Tuesday, 21 December 2010

These Happy Golden Years

The second last in the series, this is the book where Laura grows up. She starts off at fifteen, teaching school and then, as a result of being away from home, her relationship with Almanzo Wilder begins. The book ends with their marriage, when Laura is eighteen. The book is different to others in the series because Laura's essentially an adult and her life is different as a result. I don't know that it works as a children's story as well as the others in the series, but it's a good milestone.

The Long Winter

A whole book where only a few months pass by is rather a departure for Laura Ingalls Wilder. Still, one can't complain because it really is riveting, if rather depressing. I can imagine that many people would have starved to death, if the weather didn't get them first. Of course, that kind of harsh reality isn't really appropriate for a children's book, so of course everyone survives in the book. I'd be surprised if that really happened. The idea of facing such a harsh environment with so little in the way of resources really does invoke admiration and a certain amount of thankfulness that I live when I do.

On the Banks of Plum Creek

I'm not sure where Plum Creek is, except for the rather general direction of Minnesota, but it sounds delightful. I'm sure the reality was a lot harder than it seems simply from reading this book. Still, it seems like an adventurous kind of life, though a hard one. Like all her books, this is well-written and one can't tell where fact leaves off and fiction begins.

Sister

A fun book, somewhat similar to those by Laura Ingalls Wilder. I can't help but feel sorry for the main character, despite not particularly like her very much. I would have preferred it it the book had been written by someone closer to the action and not the grand-daughter of a girl not even born. Similarly I would've preferred a bit more resolution to the story, it felt as though it just stopped arbitrarily, as well as if the blurb on the back of the book had had more resemblance to what the book was actually about.

Death Comes Like a Thief

Meh. This is a run-of-the-mill murder story that, frankly, doesn't make much sense. The few character that one has any knowledge of seem more like cardboard caricatures than anything else. I spent most of the book wanting to slap the main character. If there's no other choice, it's an okay read, but I wouldn't recommend it.

Jack the Ripper

A fairly old book, this has as plausible an explanation as any I've read (and I've read a few). I'm not completely convinced, though I think the explanation put forward here is possibly the most well-researched and well-thought out of any. There are parts of it I agree with, such as the murderer only stopping because he died. There are also parts I disagree with completely, such as the idea that the murderer's first attempts were as successful as his later ones. No researcher seems to take any practice into account. I cannot believe that he did not make some mistakes when he first began to kill. A must-read for anyone interested.

Sunday, 19 December 2010

Dissolution

The first in a series of novels about Matthew Shardlake, a hunchbacked lawyer during the Reformation. In this book, he travels to a monastery where one of Lord Cromwell's men has been murdered. As the man was there to convince the abbot to voluntarily close the monastery suspects abound. It's a complicated plot that really is quite fascinating. It's also interesting to see the subject of the dissolution of the monasteries from a variety of viewpoints.

One can both lament all the good work that the monasteries did with the poor, the sick and in education, as well as understanding that the majority of them had strayed, were accumulating vast amounts of property and wealth as well as behaving in ways that monks should not. Some kind of reformation was necessary, I do not know that it should have been so drastic. Of course, at a time when loyalty to anyone other than the king amounted to treason there really wasn't much choice.

Coming on the heels of A Trail of Blood, which only briefly touched on the subject, one could almost feel that they were meant to go together. This is highly recommended.

A Trail of Blood

Set during the reign of Henry VIII, this is a story that seeks to explain the mystery of the Princes in the Tower. The two princes, Edward and Richard, went to live in the Tower of London when their father, Edward IV, died. For whatever reason the crowning of their uncle as regent was postponed. Finally the uncle was crowned Richard III. His Tudor successors later claimed that he had murdered the princes in order to ascend to the throne. There has never been any conclusive proof regarding what happened to the two princes.

This novel claims that the reason the coronation of Richard as regent was postponed was because the two princes (and consequently their sister, the mother of Henry VIII) were found to be illegitimate. Richard III kept the boys in the Tower to protect them, as he had sworn to do. The story explains why they felt the need to escape and how Edward was killed in the attempt. The rest of the novel is spent uncovering the movement and final location (really quite obvious from the beginning) of Richard, Duke of York.

The aim of the protagonists is to unearth a Yorkist claimant to the throne, ostensibly to succeed Henry VIII (who had no son at the time) but really to put an end to the Reformation and what they saw as a corrupt regime with dubious claims to royalty. The aim of the author is to solve the mystery in as plausible a manner as possible. I think he succeeds, though some of the events and coincidences are a little far-fetched. I'm interested in finding more by the author, particularly the non-fiction related to this period.

Saturday, 18 December 2010

A Sudden Death at the Norfolk Cafe

Generally, I'm a sucker for books with nuns (or monks, for that matter). I'm not sure how I felt about this one. It was an enjoyable story and I'll be looking out for the others in the series. It wasn't a good mystery because the reader knew everything that was going on. It was fun to watch the characters involved solve their pieces of the puzzle and bring it all together though.

It was the religious aspect that I had a problem with, but I suspect that that was mainly because this is a contemporary book with nuns. No cellphones or email, so it's presumably set in the early nineties when it was written. Possibly the way the nuns interact with the outside world is fairly accurate. I do wonder just how much research the author did. For a start, the order doesn't seem to be mentioned, possibly this is a fictional order to suit the purposes of the author. It's hard to tell given the myriad orders that actually exist.

This is a fun story and, while I probably wouldn't recommend it to most people that I know, if you like more old-fashioned detective stories, with less of the violence and sex that is so common these days, then you'll probably enjoy this.

