Sunday, January 29, 2017

2017 books, #1-5

Inferno, by Dan Brown [audiobook]. Read by Paul Michael.  Rearsby, Leics: Clipper, 2013.

This is, of course, dreadful tosh.  But a good shout at the CD player over New Year was welcome, and although it was initially a disappointment that Jeff Harding wasn't reading this one as well, the reader was excellent, particularly in the area of Italian pronunciation.  There was so much wrong with the Dante part of this that I won't even start; and the setup so that Robert Langdon could mansplain his way round another landscape was as clunky as ever.  But there were some pleasing plot twists, and a lot of knitting, tidying up and reading was done while listening to this.

The cold cold ground, by Adrian McKinty. London: Serpent's Tail, 2012.

I heard about this author via @TriciaindaHouse on Twitter - an excellent source for book recommendations if you like the sort of thing I review here.  This is a brilliant book, and happily it's the first in an ongoing series.  Sean Duffy is a rare bird, a Catholic sergeant in the RUC in the spring of 1981.  Most of his work is in attempting to contain sectarian violence, but then he comes across a very odd case - two killings of gay men within a matter of hours.  Is this the work of a serial killer, or something different?  There are some great "period details" here - high-security visits of Margaret Thatcher, the IRA hunger strikers, the backdrop of the Royal Wedding - and also some shocking reminders of how totally abnormal life in the North was at the time.  Highly recommended.  I've already got the second one on reserve.

Saturday requiem, by Nicci French [audiobook]. Read by Beth Chalmers. Rearsby, Leics.: Clipper, 2016.

It was a completely open and shut case when 18-year-old Hannah Docherty was arrested for the murder of her mother, father and brother, and she's been incarcerated in a secure hospital ever since.  When Frieda Klein, a psychotherapist, is asked by the police to assess Hannah, she is horrified and haunted by the girl's condition, and begins to investigate the circumstances of the murders.  What she finds makes her doubt both her own sanity, and Hannah's guilt.  This is tightly plotted and fascinating.

Paper towns, by John Green. London: Bloomsbury, 2010.

Margo Roth Spiegelman is Quentin Jacobsen's next door neighbour, and an awesome rebel. Q has been in love with her forever, and is amazed when she commandeers him to go on a riotous, night-long revenge prank. And then Margo disappears.  The phenomenon of paper towns was unfamiliar to me until I read this book...  The setup, and to an extent the main character, who is not the narrator, is familiar from Green's Looking for Alaska, but this is an altogether different thing, and makes you laugh and cry, and believe, as I did as a teenager, that dysfunctional teens are probably the best.

The strange case of the composer and his judge, by Patricia Duncker [audiobook]. Read by Maggie Mash. Rearsby, Leics.: Clipper, 2010.

Hunters in the Jura come across a strange sight: a semi-circle of dead bodies, staring upwards into the sky.  Dominique Carpentier, a judge with more than a passing interest in cults, is called up by a policeman who is also her old lover; the pair start to investigate, and realise that there is a connection between the dead and a composer and conductor, Friedrich Grosz.  This is a strange sort of book - half police procedural, half a search into a mystical realm, and I'm not entirely sure it's successful; but it's a good listen, with an excellent reader.

Saturday, December 31, 2016

2016 books, #86-90

Freeze frame, by Peter May. Kindle edition.

I'm starting to become quite freaked out with the coincidences in locations with this series of books - I read this while in Morocco for work in November, and one of the first scenes is set in the 1960 Agadir earthquake.  Then two days later, we were in a museum looking at a painting of the 1960 Agadir earthquake...  Anyway; this is another excellent Enzo Macleod mystery, which spans 60 years. Enzo is asked by a man's widow to look at his study and try to figure out the clues he left 20 years ago for his son, who died shortly after him without being able to work out who had killed his father.  The mystery takes Enzo to an island off the coast of Brittany - the man who was tried, and acquitted, of the murder is still around, and many of the locals don't want the story brought to life again.  As ever, Enzo doesn't let this deter him; even though things in his private life are doing their best to distract him...

The box of delights, by John Masefield. London: Egmont, 2014.

