Reviews ~ Catching Up

I’ve really fallen behind with my reviews over the past couple of weeks, partly because I’ve had a lot of preparation to do for other projects and partly because once more the dentist is looming large in my life.  She told me on Tuesday that all the excavating that had to be done back in April when the rogue root was discovered embedded in my jaw means that before any restoration can be done I’m going to have to have a bone graft and a pin put in place.  “You might want to clear your diary for the following week,” she said, rather ominously.  I am choosing to interpret that as, “expect at least a fortnight of untold misery”.  At least, that way, if I’m over-reacting I will have been prepared for the very worst.  Anyway, in order to clear the decks I thought I would just offer a series of mini reviews so that I can start afresh at the beginning of next week.

An Officer and a Spy ~ Robert Harris

This was the second from my 15 Books of Summer list.  It’s the first time I’ve joined in with this particular challenge and I can already see that I have approached it all wrong and may need to reorganise myself.  Nevertheless, that did nothing to dim my pleasure in this book.  As I’ve said before I chose it because I wanted to know more about the Dreyfus Affair, which rocked France during the last decade of the Nineteenth Century and wasn’t really resolved until almost the end of the 1900s.  I’ve had a patchy experience where Harris is concerned but I thought this book was excellent.  Told from the point of view of a French Army Officer, Georges Picquart, it starts on the morning on which Dreyfus, found guilty of passing secrets to the Germans, is publicly humiliated by having all the insignias of rank and regiment torn from his uniform. Picquart has been involved in bringing this about and is rewarded by being placed in charge of the intelligence unit that had been responsible for bringing Dreyfus down.  Once he has access to all the unit’s secrets, however, Georges starts to suspect that the case against Dreyfus may well have been at best flawed, at worst manufactured, and so begins to dig more deeply into the affair.  What he discovers is a conspiracy to protect the positions of the men in power in both army and state at whatever cost to the truth even if that cost should include men’s lives.

This is a chilling story extremely well told.  It is particularly chilling because of the parallels so easily drawn with our own times: the incipient anti-semitism at the heart of national institutions, the conspiracy to cover-up the wrong doings of men of power, and the ease with which the media can stir up mob hysteria in the populous. It needs Picquart at its heart, a man determined to uncover the truth despite the cost to himself, otherwise the reader would come away thoroughly ashamed to be a member of the human race.


A Closed and Common Orbit ~ Becky Chambers

This was the novel chosen for Wednesday’s book group meeting and it provoked a lot of discussion.  It is the second in a sequence of three science fiction books and although those who had read the first thought you didn’t need to know what had gone before the rest of us disagreed.  The storyline stood on its own, but we felt we had missed a lot of the ‘world-building’ that had happened in the first novel and were at times floundering a bit.  Like most science fiction, the book asks questions about the way in which a society works which can be seen as relevant to both the fictional world and our own. In this instance these were mainly to do with the autonomy of the individual, gender fluidity and the definition of sentience.  Although not everyone agreed with me, my own feelings were that these were treated with too light a hand.  I did find myself wondering who the intended audience was, because personally this was a book I would have given to teenagers rather than to adults.


Black Summer ~ M W Craven

Just before Christmas, I wrote about The Puppet Show, the first in Craven’s Washington Poe series, here.  As I said then, Craven was my crime fiction discovery of the year and Black Summer has only served to reinforce this view. DS Washington Poe is now back with the Serious Crime Analysis Section (SCAS) full time.  Based, as it is, in Hampshire, this means that he spends far less time than he would like in his beloved Cumbria but this changes when a young woman walks into the Alston library and tells the police officer based there once a month as a ‘problem solver’ that she is Elizabeth Keaton.  As far as the law is concerned Elizabeth Keaton was killed six years previously and it was Poe who was mainly responsible for putting her father, world famous chef, Jared Keaton, behind bars for her murder.  If Elizabeth is still alive then Jared is innocent and given that very few people would argue that he is a dangerous psychopath, this doesn’t bode well for Poe.  Matters become even more complicated when Elizabeth vanishes for a second time and the evidence seems to suggest that Poe has something to do with her disappearance. Never one to suffer fools gladly, the DS has made enemies in his home force and as some of those climb the ranks they are only too pleased to have the opportunity to bring him to book.  However, while Washington may have enemies he also has friends, two in particular: his immediate boss, DI Stephanie Flynn and the brilliant, if socially inept, young analyst, Tilly Bradshaw.   When, at two in the afternoon, Poe texts Tilly to say that he is in trouble he expects that she will drop everything and turn up sometime the following afternoon.  Fifteen hours early at three in the morning isn’t quite been what he’s been counting on, but Poe is Tilly’s friend and in her book that’s what friends do.  Tilly Bradshaw is one of my favourite characters in fiction.  Her incisive mind cuts through everything.  I don’t care that she frequently doesn’t know how to act in a social situation.  Tilly tells it how it is and I applaud her for it.  What is more, she is brilliant at discerning patterns and, although I don’t think there is quite enough Tilly in this book, she it is who finally has the insight that explains what is going on and leads the case to its conclusion.  Possibly the best thing about this book is the way in which it ends because it makes it clear that there is going to be a third in the series.  If you enjoy crime fiction and you haven’t read Craven then I can’t recommend him too highly.

