind that it never really annoyed me and it caused me quite a bit of amusement one way and another. I don't believe I wrote anything that was at all nasty as I tried to make my posts purely factual. About the only thing I could be criticised for was agreeing with the person concerned that yes in my opinion she was being paranoid.

The lessons I have learned:

  • Don't ever show something is important to you or you feel strongly about something otherwise you will be ridiculed
  • Accept all abuse without retaliating
  • If someone accuses you of breaking any rules or laws - don't rise to it and defend yourself - you'll only end up in the wrong
  • Everything you think is insulting is actually humorous and you're the stupid one for taking it seriously - no good expecting your own comments to be taken as a joke because they won't be.

I'm semi-serious about those points but I actually think the person I was arguing with has a screw loose.

Some of the problem is that I have developed a reputation for being reasonable and rational and not insulting people and I was consequently arguing with my hands tied behind my back and with a bag over my head while the other person behaved like drifting mist and turned round everything I said to mean the opposite of how it was intended.

Baffled by the whole thing - yes I am. Communication to me is a two way process and I have no problem with people disagreeing with me. I always mean exactly what I write - unless I put a winking smiley at the end of it. Other people seem to take the piss all the time. Oh well we're all different and there's nowt so queer as folk.

Sunday, 1 August 2010

Sick Notes


I love reading books about people's jobs and Sick Notes by Tony Copperfield is a very good example of the genre. As the title suggests it's about the work of a GP and it's very funny - and sad. The people who really need the GP's services are almost always the ones who fail to keep their appointments. The surgery is often full of the worried well clutching Internet print outs. There are people with many symptoms - none of which fit any known disease and there are people who will talk about everything except the problem they really want dealt with. Women are far better than men at describing symptoms - especially pain. Men just know it hurts women will tell the GP when it started, what it's like, what makes it better and what makes it worse and what they think caused it.

Obviously this is a generalisation but I've read before that women are in general better at describing symptoms of any sort. There are sad cases in the book - the Type 1 Diabetic who is not using her insulin properly and the hypochondriac who does turn out to have something serious wrong with him. But the big thing to take from this book is that 90% of complaints will get better without any medical intervention at all and medical intervention may even make things worse. Your doctor's job is to keep you away from the hospital and away from all the expensive tests - not to save the NHS money but to allow your body to do what it does best - heal itself.

Should be required reading for all patients.

Friday, 30 July 2010

Good news for Leigh Russell

Leigh Russell has informed me that her debut novel - Cut Short has been short listed for the Crime Writers' Association 2010 John Creasey New Blood Dagger award. www.thecwa.co.uk/daggers/2010/newblood.html

This is fantastic news for Leigh and I wish her the best of luck.

You can find out more about Leigh at her blog www.leighrussell.blogsport.com or at www.noexit.co.uk and both Cut Short and Road Closed the next book in her series featuring DI Geraldine Steel are available from www.amazon.co.uk

I thoroughly enjoyed both of them and they are well worth reading if you like crime novels.

Still reading . . .

I am still reading Phil Rickman. I rarely read a series back to back because I usually start getting bored after the first few but with the Merrily Watkins series I am number 8 with 2 more to go. I recently visited the author's web site and have discovered that he is working on another one www.philrickman.com

There is just so much packed into the books - ghosts, the supernatural, religion, paganism, local history and folk lore. Then there's the characters - Merrily herself and her teenage daughter Jane and her boyfriend Eirion; Gomer Parry - semi retired plant hire expert; Lol Robinson - singer, song writer and guitarist; Sophie - the Bishop's lay secretary; Frannie Bliss - detective and his boss - the ice maiden Annie Howe. Great stuff and I find myself totally lost in their world on the Hereford border with Wales.

When I get to the end of the series I have several other books to start on. Matt Haig's The Radleys; Started Early, Took My Dog by Kate Atkinson; Two Serious Ladies by Jane Bowles; Sick Notes by Tony Copperfield. A fair old mixture there!

