Tuesday, 24 August 2010

The Memory Game

Another picked up in Tokai. This is a beautifully written book about a girl who went missing, twenty-five years ago. She's just been found, buried not far from the front door for all those years. Her family wants to put it behind them. Her best friend can't leave it alone. What follows is an intriguing trawl through dodgy psychotherapy (and some not-so-dodgy), fallible memories, the romanticising of the past and family secrets. What can't Jane bear to remember? Is that even what really happened? Who can she trust?

I enjoyed this book. It's well-written and it's a good story. The problem I'm having with these Nicci French books so far is that while they're interesting mysteries I'm not becoming attached to any of the characters. I'm not invested in the solving of the mystery. Not being able to finish one of these books would not cause me much consternation because there's nothing in the book to hook me in and keep me reading. It's still a good book, that I would happily recommend, but it's not something special.

Faithless

The Exclusive Books sale was horrific. Not a single thing that I had even the slightest interest in. The Bargain Books sale was good. So was the Wordsworth sale. And Darling Wendykins needed to sell books, so I took her to the Book Shoppe in Tokai and tripped and fell and came home with another pile of books. But it's okay, if I need food I can just go hang out with my parents.

This is one of the books I picked up in Tokai. The others in the series are now on my wishlist (which I suspect is probably up to 15 pages, but I haven't retyped it so I can't be sure). The main characters in this series are Lena Adams, doctor and medical examiner and her husband/ex-husband/fiance (I suspect his status depends on where in the series you are), police chief Jeffrey Tolliver. This is a creepy murder mystery that starts with the accidental discovery of the body of a young girl that was buried in the woods. At first glance, she died from asphyxiation and she did, really, because that's how cyanide kills you. Yes, that's right, first she was buried alive and then she was poisoned. She's soon identified as a girl that recently went missing from her family's mission, a religious farming co-operative that aims to help those who need it. Which would be fine if their staff didn't include a religious fanatic that's slightly unhinged and the mastermind behind it all.

This is a fantastic book.

Thursday, 19 August 2010

The Five Find-Outers and Dog

Many consider this series to be Blyton's best. I don't disagree, but I do think the Adventure series warrants more attention than it gets. The Five Find-Outers are far better than the Famous Five. The Famous Five tend towards arrogance and blind luck. The Five Find-Outers, on the other hand, go about things with a little more method.

Fatty, the leader from the second book onwards, intends to be a detective one day and it is from him that the children get most of their method and their good ideas. Larry and Pip are the other boys in the group and while Fatty is off disguising himself and being ingenious, these two tend to take on the more routine aspects of the investigations. Along with wandering around in the dark, of course.
Daisy and Bets are Larry and Pip's sisters and they join the boys in the interviewing of suspects, witnesses and the finding of clues. Bets, the youngest of the five, has a talent for solving the mystery by accidentally saying or noticing something that leads Fatty to the answer. Buster, the dog, is a Scottie that belongs to Fatty and loves nothing more than to have a go at the team's nemesis, Mr Goon.

Theophilus Goon is the local policeman, a bumbling idiot who is always taken in by Fatty's disguises and, no matter how hard
he works, is always outshone by the children. As an adult one feels rather sorry for Mr Goon, as the children star in front of his boss, Inspector Jenks, even though they lay false clues and interfere with Goon's investigations. They even waste police time by creating non-existent mysteries for Goon to investigate. He's a fantastic nemesis for the children, but a rather pathetic figure from the point of view of an adult reader.

This is one of Blyton's best series. You should read it.

Wednesday, 18 August 2010

What to do When Someone Dies

I'm not quite sure what I was expecting, but it wasn't what I got. There's a lyrical quality to the writing that draws you in, makes it easy to share the widow's confusion and the disconnectedness of what's going on. Her struggle to believe what's obvious and her eventual rejection of it is clear. The ensuing bizarre behaviour of the widow, as well as other characters, makes complete sense in the haze of memory and pain that she finds herself in, though there's a voice at the back of your head saying it's madness.

I had the solution before she did, I'm pleased to say, but then I suspect reading mystery novels gives you an edge over mystery novel characters. I was left asking questions at the end (why on earth did Silvio visit her in the hospital?), but I appreciated the fact that the authors didn't feel the need to explain every little detail to the reader.

I'm keeping an eye out for other works from this team.

Fever of the Bone

I'd never heard of Val McDermid until I picked this up at the Wordsworth Sale (and Exclusives have just dropped their sale prices by 50% - it's going to be an expensive week!), but I will certainly be keeping an eye out from now on.

