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Sunday November 30, 2014
Books in November
- The Ides of April by Lindsey Davis
Here we find that Falco's adopted daughter has taken on the mantle of Public Inquirer and also taken up residence at the old homestead in Fountain Court on the Aventine. It is all plausibly well written and I enjoy the idea - and the fact that Linsey Davis is adding more scope to the Falco series.... but o there was something special about Falco and his daughter is simply not quite so special. I think for the same reason they have never quite been able to successfully capture his character on screen either - just not found the right man.
- Saints of the Shadow Bible by Ian Rankin [read by James
Delighted to be able to go straight into the next Rebus novel and see him alongside Malcolm Fox - I would say "working with" but they weren' 100% on the same side. Malcolm is definitely shaping up for a career move back ot CID.
[I listened while painting the ceiling of my newly resuscitated studio/office.]
Friday October 31, 2014
Books in October« Previous entry | Main | Next entry »
Tuesday September 30, 2014
Books in September
- The Gods of Guilt by Michael Connelly
I didn't enjoy this Mickey Haller novel as much as the previous one - not sure why. I think maybe the story didn't interest me so much; not a straight forward evil person kills someone, but more of a government agency conspiracy theory idea.
Also - maybe mostly - there was a lot about his private life - and it's not going that well. The last book ended on a high with a prospective high profile career move in the offing - this book opens with all that shattered and his family blaming him. The same device was used between Lincoln Lawyer and Brass Verdict. But maybe more importantly, all the pontifiating about his family is basically not very profound or interesting. The Bosch books seemed to go through this roller coaster cycle of ending one book on a positive note with respect to a new relationship and then that all having fallen through in the next book which would be in the loner detective vein - and ending on a glum gritty note - only to start the cycle again in the next story with a new female interest. [Actually I quite liked the "romantic" storyline as a background to The Drop where a new lady that seems promising reveals her feet of clay - all in the realm of normal hangups - during the progress of the book. It seemed to me to be more representative of relationships in later life - and also it was definitely the backdrop to the story not the main event - and the woman herself had a peripheral role in the action.]
- The Dead Can Wait by Robert Ryan
So impressed with Dead Man's Land I bounded straight on to the second novel which proved as excellent as the first. The plot was good and the action made historically feasible.
It also went some way to improving the depiction of Holmes (over the previous book), who appeared more in this story - though definitely as Watson's friend rather than the other way around.
I find it interesting that Doyle struggled with the character as he was such a dominant force in his writing. Yet the two modern novelists I know of using Holmes in this way, as an addition to the cast rather than it's main force, seem to have tamed him rather well, managing to keep the focus with their chosen heroes without being diverted. Nor is Holmes used as a "rabbit out of the hat" mechanism in resolving the mysteries - just reassuringly present.
- Rules, Regs and Rotten Eggs by H R F Keating [read
by Sheila Mitchell]
Another fairly dull or perhaps dated sort of story with a heroine I cannot empathise with. She seems to be a moderately high ranking detective and yet is portrayed as finding the Guardian Crossword too difficult. I don't want to be elitist but I would have thought cryptic crosswords would not be so hard for someone whose profession is.. well.. detection - even if she chooses not to bother with them. Still - Morse she is not - though come to think of it, she likes the odd glass of wine.
I am so apparently critical of these novels by Keating that you have to ask why I continue with them. The answer is they are not too challenging to concentrate on while doing other activities - driving or other physical activities. I don't say this to be insulting - they are good old fashioned detective novels, with all that implies, and maybe a bit slow so it matters less if you miss the odd sentence here and there.....
Sunday August 31, 2014
Books in August
- Ten-Second Staircase by Christopher Fowler [read by
Working my way steadily backwards through the series, I finally get to the "famous highwayman case". I think I twigged the "answer" fairly quickly with this one, though no less enjoyable for that. The author has stuck to the apparently mysterious and impossible as fodder for the plots.... but some work better than others - though I am always suspecting that my view of the books I read can be affected by my own mood as much as the book itself.
- Dead Man's Land by Robert Ryan
Following on from that thought - the first few months of the year found me a bit depressed and reading the first few pages of this book made me feel I could not deal with such a realistic portrayal of WW1. So although George gave me this book for Christmas, it has taken me until now to pick it up. However, it is a very good book indeed - perhaps my initial reaction to it says how really good it is.
George made an excellent choice, as this book brings together a lot of what are (apparently) my interests - the hero is an elderly Dr John Watson continuing his career as a medic on the front line. Like other books which work well using these Conan Doyle characters, it is not a Holmesian pastiche - the author stays true to the people he portrays while offering a different perspective - but somehow it is always clear when an author's affection for the original materials comes through and I do not find any false notes here to spoil my pleasure in the book.
- Bloodline by Felix Francis
I had a quick look at other reviewers opinions on this book (ordinary folk like me). They were mixed but whether they were enthusiastic or disappointed, there were some general points coming through with which I agree - I was just having trouble pinpointing them on my own... First and most important - this is better than the previous books and I would recommend it - and despite any negative points below it is well up to the Francis tradition.
Second, the formulaic "interesting job" of the hero is a TV racing commentator, and this aspect is really interesting and well integrated into the story.
But then - third - the characters: one person said he "lacks the empathy apparent in the writing of his father" (though I would question whether it was his father or his mother that really influenced this), but whether because of this or not, the characters did not come across as very likeable; I don't know how you fix this as a writer but it needs fixing.
And finally, which I think might be an extension of point 3, the relationships and probably specifically sex is not well described - you don't really feel the emotion, and if you are going to have these themes then they certainly need to be convincing. Dick Francis books did not always have a conventional boy/girl romantic relationship as the core of the emotional interest - in one case it was the protective relationship of the hero with his brother that tugged the heartstrings, and in others, the hero is in an impossible domestic situation that he has decided for moral reason to just accept. Writing about these somewhat off-beat relationships is not at all easy to do while making the reader both believe in them as well as really feel them - but anyway I hope Felix gets to grips with it as he continues to write.
Posted on August 31, 2014 at 3:56 PM« Previous entry | Main | Next entry »
Thursday July 31, 2014
Books in July
- The Black Box by Michael Connelly [read by Michael McConnohie]
Harry Bosch presses on with his cold cases and finds one that involves a murder he picked up much earlier in his career, during the riots of 1992. The body of a female journalist was found in an alley and at that time Harry was forced to hand over the case to the Riot Crimes Task Force, knowing that it would never be solved.
- The Lewis Man and The Chessmen by Peter May
I can't believe I waited so long to read the rest of this trilogy when I was so impressed with the first one. Yet it was April 2013 when I read The Black House - and immediately downloaded the second in the series - but did not read it. Anyway having got the taste for them again, I read both in quick succession.
It was hard to see how he could make sequels (and continue to set them on the islands) after the first story but the crafting of the stories is great - and like the first book they contain interesting historical detail combined with the elements of a detective thriller. Really excellent books - shame that's it for these characters.
Bill Nighy as Charles Paris gets a lucrative opportunity to work on a corporate media piece - and finds a body... as well as getting his own share of the action in the shape of a general "roughing up" through to attempts on his life.
The characters and dialogue are very well written, and the experienced cast are very at ease with their roles in these humerous versions of the Charles Paris books..
Posted on July 31, 2014 at 10:08 AM« Previous entry | Main | Next entry »
Monday June 30, 2014
Books in June
- Standing in Another Man's Grave by Ian Rankin
I failed to read the "final" Rebus novel - partly intentionally, as it was widely advertised and I was concerned about what might make it "final" in the light of the <cite>Remorseful Day</cite>. (Why popular detectives have to have dramatic ends and cannot simply retire. I do not know - well I do know - their authors have had enough of them).
Anyway - Rankin is up for more - and so are we.
This was a good and interesting plot - nicely weaving in an appearance from Malcolm Fox (the "Complaints").
I have to say I am no nearer understanding the character of Rebus - even after all this time.
- The Drop by Michael Connelly [Read by Len Cariou]
The Drop of the title is a reference to Harry's final retirement date in police vernacular. The cold-case plot (as there are really 2 plots) is particularly interesting as it results from a blind hit in re-examining some old DNA evidence using the latest technology - this leads to an impossible and possibly contaminated result pointing at a suspect who is far too young to have committed the crime. In addition - due to his reputation for high integrity - Harry is pulled into a political nightmare of a case checking out a suspected suicide (or is it?).
- Inspector Ghote's First Case by H R F Keating [Read
by Sam Dastor]
I started to listen to this on iPlayer but failed to keep up, so I borrowed the book from the library. It is utterly charming but I am slightly concerned that it is not very politically correct. I was driven to look into the author whom I only know of through this series, thinking he must be a relic of the British in India - but not a bit of it. He is the right kind of age (maybe) but in the same vein as Alexander McCall-Smith, Keating did not visit India until ten years after he started writing about it. I have no idea how it would seem to someone of Indian ethnicity, but it does seem to me it is written with affection and intelligence and hopefully is not seen as patronising or offensive.
This is one of the last Inspector Ghote books (published in 2008) but revisits his early career.
- Into theValley of Death by H R Keating writing as Evelyn
Hervey [Read by Sheila Mitchell]
So I indiscriminately grabbed any talking books I could find to while away the journey to Woolfest. For me, this type of Victorian lady detective written by contemporary authors does not really hold much appeal (I say "this type" but clearly some types do appeal ...). Anyway it lived up to my every expectation and fortunately did not require too much attention while driving.
I note that Keating wrote it under a pseudonym - to enhance the "type" I think.
- False Scent by Ngaio Marsh [Read by James Saxon]
This Inspector Alleyn was delightfully dated with wonderful and improbably drawn, and rather arch characters.
In keeping with all that, the appropriate person "dunnit", and they all lived happily ever after. (Except the murderer of course).
It all centres around a prima donna, a bottle of scent and some paraquat (geddit?).
Ian Carmichael stars as Lord Peter Wimsey with Sarah Badel as Harriet Vane.
So - they tied the knot, and appear to make a comfortable couple. This recording features other great British stars with Peter Jones as Bunter, and Rosemary Leach (unmistakable) as "Miss Twitterton" - where the name says it all. Equally unmistakable is Peter Vaughan as the police inspector - who can forget the sinister Harry Grout in Porridge?
Temple and the Vandyke Affair
Another delightful piece from 1959, starring Peter Coke and Marjorie Westbury.
One wonders at these criminal masterminds who feel bound to telephone all the players involved in their mysterious plotting, leaving their (false) names as a tantalising lead for the police and amateur detectives alike.
Can't remember who dunnit but charming nonetheless. [As I have said before, I love the depicted relationship between Paul and his wife - and I love the fact that she seems to have a proper job of her own - even if it is suitably ladylike.]
Readings of a collection of short stories by Ian Rankin.
- Face the Music read by James Macpherson
- Herbert in Motion read by James Bryce
- The Hanged Man read by James Bryce
A set of 7 episodes by David Napthine, which sprang from a stand-alone afternoon play. Jeremy Swift takes the title role in these first 4 episodes.
- Doctor Joe Aston Investigates
- Making Waves
- Over the Border
- Stepping Out
Posted on June 30, 2014 at 7:12 PM« Previous entry | Main | Next entry »
Saturday May 31, 2014
Books in May
- Justice Hall by Laurie R King [read by Jenny Sterlin]
I thought I was up to date in my reading of this series, but somehow after Locked Rooms I missed this one - I think I mixed it up with The Moor (which I have read). So it was delightful to find an extra mystery to enjoy. I do find some of the stories work better than others though that may be whichever ones concern subjects that interest me most. This one has a lot of well-researched detail on WWI which was very moving and is particularly pertinent with all the commemorations this year.
I like the way the author manages to create plots which intertwine what seems a totally British Victorian institution with the Americas in an utterly convincing way (though - note to self - Conan Doyle's first Holmes novel was a plot within a plot where half the action took place in the USA so in fact quite in keeping with the original stories).
- Gamble by Felix Francis [read by Michael Maloney]
Finally I read one of Felix's books standing on his own merits - and he is well up to the task. I have read some criticisms with the obvious comparisons - but I think people are being selectively blind in this respect in that quite of the few Dick Francis novels were really not very good. He always followed his own formula and in the case of the personal lives of the heroes I always found him rather original and refreshing - his heroes often emotionally fettered but not with conventional home lives. However I found Dick only at his very best when racing came into the story somewhere - and here Felix seems to be following the pattern well. His heroes have very different careers but have either direct or indirect connections to the world of racing and this seems to give them an edge. I look forward to reading some more.
- Paul Temple and the Kelby Affair
by Francis Durbridge [read by Toby Stephens]
Another cheerfully dated Paul Temple novel. I am not sure entirely what the Kelby affair was - Kelby went missing near the beginning - but it was the usual complicated plot that saw me nicely through a long car journey.
Beautifully read by the excellent and versatile actor Toby Stephens, (who also narrated PT and the Geneva Mystery).
- Dandy Gilver and the Proper Treatment of Bloodstains
by Catriona McPherson
I am eking out these novels as I enjoy them so much on a number of different levels. However, I was not so compelled by this one - perhaps I am taking them for granted now and setting my expectations higher. Having said that, the unravelling of the plot turned out to be really interesting - it had been getting to the point where I could not see any way the events described could be explained, and was expecting some sort of cop-out. And then, in fact, it all fitted into place with a completely believable set of circumstances and motivations.
Edge BBC Radio Play
John Harveys thriller from 1996 starring Tom Georgeson and the-then-not-so-famous John Simm** plus Sean Baker, Kate Eaton and Paul Bazeley.
Actually I really fancy Tom Georgeson, wholly based on having first noticed him in a production of Tom Stoppard's Night and Day with Gwen Taylor at the Watford Palace in the early 1980s. This may seem odd to some as - with the passing of time - he has evolved into a comfortable character actor who appears frequently these days on TV in some of my favourite series (ie Poirot, Foyle's War - but also recently in the BBC's The Hollow Crown) - but I always see him as the jaded rough-diamond journalist Richard Wagner.
Currently the BBC are airing two more Resnick stories this month with another of my favourite actors Philip Jackson as the eponymous hero
**John Simm's fan club spotted that he was in this play - a fact which he initially denied - and I do believe his explanation (he did such a lot of stuff that he forgot) since it was not such an appalling early performance or drama that he would need to try and to wipe it from history.
Posted on May 31, 2014 at 11:10 PM« Previous entry | Main | Next entry »
Wednesday April 30, 2014
Books in April
- Bryant and May and the White Corridor by Christopher
Now working my way back through the series.
The plotting (and writing of course) seemed to really work here. Nice descriptions of the team development back at base, as well as the noble efforts of the elderly gents trying - and succeeding - to survive, having been stranded in their car (van) on an A road in the snow.
I felt a real sense of danger from the inevitable murderer, as well as the weather - and a warning against trying to manipulate others through bogus occult dabblings, even with the best of intentions. [Clearly, real occult dabblings are fine... unless you are a fan of Dennis Wheatley].
- Harbour Street by Anne Cleeves
Very keen to read the latest Vera novel and it lived up to all my expectations. Great plot and great characters.
The new TV series started soon after and opened with this story. I was a bit surprised they changed the murderer (although it still made good sense of the story) and could not see why - however subsequent episodes were "made for TV" and one of those had a rather similar villain so I could understand the decision.
It is a bit of a shame that Vera is not really played as she is in the book, even though Brenda Blethyn has really made her her own woman. TV Vera has fewer layers of complexity - more police drama. I think they had the same problem with Inspector Frost, in that although the TV character was pretty awful, neither he nor the city backdrop were quite as gritty as on the page. Or as I understand it, the author had a problem with it - I was less critical and thought they did real justice to the books by making a single book into multiple episodes, while still managing to make it a series rather than a serial.
- Crosssfire by Dick Francis and Felix Francis
This was an exciting enough thriller which I read really quickly - so one might say "un-put-downable" - if you were not Pedanticus writing in the Guardian. This may sound grudging praise from me but it is not. There is some debate about the worthiness of Felix taking on his Father's mantle, but I think if there is anything to be said about it - or if there is no longer quite the massive readership there once was - it's probably because the taste for the Francis brand of novel has gone off the boil, rather than due to any change of authorship.
Anyway - quite as good as any stock Francis thriller in my opinion.
Bonecrack BBC Radio Play
This is a BBC radio full-cast dramatisation of the Dick Francis novel, starring Francis Matthews, Caroline Blakison and Mark Colleano.
Fresh with the Dick Francis bug, I was attracted to this play as it stars Francis Matthews - and of course the excellent Caroline Blakiston. I have not read the book but the plot seemed a bit thin and the result pretty predictable ("spoilt brat finds Father Figure"). However, there was a real sense of menace, which was so strong that it was hard to see how our hero would manage to extricate himself. [Plot spoiler alert: "But he did"].
Posted on April 30, 2014 at 11:01 PM« Previous entry | Main | Next entry »
Monday March 31, 2014
Books in March
- Bryant and May and the Memory of Blood, the Victoria Vanishes,
and the Invisible Code
by Christopher Fowler
Determined to catch up with all the other Bryant and May outings. Excellent.
[Was less keen on the Memory of Blood - I didn't like the subect matter nor the technique used in unravelling the plot. However the latest, Invisible Code, was excellent and well worth its Crime Thriller award nomination.]
- StageStruck by Peter Lovesey [read by Steve Hodson]
I would term Peter Lovesey as a good old fashioned crime writer - in the very best of ways. Don't mistake my meaning and think I mean nostalgic or twee; his books are very much in the here and now. But he seems to possess a solidity and high quality craftsmanship that one used to associate with a "Jolly Good Book". This one provided a welcome interlude and escape on my journeys to work during a period where nothing else seemed at all solid or reliable.
A Perfect Spy - with James Fox, Brenda Bruce, and Harriet Walter.
BBC full-cast radio drama of John le Carre's bestselling novel with James Fox as Magnus Pym. Apparently this recording (from 1993 I believe) was thought to be lost but then recently rediscovered - which is great, as it has a truly excellent cast including Harriet Walter as Magnus' wife and Julian Rhind-Tutt as the young Magnus. The character Jack Brotherhood is the unmistakable voice of the excellent James Grout who sadly died in 2012.
Posted on March 31, 2014 at 11:58 AM« Previous entry | Main | Next entry »
Friday February 28, 2014
Books in February
- Bryant and May on the Loose and Bryant and May off the
by Christopher Fowler [read by Tom Goodman]
I was alerted this series when the "Invisibe Code" was nominated for the ITV3 Crime Thriller Book Club Best Read and (of course) was immediately taken by the heroes names. But they turned out to be not at all what I anticipated.
I think I was expecting Agatha Raisin meets Inspector Steine (both of whom I love) - something rather nostalgic and twee. In a sense they are much more "realistic" if that's not too ridiculous a description, given the basic premise of a forgotten branch of the police force whose two key officers are in their 80s, and who solve crimes using distinctly surreal methods. Far from a disappointment, these books truly appeal to my nostalgic leanings; the author uses the peculiar reminiscences and esoteric researches of Arthur Bryant to provide a QI style compendium of interesting facts - and if it starts getting too out of hand, reins him in using the other characters, (although I have to say he is in no danger of losing me as an fascinated listener).
And finally on top of all that as a mere background - he tells a jolly good crime story to boot. I love them. If I have any criticism at all it is that Bryant is such a great character he positively leaps from the page and seems more fleshed out than the others, though I feel this is resolving itself as each new book appears. I am guessing there is a kind of "Sherlock Holmes" problem with the character.
These two books brought the characters back in a "two book deal" after the closure of their premises in Mornington Crescent threatened an end to the Peculiar Crime Unit; the "Mr Fox" storyline is continues through both books - but no need to feel short-changed as it runs alongside a new plot in Off the Rails.
"The critically acclaimed cult detectives Bryant & May are the stars of ten deranged novels that explore Londons most arcane mysteries, from its hidden rivers to its secret societies."
- Beneath the Bleeding by Val McDermid
I haven't read many of this series but did do a marathon of the repeated "Wire in the Blood" series on TV. In this story, Tony is laid up in hospital and Carol pursues a serial killer. [Much less sensationalism than the TV thankfully].
I especially enjoyed the construction of the plot here - several threads in parallel and no predicatable connections - it is a thing about Val's writing (do you mind if I call you Val?) I really like. Many of the (TV) plots I've seen recently contrive very interesting and mysterious scenarios that are then a bit disappointing in the denoument; by this I mean the explanation is either blatantly inconsistent or just does not seem to be convincing in terms of human behaviour and motivation.
I noticed Val on TV a couple of times recently - once demonstrating her quiet superiority and intelligence on "Only Connect" - which is a pretty challenging quiz even when made slightly easier for the "celebrities".
- Short Stories by Michael Connelly
Another example of the digital short story used as a marketing technique. So I duly purchased my three stories for 99p each plus their included "tasters" of newer novels. Excellent.
- Mullholland Drive: includes the stories Mulholland Drive, Two Bagger, and Cahoots - plus a taster of The Black Box.
- Switchblade: includes the stories Switchblade, Two Bagger, and Cahoots - plus a taster of The Gods of Guilt.
- Angle of Investigation: includes the stories Christmas Even, Father's Day, and Angle of Investigation - plus a taster of The Drop.
I listened to another of the Lord Peter Wimsey BBC dramatisations "Murder
Must Advertise" on Radio 4 Extra. Lord Peter goes "under
cover" in an advertising agency - not altogether successfully -
and the author draws on her own work experience in this environment.
I was really keen to listen to this because about 10 years ago my friend
Helen lent me a boxed set of audio cassettes of this radio play. I listened
to the first cassette - but then when I moved on to the second I was
greeted to a jolly Highland version of "Marie's wedding" -
it was excellent but no match for Ian Carmichael. Helen concluded that
the real second cassette had somehow been left in the player in her
car - which had been taken away to that great car dealer in the sky
- so I was left with a cliff-hanger.... Until now.
Posted on February 28, 2014 at 11:57 AM« Previous entry | Main | Next entry »
Friday January 31, 2014
Books in January
- Revelation by C J Sansom
I took this with me to France - these Shardlake books are sufficiently exciting that I easily complete one in the week, and am always confident of a thoroughly good read.
This was no exception, providing lots of interesting period detail, and (particularly appreciated), notes at the end as to what is research and what is extrapolation. Here we have an element of the usual political intrigue but the nub of the plot overlaid on the Tudor background centres on a serial killer - a foreign concept in those times. This historical evidence for such crimes is thin - but one has to conjecture that it is because most of them would never have been caught - or if they were it was more along the lines of "he's a bit weird - he must have done it".
- The Seven Wonders by Steven Saylor
This is a collection of short stories from Gordianus' early life. It is set around a "coming of age" trip to see the seven wonders. I liked it, but I note that there are some criticisms by others. It is true that if you treat each story separately, some of them are better than others, but as an overall themed volume, I was quite saitsfied. This is not the first anthology of Gordianus short stories, and I can see why authors find a place for them when they write "puzzle" mysteries, and they have ideas that are simply not sufficient for a full novel - for example the first Sherlock Holmes mystery is actually a story within a story in order to manage a full scale novel, and he fairs much better in short story culture. However, I think short story writing is a skill of itself and maybe "quite satisified" is not really sufficient praise for Steve Saylor, when his earlier Gordianus novels are "quite excellent". It seems clear that in many of his tales he is quite inspired by historical events and the recent offerings have been lacking; I hope he finds more and better inspiration in the future - either within Roman history, or with a new hero who can cover other historial periods.
this is going to be a bit patronising.
I recently listened to a vintage Paul Temple Mystery ("PT and the Lawrence Affair") from 1954, starring Peter Coke and Marjorie Westbury. I was expecting to like it with that delightful whiff of nostalgia, as well as having fun at the expense of the dramatic offerings of the day (you know: limited technical support and no CGI). However - not a bit of it. I had forgotten that this was an era when radio programmes were the height of mainstream drama, and I cannot begin to describe how good is was and how high a quality they achieved. I was especially impressed by the relationship as written between Paul Temple and his wife - which was somehow weirdly modern as well as strictly within 1950s non PC limts. I'd strongly recommend it if you get the chance to hear it again. [I would say - they can't do anything about the basic plot though - you have to live with its improbability].
I listened to another of the Lord Peter Wimsey BBC dramatisations "Have
His Carcass". I like the stories which involve Harriet
Vane, and watched the TV adaptations with Edward Petherbridge and Harriet
Walter, but I don't think I have actually read this one. It's interesting
seeing or hearing different versions, as I think I was under the impression
that at he end of this tale they got the culprit bang to rights and
so on - but this rendition leaves it a little more open - which I am
guessing probably follows the book more accurately.
