Sunday, December 05, 2010

2010 books, #76-80

In the words of one of the characters in the first book reviewed here, I aten't dead. However, it's been a ridiculously busy/trying month! But as an inordinate amount of it was spent on trains, some reading was done.

A hat full of sky, by Terry Pratchett. London: Corgi, 2005.

The second of the Tiffany Aching books - the last, I shall wear midnight, has just come out, and I realised I hadn't read the third one, and possibly this one. As it turns out, I had read this one, and as always happens with Pratchett, by the time I realised that I was still hooked, so just read it again.

The thing I love about Pratchett's Young Adult titles is that he makes absolutely no compromises - in fact, it seems that they're often more complex in terms of what he, and the witches, would call headology. No allowance is made for the fact that Tiffany is 11 years old in terms of what she needs to understand about the mind of her enemies; and themes like being yourself and knowing yourself, usually so patronisingly and preachily explained in non-fantasy books for young adults, are such absolute staples of the fantasy genre that they just fit in naturally here (this is, of course, largely due to Mr P's superb imagination). And of course there are the Nac Mac Feegle (a terrifying clan of Pictish warriors who are, unnervingly, only 6" tall); and Granny Weatherwax, a magnificent creation.

Crossfire, by Dick Francis and Felix Francis. London: Penguin/Michael Joseph, 2010.

I really hope Dick Francis's death in February doesn't signal the end of the Francis books - Felix Francis's involvement in the last four has really revived the spirit of the early novels after a period where everything flagged for a while, and it would be intriguing to see what he'd produce in his own right.

This one stars the typical Francis action-hero character, but rather than being a bookseller-turned-detective, photographer-turned-detective etc., Thomas Forsyth is a Captain in the infantry, recovering at his mother's racing stables after losing a foot in Afghanistan. This rattles along at a tremendous pace, there's a genuine sense of malice and danger, and there are some extremely unexpected twists.

Jupiter's bones, by Faye Kellerman. London: Headline, 1999.

I'd forgotten how much I liked Peter Decker until I picked up the next in this series and wondered why I hadn't just read straight through. This time, the main focus is on a scientific/religious cult in a compound near Los Angeles. In other hands, this might have been much less nuanced, but as an observant Jew, Kellerman is aware that there's a fine line between some religious practice and cults in many people's eyes, and is careful not to fall into stereotypes. There's some gore in this book, and also a couple of quite hair-raising moments.

Stalker, by Faye Kellerman. London: Headline, 2001.

Hmm. And then, saying that, I forgot how much I disliked Cindy Decker, his daughter. I always want to snarl at her, "yes, he's a screwed up, miserable bastard because he's never got over Vietnam - what's your excuse, you brat?" But anyway. It's tightly plotted, and introduces a cast of people we already know in a new way... if you can get over Cindy's attitude, worth reading.

All mortal flesh, by Julia Spencer-Fleming. New York: St Martin's, 2006.

Elements of this book, the 5th in the Clare Fergusson/Russ Van Alstyne series, should be incredibly melodramatic and unlikely. But somehow it all does hang together, largely because you just like both of the main characters so much by now. Really tightly written again, with a twist I certainly didn't expect in the middle; and as ever, the author portrays the best and the worst in a small rural community and in a parish, and shows that even when everyone's trying to do the right thing, that often really isn't enough.

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