My Friday Post: Dead Man’s Footsteps

Every Friday Book Beginnings on Friday is hosted by Gillion at Rose City Reader where you can share the first sentence (or so) of the book you are reading, along with your initial thoughts about the sentence, impressions of the book, or anything else the opener inspires.

I’m currently reading Dead Man’s Footsteps by Peter James.

It begins:

If Ronnie Wilson had known, as he woke up, that in a couple of hours he would be dead, he would have planned his day, somewhat differently.

Also every Friday there is The Friday 56, hosted by Freda at Freda’s Voice.

These are the rules:

  1. Grab a book, any book.
  2. Turn to page 56, or 56% on your eReader. If you have to improvise, that is okay.
  3. Find any sentence (or a few, just don’t spoil it) that grabs you.
  4. Post it.
  5. Add the URL to your post in the link on Freda’s most recent Friday 56 post.

Page 56:

And another part of his brain was telling him that while one plane hitting the Twin Towers was an accident, two was something else.

Dead Man’s Footsteps is the fourth Roy Grace novel, a fast paced police procedural. There’s a woman in hiding, a skeleton discovered in a storm drain, a man believed to have died in the 9/11 disaster, and a body found in the boot of a car submerged in a river in Australia. And there is the continuing story about Sandy, Grace’s wife, who had disappeared 9 years earlier.

Blue Tits in Our Nest Box

Our garden is visited by many birds and each year we’ve enjoyed watching them on the bird feeders. House martins have nested in the gable ends of the house and given us splendid aerial displays. Pheasants are regular visitors, Other birds have also made nests, some in bird boxes and this year we got a new blue tit box – one with a camera and waited to see whether it would be occupied.

We were lucky, as one blue tit spotted it and she started to occupy it, flying in and out and pecking the edges of the hole. For a while she was on her own. She spent quite a lot of time knocking with her beak on the walls of the box and then a male came flying in and joined her hopping around the box to inspect it. They looked so funny as their feet skidded on the smooth floor of the box, but then they began to bring in bits of plant material, scattering it around, then re-arranging it haphazardly. And then they removed all of it and I thought they’d decided to go elsewhere – but no, they came back and more material appeared and then they took it all out. This went on for a while.

I wondered if this was normal and decided I needed to find out more about their nesting habits. After checking several bird websites, I found this little book – Blue Tits in My Nest Box by David Gains, a mine of information.

And I was relieved to read that this was exactly what the blue tits in his bird box did too. I breathed a sigh of relief and waited to see what would happen next. It’s the female that does most of the nest building And she kept on bringing in more plant material and feathers, tossing it all around, then sitting in the middle of the mass, holding out her wings and shuffling round and round, she made a hollow with her body.

This doesn’t look like the nests you see on TV wildlife programmes, but eventually she was satisfied with it and laid her eggs. We were so excited as one by one five little featherless chicks hatched. Sadly one of them died and we had to remove it from the nest. In the photo below you can see their open mouths as they waved the heads around when the adult birds came in to feed them. The fourth bird was smaller than the others – you can just see its little mouth behind the others. I’m sure it didn’t get as much as the others as they jumped on top of it to get fed!

As they got bigger they began to flatten the nest, jumping up and down, trying out their wings. Eventually the day came when one by one they left the nest until there was just the smallest one left. It kept trying to jump up to the hole and I didn’t think it was big enough to survive outside, but it made it. And we next saw them in the garden on the bird feeders and trees, fluttering their wings and opening their beaks as the parents continued to feed them.

I began writing this post earlier this year when the blue tits were hatching and never finished it. I spent so much time watching what was going on in the nest I got so behind with everything. It was fascinating.


20 Books of Summer

At the beginning of the summer I joined Cathy’s 20 Books of Summer Challenge which ran from June 1st until September 1st, 2020.

I revised my original my list on 19 July because after reading six of the books on my original list I began reading The Luminaries by Eleanor Catton, a book that was NOT on my original list and I realised that as it has 853 pages there was no way I could read the rest of the books before 1 September.

