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I have said elsewhere how much I enjoy the Mary Russell series of books by Laurie R King so will not repeat myself unnecessarily here; pleased to say that Pirate King is no exception to that rule and was a lovely fun read after a run of dark and creepy novels.

This is the eleventh in the series and although it does refer back to previous adventures it does so in a non-spoilerish way so would be a good place to start if you have never read a Mary Russell novel before. It is certainly much more light-hearted in many ways than the others and gives a good insight into Mary’s character and her relationship to her famous husband Sherlock Holmes.

So, bit of plot. Mary is persuaded by the imminent arrival of her brother-in-law Mycroft (with whom she’s had a bit of a falling out) to take on the role of assistant to a film crew to investigate the disappearance of her predecessor (was it foul play or had she just had enough) and the distinct air of criminality which follows each of the company’s productions (gun running, drugs etc.) This leads to a trip to Lisbon and then Morocco in what turns out to be a bit of a romp (and that’s a word I normally avoid though it seems appropriate here).

This is huge fun. There are pirates and ingenues and megalomaniacal film directors and chaperones and secret agents and disguises and all manner of derring do set against the backdrop of a silent film production, in this case a film about the making of a film about The Pirates of Penzance. I love stories about early movie making (Bride of the Rat God (sadly out of print it seems) and Hollywood being two that spring to mind, though very different of course) and the technical problems and practicalities of making a movie in the 1920s really spring to life here without being heavy-handed, which has always been one of this author’s strengths for me.

And as much as I love Mary on her own it’s always better when Holmes himself gets involved; the dynamics of their relationship are one of the joys of the series, so I was very pleased whenever he turned up.

A very enjoyable read all round, and I can’t wait for the next one.

I considered listing this as an RIP read because there is mystery and peril galore but it was just too light-hearted to sit alongside my reading this for that challenge.

There are twenty stories in Lovecraft Unbound, which I’ve chosen as my read for RIP VI’s Peril of the Short Story, and I’m doing them in batches of five. Here are my thoughts on the first tranche:

  • The Crevasse – a classic Lovecraft creepy, claustrophobic tale of unnamed things in the Antarctic – really liked this one;
  • The Office of Doom – what do you think might be the consequences if you got a copy of the Necronomicon through an ILL? – a gross oversimplification of a great story
  • Sincerely Petrified – can a made-up legend take on a life of its own? – interesting premise let down  by really very unsympathetic characters
  • The Din of Celestial Birds – don’t go into the hovel, no seriously, don’t – doh, too late – couldn’t really get into this one at all
  • The Tenderness of Jackals – dark urban fantasy, but didn’t feel that Lovecraftian to me….

So a mixed bunch as you might expect, will be interesting to see what the next five are like!

I really have to get better at making a note of where I find out about the books that I read, because I am pretty sure that I picked The Possessions of Doctor Forrest up because it was mentioned in someone else’s blog – possibly to do with the Edinburgh book festival? Sadly I am too lazy to go and look so we shall just have to leave this as one of those little mysteries that life throws at us and I must remember to have my notebook near me when blog reading.

I do remember that wherever I found it about it my interest was captured by the description of this as a Gothic novel; in fact, the quote from David Peace on the front cover states quite categorically that this book

drags the gothic novel kicking and screaming into this new century

So I don’t think it’s giving too much away to say that this novel owes a lot to stories such as Jekyll & Hyde and Faust, but brings quite a bit of its own style to the genre. And I’m right about what I’ve said about not giving too much away because oh look, there on the back cover blurb it talks about disappearances, diabolical bargains and transformations.

There are three medical men of Scottish background by birth or upbringing who have been friends since school. Hartford s a psychiatrist, Lochran a paediatric surgeon and Forrest, a cosmetic surgeon. They are all more or less discontented with their lot despite being on the surface wealthy and successful in their chosen fields. But Forrest is the most discontented of all, and when he disappears he sets off a chain of bizarre, puzzling and unpleasant events.

I have been  mulling my feelings about this novel over for a good couple of weeks since I finished reading it. I liked the structure of the book which has the story told through the diaries of Hartford and Lochran; we see the events unfolding from their individual viewpoints and are party to what they do not share with each other. Their two separate accounts are interspersed with the odd contribution from a few minor characters, giving us more of an idea of what’s going on than they could possibly have themselves.

And then of course we have the “confession” of Forrest himself.

I can’t say that I loved this book; I enjoyed the puzzle, I wanted to know what happened at the end, I enjoyed much of the writing but I didn’t feel involved. This is almost entirely because I didn’t much like any of the characters; even when awful things were happening to and around them I felt very detached, not really caring about them, just wanting to know what the secret was.

So, interesting and well written but rather cold for a book which deals with strong passions. Glad I gave it a go, not sure that I would read it again. But a good fit for RIP VI, for which this was my second read.

