Tuesday, 10 January 2012

Human Smoke: the Beginnings of World War II, the End of Civilisation

This is, quite possibly, the single most depressing book that I have ever read. So much death and destruction could have been prevented. The book is also fascinating. I was already fairly cynical when it came to politicians, but having read this I will be even more cynical about their motives, their aims and even their humanity.

The book presents relevant information chronologically across both Allied and Axis powers. The deceit, war-mongering and lack of humanity were shocking despite the amount of WWII literature I've already read. Apparently I'm also idealistic enough to expect the 'good' side to behave better than the 'bad' side, but history is written by the victors and this book shows just how well it can be done.

This book forms part of the Non-fiction Non-memoir challenge as well as the What's in a Name challenge, where it represents the book with something seen in the sky (which is smoke).

Jane Austen: a life

This is the best biography of Austen that I've read, to date. All the facts are presented clearly, with the usual amount of speculation and guesswork, given that we know so very little. This was fascinating, depressing and inspiring all at once. I found that the majority of the speculation was based in reality and, most importantly, it was based on research of the period in question. The way things were done during the Georgian and Regency periods contrast rather sharply with the following Victorian era, particularly in the area of 'refinement'. Austen comes alive in this book, as does most of the family. More time is spent discussing the information that we do have, than lamenting the lost letters, etc.
I thoroughly recommend this to anyone interested in Austen or her work.

This forms part of the non-fiction non-memoir challenge, which does actually allow biographies 
(just not memoirs or autobiographies).

Sunday, 01 January 2012

Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe

I saw the movie many years ago and had no idea it was based on a book until fairly recently. Since then it has been on my to-read list and formed part of my birthday gift from Confluence and Hodgestar. Now that I've read it, I'd really like to see the movie again. This is my second book of the year and is my first in the New Author challenge.

I was concerned about how the story would be told because I remember from the movie an awful lot of moving back and forth in time. The novel does this wonderfully. I will suggest that you pay attention to the dates because there is a fair amount of switching around even between the 80s and the past. The characters were very much alive and jumping off the page. The relationships were real particularly the most important two - the one between Ruth and Idgie and the one between Mrs Threadgoode and Evelyn. Some of the more important plot points I didn't remember, but I enjoyed rediscovering them.

It appears that Fannie Flagg (who apparently changed her name from Patricia Neal ... I grant you Fannie Flagg is more memorable, but it's not the name I would have chosen) has written a number of other novels, which I look forward to reading.

Saint Peter's Fair

My first book of the new year! The only challenge that this one counts towards is my 2012 GoodReads challenge, to read 245 books in 2012. I aimed for 156 (3 per week) in 2011 and made it to 242, so I think aiming to up my total by 3 in 2012 is perfectly possible.

Saint Peter's Fair is the fourth book of the Cadfael Chronicles, set in Shrewsbury during the Nineteen Year Winter in the 12th century (Not to be confused with darkoutthere's LARP by the same name, inspired by the Cadfael books and excessively fun if you haven't played in it already (and, really, even if you have!)). The book is split into five sections, which is rare in these books, the eve of the fair, the first, second and third days of the fair and after the fair. Events focus on young Emma, a wealthy merchant's niece, come to the fair from Bristol. Another focus of the novel is the unrest from the town, as it had recently been attacked by King Stephen, after declaring for Empress Maud (see One corpse too many, book two in the series). The town is aggrieved that for three days of high business, all income goes to the Abbey and they feel that the Abbey should part with some of that income in order to restore the town's defences etc.

This is a fascinating and enjoyable murder mystery, with a hint of espionage thrown in from all quarters, and well up to Pargeter's usual high standard.