You are currently browsing the monthly archive for December 2012.
Yes, it’s time for the obligatory “ooh, look what I got for Christmas” post when we all share our lovely presents which we are thrilled by, but still manage to gaze enviously at everyone else’s haul (or is that just me?)
So here we go, the Book God having been most generous once again:
- Grace: a memoir by Grace Coddington – models, fashion, Vogue, jet-setting, all that jazz.
- The Watchers by Stephen Alford – the spies and other secretive types who protected Elizabeth I
- Fires of Faith by Eamon Duffy – revising the reign of Mary Tudor
- Havisham by Ronald Frame – because, you know, its Miss Havisham plus (actually mostly) Ronald Frame, one of my absolutely favourite and shamefully under-appreciated authors
- Jack Glass by Adam Roberts – sic-fi, murder and the year’s most beautiful cover
- The Legend of Elizabeth Siddal by Jan Marsh – can’t get enough of those pre-Raphaelites
- Heart of Iron by Ekaterina Sedia – steampunk
- Under My Hat, edited by Jonathan Strahan – short stories, witches, Neil Gaiman et al
- In Tearing Haste, edited by Charlotte Moseley – the letters of Debo Mitford and Patrick Leigh Fermor (I love reading other people’s letters)
So rather pleased with all of those, just need to settle down and get reading. Looking forward to seeing all your presents too!
Justin Cronin’s The Passage is another one of those books that has been on my TBR list for what seems like forever, though thinking back I remember exactly when and where I bought it. It was in January 2011 in the Waterstones at Ludgate Circus and I was with Silvery Dude who was kindly getting me a copy of Rivers of London for my birthday and I saw this and had to have it. I was suffering from a really nasty cold and ended up off work for a few days medicating myself with Stephen King.
And its taken me this long to get to it, but I was just in the mood for some pre-soon-to-be-post-apocalyptic horror; this definitely fits the bill.
So there’s this scientist who goes to South America to follow up on information about strange goings on which may lead to a cure for cancer or everlasting life or something of that sort and despite (or because of perhaps) the involvement of the military it all goes horribly wrong. We leap to some time later and death row inmates are being signed up by the guy I thought was going to be our hero, FBI agent Brad Wolgast, to take part in something which will basically mean they are erased from the record. And we have Amy Harper Bellafonte, a six-year old girl who will turn out to be something pretty special (again not a spoiler, you can get this from the back cover).
So much for the set up, and the book does start of as a conventional but well written and extremely creepy horribleness takes over the world and we are all doomed horror. Not giving anything away to say we’re talking vampires, Jim, but not as we know them.
Then something happens and we are plunged into the post-apocalyptic stuff I mentioned, with a whole bunch of other characters set in the future where the world is significantly changed and people are doing what they can to survive. Then it turns into a road trip slash quest novel as a band of intrepid souls go off for various and quite plausible reasons to find out just what the heck happened and is there, you know, anyone else out there.
I thought this was great, a real page turner. The end of the first section and the leap into the future I’ve described above was a bit of a surprise as I thought we would be with the same set of characters for this book at least (given that I think its part one of a projected trilogy). But I soon got used to that and came to love another set of characters which makes the last page a real WTF moment (I won’t say more than that but I read the last paragraph a couple of times to make sure I was really understanding what was going on).
I think this is a really well written story about characters I really came to care for and it has an internal logic to it which makes the world it describes work for me.
And I really, really want to know what happens next, so Santa has been asked to provide the sequel.
I enjoy a good story, never more than at this time of year, when Hallowe’en has come and gone and the nights are drawing in and Christmas is on its way. I particularly enjoy a good Susan Hill ghost story – The Woman in Black has rightly become a classic, and earlier this year I had a thoroughly good time with The Small Hand as I explained here. So when her new story, Dolly, was released it was no-brainer that I would buy it and devour it in one sitting, as I did.
It’s a short tale, narrated to us by Edward Caley about his lonely orphaned childhood and especially one summer, the first that he spent with his Aunt Kestrel in her forbidding house in the Fens. They are joined by his extraordinarily spoiled cousin Leonora, a wilful child with serious anger management issues, effectively abandoned by her mother and uncontrollable. During her stay she becomes fixated on being given a doll for her birthday, and when she doesn’t get exactly what she wants she becomes enraged and lashes out, an action which has appalling repercussions for them both down the years.
This is nicely creepy in many ways and I enjoyed the experience of reading it at the time, but didn’t get quite the sense of foreboding or the air of melancholy that you get from a really good ghost story. I couldn’t quite get it to make sense for me in terms of actions and consequences. So a bit unsatisfying compared to her other work in the genre but still better than most of the ghost stories out there.
So, let’s start off with another holiday read which turned out to be a fabulous book, and another one that made me cry (doesn’t seem to be too difficult these days, perhaps its my age). Code Name Verity tells the story of Verity (as in her alias, I can’t remember exactly when in the book we find out her real name) who is an SOE operative behind enemy lines in occupied France during WWII.