Posted on January 31, 2014 at 2:42 PM« Previous entry | Main | Next entry »
Tuesday December 31, 2013
Books in December
- Dark Fire by C S Sansom
I enjoy these books more than I can really explain or understand why. True that I find the historical content and detail really interesting, but even though they are suspense novels I never expect to find them quite as absorbing as I clearly do. I don't reveal the time I take to read each book - just the month in which I finish reading; however, I think I have read each of these Shardlake novels within just a few days of starting. Not all people find Sansom's writing style quite so compelling but I find I can't put his books down.
The Dark Fire of the title is a pretty interesting historical mystery in its own right, involving alchemy and mysterious long lost chemical formulae.
- Caught by Harlen Coben [read by Carrington MacDuffie]
This is the first Harlen Coben book I have read. Apparently, he is well known for his twists of plot, and this book is no exception - very thrilling with at least three twists at the end, only one of which I was expecting - and I suspect my guessing it was the author's intention in any case. I shall definitely seek out more of his work; however, most of his other books are part of a series, which I am prejudiced against as they have a sporting bent. Sports themes do not appeal to me very much. [Horse racing clearly "ok" for me though - sport of Kings and so on...].
- Thorne at Christmas by Mark Billingham
I think this is really good idea. A couple of short stories, delivered in ebook format only, at a budget price, and with a seasonal theme.
I am sure that if you count the words, the cost is the same as a full novel; however, for some reason, I seem unwilling to pay authors for their work (ridiculous I know!- you can see, most of my books come from libraries or are loaned by friends). Anyway, this was an entertaining idea and made me part with my money for a change.
the BBC I listened to a dramatisation of John
Le Carre's The Honourable Schoolboy with Simon Russell Beale
as George Smiley. It was part of The Complete Smiley on Radio
4 Extra, but I could only manage to listen to this one story. Such rich
books condensed into a short format need more concentration than I can
manage (while knitting). I had just watched the recent film of Tinker
Tailor (again) on TV, followed by a reshowing of the BBC series from
1979 with Alec Guiness, so I decided to forgo the Radio version. However,
I did not realise how many Smiley books there are - so maybe I will
read some of the others in full.
Posted on December 31, 2013 at 4:54 PM« Previous entry | Main | Next entry »
Saturday November 30, 2013
Books in November
- A Question of Belief and Beastly Things [read by David
by Donna Leon
As usual excellent themes binding the stories together in each book - and as usual there are two layers of the crimes - one layer poignantly sad, sympathetically illustrating all human weakness, and the other demonstrating the despicably evil depths of human nature.
Annoyingly true to life, in the Question of Belief, the morally guilty party disappears without facing justice, (and it's debatable what laws he actually broke in person).
In Beastly Things the we are led to believe the murderer will face the law in due course. However, the strong sub plot (if it can even be called that - shall we say the background to the murder story) may influence you never to eat meat again. Alison told me she was forced to skip passages in the reading - I listened to the narrative in the car, and was not able to skip any of it....
- The Impossible Dead by Ian Rankin [read by Peter Forbes]
Initially our hero is leading his Internal Affairs team to follow up on suggestions of wider corruption in another police force after one of their number if convicted. However, Malcolm is drawn into re-investigating a 25 year old cold case, which seems to involve a cover-up at the highest levels within the force. A nicely interwoven tale of the type we can rely on from this author.
Malcolm Fox is still in "the complaints" but since it's a fixed assignment role, we find him considering his abilities to take up a post in CID once again. Clearly (I hope) this is shaping up for future books with wider potential for the story lines.
- V is for Vengeance by Sue Grafton [Read by Liza Ross]
This book seems to be a slight departure in the author's writing style - or maybe it's evolving. Much of the story is from the perspective of characters other than our heroine. The author has certainly done this before but maybe not to this extent. I really enjoy the fresh approach in a book series, where the author can maybe avoid getting trapped in a sequential narrative.
Unusually, some of the organised crime "baddies" seem to achieve an apparent happy ending (you have to assess for yourselves how "bad" they actually are - though pretty bad is my assessment, even though my sympathies were with them) - whereas the author seems to have a truly zero-tolerance attitude to shop-lifting. The latter I suppose is to point out to ones such as I that shop-lifting is not a "soft" victimless crime but simply stealing, and someone has to pay for it.
Posted on November 30, 2013 at 12:58 PM« Previous entry | Main | Next entry »
Thursday October 31, 2013
Books in October
- He Who Fears the Wolf and When The Devil Holds The Candle
by Karin Fossum
The second Inspector Sejer book, delighted me from the first - having not so much a surprise ending as a surprise beginning. And I can't say more without spoiling the surprise (beginning).
The end was pretty good as well - one of those simple solutions where there was all the evidence given to you but still a "whodunnit" nonetheless.
I have seen mixed reviews about lack of characterisation, which may be true, but I felt it was a good detective story.
The third book is (impressively) yet another completely different plot line albeit with what seems to be the usual poignant and sad resolution. Sejer's personal life is looking up but his chosen lady is a bit of a challenge to his rather staid nature.
- As the Pig Turns by M C Beaton
"Someones gone the whole Hog".
Sorry - I can't do better than the blurb on the book cover. (Well not in terms of puns anyway). Agatha manages to stop the locals chomping into what would have been a spit-roast human - recognising it as such only by means of a tattoo (!). I have heard that roast humans do look like roast pig (so-called "long pigs" in The Coral Island - read by me at an impressionable age).
All the same....
- Where the Bodies Are Buried by Christopher Brookmyre
[read by Sarah Barron]
This is apparently a departure for Brookmyre in that he is aiming for less gory satire and more down-to-earth thriller. He seems to have been successful - I did notice it was not as "funny" as his previous novels - in one of which I found a description of a self-decapitation side-splittingly funny - which it has to be said is not "normal"...
So he has gained something and lost something in equal measure.
This is a pretty good police procedural thriller. But not so funny.
- The Dying Hours by Mark Billingham [read by the author]
Loved it. (Though creepy).
Having a bit of difficulty with Thorne himself though. He is back in uniform and not enjoying it. I found his reaction to his difficulties a bit hard to understand. I guess I never understood the character that well in the first place - which is my fault not the author's.
I do like the current developments in his personal life though. I hope he is not destined to be one of those detectives who are permanently unable to settle with one woman - the current woman has a lot going for her.
- Djibouti by Elmore Leonard [read by Nick Landrum]
As usual, the book has interesting characters and was pretty educational - for me - and being about Somali pirates is also pretty apposite as it references in passing the hijacking incident which has inspired the recent Tom Hanks film Captain Phillips.
Leonard is one of my favourite authors - so I was doubly dismayed at somewhat belatedly realising that he passed away this year.
Posted on October 31, 2013 at 10:24 PM« Previous entry | Main | Next entry »
Monday September 30, 2013
Books in September
- Clutch of Constables by Ngaio Marsh [read by James Saxon]
I have temporarily abandonned Montalbano as in-car entertainment - and gone back to the delightfully dated Inspector Alleyn.
This is a locked room mystery with Troy taking the active role on a boating excursion in what we would now call "Constable Country", where she is apparently co-incidentally - at many levels - sharing the craft with an internationally famous criminal ("The Jampot" - need I say more).
Alleyn takes the role of narrator, using the story as a classroom teaching example to new recruits as part of their training.
- Even Money by Dick and Felix Francis [read by Tony Britton]
A lot of Felix in this book I suspect - but written before Dick passed away. I enjoyed it a lot - it's about a trackside bookie and I found the background pretty interesting.
It led me to see if Felix was continuing to write - and he is. I read only the synopsis of reviews of his first novel and they mentioned his lack of first-hand racing experience - which is a blow really. Dick ventured into other fields but I always felt his racing plots were the best - in fact some of the non-racing themed books were distinctly ropy. So I hope Felix progresses with his writing without being too bogged down with negative comparisons to his Father, though from what I can see he has a very loyal fan base.
- A Spot of Bother by Mark Haddon
This is a very funny book which had me clutching my sides laughing out loud - but pretty black humour really. The title is a pun - with the spot being both literal, (and I can empathise strongly with the emotional concern that a trivial medical condition is actually life threatening!) as well as idiomatic. It does not shy away from serious issues, though, while highlighting all the surprising and unconventional human characteristics that lead to the all-round "bother" in the title.
Posted on September 30, 2013 at 8:17 AM« Previous entry | Main | Next entry »
Saturday August 31, 2013
Books in August
- Don't Look Back by Karin Fossum
My first venture into an Inspector Sejer book, and it delighted me from the first - having not so much a surprise ending as a surprise beginning. And I can't say more without spoiling the surprise (beginning).
The end was pretty good as well - one of those simple solutions where there was all the evidence given to you but still a "whodunnit" nonetheless.
I have seen mixed reviews about lack of characterisation, which may be true, but I felt it was a good detective story.
- Drawing Conclusions by Donna Leon
I'm a great fan of Donna Leon and I enjoyed this book - but the ending really surprised me. Not in terms of the plot but in terms of abruptness. I thought the last chapter must have been missing. Having said that - it was more "arty" to end as she does but I felt I needed some cosy rounding off - after all that hard work investigating and so on. - which makes me feel rather dull-witted!
- Fifth Witness by by Michael Connelly [read by John
What can I say? Another great read.
Maybe a bit heavy on the courtroom detail - the whole plot turning on courtroom tactics, but .... can't stop myself using banal prose like "really good".
There is also a wonderful twist at the end - again all the evidence there before you, but not seen until the author chooses.
- Busy Body by M C Beaton [read by Penelope Keith]
Another cheerful book with all our old friends present and correct.
We start and end with the Carsley Ladies (joint meeting); like the village itself, it's a real caricature - but - as is often the case - utterly recognisable for anyone living in a village or belonging to any kind of club or society.
Hating to admit it but I do empathise with Agatha's complicated relationships with her male friends, and her constant search for the perfect man. However, unlike Agatha, I am convinced that when you meet an appealing and yet unattached man of mature years that it is no accident that he is unattached. Not implying a sinister reason - but there will be a reason.
- Bone Bed by Patricia Cornwell
I'm all Scapetta-ed out.
Well - not really of course.
We are back into more conventional mad serial killer territory here and back in my comfort zone. Well "not really" to that one as well - but I prefer the politics, anti-Scarpetta conspiracies, and military involvement to be incidental to the plot and not fundamental to it.
So this offering much more to my taste.
I found it most interesting to see an interview with Cornwell on ITV's "Crime Thriller Club". The latter is little more than a publicity blurb for the awards of the same name but lots of fun with Mark Billingham in full support for the "this prestigeous" (!) event.
- From BBC Radio 4 Extra I enjoyed recordings of a dramatisation of
Pratchett's Night Watch with Philip Jackson*
as Sam Vimes, and an original dramatisation of Laurie
King's The Beekeeper's Apprentice with James Fox as a very
appropriate Sherlock - still sharp but perhaps a little weary.
* ...Philip Jackson who will always be Inspector Japp to me - and yet what a really skilled actor he is. I have seen him in many roles outside Poirot, (in which he was brilliant - aided by a delightful script "swipe me!"), and he is always utterly convincing with no distracting shades of Japp peeping through.
Posted on August 31, 2013 at 2:48 PM« Previous entry | Main | Next entry »
Wednesday July 31, 2013
Books in July
- The Patience of the Spider and August Heat by Andrea
[translated by Stephen Sartarelli and read by Daniel Philpott]
Another two Montalbano mysteries as "easy listening" in the car. In fact they are so good that it got to the point that I was almost inventing car journeys just so I could listen to more of them. Both very poignant tales - the mysteries are satisfactorily revealed but owing to the nature of the stories (murders) the outcomes could never be described as satisfactory. In August Heat I truly felt for Salvo - he (like me) is of a certain age and not quite able to come to terms with getting older - hardly believing he could be attractive to a beautiful young woman - and yet at the same time - believing. He is still firmly tied to Livia (though she is "away" and blaming him for all kinds of things outside of his control) so there is just lots of guilt and real bitter sadness when realisation strikes.
- Port Mortuary and Red Mist by Patricia Cornwell
The plots of these books is strongly linked - almost a continuation of one another. I was not keen on Port Mortuary to start with - too much military and cloak and dagger - but it developed into the usual good story and exciting climax. I liked Red Mist a little better - it was more personal to "Kay" - and the "bad guy" was more your traditional run-of-the-mill lunatic and motivations did not involve some military conspiracy theory plot.
- The Martin Beck Killings: The Locked Room by Maj Sjöwall
& Per Wahlöö [Translated by Paul Britten and dramatised for Radio
4 by Katie Hims]
Radio 4 has produced the entire Martin Beck series of 10 detective novels by Swedish husband and wife team Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö in the Saturday afternoon drama slot - and with an enviable cast of excellent British actors.
The books about Martin Beck and his colleagues in the National Police Homicide Department in Stockholm were written between 1965-1975, (when Per died), and are police procedural novels.
Unfortunately, I've only managed to catch one of them so far but I think I would quite like to read the books - as usual, it is a challenge to fit a full novel into a 1 hour play.
Posted on July 31, 2013 at 1:24 PM« Previous entry | Main | Next entry »
Sunday June 30, 2013
Books in June
- The Sacred Stone by the Medieval Murderers [read by
Another collection of short stories by the Medieval Murderers who are authors (and performers); you can read more about them here.
I do like the idea of a themed collection of stories - this theme concerns the fate of a fragment of an asteroid ( or some such..) with holy powers attributed to it by its owners through the ages - and I enjoyed this set more than House of Shadows; I did like some of the stories more than others but I'm not prepared to say which ones! They might be used as a guide to the quality of an author's solo works - but I am not sure because short story writing is an art in itself and not necessarily a good indicator of all writing in different forms.
- Prologue: Greenland, 1067: by Susanna Gregory
In which the stone is discovered by a band of hunters
- Act 1: Welsh Border, 1103: by Simon Beaufort
In which the stone causes a rift between Church and State
- Act 2: North Devon, 1236: by Bernard Knight
In which the stone is invoked to heal a manor lord's sick wife
- Act 3: Norwich, 1241: by Karen Maitland
In which the stone is acquired by a Jewish merchant
- Act 4: Oxford, 1272: by Ian Morson
In which the stone finds its way to King Henry's bedchamber
- Act 5: London & Jersey, 1606: by Philip Gooden
In which the stone plays a part in the kidnap of Nick Revill
- Epilogue: Present Day
In which the stone resurfaces
- Prologue: Greenland, 1067: by Susanna Gregory
- The Voice of the Violin and Rounding the Mark by
[translated by Stephen Sartarelli and read by Daniel Philpott]
I've been listening to these in the car - and how wonderful they are. Daniel Philpott is a great reader - and somehow manages to get plausible accents and jokes even spoken in English (with credit also due to the translator of course).
I have seen the TV adaptations and can't really find that they left much out (from memory). However, when I watched the TV version of the Terracotta Dog I found a lot seemed to be missing - and I found a web review where the reader said a later novel was not a patch on the previous one (Terracotta Dog) - and I am thinking that these later novels are perhaps getting a little slimmer - and thus are more suited - or perfect - for adaptations. Add to that, throughout his career Camilleri has studied and worked as a director and screenwriter, so clearly has an excellent eye for visual and dramatic interpretations.
- The Teahouse Detective - The de Genneville Peerage by Baroness
Orczy [Radio Play]
A BBC Radio 4 series adapted from a series of short stories written by Baroness Orczy between 1901 and 1925.
The original book called The Old Man In the Corner is about an unnamed armchair detective who examines and solves crimes while sitting in the corner of a genteel London tea-room in conversation with a female journalist ("Polly").
8 stories were adapted and broadcast in 1998 and 2000 featuring Bernard Hepton as the eponymous hero - I managed to catch only one of them (recently rebroadcast on BBC Radio 4 Extra) thanks to the vagueries of BBC iPlayer.
- The Serpent's Back by Ian Rankin [Radio Play]
This appears as a short story in Beggars Banquet but this version is a radio play written by Rankin and broadcast first in 1995. It's a black comedy set in 18th-century Edinburgh.
"Mr Cullender, a resourceful caddie and manservant, searches for a double murderer in the seething Old Town of Edinburgh."
Directed in Edinburgh by Patrick Rayner with Alexander Morton, Richard Greenwood, Norman Maclean, Paul Young, Kern Falconer, Wendy Seager, Tom Smith, Liam Brennan, Michael Elder, Simon Scott, Sheila Donald and Steven McNicoll.
Sadly I missed the second play with the same character: The Third Gentleman.
- Thorndyke, Forensic Investigator by R Austin Freeman
[adapted for Radio 4 Extra and read by Jim Norton] ]
Dr John Evelyn Thorndyke (pretty clearly) bears direct comparison with Sherlock Holmes - given the dates, 1907-1942, and his methods - and though he is focussing on physical evidence, in truth, Holmes is much the same ("give me data"). In addition, Thorndyke is described as tall, athletic, handsome, and clever, yet unmarried, and his friend and foil, Christopher Jervis, acts as narrator.
The 9 adaptations are 15 minutes each and seemed a little stark or lacking in warmth when compared with Doyle's stories. It is possible that the style of the full novels may lend themselves better to a more rounded and less brusque manner of dealing with a plot.
Posted on June 30, 2013 at 1:23 PM« Previous entry | Main | Next entry »
Friday May 31, 2013
Books in May
- Started Early Took My Dog by Kate Atkinson
I've had this book in my possession for a very long time - I had just read the first 3, and at the same time we had the first series of the TV adaptation. Now at last I got round to reading the 4th - and here it is on TV again.
So before I launch into a lot more text - which is mainly about the TV and not about the book - may I say - it's great - do read it.
The TV adaptations have now wandered so far from Jackson's life in books that they are finding it hard to get back on track - which they are trying to do, I think - now that they want to make more shows and yet keep using the books as source material. I don't really see why they needed to alter the plots quite so much. My biggest regret for this book is that "Tracy and Courtney" are the real stars with eccentric and yet convincing characters despite the extraordinary circumstances that they both find themselves in, and also create - and they even used Victoria Wood to play Tracy who would have been great if she'd actually been asked to play the character in the book but instead she played a rather serious woman with a past, in a dead beat job. As to book-Courtney - she was a wonderfully stoic kid with a good deal of her own dry wit, coming across loud and clear despite little dialogue - but on TV she was a sullen child showing signs of the abuse she had clearly been experiencing in her short life to date. Added to that they skipped the charming enigma of whose child Courtney actually was.... the mystery was simply removed.
I do realise they have to change stories to make them fit their 1.5 hour format*, and granted Kate Atkinson's rather black humour and interesting morality might not be considered suitable... (though really: why not? - I mean after all, the stories and characters do actually have a pretty clear moral compass).
No. I'm afraid the only saving grace to make you want to continue watching the TV adaptations is in the shape of Jackson himself - that one they seen to have got completely right. Jason Isaacs hits completely the right note.
* ... and that's another thing... why not reap the benefits of the rich plot lines you can get from a full blown novel .... and .... make the drama longer. Hey - here's an idea - have several parts to cover one story - you could, say, call it a "serial".
I know. I know. People just don't have the attention span these days to watch a whole series that they have to wait for every week ... Oh but wait... I seem to remember some foreign thing... The Killing? And we had to sit through enough episodes of flipping wonderful-but-sure-as-heck-long Broadchurch for goodness sake....
- Rush of Blood by Mark Billingham [read by Toby Longworth]
Another stand-alone novel without Thorne - though he does make an appearance towards the end and we learn something about his new circumstances after the debacle surrounding the end of his last case.
As usual, I was prejudiced against this novel - not the classic police detective murder mystery, new characters to get to know, and a different writing format. Our old friend the serial killer was still there though, and of course, I am sure the change was very refreshing for the author and this comes over in making the novel more interesting and fresh for the reader too.
That killer though - totally bonkers or what? I do hope Thorne follows through tying up loose ends on that at a later date.
- Cover Her Face by P D James [Radio Play]
A BBC Radio 4 dramatisation of P D James first Dalgliesh book - a replay from Radio 4 Extra (or 7 as I like to think of it) seemingly from 2002. This one not exactly starring Hugh Grant - though the blurb featured him heavily. I was never sure what to make of his character - Felix - I thought he was "the good guy" and yet James writes complex characters, and none of them is particularly likeable - with the exception of Dalgliesh of course - and even he's a bit odd.
The real "star" is Sian Philips (as the matriarch and narrator) with her wonderful and distinctive voice. We are currently enjoying her portrayal of Livia in a rerun of "I Cladius" from the 1970s; marvellous actress in a marvellous role.
- The Sign in the Sky by Agatha Christie [Read by Martin
From Radio 4's 15 minute Afternoon Readings, and written in the 1920s, this is the 3rd of 3 recent readings featuring Harley Quin - a character who turns up from time to time and inspires the somewhat introverted bachelor Mr Satterthwaite to come out of his shell and see that justice is done. [In this episode he inspires him to whizz off to Canada...]. There have been at least half a dozen of these stories in this series - perfectly read by Martin Jarvis - taken from the book of short stories The Mysterious Mr Quin.
There are two other stories featuring these two characters, The Harlequin Tea Set and The Love Detectives from Problem at Pollensa Bay, which I read in 2009.
Mr Satterthwaite turns up in the novel Three Act Tragedy alongside Poirot - for no apparent reason, other than perhaps Christie was apparently fond of him. His character was omitted in the recent TV adaptation, with David Suchet and Martin Shaw, but he was played delightfully by George Cole in the BBC Radio 4 "full cast dramatisation".
- Sad Cypress by Agatha Christie [Radio Play]
BBC Radio 4 Extra "full cast dramatisation" with John Moffat as Hercule Poirot, and Emma Fielding as Elinor Carlisle, directed by Enyd Williams.
Helen and I were just discussing the book and agreeing that it is a favourite, even though in my opinion it's pretty dark. This comes across in this radio play and the TV adaptation with David Suchet. The character Mary Gerrard is portrayed as charming, sensible, cheerful, and kind - she regularly visits and reads to an elderly lady. She wants to "make something of herself" using the opportunities she has been given by said elderly lady - perhaps training as a nurse. So her death should really be a poignantly sad event - instead of which she seems just a pawn in the plot, and Elinor Carlisle is heavily portrayed as the sad victim (even though, as Helen observes "she is still actually alive"). Mary's real problem is that she is very beautiful, and, (Helen again) Agatha does not much like beautiful women; they are often portrayed as flighty, naive butterfly creatures - often rich - victims who put their trust in the wrong people, (viz: Evil Under the Sun, Death on the Nile, The Plymouth Express, The Blue Train). Interestingly, Mary does not quite fit the mould - she is not rich, (although money does seem to be the motive for her demise) and sees straight through Elinor's weak - but presumable handsome! - cousin Roddy. However, none of this is enough to save her. Poor Mary.
Emma Fielding is pretty perfect for the role of Elinor, a thoroughly decent but slightly icy character, who is confused by her emotions of jealously, ill-will, and ultimately guilt. But as Poirot says - thinking about murdering someone is not the same as acting on it, and luckily he is there to save the day.
- On BBC Radio iPlayer and Listen Again I have also been enjoying Dixon of Dock Green, Alan Garner's Elidor, and Father Brown Stories with Andrew Sachs.
Posted on May 31, 2013 at 9:18 AM« Previous entry | Main | Next entry »
Tuesday April 30, 2013
Books in April
I know! Six books.... [Well, I was on holiday, and they were exciting....]
- In the Dark by Mark Billingham [read by Adjoa Andoh]
As I promised myself, I went back to read the stand-alone novel with Thorne as "a peripheral character". It was excellent, and I engaged with our new heroine "Helen" right away. I think she is an excellent addition to Thorne's friends and I hope we see much more of her. Much better than the colourless Louise - I guess Mark likes her better.
Prepare to get your hankies out though... it's not all happy endings.
- Sovereign by C J Sansom
I like to read books in the "right" order but unfortunately this is the 3rd novel in the Shardlake series and I have not read the 2nd yet. However, apart from offending my anally retentive nature, this made not a jot of difference to my enjoyment of the book.
It dwells to an eye-watering degree on medieval methods of torture, and the high possibility and extreme fear of being wrongly accused. Some criticism has been made of Sansom's overly detailed writing style - but I find what he says interesting enough not to notice.
- The Black House by Peter May
Such a great read that I immediately shelled out for book 2 of what is apparently a trilogy. (Not the norm you will notice - most of my books are gifts or loans). After the high drama of this one, it's hard to see how there could be 2 more plots.
