Friday, 31 August 2012

Catch-up part 2

A Place of Greater Safety by Hilary Mantel
This novel is set in the French Revolution and has as its main protagonists Georges-Jacques Danton, Maximilien Robespierre and Camille Desmoulins. What Mantel does here (as she does in Wolf Hall) is to take characters who are traditionally seen as out and out evil doers and show a different, more human side to them. She doesn't gloss over their faults or the terrible deeds they commit, but they are rounded human beings, not pantomime villains. This is an absorbing story, and one which I had to concentrate on. There is a vast cast of characters and I had to refer frequently to the character list at the front of the book. How does this work on a kindle? Is possible to mark a page and go back to it without click, click clicking right through the book?

The Good Father by Noah Hawley
This is a thrilling novel about a man whose son shoots an American Presidential candidate. Paul Allen is a successful man who is living a happy, secure life with his second wife and their two young sons. The news of what his son from his first marriage has done completely knocks him off the rails. He is determined to prove his son didn't do it, the more he learns about his son, the more he questions his effectiveness as a father. I thought this was an excellent book.

Special Topics in Calamity Physics by Marisha Pessl
This is a real page turner. After the death of her mother Blue van Meer and her father travel seemingly aimlessly around America, never staying anywhere for very long. But when Blue's father decides he wants her to go to Harvard they settle so that Blue can concentrate on her studies and finish high school. Here she falls under the spell of teacher Hannah Schneider and her group of acolytes who are known as the Bluebloods. The Bluebloods think of themselves as the elite of the school but in fact are quite damaged young people. A tragedy occurs, and Blue's life takes a different trajectory. I was a bit unsure about the ending, but did enjoy the book.

A Quiet Life by Beryl Bainbridge
This story begins with Alan meeting his sister for the first time in years. Their mother has died and he wants to sort out the will with her. But she's not interested, though she's glad to see him. This sends Alan's memory spinning back to when they were children in the 1940s and what a wayward girl Madge was. Bainbridge creates the home life of Alan and his family beautifully. Tense and angry inside the house, but everyone must put a united front for the neighbours, it made me tense just reading it. I've read a couple of other books by Beryl Bainbridge and I'll definitely be looking out for more.

Wednesday, 29 August 2012

Catch-up part 1

I haven't blogged for ages and I don't really know why. I haven't been particularly busy, and I have been reading. Do other people have times when they really just don't feel like blogging? I have a pile of books to write about so I thought I'd do a couple of catch-up posts.

The Mystery of the Blue Train by Agatha Christie
This is a Poirot mystery. Ruth Kettering, a passenger on the Blue Train, is found dead. Her ex-husband is the main suspect, but Poirot thinks that he is wrongly accused. I enjoyed this book very much, it's one of my favourite Christies so far. The plot involves an international jewel thief, which always adds to the  glamour.

Turkish Gambit by Boris Akunin
This is part of the Erast Fandorin series. I really wanted to love this series, but I don't think it's for me. It probably says more about my powers of concentration than the book, but I found the plot difficult to follow. This is from the blurb;

The Russo-Turkish war is at a critical juncture, and Erast Fandorin, broken-hearted and disillusioned, has gone to the front in an attempt to forget his sorrows. Captured by the Turks, he wins his freedom in a game of backgammon, before finding himself the unlikely rescuer of Vavara Suvorova, a 'progressive' Russian woman trying to make her way to the Russian headquarters to join her fiance.

I'm going to try Akunin's Pelagia series, maybe I'll have better luck there.

Midnight's Children by Salman Rushdie
I have always assumed that Rushdie's books would be difficult, and have always been a bit scared of tackling them. So when I saw that there was a readalong of Midnight's Children I jumped at the chance to join in, thinking that it would be easier if I was discussing it with other people as I went along. Well, I didn't keep up with the readalong, but as it turned out I loved Midnight's Children and found it a pleasure to read. It follows the unusual life of Saleem Sinai who was born at the exact moment India gained independence from Britain. The time of his birth makes him special, and he has a magical connection with the other Indian children who were born at that auspicious moment. We also learn about his family and their ups and downs as their fortunes rise and fall. It is a funnier book than I expected, and the characters eccentric.

The Athenian Murders by Jose Carlos Somoza
This is one of the most unusual detective stories I have read. The main story is a tale from Ancient Greece concerning the murder of a young man named Tramachus, and the efforts of Heracles, the Decipherer of Enigmas, to find his killer. But then in the footnotes of the book are messages from the modern day translator of the tale. Spookily, events in the translated story are being echoed in the translator's own life, until he begins to fear for his sanity. So the two stories exist side by side, and the reader wants to know both who killed Tramachus, and what is happening to the translator. I thought this was a really good book and I would recommend it.