14 thoughts on “Reviews ~ Catching Up

  1. BookerTalk June 21, 2019 / 5:11 pm

    I’m coming to the conclusion that the only way I can deal with my review backlog is to do a similar ‘catching up’ post. I have some from last year that are still outstanding…..

    Why do you say you did your approach to the books of summer list was all wrong?

    That conversation with the dentist does not sound as if there are fun times ahead for you. I suspect a liquid diet will be on the cards for a while.


    • Café Society June 21, 2019 / 5:32 pm

      One of the first things I did when I started out on this dental odyssey was to buy a soup maker! The homemade versions are so much nicer.

      The reason I think I approached the challenge wrongly is because I assumed I would be able to read through my list as well as getting through other books I needed to read to meet local commitments. A bit of blue sky thinking, I now realise. I know I can swap books into my list and that is probably what I shall end up doing, but somehow that feels a bit defeatist. Next year I shall leave space on the original list for books I need for discussion groups to be part of the twenty.


      • BookerTalk June 21, 2019 / 9:52 pm

        I love my soup maker though when I have a fancy for roasted pumpkin soup it doesn’t do the whole thing…


  2. Annabel (AnnaBookBel) June 21, 2019 / 5:46 pm

    I never finish my 20 books – but I strategically pick a set that have been in my TBR piles for at least a year, so I reduce the TBR by however much. Picking 20 gives me more scope in meeting my mood with a pick from it! Don’t worry.

    Poor you with the dentist – the pain – literally, and to the pocket – it sounds expensive.

    Now to Becky Chambers – I agree for the 2nd book, you should have read the first. The 3rd, however, stands on its own really well – so you should have picked 1 or 3. I have loved all three books in her milieu, and disagree that they are aimed at YA. The do, however, have an air of optimism about them – like classic Star Trek – and in the first, the humour was very Red Dwarf, the third is far more subtle.


    • Café Society June 21, 2019 / 6:01 pm

      Yes, I expect you’re right, Annabel, that I am taking the Books of Summer far too seriously and worrying too much. You are also right about the dental work being very expensive. Taking the price of an average new hardback at £20 I could have bought ‘well’ over a hundred for what this is costing. However, as Helene Hanff once so memorably said, “I like having teeth!” We are going to have to agree to disagree over the Chambers, bu then that is what friends do, isn’t it. Interestingly, we did find ourselves drawing several parallels with Star Trek.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. kaggsysbookishramblings June 21, 2019 / 7:29 pm

    Oh goodness – sympathies with the dental treatment – sounds grim as anything… 😦

    And the Harris sounds very interesting. I’ve never read him, but I’d like to know more about the Dreyfus affair. I have a copy of Piers Paul Read’s non fiction book on the subject. It’s frightening how little seems to actually change…


    • Café Society June 21, 2019 / 8:19 pm

      Having read the Harris I would like to read a factual account of Dreyfus so thanks for mentioning the Read. I suspect that Harris is pretty accurate but rather more background into why the powers that be behaved as they did would be interesting.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. lauratfrey June 21, 2019 / 11:25 pm

    Yeah, I didn’t commit to ANYthing else this summer, just the 20 books. Otherwise there’d be no way. And I’m falling behind too! I don’t know anything about the Dreyfus affair, sounds fascinating.


    • Café Society June 22, 2019 / 5:35 pm

      I always have books that need to be read for my book group and summer school commitments, Laura and I blithely thought that I would be able to read those, plus a number of new publications, as well as my list. Next year I shall know better and include all of those in the list. In fact, they will probably make up the entire list!


  5. Margaret June 22, 2019 / 5:39 am

    My sympathies about the dental treatment! And it does sound as though it’s a long process too.

    I’ve never managed to read all my Books of Summer – even when I aimed for just 10. This year I’ve read one so far and not got round to reviewing it yet. Ah well …


    • Café Society June 22, 2019 / 5:38 pm

      The beginning of November is the earliest date they’ve given me for my treatment to be over, but if the graft takes a long time to heal then it could be after Christmas. Fortunately, most of that time is healing time rather than treatment time, but it might turn out to be a year from start to finish. Maybe by the time it’s allover I will also have finished my Summer Reading list!


  6. Helen June 22, 2019 / 9:27 pm

    An Officer and a Spy is my favourite of the Robert Harris books I’ve read. I knew nothing about the Dreyfus Affair so I found it fascinating – and, as you say, there are important parallels with the modern day as well.


    • Café Society June 23, 2019 / 9:45 am

      Yes, I can see how this book would be exactly right for you, Helen. I very much enjoyed Harris’s ‘Enigma’ (the book, not the film!) but other than that I think this is my favourite too.


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