Tuesday, 25 April 2017

I'm reviewing 'The Snowman'...

... by Jo Nesbo

This in one of the Detective Harry Hole stories and a first for me.  So, as usual, I’m reading the series from the middle rather than from the beginning.

The narrative moves about in time, which I found a little tiresome as I did have to flick back to previous chapters from time to time.  The story begins in November 1980 and specific snippets of information are held in this scene, but their importance does not become apparent until much later in the story.

The plotting is incredible with twists and turns in the police investigation that kept me on the edge of my seat right the way through to the very end of its 550 pages.  However, despite the excellent plotting, I found the pace a bit pedestrian.  Even the chase and the final capture scenes, seemed to me, to be less than break-neck speed.

I liked all of the characters, even the baddy!  They were all very well drawn with their own individual idiosyncrasies, strengths and weaknesses.  It was easy to identify with them and understand their choices.  The central character, Harry Hole, I found particularly interesting.  He carries emotional scars, he has a history and he’s a brilliant policeman, all of which adds up to an engaging lead character.  So engaging, that you can forgive him his failings.

As this is book 7 in a series of 11 novels, there are references to past cases and previous incidents involving Harry and a couple of the other characters.  Whilst the connections were made clear, I still felt as though I had not fully understood the real significance of the referrals to the other stories.  But then, I will insist on starting a series of books in the middle, won’t I?

An absolutely brilliant read and I will be reading all the rest of these books, but in the right order!

Sunday, 23 April 2017

The Bard's Birthday...

... is always celebrated on April 23rd, and today, it is also World Book Night.  Naturally, I had to join in and I have some of my favourite speeches along with some beautiful engravings to illustrate...

O, what a deal of scorn looks beautiful   
In the contempt and anger of his lip!
A murderous guilt shows not itself more soon
Than love that would seem hid: love's night is noon.
Cesario, by the roses of the spring,
By maidhood, honour, truth and every thing,
I love thee so, that, maugre all thy pride, 
Nor wit nor reason can my passion hide.
Do not extort thy reasons from this clause,
For that I woo, thou therefore hast no cause,
But rather reason thus with reason fetter,
Love sought is good, but given unsought better.
Twelfth Night - Olivia

     If we shadows have offended, 
     Think but this, and all is mended,
     That you have but slumber'd here
     While these visions did appear.
     And this weak and idle theme,
     No more yielding but a dream,
     Gentles, do not reprehend:
     if you pardon, we will mend:
     And, as I am an honest Puck,
     If we have unearned luck
     Now to 'scape the serpent's tongue,
     We will make amends ere long;
     Else the Puck a liar call;
     So, good night unto you all.
     Give me your hands, if we be friends,
     And Robin shall restore amends.
     A Midsummer Night's Dream - Puck

It is not the fashion to see the lady the epilogue; but it is no more unhandsome than to see the lord the prologue. If it be true that good wine needs no bush, 'tis true that a good play needs no epilogue; yet to good wine they do use good bushes, and good plays prove the better by the help of good epilogues. What a case am I in then, that am neither a good epilogue, nor cannot insinuate with you in the behalf of a good play! I am not furnished like a beggar, therefore to beg will not become me: my way is, to conjure you; and I'll begin with the women. I charge you, O women! for the love you bear to men, to like as much of this play as please you: and I charge you, O men! for the love you bear to women,'as I perceive by your simpering none of you hate them,'that between you and the women, the play may please. If I were a woman I would kiss as many of you as had beards that pleased me, complexions that liked me, and breaths that I defied not; and, I am sure, as many as have good beards, or good faces, or sweet breaths, will, for my kind offer, when I make curtsy, bid me farewell.
As You Like It - Rosalind

Tuesday, 18 April 2017

Please welcome friend and author...

...Christine Hornsby who is here today to interview her character, Bethany, from her wonderful story Kindred Spirits

CH  Bethany, I followed your teenage love affair with interest but, from an early age,  you clearly loathed, Daniel with a vengeance.
Bethany I did.  I thought he was arrogant and patronising.  In short, a schmuck!  To my shame, I remember referring to him as having been spawned by something that crawled out of a swamp.  A spawned geek with half a brain.

CH  So why a complete change of heart?  Was there a seismic, earth shattering moment when you saw him in a different light or did he grow on you?
Bethany  The former.  It was when the whale beached.  We met purely by chance.  I think.  We both stood there feeling something akin to grief.  It was heart-wrenching seeing the whale dying and then there was nothing we could do about it.  Daniel was looking out to sea. I pretended it was the cold wind that made my eyes water, but I knew he was hurting too.  In a strange way, we connected.  His good looks, his physique and all that has always made him popular with the girls but, call me weird, I’d never been particularly impressed with those.  His arrogance had always put me off but, at that moment, I realised that was a sort of mask.  I suppose I saw his sensitivity and vulnerability.  I liked that.  Suddenly he seemed human.

