July Books

July has been a better month, partly because I have started listening to some audiobooks, which is something I can do whilst working - to a point.

Silent as the Grave

by Bill Kitson

Started 31 May

Finished 14 July

This book isn't so long, or tedious, that it took me six weeks to get through it; rather I haven't been in the mood for reading, for personal reasons.

This book is the first in a series called "The Eden House Mysteries" and I have more of them queued up. The author is a friend of a friend and on the strength of this book, the recommendation was quite appropriate. I found this book most enjoyable and a decent thriller.

Holy Island

by L J Ross

Started 18 July

Finished 20 July

Narration by Jonathan Keeble

I listened to this, rather than read it. The narration was fine and overall the book was ok. I found it a little clichéd, with rather stereotypical characters, so I'm not sure I will read any more in the series. Parts of the story seemed rather far-fetched, and, in that respect it wasn't the way I expected a story set on Lindisfarne to develop, so for that very reason it jarred a little with me.

Stillhouse Lake

by Rachel Caine

Started 17 July

Finished 22 July

This was June's Kindle first, so I'm playing catch-up. The story starts with quite a jolt. The main character's confusion and then shock/horror were conveyed rather well. Then the novel gives the reader a good glimpse into the world of the main character: always on the move, to avoid the repercussions of what her ex-husband did. The author conveys that claustrophobic existence well and then things ramp up. The reader is carried along on the journey. Yes, maybe there are some flaws in the book, but really it's a very good thriller which I enjoyed. I have pre-ordered the sequel.

Strange Tide

by Christopher Fowler

Started 18 July

Finished 27 July

Narration by Tim Goodman

Another audiobook and another in the Bryant and May series. Always good books, but I didn't feel this was one of the best. Others I would read again, but not this one. I enjoyed it though, and the narration was good.

Little Boy Found

by L K Fox

Started 25 July

Finished 30 July

This is a very different style of book from the Bryant and May series - yes L K Fox is a pseudonym used by Christopher Fowler for this book. It's good, although I'm not sure I liked the ending. That said, I'm not sure I was supposed to. The story is told by two different people. Well, really they are relating their own stories, which, as might be expected, cross over later in the novel. Actually, they cross over sooner, but that isn't apparent until much later on. It's an intriguing tale and I didn't catch on to a few things until perhaps later then I was meant to. It was a mystery carefully unwrapped by the author. A good read and I look forward to more in this style by one of my favourite authors.

Nothing Gold Can Stay

by Dana Stabenow

Started 27 July

Finished 31 July

Narrated by Marguerite Gavin

I generally enjoy Dana Stabenow's books set in Alaska and this was no exception. It is the third (of four) in the Liam Cunningham series. Another decent thriller which develops the main characters a little more. Stabenow's style is simple and engaging. These are as good to listen to as they are to read; the narrator differentiates between characters well and really brings the story to life.

New Pens

What else, other than books read, of which there were none in June. I'm on a go-slow at the moment, as life is a bit hectic. I have also signed up to Audible, so there may even be books listened to in future.

Amazon Prime day came, along with a very good price on a Waterman Carène in black and gold. With that nib. First impressions are that this pen is gorgeous. Is it £150-plus gorgeous; I don't know. It is certainly worth the £70 it was in the sale. It came with a medium nib, which is a little fat for me, but really this pen is crying out to make a statement. It looks glossy and sleek, then the cap comes off (it clicks in place with a nice, solid noise) and there is that inlaid nib. Just a little bit ostentatious. For someone whose main pen was a Parker 45 for many years, the open nibs seemed a bit "out there". As for this one, it's showy and gorgeous. It also writes beautifully. I can see myself pulling this out in a posh meeting (not that I go to many) and feeling just a teeny bit superior. Currently it has J Herbin Poussière de Lune in it; yesterday it had Kensington Blue. I'm unsure what will be its happy ink at the moment, possibly one I don't yet have. Maybe even one with sheen, to make the most of that juicy nib…

My other dilemma was the gold nib. Which hand? I don't mind switching writing hand with a steel nib, but I tend to stick to one hand only for a gold nib. The right won this pen; it seems to be slightly smoother when written with the right hand. It joins my Parker 45 there, whereas the left hand gets to use both my Pilot Capless pens.

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Of course, the day after finding this bargain, I came across the TWSBI Vac 700R for £16 less than I had seen it for in other places. I have a Vac Mini, which I like, but quite fancied the full-size one, even if only for the ink capacity. However, I didn't fancy it £75-worth, so held off. This, too, has Poussière de Lune in it - I had it to hand. Again I'm not sure it will stay inked with this, although it probably will. (It will for a while, thanks to a large capacity and extra-fine nib). I have to say, along with, I suspect, a lot of other people, I find the matte clip somewhat incongruous and irritating. That said, when I'm using the pen it doesn't matter, as the cap is on the desk. Otherwise, the pen is most useable. The nib is pretty smooth, unlike some I have tried. I hope this will be a decent workhorse. No doubt time will tell.