I did find that at the start the flavour of the book affected me at a rather fundamental level - the hero's general discontent with his marriage struck some kind of chord - I really found it almost too depressing as it seemed weirdly true to life. However, much to my relief, all was explained at the end in a manner with which I most certainly cannot empathise - even weirdly - so I do not have to come to terms with quite such a bleak world view.
I am optimistic that he will continue with 3 books with "happy" endings....
- Swing Brother Swing by Ngaio Marsh [read by James
This book, also entitled "A Wreath for Riviera" in the US edition, is from 1949 and the 15th in the series - so we are back to a time when Alleyn and Troy's son Ricky. is a mere baby. It's a delightful period piece and the plot is completely preposterous as befits a traditional murder mystery of this era (effectively a locked-room mystery). Have to confess I was pretty sure who dunnit, though, astonishingly, the police were a lot slower to catch on - they probably didn't realise they were in a novel.
- There Goes the Bride by M C Beaton [read by Penelope
Time to catch up on Agatha's rural life - though this one sees her on a few foreign trips to kick off the novel. No surprises as to what happens to James Lacey's new fiance. (How does James manage to fall for such appalling women? I think MC has men pretty well summed up in their unfailing weakness for good looks and youth - and when they come in the same package.... irresistable).
Posted on April 30, 2013 at 9:32 AM« Previous entry | Main | Next entry »
Sunday March 31, 2013
Books in March
- Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs
Well.... how peculiar is this.
I guess it's as a fantasy novel, though this was not entirely clear to me at the outset - which I guess is to its credit. The author invents an "other" time-travelling world with its own set of rules and so on which makes me think this may be intended as the start of a series - especially how the book ends with the characters setting out on a "quest".
Anyway, the interest, or gimmick, in this book is that the author has a collection of interesting examples of weird and wonderful photos from the late 19th or early 20th century. He has used these with some lent by others, and written a story around them. The photos are interesting in their own right but the story would probably stand on its own too I think.
Some of the pictures involve "trick" photography with (then) new techniques - like those that produced the infamous fairies at the bottom of the garden that fooled Conan Doyle. I can begin to see from this where this author's interests lie. On looking up his other work, I find that his apparently only other work is The Sherlock Holmes Handbook, which is (maybe) written by a (young) American, for (young) Americans eg was cocaine really legal back then? and why were the British so terrified of Australia? but it's an amusing tome that I had co-incidentally bought as a little gift for Tony last year - who likes all things Sherlock.
- Last Ditch by Naio Marsh [read by James Saxon]
This is the twenty-ninth novel featuring Inspector Alleyn, and was first published in 1977. It's set in the Channel Islands, with Alleyn and Troy's (now adult) son, Ricky, in a central role; I enjoyed this a lot, having read some of the novels before Alleyn met Troy, during their early relationship, and one when Ricky was a small boy. Although Ricky is an impossibly decent fellow - just how you'd like your son to be - and though it's clear he respects his parents, they are very much his parents, and he has his own life private from them. His youth and freshness are well-conveyed along with his adolescent style crush on the sophisticated older woman and so on, while his Father offers an air of experience and solid support.
- Clean Break by Val McDermid [Radio Play]
A BBC Radio 4 dramatisation of a Kate Brannigan mystery starring Charlotte Coleman as the Manchester-based private eye.
The plot? Thieves steal a Monet from a stately home where Kate had arranged the security. She sets off on a chase that takes her across Europe bringing her head to head with organised crime.
Can't say I warmed to Kate very much.....
- A Series of Murders by Simon Brett [Radio Play]
Part of the Charles Paris series of novels, many of which seem to have been produced on BBC Radio 4 starring the delightful Bill Nighy as a very convincing Charles - just the right mix of likeable charm and weakness.
Charles Paris has landed a nice juicy part playing Sergeant Collins in a TV detective series. Needless to say, a cast member is killed, and although it seems like an accident, Charles can't shake the suspicion that she was murdered. On top of all that he tries to stay away from booze and women, in order to get back together with his wife.
I have often heard the odd episode of these series while driving, (they seem to be on mid-morning), so it was great to hear one all the way through.
Posted on March 31, 2013 at 3:04 PM« Previous entry | Main | Next entry »
Thursday February 28, 2013
Books in February
- The Nine Tailors by Dorothy L. Sayers [Radio Play]
Another BBC radio play starring Ian Carmichael as Lord Peter Wimsey, from the novel of 1934, which is apparently the 9th Wimsey novel. I'm having trouble dating the recording date of this radio play, but it was also made as a TV adaptation in 1974 (which I remember seeing) with similar if not the same cast.
The plot is a bit better than the shenanigans at the Belladonna Club - but I think the criticisms of Wimsey and his world, in that they lack of realism, don't have much relevance when reviewing the stories now.
The explanation of the title is as follows: there is a tradition of announcing a death with a church bell in some English parishes. Broadcasting the age and sex of the deceased would be enough to identify them in a small village. So the death was announced by "telling" (single blows with the bell down) to indicate the sex, and then striking off the years. Three blows meant a child, twice three a woman and thrice three a man. After a pause the years were counted out at approximately half minute intervals. The word teller in some dialects becomes tailor, hence the saying "Nine tailors maketh a man", which is much recited in this play.
The bell used in this novel for the announcement is the largest (tenor) bell which is dedicated to St Paul. Hence "teller Paul" which is corrupted to "tailor Paul" in dialect. Apparently the author is acknowledging the assistance of Paul Taylor of Taylor's bell foundry in Loughborough, who provided detailed information to her on all aspects of ringing.
- The Glass Room by Ann Cleeves [read by Charlie Hardwick]
I've been looking forward to catching up with the latest Vera Stanhope novel, and I'm pleased to say this was quite as good as the preceding ones. I suppose these are almost police procedural novels, except that Vera does not seem to follow the procedures too well - which makes for the interest of course. Her behaviour does not leave the bounds of realism though; she manipulates situations intelligently and does not openly flout the rules - as you would expect from a policewoman of her rank. We only know of her wayward nature (and maybe passions) through her thoughts rather than her actions. In this novel, she manages to remain in charge of the case, despite being pretty thoroughly connected with the prime suspect, and being inexplicably present at the crime scene before the police were actually called.
I do find quite a lot to empathise with in Vera, even though I don't imagine we are at all similar in character; Vera's eccentricities are quite definitely due to her childhood with her unpleasant Father, probably both via his genes as well as his bringing her up. She is painted as physically unattractive, which is not in itself sufficient to account for the lack of a man or children in her life, both of which she vaguely mourns from time to time, while those around her would be amazed to think she even noticed the opposite sex at all. A common attitude to the older professional woman, whether unattractive or not, is that they are either ignored or objects of humour. In fact, my sister once observed in the 1970s that women in business were regarded either as bimbos (if you were attractive) or battleaxes (if you were not), and I privately wonder if underlying attitudes have really changed very much since then. In hearing Vera's thoughts, we learn that she has basic desires which are not very different from a lot of other people. She is not perfect, and in her lonelier moments, (maybe every evening!), she does turn to drink, but she seems fairly at one with herself even though she feels there are some things lacking. At the same time, Vera has her eyes wide open to the fact that she would not cope well with being part of a conventional family, and through her Sergeant, Joe, we have a picture of a very robust family life drawn as a contrast.
In re-reading the above I am also struck by the fact that this description could equally apply to the Jane Tennison character in Prime Suspect (1991), portrayed by Helen Mirren as a highly attractive professional police woman. Externally, she could not appear to be more different from Vera, and yet she is similar in her doubts and insecurities revealed in her private life.
Posted on February 28, 2013 at 9:38 AM« Previous entry | Main | Next entry »
Thursday January 31, 2013
Books in January
Posted on January 31, 2013 at 9:37 AM« Previous entry | Main | Next entry »
Monday December 31, 2012
Books in December
Posted on December 31, 2012 at 1:42 PM« Previous entry | Main | Next entry »
Friday November 30, 2012
Books in November
I did not read much fiction this month, but I did do a lot of knitting! So here are a couple of knitting booklets and magazines I am enjoying:
- Debbie Bliss magazine (issue 9) by Debbie
This is Autumn/Winter 2012, and though the designs did not hit me in the face with this issue, it does contain some excellent reading (as a magazine should):
- Rosy devotes her letters section to some excellent advice on toy-making - including how to make those tiny little buttons you need for dolls clothes. (A subject close to my own heart).
- Nell gives a recipe for a yummy Polish apple cake.
- One of the book reviews is about Cute and Easy Crochet by Nikki Trench, which inspired me to think about crochet tops for home-made jam given as a gift (or for yourself if you are posh!). I was thinking you could use my Pattern of the Month motif - crochet to the size of your lid, then do a few rows of dc (or sc) without increasing, and finish with a row of increasing and picot to create the frill. I know you are supposed to be inspired to buy the book not run away and do your own thing - but they are on the cover.... I can only imagine the rest of the book is even more inspiring if this is what you get from the cover alone!
- There is a trend report on coming fashions - which leads into
- Snow Whites - probably the most appealing to me and maybe I do feel a chunky white cabled polo-neck in the offing.
- Furry Tales - some great accessories, with knitting in combination with fake-fur fabrics (I love these combinations), and some gorgeous pom-pom mittens.
- Two simple knits for beginners with user experiences.
- Little Critters - kids with animal-knit accessories (cute!).
- Folklore - reminiscent of those 1950s Tyrolean knits with embroidery in folksy colour combinations. In theory I like this - in practice - not. Lovely pom-poms again though....
- Boys - the perfect magazine - no less than 6 wonderful mens' designs and 2 for kids as well.
- Home on the Range - my least favourite section (which is just me - I don't like this Peruvian/Ranch style one little bit - though having said that there is the most adorable pair of bootee moccasins with beading in 3 shades of Baby Cashmerino...)
- Rowan magazine 52
Rowan's Autumn/Winter 2012, seems very muted and traditional in style. Where there are more innovative pieces, they are too quirky and I don't want them - but then Rowan is always one step ahead of where I want to be and I often find I knit things from the magazines a couple of years after they published them (when I've got used to the idea!).
However, there is a lot of traditional stuff here, (that I love), seemingly in rather dull colours - BUT - I happened to see one of the cardigans (Orkney) on display at Alexandra Palace this year and the colours absolutely glowed! So I had to have the wool for this cardigan (Felted Tweed - my favourite!) and I have already started the knitting. There is also an appealing pattern for some slippers along the lines of Snowflake Slippers (one of the free Rowan patterns I knitted very successfully) for which I have also bought the wool.
Posted on November 30, 2012 at 2:16 PM« Previous entry | Main | Next entry »
Wednesday November 21, 2012
The Surrey Library Newsletter told me some time ago that Mark Billingham was due to appear for an evening at the Woking branch so I duly got tickets and Rob and I trekked out there to see him "in conversation" with another author.
As I have mentioned before in the context of his reading his own work for audio books, Mark is originally a performer and so provided a very entertaining evening. It seemed clear to me before the event that his billing with another somewhat lesser-known author was in order to give more exposure to the latter. However Stav Sherez is a very interesting chap and the excerpts he read sounded excellent so certainly another set of books get put on the crime list for me. His roots are as a journalist and as I have said before, there must be something I like about a journalistic style in crime fiction. I think I like the rich yet sparing prose of the journalist. However Stav is a bit more poetic than most - possibly as he was a journalist for a music paper - and I would strongly recommend following him on twitter (@stavsherez) since his poetry, music interests, and general attitude to life, make his contributions interesting and well-suited to the medium.
Stav's crime novels are: The Devil's Playground (2004), The Black Monastery (2009), and now A Dark Redemption (2012) which is the start of a series pairing of detectives "Carrigan and Miller".
Mark's next book is a Tom Thorne novel The Dying Hours and will be published on May 23rd 2013. This is deemed to be Thorne's twelfth outing and dealing with the ramifications of a major career change; apparently, readers of Rush of Blood will already know what that is. [Although the last Thorne novel was Good as Dead (2011), he has appeared peripherally in the two stand-alone novels In the Dark (2008) and Rush of Blood (2012).]
Posted on November 21, 2012 at 11:31 PM« Previous entry | Main | Next entry »
Wednesday October 31, 2012
Books in October
Posted on October 31, 2012 at 11:08 PM« Previous entry | Main | Next entry »
Sunday September 30, 2012
Books in September
Posted on September 30, 2012 at 8:28 PM« Previous entry | Main | Next entry »
Friday August 31, 2012
Books in August
Posted on August 31, 2012 at 8:16 AM« Previous entry | Main | Next entry »
Tuesday July 31, 2012
Books in July
- Black Ice by Michael Connelly
The first Harry Bosch novel I read was The Concrete Blonde, which was his third outing - and I was hooked. This one is his second, and I think I must have missed it in my haste to devour all the others. It was interesting reading an early Connelly book after all the later ones; interesting to note his changes of style - though I could not put my finger on what the changes are as I'm by no means capable of such an analysis. I guess it's a little less polished, but I'm not implying that this is a negative thing at all, just a little different. I like the way Harry started out like this - a conventional policeman in fiction - a loner and misfit - and also I admire the fact that you can see the character has not changed over the years; he has managed to continue with his police career, so has by defnition mellowed and been very canny in his dealings with his bosses, but fundamentally just the same.
- U is for Undertow by Sue Grafton [Read by Liza Ross]
The author works her way doggedly towards Z and her retirement - or so I assume. Despite the elapsed time of her literary journey through the 1980s, the stories remain varied and interesting; there is often some sort of theme but this never takes over the dialogue and thus I think it serves any "cause" better than a soapbox approach in the writing.
"V" is already available, and I'm still very much looking forward to continuing the series.
- Grave Secrets by Kathy Reichs [read by Katherine Borowitz]
This was the author's second book I think. It was quite interesting, but with all her books I have read now, I am seeing a pretty well the direct opposite to my comments above. Reichs always does seem to have a theme and, although that part is fine, I find the heroine's continual pontificating on the issue in question to be more than a little irritating.
I have read reviews complaining on the formulaic nature of the stories, and also about the co-incidences that bring the strands of the plot together. I have few complaints about those points: a thriller has to have some sort of denoument with the heroine in danger, and as for the coincidences - it's a fictional story....
Posted on July 31, 2012 at 12:04 PM« Previous entry | Main | Next entry »
Saturday June 30, 2012
Books in June
- The Burry Man's Day by Catriona McPherson
I was very keen to read more of Dandy Gilver's doings, but could only find a "real" book of the second novel so it took me a while to get round to it. I did guess at the nub of the story before it was clear to the characters, but judging by the previous book, I think that is the author's intention. This is another author that really seems to be able to evoke the period she is writing about. I think this is a difficult line to tread from the perspective of today; I have read others questioning Dandy's attitude to her offspring, which I find quite easy to accept, and this may because I have no children, but also, the environment in which she exists means that she cannot be so fully absorbed by her children in the way we all are today, otherwise all parents of that era and class would have been in a perpetual state of torment and loss. The stories in general, and this in particular, strongly reflect on the effects of WW1, about which our attitudes to fighting, "lack of moral fibre" and desertion have done a complete about face in the intervening century; I think it must be hard to keep your characters sympathetic while keeping them true to the times, and have their expressing views that they must have feasibly held, but which are not the normal PC views today. However, I think the author does an excellent job and, as before, I am looking forward to reading all the following books.
- Straight by Dick Francis [read by Tony Britton]
I was surprised to find a Francis novel I had not already read - and pleased of course. This is one of those novels where the action is around a non-racing theme, but unlike some, I think this one works particularly well for two reasons: it is firmly embedded with a racing background, and the hero is a jockey who has been thrust into the world of gem stones by the death of his brother. This gives a more plausible way for the gem stone business to be explained to the reader - ie through the eyes of the novice hero. Other than that, the usual exciting thriller with minor romance thrown in.
- The Reversal by Michael Connelly [read by Michael Brandon]
This is a great book which offers all I have come to expect in anticipating each of his crime novels. It brings together almost all his heroes in one book, as Haller, Bosch, and Walling all appear - which is fun. I like the way he rings the changes on his characters; for example in this book, Haller is prosecuting. I know it sounds unlikely, but the basic premise is well explained and his inexperience on the other side of the fence is also nicely covered. I did think this was his latest, but there are 2 more after this and another expected to be published later this year, so I am much in arrears, but with lots to look forward to.
- Silence by Jan Costin Wagner (translated by Anthea Bell)
This was a book suggestion from the Slockavullin Book Group. From what Helen said I was expecting this to be glum and introspective in the same vein as the non-Wallander Mankell novel that I accidentally read. As such I was pleasantly surprised to be reading a fairly solid detective story plus interesting features of the detectives' lives. I would recommend this as a pretty good read, and I understand it to be the second one featuring the same characters; see also Ice Moon - the first book - and The Winter of the Lions published more recently.
Posted on June 30, 2012 at 8:55 AM« Previous entry | Main | Next entry »
Thursday May 31, 2012
Books in May
- TV Detectives Omnibus edited by Peter Haining
This is an omnibus of original short stories by the well-known creators of detectives who have subsequently made it on to the TV screens. The book I have is the 1992 Orion edition, so it's a snapshot of TV detectives to that date. For me it's a very interesting book including not only the (then) more recent TV detective adaptations like Jeremy Brett's Sherlock Holmes and more recent detectives such as Morse, but also refers to the more historical original stories about Charlie Chan, Perry Mason, Ellery Queen, Sam Spade, Philip Marlowe, and so on. each story is carefully chosen with a few - often fascinating - facts about the character and author at the start of each section. For example - who knew? - Miss Marple made it on to American TV in 1956 with Gracie Fields in the starring role (!) and Roger Moore playing the part of Patrick Simmonds.
Peter Haining has also done a similar Crimebusters Omnibus at a slightly later date including Taggart, Tennison, Spender, Columbo and Kojak.
- The Ladies of Grace Adieu: and Other Stories by Susanna
An excellent introduction to the folklore and stories of Susanna Clarke, hopefully a good preparation for Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell, which was recommended by Alison and is a mighty tome currently waiting to be read - but more of that next month.
This book of short stories is much easier to digest, and has great variety and interest in the way each story is presented. Despite being (in some cases well known) fairy stories, they are all weirdly disturbing, and appropriately classified by the library as "science fiction". It fits well with my recent reading of Puck of Pooks Hill.
- A Fatal Inversion by Barbara Vine [read by William Gaminara]
This is Ruth Rendell of course, writing under her psychological thriller pseudonym. I'm afraid I am one of her readers that likes her "bread and butter" police novels with dear old Inspector Wexford, so I tend not to read Barbara Vine. However, the Guardian list of "1000 novels: crime" recommended it, which gave me the incentive. And of course it really is excellent, as you would expect, and despite the "crime" being fairly clear from the start, it did completely surprise me with its ending. At one point, one of the characters says "we've got away with it" which is (no doubt intended to be) deeply ironic, since, as the plot unfolds, it is pretty evident that none of them truly got away with "it" at all.
Posted on May 31, 2012 at 9:20 AM« Previous entry | Main | Next entry »
Monday April 30, 2012
Books in April
- House of Silk by Anthony Horowitz
I can't praise this book enough written in the true spirit of the Conan Doyle originals. Added to that we have delightful historical detail that Horowitz is so good at researching, and a few political points slipped in as Watson's minor digressions in the course of telling the tale. Almost as a bonus, the storyline is excellent, although is a little wistful and sad at the end, as Watson is writing this in old age and in somewhat poor health with Holmes already long departed.
- Bones and Silence by Reginald Hill [read by Brian Glover]
This is another book with a sad little ending.
Of course, I suppose classic detective stories featuring murders are never going to be a bundle of laughs, but this was one of the sub plots which you hoped would be resolved positively. I don't really want to hint at the resolution of any parts of the plot, but in my defence, this is an old novel, which I even saw on TV, so hopefully it's not really a spoiler.
- Agatha Raisin and a Spoonful of Poison by M C Beaton
Finally tracked down this book, which made a pleasurable afternoon's read while knitting a plain sock from the "sock blank" experimental dyeing project.
So ... it's LSD in the jam at the local village fete. What larks! .. or it would have been if one of he elderly residents had not thought they could fly off the church tower, with predictable results.
"Harmless" prank? or cunning murder plan (albeit a rather scatter-gun approach..).
No sad endings here - all the jolly fun a murder mystery should be ....
Posted on April 30, 2012 at 6:17 PM« Previous entry | Main | Next entry »
Saturday March 31, 2012
Books in March
- Silent Voices by Ann Cleeves [read by Charlie Hardwick]
Vera appeared in the opening chapter of this novel, and so I was hooked from the start. She is the most interesting character and, in the earlier books, I was always willing her to appear as soon as possible. Ann Cleves does not simply churn these novels out at a great rate, and so there is not a huge canon for the TV series to take up. Thus I am sure that the next series will have new plots written for TV. This is always dangerous; in my estimation they absolutely ruined the Dalziel and Pascoe novels by doing this - they deviated dramatically from the characters own stories and reduced it from a work of near genius to a run of the mill cops and robbers drama. However, lets look on the bright side: often, a great novel is too big an enterprise to reduce to a couple of hours (eg the Rebus novels - which have never been successfully dramatised, even after they chose a suitable leading actor - purely due to their short duration*) - and Morse seemed to survive well even with the "written for TV" episodes.
* I had just read Ian Rankin's "Fleshmarket Close" when I watched the TV drama. Although it retained the title, as far as I remember the "action" referring to the place was presumably considered extraneous to the main plot and therefore cut out - consequently I remember no reference during the episode to its title.
- Hidden Depths by Ann Cleeves [read by Anne Dover]
So smitten with Vera that I went straight on to another novel. This one was the first to be shown in the TV dramatisation, and the 3rd chronologically. It involved a very memorable "MO" (not horrific I hasten to add - just sad - as any murder would be), so I remembered the story but not so much who "dunnit" - luckily.
I'm looking forward to the 5th (latest) Vera book which came out in February this year.
- The Vault by Ruth
Rendell [Read by Nigel Anthony]
This is a library download, which I chose as part of my reawakened interest in Ruth Rendell, only to discover that it is the latest Wexford mystery set after the Inspector's retirement. I had heard more than one reference to this book - mildly scathing comments about the premise of allowing the hero to continue working with police business after retirement. However, I found this entirely forgiveable - certainly as reasonable as, for example, allowing Dixon of Dock Green to never rise through the ranks and to continue to be played by an actor in his 80s, and certainly more appealing than having him die rather than retire. After all - how realistic is crime fiction and murder myteries at all? I think Oxford had more murders in one episode of Morse than they ever had in reality in the course of an entire year.
As to the plot - it's as well that I find myself such a source of amusement. While reading, I began to find the story a little familiar - similar to what is possibly the only non-Wexford Ruth Rendell thriller that I have read - no idea of the title - researched on web to find that it is "A Sight for Sore Eyes" (I title I have no memory of at all) and that in some places The Vault is actually described as a sequel. Anyway - I enjoy writers revisiting old plots or characters from a different perspective (eg Ian Rankin's "Blood Sport" - and most of Michael Connelly's novels), and this one did not disappoint.
Posted on March 31, 2012 at 10:59 AM« Previous entry | Main | Next entry »
Wednesday February 29, 2012
Books in February
- Recalled to Life by Reginald Hill [read by Brian
Returning to Dalziel and Pascoe to read the 13th in the series. Dalziel has the opportunity to visit New York, while Pascoe stays at home worrying about the state of his marriage (and Dalziel).
I like the way Dalziel is portrayed as a tough, intelligent, and serious-minded policeman, (though to some extent, a figure of fun as far as his colleagues are concerned). He may be "the Fat Controller" but he is also fit, making him a physical as well as a mental force to be reckoned with.
Brian Glover made an excellent reader, both with and without his Yorkshire accent.
- The Dogs of Riga by Henning
Working through the Kurt Wallander series with this, the second, book. First published in 1992, the theme is around political change in the Eastern Block countries and what it means when "the authoritites" are corrupt and cannot be trusted.
It is due to be one of the English (Kenneth Brannagh) adaptations of the Wallander novels - series 3, not yet aired.
- Death Comes to Pemberley by P D James
More P D James than Jane Austen pastiche, which is what you might expect. The author has used the characters, and, in my opinion, kept them pretty well all in character.
I found the introduction, revisiting previous scenes, quotes, and general scene-setting, rather dull - I feel I am already overly familiar with the material "to date", although I appreciate that the book needs to stand alone, and it might be useful for those who are not familiar with Pride and Prejudice. The author does advance theories about the relationships between the characters, somewhat outside the original novel, which I found quite interesting (never having studied English Literature academically), though I am not sure I agreed with all of them.