Although I read 20 books during the period, only 13 of them are books from my list – they are:

  1. The Deep by Alma Katsu 3*
  2. How to Disappear by Gillian McAllister 2*
  3. The Mist by Ragnar Jonasson 4*
  4. Maigret’s Holiday by Georges Simenon 5*
  5. Deadheads by Reginald Hill 5*
  6. Moonflower Murders by Anthony Horowitz 5*
  7. The Luminaries by Eleanor Catton 4* – review to follow
  8. The Power-House by John Buchan 5*
  9. How to Kill a Cat by W J Burley 5* – review to follow
  10. Thin Air by Michelle Paver 4* – review to follow
  11. Smallbone Deceased by Michael Gilbert 4*
  12. A Thousand Moons by Sebastian Barry 5*
  13. Mortmain Hall by Martin Edward 4*

So, I still have 7 books left to read and I hope to read them soon :

  1. The Inheritance by Louisa May Alcott
  2. Bilgewater by Jane Gardam
  3. The Case of the Gilded Fly by Edmund Crispin
  4. The Silence Between Breaths by Cath Staincliffe
  5. Giant’s Breath by Mary Westmacott (Agatha Christie)
  6. A Moment of Silence by Anna Dean
  7. The Dry by Jane Harper

Top Ten Tuesday: Books that Make Me Hungry

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme created by The Broke and the Bookish and now hosted by Jana at That Artsy Reader Girl. For the rules see her blog.

I’ve chosen books that ether have food in their title, or include food/recipes in their content.

  • The Adventure of the Christmas Pudding by Agatha Christie – Poirot is invited to spend ‘a good old-fashioned Christmas in the English countryside’ .
  • Chocolat by Joanne Harris – descriptions of delicious food – not just chocolate.
  • Peaches for Monsieur Le Curé by Joanne Harris – a diluted version of Chocolat, but it is too long and drawn out for the story line.
  • Cupcake by Mariah Jones – I haven’t read this one, but I like the cover – even better though if it was a chocolate cupcake.
  • Toast by Nigel Slater – a memoir of his childhood remembered through food.
  • Garden Spells by Sarah Addison Allen – a modern fairy tale/myth – Claire creates dishes from the plants in her garden.
  • The Woman Who Wanted More by Vicky Zimmerman – about a cookery manual, featuring menus for anything life can throw at ‘the easily dismayed.
  • The Co-Op’s Got Bananas by Hunter Davies – a memoir of the Forties and Fifties… In among the rationing and the bombsites.
  • The Gourmet by Muriel Barber – tantalising glimpses of food that Pierre Arthens, France’s celebrated food critic recalls.
  • Bella Tuscany by Frances Mayes – the follow up book to Under the Tuscan Sun with more details about the restoration of the villa and its garden, plus recipes. 

Bookshelf Travelling

Katrina of Pining for the West is currently hosting Bookshelf Travelling in Insane Times originally hosted by Judith at Reader in the Wilderness. This week my ‘bookshelf’ holds some recent additions on my Kindle. I haven’t been to a bookshop since January but I have been acquiring e-books, some presents, some free books and some I’ve bought, mostly when they’ve been on offer at 99p.

These are just some of them:

I’ve read two of these – The Luminaries and Still Life. As there are too many here to write about all of the others today I’ve focused on these:

On the top row:

The Virus in the Age of Madness by Bernard-Henri Levy – I bought this book because I saw him talking about it on a TV programme recently. I think it’s time I read something about the pandemic. It’s just a short book – 128 pages.

Adventures of the Yorkshire Shepherdess by Amanda Owen – I bought this as we’ve been watching Our Yorkshire Farm on Channel 5. It is a documentary series following life on a remote sheep farm in Yorkshire for Clive and Amanda Owen and their nine children. I love it, so I wanted to read Amanda’s books. She’s written two more – The Yorkshire Shepherdess and A Year in the Life of a Yorkshire Shepherdess.

Year of Wonders by Geraldine Brooks – a book I’ve been wondering about reading for ages. Ive read some of her books and enjoyed them. This one is a novel set in 1666, when plague suddenly struck the small village of Eyam in Derbyshire.

On the bottom row:

Forensics: the Anatomy of Crime by Val McDermid. I love her Karen Pirie books and after reading Still Life, I saw she’s written this non-fiction book and I thought it looked interesting. She traces the history of forensics from its earliest beginnings to the cutting-edge science of the modern day.

Fludd by Hilary Mantel – another author whose books I love. This is one of her earlier novels, described on Amazon as a dark fable of lost faith and awakening love amidst the moors, set in Fetherhoughton is a drab, dreary town somewhere in a magical, half-real 1950s north England, a preserve of ignorance and superstition.

