Wednesday, July 07, 2010

2010 books, #46-50

Sacrifice, by S. J. Bolton [audiobook]. Read by Vivien Heilbron. Bath: BBC Audiobooks, 2009.

Consultant obstetrician Tora Hamilton hires a JCB to dig a grave in her Shetland field for her favourite horse which has died, and instead finds the preserved body of a young woman, minus her heart; runes are carved into her skin. There are disturbing links with an ancient Shetland legend, and Tora's attempts to investigate the murder leads her into serious danger as all authorities seem to be ranged against her. There are some genuinely scary moments in this one, and Vivien Heilbron's reading is excellent.

Security, by Stephen Amidon [audiobook]. Read by Jeff Harding. Bath: Oakhill, 2010.

A strange slightly uneven book, this one, set in a small college town in Massachusetts. The synopsis on the box talks about a sexual assault allegation, although this takes place almost halfway through the book and the central characters seem to be a charismatic professor and the student he's bedding. It's interesting enough to carry on with as an audiobook, but nothing really stands out as a story - probably not an author I'll bother looking at again...

Out of the deep I cry, by Julia Spencer-Fleming. New York: St Martin's, 2005.

Another very, very good Clare Fergusson novel. This is different from the previous ones in that chapters happen at all times from 1930 onwards, and deal with both an ancient disappearance and a more recent one, Prohibition and modern medicine. The cast of characters is fascinating and the plot snakes around; and the relationship between Clare and Russ takes another step into forbidden territory. The quality of this series is sustained. (If anyone reading this is in Ely, Oxfam had all of the first four books for £1.49 each last weekend. Snap them up if they're still there!)

This night's foul work, by Fred Vargas [audiobook]. Read by Saul Reichlin. Rearsby, Leics. : W F Howes, 2008.

I really enjoyed this detective novel set in Paris and Normandy, with roots in the Pyrenees. Having spent a year in Paris, the geography was familiar, and the combination of slightly unearthly characters, as well as one of pure evil, works well. And there's a very good sting in the tail.

The city and the city, by China MiƩville. London: Macmillan, 2009.

A re-read, first reviewed here. I really enjoyed the re-read, and the discussion at Kniterati last night; I'm still not entirely sure I understand it all though! Very glad, as I was a co-suggester for this one, that most people enjoyed it...

Saturday, July 03, 2010

2010 books, #41-45

The 19th wife, by David Ebershoff. London: Black Swan, 2009.

A book group book, and another very good reason for joining a book group. Actually, I got a recommendation for this one from someone at the library whose opinion I respect, but I had way too many books out at the time, and had forgotten both the author and the title until it turned up on the "possibles" list.

I wasn't entirely sure about this one at first - it dots about between historical documents, a contemporary narrative, a historical narrative and back again, and has a myriad unreliable narrators. After a hundred pages or so though, it settles down, or maybe you just get used to it... It's set in both the heady early days of the Mormon church, and the contemporary world of the Firsts (those members of the church who still live in polygamy in isolated pockets). There's a murder in the present-day story - the resolution of this is weak, but it's almost irrelevant by the time you get to it; and both of the stories involve a 19th wife (in the 19th century, a wife of Brigham Young and in the present day, a wife of a modern-day First). Harriet Beecher Stowe is invoked (and apparently, writes a foreword), and the 19th century narrative certainly brings back the polemical writing style of Uncle Tom's Cabin.

I think what I liked most about this book was that despite the horror both contemporary and historical voices have for polygamy, there's little condemnation of faith in general and a great deal of compassion; as an example, while one character has been expelled because of his sexuality, he gets onto the Internet and finds a new church which will accept him (described by the very cynical modern narrator Jordan as "the Vegas LGBT-friendly ex-Mormon church two miles off the strip [try saying that real fast]").

The more uncomfortable aspects, as a Catholic, were twofold. The first is that polygamy in the Mormon church seems to me to be a parallel to the paedophilia which seemed (possibly still seems) to be institutional in pockets of the church, to the extent that serious investigation is really only beginning to happen. The second is the idea that a church can evolve away from believers and force them to accept things they find repugnant in the context of their faith; in the case of The 19th wife, this is the revelation of polygamy and the impact on existing marriages; in my own life, papal encyclicals have contradicted so many of the things I was brought up to believe.

It made for a really interesting discussion. Most of us had some form of religious belief or heritage, and I hope none of us managed to tread too badly on other people's sensibilities... Given that the book is about both sex and religion, I don't think we did too badly.

A fountain filled with blood, by Julia Spencer-Fleming. New York: St Martin's, 2003.

The second of the Reverend Clare Fergusson mysteries. I enjoyed this possibly even more than the previous one; another book you basically just inhale rather than reading. Clare and Russ are great characters, and we also get Russ's quite extraordinary mother. This one includes gay-bashing, environmental pollution, greed and an absolutely hair-raising helicopter sequence. There's some sympathetic treatment of post-traumatic stress disorder, and UST between an Episcopalian priest and a married police chief.

The Janus stone, by Elly Griffiths. London: Quercus, 2010.

Another excellent book by Elly Griffiths; definitely one to read after her The crossing places though! Archaeology and detection in North Norfolk, with some genuinely scary bits thrown in. Unfortunately I'm reading these much faster than she's writing them, and have now caught up! I'm waiting for the next one now...

The devil's punchbowl, by Greg Iles [audiobook]. Read by Jeff Harding. Oxford: Isis, 2010.

One of Iles's Penn Cage novels; set in the world of riverboat gambling and dogfighting. There are some pretty gory moments in this one, and some really quite frightening episodes; it's pretty tightly plotted and contains a cast of characters you genuinely care about, with the city of Natchez almost appearing as an additional character.

Transfer of power, by Vince Flynn. London: Simon and Schuster, 2000.

This is almost a period piece - a terrorist drama written before 9/11 with Iranians as the villains. However, it's a gripping piece of work. The President and a hundred other hostages are trapped in the White House, while the Vice President and his staff are thinking more about their political image and future than the fate of the hostages. There's a lot of the military=good, politicians=bad stuff that there was in the last of Flynn's books I read, but not all the politicians are venal in this one, and some of the military are also taking the political angle. There's also a lot of technology in this one, but it doesn't overwhelm the plot. One criticism though - the ending is surprisingly weak because something we've understood to be catastrophic throughout turns out not to be so...