- Telling Tales by Ann Cleeves [read by Julia Franklin]
I wanted to read these books as I saw the excellent TV series with Brenda Blethyn playing DI Vera Stanhope. Having listened to this one (the second in the series) I think they did a pretty good and faithful job of dramatising them - and Brenda was wonderful of course, making a fair stab at disguising her many positive physical attributes in order become the frumpy Vera.
The book had a slow start for me, only becoming interesting once Vera appeared on the scene - but the I obviously warmed to it and I became just as interested in everyone else as I got towards the end of the book.
Posted on February 29, 2012 at 9:53 AM« Previous entry | Main | Next entry »
Tuesday January 31, 2012
Books in January
- Who Guards a Prince? Reginald Hill [read by Ian Redford]
I am a great admirer of Reginald Hill but only more recently started to read books outside the Dalziel and Pascoe series. I think he is a marvelously inventive writer as well as being able to tell a thrilling tale, (this one perhaps less plausible than some but I am more than willing if there is a need for any suspension of disbelief).
So you can imagine my dismay when, on my own birthday, George stated with casual bluntness "he died recently didn't he?". I'm afraid I did not register the fact before and I am very sad - for him and for us. My only consolation is - I still have many of his books still to read.
- The Speaker of Mandarin by Ruth
Rendell [Read by Michael Bryant]
In the 1980s and 90s I read all "the latest" Wexford mysteries as they came out. While I don't pretend Ms Rendell's popularity has ever faded, her books became less essentially fashionable than they seemed to be in the 1980s, and I realise that since then I have not read any - until Rob gave me The Monster in the Box, which made me realise she was still writing new "Wexfords", despite declining to be involved with any more TV adaptations. This book is from 1983 and I really enjoyed it - the murder mystery was not so mysterious, but the storyline was great and very interesting. Makes me look forward to more, and, encouraged by the Guardian's list of "Crime Novels everyone must Read", I plan to read some of the "other" novels as well as those written as "Barbara Vine".
- The Geneva Mystery by Francis Durbridge [Read by Toby
A Paul Temple Mystery. Interesting to listen to as a "retro experience" and well-read. Paul made his first appearance in 1938 - but he and his wife "Steve" seem still in their prime in this story written in 1971, apparently set in the 1960s. Best known as a radio series from 1938-1968, with a few remakes in the 2000s, many of the early episodes now being lost. I fondly remember the TV series starring Francis Matthews from 1969-1971.
- House of Shadows by the Medieval Murderers [Read by
When I started listening to this book (on a long car journey) I thought it was deathly dull, and I did not understand the authorship. It got a little better - and I think the concept of the book - which is a collection of short stories by different authors around a common theme - is pretty interesting. The Medieval Murderers seem to be authors and performers - anyway you can read about them yourself here. I was interested to see C J Sansom is one of their number, though he did not contribute to this book.
Posted on January 31, 2012 at 9:16 PM« Previous entry | Main | Next entry »
Sunday July 31, 2011
Books in July
There have been more audio books than usual this month as I work my way round painting the kitchen to show at least some progress in time for Alison's impending visit. (She claims it's not important.... but we know better...)
- Wolf Hall Hilary Mantel
This won the Man Booker 2009 - when I thought the Sarah Waters The Little Stranger should have won - but that was before I read this. I borrowed it as an eBook from the library - all new experiences - and the choice is currently limited. However, what a great choice it turned out to be. A fantastic novel - almost not a novel of course. Had I not been so engrossed in the text I would have wondered where the title came from, but this became abundantly clear in the closing pages.
Co-incidentally I have been since exposed to several other cultural experiences about the same historical period through TV, film, and coutry house exhibitions, and it is really fascinating.
- Bones to Ashes and Devil Bones Kathy Reichs
[read by Lorelei King]
More library loans, which make good listening for long car journeys, or painting walls! Tony is a great Reichs enthusiast. However, Rob surprised me by saying he did not enjoy the book he read, finding it tedious in forensic detail - I wonder if they are better as spoken word.
- The Private Patient P D James [read by Michael Jayston]
This is completely in the standard mould, confined in the setting of a private hospital for plastic surgery. The characters are a shade wooden and dated, but I think I have always felt that about James books. I think I am more of a "plot" person with less interest in the psychological depths of the characters - and the characters are not very warm or likeable. However, as far as I can tell James writing is as good as ever, and the actual plot (under all the psychology) is quite strong.
PD James has recently been awarded the Theakstons Old Peculier Outstanding Contribution to crime fiction - only the second author to recieve it.
- Bloodline Mark Billingham [read by the Paul Thornley]
Eighth in the series proved as interesting as ever. I am pleased to say that although he sticks with the serial killer theme, the books rely far more on the likeable character of Tom Thorne, than weird and wonderful ways people can be murdered. The writing encompasses Thorne's life and work to equal degree, without becoming boring about either. I find the characters very real, which is quite something when reading about murders which by sheer weight of numbers have to be pretty far from reality.
- Lord Peter Views the Body Dorothy L. Sayers [read by
An enormously entertaining short story collection:
- "The Fantastic Horror of the Cat in the Bag"
- "The Unprincipled Affair of the Practical Joker"
- "The Vindictive Story of the Footsteps That Ran"
- "The Bibulous Business of a Matter of Taste"
- "The Piscatorial Farce of the Stolen Stomach"
- "The Unsolved Puzzle of the Man with No Face"
- "The Adventurous Exploit of the Cave of Ali Baba"
- "The Abominable History of the Man with Copper Fingers"
- "The Undignified Melodrama of the Bone of Contention"
Posted on July 31, 2011 at 8:37 AM« Previous entry | Main | Next entry »
Thursday June 30, 2011
Books in June
Posted on June 30, 2011 at 2:52 PM« Previous entry | Main | Next entry »
Friday June 10, 2011
I have a new toy: an electronic reader. The title says "New Technology" but almost before I can put pen to paper (fingers to keyboard, stylus to screen, etc) it is not longer new, nor unique in its function. This is hardly a surprise as I bought it "used" on eBay, although it is virtually new.
I chose to get the smaller version of the Sony eReader. for a number of reasons, some of which are no longer relevant. One of them is unchanging, which is, that it is light in weight and fits well into my bag, while at the same time feeling quite like holding a little book when reading. I first saw it when out with Helen (she was buying a Netbook), and was smitten, but reviews did not rate it as the best; a closer look however seemed to show that many reviewers did rate it as "the best" and their main objection was the price. My eBay purchase, of course, overcame that objection.
I think the eBay seller had bought some other device with a reading app making a specific reader device redundant. However, despite my now owning a Sony tablet - with Sony eReader and Kindle apps installed - I still find I have a very strong need for the eReader, which is just like putting a tiny light-weight book in my bag when travelling. It's very useful having the reader apps on my tablet, but I would not use the tablet as a replacement for the specialist device.
Posted on June 10, 2011 at 8:24 AM« Previous entry | Main | Next entry »
Tuesday May 31, 2011
Books in May
- Nemesis and Alexandria Linsey Davis [read by
Lots of fun, and delightfully read by my hands-down favourite narrator.
In Alexandria, the Falco family go on a jaunt to Egypt to provide Davis with a chance to poke fun at libraries and academia. It's an enjoyable book, but - although the author often uses this technique to provide new interest in the way of a foreign backdrop for her novels, I always feel that Falco is never truly on top form except on home territory in Rome.
Nemesis sees him back in Rome although there is an extensive swampy excursion. Here the novelty is provided perhaps by the crime story rather than the surroundings, where the concept of an ancient Roman serial killer is explored.
- Kissing Christmas Goodbye M C Beaton
Surprisingly little to do with Christmas (it puts in an appearance towards the end). Agatha spends her time planning for the great event, but meanwhile gest involved with a rather unpleasant family business - o - and there's a murder. Or perhaps not.
Agatha dreams of that perfect Christmas - yet another concept I can equate to - and yet despite the preparations and the lifestyle books, it can never quite be perfect. The reason? that (however perfect one is oneself..) those around you are not the perfect stuff of daydreams. And despite her obsessive imaginings, by the time her great love James turns up to kiss her under the mistletoe, Agatha discovers that he does not stir her emotions to complete that picture of perfection.
And you know what? She discovers that she's having a great time anyway.
If there is a link between these novels, it is that they both have major/peripheral
characters where I find it hard to put the flesh on the bones. In the
Falco series it's Anacrites. He is presented as Falco's sworn enemy, though
somehow that enmity lacks conviction for me. On occasion we have almost
been given an insight into a deeper character and then it's whipped away
and replaced by Falco's continued assertions about Anacrites low character.
With Agatha, it's James Lacey, and maybe this one is somehow more understandable as we most often see James through Agatha's obsessed eyes. Mrs Bloxham provides an apparently objective view, though of course she is very biased against him in her concern for Agatha's welfare.
Perhaps as these are both enjoyable light-hearted mystery series and I am simply trying to read too much into them!
Posted on May 31, 2011 at 10:58 AM« Previous entry | Main | Next entry »
Saturday April 30, 2011
Books in April
- The Girl of his Dreams Donna Leon [read by Gordon
Another excellent Commissario Brunetti story. The backdrop is a social comment - as usual - this time involving the Romany community around Venice. The contrast is easily drawn between the children sent into the city to pilfer, and the "idle" rich in their far more oppulent surroundings. Differing viewpoints are elicited through the mouths of Brunetti, his colleagues, and family members - some more naive than others.
- Forfeit Dick Francis [read by Tony Britton]
Interesting listening to this, as I believe it was the very first Dick Francis novel I ever experienced. From memory, it was serialised on Radio 4 around 1977 in their regular afternoon slot at about 4:30 - frustratingly cannot remember the title of the programme. I don't think it was narrated by Tony Britton. I was addicted to the radio then (while knitting of course - I have precise memory of the sweater - a gift for my Mother from a pattern in Stitchcraft!). They followed it with a reading of Flying Finish. Utterly thrilling, and for all that - still an excellent book, even discounting the knitting nostalgia, with his wife Mary's influence apparently clear.
Posted on April 30, 2011 at 9:56 AM« Previous entry | Main | Next entry »
Thursday March 31, 2011
Books in March
Bedtime listening. Yawn.
- Fresh from the Country by Miss
Read [read by Gwen
I really enjoyed the gently humorous homely tales in "Over the Gate". However this book is not written in the same mould at all. It's an account of a newly-qualified female teacher's experiences in the early 1960s, and I found it rather tedious with little substance. I also disliked the representation of the "perfect" and patronising head teacher who was clearly the potential role model for the heroine; one can only hope that the very tiny intimations of romance might swiftly blossom into the traditional marriage proposal and acceptance, thereby rescuing her from such a fate for good (!).
One of the problems may be that I cannot relate to the story in the same way that perhaps those in the teaching profession could. Nonetheless, I think some of her other stories are much more pleasing and fun.
- Depths by Henning
Mankell [read by Sean Barrett]
This is a very gloomy book - all icy wilderness and barrenness bleakness, set during the First World War. It was hard for me to empathise with this hero, and as it's told from his point of view, (and he is clearly psychotic), it's hard to get to grips with how others view him. He is deeply disturbed throughout, and entangles himself in a web of deceit, leading to multiple murders, and fairly inevitably, as his duplicity is unravelled, his own demise.
(It reminded me a little of Zola's "Thérèse Raquin", and to confirm me as a Phillistine, I did not like that much either.)
And yes - I am one of those idiots who thought this would be a Wallander novel.
Posted on March 31, 2011 at 9:56 AM« Previous entry | Main | Next entry »
Monday February 28, 2011
Books in February
- Silks by Dick Francis and Felix Francis [read by Tony
I always felt I had a problem with Tony Britton reading Dick Francis novels, as they usually feature relatively young men (20s-30s) - and Tony Britton, though a great reader, has a very mature upper middle class voice. That's what I thought. But I had no problem with this one. Maybe it's because the hero is a barrister (Tony sounds like one of whatever age - no problem) - or maybe this is just a stronger novel than ones I have read recently. Anyway - a fine read - and nicely encompassing a bit of horseyness too....
the Sadness [read by Christian Rodska] and
The Roar of the Butterflies [read by Rupert Farley]
by Reginald Hill
A very different detective created by Reginald Hill. Jo Sixsmith is an ex machine operator turned private detective living in Luton, though his adventures take him elsewhere.
It is almost an old-fashioned style of book, with very ordinary old-fashioned style people but yet set in our very contemporary world. Full of charm and humour, but for all that does not sacrifice the a very real sense of danger and the thrill of the whodunnit.
- Love, Lies and Liquor by M C Beaton [read by Penelope
An Agatha Raisin novel, in which experience triumphs over hope.
O no - my mistake - got that the wrong way round.
Agatha thinks she will rekindle the romantic flame by going on holiday with ex-husband James - poor James' idea is a nostalgic trip to a coastal English resort (but seemingly in the dead of winter!), which, funnily enough, lives up to the expectations of neither party.
It does seem like she might really be cured of James this time...
Posted on February 28, 2011 at 9:55 AM« Previous entry | Main | Next entry »
Monday January 31, 2011
Books in January
These are the lovely books I received as gifts - a lovely start to the New Year.
- The Knitter's Year by Debbie Bliss
As is often the case with this type of book, I look at the projects and think "why - these are simple little things - I could have made this up myself".... but then you didn't did you? For a book like this, (knitting projects all year), they need to be quick fun things, - which they are - and this book is beautifully styled and produced, providing the motivation and desire to knit the "little projects" and also then make some up yourself!
- Around the World in Knitted Socks by Stephanie Van Der
You'd buy this book for the cover alone wouldn't you? It's all so colourful and lovely, I wanted to start them all right away. I felt that Rowan felted tweed would provide the look I was after but the 4ply weight is discontinued (and the patterns would be hard to adapt due ot the patterning); plus I think the felted tweed might not be robust enough for socks. So - I guess I'll have to try that new territory and use the recommended yarns...
- Nordic Knits by Martin Storey
This is the sort of book that non-knit-lovers (as well as knitters) would like projects from. Perfect gifts for those not keen on hand-knit clothing - though you need to check out their liking for folksey! I think it's packed with pretty tasteful stuff and immediately knitted the cushions on the cover for Alison to decorate in her new "cabin" (house to you and I).
Posted on January 31, 2011 at 4:01 PM« Previous entry | Main | Next entry »
Saturday December 11, 2010
Books in December
The Girl who Played with Fire and The Girl who Kicked the Hornets Nest by Stieg Larsson, (translated
Keeland) [read by Saul Reichlin]
I spent this month listening to conclusion of Stieg Larsson's Millennium trilogy. As it was so long since I read the first book I started by listening to the audiobook version of the Girl with the Dragon Tattoo before starting on the other two.
I found the second book a fairly good thriller, but by the time we got to the third - which was really just an extension of the plot of the second, it all sounded rather like the first book all over again.
The hero ends up by finding the perfect woman (physical and intellectual) as well as the journalistic scoop of a lifetime - again - and of which we are led to believe is his third such scoop. Reading page after page of what really amount to the fantasies of an aging journalist became rather tedious in the third book.* However, the books are well-deserved best-sellers and it is a shame there are not going to be any more like them.
* As usual, I looked at other reviewers ideas and was surprised that they did not speak with one voice. Some were critical of the writing and the plot, while others praised it - though I felt perhaps on the grounds of "approving" of the underlying strong moral stance.
Posted on December 11, 2010 at 4:06 PM« Previous entry | Main | Next entry »
Tuesday November 30, 2010
Books in November
- The Triumph of Caesar Steven Saylor [read by Peter Wickham]
I was a bit surprised (and pleased) that Saylor has written a further Roma Sub Rosa novel. I thought we had seen the last of Gordianus in Egypt in The Judgement of Caesar. As the earlier novels progressed rapidly through history, I always felt that Saylor planned to continue the sagas perhaps by focusing on other members of Gordianus' family, but this never fully developed. I think Gordianus proved to be more interesting than any of the others. However, our hero is certainly getting on a bit now, and the style of the novel seems affected by that fact, (which is interesting in that the author himself is not so very ancient). This is a way of saying that I did find the pace a bit slow and the basic plot a little weak, but as usual the historical detail is very interesting in itself, and clearly where Saylor's interest and expertise lie.
I think that may be the overriding reason that we have not moved to later periods in history with G's sons or daughter. And - presumably to keep a plausible lifespan for Gordianus, while avoiding a chronological dead-end for the series - the next novel is said to be a "prequel that will take the young Gordianus to the Seven Wonders of the World".
I look forward to it.
- Scarpetta by Patricia Cornwell [read by Lorelei King]
So - I plod on reading the Scarpetta series - always a good read (if you like crime thrillers - not so good if you don't). You can see from other notes on these books, I have some reservations about the portrayal of the heroine. However, in this book I seemed to discern a change. Kay seems to have become much more human, and I had a greater sense of warmth from all the characters - as if a study in black and white had suddenly been tinged with colour. I think the analogy works well as the black and white depiction stands on its own artistic merit as well as colour adding interest.
Looking back on the series and Cornwell's other novels I think she has quite simply adopted different writing styles and that alters how I feel when reading. The most notable is writing in the third person and yet in the present tense. You (I) would imagine that writing in the present tense would add to the tension and immediacy of the action, but the use of the third person makes for a sense of icy detachment, as if you are watching the characters and the plot unfold through a pane of glass.
In this book we return to third person past tense ("normal"!) and the characters suddenly seem more alive. So I'm looking forward to her next couple of books which seem (from excerpts I have read) to continue with this style.
Posted on November 30, 2010 at 9:24 AM« Previous entry | Main | Next entry »
Sunday October 31, 2010
Books in October
- Popco Scarlett Thomas
This was an enjoyable book - well written, fun to read. There is a "but" coming as I had some reservations about completely enthusing about it. It has a number of layers to it and retains interest throughout but I think the author showed more inspiration in writing some of the passages than others.
The opening was excellent and engaging as the heroine commenced her overnight train journey, to join a "team building" exercise run by her huge international company at their own country-house training centre. I found this all well-observed and funny - I could easily empathise as it is all very familiar territory to me (not that my own dear multi-national company ever offers quite such lavish affairs). The coffee-table style explanations of mathematics were interesting enough though not new to me, and Popco's global marketing strategies were very interesting, if somewhat sinister. However, I found the back story and the ending less satisfying - as if the book had been written and then it was simply necessary to tie up loose ends.
Overall though - do read it. To quote Kim Newman in the Independent in 2004: "..it's hard to resist a book which comes complete with a crossword puzzle, a list of prime numbers, a frequency chart for the occurrence of letters in English (bound to come in useful) and a recipe for "Let Them Eat Cake" cake.
- Euclid's Window by Leonard Mlodinow
Reading Popco made me want to read this book again. Before I recommend it, be aware that it definitely is about maths. You don't need to be a mathematician to read or understand it but you do need an interest in that direction. I find it interesting and fun.
"An optimist would say that although the probability of winning the lottery is 14 million to one, you can't win if you don't buy a ticket.
However a mathematician would say that the probability of winning is the same whether you buy a ticket or not."
Posted on October 31, 2010 at 9:33 AM« Previous entry | Main | Next entry »
Thursday September 30, 2010
Books in September
- The Suspicions of Mr Whicher: or the Murder at Road Hill House Kate Summerscale
I can highly recommend this book as a fascinating read. Some other reviewers say that there was far too much detail based on the author's research and complain that it's not much of a mystery novel; my conclusion is that they were misled by the cover blurb which does the book an injustice if it implies it's in the detective fiction genre. I would class myself as a fairly lightweight reader who enjoys murder mysteries - and yet I was really gripped by this book, in the same way that I loved The Victorian House (Judith Flanders).
I really appreciated the frequent references, and also the absence of material where there is no historical information available. The picture of the early detective force in the 1850s seems to show their reliance on keen observation identifying somewhat naive criminals, and arrests of the form "come along quietly now lad" followed by immediate confession. Not to underrate their skill, but it makes an interesting contrast to today's methods of detection, where increased skill in producing hard evidence seems to have led to increasingly sophisticated criminals. It is very interesting to understand through writings of the day, how much social class influenced the role of the police - they had an odd status, having the power of the law behind them but no power at all in social standing - their need to pry into everything to uncover the truth was not considered right or decent. [In fact, I even noticed something similar in a contemporary TV episode of Midsomer Murders where on being asked whether the suspect had "stayed overnight" with the witness she replied stonily "how is that possibly any of your business?" - even though the question had a clear purpose.]
I find it hard to see how this book could be taken for a conventional murder mystery as such - the actual murder is really so horrid (as real-life murders always are) that it does not make for a good fiction story. It was the sensational news of the day akin to Ian Brady or Ian Huntley, and seems to have spawned the original police detective story. A number of authors of the day produced fictional stories, using the (then) police methods, but none reproducing anything like the actual Road Hill House murder.
The author cited The Moonstone frequently, showing how it very much followed the pattern of clues in the true story and how the detective (Cuff) was an amalgamation of Whicher and some of his fellow detectives at the time - so I thought I had better read it again to compare...
- The Moonstone Wilkie Collins [Read by Peter Jeffrey]
I say "read it again" but actually I am not sure I ever made it through the whole book before even though I have owned the book for a number of years. This time I listened to a spoken-word version - and it was great. The tale is told in sections by a number of different narrators; the story has a conversational style which changes according to the "writer" and therefore is well-suited to the spoken word, especially as Peter Jeffrey seems exceptionally adept in giving the characters voice. So I found it very digestible; in addition, there is a lot of tongue-in-cheek humour in the book, and I must say even though I think I take an interest in Victorian history, I was surprised by how much the humorous content felt quite contemporary. The story was originally written for serialisation in a magazine, so it is episodic in nature and somewhat "spun out" - and this also worked well as an audiobook.
Given that the story is about a theft and not a murder, it is astonishingly similar to the Road Hill House crime, and is very obviously inspired by it. It follows the form: crime in a "posh" house, (erroneous) suspicion falling on a young lady, the key clue of the "missing nightgown" (stained with paint rather than blood), the character and fall from grace of Detective Cuff... and so on. Unlike the real world of course, it concludes with a satisfyingly happy ending.
[Sadly, no happy ending would ever have been possible for the real murder story.]
Posted on September 30, 2010 at 10:11 AM
I really liked Mr Whitcher, read on your recommendation. I also suggest The Woman in White - I believe you still have my copy.
Posted by: Alison on October 21, 2010 4:20 PM« Previous entry | Main | Next entry »
Tuesday August 31, 2010
Books in August
This month saw the publication of a brand new magazine for spinners here in the UK called the Yarnmaker. I have been anticipating it for a while and it is truly excellent - quite a slim first issue but packed with content - and all about the things which interest me most (so my love for it may be a rather personal preference). I have immediately signed up with a subscription and fervently hope that they can keep up the high standard they have set.
Also this month, Rowan published their magazine for autumn/winter 2010 (No 48) somewhat earlier than usual. However the controversy about this year's free gift for members cast a bit of a shadow. I was absolutely delighted by the idea of their giving away an eco-friendly tote bag, and having received it now, I have to say it pretty well lived up to my expectation. However, there was a mass of complaints about it on Ravelry and other fora. Many people wanted yarn and not yet more tote bags, some did not want a bag "advertising a company", but mostly they complained about the quality - and I think Rowan's supplier did rather let them down over the latter. For myself - I have a lot of yarn, and the free gifts never gave me enough yarn to make anything I really wanted so my previous year's free gifts are all sitting around untouched. But even though I actually liked my bag, I was also sent an additional free book "to compensate me" - Winter Kids.
Anyway - the magazine itself is great - the Russian Doll section is especially lovely although I doubt I will ever knit any of its complex Fair Isle patterning (been there, done that, still working on it...); I had no time for the Timeless section - hated the presentation and pretty much hated the styles.
Posted on August 31, 2010 at 9:09 AM« Previous entry | Main | Next entry »
Saturday July 31, 2010
Books in July
- Dissolution C J Sansom
This is another book gift which it took me a while to get round to reading - it seems it's Sansom's first book of a series (up to about 5 now I think) featuring Matthew Shardlake a hunchback lawyer in the Tudor times. I am not a really a fan of historical "detectives" as such, with whodunnits being an invention of the Victorian era as I see it; some contrivances completely lack credibility - and are then poorly written. But a good story (well executed) is always a good story and I thought this one was excellent. One aspect I particularly enjoyed for myself is that it imparts a lot of information on this period of Tudor history about which I knew relatively little. I do like to learn new things in such a digestible form.
