More new to me book purchases

A recent trip to that place that I’m not supposed to be visiting – the library – ended up with me picking up four books that I had requested from them and three books from the for sale shelves. Honestly, there’s no hope for me!

I bought A Lovely Way to Burn by the Scottish author Louise Welsh. This was apparently a BBC Radio 4 Book at Bedtime, but I didn’t hear it.

The news of Andrea Camilleri’s death had just been announced a few days before and although I love watching the TV programme Montalbano which is based on these books I had only read one of them. So two have just joined my TBR list:

A Nest of Vipers and
The Pyramid of Mud

I’ll read one of those ones for the Reading Europe Challenge which I’ve been neglecting.

The Courts of Idleness cover

A trip into the West Port area of Edinburgh ended up with me buying two books by an author who seemed to be haunting me at one point as everywhere I went I saw his books, just as another blogger told me they were worth reading – the books all disappeared! So when I saw a whole load of Dornford Yates books I snapped up a couple of them. I was drawn to the modern paperback reprint first as I like the stylish cover. The Courts of Idleness is supposed to be funny – so fingers crossed because I need a laugh.

The other Dornford Yates book I bought is an old hardback from 1946 called The Stolen March. It was originally given to someone called Joyce from Kenneth in Falmouth, 8 May 1947. I love inscribed books but I never write in my own although I sometimes think I should. What are your thoughts on the matter?

I try not to buy books via the internet but sometimes you have no alternative as the chances of what you’re looking for turning up in a secondhand bookshop are just about nil, so I bit the bullet and bought The Stream That Stood Still and The Tree That Sat Down by Beverley Nichols, part of a woodland fantasy trilogy for young people. The other one I already had is The Mountain of Magic.

Have you read any of these ones?

Fell Murder by E.C.R. Lorac

 Fell Murder cover

Fell Murder by E.C.R. Lorac was first published in 1944 but I borrowed a British Library Crime Classics reprint from the library. This is the first book by Lorac that I’ve read and I really enjoyed it. Lorac was the pseudonym of Edith Caroline Rivett who also wrote under the name of Carol Carnac.

The setting is during World War 2 and the north of England Lake Country, an area that the author obviously loved. Garthmere Hall is an ancient pile which is far too big for the Garth family to be able to maintain. Over the generations they must have become progressively poorer and they’re now just a hard working farming family. But they’re all ruled by their elderly father who is miserably mean and doesn’t even pay wages to his off-spring.

My favourite kind of crime fiction is the sort where a body is found almost immediately, so the fact that murder isn’t committed until page 66 should have been a problem for me, but I enjoyed the scene setting. The local police in the shape of Superintendent Layng manage to rub all of the locals up the wrong way but when Macdonald of Scotland Yard is called in his attitude to them and his obvious appreciation of the surroundings gets better results. I’m really looking forward to reading more by the author.

Although the setting is wartime there’s no rationing of food! Those in rural communities who were actually growing food did have ways and means of dodging such things. Something that Macdonald appreciated.

The cover of this book was taken from an LMS travel poster of Shap Fell and it does look a bit dull compared with some of the covers in this series, but the contents are better than many of those ones.

The Summer Queen, Eleanor of Aquitaine by Elizabeth Chadwick

 The Summer Queen cover

The Summer Queen by Elizabeth Chadwick is subtitled Eleanour of Aquitane, History’s most powerful woman and it’s a hefty read at 478 pages. This is the first book by Chadwick that I’ve read and to begin with I was quite surprised as at times it’s a bit of a bodice ripper. I think on balance I prefer my historical fiction reading to lean more towards the battles fought rather than what goes on in the bedroom or in a secluded corner for that matter. I nearly gave up on it but I will definitely read the next one in this trilogy as I ended up enjoying it.