I'd forgotten quite how enjoyable this book was; and also that it was the companion to The midnight folk, which I'll have to track down and re-read.  Kay Harker comes home from school for Christmas, but some mysterious characters share a carriage with him, and a strange man at the station tells him that The wolves are running... Then his and his siblings' guardian is called to London at short notice and doesn't reappear, and clergy start disappearing from the Cathedral...  A creepy Christmas tale for all ages.

No man's land, by GM Ford [audiobook]. Read by Jeff Harding. Bath: BBC Audio, 2008.

Frank Corso is summoned to a high-security prison, where inmates have taken over.  The ringleader, Timothy Driver, is the subject of one of Corso's biographies, and demands Corso come in and talk to him.  Subsequently Driver kidnaps Corso, and he and another prisoner escape.  Corso is dragged along during a killing spree; and a television journalist is also trying to track Driver and his companion down.  This ought to have been thrilling, and it's read as ably as ever by Jeff Harding, but I did find my attention drifting from time to time...

Fatal pursuit, by Martin Walker. London: Quercus, 2016.

Bruno, chief of police in the Dordogne town of St Denis, is supervising a vintage car rally when news comes that a man has died on the outskirts of the village.  It looks like a natural death - the man is elderly, overweight and has a terrible diet - but Bruno's just not sure.  He can't find the papers the man is meant to have been working on, and there are no files on his computer relating to his current commission.  Meanwhile he's also dealing with a family feud, the car rally and the presence of his old flame Isabelle who has been stationed nearby dealing with a high-level fraud investigation. This series continues to charm, and also to wrap up satisfying plots; bravo.

Blowback, by Peter May. Kindle edition.

Enzo Macleod's fifth cold case from Roger Raffin's book takes him to a chateau in the Jura, home and restaurant to three-star Michelin chef Marc Fraysse, who was murdered seven years before.  He has a limited amount of time to investigate as the restaurant is about to close for the winter season, but he has a mole in the kitchen staff already, and the cooperation, at least initially, of Fraysse's family.  As he investigates, though, he digs up a mass of seething sibling resentment, betrayal and infidelity which both put him into danger and lead to disturbing parallels with his own life.  Another excellent outing for Enzo.

2016 books, #81-85

Bringing in the sheaves: wheat and chaff from my years as a priest, by Richard Coles.  London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 2016.

This is a lovely book.  It's based around the church's year, and mixes serious spiritual stuff with the comedy and tragedy of human life as seen by a parish priest.  Coles's compassion shines through, and there's some extremely funny stuff which is instantly recognisable to anyone who's been part of a church community.  Highly recommended.

Fool me once, by Harlan Coben [audiobook]. Read by January LaVoy. [S.l.]: Bolinda Audio, 2016.

What do you do when you've just buried your husband after his brutal murder in Central Park, but then see him on your nanny-cam?  Maya is convinced that Joe is dead, but she also wants to believe the evidence of her own eyes.  Joe's family has many hidden secrets; and Maya's not short of those herself.  This is another real brain-twisting thriller from Coben, who's the specialist in convincing you you haven't a clue what's going on...

Requiem Mass, by Elizabeth Corley [audiobook]. Read by Jonathan Oliver. Bath: Oakhill, [n. d.]

Andrew Fenwick has just returned to work after the death of his wife; he's assigned a missing persons enquiry which initially he feels is beneath him.  Then a teacher is murdered, and it turns out that there is an old link between the two women, and with two or three more.  Fenwick becomes convinced that someone is taking revenge for an old tragedy, and he and his colleagues start to hunt the killer.  This is a bit long, and not all that tightly-plotted; but Fenwick is well enough drawn that I'll look for more by this author.

A mortal curiosity, by Ann Granger [audiobook]. Read by Laurence Kennedy and Maggie Mash. Rearsby, Leics.: WF Howes, 2011.