I loved the way that she wove the story lines together. The teenagers that don't know they're about to be murdered. The first investigation, the second investigation, the cold case, the personal stuff and the office politics. I particularly like the way that you see different characters thoughts and points of view throughout the story. Not only was there weaving of story lines, but there was the weaving together of characters through the sub-plot of computers, technology and the internet.

I look forward to reading more about the elite team of DCI Carol Jordan, as well as unrelated books. This is another one for the collection.

As Darkness Falls

Everytime I see the words "Darkness Falls" I think of that X-Files episode. It was my favourite episode for a long time (it may still be). This book is a bit like a Criminal Minds episode, except in Australia, without the FBI and ... actually it's nothing like a CM episode, never mind.

This is a romance novel. It's also a murder mystery, child abduction investigation that is very well written. I'm not usually a big fan of romance novels because they're not very interesting. This, however, is a romance novel in the vein of the In Death series. The romance is important, more important than if it were a sub-plot, but it's not the main focus of the story. Essentially, what the romantic nature of the story does is enable you to see the main characters as more than just detectives. Also, it takes the story past the conclusion of the case and enables greater development of the characters.

In short, Bronwyn Parry has written a fantastic debut novel and I'm dying to get my hands on her next book.

Thursday, 12 August 2010

And After That, The Dark

Have I mentioned how much I love CAFDA? It was blood test time again and I was very pleased to see that they'd just gotten in a nice stack of new Enid Blyton's and a multitude of other interesting books. Like this one.

It's a good mystery story, if a little on the obvious side. At least, it's obvious if you've read a pile of these books (like me!). The characters are engaging and the plot is almost completely believable. One of the things I had trouble with is the idea that a (modern) thirteen year old is really going to believe all the religious nonsense that is thrown at her given the fact that the majority of the people she interacts with do not seem to believe the same things. Maybe I don't know enough about how religious brainwashing works, but I don't think you could do it like that.

Anyway, this is a fun light mystery, perfect for an after-supper bath.

The Treasure Hunters

This book has the exact same plot as Five on a Treasure Island, give or take some details. It's a simplistic story about a group of children and their dog determined to find the lost treasure of whatever to help their family. There are the obligatory adult caretakers who don't really understand what the children are doing and so almost stop them from succeeding. There are the lower class, but very friendly and proper farm adults who exist to feed, serve and believe the children. There are the 'bad' adults, trying to buy the property and get the treasure themselves. Naturally the children win.

It's a light read that's quite fun, but nothing out of the ordinary.

The Remains of the Day

I loved this movie when I saw it (I'd like to own it, but that's something else entirely) and I really wanted to read the book as a result. I've finally managed that. I was a bit worried, I will admit as my experience indicates that adaptations seldom live up to the book and this can be unfortunate when one is attached to the adaptation before reading the book. That was not the case here. The adaptation captures the feeling of the book wonderfully. There are, of course, nuances in the book that the adaptation simply can't provide. This is a beautifully written book that manages to cast a light on the between-war period in Britain.

Stevens is an engaging character and one is left wondering about his true feelings throughout the novel. He talks about his current situation and the past with a detachment that is wonderfully in character and incredibly suspenseful at the same time. What is the meaning of his reticence in mentioning his previous employer to anyone? Particularly when compared with his recollections of that time. Are Miss Kenton's hints about a desire to return real or wholly imagined on his part?

I have piles more questions that I could ask. This is a fantastic book (except, of course, that it's not fantastic at all. Words are strange things). If you have the opportunity you should read it.

Tuesday, 10 August 2010

Prey

My dad first introduced me to the Prey books. Dad's good like that. Sandford is also known as John Camp, who I continually confuse with John le Carre for no discernible reason. The books centre around Lucas Davenport - from the beginning he appears to be a problem solver. Unpleasant psychopath stalking Minneapolis? No problem, Davenport is there to solve the problem.

My feelings towards Davenport are frustatingly ambivalent. There are moments when I dislike him, intensely, as there are moments when I'm fascinated by him. Never, however, is he uninteresting. Never do I put the book down out of boredom.

Also, as series openers go, Rules of Prey is a fantastic book. The rest of the series lives up to this book.

And now, I'm going to go and see just what His Naughtiness is up to that's making such a strange sound (I suspect he's playing with the watering cans again, luckily they're all empty right now).

The Sea

I don't really know what to say about this book. I didn't like it. I didn't dislike it. I suspect that this is one of those books that seems innocuous and ephemeral when you read it, but it sticks in your mind. More so because the central theme that binds the book together is death. Regardless of how much we wish to we cannot escape the steady approach of our own death. I can only hope that books like this help prepare us for the sudden disappearance of the both the people around us, the people we love and care for, and ourselves.

