Reading in the crime genre

Crime novels come in a variety of forms and the three below were read in the January holidays. I enjoyed each of them allow for quite different reasons.

To Love and Be Wise (Inspector Alan Grant, #4)

To Love and Be Wise by Josephine Tey
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This was an enjoyable read. It was the fourth in her series of books featuring the very interesting Inspector Grant. This time he is sent to a small English village, Salcott St Mary, to investigate the disappearance of a very attractive young man, Lesley Searle, who was an exceptional portrait photographer from America, famous for taking pictures of actors and actresses.
Although not a traditional mystery, it had a clever and engaging hook. The mystery itself runs almost second to the exploration of psychology and personality, identity and gender.
The characters in the story are explored as they relate to Leslie. He collects an increasing number of people who become drawn to him for varied reasons that range from wanting his approval or because they develop an irrational hatred for him. Whatever the reactions, all sense that there is something no quite “right” to him. So there is no shortage of people who may have wanted him to disappear.
The novel has some unforgettable characters, a wonderful setting and an intricate plot that leads a very satisfactory ending.

Daughter of the Razor: An Australian True Crime StoryDaughter of the Razor: An Australian True Crime Story by Maria Tinschert
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

At the start of the book Maria says that she is not a trained writer however the story she writes, and the depiction of the domestic violence and torture she suffered at the hands of her family, holds together as it goes back and forward, as it relates this very disturbing tale tackling a very dark aspect of society that unfortunately is still occurring today.
The important aspect to remember when reading this book, is that Maria talking in-depth about what still needs to be implemented to ensure justice for all victims of violence. Throughout the book she emphases that she a survivor rather than a victim and that being able to say ‘I am a survivor’ and believe it is an important step for anyone who wants to move forward.
This book is uncomfortable to read, is brutally honest and, ultimately, an inspiring story.

The Innocence of Father Brown (The Father Brown Stories)The Innocence of Father Brown by G.K. Chesterton
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I have always enjoyed the current tv series and it was interesting to have found the basis for some of the episodes in these stories.

View all my reviews


Two quick reads

A New York Christmas (Christmas Stories, #12)A New York Christmas by Anne Perry

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A change in setting and a slightly later date, early 20th-century New York City, than the usual “Pitt” novels, Anne Perry gives us a relatively new character, Jemima Pitt. The now grown daughter of Thomas and Charlotte, is an appealing and smart heroine, ripe for an adventure of her own.
She is accompanying a younger girl as her companion to the girl’s high society wedding. Both the families are wealthy and part of a business partnership. Delphinia (Phinnie) is marrying into one of the most powerful families in New York. In this story of betrayal, greed and power, Jemima finds herself enlisted in the search for Phinnie’s estranged and disgraced mother, Maria, in order to stop her from gate-crashing the wedding ceremony.
Unfortunately, the search results in Jemima finding much more than she bargained for and she subsequently has only a few short days to prove herself innocent of a cold-blooded murder. In this strange place, with only her wits and determination, some Christmas hope and the assistance of a young police officer, she races against time to establish her innocence, find the real culprit and prove what he has done.
Although the identity of the murderer is rather obvious to the reader, the motives and context keep the story interesting and moving along nicely. As always the story is well-paced and the background details provide a powerful sense of atmosphere and life in early 20th-century New York.

Three Detective AnecdotesThree Detective Anecdotes by Charles Dickens
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The stories are: The Pair of Gloves, The Artful Touch, The Sofa.
Inspector Wield relates the first two tales of interesting cases he was involved in. In The Pair of Gloves, the pair are possibly an important clue to the identity of a murderer.  In The Artful Touch, Wield expresses his admiration for Sergeant Witchem’s quick-thinking and actions during a theft, that lead to a successful conclusion for the police.  Finally, in The Sofa, Sergeant Dornton shares his case about someone is stealing from medical students.
I picked this book because I was intrigued to see how Dickens would have written these short stories. I enjoyed the first two stories better than the last. They were interesting to read and the conclusions not obvious. I was not so taken by the last story. It did not hold my interest the same way as the earlier two and the ending was less satisfying.
This edition also contains a biography “Charles Dickens” written by English writer Gilbert K. Chesterton in 1906. This is interesting and whilst not adding to the stories , offers some interesting insights into Dickens and his writing.

View all my reviews

Reading in 2015 and Clariel and Young James Bond

It is the start of the school year and there are many English classes coming in to find something to read. I have been reading quite a lot over my summer holidays and have tried to be disciplined enough to write something about all the YA books I read.  One of the books I finally got around to reading in January was Clariel by Garth Nix. I loved Sabriel when it first came out and enjoyed the other books in The Old Kingdom series. It was interesting to read a new book about The Old kingdom after so many years.