Lizzie Martin is sent off to Hampshire to be companion for a teenage woman, Lucy Craven, who has just lost her baby, and whose husband is in China.  She is living with two maiden aunts in an isolated house, and Lizzie is worried about Lucy's mental state. So is the mysterious Dr Lefebre, and this opinion seems to be confirmed when Lucy is found crouching over the body of a murdered man, covered in blood; the murder weapon is a knife from the aunts' kitchen.  Lizzie calls on Ben Ross, who comes down from London, and the two investigate again.  This has a cliffhanger of an ending...

The Green Mill murder, by Kerry Greenwood. London: Constable, 1993.

Phryne Fisher is at a dance marathon with goopish Charles Freeman when a man is stabbed right beside her.  Charles vanishes before being questioned by the police, and Phryne is left both to find Charles and to investigate the murder.  This is set squarely in the Jazz Age, with the wonderfully named Tintagel Stone and his band, and Phryne's little plane comes into its own here when she has to track down a shellshocked War veteran who has made his home in an isolated part of the Australian bush.  Wonderfully entertaining, as ever...

2016 books, #76-80

Splinter the silence, by Val McDermid [audiobook]. Read by Saul Reichlin. Rearsby, Leics.: Clipper, 2015.

Carol Jordan is still in exile, renovating her old barn in the Yorkshire hills. Until one night she has more than one too many, and is picked up by a traffic patrol and charged with drunk driving.  At her lowest, the only person she can think to call is Tony Hill.  But life is about to change for both of them as a result of a Home Office initiative.  Carol and Tony are back in harness, chasing a cyber-bully who seems to be driving feminists to suicide.  Another excellent book in this series.

Conclave, by Robert Harris. London: Hutchinson, 2016.

This book was completely fascinating.  I think anyone following this blog for long will know that a) I'm Catholic and b) I wasn't a fan of the last Pope; so a thriller set at a conclave which might, who knows, elect a progressive Pope was always going to be attractive.  This, in a way, reminds me of earlier John Grisham - the setup is brilliant; the characters are well-defined; there are cliffhangers all along the way; and somehow, the ending is ever so slightly disappointing.  I don't regret reading it, though.

Jeremy Hutchinson's case histories, by Thomas Grant. London: John Murray, 2016.

Recommendation from Jan - thanks!  This is the story of the cases of Jeremy Hutchinson, lawyer to the stars of iconoclasm and freedom of speech from the 1960s onwards.  The trial of George Blake, the Profumo affair, the Chatterley trial, right through to Romans in Britain and Mary Whitehouse, told in an entertaining, engaging style which puts the cases into the context of how the world was at the time. One of the books I enjoyed reading as a teenager was a history of Bernard Spilsbury's cases - this is way better. A truly excellent read.

Blacklight blue, by Peter May. Kindle edition.

The third of the Enzo novels; read it in Colmar in September.  Which was weird, because it starts in Strasbourg, which I was travelling through at the time... Enzo's daughter Kirsty is caught up in an assassination attempt, he's diagnosed with a terminal illness and his son-in-law's gym burns down, all seemingly in an attempt to stop him investigating another of the unsolved murders detailed in Roger Raffin's book.  Enzo establishes his family in a safe house, but the person looking for him is someone with many identities and who will not hesitate to kill.  This one has one heck of a twist in the tail...

The murder of Mary Russell, by Laurie R. King. London: Allison and Busby, 2016.

Mrs Hudson comes home to Sussex to find a large pool of blood on the floor, and no sign of Mary Russell.  She calls the police, and Holmes; but is aware that all the clues left point directly to her - or, in fact, to Clarissa, the woman she once was.  This is much more about Mrs Hudson than it is about Mary or Sherlock Holmes, but it's pretty fascinating for all that, and an interesting exercise in alternative back-stories...

Saturday, November 05, 2016

2016 books, #71-75

A rare interest in corpses, by Ann Granger [audiobook]. Read by Maggie Mash and Glen McCready. Rearsby, Leics.: WF Howes, 2006.

In 1864, Lizzie Martin comes to London from Derbyshire, as companion to her godfather's widow.  On the way to her employer's house, she sees a body being taken out of a house which is being demolished to make way for the new St Pancras Station.  As time goes on, she discovers that the household and the house at St Pancras have a connection, possibly a dangerous one; and that she's already acquainted with the police inspector charged with the investigation.  This is tightly-plotted, and I love the details on the building of St Pancras as someone who sees it every day.  The dual reading is a nice format, given the two narrators, and there's some real humour here.

