Hooray for the humble cotton bud

After last week's visit to my craft group I found three huge bites across my upper back, just out of reach for a person with slightly-frozen shoulders, such as me.

I blame the carpet cleaning that had taken place. Whenever that happened in an office I worked in, I always got bitten by some recently-homeless critter. I never usually get bitten.

So I pondered my problem for a (short) while and to the rescue came the humble cotton bud. It afforded me that little extra bit of reach, so, loaded with ointment, it was pressed into use.

One of those household items I rarely use, but so very handy when needed. Another use has been softening pencil shading on art work. What are they officially for? I've never been sure.

August Books

Eggs or Anarchy by William Sitwell

Started 1 August
Finished 13 August

This is the story of Frederick Marquis, Lord Woolton who ran the Ministry of Food in the UK during the Second World War. I happened to hear the author interviewed on the radio and was intrigued. I am of an age such that my parents lived through the war, my mother as an evacuee (to family, luckily) in South Wales, my father staying at home in west London. My generation, however, can barely imagine the privations of the wartime years.
Woolton was a businessman who was asked to run the Ministry of Food, overseeing the feeding of the UK - no mean task for a country which, at that time, was a massive net importer of food. Woolton had a background in social work and he had seen first hand some of the deprivation and malnutrition that existed in poorer parts of England. He has also run a successful retail business, so was perhaps well placed for the task. He was determined that the whole country would be fed a nutritionally balanced diet, at a reasonable price, so that, at the end of the war, the population as a whole would be healthier than they had been before it started. The book brought to life his frustration with bureaucracy and set out the scale of Woolton's achievement. It was well written, an enjoyable and educational read.

Summerchester Secrets by Hazel Elizabeth Allen

Started 14 August
Finished 18 August

This book won some independent romance prize. Yes, I know, not my normal genre, but I fancied something a little different for once. Something gentle and relaxing, which is exactly what I got. Pleasant, believable characters, pleasant setting and a believable little story. Not much variation on the boy-meets-girl theme, but the secrets of the title came into play. A happy ending, of course, but that made a pleasant change from the death and destruction in some of the thrillers I usually read. I enjoyed it for what it was; an undemanding read, but a pleasant tale nonetheless.

Rage by Zygmunt Miloszewski

Started 19 August
Finished 31 August

Translated from the original Polish, this read well in English,so credit to the translator for that. To start with, I wasn't sure I would continue with the novel, as it seemed a bit slow to develop. This is the last in a series of books about the same character, a state prosecutor, but the only one in English. That didn't matter too much, fortunately. Much in the vein of Henning Mankell, the local environment, particularly the weather, was very much a part of the story and the atmosphere was set well.
Overall I enjoyed the story, the more so as it developed. It had a few surprises, which unravelled gradually. I read a lot of thrillers, but didn't have any sense of thriler-fatigue here. If more of this author's work is translated, I would read it.

July Books

Changers by Matt Gemmell
Started 1 July
Finished 7 July

I thoroughly enjoyed this book. The writing is excellent, nothing superfluous, yet everything vividly depicted. I have read some of Matt's other writing and enjoyed it, so I expected to enjoy this, but it was even better than I had anticipated. The final section, in particular, really came to life in my mind. Generally when I read a book, I just read the words, but in this one I could really see events unfold in my mind - very cinematic. I don't like books with unnecessary pages of description and that isn't the case here; the writing hits exactly the right balance for me. No spoilers though - read it for yourself.
I felt the sense of unease early in the book, as the situation developed, until about a third of the way through, when I really did stop in my tracks. It's rare that a novel can produce such an OMG moment for me, but this one did . It really drew me in and kept me reading. I look forward to subsequent Kestrel adventures.

War Brides by Helen Bryan
Started 8 July
Finished 29 July

The opening starts in the present, then goes back to the 1930s, just pre-war. Setting the scene, I'm sure, but it felt a little rushed. Boy-next-door is friends with "worthy" daughter of local vicar. Boy-next-door goes off to the navy, comes back, proposes to worthy girl, goes to the US, is seduced by local scarlet woman, who is hiding a secret, and they return home, to the shock of the jilted "worthy". It all seems very rushed, without much character development. The story does develop nicely, into a tale of life during WW2 in Sussex. The characters are interesting enough, although the depiction of the Londoner felt a little patronising. Dropped aitches everywhere in the text. No reference to rural Sussex accents, of course. I imagine there was a working-class/middle-class divide here.
One of the ladies works in intelligence and she discovers the secrets of the people in the Big House. At that point the story seems to stop rather abruptly and we are back in 1995, where the ladies are reunited, bar one. We find out what has happened to all of them in the intervening years, and it turns out the ladies have gathered to exact revenge by murdering someone; or rather, imprisoning him in a blocked smugglers passage under a gravestone. Yes, it turns out he was a traitor, and responsible for the death of their friend, but they managed this in the middle of the celebration of the re-opening of the church, in a village full of people and television cameras. Oh and one of them recovers some memories after traumatic amnesia: she recalls the apparently failed attempt to rescue her sisters from France, plus the fact that she had a baby who died. The final chapter reveals to the reader that the sisters had been rescued, unknown to any of the ladies, including the older sister. I think it was meant to be a poignant ending but it all felt a bit glib and trite.
Overall I enjoyed the book, but it wasn't particularly well written, nor was it well paced.