May Books

Another fairly poor effort by me in May. I'm struggling with insomnia and am to have lost my reading mojo again; apparently I'd rather lie around and fret than lose myself in a good book.

Vicious Circle by CJ Box

Started 24 April

Finished 7 May

As ever, a good read, about familiar characters. This latest Joe Pickett novel picked up on a thread from earlier novels, but if you haven't read the earlier books, that doesn't matter. I always enjoy CJ Box's books, particularly ones set in the wide open spaces and mountains of the US. I find the depiction of that environment soothing.

Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty

Started 8 May 2017

Finished 30 May 2017

I enjoyed the majority of this book. It was an entertaining tale of families in a nice area of Australia. It was clear that the narrative was leading up to an event, as there were interjections from characters from after the event. Equally it was clear that a death was involved. I didn't guess who and I didn't guess why. Unfortunately, once the book reached that point, it then seemed to end quickly, in contrast to the slower build-up. It left me feeling like "oh, it's over then". All resolved a bit too quickly and neatly.

The value of content

Last week I finally got round to making a donation to a podcast that I enjoy and listen to regularly, "No Agenda". Yes, it's controversial and yes, I don't always agree with what is discussed on the show and it is rather US-centric, but it does make me think about the spin that is put on any news disseminated nowadays. The podcast has no sponsors; it is funded by listeners, so is able to maintain a level of independence. I decided this was worth some of my money, so I donated. I was very fortunate to be the only person donating at a certain level, so got an executive producer credit. At some point I will donate again, as long as I keep listening to the show.

Many people have written on the subject of getting things for free, particularly on the Internet, so, unfortunately, here is more of the same. Nothing new, just my thoughts on the matter - and how my view has changed in recent years.

Like a lot of people, I used to think it was absolutely fine to have information and/or entertainment available for free on the internet. I grew up before the internet was even a thing, so I have seen it grow from an entertaining diversion, to the all-pervasive behemoth it is today. I think there was a time, somewhere along the way, where information was available as a public service, intended to help and inform. That is, largely, no longer the case. I have also matured and become disillusioned with a lot of things in the world. One of these is the lack of truthfulness (I don't go so far as to say it's a lack of basic honesty). Questions asked of politicians are evaded, with no straight answers given. People are generally lied to by their elected representatives, yet nobody seems to hold them to account. Gradually I have become more aware of the amount of manipulation that we are being subjected to all the time; in politics and in our daily lives. I sometimes wonder if any truth is written/spoken by the media nowadays. Certainly the news programmes in the UK do far more than present the facts. There is always someone who explains the story, or pontificates on the impact, or what might happen as a result. Me, I generally just want the facts on the news; if I want to hear dissection and discussion, I will tune in to one of the magazine programmes.

I digress, though, as the main reason for starting this post was to put down in writing some of my feelings about being manipulated and "owned" by big corporations. As I get involved in more social media I become aware of the amount of data that is collected and used. For example, I understood that Facebook would collect data about what I liked, who I followed what I posted. It took a while for me to realise that it tracked what I did outside the app. Adverts appear on Facebook related to things I have browsed for in Safari. That unnerved me more than a little and I don't like it at all, but I still have my Facebook account, because it's a convenient way to keep in touch with people. However, I don't post a great deal. I joined Twitter before Facebook and enjoyed it, which I still do. I use a third party app, which makes the experience a little better, but it is still a shouty place, which exists to serve up ads (that I don't see).

As a result of all this, I mostly interact on 10centuries.org, which is a platform run by one man (and his dog). He hosts my blogs, runs a social media element and is developing more facets to the service. I pay for this (not a lot) and because I pay, I am the client. People have said: "if you aren't paying for the product, you are the product" and this is so very true. Over the last few years I have all but abandoned my Wordpress blog, along with some other free services. I'll admit to using Instagram, though, as I enjoy it. I have moved to paid services for rss feeds (Newsblur) and for saving links (Pinboard). I have also been looking into the Indieweb more and more recently, although I don't really understand it. The way I see it, the only way I can really own my data is by self-hosting, which is something I don't have the time or skills to do. For now, I will be content with paying for hosting, both on 10C and, more recently, micro.blog. This is clearly a journey I am on, with the learning that accompanies it. To that end, I am grateful for all the advice and assistance I receive from people far more experienced in the web than I.

