Sunday, 20 January 2013

11-22-63 by Stephen King

Sometimes a book comes along and catches you, know what I mean? It happened with Angels and Daemons; reading til 3 am sat on the toilet (didn't dare move in case I woke Mr AJ and he told me not to be ridiculous; I still have nightmares) and this was another of that ilk.
I haven't read much Stephen King; Christine, Under the Dome and I think one called the Dark Half. However, the premise on this book sounded fascinating. If you could go back and change history, would you?
Jake Epping is a teacher in a small town in Maine (see Nostalgia Critic for why this will make you snigger) whose local Diner owner, Al, has a rabbit hole in time in his store room. Only to one particular moment in time; September 1958. Al uses it for buying meat at 1950's prices and living in nostalgia. Until he wonders what he could really do with this gift.
If Kennedy never got shot...... the Vietnam war would never happen, Bobby and Martin Luther King would be saved, Nixon would possibly never be president and the world would be a better place.
But the past is obdurate (King is fond of that word; look it up) and Al gets very sick before he can accomplish his plan. Enter Jake; how would he like to go back in time.....

I enjoyed this book. The story of how Jake goes about plotting and planning to achieve the plan is peppered with references to other King classics. I have to read It very quickly to understand the part set in Derry and I'm sure Christine was a Plymouth Fury(?) but you don't need to know that to enjoy the story. Jake has to spend 5 years waiting; and makes a life as a teacher complete with girlfriend.
From halfway in, when the plan is afoot, the plot picks up and the pace increases. I couldn't put it down. I had questions.... questions I can't put into print without spoiling the book for you, but ones I needed a resolution to. Thank God yesterday was a snowy Saturday and I could just sit.....

Wednesday, 16 January 2013

Midwinter sacrifice by Mons Kallentoft

Bad blogger. Bad blogger. It's been a year and  a half since I posted a book review. What a bad blogger I am.
Last night was the church Bookclub's January meeting and we read and reviewed Midwinter Sacrifice. I picked the book to read purely based on the fact that it had been a Richard and Judy read last year, I enjoyed Stieg Larsson and I was missing Forbrydellsen like mad. (note to self; I cannot actually speak Danish; why do I ask to turn the volume up?)

Midwinter Sacrifice Cover

It's a scandi crime novel set in Sweden. The chief protagonist is a female detective, Malin Fors, with a failed marriage and a 13 year old daughter pushing the limits. Oh, and a possible drinking problem and a need for sex without intimacy. So far so basic whodunnit plot. The crime is gruesome, a dead body hanging mutilated from a bare tree in the deserted land, and the story is essentially a search for the killer and assorted co-conspirators for rape, vandalism, etc. Yet even though the plot has a large amount of familiar elements the book is engrossing and manages to have a different slant on the story with subplots involving ancient norse religion, family secrets and abusive relationships.
I enjoyed reading it; the translation wasn't clunky and some of the writing reaches lyrical heights. I love the emphasis at the start on the sensual aspect of the snow and cold. The landscape really acts as another character at the beginning; it is cruel, has a scent, a texture, a very real effect on the investigation,
I was only slightly disappointed that this lyricism faded out as the novel got more plot driven, although the plot and twists that drive it are good enough that they don't need the 'prettiness' of poetry.
Malin has an ascerbic character; she perhaps is not completely likeable, but she isn't absolutely hateful. There is a strange 'ghost talking' aspect that happens every so often when the first victim speaks (in italics) and sometimes even tries to talk to Malin. One of  our bookclub members hated this device, but I quite enjoyed it and didn't feel it was irritating or interrupting the plot but actually provided further hints and leads to the reader.
Ending? Can't tell you, of course, but if you read it come and tell me what you think! Cop out or clever?
There are at least 3 more books available in the series; Summertime Death which I have ready to read, Autumn Killing and Savage Spring.

Tuesday, 23 August 2011

The Paris Wife by Paula Mclain

The Paris Wife

I read this earlier this month in... Paris! In fact, all my reading in Paris was either written by Parisians or set in Paris. I had been looking at this novel as a good way of experiencing 1920's Paris, with the Cafe des Flores and Les Deux Magots. A sort of vicarious time travelling. Besides which I had seen some positive reviews of the book and I spent a term once at college studying Ernest Hemingway.
It is told in the first person by his wife, Hadley H, and is the story of their time together from first meeting in Chicago to eventual betrayal and break up in Paris. Hadley makes an empathetic narrator and brings a straight thinking attitude to life with an artist that makes her seem like a saint for putting up with him sometimes! It definitely held my attention, and I thought it a faithful account of their time together.... and no wonder. The next book I read was A Moveable Feast, Hemingway's posthumous account of the same time. Paula Mclain has definitely used it as source material as several of the stories are here in almost identical detail. At first this bugged me, but Paula's book is written as a novel rather than a set of vignettes as Hemingway's is, so actually it was good to read them both as a compare and contrast.

