So, I finished The God of the Hive by Laurie R King, which was excellent as usual. I wouldn't recommend this book as a starting point though if you've not read any of these before. It follows hard on the heels of The Language of Bees published last year and is a continuation of that book so I wouldn't recommend you read just this one. Of course I'd say that you should start at the beginning with The Beekeeper's Apprentice, but I actually read all these books out of sequence, starting with Locked Rooms which is the 8th book. And I've just this week finished O Jerusalem, which is the 5th. Mostly this has been due to the books being out of print in the UK for quite a long time and so I read them as I found them. I bought O Jerusalem ages ago but had misplaced it and although The Beekeeper's Apprentice has been republished here along with The Game (no. 7) and the following books, sadly numbers 2 through 6 have not yet been re-published. Lots of customers have asked me about them but I don't know if they will be republished here. I hope they are. Of course, if you have an e-reader some of them are available in e-book format, though of course if you do that you don't get the fun of spending time in your local bookstore.
Anyway, I then read something completely out of character for me. I read a fantasy novel. I was at work and I didn't have a book with me so I had nothing to read (in a bookshop, how inconvenient!) anyway, there was a copy of Prince of Thorns by Mark Lawrence on the staffroom table so I picked it up and had a look, and before I knew it I was halfway through. Now I've not read any fantasy in a long, long time. I think Stephen Donaldson was the last book I read all the way through and that must be at least 30 years ago, probably more. The only other time I looked at a fantasy novel was a day I was out somewhere at an auction and finished whatever book I was reading. Lying on the back seat of the car I found a book of fantasy short stories. I can't remember if they were Dragonlance or Forgotten Realms or some other such tosh but it pretty much reinforced all my preformed prejudices against fantasy novels - full of elves and dwarves and highly implausible plotlines. And I'd not touched a fantasy novel with a bargepole ever since. However, it seems I was wrong, or fantasy has grown up maybe, that seems more likely than me being wrong! Anyway, this Prince of Thorns, this was good stuff. This had good characters in it, with proper, believable personalities. And it had a plot that didn't hinge on something highly unlikely happening. In truth it was more like a historical novel with a little bit of sorcery in it. Well, of course it had a bit of sorcery, or it wouldn't have been a fantasy novel would it? But the sorcery was done in a believable way, that fitted with the world it was in. Oh yes, and it was dark. It was very dark. I liked that. I liked that so much that having read a few crime novels in between I am now reading another fantasy novel. I'm now reading Joe Abercrombie's The Blade Itself and I'm liking this too. But the first sign of a dragon or an elf and I'll be off.
Never fear there has been reading of crime novels too. I read Crucible of Secrets by Shona MacLean, which is the third in her series about Alexander Seaton. Long time readers may recall that I loved the first one after a couple of false starts, wasn't so keen on the second one which was set in Ireland, and I'm happy to report really liked this third one which is once again set in Aberdeen. A full review will appear over at Eurocrime when I've written it.
I also read Crocodile on the Sandbank which is the first in Elizabeth Peters' Amelia Peabody
series. This is where you get to know how Peabody met Emerson and the whole series kicks off. It's a delightfully silly, lightweight piece of nonsense and I have to be in the right frame of mind for one of these but they are great fun.
I finally got round to reading The Hare with Amber Eyes by Edmund de Waal, long after the rest of the world have read and loved it. And I have to say that I agree with them. It is a fantastic book. I did want it to be illustrated though. I spent quite a lot of time with the laptop open next to me as I read, so that I could see the Renoir painting with his Great-Grandfather in the background, or look at the pictures in his website of some of the netsuke as he was talking about them. What an extraordinary family! It's also a very tactile book, in the manner of those netsuke. The way he described them really makes you feel as though you could almost reach out and pick them up. It reminded me of The Children's Book by AS Byatt which has that same quality.Now The Children's Book was the last Booker listed book I read, as I didn't fancy anything off last year's list, and as you may remember I have a bit of a problem with "Booker Books" in general, finding them mostly pretentious and lacking in substance.
And lo and behold it's that time of year again, where I look at the longlist and think, "Is there anything on there that I really want to read?" And more often than not the answer that is a resounding "NO!" This year however my eye was caught by the first novel by Patrick McGuinness called The Last Hundred Days. It's the story of a young English graduate who is offered a post lecturing at Bucharest University. This is odd as he didn't actually apply for the job, isn't qualified and didn't turn up for the interview he was invited to. Nevertheless this unnamed young man accepts the position and finds himself in the nightmare reality that was the last days of Ceaucescu's failing regime. It is a state where the Securitate keep tabs on everyone, and the old city is being bulldozed daily to make way for Ceaucescu's New Bucharest, built on shifting sands and without heed to the needs of the people. Our narrator documents all this among the many small details of life in the city. It's full of wonderful characters, like Trofim, the old Party loyalist who is writing both an official autobiography and a secret, explosive version that tells of the inner corruption of the Party, and Leo who's also a lecturer at the University but walks a dangerous line supplying black market goods from the West to half the city's ruling regime. This is a wonderful book. I just could not put it down, especially towards the end when the Berlin Wall comes down and the waves of change in Europe begin to spread eastwards towards Romania. I finished this two days ago and I'm still thinking about it. I even think I might want to go back and read it again. I certainly want to re-read George Galloway's excellent non-fiction book Downfall: Ceaucescus and the Fall of Romania. Sadly that is out of print as it's an excellent recounting of the Revolution. We do have a copy of this somewhere if I could just lay my hands on it! Anyway, you should read The Last Hundred Days even if you don't read anything else from the longlist.
I'm actually planning to try and read a couple more off that list. I have Snowdrops by A D Miller and The Testament of Jessie Lamb by Jane Rogers. I'll let you know how I get on.