The stop press news is that I have finally ordered an e-book reader. I've been debating for about a year whether to get one. Now Amazon are selling a UK version of their very successful Kindle I'm going for that - which will be released at the end of August. I had favoured the Sony but having found out their latest one has a shiny screen I decided to go for the Kindle. I dislike reading books printed on shiny paper as I find them difficult to read so trying to read on a shiny screen could have been difficult.

Sunday, 25 July 2010

Currently listening

I have never read any of Bill Bryson's books but At Home appealed to me. I am currently listening to the Audio edition - all 14 CDs of it, unabridged - read by the man himself. I'm on disc 2 and it's really interesting - just the sort of thing I like. It's packed full of fascinating details. He sets out to give a potted history of houses and their contents by reference to his own house - a Norfolk rectory in a village which he doesn't name.

So far he's talked about clergyman in the 18th and 19th century - I hadn't realised how many of them had made inventions or discoveries in all fields of human endeavour. Then he's covered the Great Exhibition and all its interesting statistics. Only 25 people arrested for crimes out of 5 million visitors. The Chartists and their struggle for universal manhood suffrage and the design and construction of the Crystal Palace and its subsequent history.

There are so many interesting snippets that you immediately want to know about them and I suspect you really need to read it as an e-book so that you can look up more information about the things he mentions. I really recommend it to anyone who likes information and interesting and eccentric people.

Friday, 23 July 2010

Currently reading

Phil Rickman still - now it's number 6 in the series - The Prayer of the Night Shepherd which involves a spooky hotel, a small village and an alternative source of inspiration for Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's Hound of the Baskervilles. I remember being not quite so keen on this book when I first read it but I suspect that was because I read it in very small chunks. Some books need to be read in longish sessions I think.

I found The Lamp of the Wicked - number 5 in the series - compelling reading. The background to it the Fred West murder cases and a possible copy cat killer - with of course supernatural elements. A very good and thought provoking mystery.

Monday, 19 July 2010

Still reading Phil Rickman . . . .

I'm part way through The Lamp of the Wicked - which is the 5th in the Merrily Watkins series. It's good when books you haven't read for years are just as good - if not better when you read them again. I've read nearly five in a week and have stayed up later than normal on several evenings because I couldn't put the book down.

I'm also listening to an audio book of Jane Austen's The Watsons and Sanditon - her two unfinished novels. I really wish she'd lived long enough to finish Sanditon as I'm sure it would have been one of her best books.

I also have an audio book - all 14 discs of it - of Bill Bryson's At Home: A Short History of Private Life which looks like being good. I got that through the Amazon Vine programme - free - which can't be bad.

Friday, 16 July 2010

Recent murders

I find the glorification of Raoul Moat as a sort of anti-hero to be frankly quite sick making. The victim blaming which also seems to be going on is also not pleasant. Yes his ex-girlfriend - if everything said so far is to be believed - didn't behave very sensibly in taunting him. But many of us may have done equally silly things in our time - I know I have. Maybe she thought she'd stop him doing anything stupid by saying she was with a member of the police - which perhaps shows she has more respect for the police than many of Moat's supporters apparently have. In any case the answer to someone 'winding you up' is not to kill all and sundry. What's with this expression 'you're winding me up'? I find it really irritating. The same with 'you're doing my head in'. You can chose how you react to things and ought to be able to control your own responses - if you can't then you walk away - and stay away from the person who is 'winding you up'.

That said I don't think David Cameron should have asked for the Facebook page to be taken down. I'm all for freedom of speech - even if I don't like what is said and I'm also of the opinion that the majority don't agree with most of what has been said in support of Moat. It's better to let stupid people expose themselves to ridicule really or as my grandfather always said; 'better to keep quiet and be thought a fool than open your mouth and remove all doubt'.