Many other reviewers have used the description "gripping" and I leave you with some words from James Naughtie, writing in the Sunday Times: "As good a new thriller as I have come across for years. The London of the 1530s smells real, the politics and the religious machinations are delicious and Sansom's voice rings true. His troubled hero Shardlake, doing Thomas Cromwell's dread work in the burning monasteries, is a kind of Tudor Morse and a character to treasure. Great stuff."
[There was some rumour of the BBC commissioning a series starring Kenneth Branagh but that seems to have evaporated. Someone suggested Tony Robinson for Shardlake - an excellent choice but sad to say a bit too old for the role now, as the character is pretty young - I would suggest maybe Burn Gorman.]
- Charlotte Gray by Sebastian Faulks [Read by Jamie Glover]
I will begin by saying the book is excellent and well worth reading. Again, I learnt a lot about (rather more recent) history. Although I am familiar with the facts of the chronological progress of WWII, I never before had pointed out to me - or bothered to look into - what the occupation of France really meant, with the willful collaboration of the Vichy government after 1940, and the so-called "free zone" of France.
I was very interested in seeing the film starring Cate Blanchett when I saw the trailers in 2001; most of the reviews suggest it lacks passion, but despite that I am keen to catch it some time on DVD.
I understand that Faulks did a lot of research using contemporary accounts as the source for his fiction - this makes compelling and heart-breaking reading. I did find - though this is not necessarily a criticism - that the story was in two parts - the traumatic sub-plots sourced on real events, and the love story involving Charlotte. For all the detail about Charlotte's passion for her airman, I did not really feel for her; she is a restrained and someone cold little soul and I can see why they had trouble bringing her to the screen.
I do notice that the film has a different ending from the book. I think Faulks wanted to make a broader point about keeping faith, but I thought Charlotte's relationship with the Frenchman was more real than what I was perceiving as a fantasy about the airman. I was a little surprised by the reconciliation that ended the book - and also that it had a "happy" ending, (at least to Charlotte's romance - though you can't help feeling that it was rather small beer in comparison with the other events described).
Posted on July 31, 2010 at 8:49 AM« Previous entry | Main | Next entry »
Wednesday June 30, 2010
Books in June
The Shanghai Union of Industrial Mystics Nury Vittachi
This is a "Feng Shui detective novel" - part of a series - a remarkably original gift from my step-daughter. It is a light-hearted humorous book - albeit rather black humour. Personally, I feel sorry for the elephant - yes, I am afraid to tell you that innocent elephants were indeed harmed in the making of this book....
Sparkling Cyanide Agatha Christie
[Read by Robin Bailey]
I enjoy listening to Robin Bailey reading Agatha Christie novels. His voice is like a comfortable chair - like listening to one of my old uncles reading to me (not that they ever did - this is an imaginary uncle).
I first read this novel when I was a teenager in a single afternoon - but remember little of the plot, as so often happens when you read a book quickly. Listening to it now, I quickly realised that this is a revamp of the short story "Yellow Iris" (1937) which featured Poirot. This novel (1945) does not feature her famous detective - though it does feature his good friend "Colonel Race". However, it is told from the point of view of an innocent heroine, Iris, (as opposed to Iris being the victim in the short story) and the victim is her sister Rosemary "for remembrance" whose character is somewhat altered and expanded. [The person wot dunnit has also changed!].
Iris does not see quite everything as we the readers do, and it is a (slightly) psychological thriller similar in feel to Margery Allingham's "Black Plumes". Will she escape the fate of her sister? Is she in love with the murderer?
I recently watched a very modernised TV adaptation (2003) starring Pauline Collins and Oliver Ford Davies - where they appear to be playing some kind of "Tommy and Tuppence" characters in a pretty unconvincing scenario (to be fair - probably no more unconvincing than those two fictional characters and their plots always were!)
Taken at the Flood Agatha Christie
[Read by Hugh Fraser]
It was good to listen to the original text - and good to hear Hugh Fraser reading it. I have seen/heard several adaptations including the radio play - which seemed to stick pretty closely to the novel - and the TV adaptation as part of the David Suchet Poirot series - which did not.
I did not much like the deviations in the TV adaptation - I think they were done mainly to fit with resetting the plot into the 1930s. As a consequence the fundamental foundation of the story line becomes a pre-planned "gas" explosion rather than an unplanned air raid. This not only does not fit half as well with the characters and their occupations (the heroine has been away serving her country and the emphasis is on how the war disrupted all their lives) but it also rather spoils the title reference.
"There is a tide in the affairs of men. Which, taken at the flood, leads on to fortune; Omitted, all the voyage of their life Is bound in shallows and in miseries. On such a full sea are we now afloat, And we must take the current when it serves, Or lose our ventures."
It is a quote about grasping an opportunity as it arises - now or never. It is not about anything preplanned.
I am not universally opposed to plot changes to suit adaptations of AC's work. Some are very original and she herself rewrote her own plots (as above in Yellow Iris for one example). I much enjoy the recent reworking of the Miss Marple stories where she is shoe-horned into other people's adventures in a completely seamless way. After all, Joan Hickson said all there was to say about the original character as written, and these newer stories are exploring ways to add something. But... the Poirot alterations have not been so good; David Suchet has yet to complete his definitive TV adaptations of the canon - so it's not the time to fiddle about with the plots to such a degree. Sadly, "Cards on the Table" was a particularly unworthy of his stated aims for the series - and, now it's done he will have no opportunity to "correct" it.
Posted on June 30, 2010 at 8:58 AM« Previous entry | Main | Next entry »
Monday May 31, 2010
Books in May
I have been catching up on a lot of podcasts this month - very ancient "Front Row" highlights from Radio 4. However, the copious quantities of knitting have led to the consumption of a couple of "old favourites" - reading to match my vintage knitting I think.
- Over the Gate by Miss Read [read by Gwen Watford]
While idling through one of Lucy Mangan's regular articles in the Guardian earlier this year, I was caught by her reference to the "Miss Read" stories. I was aware of Miss Read from my teenage years, but spurned her books as cosy and trivial (once I had discovered they were not about crime). However - I find myself drawn to Lucy and her opinions - and she seems very keen on these books - so I figured it must be "OK" to read them...
As she puts it they tell "the (very small) adventures of fine English folk in a variety of fine English villages" and admittedly she has more of an excuse to read them than I do - in her case being a "palate-cleanser between meatier courses" whereas in my case I suspect they are undoubtedly the main course - in fact the only course.
They are of course charming (you have to use that word) and I enjoyed this reading by Gwen Watford giving the perfect voice to the school mistress.
- Queen Lucia by E F Benson [read by Geraldine McEwan]
E F Benson seems to have a cult following akin to that of G&S or the Goons. Despite my enthusiasm for Lucia - I was a bit surprised to discover this (when I visited Rye and found there was an E F Benson tourist walk). I suppose I first came upon the books through a non-purist route of seeing Geradine McEwan capture Lucia on the television - and after listening to the audiobooks, those TV adaptations seem to me to have achieved a perfect depiction.
I listened to several of the books in the 1980s read by McEwan and Prunella Scales (Miss Mapp on the TV), and I thought they were worth revisiting - and again I was surprised that although the audiobooks are available, the versions read by these two actresses are hard to obtain. Anyway - this was the first - and just as much fun as ever.
Posted on May 31, 2010 at 3:03 PM« Previous entry | Main | Next entry »
Friday April 30, 2010
Books in April
- The Little Stranger by Sara Waters
I saw a review of this book along with 5 other Booker Prize nominees in 2009; it did not win the prize but is also nominated for the Orange prize 2010. I loved it from the start as it drew me in to the description of post-war rural Britain and a declining country estate. However, it is a strange and rather sad tale about the "little stranger" which it took me a while to catch on to as I was so enjoying the story of the characters.
It reminded me of my favourite J B Priestley novel Bright Day which is set somewhat earlier before the war (both wars in fact), and also recounted as a reminiscence. It also has two layers - the first being a wonderful cosy description of the hero's life as he starts out working in what is actually Bradford - somewhat autobiographical I believe - and then the actual nub of the story and moving on to "present day" (1946) with the sting in the tail. Like many of Priestley's stories ( Inspector Calls, Dangerous Corner ) this is a kind of morality play - and this moral I particularly like. It points out how misleading it is to believe someone else's life to be "perfect" and perhaps wishing you were they.
Little Stranger is a very different story but has the same flavour, poignantly evoking an older culture - and where things are not quite as they seem on the surface. I highly recommend it.
- Third Girl by Agatha Christie [read by John Woodvine]
Having seen the TV adaptation of this book with David Suchet, I went back to the source. This is from AC's 1960s period where you can feel her own sentiments about the modern age coming through - Poirot is a little perplexed and out of his depth - "modern girls" and their lifestyles are explained to him (and us!) by Mrs Oliver - he is told he is "too old!" ...and he feels it. There is a lot of time spent where we watch the little grey cells at work through the pages. Overall the TV adaptation did it justice - they are generally not able to reproduce the chemistry of the cast, and light-heartedness of the short story adaptations in the 1980s.
Having said that, I recently watched a TV adaptation of The Pale Horse (1997) - which I remember as a gripping book. Here AC seems totally at home among the new generation of bright young things - I always thought there was a great similarity in culture between the 1930s and the 1960s - both times of great change in art, lifestyles, and outlook. However, seeing the publishing date of 1961, I guess it more reflected the 1950s art world - certainly the TV adaptation was very true to the styling of the late 50s with the hero in leather jacket and black turtle neck (he was an artist...). Third Girl is squarely in 1966 - swinging London, mini-skirts, .... drugs (pretty central to the plot).
Posted on April 30, 2010 at 11:15 PM« Previous entry | Main | Next entry »
Wednesday March 31, 2010
Books in March
- Walking in Pimlico by Ann Featherstone
I thought this book was absolutely wonderful. It is a psychological thriller - a great story, as well as well written. Another of Robert's choices for me, it also has a connection with arts and entertainment. The author is (or has been) a lecturer in performance history at Manchester University, and a researcher in drama department at Royal Holloway, University of London. She presents her dialogue (or at least some of it) in the argot of the Victorian music hall and - unlike my final book for this month - provides a fantastic depiction of the life, including the police force, of that time. I cannot comment on whether or not it is correct but it is is utterly convincing. She uses her research and knowledge apparently effortlessly within the plot, making for a fascinating read, while skilfully allowing the narrative flow and not be bogged down by extraneous detail.
To 'walk in Pimlico' is colloquially "to be handsomely dressed".
- The Monster in the Box by Ruth Rendell [read by Nigel Anthony]
Inspector Wexford story in which he looks back to his life as a young policeman in order to solve his current case. One could view the outcome as successful or not - given that he is sure of the murderer from the outset but not only fails to prevent a further murder, but actually seems to instigate one. The book explores our attitudes to a multicultural Britain from a few different viewpoints, though I am not sure I felt any conclusion is reached.
- The Railway Viaduct by Edward Marston [read by Sam Dastor]
This is not the best book I have ever read. A rather strange depiction of policing in general as well as Victorian Britain, and criminal motivation.
Good enough to amuse me while driving and while spinning (....not at the same time), since the plot is not hard to follow and is delivered at a pedestrian pace.
Posted on March 31, 2010 at 1:06 AM« Previous entry | Main | Next entry »
Sunday February 28, 2010
Books in February
All knitting books this month - not doing well with reading. I did make an attempt at Eat, Pray, Love - lent by my sister, though she was not very smitten by the book but, like me (and, I presume, all women), recognised some of the scenarios. I could not read more than a chapter or two as I was not very interested in the author or what happened to her. Read the Wikipedia entry where it quotes the New York Times critic descibing it as "narcissistic New Age reading" - which about sums it up for me.
Debbie Bliss magazine (issue 4) by Debbie Bliss
Another lovely magazine from Debbie Bliss. I have not felt so smitten by the designs in this issue - but maybe I am not so keen on casual summer knitwear in general. However, it is a whole "lifestyle" magazine with knitted soft furnishings, and even recipes - in the true Stitchcraft magazine tradition! I love the insights into Debbie's inspirations, and her book (and other) collections.
Rowan Magazine 47 edited by Marie Wallin
As you know I am committed to the Rowan canon and this is another excellent magazine from the brand. Again, I am rushing off to buy the wool - which may, be as above, that I am less smitten by summer styles, or it may be that I already have a lot of outstanding UFOs. I have only recently knitted one of the winter offerings - I find my style influences tend to be a couple of years behind the times - takes a while for me to get used to new trends! Of these designs I did like Brighton (from new designers I think) and Tourquay the theme here being the ice cream colours used assymetrically.
500 Handmade Dolls: Modern Explorations of the Human Form (500 Series) Lark Books
A weird and wonderful book of art dolls - a sort of Mervyn Peake world in 3-D miniature. Needless to say, this delightful book was found for me by Robert, who has a knack for turning up the unusual.
Posted on February 28, 2010 at 10:04 AM« Previous entry | Main | Next entry »
Sunday January 31, 2010
Books in January
No fiction again this month. I have been listening to podcasts of the BBC series The History of the World in 100 Objects, which in itself is a fascinating project even without the series - and by the way - isn't it curious to choose to "display" objects in this way on the radio? But then - I think that is part of the point - see them on line and at the British Museum.
- Respect the Spindle Abby Franquemont
All my spinning books start with some elementary spindle information, but I never found it very interesting - it bore little relation to the act of using a spindle I felt. I included this book on my wishlist, as I don't have a book on this topic and I thought - why not?. I have my new (decorative only?) spindle from Woolfest - so I felt I could invest a little more in the knowledge. I certainly had no intention of "going into" spindle spinning in preference to the wheel. But...
This is really is one of the most interesting books I have read. The author really made me understand - and believe - that the spindle is a better and faster tool for spinning certain types of thread. It is not an accident or lack of technology that prevented ancient peoples developing the wheel, but appropriate choice for the job in hand. She also discusses the physics of spindles - which is fascinating for me - and made me think I might actually start to see the point of angles of momentum, and moments of inertia in a way that I did not when at school - no-one ever discussed spindles at that time, or it might all have been different.
It also indicates that my apparently random choice of spinning my little bag of alpaca on my fancy spindle might just have been a sound one after all.
- The Hummingbird Bakery Cookbook Tarek Malouf
Tony recommended this American cup cake recipe book from the Hummingbird Bakery. So it became another wishlist item, along with a set of reusable silicon cake cases. Now I simply want to make all the cakes at once, they sound so good, (though I shall be making fairy cakes not cup cakes of course...!).
I like the recipes as they are not simply plain cakes with inventive decorations but actually different flavoured cakes and toppings. The decorations are relatively restrained - but I am sure you can use your own initiative on that score. The only snag I see now is that I need a food mixer (or jolly strong arms) - Tony acquired mixer and book together I think. Not sure if I am ready for a new gadget... maybe... George and I did get out his juice extractor to make the clementine and cranberry marmalade....
Anyway - "Yum's the word".
- Rôtis Stéphane Reynaud
This was a surprise gift, and though I am always pleased with a cookbook, I did think it was odd to have a book all about roast dinners. I imagined each recipe must read: heat up oven, put in large joint of meat, take out joint of meat, carve, eat.
Well... there we are - I was quite wrong. This is a book of "every day" roasts and includes pot roasts - which are almost stews - and is not restricted to meat and poultry but includes fish - and veg.
The layout appeals to me as well - each dish wonderfully photographed; this stems from my first and still favourite cookery book today - the Good Housekeeping Picture Cookery Book from the 70s - which has pictures. A trained chef friend of mine always scorned my love of pictures in cookery books - but it really does help if you have never seen the dish before. A German friend once produced some little cakes with a big flourish saying "no need to tell you what these are!" - but I had no idea - I was racking my brains for a well known English cake - they looked like brioche - anyway they turned out to be scones, and they were delicious... just... different. A schoolfriend once entered a competition for "rock cakes" but hers were in little cake cases and looked like fruited queen cakes - she was quite amazed to see everyone else's untidy little piles of cake.
Back to the roasts - "yum" again.
Posted on January 31, 2010 at 12:53 PM« Previous entry | Main | Next entry »
Thursday December 31, 2009
Books in December
Frantic activity all through December left little room for reading. However, I received some great books as gifts.
- Make Do and Mend: Keeping Family and Home Afloat on War Rations (Official WWII Info Reproductions)
foreword by Jill Norman
A wonderful book reflecting my interests in this aspect of history and culture. These are fac similes of the "Make Do and Mend" leaflets issued by the British government during World War II. Clothes rationing was implemented by issuing coupons which allowed minimal purchases of not only clothes but the raw materials to make your own clothes - so recycling of fabrics** and yarns was a necessity. The initial coupon allowances introduced in 1940 were gradually reduced throughout the war, and ironically, when the war was "won", (and America ceased to subsidise the British economy), even stricter rations were imposed.
There is some suggestion that many of the rules and guidelines could still be applied today - which is true. However, I think it's worth remembering that these makeovers had none of chic associated with the current fad for so-called recycling; everyone loathed it.
** I also own an original 1940s sewing pattern telling you how to cut out the two-tone blouse from "two of your husband's old shirts".
- Spin Control: Techniques for Spinning the Yarns You Want
by Amy King
I have been longing to read this book. I think I already "know" (the theory of) some of the fundamental information in it - with respect to woollen and worsted spin, and different methods of drafting - but there is so much more here. It gives excellent photos and explains clearly the actual effect of what what you are doing with respect to a finished knitted result - concepts I had never really considered.
Now I have already read it from cover to cover, I am not sure it will actually alter my ability to control what I spin. However, I know I will refer to it again and again to remind myself what to expect from the techniques I am using. And who knows? maybe - gradually - the control will come.
- Knitted Socks East and West: 30 Designs Inspired by Japanese Stitch Patterns
by Judy Sumner
An interesting book with some great patterns - lots of complex stitch work though, so not so much for patterned yarns. I think this is a lovely and original collection, though I would take issue with the author's assertion that the actual stitches are unknown, or never before conceived of in the West. It's not that she is "wrong" and I am sure that she did spend many interesting hours interpreting Japanese patterns - and making it so much easier for us. However, there are a lot of old "western" patterns with many interesting techniques and frankly bizarre stitches which do reflect the same "kinds of" (that is not identical) techniques described in this book. As to the complexity of the stitches - my past experience of being taught the "Japanese" way of doing short rows and wrapping stitches gave me the impression that the method seemed unnecessarily complex for very little benefit, and very little observed difference in the result.
But I do not wish to sound churlish - this is a lovely book and I look forward to knitting a number of the patterns from it in the next 12 months. [Maybe not so many of the type indicated on the cover photo ie those without toes or indeed in some cases no feet at all. Just to reassure you that many of the socks depicted are ..... well..... socks].
Posted on December 31, 2009 at 11:29 AM« Previous entry | Main | Next entry »
Monday November 30, 2009
Books in November
This month I have been doing a lot of machine knitting - none of which worked out very well, and is due to be unraveled. However I worked to the accompaniment of a number of podcasts from the BBC, and a couple of light-weight talking books.
- Agatha Raisin and the Haunted House and the Deadly Dance by M C Beaton
[Read by Penelope Keith]
Agatha finally opens her own detective agency, and realises that the opportunity for investigating murders on a professional basis is not what it's all about. In fact, it offers more in the line of finding lost cats. Despite this, she is soon embroiled in more "murders and mayhem" - and still trying to fight the signs of ageing whilst pursuing unworthy men.
Posted on November 30, 2009 at 10:31 AM« Previous entry | Main | Next entry »
Saturday October 31, 2009
Books in October
Almost a repeat of my entry for May - the autumn books from Debbie Bliss and Louisa Harding are now available.
- Debbie Bliss magazine (issue 3) by Debbie Bliss
A number of interesting articles, and, as usual, a great selection of winter patterns from Debbie. Take a look at them at the Laughing Hens site. I love the cabled slipper socks, the fair-isle hot water bottle cover, the tartan tea cosy... and ... and... It's like POM condensed into one magazine ...well maybe with better looking and more up to date styles! Anyway lots of projects to look forward to this winter - will any of them make it as Christmas Gifts I wonder?
I have put two cover images here, but it is only one magazine - the image on the left was the "preorder" marketing cover, and the one on the right was the one that was actually chosen when the magazine was published. I really preferred the preorder version (and when Laughing Hens sent me the magazine I thought I had received the wrong one somehow!) - but I can see the final choice may have more marketing impact. Not sure what this says about my fashion/style preferences - certainly not that I don't like red - but I have not rushed into knitting any of the items inside that red cover. Maybe I just have too many other things to finish right now.
- Little Cake and Queen of Hearts by Louisa Harding
Now here, unpredictably, I have already rushed into buying wool to make a couple of these styles. I bought wool at Ally Pally to make a cardigan (Puzzle ), and a dress (Two), both from Queen of Hearts. One item from Little Cake (Featherbed has already "made it" as a Christmas Gift (yes, completed and ready to go).
I find the styling of the models most beguiling - even though I don't buy into looking like that myself (which is just as well - not just an age thing although that doesn't help!). I don't think I had the sense of style or the imagination to look like this even when I were younger. However, I love the idea of these quirky goth type models, and hope I can look stylish nonetheless. But first I have to knit them - right?
Posted on October 31, 2009 at 11:51 AM« Previous entry | Main | Next entry »
Wednesday September 30, 2009
Books in September
- T is for Trespass by Sue Grafton [Read by Liza Ross]
A frightening tale for all of us who are "getting on a bit" - though I am not in possession of any substantial material wealth in the shape of jewellery or real estate, so maybe I don't warrant the attention of con men (or women). Lets hope.
I see there is a version read by Lorelei King, who I think is an excellent reader and would very much like to hear her as the voice of Kinsey Millhone. I find Liza Ross a little whiny - partly this is her accent - but it has to be said that the character is a little whiny so I am not overly critical of her style!
- Saving Fish from Drowning by Amy Tan
This is a strange novel in that it starts with the premise that the narrator is dead - in that context I suppose it has some ethereal features in common with the Penelopiad. Even though the plot is fantastic in the true sense of the word, it is utterly gripping in a very much down-to-earth sense; you are right there with the characters, fearing for their every stupid move. Right up to the last few pages I feared for the outcome for the unworthy western heroes, which seemed would inevitably to end in tragedy. And I suppose if I had proper consideration for all the characters rather than just the western ones - it really did end most tragically. As usual, a very poignant (and political) story, even if told with a slightly more fantastical air.
- End Games by Michael Dibdin
This book is regarded as a return to form - it has a less glum feel about Zen's health and personal life. The plot however does bring us back to the usual deeply depressing view of a corrupt society - and the rather gruesome black humour.
I think Peter Guttridge's article from 2007 provides an excellent review of both this book, and Dibdin's writings. [The reference to tomatoes in the title of the article refers to Zen's apparent dislike of their constant use in Calabrian cuisine]. I note that the first book, the Sherlock Holmes pastiche, which I found so very remarkable, has been "constantly in print in the UK for 30 years".
It's hard to adjust to the idea that this really was the end of the game.
Posted on September 30, 2009 at 11:43 AM« Previous entry | Main | Next entry »
Monday August 31, 2009
Books in August
My peaceful August boating holiday gave me plenty of time to catch up with my reading as well as listening to the spoken word.
- The Brass Verdict by Michael Connelly
I think it's fair to say that I could not wait to get my hands on this book and enjoyed every minute of reading it. Our hero maintains some of what seems the Connelly tradition of being unable to retain any kind of settled relationships (and I mean that loosely - not with a capital "R") but maybe that's actually how life is, as well as adding drama to the book. He (hero) has been through a lot since we last met him and is having to reshape his life as the books starts out - and we leave him at the end of the book with a stated direction of reshaping his life yet again - but through choice this time.
His interaction with Bosch is quite interesting. I find it hard to see the character we know and love portrayed as he is in this book - but it's just because it is through anothers eyes. And Bosch has some relevant baggage that he's hefting around.....
This book is excellent in my opinion but .... although I hate to say it out loud.... not as good as the Lincoln Lawyer. I don't think it was simply due to my high expectation - I just think Lincoln Lawyer plot was so excellent that it's hard to match it - and I am not at all disappointed that Connelly did not quite do so.
- The Penelopiad by Margaret Atwood
Helen recommended that I read this book - she felt it was just the sort of thing I would enjoy - and she was right. It was very refreshing and funny. For some reason I conjured the idea of Ray Winston as Odysseus - not necessarily given her physical description of him (in case he finds my comparison offensive!).
I have enjoyed a number of other Atwood novels - they are a joy to read in the sense of the written word - and they break your heart. I recommend Blind Assassin, Alias Grace, and her short stories.
Rob lent me Alias Grace, (which I like a lot), and I gave him Surfacing, which he found perplexing... I have yet to read it.
