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Archive Entries for February 2022

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Monday February 28, 2022

Books in February

  • Lessons in Chemistry by Bonnie Garmus
    BOM-LessonsInChemistry.jpg I chose to review an early copy of this book (courtesy of Random House and NetGalley) because, as I trained as a chemist, the title interested me. To be clear, I did not expect it to be about chemistry, and - if my friends are anything to go by - I need to reassure other readers that it is not really about chemistry. It is a brilliant piece of story-telling with a fair mix of triumphs, tragedies, and humour, but with a set of very serious messages - which you can either enjoy - or ignore.
    The major problem in life for the heroine is misogyny in science - and the secondary problem is her uncompromising attitude to it. The author is able to magnify these points as the book is set in the America of the early 1960s, where women do not have the brains to pursue serious careers, and when they do, must be suitably modest, and accepting of an inferior role. Although much less overt today, we know that underlying attitudes (unintentional bias at the very least) still severely limit women's success in science (and any other professional fields you care to mention). I read that the author "worked widely in the fields of technology, medicine, and education" and suspect the book is a reflection of her experiences, first or second hand.
    I notice the book's publicity blurb focuses on the central character - but the book is crammed with delightful characters - all brimming with idiosyncrasies, and who are in many ways easily as interesting as her: the precocious daughter, the abused neighbour, the vicar who doesn't believe in God, the slighted secretaries... the dog... In fact they are the real "enablers" who, through their extraordinary natures and kindnesses, give her some degree of freedom to be so fiercely determined in her outlook.
    I can't recommend this book enough - like Nigella Lawson, I was sorry when it came to an end.
    [I read that it has already been taken up by Apple to become a TV series - an obvious development - but I dearly hope they do it justice.]

  • The Appeal by Janice Hallett [read by Aysha Kala, Daniel Philpott, Rachel Adedeji, and Sid Sagar]
    BOM-TheAppeal.jpg I think this is an astonishingly good first novel; the major thing wrong with saying that is that it makes it sound as though it "could be improved on with practice" and this is definitely not the case in my opinion. In fact, it's a really intriguing mystery, presented to the reader in an highly original manner. A series of emails and other documentation is shared with us, as it is in the process of being scrutinised by some junior members of a legal team in preparation for an appeal hearing. It is fascinating to eavesdrop on these messages, as they gradually reveal a conspiracy (and then a murder) as well as the characters of all the players - and they really are "players", all being stalwarts of village society and members of the local amateur dramatic society. The "appeal" is a clever title referring not only to the court appeal, but also a potential fraud relating to a charity appeal.
    I'd also like to confirm that it has a very satisfactory ending - always a key point for me!
    This book was a Christmas gift, but I actually listened to most of it as an audio book. Given the nature of the presentation (emails, post-it notes, facsimiles of flyers, whatsapp messages etc), representing it off the page was pretty challenging, and, once again, very well done. [On some occasions I was glad to have the book to refer to, but I think it would have worked well enough without it].

  • Cry Baby by Mark Billingham [read by Mark Billingham as narrator, joined by a host of others including Robert Glenister and David Morrissey ]
    BOM-CryBaby.jpg A prequel: we've gone back to 1996, and the point in Thorne's life where he's breaking up with his wife, and in the process of purchasing his famous north London bachelor flat. It's a case involving a child abduction which is doubly traumatic for Thorne as he is still haunted by dreams of a previous, and similar, case which ended all too tragically.
    In the epilogue, we return to the present with Thorne briefly reflecting on the case. My only reason for mentioning this is that Mark now puts (lovely) Helen definitively in the past (yes, I'm still annoyed), with Thorne relishing thoughts of moving on. I can see from a writer's point of view, it's easier to have new characters to explore, and I would also say that this inability to settle is very "real" but we have now got to the stage where Thorne will for ever be playing at Jack the Lad in his (I interpret) slobby flat, continually moving on as each new woman finally observes his feet of clay.
    The most interesting thing about this audio book was that it was presented almost as radio drama. The prose was narrated by Mark - so the complete book was actually read out - but all the dialogue was voiced by individual actors, and it really worked so well; all credit to the actors and editors for making it come across so naturally, (because I suspect it was not like a play where all the cast can be recording in one room as a piece). David Morrissey got to reprise his role as the voice of Thorne, and Robert Glenister, who was missing his role as narrator on previous books, had a chance to be included. I would not like all audio books to be adapted in this way but it really was very original and refreshing.