Eleanor’s mother was already dead when her father went off on a pilgrimage to Compostela and died on the journey. Her father had asked for his daughter to be protected by the King of France and taken into his household. Inevitably as Eleanor is heir to Aquitaine and very rich the king arranges a marriage between her and his son and heir Louis. Eleanor is only about 13 years old, but such was life in those days. Soon Louis and Eleanor are king and queen of France, but what had been an unexpectedly happy marriage turns sour when Louis becomes increasingly more pious and influenced by dubious advisers and hangers on.

As I knew absolutely nothing about Eleanor of Aquitaine I naturally wondered how much of this story was known history and how much research the author had done. Reading the Author’s Notes at the back of the book I was somewhat relieved to see that there is a Select Bibliography of history books mentioned however, when she mentioned using Akashic Records and a psychic perspective to fill in the blanks and explore what happened in the past I was really put off – what nonsense – what’s wrong with using your imagination?!

Robert the Bruce by Fiona Watson

Robert the Bruce  cover

The Pocket GIANTS publication on Robert the Bruce by Fiona Watson is a slim volume at just 114 pages but if you’re at all interested in The Bruce and Scottish history then it’s a must read for you. It’s a well written explanation of the hinterland of the Bruce family and Robert in particular although what we think of as The Bruce was the seventh Robert in the family.

I believe that the author has since written a much longer book on the same subject but this one is ideal if you just want a better understanding of the politics of the time. If by any chance you get the opportunity to go to a lecture given by Fiona Watson (as I had last May) then you should definitely go, she has such enthusiasm for her subject and brings the people to life in a very human way. There definitely won’t be any students sleeping through her lectures I’m sure!

Kingdom of the Blind by Louise Penny

Kingdom of the Blind  cover

Kingdom of the Blind by Louise Penny was published in 2018 which means that I’ve caught up with this series which I think it’s important to read in the correct order. Louise Penny’s husband died before she began to write this one and she didn’t think she would be able to write after losing him, particularly as her detective Armand Gamache was modelled on her husband, but after a while she felt able to continue with the series. I suppose for her it’s one way of keeping her husband alive.

When an elderly woman – a complete stranger – names Armand as an executor to her will he’s perplexed. Myrna, a retired psychologist who is another inhabitant of the village of Three Pines is also named and a young man called Benedict who is a builder. It’s a complete mystery to all of them and when the will is read in the dilapidated home of the deceased they’re none the wiser. Bertha Baumgartner has left millions to her three children and an aristocratic title as well as property abroad. But surely nobody with that sort of money would be living in squalor as she did.

As the setting is Three Pines it wasn’t going to be long before a body turned up and so begins Gamache’s investigation, helped by his staff at the Surete de Quebec. At the same time the local politicians in Quebec seem hell bent on ruining Gamache. The stress is all too much for Jean Guy his son-in-law. As ever you’re never quite sure who the good guys are.

Despite Louise Penny’s loss she still has her sense of humour. It’s the many quirky villagers that bring so much charm to these books and Ruth Zardo with her pet duck Rosa aided by Gamache’s grandson are hilarious.

Breakfast With The Nikolides by Rumer Godden

Breakfast With The Nikolides

Breakfast With The Nikolides by Rumer Godden was first published in 1942 and it’s one of her several books with an Indian setting, a small agricultural town in East Bengal to be precise. Charles Pool is a farmer there and his estranged wife Louise and two daughters are just about to arrive from France as Hitler’s occupation was imminent. As soon as she gets to India Louise wishes she hadn’t panicked, but really she had no alternative place to go. Charles is a stranger to them all, not exactly welcoming and Louise is appalled by the filth and disease everywhere. It’s not a great place for someone as highly strung as she is to settle.

Like most of Godden’s India books this one seems obviously autobiographical with the young eleven year old Emily modelled on Rumer I’m sure. Emily has a terrible relationship with her mother, mainly because it’s so obvious that Louise dislikes Emily, she never has a good word to say for her and poor Emily is constantly being described as a liar generally abused by her mother. The feeling is mutual though as Emily can see through her mother’s actions. Barbara (Binnie) is the charming younger child, cheerful and light-hearted, but Charles can appreciate Emily.