- Five Quarters of the Orange by Joanne Harris [Read by Diana Bishop]
This was the novel I listened to while we were chugging along in our boat - and while I was knitting. It was brilliant and exceeded my expectation. I have seen the film version of Chocolat, and I have also read Blackberry Wine - which was perfect for me as the hero reminisced about his childhood in the same period as my own - and the book was set in two separate time periods with two stories running side by side, with a good dollop of romance thrown into the present day.
Five Quarters of the Orange was of exactly the same form, but with an elderly heroine looking back to a much earlier period - and still managing an, albeit mature, romance in the present day. She described the struggle during her adolescence in her relationship with her Mother and siblings - and I found it all very resonant despite not having been brought up in poverty on a small holding in occupied France during WW2. Added to this there was almost a murder mystery element - so I was charmed and enthralled.
The book was helped a lot by being simply beautifully read - totally convincing voice for the mature heroine, sounding both slightly wistful about the past and yet firmly settled in the present, and the inevitable phrases in French were excellently rendered - neither pretentious nor over-emphasised. Just perfectly judged.
Posted on August 31, 2009 at 12:45 PM« Previous entry | Main | Next entry »
Friday July 31, 2009
Books in July
- Jackson's Dilemma by Iris Murdoch [read by Juliet Mills]
It's a long time since I read any Iris Murdoch novels - probably not since I was a student at which time she was very much in vogue. I am not sure I understood them very well at that time - I was trying to expand my reading matter and everything was new to me. Even now, when I read AS Byatt, or Angela Carter, I find it hard to understand them - so maybe it was just that era.
This is her last novel and has engendered some harsh criticism which I think is unwarranted. I presume she had probably already begun to feel the effects of her disease, and there seems little point in saying what basically boils down to "it's not as good as her other novels". One critic complains that the people are not believable and date from a pre-war era - I think he is mistaken - the people are not 21st century, maybe not meant to be, but rather more from the 1960s I would say - one forgets how backward society still was at that time .... Literary criticisms when it was first published comment that "the writing is a mess" and sum it up as a "very odd book".
For myself I did find it hard to see the dilemma of the title. However it seems clear that the tone of the book relayed anxiety, and towards the end, Jackson sits alone and reveals a confused state of thinking which surely must have reflected some of the authors own confusion.
In addition, I'm afraid this novel was not improved by Juliet Mills as the reader.
- Book Of The Dead by Patricia Cornwell [read by Lorelei King]
This was an interesting novel, as usual from Patricia Cornwell - gory but interesting. I do find the characters hard to empathise with - all of them actually - not just Scarpetta, who is such a cold fish, for all her Italian genes. They seem to behave in a wholly unbelievable way. A certain amount of irrational behaviour makes a book interesting, and is eminently believable. But all the characters seem constantly embroiled in battling with each other, and all seem victims of such weird hang-ups you can hardly see how they function in society - and that's not even the serial killers...
At he end of this volume Marino goes missing, and we have to wait for the next book for him to turn up again. Alive or dead I wonder?
- Bare Bones by Kathy Reichs [Read by Barbara Rosenblat ]
I am firmly hooked on the Kathy Reich's forensic detective novels, which have a far more human heroine in Tempe Brennan than the comparable Kay Scarpetta. This is an earlier book in the sequence, than the other novels I have listened to.
These characters are believable and easier for me to understand - just classic detective novels, not psychological thrillers. Not so gory - more clinical - and not so weird.
So on that basis, is my approval good or bad for an author?!
Posted on July 31, 2009 at 8:25 AM« Previous entry | Main | Next entry »
Tuesday June 30, 2009
Books in June
- The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson, (translated by Reg Keeland)
This is yet another much publicised book that passed me by - my friend Helen said "...have you read it yet..." as opposed to "...have you heard of...." - so I immediately went to order it from the library to find it was another 30-copy investment on their part - but still with 12 reservations outstanding. There are two further novels involving the same characters, so I had better get my name into the reservation queue...
I notice there has been some criticism of the actual writing style, and a suggestion that the characters may not be fully drawn, but it did not spoil my reading of the book. Jonathan Gibbs in the Independent says if it is "a little amateurish, then perhaps that works to its advantage. This never feels like a by-the-numbers thriller."
The author was a journalist and this is his début novel. Given my devotion to Michael Connelly, I am further confirmed in my view that there is something about journalistic style in crime novels that I find particularly appealing. I say Larsson "was a journalist" since the author presented his publishers with this crime trilogy and promptly died of a heart attack. This sounded so unlikely - and since these are conspiracy-type books involving investigative journalism - I wondered if it were some kind of warped publicity stunt (début novels, died "suddenly" etc). However, all too sadly, it is true and so we also have to enjoy these books as his first and last.
- Ella Minnow Pea by Mark Dunn
This book was featured in BBC's "A Good Read" on Radio 4 in early June. It sounded so intriguing that I had to read it.
In order to intrigue you as well I have to mention the plot:
There is a statue dedicated to an island's most famous celebrity, the (supposed) inventor of the pangram "The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog.". However, the sentence, which is inscribed on the statue, begins to crumble, and one by one the letters gradually fall off - so the council decides to bar islanders from using the fallen letters. Read on...
The island on which the book is set must be modelled on Tangier Island (a little like Sark in the Channel Islands) - proud to embrace an "older" style of life and proud of its isolation. The book is slightly satirical about that in itself. However, mainly it is about the dangers of political power, religious manipulation as a tool of the state, and corruption. One cannot help making the comparison with Orwell, given the linguistic distortions imposed on the islanders by the council, though this is a much more light-hearted, (nonetheless thought provoking) novel. It is a very clever book and has lots of fun as it presents itself in the form of letters, each written to conform to the new and increasingly impossible laws.
- Deep Black by Andy McNab [Read by Clive Mantle]
I read Remote Control after I found I much enjoyed listening to a couple of other McNab thrillers (read by Colin Buchanan) on OneWord Radio*. Remote Control was his first fiction book in the Nick-Stone-action-hero series and introduced us to his ward Kelly; it was very moving and his relationship with Kelly was charmingly drawn. Hence I was a bit bit disappointed to find she had been despatched somewhere along the line and this book sees Nick in a resulting slough of despond at the start. It soon picks up, of course, and the usual exciting thriller ensues.
His books are very convincing, and I retain a lot of sympathy with McNab after hearing him describe his childhood "in the system" prior to joining the army. I don't mean I feel sorry for him, just that, again, everything he said rang so true of that era from my own experiences. (I should make it clear that I did not by any means have a deprived childhood, but could see many around me not so fortunate).
* OneWord Radio - the "only radio programme devoted to the spoken word" - specialised in broadcasting famous literary works, read either by the authors themselves or by well known actors; it ceased broadcasting at the beginning of 2008.
- Dead Heat by Dick Francis and Felix Francis [Read by Tony Britton]
This and other recent books published under the "Dick Francis" brand have been written with his son Felix, (and in at least one passage I can clearly hear the voice of the jump jockey's son coming through in the voice of the hero). This type of collaboration is not really a departure as he always acknowledged the heavy contributions of his wife to his previous books, even though she was never overtly credited as an author. However, this book lacked something - as much as I can narrow it down, it failed to convey the underlying threat of any real danger to the hero, and there was no sinister-villain-with-a-smile-on-his-face. I don't necessarily attribute this to being to do with the new co-authors - I remember being a little disappointed with Reflex which was written in 1980. Mostly I attribute it to being more of departure from the racing themes. There is no doubt that the racing-based novels are the best ones - and although they all seem to have a link with racing in some way, some seem less contrived than others. The heroes always have some less than average profession, and some of the novel is spent in telling you all about that profession - somehow this works better for Francis when the description is about racing - he knows what to explain and what to assume you know.
And while we are on the theme of formula writing - his novels are written to a clear formula - explained in Wikipedia - though I beg to differ on their description of the love interests of his heroes. I always found the personal circumstances of the heroes and peripheral characters most interesting, often not revolving around simple nuclear family ideas - nor even conventional "difficult" marriages. They often express people quietly adapting their lives to their own requirements for modern living and making a go of things as best they can.
His heroes are usually very successful in what they do, and in their prime - aged around 30. And this brings me to my problem with the reader. Tony Britton is an excellent reader and I have heard him read other Francis novels... but... Even in his prime Tony Britton always sounded avuncular and mature. He just does not sound like a 30 year old, and this is accentuated by the books being written in the first person. I note that there is a version of the book read by Martin Jarvis - he is no young slip of a lad but I would be interested to hear if he sounds any more convincing.
Posted on June 30, 2009 at 9:50 AM« Previous entry | Main | Next entry »
Sunday May 31, 2009
Books in May
Good value books and magazines with fresh wearable styles for the summer.
- Debbie Bliss magazine (issue 2) by Debbie Bliss
This is an excellent value magazine - it has a lot of great patterns and it's about a third of the price of most pattern books. But never mind the width - this magazine has high quality too. It is a magazine in the true sense of the word with many really good knitting articles, not just feature padding, and lots of ideas and information about Debbie's own inspirations over the years. I found it a very interesting read.
Some of the patterns have appeared before in other collections - or at least I noticed one specifically - but this is a magazine not a "new pattern" book. Added to which, Debbie Bliss creations are so very wearable and if not timeless, certainly time resistant, which is what you want if you have put your heart into a knitting project. It's a shame I did not spot issue 1 of the magazine as it briefly hit the shops and then sold out - but I'm not keen to rectify this oversight by paying £20 for it now on eBay! I noticed that it is pretty clearly aimed at the American as well as the UK market - maybe that's why we sold out so quickly here...
- Deco and Nouveau by Louisa Harding
These are great books with very fresh and stylish presentation. I looked at them initially because the Debbie Bliss magazine had an article on Louisa and a pattern for one of her bags (which is lots of fun and just what I would knit if only I had the time....). The stitch patterns are nicely complicated and very pretty. It is great to find some designs with pretty patterns which change throughout the design adding to the shape as an inherent part of it.
The yarns are Louisa's own which basically translate to a double knitting, or an Aran. I have already started knitting the cardigan Anouk from Nouveau - and although Louisa's own yarns are lovely, I am using the ivory colour in Rowan bamboo yarn as I loved knitting it so much for the POM summer cardigan last year; the bamboo is a little finer than the specified yarn so I am having to make a few adjustments in the size. In fact, that would be my only comment - for summer designs I would favour a finer yarn - however, the benefit is they knit up quickly.
Posted on May 31, 2009 at 7:16 PM
Sometimes, one is lucky enough to have friends who get you the books that they like so much - Thanks!
Posted by: Alison on June 2, 2009 6:37 AM« Previous entry | Main | Next entry »
Thursday April 30, 2009
Books in April
- Black Plumes by Margery Allingham [read by Francis Matthews]
I have fun listening to Margery Allingham's work, but it is very dated. In fact that's probably part of the fun. It is so very dated by the language and manners portrayed - the society it reveals in the more casual asides to the plot, one can hardly believe ever existed... and yet it did, and therein lies some of the interest.
This book is all about a wealthy upper class family who, when a murder happens in their midst, seem most concerned about being shunned by society, rather than by the shocking conclusion that one of them is going around murdering people. Quote of the book for me was: "....and the terse notes which arrived from him for every member of the family, stating fully, in the most abominable commercial English, that he would be glad if they would give him their attention for half an hour at 3 o'clock...". No need to tell you that "he" is not one of the Family, but merely one of their employees.
Written in 1940, Albert Campion is not featured, though there is a hero (David) in similar mould playing the romantic lead. However, this book is a little darker than the Campion series. The story is not told through David's eyes, but those of Frances, the youngest girl in the family. It's an interesting viewpoint as she is not solving the crime, she is just the victim of the events going on around her, and does not fully understand them. The plot itself is an interesting mystery.
- A Cure for all Diseases by Reginald Hill
This is a very enjoyable book if you like Jane Austen as well as Reginald Hill. It is a kind of extension of the unfinished Austen novel "Sanditon" - of which, I confess, I had never heard prior to this book drawing it to my attention. Apparently, Hill often uses "one writer or one oeuvre as a central organizing element of a given novel".
It is a Dalziel and Pascoe novel, and set firmly on the contemporary Yorkshire coast (rather than 19th century Eastbourne). He has taken some names from the original, and it definitely has that Austen air in the humour and the claustrophobic society he describes - though possibly fewer murders in Austen.
He uses several characters and methods to tell his story. Alongside the usual narrative of the police investigation led by Pascoe and Wield, we have a convalescing Dalziel dictating his thoughts into a tape (as well as secretly taping others inadvertently and otherwise), and we have a character writing a series of letters to her sister abroad (which would be very Austen but for the fact they are emails).
- Three Bags Full by Leonie Swann
I set out to find this book in my local libraries, as it was reviewed by Cathy, and sounded like the sort of book I would like. [A sheep detective story - neatly combining all my interests in one]. However, it's obviously a very popular book that many have liked as there are about 30 copies of it available in Surrey libraries (and that's a fair number).
The novel is set in "Glennkill" which is nice wordplay as Kill or Kil is common in Gaelic place names, meaning chapel or church. And chief among the amateur sheepy sleuths is "Miss Maple". However, picking these puns in isolation makes the book sound a bit crass - which it is not. It is full of charm as the sheep loyally think their woolly way through the mystery to its conclusion.
Its anthropomorphic view of sheep is probably comparable to the rabbits in Watership Down (but less scary). Fun and easy to read.
Posted on April 30, 2009 at 3:11 PM« Previous entry | Main | Next entry »
Wednesday April 1, 2009
Stitch in Time
I have been waiting for some months to feature this book, as I wanted to keep it as a secret gift for Alison's birthday. The waiting has been hard - but is now finally over (Happy Birthday Alison). It is such a wonderful book but as usual my skill with words is not sufficient for me to describe how much I like it. It has obvious appeal to me, of course, but who could fail to be entranced by its beautiful production and styling?
The book was first printed in 1972, but in a very different form. I purchased the original in a 1980s reprinted edition. This did contain the basic same material, but with only a few colour prints showing some of the patterns reknitted in contemporary yarns. Subsequently - and lucky for us - the plates for this edition were lost which has led to the entire book being revamped with all the designs not only being reproduced as per the originals, but with the patterns redrafted to include modern instructions and yarn information. All the designs are knitted up and beautifully photographed. I particularly love that the knitters are also individually credited for their work in the book.
From my original book, I always liked this design for a Sun-Ray jumper from Woman and Home 1936.
As all the original patterns were published with black and white photos the imagination was fired by the descriptions in the text. The yarn colour names were intended to be evocative of actual colours ("Lipstick Red"), rather than the current trend for yarns and colours with names that inspire an emotion ("Rustic", "Tickle", "Calm"). This pattern came with the following Helpful Fashion Advice on colour co-ordination:
"If you'd like it in Blue - choose a pottery blue with yellow buttons. Wear a buttercup-yellow woollen skirt. A yellow belt, Blue and yellow bracelets."
"If you'd like it in Pink - choose a coral with white buttons. Wear a two-piece of heavy natural tussore*. A matching coral-pink hat trimmed with white petersham ribbon. White shoes and handbag. Wear coral-pink gloves of fine suede" (* Tussore is a coarse brownish silk produced from a tussore moth Antheraea paphia).
"If you'd like it in White - choose glass buttons for the yoke. Wear a white linen tweed skirt. A matching linen hat trimmed with dark green ribbon. White court shoes with green leather trimming. Dark green gloves. Carry a green and white handbag."(sic)
Here is an example of the pages from the new edition - restyled with modern instructions, and reknitted in contemporary yarn, with great colour photos - all printed alongside the original black and white pattern, quoting the source and the year.
Please feel free to offer your own fashion advice in the comments, starting "If you'd like it in Red...".
If your interests are anything like my own - do buy this book. Even if you feel you will never knit these designs, it is a lovely book to own, crammed with historical design interest from the period.
I note it is called: "Volume 1 - 1920-1949", so I am hoping the book is a success and we can look forward to a Volume 2. If this kind of book does interest you, then you may like to look at Jane Waller's Knitting Fashions of the 1940s: Styles, Patterns and History which, like Stitch in Time is also available from Amazon. (And "no - I don't have any shares in these publications"!).
Posted on April 1, 2009 at 9:50 AM
I can vouch for the fact that this is a lovely book. I also really liked this sun-ray sweater, as well as one from the 1920s which I was keen on until I realized it was mostly crochet. Thank you for my lovely birthday present.
Posted by: Alison on April 2, 2009 7:42 PM
What I really want are those "coral-pink gloves of fine suede" to wear with the pink one! Really, I wouldn't mind seeing more hats and gloves worn again -- more scope for expressing our sartorial creativity. :)
By the way, the Ribbed Cardigan you made from the Rowan men's book looks terrific. Nice job!
Posted by: yarnstruck on April 4, 2009 5:10 AM
Thanks on the ribbed cardigan - more important than how it looks to the objective eye is that he seems to be wearing it all the time - and it has stopped coming back for minor alterations. I think the yarn is a bit stretchy and subject to pilling - but that's because it's a lovely soft wool with some cashmere. Probably the perfect cardigan for George would be a superwash acrylic (my next next project..).
Posted by: Christina on April 4, 2009 9:46 AM« Previous entry | Main | Next entry »
Tuesday March 31, 2009
Books in March
I seem to be spending less and less time reading - unless it's reading knitting books. So it occurred to me that I could actually write about the knitting books - here are a couple of them.
- A Fine Fleece by Lisa Lloyd
This is a book all about knitting with handspun yarns; George's Mother gave it to me for my birthday. I had not previously looked at the book when I requested it via my Wish List - which is always risky - but it did not disappoint. It is a very good book - these are the specific points in its favour:
- The author tells us about her journey through learning to spin, discusses mixing fibres, and reviews a few fleece types that she used for projects in the book. I was interested that she reviewed Suffolk fleeces, (Ava's sheep), as I have not seen much about them elsewhere - she used them for socks, which confirms the view I have gleaned while working with this fleece myself.
- The book has a lot of patterns in it, (26 apparently), mostly for proper jumpers, not just little gifts. It is very good value on this point - so many books are lovely with maybe lots of ideas but few real patterns.
- And here's the good bit - every pattern is knitted up not only in a handspun with the fibre content explained, but also in a commercial yarn. This is really an excellent idea. It demonstrates that you can achieve quite different results by changing the yarn type - it's very encouraging.
- Rowan 45 Spring/Summer 2009 edited by Marie Wallin
Despite the amusement that Rowan's styling always seems to cause everyone (including me), I always like their books and look forward to their publication each season. I admire the way they do their marketing and always hope that their innovations will prove successful.
So I was truly dismayed by their anniversary edition (No 44) as, far from celebrating their history, it seemed a complete departure from anything that had gone before. I was motivated to complain to Rowan that there was not a single pattern for men in the book which I thought (apart from anything else) a real betrayal since the company was set up by men and their signature designers were men. Admittedly when they first started, the sweaters styles were not so gender specific, and often displayed on both men and women in the photo shoots. But now the girly, shaped sweaters are definitely not for men. I was impressed that I got a reply directly from Marie Wallin (whether "from the desk of" or whether a standard response is not important). However what she said was less convincing - that they did not "have space" to include men's patterns - though they seem to have space for patterns for dogs and fabric patterns for decorations. She also missed my point really - I am not actually short of patterns to knit for men and in truth I normally welcome the inclusion of patchwork and novelties in the magazines. I was simply angry that in a special anniversary edition she had made what was, in my opinion, an editorial decision ("mistake") to make it girls (and dogs..) only.
So back to Book 45 - I loved it as usual - and I was relieved that men had got back into it.... I am planning to make a couple of the things featured in it, including some household items (placemats and peg bag). These are my favourites:
This is the full text of Rowan's reply on the subject of Rowan 44 "anniversary edition". I note that Marie seems to think that the exclusion of men's patterns is a consequence of it being an anniversary edition - how on earth does that work?
I am sorry to hear that you are disappointed that the latest magazine doesn't include any men's designs.
The main reason for this is that Mag 44 is a celebration of 30 years of Rowan, and consequently the stories reflect women's wear. As there was so much we wanted to cover within the stories to reflect the type of design that has become synonymous with Rowan over the years, there literally was not enough room to cover menswear as well. I appreciate that you would like to see more men's designs and we are hopefully planning to do a Rowan men's book in the near future, I myself would like to do a men's book! There will be a few men's designs in Mag 45 and there are also some planned for Mag 46.
Best wishes and happy knitting,
Marie Wallin - Head Designer, Rowan.
I do look forward to seeing her men's book. I always like her designs, (despite the simple lines and lack of florals), though many of them are frankly too hip for me to feel I can wear. Narvik (still working on it...) is one of hers.
Posted on March 31, 2009 at 10:34 AM« Previous entry | Main | Next entry »
Saturday February 28, 2009
Books in February
- Problem at Pollensa Bay and other stories by Agatha Christie [read by Jonathan Cecil]
This is a collection of stories published in the early 1990s but written in the 1920s and early 30s. They are very well read by Jonathan Cecil - a stalwart supporting actor in the UK - but a surprisingly (to me) versatile star at reading these books. I would say that usually he is rather type-cast as gormless Hooray Henries from an earlier era. There is also an audio book read by Hugh Fraser, who is excellent, and I am sure chosen for this task due to his role as Captain Hastings in the 1980s TV adaptations of Poirot.
The stories feature Hercule Poirot, but also some other lesser-known but recurring Christie characters.
- Problem at Pollensa Bay - 1935 (Mr Parker Pyne)
- The Second Gong - 1932 (Hercule Poirot, and adapted for TV as Dead Man's Mirror)
- Yellow Iris - 1937 (Hercule Poirot, and and adapted for TV with great knitwear!)
- The Harlequin Tea Set - 1936 (Mr Satterthwaite and Mr Harley Quin)
- The Regatta Mystery - 1939 (Mr Parker Pyne - but revamped from the original 1936 version with Poirot)
- The Love Detectives - 1926 (Mr Satterthwaite and Mr Harley Quin)
- Next To A Dog - 1929
- Magnolia Blossom - 1926
- Saturday by Ian McEwan[read by James Wilby]
This is a novel that shows how we live today - how some wealthy people live today, of course. But it is clear that even for this well-off brain surgeon, he started life in a small flat with 2 kids on limited income; and, though he and his wife have become successful (and wealthy) in their careers, they have their lovely central town house only through inheritance. Their children are grown to beautiful and talented young people, and the hero knows how lucky he is.
And the reader is constantly aware of how very much there is to lose.
Notable for the fact that the action takes place within 24 hours, some readers seem to think it's a day overly packed with activity. However, to me, it does not seem very out of the ordinary in terms of activities - though I'm not a brain surgeon of course, so that part of it would be extraordinary for me. Basically, he gets up, has breakfast with his son, goes out, sees the anti-war march, has a minor car accident, plays squash, visits his Mother in a care home, collects stuff to eat for dinner, briefly drops in to watch his son rehearse with a band, spends the evening with his family, gets called in to work to do an emergency operation.
That tells you everything and nothing.
It is paced quite slowly - especially noticeable as a talking book- the squash game, for example, is described point by point, and made me glad I had a few lessons when I was about 20 so I could better empathise with what was happening. However, throughout, there is a constant feeling of lurking menace, which made me permanently anxious for the plot to move on. I understand it was born out of the authors own sense of anxiety around potential global threats. The hero explores his general unease with moral dilemmas relating to the concept of war and terrorism - but this is suddenly sharply focussed by a very local threat, which leads to a very real moral dilemma.
- Back to Bologna by Michael Dibdin
I am a real fan of this author and his hero, Italian police inspector Aurelio Zen, even though the books are often suffused with a sense of gloom, despite the humour. I picked up this book by chance, and realised that I have not actually read Dibdin's last couple of books, which is a pleasant surprise for me as there will be no more.
The book features amusing and topical characters, in the shape of a dead owner of a football team (killed with a Parmesan cheese knife), and a temperamental operatic TV chef. Poignantly, Zen himself is suffering after an operation, and also suffering from hypochondria - and also not doing well in his love life. However, to quote a reviewer, it "delivers both comic and serious insights into the realities of today's Italy".
Posted on February 28, 2009 at 8:59 PM« Previous entry | Main | Next entry »
Saturday January 31, 2009
Books in January
Just one solitary book for this month. I have a pile of books to read but have been so caught up in my work and other hobbies that I have not read many real books. I actually had to make a trip to the library to renew my books this month, as I had had them loan for so long. This was my bedtime talking book all this month, along with a couple of the BBC radio plays.