April Books

The Last Paradise by Antonio Guarrido

Started 22 March

Finished 9 April

I downloaded this book as my March Kindle First choice. I didn't really expect to enjoy this, to be honest this; a novel set between depression-era America and the Soviet Union. Consequently I was very pleasantly surprised, as I thoroughly enjoyed it. In fairness, it wasn't a fun book, as it was quite stark and brutal, but it was an epic-feeling story.

I hadn't known that many Americans fled the US in the Depression era, in search of a worker's paradise in the USSR. I also have no idea how accurate the tale is, but, for me, it painted a vivid picture of the hopes of the immigrants, the brutality of the Soviet regime and how these hopes soon faded. In addition it had plenty of plot twists, so all in all, a book I would recommend.

Beneath a Scarlet Sky by Mark Sullivan

Started 9 April

Finished 23 April

This book is based on a true story. It tells the tale of a young Italian, Pino Lella, during the second world war; from escaping the Nazis in Milan, through helping Jews to reach Switzerland by guiding them through the mountains, ending up enlisting at the age of 18, and becoming the driver of a senior officer in the German army, during which time he spied for the Allies. A truly fascinating story and well written. This, too, is a period in history I didn't know much about. Plenty of books are written about Germany, France, the UK and other countries during the war, but I haven't come across much about Italy.

What was particularly nice was the author's notes at the end, in which he describes how he came to tell the tale, along with updates on the fates of the main characters during the remainder of their lives. Another book I thoroughly enjoyed and also felt that I learned from.

March Books

Only two completed books in March. Yet again, life got in the way. Despite having a week off work, I didn't get much reading done; most of my time was taken up ferrying my father to his radiotherapy appointments. I listened to plenty of music, though and maybe some of my sleepless nights would have been better spent reading, but if the mind doesn't want to escape into a novel, it won't go.

In Farleigh Field by Rhys Bowen

Started 21 February
Finished 12 March

February's Kindle First. I enjoyed this novel. It is set during WW2 & I have to say it probably wasn't what I expected. Firstly, I assumed the author was male, which turns out not to be the case. Secondly, probably as a result of the first, I assumed that the story would be more of a mystery novel. It contains a mystery, sure, but it reads more like a romance novel. That's not necessarily a bad thing, just a bit of a surprise.

Once I got used to the story, I found it easy to read. It was just about plausible, if somewhat almost quaint at times. I doubt I'd seek out other books by this author - a bit light for my taste.

Mystery Man by John Dickinson

Started 12 March
Finished 21 March

I didn't know what to expect with this book, as the title implies. I felt as confused as the main character for some time . I thought "ah-ha", the writer breaking the fourth wall, as it were, and interjecting his commentary on events. Or was it?

The novel centres around a man named Bentley, who ends up in Yorkshire, with no memory. The story is set in the Whitby area; a place no stranger to being a setting for gothic tales. That could be a clue in itself, although less so for me, as the author is a friend - my former primary school teacher, who was a very positive influence on me when I was young. To that end, the story is set fairly local to where I grew up, so I didn't make the association with the gothic as readily as someone else might. And no, the main character isn't a vampire.

Bentley receives kindness from the locals, falls in love and tries to find out who he is and about his past. Gradually his story unfolds and becomes quite shocking and slightly far-fetched, but intriguing enough to continue. Towards the end things take a very different turn and once again I was surprised, in a good way. Certainly an entertaining read and it kept me guessing.

February Books

The Three Body Problem by Cixin Liu

Started 20 January
Finished 20 February

Only one book completed this month, which would be pretty dire, except that this is quite a long read. It also took me a while to settle in to the story. Not being Chinese, the whole setting was, well, "different". I did spend a while wondering how the story was going to develop into a science fiction novel, but it did and it is well worth persevering. This is the first in a trilogy and I look forward to reading the other two books, although I shall take a break between them, I think. I have long been a fan of epic space novel series, so this should be right up my street. Having said that, it is at times pretty bleak and I believe the last book might be even more so.

At the time of writing, I am still on February's Kindle First book, with March's unopened. In addition, a friend introduced me to the works of another author, so I have a queue of his books, plus I discovered my friend had written some books, so one of those is now in the queue (the others are for children).

I really need to escape into the world of the written word more. Life is a bit tense at the moment and when I feel like this I tend to stop reading, which is probably the opposite of what I should do.

Middle-aged rebel

Today I did something that, when I was younger, I swore I would never do; I got a tattoo. Go me!

It's a very simple one - a yin-yang symbol, on the inside of my right wrist, in a place that can be hidden by a long-sleeved top. For work, you see.