The story is told in two parts, two different views of the same events which I thought worked really, really well here. We start with Verity who has been captured and is being tortured by the Gestapo; in her cell she thinks back over how she met Maddie, an unlikely friendship as Verity (we find out) is from a wealthy Scottish aristocratic family and Maddie is a working class girl from Manchester obsessed with machines, especially planes. We learn how their friendship develops, how they become involved in the war effort and how Verity ended up where she is. We then switch to the other viewpoint, about which I won’t give too much away, which fills in some of the gaps in Verity’s story and brings the whole thing to a conclusion, which is where my middle-aged weeping comes in.
This is another young adult novel, so again clear, direct, simple language but not flinching away from the necessarily unpleasant aspects of the story. One of the strongest themes is that of female friendship; Verity and Maddie really mean a lot to each other and their relationship was entirely convincing. And it makes clear the sacrifices a number of women made, leaving their families to carry out dangerous work with no guarantee of return. This is an excellent novel and it will hopefully win a number of the awards for which it has been nominated. I thought it was stunning.
One of the things I enjoy a great deal is reading the author’s notes for this type of novel, not so much the acknowledgements to friends and colleagues who have in some way assisted (though they can also be quite fun), but more the research details and in particular any books consulted. Which is how I came to realise that I already had one of the biographies mentioned – A Life in Secrets: The Story of Vera Atkins and the Lost Agents of SOE; it was inevitable that after reading such a strong novel I would want to dive into the background.
Vera Atkins was a key figure in the SOE French Section and prepared many of the female agents who were amongst more than four hundred who were sent behind enemy lines. A large number of these failed to come back, and the book follows Vera as she attempts to find out what happened to them, particularly the twelve young women for whom she felt responsible. It explains how the French Section worked during the war, the status of the female agents which meant that if captured they would not be protected by the Geneva Convention, and the struggle Vera had to get permission to carry out her search. It also lays bare just how compromised the SOE operation in France actually was, betrayed to the Gestapo at an early stage, with agents being caught almost as soon as they parachuted onto French soil. One of the more sobering facts is that the lifespan of a radio operator in France was roughly six weeks.
Vera does find out what happened to all of her agents, and it is a really harrowing story of bravery in the face of genuinely wicked cruelty and brutality as her quest for information brings her face to face with the atrocities committed in Natzweller, Ravensbruck and Dachau.
It is also the fascinating story of Vera herself and the secrets she kept; suffice to say she wasn’t exactly what she appeared, and the author’s investigation into Vera’s past is equally fascinating. Again, a book well worth reading to get a sense of a life totally dominated by wartime events.
Around the same time I was reading these two an interesting series was being broadcast on TV which was also about the impact of wartime events on post-war lives. The Bletchley Circle is the story of four friends who had worked as code-breakers during the war and use their skills to investigate and unmask a serial killer through patterns that only they seem able to see. The compulsion that causes the murderer to kill in the way he does points out again the impact of wartime on the minds of those who experienced it (though actually his character is rather ambivalent, besides being a murderous psychopath of course) but the thing that stuck out for me was the four friends themselves, who had carried out important work that they couldn’t discuss even with their families, and the way their lives seemed so dull in the aftermath that they would put themselves in such danger to catch a killer.
And just finally, a few weeks ago a memorial was erected in London to one of Vera’s agents, Nora Inayat Khan, who met one of the most brutal of ends with genuine bravery. One of those periods in history we mustn’t forget.
I sometimes worry that in the highly unlikely event that I became a suspect in a murder case the police would turn up chez Bride, look at the number of books (both fiction and non-fiction) that I have about serial killers and huckle me off immediately, convinced they had me bang to rights.
And The Calling is another one of those. Set in Canada, a country for which I have had a fascination bordering on obsession since I was quite small (I may have mentioned this before), its the story of a series of murders which are only connected when our heroine, for it is a she, DI Hazel Micallef, spots a link and there’s a race against time (as always) to catch the killer before he strikes again.
I’m a bit ambivalent about this one, and not entirely sure why. I read it on holiday and the setting and all-round grimness jarred a bit with the warm Italian sunshine – though it didn’t stop me cracking through the story. I thought the conceit behind the murders was quite clever, and the killer himself interesting in his motivations, I like Hazel in many ways, sympathising with her back pain and her having to share a home with her mother, but she was also pretty irritating at times – the thing with her ex-husband I could understand I suppose but if I’d been the second wife I would probably have been unable to resist smacking her one.
It is not at all bad but I will admit after a a couple of months that I struggled a bit to remember the details but it was good to read at the time. I may give the next one in the series a try, but not just yet.
A tiny wee review for a short but compelling ebook. Ink in the Blood is Hilary Mantel’s diary of her hospital experiences when seriously ill a few years ago. It’s an unflinching portrayal of what must have been a horrible experience, but Mantel brings her unique perspective to her situation, the hallucinations and other effects of medication, as well as the books she is reading.
Favourite line = “Which makes me ask, what kind of wuss was Woolf?”
