Tuesday, March 08, 2011

Long Overdue Book Update

The books I've been waiting to blog about have been sitting on the desk in the office for weeks waiting for me to get the chance to write this post. They've been taunting me - demanding my attention and I'd just been putting them off and ignoring them. Well that'll teach me because now that I finally have the time, the books seem to have walked. So you'll have to bear with me while I try and remember what it was I wanted to say about these.

I started the New Year with Telling Tales by Ann Cleeves which is one of the Vera Stanhope series. I enjoyed this very much. It's set on the coast in one of those isolated, insular communities that Cleeves does so well. The indomitable Vera is an outsider, come to look at an old case. That old case is unmistakeably mixed up in a more recent murder, but Vera is not supposed to be looking at the new murder. You can imagine that's going to remain the case, can't you? It's very good. I'm looking forward to seeing what the ITV have done with the character when the TV series finally airs. It's still billed on the ITV website as "coming soon" but there's no mention of a date yet.

I also read Findings by Kathleen Jamie, which was a recommendation from a podcast, though I can't remember which one. Anyway I was delighted as I read to realise that I recognised some of the places she was describing and that she lives in Newburgh in Fife which is where my parents used to live and where I lived for a few years before I left home. She's a fantastic writer with a way of bringing the landscape alive whether she's describing an osprey's nest in Fife or the ancient tombs of the Orkney Isles.

The Book of Negroes by Lawrence Hill is a fantastic book which I knew I wanted to read as soon as I saw it. I waited for the paperback to come out and it was worth the wait. It's the tale of a woman, kidnapped into the slave trade in Africa as a young girl, and her subsequent life in Virginia, Canada, Africa and London. A bit like a female version of Alex Haley's Roots, though it's just the one life. Aminata is a wonderful character and her life story is gripping and real. I loved this book. It's beautifully written and a great mix of sadness and gentle humour.

A change of pace was called for so I picked up The Scarecrow by Michael Connelly. This is not a Harry Bosch book, but a return for Jack McAvoy, who we first met in The Poet. Now The Poet is one of my favourite books. It was the first thriller I picked up after I been on a female only fiction kick for quite a while and I remember being totally gripped by it and not wanting to put it down. Sadly that was not the case for this book. I couldn't really connect with Jack in this book. He's just being made redundant from the newspaper he's been working for and he has the chance to do one last big story. The story turns out to be very different from the one he thought he was writing however and it puts his life at risk. To me this book was a tad too formulaic. Early on in the book there's a description of a place (I shan't spoil the plot for you if you haven't read it) and I thought immediately "that's where the denouement takes place". After that all the pieces fell into place and I knew exactly what was going to happen. I was disappointed. On the other hand I've always thought that Connelly's standalone books (apart from The Poet) have been inferior to his Harry Bosch novels. I'm not a big fan of the Mickey Haller books either - but that's because I'm not really into legal thrillers not because I think they're bad books.

I like to try and read all kinds of different crime novels so I know what I'm talking about if called to recommend things. So I had to read a Carola Dunn, though to be honest I thought they probably wouldn't be my thing. I randomly selected Rattle His Bones. (By randomly selected, I mean "found in a charity shop!). I have to say that I was right about them not really being my cup of tea. This one features the Honorable Daisy Dalrymple stumbling over a murder in the Natural History Museum. It's light and fluffy, and the characters are amusing, and I guess if you start at the beginning and work through them then you see Daisy develop and her relationship with Alan blossom. And if you like that then you'll probably like these. They're not at all badly written, quite sweet without being too sickly, just not for me. I started off fine and was quite amused for a hundred pages or so then my attention started to drift. I began to be irritated by Daisy and I wanted something grittier. It's a matter of personal preference. I don't like cosy crime. Give me a serial killer any day. But I know what they're about now and can happily recommend the series to those who like their murders fluffy.

A proof of My Dear I Wanted to Tell You by Louisa Young came my way with warnings that the ending shouldn't be revealed so as not to spoil the book for anyone else. It's set just before and during the First World War and is the intertwined stories of two relationships. It's well written and I enjoyed reading it. I have a bit of a thing for WW1 writing - those who've been reading this blog may remember that the novel I am currently failing to write is partly set during WW1. Anyway the title of the book comes from the preprinted postcard that was sent to next of kin when a loved one was injured at the Front - a very unspecific and general communication that told very little. And this book is all about miscommunication, about people who can't say what they need to say, or just don't say what they need to say and the effects this has on those around them. I loved reading it, thought the characters were interesting and original, though there were some I wanted more of who got rather sidelined. The end, however, about which as instructed I will say nothing, the end was a little bit of a disappointment to me. I think I was expecting a big set-piece ending or a huge shock and it didn't come. It's not that the ending was bad, or even wrong. It was fine, but I had predicted it, then discounted my prediction because "the end is amazing". Perhaps I just read too much crime fiction. Anyway I did enjoy the book and I would recommend it, though I thought the end was not as strong as it could have been.

Back soon with a couple of books which failed my 50 page test. And some FOs. Yes, really. Finished Objects. I have actually finished some knitting. Amazing.

1 comment:

Maxine Clarke said...

Nice update, especially as I have only read two of these, so have now got some reading ideas.
I enjoyed Telling Tales also, though I think the dynamics between Vera and Joe (her sergeant) have been changed for this book, and the character of Holly is one I don't remember - this makes me wonder if they are the TV versions?
I liked The Scarecrow more than you, but I am such a longstanding admirer of Michael Connelly I'd probably enjoy reading him on "Harry Bosch taking his dog for a walk". One thing I appreciated about The Scarecrow was that it depicted a nasty criminal/crime, but not in a "violence porn" way - other authors would not have resisted this.