Monday, 12 July 2010

Phil Rickman

I'm a fan of Phil Rickman's Merrily Watkins series about a Church of England Exorcist - now called Deliverance Consultants. It is quite some time since I first read The Wine of Angels which was the first in the series so I decided to re-read it at the weekend. I found myself totally hooked and when I'd finished it yesterday I immediately started the next one - Midwinter of the Spirit. These are gripping stories set in Herefordshire in a fictional village called Ledwardine. In the first book Merrily is the newly appointed Priest-in-Charge of the parish.

Village life with all its fallings out and cliques is well portrayed. A newcomer wants to stage a drama in the church to rehabilitate a 17th century vicar - Wil Williams. But things are not as simple as they seem. There is ghostly activity in the vicarage and Jane - Merrily's daughter - has some strange other worldly experiences. This is a gripping story and it keeps you reading even when you're hair is standing on end. It even made me break my usual habit of reading several books at the same time - even though I'd read it before.

Friday, 9 July 2010

The Tapestry of Love


I am currently reading Rosy Thornton's The Tapestry of Love and it's very good. Catherine decides to go and live in France. Why isn't really made clear - or it hasn't been so far and I'm two thirds the way through it. She finds it very easy to fit in with her neighbours in the tiny village she moves to - partly because she does speak French. She sets up a business making soft furnishings and upholstering furniture as well as designing and stitching tapestries and is asked to repair a ceremonial banner for the church. This is a gentle story about people and their surroundings and nature. Just the sort of book to read in a deck chair on a hot summer's day - with or without - a bottle of wine. Lovely cover design too.

Thursday, 8 July 2010

Minor works

I have thoroughly enjoyed reading Jane Austen's minor works - Lady Susan, The Watsons and Sanditon. Lady Susan is a novella and complete in itself. The Watsons is about 50 pages of a novel as is Sanditon.

Lady Susan is written in the epistolary form and presents a picture of one the nastiest most manipulative fashionable ladies in fiction I think. She descends on friends and relatives at a moment's notice and stays too long. She delights in enticing men away from their wives or girl friends - for the hell of it. Her own interpretation of her conduct is of course completely different. She has no qualms about adultery or about treating her teenage daughter something like a parcel - moving her between friends and schools and trying to marry her off to someone rich and gullible.

The Watsons is about a family living in a small village on very little money. Emma Watson has just returned from several years living with an aunt. The Aunt has re-married and Emma has lost any hope she might have of being left any money. The story centres on the intereaction between a group of country families. By the end of the fragment it is unclear whether Emma will end up with Mr Howard - the local clergyman - or Lord Osbourne - who seems to have a passing resemblance to Mr Darcy.

Sanditon is about a seaside village which two local landowners - Mr Parker and Lady Denham - are hoping to turn into a fashionable seaside resort. Mr Parker has Charlotte Heywood staying with him and his family in return for being looked after following a carriage accident. There are many hypochondriacs of all ages who are brought vividly to life and the village is described in some detail. If the book had been finished I can't help feeling it would have been as good as anything else Jane Austen wrote. Unfortunately it was left unfinished when she died.

Saturday, 3 July 2010

Policing in Yorkshire


I like reading books about people's work and Mike Pannett's Not on my Patch, Lad is excellent. It shows what policing is really about - understanding criminal behaviour and what is likely to happen. yes, the police need the technology - communications, DNA testing, computerised records etc - but they also need intuition and flying by the seat of your pants. Many problems can be solved by having a quiet word - a man living nude in a wood. Others need a sterner approach and probably a court appearance - like the men who are targeting garden sheds and stealing lawn mowers.

Knowing your area and knowing what could happen is a big part of the work - and luck and being in the right place at the right time. I enjoyed reading about the funny incidents - the gang who stripped down a Land Rover and took the bits away (they were caught); the gang who dismantled part of the back wall of a supermarket brick by brick to remove the safe from the manager's office (they were also caught eventually). Then there's the author's Countryside Watch initiative (like neighbourhood watch) which helped them catch the lawn mower thieves by acting as the police's eyes and ears.

I recommend the book - it is interesting reading.

