Books, life the universe

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.

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

You can find out more about Leigh at her blog or at and both Cut Short and Road Closed the next book in her series featuring DI Geraldine Steel are available from

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

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.