Well, my plan to catch up on my reading during a week of travel failed miserably. The journeys out from London inevitably required working on the train, on the journeys back I was actually too tired to concentrate and on my one overnight stay I decided to catch up on blog reading. So I dragged my copy of Pirate King all the way around England to no good purpose.

However, things have been very different this weekend. I don’t know about you but I find travelling really, really tiring, so I resolved on Saturday to do as little as possible. That allowed me to curl up late afternoon and to read Pirate King to its conclusion. And very enjoyable it was too, exactly what I needed at the end of the week. I have also just this morning completed one of the best ghost stories I have read this year, The Dead of Winter. Both of these will be reviewed shortly.

Only one new book purchase this week but it looks like a real winner:

  • Mister Creecher by Chris Priestley: can’t do better than the blurb “1818. London. Billy is a street urchin, pickpocket and petty thief. Mr Creecher is a monstrous giant of a man who terrifies all he meets. Their relationship begins as pure convenience. But a bond swiftly develops between these two misfits as their bloody journey takes them ever northwards on the trail of their target….. Victor Frankenstein.” Wonderful stuff

I feel on a bit of a roll at the moment and it’s a much more sensible working week coming up so let’s hope I can keep the reading thing going.

A very quiet reading week, not finished anything and to be honest not really had the time to read – very busy at work and slumping when I get home. I made a bit of progress with Pirate King and have started reading Lovecraft Unbound short stories so not a complete wash out, but hoping my week of travels which starts tomorrow will give me some time to catch up.

Having said all theat, the following new books made their way into the house:

I have a couple of posts to write and the interview with Hilary Mantel from The Culture Show on Saturday night to watch and if I achieve all of those I can feel suitably bookish.

DumaKeyStephenKing49027_fI may have said this more than once before but it is a statement that bears repeating: I really, really love Stephen King. Ever since I picked up a paper back of Carrie when I was (I think) 14 I have been hooked, and although there may be big gaps between reading his stuff I almost always buy his new thing as soon as it comes out. His work is so deceptively easy to read that I find it really comforting and turn to it in times of illness and stress, which may seem weird given the subject matter but I’m not going to try to explain the unexplainable.

And this year has been a bit of a King year; when I had a really horrible not-quite-flu-but-might-as-well-have-been cold, I consoled myself with Full Dark, No Stars and Just After Sunset, and last weekend when I needed a real break from all the stuff that was going on around me I picked up Duma Key and promptly fell in love. Spent Sunday afternoon finishing it when I really should have been doing other stuff but felt no regrets; this may possibly be one of my favourites.

And its odd really that I became so attached to the protagonist, Edgar Freemantle, because he’s lots of things I’m not: male (obviously), successful in business, a parent, but still I came to be very fond of him as he struggled with his recovery from the terrible accident that kick starts this novel. He loses an arm, his wife, his old life and possibly his sanity (for a bit at least). But he gains a new home in what sounds like a beautiful part of the world, makes some new friends who will become very dear to him and rediscovers a talent for painting.

Though of course that’s where the trouble starts.

His art is a means for something to fight its way through, something of great power that has been dormant for a while. And it becomes clear that Edgar and his new friends may have been called to the island, either because of a long-standing connection (the wonderful old lady Elizabeth Eastlake) or events that have made them vulnerable and sensitive (Wireman and Edgar himself).

And there are shocks aplenty as the awfulness is identified and confronted, and the people around Edgar pay a heavy price as always happens before there is a resolution and Edgar finds peace of sorts.

It was a lovely creepy book with remarkable characters, a believable father-daughter relationship and a cracking good story. Very, very enjoyable.

And my first read for the RIP VI challenge. A successful start.

So, a couple of books read this week, bit for the RIP challenge being hosted by Carl, the second one only finished this morning so still mulling it over in my mind. But the review of Duma Key will be up in the next day or so.

Only one new book bought this week, Pirate King, the new Laurie R King Mary Russell novel which I am going to read next, but probably won’t class as an RIP book – I focus very much on horror, ghosts and supernatural mysteries rather than straight crime which this is, I think; usually pick those up in my August is Crime Month personal challenge (though I didn’t  do that this year).

I’ve had a really good exchange of book ideas with my good friend Silvery Dude, and the Book God has also suggested a couple of things I might take to read on holiday with me but more on that in a future post. My achievement has been to get both men to read and enjoy Christopher Fowler’s Bryant & May series which I love.

Quite a bit of travelling within the UK coming up over the next two weeks and being trapped on a train is a good incentive to get some reading done, so watch this space.

I’m a little bit behind in reading the Simon Serailler crime series by Susan Hill; The Shadows in the Street came out last year and a new one is due shortly (in October I think). Probably just a by-product of my reading slump this year as my normal August is Crime Month personal challenge didn’t really happen and this would definitely have been swept up in that.

This was a bit of a slow start for me; a lot of time was spent setting up the characters and context for the crimes that were to follow which although not putting me off did make me slightly impatient and there was certainly not enough of the boy Simon in the first couple of chapters though luckily I like his sister and step-mother who made up for his absence.