The Sign of the Four by Arthur Conan Doyle [read by Derek Jacobi]
An old favourite (for me) and an interesting choice of reader. He does well enough in his narration as Watson but is occasionally stretched when giving voice to the ne'er-do-well "Jonathan Small". This story almost follows the Doyle formula for the Holmes novels, being a book within a book, and consequently, Small has a large part of the narrative while telling his life's tale of adventures abroad.
The Sittaford Mystery BBC Radio Play
The play stars Stephen Tompkinson, and also John Moffatt - though not in his usual role as Hercule Poirot, who does not appear in this novel. The detective is, instead, an "Inspector Narracott", (who was used again by AC in a 1954 radio play). It was interesting to compare this radio play to the altered version of the novel used in the recent TV adaptation "Marple" - where Miss Marple was simply added into the cast of characters - perfectly suitably I thought...
Posted on January 31, 2009 at 10:41 AM
You're not alone. I used to read a lot, all the time, but since the knitting started up again, it seems to take forever to get through a book!
Posted by: Cathy in Va. on February 13, 2009 2:36 AM« Previous entry | Main | Next entry »
Wednesday December 31, 2008
Books in December
- The Death of Dalziel by Reginald Hill
I love these books - and I used to love the TV series - until they started to deviate so substantially from the novels. I have no purist objection to additional stories written for TV (as in "Morse") but Ellie Pascoe and "Ivor" Novello were two of my favourite characters - played by really strong actresses - and they were just written out. I was sad, as they left the door open in the script at one point to get back on track with Ellie - but then closed it again. Ivor was replaced for a while by "Harris" Tweed - which was a bit daft as they could have simply changed the actress, if that were what drove it, though I don't think a changeling would have worked for Ellie.
In this book - and increasingly - Ellie and Peter's relationship is really important to the novels, so once they removed her from the picture they have been forced to change the plots more and more. The disconnect happened at around the time of Arms and the Woman - again one of my favourites, being a lot about Ellie - and I can see it would have been very hard to portray this book on screen, at least hard to portray it within the straight police mystery genre into which the TV series falls. It, and this book, Death of Dalziel, have a surrealist or sci-fi element which is both humourous and witty/intellectual, as well as excellent writing - but (unsurprisingly) absent from the TV interpretation.
I should also say I admire Ellie for representing a class of woman all too often absent in mainstream drama. [Although increasingly common in mainstream "life" I think]. Namely, a strong intelligent middle class woman portrayed in a supporting role. Some might imagine that she appeals to me as a Bolshy feminist lefty - well she might - or she might not - but that's not it. She has her own life, and I do not think the substance of that life matters; it just matters that she has one. And she chooses to live it with Peter Pascoe and their daughter.
PS - you don't really think he's dead, do you?
- The Secret Hangman by Peter Lovesey
Peter Lovesey is what I would call a traditional English crime writer - as Agatha Christie probably was, prior to her somewhat surprising rise to megastar status. His settings are ordinary contemporary situations, not 1930s period piece locked-room mysteries, but happily with the expected (unrealistic) high body count. In the books I have read, (The Circle and The House Sitter), he writes about police detectives rather than amateurs, even if the police are not necessarily the main players.
Having said that, his first books in the 1970s were the "Sergeant Cribb" series, which is set in Victorian London. Cribb is probably his best known character due to the 1980s TV series starring Alan Dobie.
- All Fun and Games until Somebody Loses an Eye by Christopher Brookmyre
[Read by Cathleen McCarron]
This book seems to have had mixed reviews. It seems that Brookmyre fans have had expectations stemming from what they subjectively felt he was expressing in his previous books, rather than maybe what he really was expressing. Some readers put off reading this book owing to the apparently negative reviews, and were then pleasantly surprised when they finally read the book.
It is definitely not a very realistic book - at many levels - it involves a fictional international Bond-style organisation from the outset, and progresses through a middle-aged woman's wish fulfilment. I was a bit neutral after the first chapter, but it swiftly drew me in, and as usual his witty writing and plot digressions were a lot of fun.
Posted on December 31, 2008 at 9:01 AM« Previous entry | Main | Next entry »
Sunday November 30, 2008
Books in November
- Monday Mourning and Break No Bones by Kathy Reichs [Read by Barbara Rosenblat ]
Two detective-aficionado friends have told me they are keen on these Temperance Brennan novels, while sharing my scorn and derision for the TV series based on the characters - so I thought I should read them. And they were right; the stories are interesting and well written.
The TV series is "Bones" - and when I say 'based on the characters', I use the term loosely, since the name of the leading character seems to be the only item in common with the books. However, it seems the TV character is intended more to be based on the author herself (who is an academic who writes detective mystery novels...).
- The Confession of Brother Haluin by Ellis Peters [Read by Stephen Thorne]
Over the years I have really enjoyed the Brother Cadfael stories. I am not sure why - perhaps the historical context is interesting, but I do like the simplicity of the tales and the certainty of right and wrong that is portrayed in the stories; any inconsistency of what was considered right in the day, compared with what might be right 1000 years later, is overcome by making Brother Cadfael a little more of a liberal thinker than his peers. However, they are tales of human nature, and when it comes down to it, that has not changed very much.
I really enjoyed the television series with Sir Derek Jacobi, supported by a strong cast of excellent and experienced British actors. [I always thought, though, that Jacobi was miscast in this role. Don't get me wrong - he is excellent and his portrayal is excellent, but he does actually look credibly like an intellectual monk, whereas there is an implication in the text that Cadfael's physical appearance always betrays his background as an aging but tough ex-soldier.**].
This is one story that I did not know at all, so it was interesting to find it. However, almost from the moment of the "confession" in the first few chapters, I could see the entire plot laid out before me, and simply had to wait to hear it unfold. This did not spoil the pleasure of it, but it was a bit slow in the telling. Of course, in real life, and to the characters, the outcome would not have been expected in this way, but unlike them, I knew they were in a mystery story....
**Years ago, my friend Helen suggested Don Henderson (now no longer with us) for the role. In 1989 Henderson had a great part as a priest (opposite Leslie Grantham, his fictional brother) in "The Paradise Club" - but he has appeared in many mainstream productions in his career, even including StarWars, and towards the end of his life in Red Dwarf. Here is a lovely picture of him with another of my favourites, Michael Elphick from their cookery series "The Absolute Beginner's Guide to Cookery".
Posted on November 30, 2008 at 1:31 PM« Previous entry | Main | Next entry »
Friday October 31, 2008
Books in October
- The Lincoln Lawyer Michael Connelly [Read by Michael Brandon]
Having already read this book "on the page", I listened to it as a talking book; it was just as enjoyable second time around - and I could knit at the same time... Now I am suitably prepared for for Connelly's next book which features the same hero - and I must say I am looking forward to this. I feel warmly towards Michael Haller - I wonder if he shares more, or fewer, characteristics with the author than Harry Bosch?**
**Colin Dexter said that you cannot help writing a certain amount of your own views and tastes into your characters: "like me, he, [Morse], is diabetic, an atheist, and a lover of music and art". But also admitted that it was not true of all characteristics and I thought I heard in an interview that Dexter himself does not like beer - though I am sure I have seen film of Dexter (apparently) enjoying a pint.
It amuses me that, (judging by the publicity photos in the books), when physically describing Bosch, Connelly could be describing himself - and I notice this is also true of MC Beaton describing Agatha Raisin.
- Agatha Raisin and the Day the Floods Came M C Beaton
Continuing my reading of the series in which Agatha gains a new (dishy) next door neighbour, and her aristocratic friend gains and loses a wife.
Small exchanges between Agatha and the vicar's wife never fail to amuse me:
Agatha: "... [middle-aged] men let themselves go."
Mrs Bloxby: "Not necessarily. Look at my husband. Alf's in good shape."
Agatha thought of the vicar - grey-haired, glasses, scholarly, slightly stooped - and reflected that love was indeed blind.
- Death Message Mark Billingham [Read by Paul Thornley]
Here we find Thorne, in the latest novel in the series, settling down to some kind of domestic life - the only sort that 2 working detectives can share; however, there is even talk of fatherhood, so it must be serious.
As in the previous book, there is, I am relieved to say, much less of a perverted mind at work; you are made to go along with Thorne and have sympathy with the killer, and thus accept Thorne's rather strange choice of rough justice.
I note that Billingham's next work departs from the Thorne series - maybe getting too bogged down with the threat of all that domesticity on the horizon. Time for a change.
Posted on October 31, 2008 at 8:57 AM« Previous entry | Main | Next entry »
Tuesday September 30, 2008
Books in September
- The Knitting Circle Anne Hood
I chose this book for its title of course, and I did enjoy it very much, although the nub of the tale is very sad indeed, made all the more so by the knowledge that it is the author's own experiences of grief that we are reading about. However, this is a feelgood novel about female friendships and the path to recovery from loss - mostly bereavement - and very well written, given the grim little histories that each of the characters reveals as we move along. The only thing I was less keen on is the idea that knitting is therapy and that a circle is some kind of support group for the mentally ill - of course, it is therapeutic and so on - I'd just be worried to have it thought that this is all it is - as if, now they are all feeling better, they can stop all this silly knitting stuff.
Ann Hood has her own website about her books, her biography, and with a blog.
- Buried Mark Billingham [Read by Paul Thornley]
A disturbing but thrilling tale from Mark Billingham - his 6th book. Perhaps (thankfully) a little less overtly gruesome than previous efforts; I am thankful for this because even though he seems to be able to make the distasteful more palatable, I worry when I find myself interested in books about sick subjects.
It occurred to me that the hero of this series, Tom Thorne, and the whole setting of the books in London, is the antithesis of Inspector Morse. Thorne is vulgar, drinks lager, and works in the less appealing police premises in North London. Both Thorne and Morse share a general lack of success with women, but I understand that this is a necessary plot device for detective heroes - reference the spin-off Lewis no longer having cosy wife and family. Though perhaps Barnaby and Wexford demonstrate that this is not a universal truth.
- Saturnalia Lindsey Davis [Read by Christian Rodska]
This is all about "Christmas" - with all the usual problems of lists of presents, co-ordination with relatives, and huge supplies of traditional food. The main difference is that instead of just having to cope with one or two days it lasts from December 17th through to the New Year - heaven forbid....
"Yo, Saturnalia!" - I'm looking forward to it already...
Posted on September 30, 2008 at 9:42 PM
Oh, no, he drinks lager -- worst of all! :)
Posted by: Cathy in Va. on October 3, 2008 1:12 AM
Now I have to defend my comments - even though you are smiling.
Morse: dreaming spires, real ale or a good claret, Times crossword, Opera and the classics.
Thorne: Hendon and the North Circular, lager, pub quiz trivia, country and western music.
[Though I have to say I'd rather date Morse - but on the other hand I do drink those little French lagers...].
One of my favourite episodes of Morse is Happy Families from 1992, which not only stars Gwen Taylor - who, I may have mentioned, is a great actress - but explores a theme that interests me greatly, namely the tabloid view that intellectual aspiration is not for 'ordinary' people, and that a passion for books and music is made to sound like a vice.
Posted by: Christina on October 3, 2008 10:02 AM
Someone who can enjoy both the fancy and the simple and hearty might be the most fun of all. Will stick with the real ale and claret, though! (And I do agree with you on not liking anti-intellectual attitude.)
Posted by: Cathy in Va. on October 8, 2008 2:25 AM« Previous entry | Main | Next entry »
Sunday August 31, 2008
Books in August
- The Good Husband of Zebra Drive Alexander McCall Smith
I was introduced to this set of novels by Robert, somewhat before they achieved quite such world-wide acclaim. I would like to say I was immediately charmed, but I did think them childish, as I began to read the first one. By the end of the book though, I was charmed like everyone else. Ordinary people coming to terms with their problems and overcoming difficulties. The characters value the richness of their lives, and although they do not necessarily have the choice to be richer in a material sense, they do not spend their time in longing for some life they don't have. A nice parable for our own lives told in a simple way. However, as I have said before, to regard his straight-forward writing style as simple is to seriously under-rate the skill of the author.
- The Jupiter Myth Lindsey Davis [Read by Christian Rodska]
My friend Diane loaned me the very first Falco book (The Silver Pigs) in the late 1980s and I was hooked. Since then I have read the steady stream of Lindsey Davis' output ever since, usually borrowing the books from Diane, Helen, and the library (!). Lindsey has an excellent website covering her books and lots of other interesting material.
I read the Jupiter Myth quite a while ago, but to my delight I found the talking book in the library read by none other than the fantastic Christian Rodska** - what a perfect combination! I swear CR could make any book he reads fascinating - he has such an array of voices that he can adopt, and he produces them very subtly, making the books really come to life. However, the Falco books are full of lively characters for him to play with - a complete joy.
** Since "discovering" Christian Rodska as a narrator I have taken great delight in watching his (again very subtle) character performances in what seems like every single British TV series ever produced - all the TV detectives through to a recent appearance in Doc Martin I noticed.
Posted on August 31, 2008 at 3:31 PM« Previous entry | Main | Next entry »
Thursday July 31, 2008
Books in July
- Devil Water Anya Seton
Well - it was in my local library - which says something for the quality of the book, after all this time (please read my previous entry for June). So curiosity has made me read it at last, albeit 30 years too late. And what a riveting and rollicking 18th century tale it is.
Nicely for the American author, it is interwoven with action in Virginia - and none of this mere invention. Obviously a lot of the story includes the sort of liberties taken by any historical novelist, but this author is known for her research and you can be pretty certain that the factual information included is actually factual and not invented. Even some of the more unlikely intimate thoughts of the characters are found to be taken from their contemporary diaries and writings.
So all in all, I also would recommend it; a fascinating historical read, as well as a good history lesson. [And with a little more meat than my usual readings, plus the actual length of the book, has meant I have read little else this month.]
- The Cat that went Bananas Lilian Jackson Braun
I noticed this series of books in the library and was so amused by the concept of cats and detection that I had to read one. These are mysteries featuring journalist James Qwilleran and his "lovable, clue-sensitive cats". I have to say it was pretty terrible, but there are a few mitigating factors: one is that there is a fairly gently humour being poked at small town East Coast life, which I think I don't understand properly; another is that this is the author's 27th "Cat Who..." mystery, and one reviewer implied that she is no longer at her best, [but I shan't be testing any others].
Strangely - the cat aspect of the book was more appealing than I had expected. They were not altogether twee, or endowed with powers beyond those of a normal cat. I did find it very entertaining that every person in the book had a cat or cats and they did express something of the owner's personalities, but with rather more than a simplistic superficial analysis.
Posted on July 31, 2008 at 10:07 AM« Previous entry | Main | Next entry »
Monday June 30, 2008
Books in June
- Borrower of the Night Elizabeth Peters
Again I picked this author originally due to a similarity to "Ellis Peters" and was smitten by the concept of Victorian archeologists combined with Thriller/Detection. However, I was not very thrilled with the 'Amelia Peabody' series, and laughed out loud at the book blurbs declaring "an author so popular that copies of her books in the public libraries have to kept under lock and key!" [on which planet I wonder?].
This book is a 'Vicky Bliss' mystery. The first in the series, written in 1974, and quite interesting for me to read a contemporary view of modern manners - I would say "to remember" but I was not quite adult enough in the 1970s to take anything other than the subjective view of a participant. Vicky Bliss is just as irritating as Amelia. Need I say more? Strangely enough I find this author's more serious writing - which you get to experience in the Amelia series when Amelia's children take over the narrative - quite good; however I don't really enjoy what I imagine to be tongue in cheek humorous stuff which is exhibited through Amelia, and to some extent Vicky.
The view of the 1970s, in combination with the antagonistic relationship of hero and heroine brought back memories - not only Mills and Boon but - of Mary Stewart. I realised I have not given her books a thought for at least 30 years. I read her novels initially as mystery/suspense/thrillers - but in fact I am sure I took to them as much for the romance angle. To quote from Wikipedia she maintains "a full mystery while focusing on the courtship between two people"; I note that they also say that she was "at the height of her popularity in the 1960s and 70s", though I also notice these novels were written more in the 1950s. She writes unashamedly to a very specific formula - and is successful every time I would say. She has an exotic picturesque setting, a 'difficult' man (who turns out to be "the one"), often some protegé, (maternal instincts), and the element of danger and mystery. Perfect fodder for the teenage me.
In this respect, it came to me that there is a strong similarity to Dick Francis - another favourite, and excellent thriller writer. It is really no surpise to relate these similarities to the acknowledged fact that Francis's wife contributed many ideas to his books. He has a hero rather than a heroine, of course, but always very sensitive with a bittersweet emotional intensity. He also chooses a specific setting though usually by means of an unusual job for his hero.
Mary Stewart also wrote fantasy/historical novels (the Merlin series) in which I was not so interested, even though historical novels were a mainstay of my reading materials of that time. This led to more memories of such intensity, I was compelled to go and review my own bookshelves, and then wander through a maze of internet pathways to recall authors that I am ashamed to say I had simply forgotten.
At school we were generally encouraged to read historical novels for children - by 'suitable' authors, naturally. I began with
Eagle of the Ninth first published in 1954. It is set in Roman Britain in the 130s and follows the story of a boy's search to discover the truth about the disappearance of his father's legion in the north of Britain. This was the first in a sequence of novels: The Silver Branch, The Lantern Bearers, and Sword at Sunset. This last one is really an adult book, and is a modern interpretation of the legends of King Arthur. This is the one in residence on my bookshelf. I feel I ought to read it again - though all I remember of it is that it is unbearably sad. I must say that I did not even realise it was related to her other Roman books in any way.
I remember her as an excellent writer, and we all fell in adolescent love with her heroes, (Beowulf, for example...!).
I then remembered
Henry Treece . I had somehow managed to totally wipe him from my memory. He was a little more 'serious' for me than the female writers, but I was drawn into his work by the desire for more "Roman" fiction, and then on to his Viking Series. The Eagles Have Flown published in 1954, deals with Britain after the Romans, and and again with the supposed historical figure behind the legends of Arthur.
Much as I am inclined to do today, I think I read a 'set' of books on Arthur - the third of which was T H White's famous Once and Future King - which again was suited to the adolescent reading transition from child to adult.
Even more amusingly, just like moving from Ellis Peters to Elizabeth Peters - Henry Treece led me to Geoffrey Trease (nearby on the library shelf) - another author of children's historical novels. So perhaps my easy substitution of names is not due to old age and loss of marbles, but simply a genetic trait after all...
Finally I need to mention a book which I have not read at all! When I was at school our Deputy Head Mistress, Mrs McCarthy - amazing woman, straight out of he 1940's complete with hair roll - taught us not only about ladylike manners, and what make-up was suitable for young women (ie none), but also history. This included the Jacobite rebellions of 1715 and 1745; apart from the rather fundamental difference of which King or Prince was "pretending" at the time, we always got the events and battles muddled. Her advice (more than once) was to read a "very good book" by
Anya Seton and "you will never mix them up again". I think this must have been Devil Water as it's about the Earl of Derwentwater and his involvement with the Jacobite rising of 1715, and his brother Charles, beheaded after the 1745 rebellion, the last man to die for the cause.
Sounds great doesn't it? Maybe they have it in the library...
I shall end here - Mrs McCarthy was also our English teacher, and asked my parents what I (aged 12) read, as my writing style was not very good. [And the answer was Agatha Christie - so her inferences were probably correct].
Posted on June 30, 2008 at 11:27 PM« Previous entry | Main | Next entry »
Saturday May 31, 2008
Books in May
There weren't any...
I have been completing a lot of knitting projects, and have thus been listening extensively to my iPOD - however, sadly not to "proper" books. George told me that "there are a lot of MP3s of books out there on the internet" and to prove it downloaded a stack of BBC radio plays - all Miss Marple (portrayed by June Whitfield) and Poirot (played by John Moffat) - I'm afraid I am not keen on the latter - the French accent seems to consist of strangely pronounced "w" - as if there were extraneous "h"s present.
I have a love/hate relationship with these plays but they kept me well amused while concentrating on other things. However, one or two of the downloads are David Suchet reading some of the Poirot short stories, which I am looking forward to listening to in the future.
Posted on May 31, 2008 at 8:19 AM« Previous entry | Main | Next entry »
Wednesday April 30, 2008
Books in April
- Locked Rooms Laurie R King
This is the latest in a series of novels which start with The Beekeepers Apprentice, or, "What Sherlock Did Next". It follows the famous sleuth after he retires to Sussex to keep bees. Apart from the excellent (really excellent) work by Michael Dibdin**, I have found modern Holmes pastiches to be truly poor - even comparing them with the later Conan Doyle stories, which were often poorly written. And it is true that a synopsis of the basic premise of the books [young American jewish girl meets older Holmes and marries him..] does sound pretty bad - to us fans.
However, I'm no purist and Laurie King is easily forgiven. She writes very well, the stories are true adventure stories with the emphasis on the word story, in the very best traditions of Conan Doyle or Rudyard Kipling, and they are not pastiches, being really about Mary Russell, rather than "More Adventures of Sherlock Holmes". Probably neither she nor you need my justification, but perhaps I feel I need to justify why I read them!.
Any changes observed in the Holmes character are easily attributed to his being seen through different eyes, and he is, after all, much older. It is amusing to see that Mary is clearly King herself, even down to physical descriptions, and I think because of this she writes with such sympathy and love for her subject matter, that you can forgive her messing about with such an English institution. She makes her premise entirely plausible - I was not so sure about the idea of Holmes marrying, but for the time about which she writes, and our own reader's sensibilities, it would be hard to create stories about an unmarried couple careering around together in such intimate circumstances. It also occurred to me that she has a good contemporary model for such an idea, in Lord Baden-Powell, who, famous Victorian hero of Mafeking, and a bachelor at 55, in 1912 met and married Olave, aged 23; wikipedia notes "not an uncommon age gap at that time".
My favourite of these novels to date has been "The Game" - I think because it is set in India, (always interested me due to family connections) and has nice references to Kipling throughout. Now I have got to grips with my iPod, I have been listening to an audio version of it recently (read by Jenny Sterlin), in tandem with reading Locked Rooms.
Laurie King has a great website with lots of fanzine materials and links, plus a most enjoyable blog which illustrates her charming and fun personality.
** The last Sherlock Holmes Story is such an excellent book that I was astonished to see it was his first and dates from 1978. It really is perfect, in my opinion, so that even while proposing a heretical view of Holmes character, the portrayal is so very accurate that you wonder how we could have ever have perceived the detective in any other way.
I remember a similar sensation when I saw the all male version of Swan Lake - how could anyone ever stage it any other way?!
- At Bertrams Hotel Agatha Christie
Read by Rosemary Leach
"In which Christina learns a new word."
I am pleased when my excursions into re-reading Christie novels of dubious literary merit do in fact enrich my intellectual life in some way... The word in question is "simulacrum", and it is the foundation upon which the novel is set. Bertram's Hotel is not simply a nice old-fashioned hotel with all the "old standards", nor is it a commercial Olde Worlde copy for the benefit of tourists - it is a hyper-real stagey version of an old hotel. Not stagnant but actively groomed and polished to produce the required effect.
Within the elderly class-ridden society that inhabit it, all are agreed how wonderful it all is. Yet, most satisfyingly, it takes Miss Marple - who is not one for mawkish nostalgia - no time at all to shrewdly take it all in and regard it not only with suspicion, but also as somewhat threatening. To my mind, this is most vividly portrayed in the Joan Hickson TV series, where the plot is fairly accurately followed - though it could be said, improved upon. In the book, there is a rather tedious focus on the police investigation, and perhaps more true to life, less focus on Miss Marple - she is after all just a little old lady.
Here are some snatches of reviews which I think give a good idea of the overall quality of the book:
"...can hardly be called a major Agatha Christie..."
"...denouement is really too far-fetched..."
"...seldom at her best when she goes thrillerish on you..."
"...a reasonably snug read..."
"...plot is rather creaky, as in most of the late ones..."
"...Elvira Blake is one of the best observed of the many young people in late Christie..."
"...seemingly trashy fiction that nevertheless contributes to a genre of speculative fiction..."
This last reviewer goes on to draw comparisons with other examples of synthetic worlds that seem at first to be benevolent: The Portrait of Dorian Grey, Blade Runner, Westworld, Jurassic Park, and The Truman Show.
In addition to listening to the book, I watched (again) the Geraldine McEwan version in "Marple". This deviates from the book considerably - as do all the Marple series - but in a Good way. Some episodes of this series were very disappointing (for example Murder at the Vicarage, which promised so much with such a fabulous cast but...); however, generally, they offer some nice variations in themes and characters, which I quite approve of. Joan Hickson provided a definitive version - so why repeat that?
