Sunday, October 26, 2014

2014 books, #81-85

Shots fired: tales from Joe Pickett country, by CJ Box. London: Head of Zeus, 2014.

Short stories from Box, written for different publications and collected here. Some fit into the gaps between Joe Pickett stories, like One-car bridge, a reaction to a bully; others explore Box's fascination with what "normal", everyday people will do when pushed to the limit by unbearable pressure.  One I particularly liked was Pirates of Yellowstone, written for an anthology called Meeting across the river which asked for stories written around Bruce Springsteen's song of the same name; the characterisation struck me as just right for that song. I'm not the world's greatest short story fan, but if you like Box's longer-form fiction, you'll enjoy these and find something a bit different here.

A dark and twisted tide, by Sharon Bolton. London: Corgi, 2014.

A Lacey Flint novel. Lacey has left CID and become a Pc with the River Police; but trouble follows her wherever she goes. While free-swimming, dangerously, in the Thames near her houseboat in Deptford, she finds a body, shrouded and apparently recently freed from the depths of the river; and then strange things begin happening to her boat.  Meanwhile Mark Joesbury also appears to be in difficulties with his latest undercover assignment, and Dana Tulloch has started on a life-changing path.  Bolton looks at contemporary issues of immigration without judgment, while producing a tightly-written, gripping thriller. It'd be better to go back to the beginning of the Lacey series before reading this if you're averse to spoilers, but this book works very well on its own; and if you like books where London, and particularly the Thames, is a character, this is a great one.

Testament of youth: an autobiographical study of the years 1900-1925, by Vera Brittain. London: Virago, 2004. First published in 1933.

I first read this as a teenager, and was struck hard by the account of Brittain's time in the trenches and the physical horror of the injuries suffered by the troops.  Reading it again for book group, and with a lot more information about those times, what upset me most about this account was the coming to terms after the War; both the enforced inability to speak about what had happened to her during that time, in an environment where everyone wanted to forget about it, and the awareness of those studying international relations that it wasn't over, and that a second war seemed all-but-inevitable even in the early 1920s.  I don't think I'd registered the humour, either; or the distance Vera puts between her first love for Roland and having to come to terms with the rest of her life.  I'm so glad I read this again, even if I cried most of the way through it; it's an astounding book and this was the right time to re-read it.

Worth dying for, by Lee Child [audiobook].  Read by Jeff Harding. Whitley Bay: Soundings, 2010.

After the events of 61 hours (last set of reviews) I ordered this one from the library quite quickly.  Reacher is left at a crossroads miles away from anywhere, and finds his way to an isolated motel. The very drunk doctor next to him at the bar is called out by a patient; while he's reluctant to go, Reacher reminds him of his oath, and offers to drive.  The patient turns out to be the wife of the young scion of the local ruling family, and she's obviously been beaten up... Inevitably, Reacher's walked into trouble again.  Another really excellent Lee Child book; although the violence/compassion ratio in this one is slightly difficult to take.

Through a glass, darkly, by Donna Leon. London: Heinemann, 2006.

I think this is the first of the Brunetti novels I've read - it was given to me by a friend several years ago now, but I often end up reading library books rather than ones I own...  Brunetti is called out by a colleague after the colleague's friend Marco is arrested during an environmental protest against the local large chemical plant; on the way out of the police station, Brunetti meets Marco's very angry father in law.  When the man's wife gets in touch weeks later suggesting her father is threatening to kill Marco, Brunetti feels obliged to investigate; but it's not Marco's body which is later found.  This investigation is set around the fornace (glass foundries) of Murano; it's interestingly plotted, and the Venetian setting is lovely.  I'll have to read more of these.

Wednesday, October 08, 2014

2014 books, #76-80

61 hours, by Lee Child [audiobook]. Read by Jeff Harding. Whitley Bay: Soundings, 2010.