Wednesday, 30 June 2010

Currently reading

Jane Austen's Persuasion - I'm also listening to an Audio book version as well. I've just got past the bit where Louisa Musgrove knocks herself out at Lyme Regis. I think the book is probably the least humorous of the six novels - possibly because it was written when the author was ill. I am enjoying it though and the portrait of Anne's hypochondriac sister is brilliant. A few minutes conversation with Anne and she is suddenly so much better that she can go out and pay a visit to her in-laws! Everyone uses Anne as a go-between so she inevitably gets both sides of any argument which is going on.

I'm also reading Dan Waddell's Blood Atonement - the sequel to Blood Detective which I read last week.

I just read Kirsty Robinson's Grass Stains about Louisa, a journalist, who is teetering on the brink of a breakdown and really doing nothing to stop herself falling over the edge. If you like the sort of book which depicts the excesses of the drink and drugs culture as though it is a really great lifestyle - then maybe this is the book for you. I'm afraid it brought out the prude in me and I just wanted to shake both Louisa and Dan - her alcoholic and junkie husband - and tell them there is more to life than getting wasted.

I've just started Kate Atkinson's Started Early, Took My Dog - which I'm really not sure about yet. It is set in Leeds - a city I know quite well - which drew me to read it. I'll see how it develops - it may improve.

I'm also reading Mike Pannett's Not on my Patch, Lad about his experiences of policing in North Yorkshire. I enjoy books about people's jobs and have read the previous two by this author.

Saturday, 26 June 2010

Northanger Abbey

Jane Austen's Northanger Abbey is probably the least well regarded novel of the 6. I really like it. She manages to steer a middle path between parodying the trend for Gothic novels but at the same time supporting the novel writer's art. Catherine Morland visits Bath in the company of her friends Mr and Mrs Allen. How she makes friends with the Thorpes - Isabella and John - and the Tilneys - Eleanor and Henry and learns the difference between friends who have her best interests at heart and those who don't makes an amusing story.

Isabella must be one of the most manipulative, simpering and silly women in Austen's books. Yes she has to make a reasonably wealthy marriage - having no fortune of her own - but to behave how she does is not the best way to achieve that aim. The misunderstandings about everyone's relative wealth and status are the sub text for the love story of Henry and Catherine. Ultimately it does not matter to Henry how much Catherine's fortune is because he has enough money of his own, but others in the story such as his father, have other opinions.

Catherine is not typical heroine material, as her creator acknowledges, but I found myself warming to her as she tries to make sense of her world. Her journey home on her own shows she is made of sterner stuff than the average heroine. Her civil manners and generous tipping provide her with good care and treatment as she has to sort out hiring her own post horses - a frightening prospect for a young girl of 17 in the early 19th century.

I have Persuasion, the Juvenilia, Sanditon, The Watsons and Lady Susan left to read. I have read Persuasion before - though not for many years - the rest I have not read, so that is a treat in store.

Wednesday, 23 June 2010

Blood Detective

I read Dan Waddell's Blood Detective on my train journey on Monday. It was extremely good - though I had my doubts about it when reading the first two pages - 2 people threw back their manes of hair!! So I was thinking - oh no! - there are going to be too many cliches in this book! But it wasn't like that at all - or maybe I didn't notice them because of the exciting and complex plot.

A murder victim is found in London with what appears to be a reference number carved into its chest. This proves to be a reference number for the GRO registers of births marriages and deaths. Fortunately one of the detectives - Heather Jenkins - knows of a family history researcher - Nigel Barnes - and contacts him about it. Heather Jenkins and Grant Foster - the detectives - are then involved in an exciting to chase to try and second guess what the murdered is going to do next based on what happened in 1879.

My only complaint about the book was that some of the violence was a bit too graphic for my taste and that yet again we have a hard drinking morose policeman. I really wish someone would write a crime novel featuring a cheerful detective - maybe someone has done so - if so can anyone let me know who? In spite of that criticism I shall be reading the next one in the series - and skipping the violent bits.