Athelstan by Tom Holland
Started 29 July
Finished 31 July

This wasn't a long book at all, but it was interesting. I knew virtually nothing about King Athelstan, yet it turns out he was possibly the first King of all England, rather than King of part of it, like King Alfred was.
Tom Holland makes history accessible and interesting. I am still part of the way through another of his books, about Persia. I took a break, not because it was dull, but because there was so much information about an area so unfamiliar to me.

June Books

Time Heals No Wounds by Hendrik Falkenberg

Started 21 May
Finished 10 June
Kindle First for May

This book was ok. I didn't guess who the perpetrator was, so that was good. The characters were portrayed well enough and the story was interesting; it just didn't grab me really. It didn't have me wanting to turn the page (or tap the screen) as much as I had hoped. There was a thread running through the book, about a kidnapped/imprisoned young lady which I found jarring. It turned out to be relevant, but I found it confusing and a little disconcerting. I noticed a couple of places where the translation seemed a bit off, too; it didn't pick up the English idiom particularly well on occasion.

Cold (A Joe Tiplady Thriller 1) by John Sweeney

Started 11 June
Finished 14 June
Kindle First for June

This was an excellent read. I thoroughly enjoyed it, as evidenced by the fact it only took me four days to read. It's not often that I really can't put a book down nowadays, but this was one of those occasions. All the various story threads were deftly woven together. I tend not to like novels which tell different stories at the same time; often I feel it breaks up the rhythm of the overall narrative, but that isn't the case here at all. Each thread was important and, although there was a clear "hero", the side stories were just as interesting, their characters well written.

I'll admit, I wasn't sure about the main protagonist to start with. He seems to be a bit of an anti-hero, someone who used to be an IRA member. However, some of his back story is filled in during the course of the book and this makes him more human. The way this is done is subtle; it follows as part of the flow of the novel. It may be that there are areas where the plot is slightly fanciful, but I didn't feel the need to pick holes in it; I simply enjoyed seeing events unfold. I wouldn't know what is, or isnt realistic when it comes to espionage and secrets.

The Double Life of Mistress Kit Kavanagh by Marina Fiorato

Started 15 June
Finished 30 June

I have read several of Marina Fiorato's other novels, with "The Glassblower of Murano" being my favourite. This novel, it turns out, is based on a true story; a woman who fought with the Duke of Marlborough in the early 18th century.
The first part of the book deals with her search for her husband, her life in the army and her growing bond with her Captain. The second part deals with her time as a spy and the last part brings these two threads together, with a dollop of treachery and the culmination of the love story. All in all a good mix, but then I expect nothing less from Fiorato.
The book seemed a little slow to get going, but that could be purely by contrast with the previous book I read. Once I settled in to the story, I thoroughly enjoyed it.
Would I read other books by this author? Well, yes, I already have. She is a fixture on my list of authors to look out for. I enjoy her writing style: straightforward storytelling, with strong female protagonists, a dash of romance, but not too much.

May books (plus a bit of music)

Still Waters (Sandhamn murders 1) by Viveca Sten
Started 1 May
Finished 21 May

Enjoyed this. It felt like an unhurried read, but quite absorbing. The characters were nicely drawn, the plot was interesting and kept me guessing until just before the reveal. I will read more by this author.

Only one book, but I did go away and spend time with real people.

To compensate, here's a link to some music I bought, by a young British musician. I enjoyed it very much. It's still the CD in my car player.

Tom Wright

April Books

Only two books in April, although in my defence I have been very busy at work and the first book was a long one!

11.22.63 by Stephen King

Started 29 March Finished 13 April

I enjoyed this. Possibly, as a non-American and someone born after that date, the subject hasn't intrigued me as much as it might some people. However, the story was enjoyable and I quite probably know more about the Kennedy assassination than I did. I lost focus in the middle part of the book; I think I got a little bored with the tale of stalking Oswald. The story with Sadie was nicely written and the contrast between attitudes and morals in the 60's and now was fascinating. How things have changed in my lifetime. I did feel that the ending of the book was a little rushed. I think I would have liked less detail in the pursuit of Oswald and more in the changed future.

Blood Defense by Marcia Clark

Started 14 April Finished 30 April
Kindle First for April

For me, this book didn't really get going until about two-thirds of the way through. Then it became interesting, although at the end there were some revelations that left a slightly unpleasant taste behind. They also felt a bit tacked-on. On the whole I enjoyed the book, but I'm not sure this is a novelist I'd choose again.

Summertime on the Feeder

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Popped downstairs to make a brew and spied my first goldfinch of the season on the nyjer seed feeder.
After the earlier hail/snowstorm, it was a very cheering sight.

Shopping

Yesterday some jeans I ordered online from Marks and Spencer arrived. They are two more pairs in exactly the same style as I have bought previously. Online shopping means I can get the "long" leg length, which is rarely available in stores. I expected to have to shorten them a little, as my current pair had to be turned up an inch or so. However, of the new pairs, one was exactly the right length, the other only marginally long - not enough to make it worth getting out needle and thread.