Jack Reacher is involved in a bus crash in a snowstorm in South Dakota.  When the police finally arrive, Reacher's lack of luggage, and presence on a bus otherwise entirely occupied by pensioners on an out-of-season sightseeing holiday, attract their suspicion.  They have two problems - they're guarding a witness in a drugs case round-the-clock but are also committed to leaving the town entirely unstaffed if there's an emergency at the local prison complex; and they have a strange abandoned military facility on the outskirts of town occupied by the biker gang which seems to be behind the drug supply.  Once they find Reacher is ex-military, he's given the job of tracking down the original purpose of the facility.  Of course, puting Reacher behind a desk and telling him to stay there never bodes well...  Another excellent book, and the usual bang-up reading from Jeff Harding.

The table of less valued knights, by Marie Phillips. London: Jonathan Cape, 2014.

Marie Phillips is half of the writing team behind the wonderful Warhorses of letters, so this was bound to be a funny book.  The Table of Less Valued Knights is definitely below the salt in Camelot - the table itself needs a dinner napkin wedged under one leg to keep it steady - but when a damsel in distress turns up late at the Pentecost Quest Dinner, Sir Humphrey du Val springs to the rescue; as does his half-giant squire Conrad, and Conrad's elephant Jemima.  The lady Elaine turns out to be considerably less wet than "damsel in distress" would suggest; and is harbouring a secret.  Meanwhile, the "official" quest is also not what it seems - and the two quests get horribly mixed up when Martha, Queen of Puddock, the goal of the original quest, ends up with Sir Humphrey's party. Someone who enjoys Terry Pratchett would love this book, but it's harder-edged at times, and with more sexual politics... Highly recommended.

The ocean at the end of the lane, by Neil Gaiman. London; Headline, 2013.

No idea why this has taken me This has taken me a year to read because it's an Actual Hardback I Paid For Myself, and those are rare things.  I went to Mr G's wonderful reading/signing of this book at Ely Cathedral almost a year ago, and I've been saving it as a pleasure; and on the afternoon of 22 September I finally got round to reading it; in its entirety.  It is wonderful. There's a frame, which is semi-autobiographical, I think (Gaiman's father died quite unexpectedly 18 months or so before this book appeared) and then a central story about a seven year old boy who is caught up in events of extraordinary evil and beauty.  There's no point in telling you about the plot, because while that's the point, it's also not the point.  Going to Neil Gaiman for his take on it. "[A] novel of childhood and memory. It's a story of magic, about the power of stories and how we face the darkness inside of each of us. It's about feat, and love, and death, and families. But, fundamentally, I hope, at its heart, it's a novel about survival".  I'm incapable of being objective about Neil Gaiman's novels; but I suspect that's because they're just so bloody good.

Poppet, by Mo Hayder [audiobook]. Read by Jot Davies. Bath: AudioGO, 2013.

This is (thankfully) less grisly than some of Hayder's books, but no less suspenseful for that. Something, called The Maude, is causing mass terror in the Beechway Secure Unit; although psychiatric nurse AJ isn't superstitious, he still needs to know what's going on. After two unexplained deaths, he makes contact with Jack Caffery. Meanwhile Caffery is still looking for a body; and has an increasing suspicion as to where that body might be found.  I guessed the twist in the tail of this book a little bit early, but the conclusion's no less chilling for that.

The resistance man, by Peter Walker [audiobook]. Read by Peter Noble. [S.l.]: Jammer, 2012.

Bruno is dealing with a spate of burglaries from cottages owned by summer visitors, which turn out to include a recently retired head of the UK Joint Intelligence Committee; the high-profile robbery brings down the Brigadier and Bruno's old flame Isabelle. The next burglary results in murder, and brings back unpleasant memories of an unresolved gay-bashing case from Bruno's very early years in St Denis... As ever, a fabulous mix of whimsy, a real grip on the tensions in the contemporary France profonde, and some excellent cooking. Highly recommended. Peter Noble's reading is pretty workmanlike, with the very occasional wince at the French pronunciation.