I have been thinking about this for some time now, and then I had a dream, in which I had this tattoo, so I realised the dream. I do have a leaning towards the philosophy of the Tao Te Ching, so having a permanent symbol I could look at easily made sense to me. I can now glance at my wrist and be reminded of the importance of balance in my life - an opportunity for a brief re-focus or a moment of meditation

The tattoo of this symbol is also, well, mostly, in remembrance of my Mum, who passed away 2 years, 5 months and 13 days ago (yes, I'm still counting). Those who know me, and who knew my Mum, would say: surely a Welsh/Celtic symbol of a some kind would be the thing to go with? Well, yes, however this tattoo reminds me of a holiday we had in Brussels, some 16 years ago now. We were wandering around and found ourselves outside what must have been a fairly upmarket jewellers. In a prominent place in their window was a yin-yang, made of the most stunning glass. One side was obsidian black, with a clear dot and the other was the reverse. Both the clear and black glass were very nearly perfect. The thing must have been 4" tall and around 8-10" diameter. We stared at that piece for ages; we were speechless in the face of its beauty. It was a shared moment, too, both delighting in the same thing. Now, a treasured memory,

The Guardian

I have today taken out membership of The Guardian. I know, I'm not their normal demographic, being politically a little more to the right, usually. That said, "the right" as it is today doesn't represent my political views, either. Far from it. So, here I am, pretty much unrepresented by any political party in the UK.

Aside from all that, I have been making conscious decisions to support things that I think are worth it,as I am fortunate to be in a position where I can. I pay for the hosting of this blog which is an absolute bargain, as it includes multiple blogs, a social media feed, to-do lists and, at some point, a notes facility. All this from an independent provider. I have changed my RSS provider to Newsblur, a paid service, but one which does exactly what I want, at a reasonable price. This week I added Pinboard to my suite of subscriptions. I support a podcast network that I listen to a lot and I also support a blog I particularly enjoy. I hope to support another one, too, just waiting for an annual subscription rather than a monthly one. Currency conversion charges, what can I say...

To sum up, all this made me decide that I needed to support The Guardian. In a time when everything is owned by someone who wants to put their spin on things, playing to the fears and prejudices of one group or the other, I think I owe it to them to pay for what I read.

Plus, crosswords! Back in the day when I didn't have more work than I could possibly get through, a colleague and I used to do the Guardian crossword every day.

January Books

Lexicon by Max Barry

Started 27 December
Finished 3 January

I enjoyed this more than I expected to. I started reading it a year or so ago, but gave up fairly quickly, as it plunged me into a world too unfamiliar and confusing. On the second attempt, however, I stuck with it and found it was worth the effort. It begins as rather a dystopian sci-fi novel, but evolves into more of a thriller/action novel, where the sci-fi elements seem to take second place behind the action. That or I grew accustomed to things.

The main premise is the power of words to persuade, beyond what we currently understand. The novel follows the story of two characters, one who is selected to train in the art of "persuasion" and one who, we learn, appears to be immune to these powers. The two stories come together as the book progresses. This didn't seem to me to be at all contrived and the storytelling was nicely paced, keeping me interested throughout.

The Winter Over by Matthew Iden

Started 4 January
Finished 11 January

Ok, actually I finished this around 3am on 12 January, during one of my less successful slumber periods. When this came up on January's Kindle First list it was an easy decision for me; it is set in Antarctica, somewhere which fascinates me, as I'm sure it does many people.

A group of scientists and staff are about to see colleagues depart, leaving them there during the long months of perpetual darkness - the winter over period of the title. The base is newly-run by a private company. A body is found in the snow and things start to go wrong. It seems that some of the staff are possibly not as mentally stable as they ought to be to endure the dark months. As time passes it becomes clear that this was no accident…

I enjoyed this book, although I felt it rushed to the end slightly; a little more suspense would have been nice. Overall, it's a good read and more than a little thought-provoking.

Containment by Christian Cantrell

Started 12 January
Finished 19 January

I wasn't sure quite what to expect with this book. I've had it for a while and never started it. On the whole, I enjoyed it. It's a good old-fashioned life in space tale, but with a twist. I grew up reading Asimov, Heinlein and the like, so this is my preferred type of science fiction. This novel centres around a group of human settlers on Venus, but all is not what it seems. As I read, I was looking forward to the end of the book, with, presumably, the final reveal. Unfortunately it just stopped. Yes, other characters were going to discover the truth - I assume. I was aware this is supposed to be the first book in a series so I read up about the second book and apparently that doesn't continue the story at all. I found myself with too many outstanding "why" and "what next" questions to be satisfied with this book. I enjoyed reading it very much, but I think the ending let it down, almost like the cliff-hanger end of a tv episode, only to find the next is about completely different characters. I may keep an eye on reviews, to see if the third book ties things together. As it stands, I doubt I'll get book two.

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