The side plot with Martine McCutcheon and Stephen Mangan adds very positively to the story, and reinforces the more light-hearted tone of the Marple series. I read that McEwan has abandoned the role and it will be taken up by Julia McKenzie - it seems slightly odd as they must have filmed almost all of them by now (even some that were not actually Marple stories) and it seems odd that they have filmed Nemesis without the prequel Caribbean Mystery.... but I digress.
More important than any of these considerations - McEwan wears a delightful cardigan throughout - which I fondly imagine having been knitted by someone in the costume department. It seems to me to be a recreation of the pattern from 1936 "My Home" (although this was a jumper not a cardigan) as reprinted in Jane Waller's 30s Family Knitting Book*** published in 1981.
Note that Miss Marple has her trusty knitting bag over her arm, and much is made of the knitting in the recent portrayals. Julia McKenzie says of her new role "I suppose I shall have to remind myself how to knit". I think originally it was introduced to emphasise her persona as one of harmless old lady; in one story she use the pretence of buying some wool in a local shop in order to pick up information. I can't imagine Christie herself knitting somehow, but I guess it was and is a fairly common pursuit.
This must have been a fun role for McEwan - but I was most delighted by her portrayal of Lucia in the TV series of the E F Benson books. These were surely perfect, and the audio books - some read by McEwan and some by Prunella Scales - are also wonderful to listen to.
*** I notice that Amazon show this as a "rare" book and one seller is asking £121 for a copy. Jane Waller mentioned to me that she thought her books from the 1980s - Stitch in Time, 30s Family Knitting Book, and Mens Book - would be worth reprinting, but the publishers were not interested in doing so.
Posted on April 30, 2008 at 8:14 AM« Previous entry | Main | Next entry »
Monday March 31, 2008
Books in March
- The Fourth Bear Jasper Fforde
I think I was probably introduced to Jasper Fforde (Thursday Next novels) by Robert, and swiftly passed them on to Alison. Although I continued with Thursday Next's adventures, I never bothered with the "Nursery Crime" books until I was given (Robert again) two for my birthday. Through an administrative error I took the second one to France with me, so I have read them out of sequence, but I don't think that has impeded my enjoyment.
Like Terry Pratchett, Fforde's novels are tagged Fantasy Satire, and like Pratchett, they are brilliant. A fantasy world makes you somehow able to look at what is obviously our own world with more objective eyes - and see humbug and hypocrisy for what it really is - and have a good laugh.
I do not have journalistic skills to write an elegant review - instead try this.
- The Right Attitude to Rain Alexander McCall Smith
This is third in the series about Isobel Dalhousie; a quick read, and most enjoyable. The main character really reminds me of my friend Diane; that is really "reminds" me of her, rather than being actually the same as her. It is her sense of what is fundamentally Right, perhaps, as well as the the descriptions of the Edinburgh locations. Alison said she was very surprised by the ending of the book, and it provoked a quite interesting few moments of discussion on the characters' motivations.
This author also has several series of books, but I have followed only the Ladies' No 1 Detective Agency** with any dedication. I am certain I would like them all, as I suspect they would all be flavoured with the authors quiet brand of philosphical ideas, as applied in every day life, albeit possibly by rather extraordinary people. Perhaps that is the key to his popularity: you can see that the people are ordinary enough on the outside, but rather extraordinary on the inside - and isn't that how we all are?
** Over Easter the BBC screened a film version of the Ladies' No 1 Detective Agency, directed by the recently late Anthony Minghella. They made some changes, which are in my opinion all excellent, in order to take it properly from page to screen. They (and I) are clearly delighted that they filmed it on location in Botswana - it was the Right Thing to do. It is my understanding that this is the pilot for a TV series, though I can't see any direct reference for it being so; I hope they manage to sustain the high quality of actors, script, and direction if it continues.
Posted on March 31, 2008 at 5:05 PM« Previous entry | Main | Next entry »
Friday February 29, 2008
Books in February
There is an interesting and wholly unintentional link in the main 3 books of this month in that they were all written in the 1960s.
- Several Perceptions Angela Carter
I think I can safely say I really didn't understand this book, and further I am not sure if I enjoyed it or not. It seemed rather removed from my own experience of life. Quite some time ago I read Shadowdance, her first novel, published 2 years before this one, and I seem to remember much the same reaction to that one. Having read the glowing reviews by authors I admire, (like Salman Rushdie and Anthony Burgess), I can only conclude I don't have the intellect to quite "get it".
I did enjoy the actual time period, as it is a contemporary work (1968) about the flower power generation and revolves around a university town. As a Sunday Times reviewer said: it offers a picture of the Swinging Sixties without the romantic gloss of middle age.
Rob gave me two books by her for my birthday, and I will ask him to read them too to see if he can explain what I should be seeing! I think I would like to read "Wise Children" - her last book before her untimely death in 1992, (aged 52).
- The Clocks Agatha Christie
Read by Robin Bailey
Moving on to a much loved (by me) favourite. I am pretty sure I have in my time read all of Agatha Christie's output - much of it in my teens, which, according to my teachers, for ever ruined my ability to write good prose, [on the up side, I have a pretty good ear for dialogue though!]. I am sure I read this one before, as I had a good grip on the plot pretty well right away and I don't think it's because I'm any better at unravelling mysteries these days. I spent the first few chapters confusing it with the Seven Dials Mystery (and a rather bad TV adaptation) until I researched it on the web.
Anyway, I can recommend reading it - or revisiting as I did. It contains some really nice classic AC plot devices which I much enjoyed, (people being murdered just as they are about to name the guilty party- as soon as a character says "I can't tell you now - meet me in half an hour in the tea shop", you know it's curtains - and - is it 61? or is it really 19?). Hercule Poirot features though not as a main character. He does not leave his flat in Whitehaven Mansions to solve (or advise on) the mystery, and Miss Lemon is still with him. There is a nice little diversion, while Poirot offers some interesting reflections on other crime authors and fictional detectives - he has been amusing himself in retirement, reading novels and working out the puzzles. There is criticism that the plot fizzles out after an interesting beginning, but I think that is part of the actual design; it is often an AC theme that the crime is quite simple, and you have to strip away the red herrings to leave the basic elements, money, sex, etc which are the usual triggers for murder.
The book is written in the first person by a young "hero" who ends up with the young "heroine" (in many of ACs crime books there is a strong romantic element, and she did write pure romances under a pen name). The setting is sixties but the heroine is pure 1930s - strong, independent, a good sport - but at the same time quite flawed - a dizzy dame - needs a decent chap to take control when it all gets too much (don't we all...). AC was 73 when she wrote this and the characters have words put into their mouths which are clearly AC trying to come to terms with a modern (Swinging Sixties) world to which she can't quite relate.
The book was read charmingly and effectively by Robin Bailey, such a familiar British stalwart that I had not registered that, sadly, he passed away in 1999.
I have read that this novel follows the style of GK Chesterton, who was admired much by AC; I have never read the Father Brown stories but now feel I should.
- Murder in Mind P D James
This book was also written in 1963, and I would like to say "couldn't be more different" - but hey, it's a detective story... I had recently seen reruns of the TV adaptation of this book - they are fairly faithful to the books, and Roy Marsden is perfect as Commander Adam Dalgliesh, but... they are very dated. I was surprised that this one was 1995 - I thought they were all made in the 1980s. Also these adaptations come from the days when books were adapted into 7 part series, and no-one attempted to squeeze masterpieces like Ian Rankin's Rebus books into a mere hour and a half. I think the problem with PD James books is that there is a lot of psychology in them, which is hard to portray, except by a lot of ponderous pauses - and these are frankly dull on a TV cop show, especially when they go on for so many episodes.
So - I wondered what the book was like.
James is 30 years younger than AC so was in her prime when she wrote this. Like the previous novel, it follows the author's typical formula, being set in an "enclosed" environment, (compare: quasi religious orders, convalescent or care homes, retreats, museums, legal chambers, organisations always privately supported by trusts - settings on islands, towers, lighthouses etc etc) and being in this case, a locked room mystery - a defined parameter from the start - so we're all clear about the suspects. Again, in the end, the answer all comes down to money - the simple explanation.
It may not be apparent from the above, but I really enjoy her books; I think the style is slow (turgid probably too strong). However, while maintaining that nice policeman's pace, solid plodding but relentless, she still manages to have quite a gripping end (will they make it in time or not?) - the policemen end up stuck in a traffic jam, which seems appropriate.
- Agatha Raisin and the Curious Curate M C Beaton
Another pleasing fantasy excursion into the world of the 50 year old single woman.
Maybe I could open a detective agency...
Posted on February 29, 2008 at 11:41 AM« Previous entry | Main | Next entry »
Thursday January 31, 2008
Books in January
- Flashman on the March George MacDonald Fraser
I wanted to read a Flashman novel in commemoration of the author, who died on January 2 at the age of 82. He revived the cowardly bully from Tom Brown's Schooldays in 1969 to continue his caddish ways in the first of about a dozen novels. My tutor at college was very fond of these books and I feel his tastes were not to be dismissed lightly. However, I shall not be rushing to read any more.
George MacDonald Fraser also wrote the screenplay for Octopussy - again not one of my favourite Bond films, but possibly not the fault of the script.
- Agatha Raisin and the Love from Hell M C Beaton
Agatha moves on. Or perhaps not - her appeal for me is definitely woman in fifties behaving like teenager (mostly at its worst...).
"I have to go home. My feet are killing me"
"Such a shame. Those shoes look so glamorous"
Agatha smiled at Mrs Bloxby, who always managed to say the right thing. A lesser woman would have said: "You should wear sensible shoes.".
Posted on January 31, 2008 at 10:06 PM« Previous entry | Main | Next entry »
Monday December 31, 2007
Books in December
- At Risk Patricia Cornwell
Her 2006 novel, but without Dr Kay Scarpetta, although it had a detached professional heroine Scarpetta look-alike. I thought the book read slightly oddly, and I now see that - like the last Michael Connelly I read - it was originally serialised for the New York Times. I have a love-hate relationship with her books - they are exciting and absorbing, but these ice-queen heroines do not evoke any empathy - even with detached professionals....
- Agatha Raisin and the Wizard of Evesham M C Beaton
Finally back in sequence, finding out what led up to the last two Agatha books I read.
In this book, the author digresses a bit more than usual in talking about Evesham and its history; I feel she must like it very much, and it has certainly caught my interest, as it's an area with which I am not familiar.
As I have mentioned previously, these books are, at face value, very light weight reading, and don't need to be pondered over to find some inner enlightenment. But really they do describe some very telling experiences which I find all too familiar, and make me laugh twice over; are all professional women in their 50s like this... or is it just me?! Here are a couple of quotes from this book:
On grey hair: "She had bought one of those colour rinses but it had turned the grey to purple."
On visiting the museum at the Almonry: "Agatha became uneasy as she saw household items she remembered from her youth."
Posted on December 31, 2007 at 8:34 AM« Previous entry | Main | Next entry »
Friday November 30, 2007
Books in November
- The Ten Word Game Jonathan Gash
This is a Lovejoy novel, the main character probably known better to us from his portrayal by Ian McShane in the eponymous TV series. In this story, Lovejoy comes across as a little more in control than in the previous (and only other) Lovejoy novel I read. The joy of this book, however, is not so much in the story, but in the fascinating information and trivia that Lovejoy shares with us along the way - this is presumably an outlet for Gash's own knowledge of interesting historical and antique-trade gossip.
The title refers to an amusing game where you attempt to condense any description (event, person) into 10 words - try it with Hamlet - or Pride and Prejudice....
- Living on a Prayer Sheila Quigley
Third in the Grannylit series of thrillers set on the (fictitious) Seahillls Estate. This time a group of kids become involved with a sinister religious cult, and our DI heroine moves slightly closer to a life of bliss with her second in command.
- Agatha Raisin and the Witch of Wickhadden and the Fairies of Fryham M C Beaton
Picked up these Agatha Raisin titles in the library, despite their being slightly out of my chronological reading sequence. I had hoped Alison and I might read them during my holiday - but we were too busy with joint knitting to do any joint reading. So they ended up as the perfect light reading on the flight home. I have reserved the missing title [Agatha Raisin and the Wizard of Evesham] for next month's literary delights.
Posted on November 30, 2007 at 12:01 PM« Previous entry | Main | Next entry »
Wednesday October 31, 2007
Books in October
As Alison explained, we were both a bit busy to be blogging while I was in Los Gatos, and I have been ill with a bad cold since getting back. [Alison struggled (wo)manfully on with her cold while I was there but I seem unable to recover properly...]. I will be entering some retrospective entries on our activities in due course.
Anyway - it's an ill wind etc - I have been doing a lot of reading this month:
- S is for Silence Sue Grafton
As usual, an excellent plot and thrilling finish. Following what seems to be a literary trend, Kinsey finds herself investigating a 30 year old disappearance, thus providing delightful period detail from both the 1950s and the 1980s.
Also amused by the author's foreword. Sue Grafton is a lady of a "certain age" and seems to tolerate fools less gladly than ever before (along with her heroine!). Clearly pacing the writing of her alphabet series to last her through to retirement - by the time she gets to Z I am sure she will have totally lost patience with the general public.
- The House Sitter Peter Lovesey [Read by Steve Hodson]
Another charming (if murder can be...) police drama set between Bath and Bognor. Like the previous novel I read, the setting provided the interest for me, as I grew up on the south coast, and much of the action seems to take place around Sussex.
- The Overlook Michael Connelly
I spotted this latest novel in the library at Los Gatos during the weekly meeting of Alison's knitting group.
It was relatively short but gripping and excellently written as usual. Apparently, this story was originally serialized in the New York Times Sunday Magazine, but the plot has been revamped and expanded to fit into the current Harry Bosch timeline.
If you're a fan take a look at Michael Connelly's website - it's a lot of fun with added multimedia excerpts for you to enjoy.
- Quietly in their Sleep Donna Leon
I raided Alison's own bookshelves for this one. I think it's the latest Brunetti novel in paperback at the moment.
- Under Orders Dick Francis
I pounced on this one when I saw it in the library - as I surmised, this is his first new novel in a number of years - since his wife died in fact. There is some scurrilous suggestion that his wife wrote the books, but he seems happy to freely acknowledge and credit her input. Maybe at the grand age of 87 he simply feels no need to keep the day job. Anyway - happily for us he has written another jolly good novel.
Appropriately, he returns to his hero Sid Halley, one of my favourites from early on in his writing, and the subject of a TV series in 1978 starring Michael Gwilym. I do remember how odd it was having to visually accept a such a tiny hero (ex-jockey - easy to overlook in a book).
Posted on October 31, 2007 at 1:15 PM« Previous entry | Main | Next entry »
Sunday September 30, 2007
Books in September
- Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows J K Rowling
I am the last person to read it.
- Clerkenwell Tales Peter Ackroyd [Read by Nigel Graham]
I'm fond of Peter Ackroyd - his books and his expressed interests in history and London. This book is set in the reign of Richard II. Chaucer is an obvious influence on the work, with short chapters, each focussed on one of the characters borrowed from Chaucer's Canterbury Tales. It's very educational for me, knowing little about the politics of the period, and full of charming (and disgusting) period details of medieval life.
- White Jazz James Ellroy [Read by L.J. Ganser]
Set in 1958, this another story of crime and corruption in the LAPD of the time. I have not read an Ellroy novel before, (though I saw and was very impressed by the film LA Confidential), so I was quite taken aback by the writing style; that and the intense slang of the period made it very hard to listen to - but more evocative to listen to with the right accent. It became easier as the CDs and I progressed together through the story, and I think now that perhaps it would have been equally hard for me to read, and that part of my confusion was trying to take in all the character names presented to me in the first few chapters.
I now find Ellroy is renowned for writing in fragments rather than sentences, and it is certainly a powerful method which he uses very skilfully. Quoting from the publisher's review: "Ellroy's telegraphic style, which reduces masses of plot information to quick-study shorthand, captures the seamy stream-of-consciousness."
This is the last volume of what is known as Ellroy's "L.A. quartet" of crime novels, which includes his previous L.A. Confidential (1990), The Big Nowhere (1988), and The Black Dahlia (1987). It's disturbing but riveting.
- The Last Detective Robert Crais [Read by William Roberts]
Having seen a very amusing TV series with Peter Davison and also a 70s film with Bernard Cribbins in the title role, I thought it would be fun to "read" the original book; I should have known better, as I well know that the "Dangerous Davies" books were written by Leslie Thomas, (popular in my teenage years for the "Virgin Soldiers" which was appealing to me and my peers at the time as it contained "adult themes" - we were just lucky it was well written and funny).
I was alerted to my mistake by the opening chapter which was read by an American, and pretty well unmistakably about bear hunting in Alaska. After a few minutes minutes it began to dawn on me that the venue was not about to change to 1970s North London. Once I had overcome my disappointment, it turned out to be a pretty good detective novel set in LA.
Yet another case of mistaken identity - I seem to unwittingly extend my literary choices and find new authors in this manner so I try to think of it as a positive thing.
- Bad Moon Rising Sheila Quigley
Rob bought me two books by this author as a present; they turned out to be her second and third books, so I borrowed and read the first (Run for Home) from the library. The author was first published in her fifties, is a grandmother living on an estate in the North East, and writes about what she knows; there is a Woman's Hour interview with her from 2004. The books are thrillers set on the (fictitious) Seahillls Estate and have a "gritty realism" that also seems quite comfortable and reassuring, if that's possible. Slightly sadly, I think she's writing about how she would like the atmosphere of the estate she lives on to be (minus the evil drug barons etc!) rather than maybe how it is.
This is the second book of the four she has written to date. (Grannylit apparently).
Posted on September 30, 2007 at 12:02 AM« Previous entry | Main | Next entry »
Friday August 31, 2007
Books in August
- Echo Park Michael Connelly
After the Lincoln Lawyer, we are back to Harry Bosch. I think I can only agree with the book blurbs and say how Connelly gets better and better. His is somewhat journalistic - which is where his roots are - and this makes for a pleasing economic and evocative style, for those who like a yarn. This story (in common with many in this series over the years now I come to think of it) is an old crime re-investigated, and of course now Harry is in a "cold case" squad this is quite apt! Is it me or are these cold case dramas taking over the crime genre lately? Anyway if they are all as well told as this one I am not complaining.
[Reinforces to me that Peter Turnbull's style is awful after all... See below].
- A Big Boy Did It and Ran Away Christopher Brookmyre
I listened to this as a talking book read by Kenny Blyth. The author's style really lends itself to being read aloud and is enhanced for me hearing the vernacular in the proper accent. I also listened to The Sacred Art of Stealing, which I did not like quite so much as some of his other books - far too much characterisation and not enough plot (!) - but it occurred to me then that it sounded slightly like there was a prequel. Turns out this is it - same heroine (Angelique de Xavia) though wholly different situation - same problem with slightly too much back story for me.
- False Knight Peter Turnbull
I originally selected a Peter Turnbull novel on the grounds of it's being a crime genre talking book, and because I mistook his name for that of a another author (!). The first book was "Reality Checkpoint" and I felt a bit lukewarm about it - mostly as I became increasingly irritated by the slow elderly reading style (Who, pray, pronounces "cassette" in two distinct long syllables, the first to rhyme with cat?). I am obviously ageist here, but the whole style of the book seemed very dated - partly appealing and partly wearyingly slow **. Anyway I now discover that the author is not too far from my own age so I'll shut up. I liked the happy ending....
This book proved better, mainly I think due to a different reader. The two books I have listened to do seem to dwell rather unpleasantly on the black serial killer aspects, and as this neither adds to the tension (compare Mark Billingham) nor the humour (Christopher Brookmyre) I feel I could do without it. But then the book would be short. I guess that's why I'm not an author.
** I have just read an amusing review of one of his books which actually pretty well captures my own negative views but much more coherently (that's why I'm not an author!). "Welcome to Peter Turnbull's world, where things never 'are' they 'reveal themselves to be'.", and, when "...[the hero]'s wife died she didn't just drop dead, she 'was seen to collapse', as if had not some passersby been there to see it, she might not have died after all...".
- Miss Marple's Final Cases Agatha Christie
This is an unabridged talking book of short stories read by Joan Hickson. It includes: "The man found dying in the church sanctuary", "The puzzle of Uncle Henry's hidden legacy", "The baffling mystery of the stabbing of Mrs Rhodes", "The question of the murderer with the tape-measure", "The case of Mrs Skinner's maid", and "The curious conduct of the caretaker".
Perfect accompaniment to sock knitting.
Posted on August 31, 2007 at 8:04 AM« Previous entry | Main | Next entry »
Tuesday July 31, 2007
Books in July
More crime books consumed by me in July:
- The Lincoln Lawyer Michael Connelly
The more of his books I read, the more impressed I am by his story-telling style and ability to grip the reader. The pace always accelerates towards the end of the books, which means it is always a disaster for bedtime reading. Far from dropping off after a chapter, you find that anywhere after half way through, you keep thinking "just one more chapter" and before you know it you have reached the end and it's 2am.
This book is not one of the Harry Bosch series, and (unusually I think) does not make any peripheral reference to him either, although it is set in LA, with the hero being a defence lawyer.
- Agatha Raisin and the Wellspring of Death M C Beaton
About number six in the series featuring Agatha Raisin. Fascinated by the tongue in cheek title "Agatha Raisin and the Quiche of Death" I borrowed the library book and was instantly captivated by this amateur sleuth (yes, she has to be a "sleuth"). I realised later that my liking for her is probably born of some very noticeable parallels: Agatha is 50, a very successful though semi-retired business woman with no kids, and a complete slave to her hormones. The books are written in a simple style but very skillful and amusing.
- Be My Enemy Christopher Brookmyre
The usual blend of thoughtful writing and black humour. A party of business people on a team building exercise are left stranded and helpless (apparently) when a mysterious group of para-military lay siege to their remote country hotel in Scotland. Laugh out loud at the amazing self decapitating man.... no really ... it's very funny.
- Friends in High Places Donna Leon
Alison kept recommending Donna Leon, and finally lent me a few of the early books while I was in the US. It took me a while to warm to Commissario Guido Brunetti - I needed more than one book to become interested in, and grow to like and appreciate all the characters properly. I have read quite a few since, up to the latest offerings. However this was an early book that I had not read, so I broke or bent my rule about talking books, (which is to always listen to the unabridged versions). The book was excellently read by Tim Pigott-Smith, which I am sure added to the enjoyment, but it was sufficiently good that I feel I should try and read the full text in the future (even though I now know who dunnit).
Posted on July 31, 2007 at 11:22 PM« Previous entry | Main | Next entry »
Saturday June 30, 2007
Books of the Month
I'm not a great bookworm but I thought about adding a "stuff wot I am reading" list in the sidebar. As my sidebars are overly cluttered already, and its not very craft related, I decided it might be a better as a category in my blog. I have pretty mainstream interests in literature - I doubt you will find an eclectic inspirational set of works that you never heard of before but - if you find you like what I like (which you will swiftly discover is twee crime novels) then there may be the odd previously unconsidered title here.
Add to this that I'm a slow reader so there may be months when nothing appears but... here we are for June:
- Blue Shoes and Happiness Alexander McCall Smith
The usual charming fare about the straight-thinking lady detective and her agency.
- Black Book Ian Rankin
About number six in the series featuring the Edinburgh detective, John Rebus. I heard Ian Rankin say that Jekyll and Hyde was the inspiration for his first book Knots and Crosses, where he had two characters - one good the other bad versions of the same person sharing the same (SAS) roots - he was surprised to hear that from reviewers that he had written a crime novel. Before I knew about John Rebus and Gordon Reeve, I listened to "Blood Hunt" as a talking book (read by that genius Christian Rodska - "versatile British actor"); it featured a different version of Gordon Reeve who had previously played Hyde to Rebus's Jekyll. Blood Hunt as a talking book was utterly gripping and I can thoroughly recommend it - Ian Rankin wrote it under the pen name Jack Harvey.
- A Tale Etched in Blood and a Thick Black Pencil Christopher Brookmyre
First brought to my attention by my friend Helen (like much of my diet of crime) with what I think was his first book "Quite Ugly One Morning". I was slightly disappointed with "The Sacred Art of Stealing" but this book is very appealing. The subject focussed a lot on children as they went through school, finally brought together again as adults - a kind of "we are what life makes us" moral tale. However, I found it particularly strange that all these childhood memories were so familiar, when you consider we are talking about kids (a lot about boys) in a Scottish school set in an era about 20 years after my own schooldays.
Posted on June 30, 2007 at 10:54 PM