WWW Wednesday ~June 12th 2019

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WWW Wednesday is hosted by Taking on a World of Words

The Three Ws are:

What are you currently reading?
What did you recently finish reading?
What do you think you’ll read next?

Currently Reading

I have two books on the go at the moment, Robert Harris’ An Officer and a Spy and Never Be Broken, the sixth in Sarah Hilary’s crime series featuring DI Marnie Rome and DS Noah Jake.

An Officer and a Spy is the second of my 15 Books of Summer.  It’s one of the longer novels on my list so I thought I would get started on it earlier rather than later; it must be really dispiriting to get to the middle of August and discover that you still have three or four epic length tomes to read.  I picked this partly because I’ve enjoyed some of Harris’ other novels (I got bogged down in the Cicero series and didn’t finish book two) but mainly because it is about the Dreyfus Affair and this is an episode in history about which I have always wanted to know more.  History at school, for me at least, stopped in 1870 and this is set twenty-five years later in a France made paranoid by their loss of the territories of Alsace and Lorraine to the Germans.  So far I am enjoying it very much.  It’s very readable and my biggest problem, which is keeping track of all the characters, is ameliorated to some extent by the fact that Harris has provided a list of the dramatis personae.

Never Be Broken, like all the Marnie Rome novels, is set in modern day London and is a harsh reminder of what life is like in the capital both for the displaced and disaffected youth and under class, and the police who have to deal with the consequences of their circumstances.  Always underlying the tensions in these books is the fact that Noah is black and given that this particular instalment is concerned with knife crime this is especially relevant, as by many of the people with whom he comes into contact he is seen as a traitor; he has thrown his lot in with the wrong side.  Noah’s difficulties are compounded by the death of his brother, Sol, a victim of just such an attack while in gaol for gang related crimes.  This has mentally destabilised Noah, who only feels ‘comfortable’ when he can feel Sol’s presence at his side.  I’m about half way through this and I’m still not quite certain where it’s going. I suspect we may be in for a debate about the extent to which knife crime is being ‘encouraged’ by some of the very individuals who are so vocal about the disgrace of allowing ‘such people’ on the streets.  We shall see.

 

Recently Finished

I’ve recently finished Zoë Heller’s Notes on a Scandal, which was the first of my 15 Books of Summer and which I reviewed here and Elly Griffiths’ new novel for children, A Girl Called Justice.  Last week I said that I was going to curl up on Sunday afternoon with the second of these, a pot of tea and a plate of cake, which is just what I did.  However, the book didn’t prove quite as enjoyable as I had hoped.  A mixture of detective novel, school story and watered down gothic horror, the novel is set in 1936 when twelve year old Justice Jones is packed off to boarding school after the death of her mother.  Home schooled up to this point, Justice doesn’t quite know what to expect and while Highbury House, situated in the middle of Romney Marshes, isn’t quite Dotheboys Hall, with its freezing cold bedrooms and appalling food it isn’t far off.  Justice’s father is a Defence Lawyer (he defends murderers) and her mother was a detective novelist so, as you can imagine, it isn’t long before their daughter is on the trail of a mysterious death.  Aided and abetted by the maid Dorothy, she works her way through most of the Gothic and School Story clichés before triumphantly exposing the villain and setting us up for further adventures by deciding that perhaps boarding school life isn’t so bad after all. My problem was that I couldn’t see who I would give this book to. It wouldn’t appeal to boys at all and most of the Year Five and Six (9-11 years) girls I’ve taught would feel themselves far too sophisticated for both style and content.  However, equally, it would be a fairly advanced eight year old who could cope with the language and have the necessary reading stamina.  A bit of an enigma.  Would it have got published if it hadn’t been Griffiths?

 

Reading Next

At some point this week I am going to have to start Becky Chambers latest book, A Closed and Common Orbit.  This has been chosen for next week’s book group meeting and I have to say that I am rather wary as to how the discussion is going to go.  To begin with it is a sequel to an earlier novel and although the blurb says that it stands alone I am not sanguine that that will prove to be the case. In addition it is Science Fiction and the group as a whole aren’t keen on that particular genre.  I think the meeting could be a bit rough going.  The Amazon introduction reads:

Lovelace was once merely a ship’s artificial intelligence. When she wakes up in an new body, following a total system shut-down and reboot, she has to start over in a synthetic body, in a world where her kind are illegal. She’s never felt so alone.

But she’s not alone, not really. Pepper, one of the engineers who risked life and limb to reinstall Lovelace, is determined to help her adjust to her new world. Because Pepper knows a thing or two about starting over.

Together, Pepper and Lovey will discover that, huge as the galaxy may be, it’s anything but empty.

Have any of you read this or any other books by Chambers?  Am I worrying unnecessarily.