Roughing it in the bush, by Susannah Moodie. Kindle edition.

Susannah Moodie and her husband emigrated to Canada in 1832, with their small baby in tow; this is the story of the first few years of their life in the new territory.  Susannah is at time exasperating - she has the sententious Christianity of her age - and the poetry at the beginning and end of each chapter did absolutely nothing for me; but it's a fascinating account, occasionally very humorous.  It has the attitudes, and language, of its age, but is often very refreshingly not what you'd expect from a Victorian matron.  And there's some awful hardship along the way, too.  I don't think I'd have carried on with this after the first few chapters if it hadn't been a book-group book; but on the other hand I'd have missed a lot by giving up.

I let you go, by Clare Mackintosh. London: Sphere, 2014.

A five-year-old, Jacob, is killed by a hit-and-run driver; the grieving mother of a dead child runs away to the Welsh coast; two police detectives on the verge of an affair can't let the hit-and-run case go, and continue to investigate.  It all seems pretty straightforward for the first half of the book, until there's a breakthrough - and a cliff-edge for the reader worthy of Jeffrey Deaver at his finest.  And it all gets even darker. I would warn (and this is slightly spoilery) that if you've found the Helen-and-Rob plot arc on the Archers distressing, this may not be one for you.  I found it hard reading at points but the need to know is very strong by that point.

Triumphs and turbulence: my autobiography, by Chris Boardman. London: Ebury, 2016.

Normally, I read for a bit on the train and then pick up my knitting and put on a podcast.  I started reading this on Thursday night, had to lever myself away from it to switch the light off, and finished reading on the train nearing home on Friday night.  I slightly regret reading this so quickly, but it had to be back at the library on Saturday...  This is a wonderful book.  If you like Chris Boardman and have heard him commenting and commentating, and podcasting, you can hear this in his own voice. It's self-deprecating, sardonic, funny, often painfully self-critical.  Boardman's fully aware of the degree of self-obsession required for performance sport, to the extent of having missed the birth of his second child because he needed to recce a course ahead of a race; and of the difficulty of leaving that mindset after retirement from competition.  And there are some great pen-portraits of the people he's worked with and raced with and against over the years, and a sense of the deep debt of gratitude he owes to his wife Sally, who's kept it all together all these years.

One day ahead: a Tour de France misadventure, by Richard Grady. Kindle edition.

You couldn't get a higher contrast to the last one than this book, read on the Eurostar on the way to Alsace in September.  Four amateur cyclists decide to race the 2012 Tour route one day ahead of the professional péloton , and rope a motley collection of friends in for the ride and as support workers. It's an occasionally very funny account of the attempt, and the love of France comes through strongly; but it's also an honest, warts-and-all account of what happens when you get eight disparate people, with different expectations and senses of entitlement, living in close quarters in two camper-vans for nearly a month.  It's a combination of a tale of massive, heroic endeavour and a warning never to go on holiday with people you don't know well...

Saturday, October 22, 2016

2016 books, #66-70

Cheer up, love: adventures in depression with the Crab of Hate, by Susan Calman. London: Two Roads, 2016.

This is a wonderful book.  It's often extremely funny, as you'd expect; but it's also extremely honest about living with depression, and some of the things Susan Calman has found help with her own depression; there's also a great section on the things to say, and not to say, at difficult times.  Calman looks at the impact of social media on mental health, at talking therapies, at people's attitudes to her being gay and depressed, at physical appearance...  It's all extremely engaging, and beautifully written, and (again) funny.  And obviously, there are cats. Highly recommended!

Out of bounds, by Val McDermid. London: Little, Brown, 2016.

