Change of Focus

When I started this blog, I envisaged writing about books as well as gardens (and anything else I found interesting).

Gardening, nature and photography have given me plenty to write about though, and comments on books have been somewhat sidelined. So, I’m going to use my other blog katkarradz.wordpress.com ,  which is still in its infancy, for comments about books and reading, as well as (I hope) some of my own writing. Gardening books will be an exception; they belong on these pages.

See you there!

Read or Save?

If we were having coffee, I’d tell you that I’ve finished ‘Love Story, with Murders’, the DC Fiona Griffiths crime novel I mentioned in my last coffee share post. You might tell me that it took a long time, and I’d reply that there were reasons for that, but they were nothing to do with the book itself. I like the unusual character that Harry Bingham has created in Fiona, as I now feel I can call her, this being the second in the series. And precisely because it is the second in the series, I can’t reveal too much about her, for fear of spoilers if you haven’t read the first. Suffice it to say, then, that she has an intriguing, if not bizarre, personality and background, as well as a somewhat unusual set of friends. Oh, and her investigative methods are unorthodox, to say the least.

As the title of the first novel, ‘Talking to the Dead’, suggests, the deceased feature significantly, but perhaps not in quite the way you’d expect. ‘Love Story, with Murders’ kicks off with a gruesome discovery in a freezer; the icy theme continues as South Wales is gripped by freezing weather. That’s significant too. If you yearn every Christmas for deep, white, fluffy snow, one incident will probably change your mind about it for ever. Tense moments mingle with some mildly unsettling ones; there’s menace, but humour too. And the question of where Fiona came from is always, troublingly, there in the background.

So far, I’m really enjoying this series and will definitely be reading the next one; ‘The Strange Death of Fiona Griffiths’. But wait… there is only one more to go after that (and one more coming soon, I believe). So the question is: read or save? What would you advise me to do?

 

 

Too late for the coffee share?

Well, we’re not having coffee, unfortunately, because I couldn’t get myself organised in time.

However, I did want to record a couple of things this week, mainly to follow up on some of my recent posts.

The first piece of news, if you like, is that I’ve finished ‘Night After Night’, the third Phil Rickman novel in the series I’ve been immersed in (and I do hope not the last). This time, the spotlight falls on Grayle Underhill and Cindy Mars-Lewis; the setting is a particularly unpleasant building called Knap Hall. I love the way the author builds up tension and creates an unsettling atmosphere.

In case anyone is wondering, I’ve used a one of my own photos of a gargoyle to illustrate this post, in honour (if that’s the right word) of the Winchcombe Grotesques – enough to frighten any reader!

Gargoyle

Still in a somewhat sombre vein, I’m now reading ‘Love Story, With Murders’, by Harry Bingham. More on this at a later date, possibly…

***

Just a note to confirm, more to myself than anything, that I have been wearing my Fitbit and making more of an effort to exercise. So far, so good. A slight blip though… one evening, after I’d made a special effort to go for a walk after work, it wouldn’t give me a reading. Turned out it needed a reset. which it promptly received. It then informed me I’d taken eight steps all day!

I’ve forgiven it, though, and the battle for fitness continues…

Can’t Stop Reading…

Last autumn, a midweek television series caught my attention. ‘Midwinter of the Spirit’, it was called, and a creepy affair it was: an excellent choice for a dull evening with nothing much on the horizon but getting up for work the next morning. I read a couple of reviews, hoped there might be another series in the offing, and somewhere in my mind, without even being consciously aware of it, filed the name Phil Rickman away. He’s the author of the Merrily Watkins Mysteries, from which ‘Midwinter’ was adapted.

Nothing for a while… although I did buy two of Phil Rickman’s novels (from another series). Then forgot about them.

