Saturday, October 14, 2017

2017 books, #41-45

Gone with the wind, by Margaret Mitchell. Kindle edition.

I keep wondering why I haven't read many more books this year, but we've had some real bricks to read for book group, several of which I didn't quite finish so didn't count as reviewable...  This would have been a 993-page paperback so it had to be a Kindle book.  I hadn't read this before, although obviously had seen the film.  I didn't really enjoy the film because I hated Scarlett so much; and my opinion of her didn't really improve on reading this.  (I think she should just have been called Emma to warn the reader; literary Emmas seem uniformly awful.)  There are some moments, when she's in Tara with an entire household of hopeless and ailing mouths to feed, when I have some sympathy with her, but as soon as she starts to make her way in the world again, her natural selfishness becomes horribly rapacious, and it's painful.  What really did shock me, though, was what I find is called revisionist history of the Reconstruction, and much of that was left out of the film due to the prevailing atmosphere in 1930s America, along with the length of film production.  The idea that the Ku Klux Klan's foundation was entirely due to attacks by "uppity free blacks" on white women, though, was somewhat breathtaking, and the stereotyping of Yankee soldiers as opposed to our brave Confederate boys was a little bit nauseating in the current climate.  Parts of this book, which was named as America's favourite book (after the Bible) in 2014, definitely explain the romanticism around the Confederate statues in the south, and the myth of the noble Southern slave owner.  If you haven't read it, you probably should. I need a palette cleanser in the form of a more neutral account of Reconstruction, though.

Rain dogs, by Adrian McKinty. Kindle edition.

Sean Duffy's still there, in the Troubles, in the rain, in riot gear; but then journalist Lily Bigelow is found dead in the middle of the courtyard of Carrickfergus Castle, having supposedly fallen from the parapet.  The castle was locked, though, and the portcullis down; the only real suspect is the castle caretaker, but Duffy just can't find a motive. His superiors are as exasperated as ever at what they see as his tendency to overthink the case, but Duffy won't be bullied or rushed, and uncovers a series of plots involving local and international economic politics.  Another terrific book from McKinty.

Triple crown, by Felix Francis [audiobook]. Read by Martin Jarvis. Audible edition.

Jeff Hinckley's at it again in Francis's new thriller.  This time, he's investigating horse nobbling at the major US races, the famed "triple crown".  He goes undercover as an Irish "lad" (and oh dear, while I love Jarvis, his Irish accent isn't exactly stellar here; nor's his Puerto Rican) in a multinational crew, and keeps in touch with the US authorities with a succession of burner phones.  All the classic Francis elements are there - the teaching-us-about-an-unfamiliar-area, the derring-do, the personal peril, the getting-the-girl - and the plot rattles along very well.  Hinckley himself, however, is almost a cypher - Sid Halley, Toby Beach and Kit Fielding, just thinking off the top of my head, were memorable characters. Jeff's had three books to prove himself, and we still don't really know any more about him than we did at the beginning.  I'll keep reading these because they're immensely entertaining, but it's a bit of a quibble.

The burial hour, by Jeffery Deaver [audiobook]. Read by Jeff Harding. Audible edition.

Lincoln and Amelia return; and travel.  A nine-year-old girl witnesses a kidnapping in New York; the only thing remaining where the businessman stood is a miniature noose.  Shortly afterwards, an almost identical crime happens near Naples.  In both cases, the final breaths of the victim are recorded, set to music and put online.  Who is "the Composer"?  Rhyme and Sachs, all set to get married but bickering about their honeymoon location, fly to Italy to try to find out.  I don't think this is one of the best Rhyme books, but hey, it's Deaver, and Rhyme, and Italy, and Deaver's getting a great deal of fun out of taking Rhyme out of his comfort zone and giving him something additional to grumble about.  And while Jeff Harding's Italian accent isn't great, it's Jeff Harding.  There's a classic rug-being-pulled-out-under-you Deaver moment in there, too, which I enjoyed.

Deep France: a writers yarn in the Béarn, by Celia Brayfield. London: Pan, 2004.

Celia Brayfield's daughter goes off to college, and so rather than stay in London in her empty nest, she takes the gap year she never had and heads off to south west France with her page proofs, her cats (the extremely stupid Duchess, who lives on "Planet Pedigree", the perennially petrified Piglet, and Tarmac, the black one) and some trepidation.  The Béarn isn't the Dordogne with its huge proportion of "expat" residents (why we call them expats rather than the more accurate migrants is both obvious and depressing), but there are fair numbers of foreign residents around and despite her very good French, Brayfield seems to stick around mainly with them.  This is a lovely book - Brayfield obviously appreciates the slower more sustainable, rhythmic, seasonal way of life, and we hear about a year in a small community in one of the lesser-known bits of France, and recounts the year month by month with accompanying recipes. But she's not sentimental, either; one Kiwi couple's business is almost wiped out in a hard winter, and she's realistic about only really wanting to spend a year living in France.  I enjoyed this immensely.  As did the previous owner (this is yet another find from the Colts bookcase at Hove station - I really need to start leaving things there), given the various food splashes on the recipe pages...  One thing: the last section made me bawl on the train at the sheer optimism of it in terms of freedom of movement., people starting businesses, etc. - it was written in 2002. You might want to leave that section to read in private.

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