Monday, 30 June 2008

The Return - Victoria Hislop

I absolutely loved The Island and have looked forward to reading this book since its publishing was announced. Having had a family home in Spain both under Franco and since, and adoring flamenco,( if you can get to see Joaquin Cortes do) I was convinced I was going to love this book too. And I did up until about half way. When flamenco was involved there was passion but otherwise it just lacked something. I think that once we got into the civil war it read more like a history book. We did not learn any more about the characters, their motivation and feelings other than what we were told,it became a passive experience, in fact I just did not become invested in them as charcters. Yes I wanted to know what happened and it is a non demanding light read, but it lacks the depth of The Island. I also thought that the Ramirez family pushed credibility, one son a socialist teacher, one a fascist bull fighter, one a homosexual flamenco guitarist and the daughter an outstanding flamenco dancer hmm........

The Lying Tongue - Andrew Wilson

This book is a cross between Sleuth and The talented Mr Ripley. It was only half way through that intrigued I read the inside cover and realised that Andrew Wilson is a biographer of Patricia Highsmith. As such I assume that this is a "homage" to her. I enjoyed it, indeed read it non- stop Saturday to Sunday. The ending of the book is absolutely great and it is very difficult to review this book without spoilers. Best to say, think present day Venice, a crumbling Palace, a mysterious hermit like novelist, an amoral young man, oh, and murder, and you get the picture. It clearly is not in the same league as Highsmith but it is close. There in though lies the question is there value in imitating anothers work? It would make a good reading group read if say one of the Ripleys were read with this. I await to see what Andrew writes next with interest.

Monday, 23 June 2008

The Outcast - Sadie Jones

This book is stunning. It is hard to believe that this is a debut novel, the calibre of writing and plotting is so mature. She captures the claustrophobic, smug world of 1950's middle England so well. The issues that she deals with, self - harming, wife beating, child abuse are downplayed in a subtle manner, they are heart breaking but never sensationalised. It is a telling reminder that we never know what happens behind closed doors, but thank goodness these issues are out in the open today. This will make a fantastic reading group book, there is just so much to talk about. If you have the feeling from the review that this is a dark book, far be it, there is a strong message of hope and resilience, and that young people far from being victims can show us the way forward. Her characterisation particularly of Lewis is deft and carries depth, you really feel you get to know him, and above all can identify with him. Even when he spirals out of control , you never lose that empathy with him, this is the skill of an excellent writer.

Wednesday, 18 June 2008

Dead Man in Tangier - Michael Pearce

I enjoyed Michael's Mamur Zapt series but the books I have read of this series have left me cold. I really cannot find much about Seymour to like or dislike his character is so thinly drawn. It is the same for all the characters in this book. Frankly I was bored, it did not even have the advantage of having a travelogue aspect, there was no exploitation of the setting to help, and as for the whodunnit aspect, I just didn't care.

This book would have no interest for a reading group, in my opinion.

Monday, 16 June 2008

The Snake Stone - Jason Goodwin

The second book in this excellent series. It is a sort of Donna Leon set in Istanbul in 1838.

I love the sense of humour in these books, there are genuine laugh out load moments amid the murder and many wry smiles. You will also find your mouth watering, for, as well as being a eunuch, Yashim is also an excellent cook. I now want to make pilaf like him!

Having been to Istanbul, like Leon before him, Jason Goodwin also expertly weaves the sites of the city into the plots, his writing is so good that one can nearly smell as well as taste and hear the atmosphere of this great historic city.

Thursday, 12 June 2008

White Nights - Ann Cleeves

This is the second book in the Shetland Quartet, and comes after Ann won the prestigious Dagger for the first novel in the series Raven Black, and it does not disappoint. I read a lot of crime and this is a glorious, who dunnit and I just did not see it coming. This is Agatha Christie set in modern times! The setting in Shetland is fantastic, very unusual and atmospheric. I enjoy the slow, careful plotting, with the suspense building and then the surprise! I cannot give too much away without spoilers. I am really enjoying her characterisation of the deyective Jimmy Perez.
We were very lucky last year to have an author event with Ann at Boscombe Library, she does a marvellous 'murder' evening - highly recommended, if one is coming to a library near you, do not miss it!

Monday, 9 June 2008

The Road Home - Rose Tremain

I took this book out on friday and was unable to put it down! I finally finished it last night at 11.30. I can well understand why this won the Orange Prize. It is utterly captivating. This book works on so many levels. It will make an excellent book group book. Her charaterisation is so finely drawn that you become completely invested in each one. It has supense and keeps you reading as you want to find out what happens next. The subtle commentary that takes place about the way we live in this country is excellently done, it is achieved with a deft, light touch but no less powerful for that. The scenes set in Lev's own country have both humour and pathos. I can't recommend this book enough! It will be coming to one of our reading groups very soon!

Saturday, 7 June 2008

Antony & Cleopatra - Colleen McCullough

I need to nail my colours here, I am a huge fan of Cleopatra, and have a rather rosy and romantic image of her. To me the ideal potrait was in Memoirs of Cleopatra by Margaret George. I do not really approve of the demonising that is currentlyoccuring around this most inspirational female figure from history. That said, it is always difficult to write about such famous characters in history especially when you know the ending.........howver, I thought this book was brilliant! For me it was more about Octavian and one really felt one got inside his head, for anyone who has read Robert Graves or seen the excellent BBC series we can really see where Octavian is going to go, how his character may have been formed. I loved her portrayal of Antony too, it really rang true. I cannot find Livia a sympathetic character as portrayed by Colleen but then so much prejudice has gone before ( a bit like me and Cleopatra!) that maybe it is good to see another side to her character. If like me you love historical fiction and Rome and Egypt in particular this book is for you.

Monday, 2 June 2008

Daughters of the Doge - Edward Charles

This is a sequel to In the shadow of Lady Jane ( see below). In this book Richard truly comes of age. He ends up maturing, getting married and finally deciding on his career. All this takes place through a journey across Europe to Venice and all that befalls him there. I have read many books on Venice, one of my passions, see below, and it is rare that I learn anything new but in this novel I did. It was absolutely fascinating, from the art of painting to the treatment of the Daughters of the Doge, I was not disappointed and thoroughly engrossed.

I can say that as Richard matures, so does his character and I really thought this was a real skill of Edward's to take us along with this rather prigish young man into early adulthood at such a fascinating time in history. I sincerely hope that this is going to turn into a series................

The Janissary tree by Jason Goodwin

This is a great book and would make an excellent choice for reading groups. Here we are in Istanbul following our "detective" in 1836. He is however, a detective with a difference - he is a eunuch!
Perhaps because of his condition, I found this and life in the palace absolutely fascinating. The murders were unusual and innovative. Jason is a historian, and I found the accounts of the Ottoman empire detailed and fascinating. I also found myself researching certain medical conditions............

This would make a good book to read with the Sultans Seal, (see below) similar time in history but completly different in style.

I have ordered the second title in the series so look for a review soon.

The Haunted Hotel by Wilkie Collins

I read this recently and can say it really was spooky. I had forgotten how good it can be reading the classics. This is a small book, and will not take long to read. It is a classic gothic tale , read it late at night and it will be guranteed to have you shivering. is the Countess a wicked fortune seeker or is an she innocent pawn, how far can we endorse the supernatural elements. How does the setting of Venice contribute to the sense of suspense? I think this would make a good book club choice especially if perhaps contrasted to a modern gothic novel, and I supspect that it will not be found wanting.........