The Killings at Kingfisher Hill by Sophie Hannah

HarperCollins/ 20 August 2020/ Print length 346 pages/ Kindle edition/ 3*

The Killings at Kingfisher Hill is Sophie Hannah’s fourth Hercules Poirot mystery novel and the first one I’ve read. I have read some of Hannah’s books previously. So, I know that she writes complicated and tricky plots. Whilst not attempting to reproduce Christie’s Poirot this book is loosely based on Christie’s books, as Hannah incorporates all the twists and turns, red herrings and misdirections that you find in them. There’s a country house setting, a number of suspects, and a gathering together at the end where Poirot reveals all.

Blurb:

Hercule Poirot is travelling by luxury passenger coach from London to the exclusive Kingfisher Hill estate, where Richard Devonport has summoned him to prove that his fiancée, Helen, is innocent of the murder of his brother, Frank. But there is a strange condition attached to this request: Poirot must conceal his true reason for being there.
 
The coach is forced to stop when a distressed woman demands to get off, insisting that if she stays in her seat, she will be murdered. Although the rest of the journey passes without anyone being harmed, Poirot’s curiosity is aroused, and his fears are later confirmed when a body is discovered with a macabre note attached…

Could this new murder and the peculiar incident on the coach be clues to solving the mystery of who killed Frank Devonport? And if Helen is innocent, can Poirot find the true culprit in time to save her from the gallows?

I wasn’t expecting a cloned Poirot and Hannah’s Poirot is not Christie’s Poirot. There’s no Captain Hastings in this book, Poirot’s faithful friend. Instead Poirot is accompanied by Inspector Catchpole from Scotland Yard. How on earth he got to be an inspector is beyond me – he comes across as rather dim and stupid and Poirot treats him as such, endlessly explaining things to him and telling him what to do in an officious manner.

There are three strands to the plot – who killed Frank Devonport; who is the hysterical woman with an ‘unfinished face’ who insists she will be murdered if she sits in a specific seat on the coach; and who is the mysterious woman who tells Poirot she is a murderer – what a stupid thing to do when she knows he is a ‘world-renowned detective’? And I wondered what makes Richard so sure that Helen didn’t kill Frank when she had immediately confessed that she had? And I’m still wondering why when he was invited to Kingfisher Hall, an exclusive and private country estate, he went by coach with 30 other passengers – even if it was a ‘luxury’ coach. I just can’t see Poirot travelling by coach!

This all makes the book extremely convoluted, confusing and tangled as well as long-winded. Poirot though works his way methodically through the mess and gets to the truth. However, I found it quite dull and repetitive and rather contrived. So, my rating for this book is 2.5 stars, rounded up to 3.

My thanks to HarperCollins for a review copy via NetGalley.

WWW Wednesday: 26 August 2020

WWW Wednesday is run by Taking on a World of Words.

The Three Ws are:

 What are you currently reading?
What did you recently finish reading?
What do you think you’ll read next?

I’m currently reading Wycliffe and How To Kill a Cat by W J Burley, one of my TBRs. It’s the second in the Wycliffe series, set in Cornwall.

Superintendent Wycliffe is on holiday, but popping into the local police station to see an old friend he hears that a woman has been found dead, probably murdered and he can’t resist offering to help. It’s immensely readable. The title puzzles me – I suspect that it’s not really about how to kill a cat – I hope not!

The last book I read was Still Life by Val McDermid, her latest Karen Pirie mystery. I’ll be writing more about this book. It combines a cold case investigation into a skeleton found in a campervan and a current investigation into the discovery of a body in the Firth of Forth. I loved it.

I see that ITV are adapting the first Karen Pirie book, The Distant Echo. Filming began in February this year, but I couldn’t find any other details – one to look out for.

I’d like to read several books next

But at the moment I’m leaning towards reading the first book in the Inspector Lynley series, A Great Deliverance by Elizabeth George. I’ve dipped into it and it looks good.

Blurb:

Fat, unlovely Roberta Teys is found beside her father’s headless corpse, wearing her best dress and with an axe in her lap. Her first words are: ‘I did it. And I am not sorry’ and she refuses to say more. Inspector Thomas Lynley and DS Barbara Havers are sent by Scotland Yard to solve this particularly gruesome murder. And as they navigate their way around a dark labyrinth of secret scandals and appalling crimes, they uncover a series of shocking revelations that shatter the façade of the peaceful Yorkshire village.

My Friday Post: 21 August 2020

Every Friday Book Beginnings on Friday is hosted by Gillion at Rose City Reader where you can share the first sentence (or so) of the book you are reading, along with your initial thoughts about the sentence, impressions of the book, or anything else the opener inspires.