Less than two weeks ago, recovering from a flu virus, I needed something exciting to read, and remembered my Kindle purchases. Perfect! ‘The Cold Calling’ hooked me in immediately, with its chilling and relentless Green Man murders and assorted slightly-odd characters. Odd? Well, that’s how I interpreted ‘Holy’ Grayle Underhill, a New Age journalist from New York; Bobby Maiden, a policeman who doesn’t quite fit the usual pattern; Marcus Bacton, irritable ex-schoolteacher and proprietor of ‘The Phenomenologist’ magazine; Sister Andy, a formidable Glaswegian nurse. Oh, and best of all, Cindy Mars-Lewis, a creation so wonderful I’m not prepared to reveal anything about him at this stage. (Or perhaps I just did.) The novel is mostly set around the border between Hereford and Wales – a part of the world I absolutely love – with a prehistoric monument as a powerful focal point. Phil Rickman manages to combine crime, psychic phenomena, unlikely relationships, excitement, menace – and even humour- with some genuinely unsettling moments. Yes, it’s a cliche but I couldn’t stop reading!

The beauty of Kindle, of course, is that it’s easy to move seamlessly from one novel in a series straight into the next. ‘Mean Spirit’, therefore, followed without further ado. The same eccentric characters are involved, including the intriguing Cindy (you really have to meet him for yourself). A new character, Persephone Callard, leads us into the world of spiritualism and seances, and Cindy has a problem with a celebrity hypnotist. Also featured: ‘Britain’s only purpose-built haunted house’ and a disturbing undercurrent of crime. Again, there are some unsettling sequences. But I think what Phil Rickman does really well is pace, along with the occasional chiller sentence. Eventually, but all too soon, the plot elements slot into place without (for this reader at least) being too predictable.

So now I’ve only got one book left to read. ‘Night After Night’. (Someone please tell me if there are any more in this particular series that I don’t know about). Part of me doesn’t want to read it – I’d be lying if I said I hadn’t already devoured 25% of it – but I can’t stop myself. Am I in some kind of hypnotic trance?

All is not lost though: there are still, I believe, Merrily Watkins Mysteries to go at!

 

 

Eclectic? Or just chaotic?

I’ve started the long, painful process of decluttering my bookshelves.

Incidentally, it seems irreverent to describe this process as ‘decluttering’, when books mean so much. Culling? It has to be done though: I have thousands. Some of them are deteriorating and some just forgotten. I think I’ve mentioned before that books are like time capsules for me (or if I haven’t, I meant to). Sifting through stacks of dusty and mouldering tomes (well, my paperbacks, mainly) has unearthed many a memory and continues to do so. Future posts beckon.

For now, here are some of the books I’ve passed on to charity shops. These pictures have already appeared on Instagram (@kkarrad2). Parting with some of them has been a bit of a wrench; the particularly troublesome ones have been replaced on Kindle, which has certainly made the task easier.

Books, Books, Books…

I’ve collected and hoarded books for ages. Now I think it’s time to start tidying my bookshelves and giving some of them away to charity shops. Spread the words, you might say.

I’m starting with books I can replace cheaply on Kindle if I need to, or that I know I won’t read again. It’s difficult to get rid of any book, of course, and I think I’m going to find it helpful to record their leaving in some way. So… an occasional post on here and more frequent, shorter posts on a new Instagram account: kkarrad2.

Wish me luck!

When Adam delved…

Another old gardening book, ‘Adam the Gardener’, which I bought from a charity stall. It cost 3/- (three shillings) at the time and was published by the Daily Express.  The dress worn by the woman in the advert on the back cover would seem to date this copy to the 1950s, although I believe Adam was also around in the 1940s. But looking at his face, it could have been the 1840s!

Adam is rather a dour chap: in the three-to-a-page illustrations he looks stern and serious, with maybe the occasional suspicion of satisfaction at a good job well done. The book gives week-by-week, month-by-month instructions: all way beyond anything I could ever hope to achieve, but obviously all really practical and sensible advice. The monthly summaries make it clear what should be planted, harvested and pruned –  and when. I think I could make use of them as I stumble my way through the year…

This book has a wonderfully nostalgic feel; it reminds me of the way my dad and his older relatives used to approach gardening. Of course, when Adam the Gardener began, many people needed to grow their own vegetables because of rationing and its aftermath, and they had to be serious and organised about it.

