Friday, December 31, 2010

2010 books, #86-89

Final booky things of this year; 89 books in total. It's been a good year for new authors, and for new books by previously appreciated authors.

U is for undertow, by Sue Grafton. London: Pan, 2010.

It's a Kinsey Millhone. It's well up to standard. What's different this time is that Grafton maintains a really complex timeline, which kept me looking backwards and forwards between chapters. Unfortunately I put this down somewhere in a pile of pre-Christmas stuff and sort of lost it for a while, so I did get a bit lost a couple of times (my fault, not the author's!) Excellent. And I'm already sort of starting to dread what happens when she gets to Z.

From the dead, by Mark Billingham [audiobook]. Read by Paul Thornley. Rearsby, Leics: WF Howes, 2010.

A wife comes out of prison to find that the husband she's served 12 years for killing, via a paid assassin, is very likely still to be alive. She hires an amateur detective who then gets in touch with Billingham's Tom Thorne. Billingham does his usual job of keeping you on your toes, while giving you his superb writing which retains graveside humour. There are a couple of real, genuine shockers in the course of this, while he continues the side-stories of his characters' lives.

Separation of power, by Vince Flynn. London: Simon and Schuster, 2003.

Another Mitch Rapp thriller - not necessarily one of the best ones, but we'll see what happens in the next one. Rapp is trying to get out of his clandestine involvement with the US security services while attempting to tie up loose ends. It all goes horribly wrong for him, professionally and personally.

One of the really intriguing elements of this book is that it has a narrative style I can only describe as style indirect libre, not having studied English literature - there are multiple points of view (the head of Mossad, the head of the CIA, the President, Mitch, Anna) and they all have their own worldview, all of which are presented as being equally valid. Israel is unjustifiably persecuted, the CIA is underfunded... and so on... This is definitely a series to be read in chronological order.

Wintersmith, by Terry Pratchett [audiobook]. Read by Stephen Briggs.

The third of the Tiffany Aching series. If you loved the others, you'll love this (again though, reading the others first is definitely a good move). The spirit of winter falls in love with Tiffany but doesn't know what it is to be human. Meanwhile, he's terrifyingly scary. Also incorporated are Miss Treason (113, and borrowing eyes and ears from other creatures) and Horace the Cheese, as well as the full horde of Nac Mac Feegles. And, of course, Granny Weatherwax.

There are some lovely bits in this. At one point Tiffany goes home and scrubs floors, feeds chickens, makes cheese. "These things grounded you. Taught you what was real. You could set a small piece of your mind to them, giving your thoughts time to line up and settle down." I don't necessarily go to Terry Pratchett's books for fantasy - because he's also so very good at giving you stone-cold truth. I can't think of a better reason and explanation for knitting for the sake of it.

Best of luck for all our reading in 2011.

2010 books, #81-85

I shall not want, by Julia Spencer-Fleming. New York: St Martin's, 2008.

A very good title for a book which is all about desire of different kinds; tightly plotted, compassionate, interesting in the development of its relationships, all the things you'd expect from this series up to now.

However, I have two criticisms. The first is that the opening cliffhanger (pp 1-11) is so overwhelming that you skim-read the following 300 pages until the timeline reverts to the "present"; which is a shame as it's fine writing. The second is that the next book isn't published until next April...

Just as I thought I couldn't like Clare Fergusson any more, we also find out she's a fan of both Lindsey Davis/Marcus Didius Falco, and Stephanie Plum (as she reflects, ruefully, having destroyed yet another car...).

The Attenbury emeralds, by Jill Paton-Walsh [audiobook]. Read by Edward Petherbridge. Audible, 2010.

Quite marvellous - this is fanfiction, of course, based on hints in the original Dorothy L. Sayers novels; but when fanfic is this good, it makes a wonderful addition to canon. Peter is 60, Harriet is in her forties, and it is the year of the Festival of Britain. A three-part intrigue, starting shortly after the Great War and reappearing in the present. Entirely true to character while answering all those questions which remain such as 'what did they do next'; and jigsawing in the tantalising little hints we have in some of the short stories. And Petherbridge's reading is, as ever, delightful - his Peter is always graver than Ian Carmichael's, but that's never a bad thing.

The dark water : the dark beginnings of Sherlock Holmes, by David Pirie. London: Arrow, 2005.

Very convincing Conan Doyle writing; again, working around original material and Doyle's autobiographical writings. Dr Joseph Bell and Doyle investigate Doyle's abduction at the hands of his enemy Thomas Neill Cream, and are led to Dunwich and the mustery of the 'Dunwich Witch' and her curse. The setting is eerie, the Suffolk coastal marshes; there's a real sense of fear here, as there is in the best of the Sherlock Holmes novels. Definitely one to read if you're a fan of Victorian detective fiction.