Having seen a brilliant interview with her earlier this year (I think) I have a serious girl crush on Hilary Mantel – if only I could just finish Wolf Hall…….
I wasn’t sure what to expect with Every Last One. I could tell from the Amazon reviews that knowing anything except for the basic plot could really spoil the impact of the story, but I think its safe to say that it is a book of two halves – with a tragic event in the middle, which came as a total shock to me (as it seems to have done to other readers).
This is the story of the Latham family, told from the perspective of Mary Beth Latham,mother, wife, businesswoman, friend, all of those things and so much more. I really liked her – can you tell? It’s a picture of a happy family life, not perfect by any means (which is great because I don’t believe any family is perfect, we all have our oddities and tensions and skeletons) but generally pretty good, a couple who care for each other and their three children, all teenagers. We get a very clear picture of their family dynamic and as the eldest of three and the only girl I especially enjoyed the interaction between the Latham daughter and her younger brothers. And then something awful happens and the tone and focus of the book changes.
Some reviewers found this jarring and are divided between whether the first or second parts of the book are better or whatever, but I have to say I thought the whole thing was quite remarkable and I cried solidly during huge chunks of this relatively short book and especially at the end. I often cry at books and films but when I talk about crying here I mean real, genuine sobbing and I felt bereft when I finished it. I have thought about it a great deal since I read it, one of those that pops into your head when you least expect it.
Some will be cynical about the whole thing, others will wonder what all the fuss was about, but I thought this was great and it was one of the top reads of my holiday, and also one of the few e-books I’ve read so far (admittedly there aren’t that many I’ve finished) that I have seriously considered getting in hard copy.
The blurb on the back of the book gave a pretty skewed impression of where this was going to put all of that out of your mind. But if you give this one a try just make sure there are tissues near at hand. I wasn’t prepared and the puffy pink eyes and running nose look is not a good one believe me!
I know I say this a lot, but I really mean it this time: I feel as if I am the last person in the Universe (or the blogosphere at least) to get around to reading Cloud Atlas. I have seen it so many times stacked on tables in bookshops with its lovely coloured cover and I’ve wondered what it was all about but never thought to pick it up, even on a 3 for 2 deal when I’ve been scouring the bookshop looking for something to add. I’m still not entirely sure why I bought it for my Kindle app; I suspect it’s been to do with reading about the film adaptation and thinking that looked interesting and my tendency to want to read a book before I see the movie version.
I should also give a shout out to Silvery Dude who, when I mentioned it to him as a possible read, thought that I would enjoy the experience.
I have to say I’m really intrigued about the film, because I cannot for the life of me see how they are going to do it (or have done it as I think it may already be out in the US?). I can’t even adequately explain the novel to myself having read it, let alone visualise how the structure will translate to the big screen.
For the structure of the book is really important; there are six or seven stories all nested within each other, radiating forward into the future and then back into the past. It’s really disconcerting if you don’t know that, because when I got to the break in the first story I thought there was something wrong with the download (I know, what an eejit) but I persevered and realised what was happening. I’m not even going to try to explain the various stories told but they range over time and there are connections between them all, especially in relation to a comet shaped birthmark (as I remember – the curse of (a) waiting this long to write the post and (b) having it as an e-book is it isn’t always easy to refer back (haven’t yet got the hang of bookmarks and highlighting yet))
And apologies for the excessive use of parentheses here but it sort of fits the book somehow.
I thought it was a compelling read with some interesting things to say about identity and human relationships and all that sort of thing and I would recommend it to anyone else out there who has perhaps not read it yet.
Still haven’t got a clue how they’re going to do it justice on the screen but I’ll look forward to finding out.
The Adoration of Jenna Fox is a bit of a milestone for me, as it’s the first book I read from start to finish using the Kindle app on my iPad. When the Book God and I went on holiday to Italy in September with my brother the Stanley Scot and his Good Lady we had to limit luggage and so we decided to leave physical books behind and rely on electronic means, and I have to say it was a huge success.
I read all of this in the hotel we stayed at in Spoleto.
This is a YA novel and tells the story of Jenna Fox, who has somehow survived a terrible accident and is rebuilding her life in a new community, and about her struggle to remember what happened and to deal with the oddities that surround her, because there is clearly something going on around her that she doesn’t understand, and she is somehow special.
I really enjoyed this one, the mix of teenage angst and science fiction worked well for me, and I found myself really liking Jenna (though wanting to give her a real shake on occasion). As with lot of YA fiction the writing is clear and direct and just the sort of thing for a holiday read – I finished it in a couple of sittings.
I believe that there is already a sequel and may get that on Kindle at a later stage, as I’d be interested to see where the author takes this given that (in my opinion anyway) the ending didn’t really leave much of an opening.
Only a small thing but I’ve just noticed that I’ve passed 25,000 hits on this, my little blog. I know there are bigger and more successful blogs out there but given that (1) I don’t write every day and (2) I don’t really do that much to publicise the blog at all I’m actually quite chuffed with myself.
Off to have a Bloody Mary to celebrate!