I have also challenged myself to read 100 books in the Goodreads 2015 Reading Challenge. The challenge  for me is not simply the reading but making sure I review/comment on each of the books as I finish them.

One review of the Clariel  is here and a longer one here. There is also a teacher’s review can be downloaded from Allen and Unwin.

Clariel (Abhorsen, #4)I greatly enjoyed this new fantasy and my Goodreads review of Clariel by Garth Nix

As it is billed as a prequel, this book provides a completely different view of the Old Kingdom from the previous three stories. The Abhorsen and the royal families are less vigilant and lazier than previous publications and there is a lot more political intrigue.
The main character, Clariel, is a part of the Abhorsen family. She is alone and isolated in her new home in Belisaere, the capital of the kingdom, and is frustrated and angry. Her parents have brought her to the city with the expectation that she will comply with their schemes for promotion and wealth. This behaviour is familiar to Clariel but she misses her home and the solitude of the Great Forest. The city is also a dangerous place that seethes with intrigues that seemingly involve almost everyone. The thwarting of her desires stir an anger that she has struggled to control in the past but now realises that it is part of her heritage. If it can be harnessed it is a very powerful weapon that might be used to her advantage. The appearance of a dangerous “Free Magic” entity is the catalyst for events escalating with catastrophic results. For all her growing power, Clariel finds herself more trapped than ever. She starts to question the motivations of not just everyone around her but also herself.
This fourth Old Kingdom novel is set 600 years prior to the birth of Sabriel, the first story. Although it is published as a prequel to the Old Kingdom series, Clariel an also be read as a standalone novel. Note: Clariel is a character has surfaced before and is known under another name in Lirael, as is another of the “free magic” creatures.
This is a satisfying story of a courageous and talented young woman who is surrounded by other equally colourful characters.

Another YA book I read this summer was number 6 in the Young Bond series. I have enjoyed all the previous stories written by Charlie Higson and was interested to see that Stephen Cole has written the latest.  We have quite a few books by Steve in our library and he has captured the “derring do” of the previous books in the series very well.

Shoot to Kill (Young Bond, #6)Shoot to Kill by Steve Cole
In the sixth book, young James has left Eton and is at a loose end waiting to begin the next phase of his education.

Action is never far away and before long James finds himself travelling from the England to Los Angeles, via a zeppelin. The intrigue begin straight away as James discovers that he has become caught up in a web of blackmail and murder. There are American gangsters, dastardly plots and friends in danger. It will be a good book for our younger student who like spy and action stories
View all my reviews

Time for reading

I have had time to sit and read in the last 2 days. I have really enjoyed just reading for fun and the books I have been reading have immersed me totally in their worlds. Of course I have to keep up with my YA reading but John Flanagan created a terrific story for his final book in the Ranger’s Apprentice series. The latest Felix Francis book was the best one by him yet and, as I lived in England for a while and have always had an interest in horses, it was another book I could connect with and enjoy in a number of ways.

I also have the latest Phyrne Fisher Murder and Mendelssohn (#20) on my kindle and I am currently almost 1/2 way through it. The ABC television series is enjoyable but the books are so much better. Then there will be more YA reading in the latest Young Sherlock Holmes book – #6 Knife Edge– by Andrew Lane, another series I have enjoyed, as well as finally reading Itch Rocks by Simon Mayo.

I have also started reviewing the books I finished on LibraryThing and GoodReads

The Royal Ranger (Ranger's Apprentice, #12)The Royal Ranger by John Flanagan

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

In book 12,”The Royal Ranger”, the saga turns full circle. This time it is Will who has to take on an apprentice. The book begins with Will suffering from an immense tragedy in his life and seeking revenge for his hurt. His friends are very worried for him and believe that the right apprentice just might help him recover his equanimity. John Flanagan does not disappoint in his final addition to this series. Will has become a master and has definitely learned enough to become a teacher himself but how will he take the suggestion? Will agrees however but taking on an apprentice is not easy and there are many challenges both Will and his apprentice must meet.
There were many small things in the story that harked back to the first book in the series when Will was an apprentice to Halt and it is a fitting way to farewell all the characters that readers have come to know and love through the RA stories.
The book is filled with action, humour and tragedy and there was plenty of natural dialogue throughout the story and some of reactions of the characters made me laugh.
Series website:
There is also enough in the book to sow the seeds of ideas for a new spinoff series to the Ranger’s Apprentice books. Could this happen?