So here’s some advice from Adam!

‘The Girl on the Train’ by Paula Hawkins

I love travelling by rail (despite the expense). Even on routes I use regularly, there’s always a new and unexpected sight: never humdrum, never dull. Trains have featured in some of my favourite films – think ‘Brief Encounter’ – and provided me with a strong network of memories. They’ve even inspired me to write poetry. Inevitably, given the title, a train journey is also the starting point for the best-selling novel ‘The Girl on the Train’.

I finished reading it last weekend – on a train journey, as it happens. It wasn’t exactly the Orient Express: the carriage was bursting with beery cricket fans. My escape route was the plot, which was more than interesting enough to keep me glued to the screen of my Kindle! So what’s it all about?

Rachel drinks too much. That much is clear from the start. Every day, she travels, by rail, past the house she used to live in before her divorce; now, though, her ex-husband lives there with his new partner and their baby daughter. Bad enough. But every day, she sees another couple. She is drawn into making up names for them and imagines what their lives must be like. Then she sees something that doesn’t seem quite right, and one of the characters goes missing … but Rachel’s heavy drinking means she is labelled as an ‘unreliable witness’.

The plot develops through the narrative of three women: Rachel, Megan and Anna. None of the main characters, men or women, could be described as likeable; they’re all flawed, all somehow lost, all hiding something. Rachel lurches around (often literally) in search of the truth. Her suburban commuter-world is recognisable to all of us, yet it is peopled with characters who have slipped between the cracks, lost to drink, drugs or loneliness. Marginal people, who don’t quite fit, like Rachel.  People who exist on the lonely edges of life, places like the long ribbons of waste land at the sides of railway tracks.

This could all make ‘The Girl on the Train’ sound somewhat depressing, and I suppose some aspects of it are a little bleak, but I found it hard to tear myself away at times, and found myself reading it far too late at night more than once! Rachel’s unwavering determination to find out the truth behind what she glimpsed from the train certainly kept my interest.

Dear Diary

You are the only one I can tell about this.  You see, I’ve done something very silly, and I don’t know what to do.

When I took the washing out of the machine this morning, a soggy wad of paper plopped on to the kitchen floor. Filled with an all too explicable mixture of curiosity and apprehension, I picked it up and peered at it, quite forgetting the basketful of tangled clothes which glowered at me, impatient to be hung out on the line. The sodden mass of paper appeared to consist of more than one sheet, folded over and packed tightly so that the whole structure resembled a miniature Swiss roll. However, this wasn’t what you might be thinking (a roll of banknotes). Oh, no. Indeed not. This was something far worse. This was an exam revision paper. And not just any revision paper. This was Physics! My son’s most difficult school subject, and the exams coming up in a few days. Calamity!

I had to act quickly, Diary. I remembered what the main character had done in a book I read recently. Sian, working on an archaeological dig in the atmospheric town of Whitby, with its brooding, haunted abbey and its hundred and ninety-nine steps. You see, she was given some terribly creepy papers in a glass bottle and had to unroll them with infinite care to reveal a (possibly) terribly creepy secret which had been locked in the bottle for ages. It helped that she was a qualified conservator of old papers and parchment and knew exactly what she was doing. Whereas I only had my panic-driven instincts.

Diary, I used something I can most accurately describe as intuitive autopilot. Gently, I peeled and separated the delicate layers: damp, dulled, greyish. Soon enough, I found myself able to make a judgement about the size and age of the paper.  A4, folded into an A5 booklet.  Photocopied approximately two weeks ago. Tiny black letters and numbers plotted together into questions and equations. Dotted lines for answers, like tiny black beads of Whitby jet. Which is where Sian was working on her papers.  (You know, Diary, the terribly creepy ones.) Spooky. And … no! A tear, a hole, a gap, as the stubborn pages stuck damply together, and I unwisely tried to pull them harder.  But it was too late to stop, Diary. And so the sorry process continued, until I was holding two rectangular doilies up to the light, hoping the Physics in them hadn’t slipped through the holes like potato water through a colander. Would my son notice? Would he still be able to do his revision? Should I own up?