Sunday, 20 June 2010

Problems of choosing a book for a train journey

I am off to Norwich by train tomorrow and I was pondering what book to take with me. It has to fit in my bag and not be too heavy to carry around. Should it be an old favourite or something previously unread? If an old favourite it might not quite fit my mood. If unread I might decide I don't like it after page 1. So should I take two books with me? An average size one and a thin one perhaps?

You see even the most trivial decision is fraught with difficulty if you want it to be. I was debating whether to take Jane Austen's Northanger Abbey with me but I like to appreciate Austen in peace and quiet - so maybe not her. But there is Joan Aiken's Mansfield Revisited (thank you, Noreen, for the information about this) which may need less savouring but is fewer than 200 pages long. My journey is about 2.5 hours each way and I therefore need something longer than 200 pages.

In the end I've plumped for Dan Waddell's The Blood Detective and Joan Aiken's Mansfield Revisited - neither of them heavy books in the physical sense; and I'm taking my trusty Kangol messenger bag so there's plenty of room. I had considered a heavy weight tome about feminism - Simone De Beauvoir's The Second Sex but as I've tried to read that before and found it difficult a train journey is not the place to get to grips with it.

Friday, 18 June 2010

Outraged!

This really belongs on Lady Sophia but it deserves as much publicity as it can get. I've just read an article on www.thefword.org.uk about someone called Dr Dix Poppas who is surgically reducing the clitorises of small girls because he deems them too big. The reason? in order for the girls to 'undergo a more natural psychological and sexual development'. The details of the follow up examinations nearly made me regurgitate my lunch and need to be read to be believed. www.thefword.org/blog/2010/06/first_do_no_har

Wednesday, 16 June 2010

Kate Fforde

I think I've read all Katie Fforde's books at various times. Her latest is A Perfect Proposal. She writes light women's fiction which is a relaxing read and her earliest books - Wild Designs, Living Dangerously and Life Skills - were all excellent reading but her later ones were not so good in my opinion. Highland Fling was the one which started to put me off her books. The edition I read had so many typos in it that it almost looked as though it had never been proof read. I hope these error were corrected in later editions. I think it was at that point that her books suddenly became about 85% dialogue and virtually no narrative.

I have no problem with dialogue - if it is well written, which hers is - but I do like to see a larger proportion of narrative in the novels I read. Her last book Love Letters - set in the literary world - was good - almost back to the standard of her earlier work. So I had high hopes of A Perfect Proposal. I did enjoy it but . . . It seemed almost as though there were two books trying to get out. There was the story about Luke and his grandmother Matilda - from New York and there was the story with Sophie's (the heroine's) family. There just seemed to be too much material for one book and it seemed a little disjointed and sort of thrown together in a hurry. The problem is, I think, that Katie Fforde has found a formula that works and sells books - which she and her publisher obviously love - but I think she needs to maybe do something a bit different.

If you like light fiction then don't let me put you off - just read her earlier books as listed above. - anything prior to about 2003 was excellent in my opinion.

Monday, 14 June 2010

Interview with Leigh Russell


I interviewed Leigh Russell - author of Cut Short and Road Closed - by e-mail last month. Here are her responses to my questions.

How did you first get into writing?

It seems unbelievable that three years ago I had an idea, started writing and haven't been able to stop since. It was like turning on a tap.


Was Cut Short your first published work?

Yes. In fact Cut Short was the first story I ever wrote.

What do you think about creative writing courses and have you ever attened one? Do you think they help writers achieve publication?

I've never attended a creative writing course so I can't really comment on how useful they are, but I've given talks to a number of writers' groups and I think the mutually supportive atmosphere can be very positive. It is very helpful for any writer to have trusted readers who can give feedback.

In what way was Road Closed easier, or more difficult, to write than Cut Short?

I enjoyed writing Cut Short, I enjoyed writing Road Closed and I'm enjoying writing Dead End. I just love writing! My main problem is finding enough time to write!

Do you think it is important to have a series character - such as Geraldine Steel - in crime novels?