This is a book that I'd recommend without quite knowing why.

Look Me In The Eye

This is a fascinating biography of a man born long before Asperger's Syndrome was a recognised diagnosis. An interesting look at his individual quirks and skills. Robison is a highly skilled engineer. He designed the flaming guitars for KISS. Now he has a diagnosis and understands himself better.

I don't really have much to say. This is an account that speaks for itself. If you have any interest, you should read this book.

Monday, 09 August 2010

Lady Chatterley's Lover

I just finished this in the bath and find myself both disappointed and enchanted.

Why am I disappointed? This book has been called pornographic and a great many other insulting and unpleasant things. Perhaps it says something about the world we live in that words like 'fuck' and 'penis' simply aren't that shocking. The sex scenes were not graphic and there was nothing pornographic and, as far as I can tell, nothing that came close. Of course, I'm not exactly an expert in such things, all I can say is that fanfic (of any genre) is generally far more graphic.

Why then am I enchanted? For a multitude of reasons. There's something distinctly Tolkienish about the world in the book. The slow steady creep of industrialisation and the loss of trees and fields. Every second passage brought Tolkien to my mind. Also, this is a well-written love story that also manages to encapsulate all the uncertainty there was between the two world wars, particularly as regards the English class system. Already the system was breaking down, as industrialisation spread and filthy trade became more important than the landed gentry.

In short, this is a wonderfully written romance that covers series topics as well. Also, there are one or two intimate scenes that are heart-warming (there are others that make you wonder whether or not the protagonists are actually having sex or not, which is not how I understand pornography to work). It's worth reading because it's a classic and because of the impact it had on literature in general. It's also worth reading because it's a good story, if somewhat slow and detached from the world in which we live now.

Innocent Blood

I was originally under the impression that this was part of James' Dalgliesh series. It isn't. This is the story of Philippa. Philippa has been adopted and has always dreamed of her birth parents - her birth father in particular, as she was told that her birth mother was a maid in a Great House. She wasn't. Thanks to the (comparatively) recent law, Philippa is able to obtain her original birth certificate once she's eighteen. She's not prepared for the results. Her birth father sexually assaulted a young girl. Her birth mother subsequently murdered the girl.

This is the story of Philippa's relationship with her birth mother and her adoptive parents. It's also the story of the murdered girl's father and his desire to murder Philippa's birth mother.

This is a suspenseful, well-written mystery that is highly recommended. Do not be afraid of graphic descriptions of violence, there are none.

Adam Dalgliesh

Having now read a few more of James' books with this protagonist I feel I am now able to comment. The books are well written and I enjoy the mysteries. Rather too many of the ones that I've read have involved Dalgliesh being where the mystery is entirely coincidentally (or not, as one could argue that the person Dalgliesh came to see being murdered isn't necessarily a coincidence).

I am certainly going to look for other books featuring Dalgliesh as I enjoy him as a protagonist. He's not as irritatingly smug as Poirot.
He's not as damaged as Dallas. Unlike Plum, he's actually competent. He's not as miserable as Morse. He has his quirks but, most importantly, he's a competent detective operating entirely within the law and with the cooperation of the rest of the police force.

This series is definitely worth reading.

Sunday, 08 August 2010

Louisa May Alcott

I picked this up in the States, quite early on. One of the places that I wanted to go to was Orchard House, which you can see in the link above. Orchard House was one of the Alcott's residences (they seem to have moved every five minutes), but one that they seemed to keep coming back to.

Louisa May Alcott really was an amazing woman. I knew her only from the four books about the March family (given that a fair majority of South African books are obtained from British publishers/printers we have Good Wives, rather than two parts of Little Women). I knew that she'd written some other books, but I'd never read any and hadn't much interest in them. I had some vague knowledge that she'd been a nurse in the civil war and that Little Women was semi-autobiographical. I wanted to go to Orchard House because it was mentioned in the adaptation I have of Little Women (the Winona Ryder version).

So, when Steven and I were in Boston, we hopped up to Concord (Massachusetts, not the one in New Hampshire or whatever it is further to the north) and visited Orchard House. There I learnt more about her writing, the importance of her father and the society in which they lived. I was more than ready to read her biography - this apparently being one of the best biographies of Louisa May Alcott ever written. It is well written without appearing at all like a biography in any way. It's written more like a historical novel, though one knows that all the events and facts that are dramatised on the page are actual events written about in the family journal and letters.

This is a highly recommended read.