This kind of inconsistency never used to happen in M&S. I guess its our punishment for expecting cheap clothing: absolutely no quality control whatsoever. I think I would prefer things to go back to the way they were, although I have yet to find any manufacturer who makes blouses with sleeves as long as my arms. I recently bought a white blouse, as I need one for choir concerts. I chose one that fitted nicely, but the sleeves were too short. They are also so tight that it's not possible to turn them back, so I will have to convert the blouse to being short-sleeved, if I can. I know I'm fairly tall, but most sleeves are short by more than I am taller than average. Whilst I can make clothes, jeans (or tailored trousers in general) and blouses are beyond both my skill-set and available spare time.

March Books

The Aliens Are Coming - Ben Miller

Started: 2 March
Finished : 11 March

A spot of non-fiction to start the month. The book examines how life started on Earth and how likely it is that complex life would /could start elsewhere. It looks at communication: if we did receive a message from aliens, could we decipher it? I wasn't expecting a book on alien conspiracies, which was as well, because this is a book full of information & a fair amount of science, from cosmology, through biology, chemistry and biochemistry, to linguistics and cryptography. All this written with a light touch and decent amount of the kind of humour Ben Miller is known for. I enjoyed it and learned a few things along the way. Worth reading.

Off The Grid - C J Box

Started: 11 March
Finished: 17 March

The new C J Box came out. I have read all of his Joe Pickett books, as well as some of his others. The Pickett ones are without doubt my favourites and I enjoyed this very much.
Joe Pickett is a game warden in Wyoming and the books are often set against this backdrop. Box does a good job of evoking the atmosphere and creating the mental image of the scenery. This book, however, is set in an area called The Red Desert - somewhere I didn't even know existed.
Is it a little bit derivative? Well, it certainly deals with very current topics; the middle-Eastern terrorist threat and government surveillance and capture of data. I enjoyed the story but there was a small part of me thinking "oh this again". I suspect that is more because of the types of book I read rather than anything lacking in this novel. I think I just prefer to read about the mountains of Wyoming rather than the desert. Add to that last month's book, "Little Sister" and it was more on a similar theme. That said, I thoroughly enjoyed the novel and of course am eagerly awaiting the next book in the series.

The Big Fear - Andrew Case

Started: 17 March
Finished: 25 March
Kindle First book for March

Very much enjoyed reading this. The story started small in scope and widened out to take in the title. The plot kept me reading and had a few twists I wasn't expecting. It taps into the mood of the current era, dealing with manipulation of markets/economies by powerful citizens. Another novelist goes on the "will-read-again" list.

The Polar Bear Killing - Michael Ridpath

Started: 25 March
Finished: 25 March

This is a novella in the Fire and Ice series, which are about a detective in Iceland. I have read the other books in the series, so it was a given that I would read this one. I enjoyed it. I'm not generally a fan of short stories; I much prefer a decent length book that I can spend time with. However, this was a nice, quick read. Familiar characters and enjoyable.

An All-consuming Fire - Donna Fletcher Crow

Started: 25 March
Finished : 28 March

Another book in a series, this time about an American Ordinand called Felicity and her priest friend/partner, Antony . Yes, I have read the earlier books in the series and enjoyed them. They are light reading, mixing murder mystery with religion and romance. Possibly light bits of fluff, but enjoyable nonetheless. Several of the books have been set in areas I know well and this is no exception, as it is set around Pickering, Rievaulx Abbey and Ampleforth - a beautiful part of the UK. It refers to the friezes in Pickering church, which I found almost by accident one year, when I had some spare time and wandered into the church for a look round. This, in turn, led to a fascination with the churches of the Yorkshire Wolds, and some very enjoyable trips out with my camera photographing just a few of them.

February Books

Again, not too many books read, although I have caught up a bit - and bought some more to add to my list.

Fire and Ice (Liam Cunningham 1) Dana Stabenow

I enjoyed this more than the Kate Shugak book I read from the same author, as the main character interested me more. I may well read more in the series.
The only thing that jarred was what seemed like a forced attempt to get a reference to the title in, right at the end of the novel. Otherwise, it was a decent enough thriller, set in Alaska.

Fields of Wrath - Mark Wheaton

This was one of the January Kindle first selections and is labelled as the first in the Luis Chavez series, so presumably more to come. Our hero is a priest in the US. I have to say I was suspicious and wondered if I would enjoy the story, but my concerns were unfounded. This is a good read, so much so that it prompted a few early nights so I could curl up under the duvet with my Kindle. It's a thriller, as are most of the books I read. We are introduced to Father Chavez and gain some understanding of his background, but all that fits in with the main plot nicely. I will look out for other books by this author.

Little Sister - Giles O'Bryen

February's Kindle first choice. Wow, the violence depicted was pretty graphic. Made me wince more than once. That aside, the story was good, interesting, topical and I enjoyed it. I wondered at the start if it was going to be a bit patronising in tone, but I think that was scene-setting for international readers.
This, too, could be the first of a series of books about the lead character and I might well read others.

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