I hadn't anticipated how important it would be, but fortunately there has been a generally positive response to my detective so far, which has surprised me! Her popularity has even spread to the US where Jeffery Deaver wrote 'you're just plain going to love Geraldine Steel' and US Publishers Weekly described Geraldine as 'a compassionate and complex heroine who's sure to win fans.' I'm keeping my fingers crossed that they are right.

How do you research the police procedural side of your books?

The best form of research is always real people. I'm lucky that I have one particularly knowledgeable contact in the police force who always responds to my queries immediately and in great detail. Sometimes I have quite trivial questions to which I could never find an answer by researching on the Internet. I have collected a number of fans on the force who are all incredibly helpful and I'm very grateful for their input.

How did you feel about Jessica Mann's comments last year about crime novels always featuring women as corpses? Do you consciously decide to have a man or a woman as a corpse or does this come out of the needs of the plot itself?

This arises out of the plot. All my corpses in Cut Short are women but this certainly isn't true in Road Closed or Dead End. I'm not going to say any more!

Many very popular authors put an excessive amount of graphic violence in their books as violence seems to sell well. Cut Short contains very little 'one the page' violence - did you deliberately set out to write a crime story with very little violence?

No. Graphic descriptions of violence don't inspire me for their own sake, although I will include them if the plot requires it. It is the characters who interest me, and what motivates them, so if I have a character who is a sadist I might include a violent scene exploring my character's feelings. I do find some contemporary crime writers rely too heavily on the shock factor of violent scenes, instead of focusing on writing a gripping story.

Did you get any rejections for Cut Short before No Exit Press accepted it?

No. I sent my manuscript out to three publishers who specialise in crime fiction and No Exit Press telephoned me two weeks later to express interest and shortly after that they offered me a three book deal.

Do you have an agent? Do you think it necessary for an author to have an agent in order to find a publisher?

I recently signed up an agent after the runaway success of Cut Short. I seem to have done everything the wrong way round! In general I would say it is much better to seek representation before looking for a publisher as agents can advise and guide an aspiring author. I was unusually lucky to find a publisher straightaway without an agent and it was my success, once published, that led to interest from agents, rather than the other way round.

How did you first create the character of Geraldine Steel?

When I started writing Cut Short I had no plans to write a series. It never even occurred to me that my writing would one day be published. So I wrote what interested me. I was fascinated by my killer and wrote pages and pages about him. My detective was really only there to serve the plot. My editor quite reasonably pointed out that the detective continues from book to book and had to become a character in her own right who would hopefully engage my readers' interests. At that point I had to do some work on my detective's character and her story begins to unfold in Road Closed and develops further in Dead End.

Do you have plans for any more books featuring Geraldine Steel following on from Road Closed?

I have written the first draft of the third book in my series, Dead End, and my publishers have already put it an offer for a fourth book, so it looks as though the series is going to run for a while.

Do you think of your plots first or the characters?

I think the crime - so far murder - comes into my head first, so that's really a combination of plot and character. Although it's the plot that drives my narrative, my characters and their motives are my main interest.

Some authors use complicated systems for plotting their novels such as charts and timelines. How did you work out the plot of Road Closed?

I didn't plan Cut Short at all. I just started writing one day and found I couldn't stop. I had to so some work on my initial manuscript once I found a publisher, to make sure readers would be able to follow what was going on. I did plan Road Closed on an A3 sheet of paper. My novels are written in 'real time' in the sense that I follow the investigation day by day. So I plotted what each character would be doing each day. That meant that when I moved certain events there was a knock on effect on everything else that occurred. I got in a terrible muddle but managed to sort it out in the end. By the time I was plotting Dead End I had an agent who advised me to write a ten page synopsis so I could see where everything was going to fit in before I started writing. Sounds foolproof? I'm afraid I still ended up getting in a muddle as I decided to move a murder to improve the narrative pace. I write very easily but organisation is not my strong point!

Do you write with a pen or pencil or straight onto a computer?