The Pools put on a front for the sake of society but it’s obvious to everyone that it’s a fraught relationship, not helped by the mother being more immature than the children. She’s suspicious of all Indians too and always thinks the worst of them. Emily even disapproves of the glamorous Nikolides family.

There is some lovely descriptive writing in this book and some blurb on the back from the Observer says: Rumer Godden is a master storyteller, a genius at conveying a sense of place.

I enjoyed it anyway.

Girl With Green Eyes by Edna O’Brien

Girl with Green Eyes

Girl With Green Eyes by Edna O’Brien is the second book in her trilogy featuring Caithleen Brady and her old schoolfriend and sometime bully Baba. It was published in 1962 and is sometimes titled The Lonely Girl. At the end of the last book – The Country Girls they were expelled from their convent school and amazingly they’ve been allowed to leave their homes and move to Dublin where Baba is to attend college while Caithleen is working in a grocery.

The girls are determined to make the most of the freedom from their families and scrimp and scrape to get the money to go to dances. It isn’t long before Caithleen is again involved with a much older man – as happened in the first book. He isn’t a Catholic and is already married with a child, but his wife has gone to America to get a divorce. When Caithleen’s father hears of her behaviour with a married man he goes to Dublin, determined to rescue his daughter from mortal sin and the fires of hell. It doesn’t seem to matter to anyone that Caithleen is over 21 and entitled to do what she wants with her life. It’s a very paternalistic society with the Roman Catholic priests and bishops at the top of the tree.

This is another enjoyable read with quite a lot of humour in it but it also rings so true about how women in Ireland were treated by men, and the church still thinking that it’s their right to treat them like mentally subnormal children if they didn’t obey priests and bishops. At one point I feared that Caithleen was going to end up incarcerated in a convent – as that did happen to some poor women even in the 1960s when their family thought they might ‘give the family a bad name’. Ironic really since so many of the men had a serious problem with drink and abused their wives. I well remember the singer Sinead O’Connor saying in an interview that her Granny had warned her never to marry an Irishman!

These books caused such a furore in Ireland when they were first published, they’re so autobiographical but the locals didn’t appreciate her honesty. You might be interested in watching the interview with Edna O’Brien below.

The Path of the Hero King by Nigel Tranter

 Bruce Trilogy cover

The Path of the Hero King by Nigel Tranter is the second book in his Robert the Bruce trilogy. The first one The Steps to the Empty Throne ended with the disastrous battle of Methven in Perthshire, when Bruce and his army were attacked during the night as they slept. That made Bruce realise that he would have to ditch his chivalric behaviour and adopt dirty tactics as the English King Edward I did. Previously The Bruce and King Edward I had been fairly friendly and the two countries had been on good terms.

In this book Scotland’s main castles are inhabited by the English as are many smaller castles and strongholds. King Robert is having a hard time with people who don’t recognise him as king and as usual the many clans in Scotland who have been at each other’s throats for generations are still causing problems. When he learns that his wife, daughter and sister have been taken prisoner by King Edward, and that they and his brothers had been handed to the English by a fellow Scot – the Earl of Ross – the gloves are off so to speak, especially when he’s told that the women have been hung in cages which dangle from various city and castle walls.

The Bruce begins the task of slowly grabbing back the smaller castles from the English invaders, using the guerilla tactics he learned from William Wallace. Slashing and burning the lowland parts of Scotland which the invading English army had to pass through, making sure that there was nothing left for the army to eat or even any shelter for them. That must have been heartbreaking for Bruce as the Border country had been his. There’s a lot of fighting in this book, interspersed with some bedroom action which I suppose is Tranter’s attempt to sex it up and bring in some variety.