My choice this week is Val McDermid’s latest book, Still Life, published yesterday. It’s a DCI Karen Pirie thriller. I love that cover!

It begins with a Prologue:

Saturday, 15 February 2020

Billy Watson cast off from the quay without the faintest flicker of premonition.

And then Chapter 1

Saturday, 16 February 2020

Detective Sergeant Daisy Mortimer wasn’t easily put off her food. But for once, she stared at the bacon and egg roll she’d made for breakfast with a slightly jaundiced air.

Also every Friday there is The Friday 56, hosted by Freda at Freda’s Voice.

These are the rules:

  1. Grab a book, any book.
  2. Turn to page 56, or 56% on your eReader. If you have to improvise, that is okay.
  3. Find any sentence (or a few, just don’t spoil it) that grabs you.
  4. Post it.
  5. Add the URL to your post in the link on Freda’s most recent Friday 56 post.

Page 56:

‘According to the coastguard he likely went in on the east side of Elie. Probably somewhere around the ruin of Lady Janet Anstruther’s Tower. And probably about ten to twelve hours before the Bonnie Pearl fished him out. So, round about now, yesterday evening.

Blurb:

On a freezing winter morning, fishermen pull a body from the sea. It is quickly discovered that the dead man was the prime suspect in a decade-old investigation, when a prominent civil servant disappeared without trace. DCI Karen Pirie was the last detective to review the file and is drawn into a sinister world of betrayal and dark secrets.

But Karen is already grappling with another case, one with even more questions and fewer answers. A skeleton has been discovered in an abandoned campervan and all clues point to a killer who never faced justice – a killer who is still out there.