I’m also intending to start M W Craven’s second Washington Poe novel, Black Summer.  When I reviewed the first in this police procedural series, The Puppet Show, I wrote about how much I had enjoyed meeting the young statistical genius, Tilly Bradshaw, who acts as Poe’s sidekick.   Tilly does literal like no one else you will ever have met and as someone with Asperger’s I immediately felt at home with her.  I’m hoping she will have an even bigger role in this latest outing for the pair.

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WWW Wednesday ~ June 5th 2019

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WWW Wednesday is hosted by Taking on a World of Words

The Three Ws are:

What are you currently reading?
What did you recently finish reading?
What do you think you’ll read next?

Currently Reading

I am just starting the first of my picks for 20 Books Of Summer, or in my case, 15 Books of Summer.  Rather than physical TBRs, I have selected novels that I regret not having bought or read when they were initially published. Consequently, the order in which I tackle them is being dictated to some extent by the fact that I am sourcing most of the  books through the library. First to turn up was Zoë Heller’s 2003 Notes on a Scandal and I  have literally just started it this morning.  I can’t imagine why I have failed to read this sooner because it is set in a school and I have spent a life in education and rather than being put off by that I love anything with an academic setting.  As well as being about a school situation the book is also about the type of intense relationship that can develop in what is often a very inward looking and claustrophobic environment. Not infrequently such relationships have an unhealthy element to them and I am expecting tears before bedtime at the very least.

Recently Finished

My most recent read has been Matthew Pamplin’s novel, Mrs Whistler, which tells the story of Maud Franklin, Madame or muse to the artist James Whistler, during the four years from 1876 to 1880.  Given Pamplin’s qualifications, which include a PhD from the Courtauld Institute of Art, I am assuming that the story he tells and the portrait he draws of Whistler is reasonably accurate, which is a shame.  I have always loved Whistler’s etchings of London but when I look at them now I shall have to consciously put to one side the impression Pamplin leaves with the reader of a self obsessed man easily duped by anyone who tells him what he wants to hear.  It is apparent from the very beginning that Charles Augustus Howell (Owl) is a ‘wrong-un’, playing on Whistler’s ego to swindle him every which way, including passing on information to the artist’s arch enemy Sir Frederick Leyland, but Whistler is completely blind to this, mainly because he cannot believe that the world will not rearrange itself to suit his requirements.  I’m not certain who I wanted to bop most, Owl for being an out and out rotter, Whistler for being stupid enough to believe the lies he’s fed or Maud for sticking by him.  Maud at least has the excuse that if she left Whistler she would probably have found herself on the street and would have had no way of supporting the two daughters she had by the artist and whom he forced her to put out to foster.  It’s a very readable book and I persevered because I wanted to know if Owl’s perfidy would ever be uncovered but it left me very annoyed with all the characters involved.

Reading Next

Once I’ve finished Notes on a Scandal my next read for the Books of Summer is going to be Robert Harris’ An Officer and a Spy.  This is Harris’s retelling of the story surrounding the miscarriage of justice meted out to Captain Alfred Dreyfus in the France of the late nineteenth century. Dreyfus was accused of spying when in fact he was used by those in power as a means of covering up their own crimes.  I’ve always been aware that there was something called The Dreyfus Affair lurking in France’s past but I’ve never known just what the details were.  I trust Harris as a writer enough to think that he will give me an accurate account of what really happened.  Also at the top of the pile is Elly Griffiths’ first novel for children, A Girl Called Justice.  Set in the 1930s it is a combination of detective fiction and school story; what better could I ask for? Coming in at just over two hundred well spaced pages it shouldn’t be a long read and I think I shall keep it for Sunday afternoon and savour it with a pot of tea and a plate of scones.  Ruth Galloway would approve!

WWWednesday ~ January 30th 2019

WWWednesday is hosted by Sam at Taking on a World of Words and is a great way of taking stock of where you are in your reading journey.

What are you currently reading?

My Monday Book Group meets next week and so I am rationing out Margaret Atwood’s Hagseed so that I will finish it on Sunday and still have it fresh in my mind for the group discussion. A re-imagining of The Tempest, it is part of the Hogarth Press series for which they have asked established writers to each take a Shakespeare play and write an updated prose version. As a student of Shakespeare’s plays I don’t really approve of this idea. The plays stand in their own right and don’t need to be messed around in any way.  Add to that the fact that I’m no great Margaret Atwood fan either, and you wouldn’t be far off the mark if you thought I wasn’t really looking forward to this book. Well, the great thing about book groups is that they encourage you to read works that you would never otherwise have picked up and I have to admit that I am very much enjoying Hagseed.  So far, at least, there is none of the magic realism that I associate with Atwood and find very hard to come to terms with in any writer, and I have to say that I think she has found a setting which allows her both to re-explore the story behind The Tempest and the theory that in writing it Shakespeare was dramatising his own farewell to the stage.  The only works that post date this are co-authored with John Fletcher, who took over as the company playwright, and who was probably glad of a bit of support when following in such illustrious footsteps.