This was a good read which ends on a high with the Battle of Bannockburn where Bruce used his knowledge of the surrounding land close to Stirling to win against a massive English army led by Edward II. I hadn’t realised quite how huge the English army had been, when the first of them marched into the Stirling area the end of the army was still marching through Edinburgh over twenty miles away! It must have been a terrifying sight.

Unfortunately I’ll have to wait a while before reading the last of this trilogy as I had to take the omnibus edition back to the library instead of updating it as someone else had requested it. I have plenty of other books to choose from though and will take a rest from historical fiction for a wee while.

Bloodline – Wars of the Roses by Conn Iggulden

Bloodline cover

Bloodline – Wars of the Roses by Conn Iggulden is the third book in this series, it begins in Winter 1461 and two men have been given the scary and disgusting task of impaling the heads of Richard Neville – Earl of Salisbury, Richard – Duke of York, and his young son Edmund on spikes mounted above the Micklegate which is one of the gateways into the walled city of York. They had been ordered to do it by Queen Margaret after her troops won the Battle of Wakefield. Margaret is calling the shots as her husband King Henry VI is yet again too ill to carry out his duties as king. She’s determined to put an end to the ambitions of the rival families for the throne, but as was predicted by one of her victims – she just succeeds in making the surviving family members determined to make Margaret, Henry and their supporters pay for their actions.

If you don’t like reading about battles then this one won’t be for you as the whole book lurches from one battle to another although the descriptions aren’t usually too gory, and for me I found the intricacies of the armour, weaponry and battle tactics interesting.

This series has made the Wars of the Roses era so much clearer to me and I haven’t had to refer to the family trees at the front of the book too often. There are so many Edwards, Henrys and Richards though and of course their titles to contend with too. But I’ve already requested Ravenspur which is the fourth book in this series from the library so it won’t be too long before I’ll be reading that one.

Six in Six 2019 edition

six

I’m a bit late with this but I’ve decided to join in with Jo at The Book Jotters Six in Six, you can read about it here.

You look over the first six months of the year and choose six books in six different categories. So here goes!

Six Historical Fiction books

The Fire Court by Andrew Taylor
Master and Commander by Patrick O’Brian
Dunstan by Conn Iggulden
The Steps to the Empty Throne by Nigel Tranter
Stormbird by Conn Iggulden
A Place of Greater Safety by Hilary Mantel

Six books for children (of all ages)

Mary Poppins Comes Back by P.L. Travers
The Peppermint Pig by Nina Bawden
Bonnie Dundee by Rosemary Sutcliff
The Mark of the Horse Lord by Rosemary Sutcliff
The Exploits of Moominpappa by Tove Jansson
Emily Climbs by L.M. Montgomery


Six non-fiction books

The Love-charm of Bombs by Lara Feigel
To the River by Olivia Laing
Jane Austen’s England by Maggie Lane
Independence by Alasdair Gray
Off in a Boat by Neil Gunn
A Capital View by Alyssa Popiel

Six books by Scottish authors

The Chronicles of Carlingford by Mrs Oliphant
The Driver’s Seat by Muriel Spark
Naming the Bones by Louise Welsh
Homespun by Annie S. Swan
Gone are the Leaves by Anne Donovan
A Time of Love and Tartan by Alexander McCall Smith

Six crime fiction books

Excellent Intentions by Richard Hull
Murder with Malice by Nicholas Blake
Naming the Bones by Louise Welsh
Resorting to Murder edited by Martin Edwards
The Fire Court by Andrew Taylor
The Colour of Murder by Julian Symons


Six classics

Lady Anna by Anthony Trollope
Riceyman Steps by Arnold Bennett
A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith
One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez
Transformation by Mary Shelley
The Last September by Elizabeth Bowen

This has been a good exercise for me. I knew that I had been reading more historical fiction than usual over the last six months, but hadn’t really thought that my crime fiction reading had tailed off quite so much. I intend to put that right over what is left of 2019.

Are any of these books favourites of yours?