A Moveable Feast

Although I studied a small selection of his work, H never quite did it for me... too Masculine Bull Fights and Hunting so I have to shamefully admit I have never gone back to him. I found Moveable Feasts completely different from my remembered impression. I enjoyed the name dropping (Joyce, Stern et al) and the way he got things across without actually wasting time or words on explanations. The older I get the more I appreciate succinct expression, so I may try to read (or re-read) some of his work again.

Monday, 22 August 2011

The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein

Every so often you read a book that is, well, lovely. That is compelling and sad and funny and makes you read it despite the requests for lunch and let's go shopping from the children. This year it was this book.

I don't own a dog, but if I did I would want one like Enzo. He is faithful, intelligent and believes that when he dies he will be reincarnated as a man (he watched it on National Geographic where it is, apparently, what they believe in Mongolia.) He lives with Denny who is a good racing driver and then with Eve (wife) and the baby. Through all the twists and turns of life, Enzo keeps on telling the story from his point of view. What would, as a simple story, be just another bad luck tale is made into a lovely story because of the character of Enzo. It's a real weepy, a two-hanky book that I loved.
And the title? Enzo and Denny watch racing (motor racing) together at times of stress and the secret to being a great driver is to perfect the art of racing in the rain.

Thursday, 14 July 2011

Precious Bane by Mary Webb

I always think this is a very  under rated novel. I think Mary Webb may well be a very under rated writer, too. Certainly this book would make it into my top ten list, quite probably my top five. I read it at 19 or 20 and it had a real impact on me. That was my PB year.... this and Princess Bride helped me get through college with grace and a smile.
 Set at the time of the Napoleonic Wars but written in the early part of the 20th century the book is about Prue Sarn and her brother Gideon who live in a desolately lonely house on a mere in Shropshire. Prue has a hare-lip and because of that is shunned by the superstitious folk around her who believe she is cursed. Her brother runs the farm hard, wanting to make money and get out. He is in thrall to the lure of wealth and power and the destructive influence this has on his life gives the book its drama and pain.
But above all Precious Bane is a love story, a tale of how one man can see beyond the physical deformity to the beauty within. The weaver, Kester, is a different kind of man; a true gentleman who stands up to bullies and protects the weak. I loved him when I read the book and still do. Noble characters appeal to me.
I also love how Mary Webb uses the local Shropshire dialect and customs such as soul cakes and love-spinnings to give a picture of what agrarian life 200 years ago could have been like. The development of factory weaving and the demise of the travelling weaver was one of the areas I studied in O level, so it was good to find it presented in such a human way.
I know the BBC made a very good adaptation with Janet McTeer, Clive Owen and John Bowes which I loved as well. Worth looking out for, it caught the anger and the restrained passion of the heroine well. I know it's not available on DVD or video at the moment, but it was on TV on a channel like History or Watch last year or the year before.
If you've never read any Mary Webb, do read this. It holds its own against many other classics of its time.

Thursday, 9 June 2011

Never Let Me Go by Kasuo Ishiguro

I read this last month. It's the story of three young adults who are in a school for children who are 'different'. The secret isn't made clear until part way through the novel but the language of carers and donations hint at something medical going on....

When the truth is made clear it is a shocking idea, and makes reading their story more harrowing. I liked how the book was written with spoilers and flashbacks and forwards. The end seems inevitable by the time it comes, and all the more bitter sweet for that. I have read criticism of the book that the situation these young people are in is too unlikely, that they roll with their position too easily, but I never felt that. The basic premise is a few points beyond believability, but this book isn't science fiction, it's more about the relationships and stresses that the adults go through. It's a love triangle with a twist and a book to make you question scientific advancement as well. Just because we could, should we? It wasn't a hard read just a difficult think.

It's also been made into a film with Carey Mulligan, Keira Knightley and Andrew Garfield. I haven't seen it... have you?

Tuesday, 7 June 2011

Absolutely Organised by Debbie Lillard

I am not organised. Probably never will be completely. But I love reading organisational books and this is one of the favourites at the moment.

True enough, there isn't a lot to say about getting organised and if you've read Deniece Schofield, Julia Morgenstern and any other books, then this book will not hit you over the head with a new and revolutionary way to get your life in order, but it is a well-presented and well-thought out book. It's also not very verbose; she gets quickly and efficiently to the point. And it's in glossy pages with full colour illustrations so that ideas such as underbed storage are clear. Also, the photos are lovely, I'll try to scan and upload some later. And, finally, the cover is such a bright and cheerful design, just leaving it on one of your hotspots brightens up the house.