The main character is one Felix Phillips, a man who like Lear would see himself as more sinned against than sinning, and who, in the production he is staging at the Fletcher County Correctional Institute, believes that he has an opportunity to take his revenge on the two people who ousted him from his job as director of a local theatre festival.  The way in which he persuades the hardened offenders who form his cast to vie for the role of Ariel, who they initially see as a fairy, is little short of brilliant and a perfect reimagining of the role in twenty-first century terms.  I’m really looking forward to next Monday’s discussion.

What did you recently finish reading?

I’ve just finished the most recent book in James Oswald’s Tony McLean series, Cold as the Grave. These are slightly unusual police procedural novels: unusual in as much as although there is always a crime at the heart of the story and, as would be expected, at the conclusion the actual perpetrator is brought to book, the force behind crime still remains at large.  Oswald seems to me to be more interested in the idea that the crime that we can see and punish is actually a manifestation of a power of evil that is as old as the world itself and almost impossible to apprehend.  In this instance the human representations of such evil are exploiting the fear of refugees from war-torn countries who have made their way illegally to the U.K. by threatening their children.  In many ways it is not an easy read, but unfortunately feels all too real.

I am suddenly aware of a contradiction here having just said that I don’t appreciate magic realism and yet I think if I had to try and describe what Oswald is doing in this series it is probably something very akin to that. Nevertheless I think these books are first rate and I shall offer a longer discussion of this particular novel nearer its publication date.

What do you think you will read next?

I shall probably pick up Elly Griffiths’ latest book in her series about Ruth Galloway, the Norfolk based forensic archaeologist whose work with the local police brings her  with uncomfortable frequently into the orbit of DCI Harry Nelson, the father of her seven year old daughter, Kate.  The Stone Circle is the eleventh book in this sequence and I’m hoping it will be better than the last one, The Dark Angel, which I felt concentrated too much on the relationship between Ruth and Nelson at the expense of the crime element in the story.  I shall go on reading these, however, partly because the quirky narrative voice that Griffiths uses always makes me smile and partly because in Kate, now seven, she has captured perfectly the potential for children to quite inadvertently show their parents up on every possible occasion.  This is another novel that is due out in a couple of weeks time and as with the Oswald, I’ll post about it in detail then.

 

WWWednesday ~ January 2nd 2019

Most of the books I have read over the holiday period have been forthcoming novels that I can’t really review fully until their publication date, so to fill the gap I’m going to take part in WWWednesday, which is hosted by Sam at Taking on a World of Words, and tantalise you with brief summaries of some of the novels on their way in the next few months.  

What Are You Currently Reading?

I have two books on the go at the moment.  As before my bed time reading is a complete survey of Robin Hobb’s Farseer Sequence and I’m still working my way, a few pages a night, through Ship of Destiny, which is great because it means that there are still ten more books to go.  I wrote in more detail about this project here, so in future I’ll just note that it is on-going.

The other book currently on my reading table is the forthcoming novel from Kate London, Gallowstree Lane.  This is the third in her Collins and Griffiths series which is set in a London that Kate herself once helped to police.  I’ve hardly started this as yet, so I can’t say much about it other than that it is about an undercover operation that is threatened when a teenager is mortally injured and in asking for help threatens to bring the undertaking out into the open.

London’s work has a harsher edge to it than that of many of her contemporaries.  It took me two attempts to get into her first novel, Post Mortem, because the opening was so realistically hard hitting.  However, I have come to appreciate the veracity of her story telling and so I am looking forward to getting further into this latest instalment.  The book is published at the beginning of February so my review will be available in four or five weeks time.

What Did You Recently Finish Reading?

I’ve just finished the second in Dervla McTiernan’s Cormac Reilly series, set in Galway on the West Coast of Ireland.  If you’ve read my previous post you will know that a re-read of the first novel, The Ruin, wasn’t as enjoyable as I’d hoped.  So I went into the new book, The Scholar, due for publication in March, with a certain amount of trepidation.  Again, I can’t offer a full review until the novel is published, but I can say that McTiernan has addressed two of the problems that concerned me in respect of The Ruin: the narrative line is tighter and the politics within the police squad more believable.  I do, however, have some concerns about the main plot, which hinges on a student at the local university submitting work carried out by someone else.  (I’m not giving anything away here, it is made clear very early on that this is the case.)  This is a situation I have had to deal with and although the deception is one that you might get away with for a short time, I’ve never known it run on for the two year period that is suggested here.  If class work doesn’t match up to written work someone will pick it up.  University lecturers aren’t as distant from their students as this suggests.