When I started writing I followed a certain routine writing every word in long hand before typing it up. Now that I'm more practiced - and more confident - I can type, write, jot down, scribble - you name it. When I'm writing, I write, and I'll use whatever comes to hand.

I've heard other writers say that their characters sometimes 'take over' and start doing things which they hadn't planned for them. Have you ever had such an experience?
Yes! Because crime fiction has to be tightly plotted, characters often need to perform certain actions for the sake of the plot, but as an author I cannot allow a character to step 'out of character' or my readers might not believe in them. So I have to keep a tight rein on how my characters want to develop. It's not always easy.

Thank you very much to Leigh for answering my questions. Both Cut Short and Road Closed can be purchased online from http://www.amazon.com/ or from http://www.amazon.co.uk/ I can thoroughly recommend both of them and I hope they continue to sell well. There's always room on the shelves for well written crime.

Saturday, 12 June 2010

Reading Emma

I am re-reading Jane Austen's novels in order of publication and having read Mansfield Park I have recently started on Emma. I studied the book for A level in the late 1960s and apart from listening to an Audio version of it I haven't re-read it since. The book has a lighter feel to it that Mansfield Park but it is still a very moral book in some ways. Emma is frequently reproved by Mr Knightley for not treating people how she should do - most notably being rude to Miss Bates in the famous Box Hill incident. Emma does learn throughout the book and becomes a better person in the long run.

Many people like Frank Churchill as a character but I find him too smarmy and insincere. He does not treat Jane Fairfax well at all especially when you consider his clandestine relationship with her. It is a book which repays several readings as do all Jane Austen's novels.

Wednesday, 9 June 2010

Time's Legacy


I was lucky enough to get hold of a proof copy of Barbara Erskine's Time's Legacy which is not published until July in the UK. Naturally I devoured it in the space of two or three days. This one if a bit of a departure for Barbara Erskine I felt as her heroine is Abi Rutherford - a female curate in the Church of England. The book features the familiar time slip theme but this one also features a modern day Druid and several members of the clergy - not just Abi. There are also some pagans as well including Athena who runs a shop selling crystals and jewellery in Glastonbury.

Abi - having fallen out with her boss Kieran Scott - is sent by her Bishop to stay with some friends of his who live near Glastonbury. But she has not seen the last of Kier who has accused her of being a witch and conjuring up the spirits of the dead when they both see and hear a ghostly congregation in a church in Cambridge. This is a fascinating and compelling story of history and the present day and religions both past and present. I loved it and found it totally enthralling.

Friday, 4 June 2010

Road Closed


Road Closed is Leigh Russell's second novel and the second in her DI Geraldine Steel series. I really enjoyed the first one in the series Cut Short and I looked forward to reading Road Closed. I wasn't disappointed.

The plot is complex with several apparently overlapping investigations. There's the unsolved series of burglaries, a murder of an elderly lady which might have been an accident and a deadly arson attack. Pretty standard police fare you might think. But then things get complicated with an apparently unprovoked attack on a local small time villain. Geraldine herself has problems with her on/off relationship with Craig, a local estate agent, her mother's death and a demanding friend who can't understand Geraldine' devotion to her job.

The characters are believable and I really like Geraldine herself who is far from perfect, unlike some fictional police officers. I also liked the way everything dovetailed together so that while you're reading you get those light bulb moments when a piece of the jigsaw slots into place. I thought the petty villains and the arson victim's widow were particularly well drawn as was the elderly man whiling away his time in the seedy pub.

Enjoyable crime, without the graphic blood and guts so many authors use and well worth reading if you enjoy psychological police procedural novels where the police seem like real people with lives outside the job. I'm looking forward to the next one in this series.

I will be posting an interview with Leigh Russell on jillysheep on Monday 14 June 2010.

Wednesday, 2 June 2010

The Slap


I finally got to the end of The Slap by Christos Tsiolkas. The plot idea is good: man slaps child - not his own - at BBQ; child's parents report him to the police and the case goes to court. The basis of the plot is the reverberations around the circle of family and friends - some of whom support the parents and others support the perpetrator of the slap. The book is divided into sections - each of which concentrates on an individual who was at the BBQ.