Friday, 17 December 2010

Shakespeare's Language

This book was very interesting. I picked it up at the Hout Bay Library sale for the excessive amount of R5 (it was the most expensive book I bought that day, that sale was incredible!). I'm not really sure what I expected, but this was fascinating.

Essentially it looks at a bunch of Shakespeare's plays (not all of them) and talks about the language that he used, what it meant and what patterns there are. There's a lot of talk about the frequency of words in certain plays and how what he touches on in one play is developed fully in another. It was very interesting to read about the concepts that seem to underline particular plays and the ways that Shakespeare used language in order to get the ideas across in various ways.

If you have any interest in the way people use language, you should read this book.

The Richest Man in Babylon

I got paid to read this book. I would never have read it otherwise and I think I might have preferred that. Do people really need to be told that the only way to accumulate money is to spend less than they earn? Really? Isn't that just plain old common sense? Along with things like taking advice only from people who are qualified to give it and so on. Essentially this is a book of common sense regarding the accumulation of money for people who don't have any common sense of their own.

Tuesday, 14 December 2010

The Screwtape Letters

This was a most amusing book that manages to make you laugh and think at the same time. I felt very sorry for poor Wormwood, though I didn't need Screwtape to tell me he was seriously screwing up. I'm tempted to say that the last letter in the book was the best of the lot.

Though I don't believe in demons or devils or whatever it is that they're supposed to be, I find myself questioned my motivations more now than I did before. As much as this is a work of fiction there is a certain amount of truth underneath, as in all CS Lewis's work.

Highly recommended.

Fatherland

This was not quite what I was expecting from a 'Hitler won the war' novel. It's a detective story, and a very good one at that, with Hitler's Final Solution (the complete extermination of the Jews) at its centre. I was expecting something along the lines of what it would have been like for a variety of people living in such a world, which would really amount to short stories. What I got was the story of a man with doubts about the whole thing finding out what kind of world he lived in.

I would have been interested in an exploration of how it affected the US and the UK, as well as other places. Particularly given the map at the front of the book that showed western Europe as not being part of the Greater German Empire. I was impressed by the use made of the son, though I did find the ending a little unsatisfying. I should have liked an epilogue that told the story of what happened afterwards, once the report was out.

I found the use of President Kennedy for the US president rather confusing. At first I thought it meant JFK hadn't been assassinated, then I realised it was only 1964. Then I found it wasn't JFK at all, but some other Kennedy. This apparent supporter of Hitler had been the US ambassador to Britain during WWII. I'd like to find out more about him, if he was a real person (and wikipedia says he is).

The plot as a whole - Heydrich cleaning up those who know about the Final Solution once it had been done - was certainly plausible. I've always wondered (well, ever since I've known) why Hitler never put the orders in writing or put his name to them. Some argue he didn't know about it, which I think is completely implausible. Here, the suggestion is that even he found it barbaric, which I think is the most unlikely statement in the book. If Hitler found the wholesale slaughter of people barbaric it would never have happened. Of course, the fact that those slaughtered were considered less than people probably made it easier for those responsible. It still doesn't answer the question of why the order was not given in writing with Hitler's signature at the bottom.

Monday, 13 December 2010

The Mystery of the Blue Train

I really am horribly behind in reviews. No sooner do I get one done than I have another book added to the list. But I shall persevere.

This is another Poirot. It's quite a good one. However, I've either read it before (entirely possible, it's hard to keep Christie's straight), or I'm getting really good at seeing her plots (having read over 50 of them, some multiple times, that's also entirely possible). Essentially this is a jewel theft (complicated by forgers and so on), with a murder thrown in (that's what we're concerned with, even though it's only done to facilitate the theft). And, of course, there's Poirot, there's a girl, there's a love interest with the main suspect and the actual murderer. Nothing out of the common way here, except for the mention of St Mary Mead, where Miss Marple lives, in a book about Poirot. That bit was a little confusing.

The Wind in the Willows

For some reason I never read this as a child. I think that if I had I would've enjoyed it a lot more. I found it very difficult to enjoy this simply because it makes no sense in so many ways. Animals seem to co-exist peacefully with each other, regardless of food preferences, which is something that I'm willing to forgive. That's pretty much a requirement for this kind of story. Where I lose the suspension of disbelief is where you suddenly get an interaction with humans - not only is the toad put in jail, but he is of the right size to disguise himself as an adult human. I can only think with horror of a toad that size.

All in all, I have to say that this was disappointing in many ways and I really do wish that I'd read it as a child so that I would have the memory of it to help sustain my suspension of disbelief.

Friday, 10 December 2010

Challenges...

The Hout Bay Library had a fantastic book sale this last week. I went twice and got two enormous bags of books for very little. The problem with this, is a certain lack of shelf space in my house. So that was challenge number one. Rearranging the shelves so that all my books fit was a feat of amazingness that I still can't quite believe I managed. I'd show you pictures, but bookshelf rearranging is exhausting and I can't quite get enough energy to take any pictures.

Challenge number two is for next year. 52 books in 52 weeks. Since, along with my rearranging, I put a numbered sticker at each book I own and haven't yet read, I think I need to aim for 104 books in 52 weeks. And even then I'll still have books left over. Assuming I don't buy any next year (what are the chances? Seriously). I currently have 116 books in my to-read 'pile' ... Maybe I should be aiming for 156 books in 52 weeks. 3 books a week? I might be able to manage that... Maybe. Well, we'll see how we go.

Challenge number three... Is to not have any unwritten reviews by Christmas. I currently have a list of my backlog and I'll be getting to them... Eventually. Really.