A teenage joyrider crashes a stolen car, killing his three passengers and putting himself into a coma.  When his DNA is analysed to see whether he'd been involved in other car thefts, it seems to hold the key to the 20-year-old murder of a hairdresser killed on a night out. DCI Karen Pirie of the Cold Cases Unit is extremely keen to find the perpetrator of a crime which affected all the people involved so deeply, but it's not as straightforward as it seems; and Pirie also has enemies within Police Scotland who resent her involvement in the present-day crime and wish to stop her.  As the investigation goes on, some very powerful people are stirred up and Pirie's life is in danger.  As ever, this is brilliant.  (There's also an extremely accurate description of a Select Committee session in Portcullis House - Pete Wishart MP of the SNP is credited at the end for help with that one!)

The escape artist: life from the saddle, by Matt Seaton. London: Fourth Estate, 2002.

I had this recommended by the bibliography at the back of another cycling book; and it's a really interesting account of a keen amateur, almost-professional, cyclist in the 1990s, and the sacrifices people make to an obsession.  What I hadn't realised was that it's the Matt Seaton who's also the Family editor for The Guardian and widower of Ruth Picardie, whose heartbreaking Before I say goodbye... columns I read in the Observer in the 1990s.  So it's also a pretty poignant memoir; it balances the exhilaration of racing, and of feeling physically in completely top condition, with the guilt of not spending time doing more responsible, more social things.

The long way home, by Louise Penny. London: Sphere, 2014.

I finished The beautiful mystery, the previous book in the series, just before a meeting in Bloomsbury; and bought this on the way home.  Gamache and Reine-Marie are starting to enjoy a life in retirement in Three Pines, but there's one unresolved mystery - Peter Morrow hasn't returned to his wife Clara after their one-year trial separation, and while Clara is still undecided as to whether she really wants him back, she knows Peter wouldn't stay away if there wasn't something very wrong.  Gamache agrees to help find Peter, and it turns into a slightly bizarre road trip around Québec and Ontario. There's a lot about art and artists, and about losing one's way and trying to find it; and a surprising, heartbreaking conclusion.  Extremely good.

The critic: an Enzo MacLeod investigation, by Peter May. Kindle edition.

The second of the Enzo novels.  After solving one historic unsolved case, Enzo is again taking time out of his day job as a chemistry professor at Toulouse University to look at another case, this time in the vineyards of the Gers.  A prominent US wine critic went missing from the area a decade before, and no trace of him has been found, until his corpse appears displayed in a vineyard, seemingly having been pickled in wine all this time.  Enzo's enquiries aren't popular with everyone, though, and his motley crew of students, his daughters and their boyfriends prove both a help and a hindrance before the mystery is finally (slightly horrifyingly) solved.  This was a brilliant book to be reading in France last month.

2016 books, #61-65

Lanterne rouge: the last man in the Tour de France, by Max Leonard. London: Yellow Jersey Press, 2014.

This was a good year to read this book - the last man to finish on the Tour de France this year was the lovely Sam Bennett, who rode all but the first stage with stitches in his right hand and a clamp holding his little finger together.  Sometimes a bit of a joke, sometimes, like this year, a badge of honour and survival, the people who've "won" the lanterne rouge are a fascinating bunch.  Leonard picks a dozen from all eras of the tour, and looks both at the Tour they rode that year and the rest of their careers; and in doing so sheds light on this fascinating "honour".  Sam Bennett joked that as more riders finished the Tour than in any previous year this July, he was "the last of the last".  This book shows he's in extraordinarily good company.

Telesa: the covenant keeper, by Lani Wendt Young. Kindle edition.

This was a book group book, a YA novel. 18 year old Leila's father dies, leaving her with only her autocratic grandmother; rather than spend her summer at an academic camp, she travels to Samoa to try and find out more about the mother who died when she was a baby.  Far from being overjoyed, her mother's family are anxious and fearful at first.  Leila settles in well at school and makes friends for the first time, but strange things are happening to her physically, and she's also awakening sexually.  There's some fascinating stuff about Samoan traditions and superstitions here, and I think if I was a teenager I'd love these; as it was, reading about the perfectly-sculpted bodies of teenage boys made me feel uncomfortably like some middle-aged voyeuse.

How the light gets in, by Louise Penny. New York: Minotaur, 2013.