I’m not ready to share the secret of what I did next, so no one will ever know.  Not even you, Diary. Though the truth will out, they say.
But you can find out what happened to Sian by reading ‘The Hundred and Ninety-Nine Steps’ by Michael Faber.

Early Motor-Cars

I don’t like cars.  Driving them, I’m a menace; discussing them leaves me cold. And as for how their engines, or how they work? Incomprehensible – and about as interesting as a party political broadcast (sorry Dave, Ed and Nick*). But this post is set to be a rule breaker.  It concerns A Book About Cars.

The first surprise about this work is its size: a veritable wallpaper sample book! Next, the cover (it probably lost its dust jacket years ago); it has broad Oxford-blue and off-white deckchair stripes – bold and confident. This book knows who it is and what it wants to deliver! Then there’s the gold lettering and the somewhat whimsical  drawings of vintage vehicles. The ‘motor-cars’ of the title evoke visions of a lost world, the kind of motoring enjoyed by Toad of Toad Hall (well, possibly not).

So far, so fifties. OK, so this copy’s cover is not the cleanest and the spine has split. But somebody has clearly loved this book: read it and re-read it. Inside, it’s obvious why. The illustrations. Not photographs of vintage cars –  we’ve all seen those before. (Apologies here to photographers and car enthusiasts). Elegant illustrations: subtle and oddly flat. Large enough to frame and hang on your wall, and I suspect that many of this book’s siblings have met that curious fate. These are cars without the noise, the fumes or the bone-shaking. Pressed like rare flowers between the oversized pages. I love them. I might even read the text to find out more about them, given time. And that’s saying something!

‘Early Motor-Cars’, by George A. Oliver

* Other political parties are available.

Bookshelf magic …

Added to the gardening bookshelf: ‘The Concise British Flora in Colour’ by W. Keble Martin. As a young child, I could only aspire to owning my own copy of this beautifully illustrated book. My mum borrowed it from the library to help me identify a flower I’d seen while on holiday in the Lake District. It provided me with the answer; I was hooked! So it was impossible to resist when I spotted that unmistakable white, green and pink cover in a bargain box outside a shop in Hay-on-Wye. I had to rescue it. For only £1, I turned a childhood dream into reality!

When originally published in 1965, ‘The Concise British Flora in Colour’ cost 35s. (Incidentally, the name stamped inside my 1965 copy tells me it was owned by a doctor from Powys, Wales). The book represents sixty years of work by the Reverend William Keble Martin, who was born in 1877 and studied Botany at Oxford. Later, he worked as a Curate or Vicar in various parishes in northern England, including Wath-upon-Dearne, where today there is a street named after him. After returning in 1918 from France, where he had been Chaplain to the Forces, he lived and worked in Devon, continuing his work on flowers. There’s a charming insight into his life at that time on the back flap of the dust jacket:

‘After a busy Sunday he would catch a late train, sometimes travelling as far afield as Scotland, and following his explorations some of the flowers he had found would often be drawn in the train on the return journey on Thursday.”

Heaven!

I love the illustrations: the way the plants appear to be growing round and overlapping each other, yet remaining clear and easily identifiable. Some of my favourites:

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In 1967, four postage stamps designed by W Keble Martin were issued by the Royal Mail.  As soon as I discovered this, it immediately brought to mind my chaotic, childish stamp album – not opened for many a year – and here they are!

A final thought

Writing this has brought back a powerful childhood memory.  Magical and lost … until now. It’s the reason this wonderful book is now propped up next to my screen as I’m writing.  A holiday in the Lakes.  A particular flower, a particular place, a particular time.  But probably another post…

Wolf Hall

I finished reading ‘Wolf Hall’ and ‘Bring Up the Bodies’ by Hilary Mantel in time for the final episode of the wonderful BBC adaptation. I’ll miss them. There are images in my mind now (from both books and television) that will take a long time to fade. As always, I’m glad I read the books first. I felt so involved in the world they created, but that takes nothing away from the excellence of the BBC version.

The third book is desperately needed!

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