CH  You come across as being a sporty type, not interested in girly things – and, I might add – too straight talking for your own good.  Would that be a fair assessment of your character?
Bethany  Absolutely!  I suppose I had to learn, didn’t I?  And my poor mother bore the brunt of it really.  Our relationship was fraught to say the least.  Still, many teenage girls don’t get on with their mothers.  It’s normal.  I used to think we could do with a psychiatrist, a counsellor or someone to unravel the problems, though.

CH  Hmm.  But you could just as easily have fallen out with Veronica!  Now there was a feisty character if ever there was one!  Your tantrums didn’t wash with her, did they?
Bethany  You can say that again!  She always told me top wake up and smell the coffee, as they say!  And I did!

CH  And what about, Daniel?  I felt for him when you ‘went off on one’ after you told him about your ghost!  I mean, how did you expect him to react?  If you’ll excuse the pun, you didn’t give him a ghost of a chance!
Bethany  Ah yes, my ghost.  Wasn’t that something?  And yes, like I said, ‘I had a lot to learn.’  It was difficult. I was obsessed, I suppose.  It was a lonely journey.  There was a kind of force working in and outside of me if you know what I mean?  Something or someone else was in the driving seat.  I was left wondering about the possibility of an alternative world only seen and understood by a select few – and I was one of them. I had no choice but to go along with it.

CH  Deceiving your mother in the bargain!
Bethany  Yes, especially my mother.  And that taught me how important it is for people to feel they can talk to one another openly without stress.  I could never talk to her, so guilt came into it, big time, and I hated that.

CH  Yes, I remember when you came downstairs to put the barrel back in the cabinet, hoping your mother wouldn’t notice that you had taken it.
Bethany  I do.  It was the cauliflower that got me.  I saw it out of the corner of my eye.  Its shape took on the image of a face.  Sitting there on the kitchen table with its high cheek bones, it was sort of accusing me.  I had never felt so guilty.

CH  Yes, and I think that guilt came out in your   writing.  At least you could be honest with yourself there.
Bethany  That’s true.  Especially when I tried to express my romantic and sexual feelings towards. Daniel.  I felt son confused, so alone.  I wanted to shout my love from the rooftops and yet, like the old song says, ‘they try to tell you you’re too young, too young to really be in love.’  I suppose you think that sounds cheesy, but it’s true.  Well, it was my reality.

The east coast, where Kindred Spirits is set
CH  And how about fear?  Did you ever have an adrenalin rush when you were scared?
Bethany  You bet I did.  On the headland in the make-shift lean to.  Daniel told me about the Alphonse wandering about the moors with his eyes torn out by the hawks and the sockets full of maggots.  And then in the real world, two legs emerged out of the sea fret and a bunch of dead rabbits were dumped in my lap.  Oh yes, I was scared all right!

CH  Finally, Bethany, was there ever a moment, a poignant moment, that spoke to you in a very special way?

Bethany  There was.  My mother had been so worried and I knew she was concerned about me and Daniel spending the night on the moors together.  I knew I would have some explaining to do.  For most of the journey home neither of us had spoken.  Even so, I was sitting in the backseat of the car with my ankle resting across her knee.  She suddenly started fingering the travel rug.  The years melted away.  Mum was tucking me in just as I remembered her doing when I was a little girl.  I seemed to have a Eureka moment.  Suddenly, I understood the real meaning of unconditional love and I knew everything was going to be OK. 

You can follow Christine on her website  and on Facebook

Friday, 14 April 2017

Happy Easter...

... everyone and there are some bargain books around because...

Crooked Cat Easter Sale is now on...

All Crooked Cat E-Books are available for the amazing price of 99p or the appropriate international equivalent...

Tuesday, 11 April 2017

Come stroll with me...

... through Argentat today...