This is a stunning book.  I like this series in general; but it's rare that a book manages to totally transcend its series, and this is one of those rare times.  The title comes from Leonard Cohen's Anthem; Ring the bells that still can ring / Forget your perfect offering / There is a crack in everything / That's how the light gets in. After the events of Beautiful mystery, Gamache and Beauvoir are estranged, the Homicide unit of the Sécurité du Québec has been decimated by malevolent high-ups, and Gamache himself feels defeated.  And in the middle of all this, Gamache has a call from Three Pines - Myrna's Christmas guest never arrived, and subsequently is found dead in her apartment in Québec City.  Her secret is that she was one of a set of quintuplets who were astonishingly famous as children.  But as Gamache looks into the crime, he's also being watched... There is so much despair, beauty and hope in this book.  It's worth reading the entire series just to get to it.

The murder road, by Stephen Booth [audiobook]. Read by Mike Rogers. Oxford: Isis, 2015.

There's only one road out of the village of Shawhead; and now that road is blocked by a lorry which has got stuck under the bridge.  There's no sign of the driver, but the cab is bloodstained.  Ben Cooper starts to investigate, but the villagers of Shawhead are a strange lot, and his investigation isn't the only thing on his mind, as he drives back and forth to Nottingham to visit Diane Fry.  Another extremely good book in this series, and I love Mike Rogers's Derbyshire voice.

Dirty work, by Gabriel Weston. London: Jonathan Cape, 2013.

The book starts with a disastrous surgical operation; and moves on to the disciplinary hearing before the British Medical Association.  A young female doctor is charged with gross misconduct.  We hear the entire process through her point of view, and the book's divided into four sections, one for each week of the hearings.  We find out about her, about the events around the operation, about her family background and how she became a doctor; and as we move through, it becomes steadily more disturbing.  This is definitely not one for the squeamish, either physically or morally; it's one which will stick in my brain for a long time.  Weston is a doctor and writer, and recently presented a BBC series on the history of forensics, which led me to this book.

Monday, September 19, 2016

Knitting with Rainbows: a different kind of book review

Knitting with rainbows: making the most of gradient yarns, by Carol Feller. Available through Ravelry, or at Carol's website.

The knitting content on this blog hasn't been exactly stellar over the last few years - long days, much travel and the advent of Twitter are probably responsible - but the book reviews have carried on.  Today, a combination of the two!

I've been enthralled by the number of dyers who've started to produce gradient sets over the last few years; and the very different definitions of gradients - some sets start at one point in the colour wheel and move to another; some are different intensities of the same colour; and everything in between.  Some have four colours, some 6, some up to 15... Some come as mini-skeins, some as a single graduated skein.

When I was doing embroidery City and Guilds, I had a couple of sessions with Jean Littlejohn; and she used to joke that she did Mulberry Silks therapy.  This consisted of standing next to a stitcher staring helplessly at a perfect, unopened pack of colourful threads, and intoning Open The Packet... Use The Thread.... And I've felt slightly similar with the gradient packs I've bought.

So this book is extraordinarily topical, and welcome.

There are eleven lovely projects; the one on the cover particularly attracts me; and this pair of long, long handwarmers is beautiful.  There are cowls, and hats, and scarves, wraps and shawls of different shapes, at least half a dozen of which I'd love to make.  In many cases there are two versions of the pattern made with different gradient sets, giving a completely different effect.

This is way more than a book of patterns, though; which is what I love about it.  There's a lot of excellent practical information which helps a knitter lose the slight apprehension which comes with something which looks so perfect in the packet you don't really want to take the skeins out of the bag.

There's advice (and a table! Love tables...) on which techniques might go best with which type of gradient, and on what to do when your gradient set has a different number of colours or different yardage to the ones in a given pattern.  And the fun idea of creating your own gradient sets out of leftovers, sometimes by doubling up the yarn to give the effect you want.

At the back, there's also information on joining those pesky mini-skeins, combining gradient packs for larger projects, and how to break up the sets in different ways.  And there's a short bibliography (which makes my librarian's heart glad...).