So, the story is once again set in Lafferton though this time we see more of the underbelly of the town if I can put it like that; a number of the characters (and indeed three of the victims) are young women who have turned to prostitution either because of drugs or simply no other way to make ends meet. There is a thread of poverty and unemployment and hopelessness that runs through the story which is an interesting contrast to the lives of many of the characters in this series, who if not wealthy are comfortably middle class, and there is a certain amount of looking the other way which is of course not sustainable once the murders begin. The novel also delves into what it is like to be considered a suspect and the impact that can have on your life which was rather sad.

I mentioned in a post here that I found one of the characters to be dreadfully unsympathetic and hoped she would get her comeuppance; of course we learn more about her during the course of the novel and I was a bit harsh (and felt slightly guilty as well) and it just goes to show that I shouldn’t jump to conclusions.

This is a well written police procedural; I wouldn’t say that the story was compelling but I wanted to know what would happen and although (without wanting to give anything away) I was mildly annoyed at one of the plot points towards the end which I thought was a bit too convenient, I didn’t work out who the murderer was and that’s always a good thing in this type of non-puzzle crime novel. But I do think this is one of those series that you really need to read in chronological order because of the Serailler family back story which is so important. And I’ve already pre-ordered the next one.

It has been an interesting reading week, though I only actually finished one book, The Shadows in the Streets by Susan Hill which I’ll review properly in the next couple of days.

I bought the following new books:

  • The Keep by Jennifer Egan – because I loved A Visit from the Goon Squad and wanted to read more of her stuff, and this has a mysterious castle, a sinister baroness, a tragic accident and so on
  • A Spell of Winter by Helen Dunmore – because someone whom I can’t remember blogged about it and said it was good; pre-WWI, dark secrets etc
  • A Stranger in Mayfair by Charles Finch – because I have read and enjoyed the first three and enjoy a good mid-Victorian tale

I’ve signed up for the RIP VI challenge and selected quite a good range of books and committed to the short story and movie perils as well as the main reading challenge. The details are here, and I am already well into my first read, Stephen King’s Duma Key. Now this is turning out to be a real page-turner; I only started it on Saturday morning and am already well over 400 pages into it and likely to finish it today assuming I get my chores and other stuff out of the way. Enjoying it thoroughly, really creepy.

I’m also thinking about signing up for Fall into Reading 2011, but want to give some more consideration to the goals for that challenge before I commit myself. All looking good on the reading front at the moment!

It’s that wonderful time of the year when Carl hosts his RIP challenge and I am determined this year not only to take part but to actually finish the challenge and I have selected an interesting (well I think so) bunch of books from the stacks to help me do so.

I’m actually going to take part in three of the challenges – books, short stories and films, between 1 September and 31 October. Exciting stuff.

So, when it comes to books I’m going to take part in Peril the First and will be reading four books (at least) from the following list. I’ve already started the Stephen King and am already enjoying it in that “why haven’t I read this already” way that I always get when I pick up a King book that’s been sitting on the tbr pile. Anyhow the list goes something like this:

  • The Fall by Guillermo del Toro and Chuck Hogan – a recent purchase, mentioned here;
  • The Possessions of Doctor Forrest by Richard T Kelly – another recent buy, mentioned here;
  • The Small Hand by Susan Hill – a ghost story
  • Dark Harvest by Norman Partridge – winner of the Bram Stoker award and a fantastic cover (fiery pumpkin-headed things can’t be missed) (I think Susan may also be reading this one);
  • Harbour by John Ajvide Lindqvist – had this for ages and Silvery Dude tells me it’s excellent
  • The Dead of Winter by Chris Priestley – a boy, a mysterious guardian and a haunted house with a terrible secret;
  • The Rapture by Liz Jensen – “electrifying psychological thriller” apparently
  • Duma Key by Stephen King – as mentioned above

Not a bad list, I think

For the short story challenge I’m going to concentrate on Lovecraft Unbound; edited by the wonderful Ellen Datlow this is exactly what it says on the tin, a collection of short stories inspired by the works of one of my all-time favourites HP Lovecraft. A lot of the authors are unknown to me, which is no bad thing, but it does include stories by Michael Chabon and Joyce Carol Oates.

And finally a movie challenge. I am going to watch as many of the following as I can (given that I’m actually going to be in Germany for a chunk of October but we’ll see what can be done:

Right, well that lot should keep me busy. What’s on your list??

Bride of the Book God

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Scottish, in my fifties, love books but not always able to find the time to read them as much as I would like. I’m based in London and happily married to the Book God.

I also blog at Bride of the Screen God (all about movies and TV) and The Dowager Bride, if you are interested in ramblings about stuff of little consequence

If you would like to get in touch you can contact me at brideofthebookgod (at) btinternet (dot) com.

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September 2011