What Do You Think You Will Read Next?

My next read will be Bernard MacLaverty’s Midwinter Break.  This is for my Monday afternoon book club next week and several of the other members of the group have already said how much they have enjoyed it, so I am looking for good things.  Fantastic Fiction describes it as:

An intense exploration of love and uncertainty when a long-married couple, Gerry and Stella, take a midwinter break in Amsterdam to refresh the senses, do some sightseeing and generally take stock of their lives. Their relationship seems easy, familiar – but over its course we discover the deep uncertainties between them.

Gerry, once an architect, is forgetful and set in his ways. Stella is tired of his lifestyle and angry at his constant undermining of her religious faith. Things are not helped by memories that resurface of a troubled time in their native Ireland. As their vacation comes to an end, we understand how far apart they are – and can only watch as they struggle to save themselves.

I loved MacLaverty’s 1997 novel, Grace Notes, which was word perfect. However, I do seem to recall that whichever group it was I read that for had difficulty getting a handle on it for discussion purposes so I shall be interested to see how next Monday’s session goes. I’m rather glad that I’m not leading it.

WWWednesday ~December 19th 2018

I thought as a change this week I would join in with WWWednesday, which is hosted by Sam at Taking on a World of Words, giving some thought to what I’m reading now, what I’ve just finished and where I think I might go next.  

What Are You Currently Reading?

I’ve got two books on the go at the moment.  My bedtime read is, and has been for some time, the sixteen book sequence that makes up Robin Hobb’s story of the Farseer Dynasty and the individual known variously as the Fool or Amber who seeks to change destiny through the actions of FitzChivalry Farseer.  I read these as they were published and now I’m going back and enjoying them all over again just a few pages at a time before I put the light out.  I’m not someone who reads a great deal in bed, normally being too tired to keep my eyes open for very long, and so re-reading and spending time with characters already known and loved works well for me last thing at night.

Writing fantasy is, I think, far more complex an enterprise than many critics give credit. Most importantly, a writer must create a world that has an integrity of its own.  It must seem as real and plausible to the reader as the world which they inhabit.  Hobb is brilliant in this respect, whether she is writing about the Six Duchies, the territory ruled by the Farseers, the Rain Wilds, or, as in Ship of Destiny, the book I am reading at the moment, the Bingtown of the Liveship Traders.

The other book I’m currently reading is Anne Youngson’s Costa shortlisted first novel, Meet Me at the Museum.  This is an epistolary novel charting the growing relationship between East Anglian farmer’s wife, Tina Hopgood and Anders Larsen, a curator at the Danish museum which houses the peat preserved body of Tollund Man. For each of them, the developing correspondence provides an outlet for a life that has become too closely confined, encouraging them to explore ideas and emotions that would otherwise have remained dormant or worse, festered into something toxic.  I’m very much enjoying this, despite having come across one or two rather disparaging reviews; it is making me think through my own stance on particular topics, especially on the question of the extent to which an individual should compromise their own life for the benefit of someone else.  I haven’t read anything else on the shortlist, but I wouldn’t feel short-changed if this were to take the first novel award.

What Did You Recently Finish Reading?

I had to stop and think about this, which doesn’t say much for the book, does it? In fact, it was James Runcie’s first Grantchester novel, Sidney Chambers and the Shadow of Death.  I wrote about this in my last post and commented then that I had found it fairly nondescript and that I was especially disappointed by the fact that it turned out to be a series of linked short stories rather than one full length mystery.  Sidney is the vicar of Grantchester, just outside Cambridge, and the book is set in the early 1950s.  He becomes embroiled in a number of the type of crimes that you might find in any of the Golden Age detective series and I suspect Runcie is attempting to take advantage of the reviving interest in that genre.  I’m afraid it wasn’t for me and I don’t think that I shall be reading any more from the series.  I haven’t seen any of the television version, but then I rarely watch crime that is based on original novels.  I don’t care if it is a cliché; the pictures are so much better in my head.

What Do You Think You Will Read Next?

I’m almost at the point where I can feel justified in starting on the pile of books that I have put to one side for Christmas reading, especially since that has grown to include the forthcoming Dervla McTiernan novel, The Scholar.  McTiernan is yet another of the wonderful crime writers to come out of and set their work in Ireland, despite the fact that she does now live in Australia. I loved the first book in her Cormac Reilly series, The Ruin, so I’m hoping that this is going to be every bit as good.  However, I do have the latest Barbara Kingsolver novel, Unsheltered, sitting on my library shelf and it is due back in ten days time, so I think it may well have to climb up the pile if I am to get it read before its due date.  Too many books……..