Full disclosure: I was sent the eBook version for this review. It's a book I would willingly buy, and think is excellent value both for the patterns and for the number of ideas and the inspiration Carol gives to the reader.

Carol's running a KnitALong for patterns from this book over on Ravelry; so now, if you'll excuse me, I'm off to drool anew at my Sparkleduck gradient set, and ponder what to cast on...

Sunday, September 04, 2016

2016 books, #56-60

Port mortuary, by Patricia Cornwell. London: Sphere, 2010.

Sometimes I wonder why I keep reading Scarpetta novels.  This is one which is brilliant in some ways, and then intensely annoying in others.  Scarpetta's called back from Dover air force base, where she's been dealing with the bodies of US troops killed in Iraq and Afghanistan, to her own centre to deal with the mysterious case of an unknown man who continued to bleed after death... or was not dead when shut up in Scarpetta's mortuary's fridge.  And Scarpetta's husband Benton Wesley is, she suspects, working for the FBI again.  This is an entertaining and gripping read, even while you want to knock the heads of everyone involved together and tell them to get over themselves... I think the most irritating aspect of it is the invention of more back-story which has never been mentioned but is still an overwhelming consideration for Scarpetta...

Ordinary grace, by William Kent Krueger  New York: Simon and Schuster, 2013.

It's 1961 in Minnesota. Frank is 13, with a father who's a Methodist minister and a mother who thought she'd married a lawyer; a mother who directs music beautifully, and an older sister who plays the organ and is about to go to Juilliard; and a younger brother who stammers...  And then that summer a child with a learning disability is killed on the railway tracks; and everything explodes.

This is a beautiful book.  A heartbreakingly beautiful book.  Many books are compared to To Kill a Mockingbird, as this one is in the reviews; and in so many cases this is just rubbish.  This is more knowing in tone; but has an added degree of absolute clarity. There's a murder, but it's sort of incidental.  The writing is so clear, and luminous, and there are some utterly perfect passages here.

Read this book.  And if you have any influence, get this guy a UK book deal; I can't get a single one of his others from the library...

A particular eye for villainy, by Ann Granger [audiobook]. Read by Laurence Kennedy and Maggie Mash. Rearsby, Leics.: WF Howes, 2012.

Thomas Tapley, the neighbour of Scotland Yard Inspector Benjamin Ross, is found murdered with the traditional "blunt instrument" in his rooms. Lizzie Ross (née Martin) realises she saw him only hours earlier, being followed across Waterloo Bridge by a clown.  When Tapley's cousin, a QC appears, the plot thickens.  This is set in 1860s London, but Lizzie and Ben are unconventional enough as a couple to make it a fascinating read; and the geography is pretty good.  The readers are excellent.  I've no idea whether these books would be better read in order as I've come in in the middle of a series, but have ordered the first in the series from the library....

The corpse bridge, by Stephen Booth [audiobook]. Read by Mike Rogers. Oxford: Isis, 2014.

The Corpse Bridge is the route taken for centuries by mourners from local villagers to the burial ground across the river. When the local landowner announces plans to turn the burial ground into a car park, bodies start turning up along the traditional route...  Back at work after the awful death of his fiancée (I'm sorry, but you don't expect this to be spoiler-free, do you?), Cooper's also got to deal with Diane Fry, about to move, finally, to Nottingham, and still with her TV in the back of his car. The plot here really is secondary to the characters, although it's not bad; and there's a very surprising twist at the end.

The beautiful mystery, by Louise Penny [audiobook]. Read by Adam Sims. Oxford: Isis, 2012.

A body is found in the abbot's garden of a remote island monastery in Québec, a monastery nobody had known about until a recent recording of Gregorian chant had brought them to the outside world's attention.  One of the monks has been killed, presumably by someone else within the monastery. Gamache and Beauvoir travel over to the island and investigate, but bring their past history with them, and this is exacerbated with the arrival of a hated senior colleague.  Meanwhile tensions within the monastery also emerge.  This is very good, and ends on a real cliffhanger as far as the characters are concerned.