  • Flowers for the Judge by Margery Allingham [Read by David Thorpe]
    BOM-FlowersForTheJudge.jpg As I mentioned when I read the Campion novel last month, I have read only one other Margery Allingham book previously, (Black Plumes), and I found it fairly light-hearted and none too riveting. Mr Campion's Farewell was very much in the same vein - but then, it was not actually written by Allingham, although I had thought it a fairly good pastiche. Hence this book was all a bit of a surprise - a pleasant surprise. It had an interesting plot, and, as far as I can judge, was pretty well written. I was quite captivated by the dramatic descriptions of the coroner's court and the Old Bailey.
    [I note that a reviewer on "Good Reads" states "at times, this is one of the best books that Allingham has written" - and also mentions the courtroom scenes which confirms to me that this may be one of her better Campions.]
    A point of interest to me: the inquest seemed to have a jury - which I thought a bit odd and was driven to look it up; it seems that they have been "rarely used" in England since 1927, and are only mandatory in very specific circumstances - since 1977, their rulings do not commit a person to trial, (a change which took place after Lord Lucan was charged in 1975 - presumably in his absence). As is often the way, having never noticed them before, I subsequently saw a coroner's jury performing in an old black and white movie.

  • Slow Horses, Dead Lions, and The List
    by Mick Herron [Read by Seán Barrett]

    My friend Tony recommended these books some good while ago, and I was pleased to find them in audio book form. They are really gripping and well-written and I can hardly wait to continue with the series.
    The overall style owes a lot to Le Carré, who popularised a much more dangerous and less- glamorous view of spies - intentionally a polar opposite to the cinematic version of James Bond. Personally, I enjoyed these stories more than Le Carré in general, (probable exception being Tinker Tailor...), who is more cerebral, and much more poignantly sad. I can't comment intelligently on the comparative writing skill, but although these retain the introspection, sense of anxiety, and tragedy, they are more overt thriller than psychological thriller, and each story has a comforting sense of resolution at the end, (which always suits me better in this type of fiction!).
    Apparently they are due to be released on April 1st as a 6 part series on Apple TV. Gary Oldman plays Jackson Lamb (a kind of subverted George Smiley) - hard to imagine since Lamb is overwhelming fat but from the pre-release photos they seem to have focussed on other characteristics - and Kristin Scott Thomas (a personal favourite of mine) is perfectly cast as Diana Taverner.

    BOM-SlowHorses.jpg BOM-DeadLions.jpg BOM-TheList.jpg

Posted on February 28, 2022 at 7:06 PM. Category: Books of the Month. | Comments (0)

Sunday February 13, 2022

Death on the Nile


So Poirot has reined in the controversial moustaches (seen in Murder on the Orient Express) - maybe too hot for Egypt. It was all beautifully acted out by a star-studded cast, and the locations were stunning - well worth seeing on the big screen (or as big as it gets these days). True, there were minor plot alterations to fit in with the history that Brannagh is creating, but none of which I would quibble with. However, excellent though it was, and much as I enjoy watching different interpretations of the same play/material.... it made me feel there is little left to be explored in this story - which is not good. Unfortunately, when making a Christie production, you have a dilemma as to whether perfectly act out her story as told, or make changes about which die-hard fans will inevitably be up in arms. Brannagh has done good work here but whether it proves enough of a success to make a solid franchise is up for debate. Poirot did point the way to a future adaptation in relating his dream of "retiring to grow vegetable marrows" - but will Roger Ackroyd ever make it onto the big screen? It's a hard novel to adapt, having the "unreliable narrator" as fairly key to the plot, so there would be scope for some innovative fresh approach...
[My main regret is that Peter Ustinov played Poirot in the seventies version. Much as I like Ustinov, (as Poirot and otherwise) he cannot help but make the stories much more light-hearted than they should be. I can see Poirot as a somewhat comic character but not a clown; I think David Suchet gets the balance right, where the humour lies mainly in how seriously Poirot takes himself. Even then, the later TV adaptations of the novels did not work anything like as well as the original short stories.]

Posted on February 13, 2022 at 4:50 PM. Category: Art and Culture. | Comments (0)

Saturday February 12, 2022

Unravel 2022


After just squeezing in a trip to Unravel in 2020, about 2 weeks before everything shut down for the duration, we are back again for the reopening in 2022. We had lunch at the Giggling Squid before starting on our retail experience, and almost immediately met some friends for a cup of tea once in the Maltings.

Having got our priorities right, we then did actually buy some yarn - I got my usual couple of balls of sock yarn (as if I had not had my fill of socks lately!), and then in a surprise departure, bought some skeins from The Knitting Shed and Debonnaire, with a plan to make shawls/wraps. The yarns below are variously merino, silk, and mohair.


Posted on February 12, 2022 at 10:25 PM. Category: Knitting and Crochet. | Comments (0)