Blood on the tongue, by Stephen Booth [audiobook]. Narrated by Christopher Kay. Rothley, Leics.: Clipper, 2002.

One I must have missed at the time I thought I'd caught up on all the Stephen Booth books. The relationship between Diane Fry and Ben Cooper takes a back seat to the main story, which resurrects the story of a World War II bomber when a young woman is found frozen to death in the wreckage. Very good, interwoven story with some interesting characters. Probably not the best book to have been listening to over the last couple of weeks in that it's midwinter in Derbyshire in the book...

Broken for you, by Stephanie Kallos. New York: Grove Press, 2004.

A Kniterati book and another I'd never have picked up without being in a book group. Margaret Hughes, a widow in her 70s, lives in a mansion in Seattle full of valuable antiques. When she discovers she has an inoperable brain tumour, she decides to dare herself to change her life. The first step is taking on boarder Wanda Schultz, who has arrived in Seattle determined to pursue her deserting boyfriend, and working as a stage manager.

This is a lovely book. It's slightly hallucinatory as everyone in it is disfunctional in some way due to illness or inclination, and there are some amazing revelations in the woodshed.

Sunday, December 05, 2010

2010 books, #76-80

In the words of one of the characters in the first book reviewed here, I aten't dead. However, it's been a ridiculously busy/trying month! But as an inordinate amount of it was spent on trains, some reading was done.

A hat full of sky, by Terry Pratchett. London: Corgi, 2005.

The second of the Tiffany Aching books - the last, I shall wear midnight, has just come out, and I realised I hadn't read the third one, and possibly this one. As it turns out, I had read this one, and as always happens with Pratchett, by the time I realised that I was still hooked, so just read it again.

The thing I love about Pratchett's Young Adult titles is that he makes absolutely no compromises - in fact, it seems that they're often more complex in terms of what he, and the witches, would call headology. No allowance is made for the fact that Tiffany is 11 years old in terms of what she needs to understand about the mind of her enemies; and themes like being yourself and knowing yourself, usually so patronisingly and preachily explained in non-fantasy books for young adults, are such absolute staples of the fantasy genre that they just fit in naturally here (this is, of course, largely due to Mr P's superb imagination). And of course there are the Nac Mac Feegle (a terrifying clan of Pictish warriors who are, unnervingly, only 6" tall); and Granny Weatherwax, a magnificent creation.

Crossfire, by Dick Francis and Felix Francis. London: Penguin/Michael Joseph, 2010.

I really hope Dick Francis's death in February doesn't signal the end of the Francis books - Felix Francis's involvement in the last four has really revived the spirit of the early novels after a period where everything flagged for a while, and it would be intriguing to see what he'd produce in his own right.

This one stars the typical Francis action-hero character, but rather than being a bookseller-turned-detective, photographer-turned-detective etc., Thomas Forsyth is a Captain in the infantry, recovering at his mother's racing stables after losing a foot in Afghanistan. This rattles along at a tremendous pace, there's a genuine sense of malice and danger, and there are some extremely unexpected twists.

Jupiter's bones, by Faye Kellerman. London: Headline, 1999.

I'd forgotten how much I liked Peter Decker until I picked up the next in this series and wondered why I hadn't just read straight through. This time, the main focus is on a scientific/religious cult in a compound near Los Angeles. In other hands, this might have been much less nuanced, but as an observant Jew, Kellerman is aware that there's a fine line between some religious practice and cults in many people's eyes, and is careful not to fall into stereotypes. There's some gore in this book, and also a couple of quite hair-raising moments.

Stalker, by Faye Kellerman. London: Headline, 2001.

Hmm. And then, saying that, I forgot how much I disliked Cindy Decker, his daughter. I always want to snarl at her, "yes, he's a screwed up, miserable bastard because he's never got over Vietnam - what's your excuse, you brat?" But anyway. It's tightly plotted, and introduces a cast of people we already know in a new way... if you can get over Cindy's attitude, worth reading.

All mortal flesh, by Julia Spencer-Fleming. New York: St Martin's, 2006.

Elements of this book, the 5th in the Clare Fergusson/Russ Van Alstyne series, should be incredibly melodramatic and unlikely. But somehow it all does hang together, largely because you just like both of the main characters so much by now. Really tightly written again, with a twist I certainly didn't expect in the middle; and as ever, the author portrays the best and the worst in a small rural community and in a parish, and shows that even when everyone's trying to do the right thing, that often really isn't enough.