Sunday, August 21, 2016

2016 books, #51-55

My brilliant friend, by Elena Ferrante. Translated from the Italian by Ann Goldstein. New York: Europa, 2012.

Elena and Lila are growing up in a suburb of 1950s Naples, in a neighbourhood where violence is commonplace and the Camorra are always hovering in the background.  Lila is a wild, fierce child, forever in scrapes, but brilliantly intelligent. Elena, although also extremely academically talented, is in her shadow.  Elena is able to pursue her education past middle school; Lila leaves at 14 and joins her father's shoemaking business.  This is the first book of 4; and while it was enjoyable enough, and the atmosphere is conveyed well, my book group all agreed that we had a great deal of difficulty liking any of the characters all that much. The book is roughly chopped off without resolving the cliffhanger the author gives us at the beginning, leading to a slightly cheated feeling on the part of the reader...

The racer: life on the road as a pro cyclist, by David Millar. London: Yellow Jersey, 2015.

This is a wonderful book. Millar takes us through the last year of his career as a member of the pro péloton, with all its ups and downs. Mainly downs, to be honest, but he's never self-pitying.  On the way, he talks about early-in-the-year training (in a chapter called Welcome to the Suck which starts I fucking hate January), the Flanders classics, the Ardennes classics, Paris-Nice, Tirreno-Adriatico, the Dauphiné, the gutting experience of being dropped by his team four days before the start of what would have been his last Tour de France, the Commonwealth Games, the Vuelta and the World Championships, the last two of which he raced with two broken fingers.  It's a brilliantly entertaining, often scatological, corruscatingly honest account you can almost hear Millar reading to you.  On the front and back cover he explains that I want to write something else, a book that years from now my children will read and see what it was like, that their dad actually did all those years ago, the racer he was.  But not only that, I want my friends from this generation to have something that will remind us of who we were. There was more to it than doping. We lived on the road because we loved to race.  He succeeds on all counts. Chapeau.

Test of wills, by Charles Todd. Read by Samuel Gillies. Rearsby, Leics: WF Howes, 1999.

Ian Rutledge has returned to Scotland Yard after the First World War; accompanied by the constant voice in his head of Hamish, a man he had executed by firing squad for refusing to fight.  A malicious colleague sends Rutledge out into the shires to investigate the murder of a former officer who was found with his head blown off.  One of the main suspects is a shellshocked man, and Rutledge wonders who at the Yard has it in for him. Nevertheless, he investigates, and discovers a web of secrets, and some thoroughly unreliable witnesses. First in a series I'll be following up on.

My dining hell: twenty ways to have a lousy night out, by Jay Rayner. London: Penguin, 2012 (ebook), 2015 (print).

I think if I'd realised what a slim little volume this was (72 pp), I'd have bought the e-book, or forgone it altogether.  It's a compendium of 20 of Rayner's more disaffected reviews of bad restaurants, with a bit of an introduction. While I love Rayner's turn of phrase: The twist in 'Julian's Vegetable Lasagne' was that it didn't contain pasta. Instead, it was a dense block of finely mandolined root vegetables that tasted mostly of salt and pepper and effortless regret - I also respect him as an accomplished novelist and a very entertaining writer about food beyond the reviews.  I picked this up as an accompaniment to the Food commandments book he's just released, probably didn't read the blurb carefully enough, and so my disenchantment with this book might be my own fault.  I still don't quite understand why Penguin thought it important enough to publish in print edition though.  If anyone would like to read it, do drop me a line with some way to contact you, and I'll stick it in the post.

The soul of discretion, by Susan Hill. London: Vintage, 2015.

This is an excellent book. Don't get me wrong, it's back to form after a couple of slightly luke-warm books in this series.  Simon Serrailler is sent under cover to try to trap the leaders of a paedophile ring; while continuing to be a complete git to his girlfriend who's just moved in.  Meanwhile, his father's being accused of rape in the loos during a Rotary Club function.  The plot is tight; the relationships are as sharply observed as ever and the finale is absolutely gripping.  And then you go to the author's website, and find that although she's left at least three cliffhangers, she has no plan to write another Serrailler novel... and it all feels a bit futile.