Here it all goes pear shaped as far as I'm concerned. The obnoxious swear word on the first page; the violent impulses of many of the male characters; the concentration on bodily functions; and the obviously endemic racism against anyone who isn't exactly like the character whose thoughts the reader happens to be privy to at the time. Yes I'm sure the writer is accomplished and he paints an interesting and accurate(?) picture of middle class life in Melbourne. But do people in Melbourne really behave in this way? Are they constantly fantasising about attacking their wives or any one else they don't happen to like at that moment?Misogyny is rife and what a man says goes. The women who attempt to stand up to them are mainly defeated.

I found I didn't really care what happened to any of the characters and the book was about 250 pages too long for me. There was too much verbiage; too much irrelevant back story for all the characters which clouded all the issues. If the author had concentrated on the ripples spreading out from the slap and nothing else it would have been a powerful story. As it was, I felt there were at least two novels trying to get out and to remove most of the second one would have left a much better book.

Sunday, 30 May 2010

Reading . . . .

I finished reading Jane Austen's Mansfield Park last night and I do like Fanny Price. So many people think she is a little boring. But anyone who can ignore the unpleasant Mrs Norris, stand up to Sir Thomas Bertram and refuse the attentions of the smarmy Henry Crawford must have more going for her than many readers seem to think. I suspect many people who don't like her forget that what is acceptable behaviour now definitely wasn't then. Henry's flirtations with Maria and Julia Bertram would be considered unimportant now but then - when marriage was as much a business transaction as an emotional relationship - it was a different matter.

I started reading Leigh Russell's Road Closed last night and found it engrossing reading - to the extent that I read all of part 1 - about 8o pages- even though I had the latest Barbara Erskine tugging at my sleeve and clamouring for my attention! I did start reading Time's Legacy as well before I fell asleep. I'm lucky enough to have received a proof copy of Time's Legacy through Amazon Vine - which allows its members to pick from a list of free books - usually advance copies - every month. I was surprised to see Barbara Erskine on there because she has a large readership anyway. Lady of Hay sold 2 million copies! But I'm more than glad to receive a copy at least 6 weeks before publication.

Friday, 28 May 2010

How time flies . . .

I really don't know where this week has gone to and now it's the weekend already! I've just had the front garden done with blue slate chippings - as I got really fed up with the lawn which never really looked right in any case and didn't grow very well in patches where it got too dry and where it got no sun. We've still got the hedge and the Rowan tree so it's not completely barren. Next door one side had their pocket handkerchief done as well. At the moment it looks very bright but it will look all right once it's been rained on.

I'm currently still indulging in an orgy of Jane Austen; reading Mansfield Park and listening to Sense and Sensibility. I'm also reading The Slap by Christos Tsiolkas which is about a man at a friend's BBQ who slaps a child - not his own. The book is about the repercussions from that one single act has amongst the friends who were at the BBQ when the parents of the child go to the police.

What a good idea for a novel you might think as it provides lot of opportunities for showing characters in their ordinary lives and the effect of one ill thought out action on them and their relationships. But it is set in Melbourne and the culture there must be completely different from the UK. There is much use of heavy duty swear words, casual racism and a fascination with violent imagery. At least two of the main characters - male - are having affairs.

It is clear the men are the boss at home. They walk into a room and change the music their wives are listening to and insist on their choices. Wives get bawled out if they talk about their lives to anyone and the husbands are always thinking about smashing their faces in even if they regard themselves as happily married. Not pleasant. The writing is good and it would be even more powerful if the bad language, violence, misogyny and racism weren't there. It is perfectly possible to indicate that a character swears without using the words.

For light entertainment I'm also reading Victoria Clayton's Dance with Me.

I have received today - from Amazon - my copy of Leigh Russell's Road Closed - the month before official publication so I will probably be able to post my interview with Leigh AND a review of the book at the same time. I'm looking forward to reading it.