Bridge across the Dordogne, Argentat
Situated on the river Dordogne in the département of Corrèze (19), there has been a settlement at Argentat since Gallic times, which is roughly from the 5th century BC. I’m camped right beside the river in the shade of some well-established trees and it’s a comfortable kilometre and a half bike ride into town along the virtually single track rue St Etienne d’Obazine. The road takes you past low farm houses with their distinctive roof tiles and along the river to bring you out on the D2120 and across the Dordogne and into town on Avenue Henry IV. Follow the road through to avenue Pasteur and the heart of the town.
I lead my bike through the streets of half-timbered houses with their red and grey hued stone walls, traditional stone rooves and jutting balconies until I reach the main shopping area and bump into a wedding party. The Hotel de Ville, dating from the 19th century, is resplendent as the back drop for the photos. The bride and groom and guests then make their way along the avenue and down rue Château Nouvelle to the church of St-Pierre for the blessing. A little further on and I pass a restaurant with tables all set waiting, trays full with empty champagne glasses anticipating being filled and a bevy of waiters, all smart, in matching shirts and trousers and all very neatly pressed! I can‘t help but smile and I wish the happy couple well.
The Tourist office is my next stop for a 15-minute fix of free wifi. As I sit in the shade and download my emails, I notice a gendarme standing on the corner of avenue du Jardin Public and talking into his phone. I also see that a number of other locals are hanging around and looking down the street. In the distance, I can hear the unmistakable sound of an unmuffled
piston engine, followed by an unbaffled exhaust discharge and then that weird smell of oil hits my nose. The gendarme stretches out his arm and waves on the vehicle and around the corner comes a silver coloured, Bugatti Brescia wearing a red and white rally plate. The
Bugatti Brescia
car rolls down the street to quai Lestrougie.  Then another, a red one this time, then a third and I’m hooked.  Stuffing my phone in my pocket I get back on the bike and follow the cars.  I talk to an American lady driver.  It’s a club rally and all the vehicles are making their way to Angoulême for the Circuit des Remparts.  Another half an hour the quay is full of magnificent shining machines all lined up so that their owners can take lunch.  It’s amazing little discoveries like this that make this country so fascinating.
Car envy done with, I take some time to investigate the courpet that sits a little further down the quay.  Flat-bottomed boats (courpets), have been used on this river for centuries.  At first, just to carry livestock, goods and passengers across the river and to nearby towns and hamlets, but later, in the 18th and 19th centuries, these boats were used to transport wood for use in the vineyards of Bordeaux.  Then, this area was heavily forested and the wood was cut and fashioned into staves for barrels and stakes (carassones) to support the vines. 
The boats were built, as and when required, of 15-metre long planks set side by side and connected together.  Using heat from burning coals, and steam to make the wood pliable, the stern would be fashioned and the sides raised.  With one very long stern oar (aviron en
A Courpet
godille) and a couple of pairs of sculls (rames), the boat would be managed, full of wood for sale, down the river.  In Bordeaux, the cargo sold, the boat would be split up and also sold and the men, pockets full of cash and bags full of provisions required at home, would take the long walk back to their families.  The arrival of the railways eventually killed this source of revenue and work.
Curiosity satisfied I make my way through the remainder of the narrow streets and go into the church.  Its small and mostly 18th century with some interesting carvings.  There is a 13th century processional cross of note, some plate and a painting of Calvary but little else.  It’s time to head back and, as I cross the bridge, I cannot stop myself from taking one last look at the cars on the quay below.

Tuesday, 4 April 2017

I'm reviewing 'The Soldier's Wife'...

... by Joanne Trollope

Published in 2012, I expected that this book would give me insights into army families and army life in general, both on the frontline and away from it.  Because I was expecting so much, I was disappointed.  However, that does not mean that the book completely failed to deliver nor that the story was not worth reading.  It is, on some levels.
The story focusses on Alexa Riley, an army wife married to Major Dan Riley, who is about to return from a tour of duty in Afghanistan, and their children.  Instantly you know that this book will be about family dynamics and relationships.  That was the first issue that made me wonder if I should continue reading, but I did.
As the story progresses you hit on the problem of a battle-hardened man being back in a domestic situation and not able to share in detail what he had been doing whilst away.  Both Dan and Alexa are not sure how to relate to each other, how to slip back into those once, well-known routines and become a cohesive family again.  I thought this particular aspect of the story was handled really well and was clearly well-researched.  For some families in real life it must be very difficult when mum or dad comes back after a tour.  I was able to empathise with the situation, two people in a difficult place and not able to communicate effectively.  Tough.  But I found the character of Alexa very difficult to like.
When the extended family started to get involved in Dan and Alexa’s relationship, I became more and more annoyed that neither the husband nor wife would stand up and tell them to butt out.  I became less and less sympathetic to Alexa.  And when she turns down a job that she wanted because she is not only married to Dan, but the army as well, I wanted to scream because I saw her as being very weak.
Isabel, Alexa’s daughter from her first marriage, starts to take charge of her own life and runs away from boarding school and I hope that, in response, these two parents will stop, listen and work out what is best for them as individuals and as a family.  But there was more disappointment for me.
Overall, I found the prose to beautifully written, the story to be over long and the characters to be mostly tiresome.  But I did come to an understanding of what being an army wife means.  I can honestly say that it made me realise that I have been very lucky in my own personal life.  Whilst I would not have chosen to read this book for myself, I am pleased that I persevered with it.  It has provided me with an interesting insight into life in the army.