In her search for the truth, Karen uncovers a network of lies that has gone unchallenged for years. But lies and secrets can turn deadly when someone is determined to keep them hidden for good . . .

~~~

This is the sixth Karen Pirie book in the series. I think they read well as standalone books, but as they continue Karen’s own story I also think they are best read in order – and for once I am reading these books in order! 

A Thousand Moons by Sebastian Barry

Faber and Faber Ltd/ 19 March 2020/ 256 pages/ Kindle edition/ 5*

Three years ago I read Sebastian Barry’s Days Without End which has to be one of the best books I’ve read, so I began reading A Thousand Moons with great anticipation of a good read. I wasn’t disappointed and I loved it. It continues the story of Thomas McNulty and John Cole, and Winona, the young Indian girl they had adopted. It really helps if you have read Days Without End first to understand the characters’ history and relationships and how they got to this stage in their lives.

Winona is a young Lakota orphan adopted by former soldiers Thomas McNulty and John Cole.
Living with Thomas and John on the farm they work in 1870s Tennessee, she is educated and loved, forging a life for herself beyond the violence and dispossession of her past. But the fragile harmony of her unlikely family unit, in the aftermath of the Civil War, is soon threatened by a further traumatic event, one which Winona struggles to confront, let alone understand.

They are living and working on a farm owned by Lige Magan in Tennessee, about seven miles from a little town called Paris. It is now the 1870s, some years after the end of the Civil War, but the town was still full of rough Union soldiers and vagabonds on every little byway. Dark skin and black hair were enough to get you beaten up – and it wasn’t a crime to beat an Indian. Life wasn’t any better for the other two workers on the farm, black ex-slaves, Rosalee Bouguereau and her brother, Tennyson. These are dangerous times not just in the town but also in the woods outside the town from Zach Petrie’s gang of ‘nightriders’.

Winona remembers little of her early life, beyond seeing in the back of her mind a ‘blackened painting’ of blood and screaming, bayonets, bullets, fire and death. But their lives are full of love at the farm; Winona is loved as a daughter by Thomas and John, who are themselves lovers. She works for lawyer Briscoe as his clerk and ventures into town for supplies, which was where she met Jas Jonski, a young man who declares he wants to marry her. At first she hopes that she might very much like to marry Jas. But, then things go disastrously wrong. First racism rears its ugly head as Jas is white and the Paris townspeople began to talk. As his employer said he thought Jas had gone mad or wicked in some way – ‘to want to go marrying something closer to a monkey than a man’ was how he put it.

And then came the dreadful day when Winona was brutally attacked so badly that she shook for two weeks and something deep within her was shaking a long time after. She can’t remember at first what had actually happened to her, except that she was plied with ‘distillery whiskey’, nor who had carried out the assault. But all the signs pointed to Jas Jonski. Then Tennyson Bouguereau was also attacked, and their peaceful happy life was shattered. Winona set out for revenge. And in so doing she began to remember more about her early life and about her mother, a strong Lakota woman, full of courage and pride.

‘A thousand moons’ was her mother’s deepest measure of time. To her time was ‘a kind of hoop or a circle not a long string and if you walked far enough she said you could find the people still living in the long ago’ – ‘a thousand years all at once’. As she sets off on her quest it is the thought of her mother’s courage that enabled Winona to find her own courage – the ‘courage of a thousand years’.

I just love everything about this book, so beautifully written, rendering the way the characters speak so that I could hear them, and describing the landscape so poetically and lyrically that the scenes unfolded before my eyes; and the characters too, all real people from the American West of the 1870s, as though I was there in their midst. It would make a superb film.

Sebastian Barry

Photo credit: ©Alan Betson, The Irish Times

Sebastian Barry was born in Dublin in 1955. His novels and plays have won, among other awards, the Kerry Group Irish Fiction Prize, the Costa Book of the Year award, the Irish Book Awards Best Novel, the Independent Booksellers Prize and the James Tait Black Memorial Prize. He also had two consecutive novels, A Long Long Way (2005) and The Secret Scripture (2008), shortlisted for the MAN Booker Prize. He lives in Wicklow with his wife and three children.

My thanks to Faber and Faber Ltd for my copy of this book, via NetGalley.

Top Ten Tuesday: Books That Should Be Made into Movies

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme created by The Broke and the Bookish and now hosted by Jana at That Artsy Reader Girl. For the rules see her blog.

Books That Should Be Made into Movies

The Year Without Summer: 1816 by Guinevere Glasfurd – the story of six people whose lives were affected by the volcanic eruption of Mount Tambora on Sumbawa Island in Indonesia in 1815. A disaster movie.

The Lost Man by Jane Harper. A murder mystery set in the Queensland outback, a huge and isolated territory, red earth stretching for hundreds of miles, with its unbearable heat, dust and, at times, the threat of flood. A body is found lying at the the base of the headstone of a stockman’s grave – a headstone standing alone, a metre high, facing west, towards the desert, in a land of mirages. A spectacular setting!

The Animals at Lockwood Manor by Jane Healey – this would make an good alternative World War Two movie with a strange story about taxidermy collection moved from London to a country manor house. It struck me as I was reading it that it would make an excellent film or TV drama as one after another, some of the animals go missing or are mysteriously moved from their positions in the long gallery.

The Deep by Alma Katsu – a story of the Titanic in 1912 as it sets sail on its ill-fated voyage and its sister ship the Britannic in 1916, converted to a hospital as it picks up soldiers injured in the battlefields of World War One. I think this would make an eerie, creepy film full of atmosphere of terror and disaster.

The Plague Charmer by Karen Maitland, a fascinating medieval tale full of atmosphere and superstition. It’s set in Porlock Weir in 1361 where a village is isolated by the plague when the Black Death spreads across England. It’s a tale of folklore, black magic, superstition, violence, torture, murder, and an apocalyptic cult – and also of love. There’s a colourful cast of characters from Will, a ‘fake’ dwarf, Sara, a packhorse man’s wife and her family, to Matilda, a religious zealot. It would make a terrific movie.

The Last Day by Andrew Hunter Murray – A dystopian thriller set in a world which has spun to a halt, bringing civilisation to the brink of collapse. Chaos followed, earthquakes, volcanic eruptions and gales swept the earth’s surface.

The Watchmaker of Filigree Street by Natasha Pulley – a steampunk novel set in Victorian times, both in London and Japan, with colourful characters including clockwork inventions, in particular Katsu, the clockwork octopus. I’d love to see this as a film.

See What I have Done by Sarah Schmidt – a re-imagining of the unsolved American true crime case of the Lizzie Borden murders, this would make a horror film. So terrifying I don’t know that I bear to watch it though.

The Ashes of London by Andrew Taylor – about the Great Fire of London in 1666, complete with a murder mystery. This would make a spectacular movie as the fire roared through the 17th century streets of Charles II’s London.

Another historical crime fiction series of books I’d like to see as either a TV series or a film is C J Sansom’s Shardlake novels set in the reign of Henry VIII in the 16th century. There are seven books, beginning with Dissolution set in 1537 at the time of the dissolution of the monasteries.