Dick Francis's RefusalDick Francis’s Refusal by Felix Francis

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Felix Francis wrote 4 books with his father and “Refusal” is the fourth he has written as the sole author. In this novel he brings back a character from his father’s previous books, Sid Halley, who was a well-respected private investigator and ex-jockey.
Sid Halley has retired from the PI business for the sake of his family and is now working as an investor and telling himself that his life is satisfying. He is living with his wife and daughter in a country village near his ex-father-in-law. So when an official from the British horse racing industry asks Sid to investigate what looks like race fixing, he refuses. When that person is later found dead the next day, after an apparent suicide, Sid becomes more interested but is still unwilling to get involved. When he gets a threatening phone call that demands he sign off on a report indicating that everything in racing is fine and his young daughter is temporarily kidnapped, Sid decides he has to get involved. The villain throws more and more trouble Sid’s way but he stubbornly perseveres. He knows that the only way his family will ever be safe is for him to work out how to beat the villain who is causing all the trouble, without bringing down his beloved racing industry in the process. Most of his old colleagues have moved on and are no longer available to assist him but Chico Barnes is still around. He is a great character and is again very helpful to Sid as the two of them investigate the leads to come up with a plan to end the threat to Sid’s life, his family and the British racing industry.
The story was exciting and moved at a fast pace and there were a few unexpected plot twists. The villain looked to be untouchable, Sid Halley was as courageous and obstinate as he always was as he fought for justice and there was a fitting ending to the story.
So far this fourth book by Felix Francis was the most enjoyable read for me

View all my reviews

The Messenger Bird – Learning about code breaking in a good story

I find that I am often reading adventure stories about war, spies and crime. It goes with the territory working in a boy’s school and it is interesting how often things link up or coincide. Recently I watched a great 3-part series, “The Bletchley Circle“, about 4 women in post-war Britain, who are linked through their work together at Bletchley Park during  the war. It is a crime thriller that has these women back together working on clues to track down a serial killer. Last week I picked up the next book in my pile of  holiday “to-read” books. It was entitled “The Messenger Bird. I started reading and found it too was linked to Bletchley Park and the work done there in World War II.

The Messenger Bird - EasthamThis is the first book I have read by Ruth Eastham and I appreciate how she intertwines a modern-day narrative with historical ideas and events in a very seamless way. Nathan, the main character, is very ordinary and likeable as are his friends and the rest of his family.

The story starts when Nathan’s dad is arrested for breaking the Official Secrets Act. He works for the Ministry of Defence and is accused of leaking top-secret information. As he is dragged into a police car he leaves Nathan a message, or rather a riddle to solve. He must to solve this first riddle, then find and work out subsequent clues if he is to save his dad from a life in prison.

Nathan and his family have recently moved into a house owned by a great Aunt fascinated by WWII. There is memorabilia throughout the house. The clues Nathan is given lead him to another mystery that was started by Lily Kenley, a Bletchley Park employee in the 1940s, who stayed in the house during the war and then disappeared suddenly.  The messages, given to Nathan by his dad, follow a path left by Lily and take him on a journey around his local area and finally to Bletchley Park.

Nathan is sworn to secrecy but his friends, Sasha and Josh, learn about his quest early on and are determined to help. He has to be careful as his father indicated there are traitors in the Ministry. There certainly seems to be someone watching his every move and listening in on his conversations. With the help of his friends, Nathan must solve the mystery before the Ministry of Defence figures out what he is up to and the evidence of his father’s innocence disappears.

It is a good story for younger readers upper primary / lower secondary. The book very neatly incorporates mystery, history and adventure all into one story. The references to Bletchley Park, the Enigma code and the Coventry Blitz are fascinating. The Coventry Cathedral’s ruin is incorporated into the cover.

For those who have had their appetite whetted by the story there is a short reference section a the back for any reader who wants to know more about Bletchley Park or the Enigma code. There are many internet sites where you can find more information. I like the Bletchley Park site and for more information, with further useful links, you could go to Breaking Germany’s Enigma Code and Bletchley Park on the BBC site. These are good educational sites where the readers of the book could find information they could easily understand. There are also  some good videos on Code Breaking (World War 2) (History site)

There is also a simple explanation of the Enigma Machine in the you tube video below

Book Trailers – The process we took with our students

On Friday, at a statewide SLAV conference, our students presented the book trailers they had worked on this term. It was a great day and the students excelled themselves. We talked about the process and they then showed the videos, discussing the choices they had made along the way.

I have put down my introduction to the session, with the process I used to put the project together. Continue reading