Monday, 26 August 2013

Burial Rites - Hannah Kent

Debut novel from an Australian writer.
Based in Iceland in 1829 the book starts with an explanation of "sson" and "dottir" giving the impression it's going to be difficult to keep track of the characters. It isn't.
Agnes Magnusdottir is sentenced to death for the murder of her lover but the sentence is not to be carried out immediately. Transferred from a prison to be contained in a family home of a local dignitary she gradually reveals her story to the family.
Forced into the roles of jailers the family find it difficult to switch from their normal manner to any strangers or servants and simply treat her as an additional member of the household, allbeit slightly warier.
Set in inhospitable countryside there is some great description throughout. The hardship of walking to find work and the whole way of life when there is no money to be spent plays out really well and encourages the reader to compare then and now while reading.
All the while around Agnes preparations are being made for her execution and her support is provided in the form of a very naive trainee priest.
Great interaction, great environment and excellent debut.

Publisher - Picador

Among the hoods - Harriet Sergeant

A hugely important book written in a plain manner to enable the reader to judge. Unfortunately unlikely to be
read by the people who need to read it.
Harriet Sergeant spent a number of years interacting with a gang in London getting to know it's members.
During this time she heard their stories, hoped with them and despaired with them.
Whilst in no way condoning their actions she was able to see just why they may act as they do and shares her discoveries with the reader.
Any violence is stated in a matter of fact way but the shocks throughout the read do not relate to the violence, rather they relate to the circumstances which these young people find themselves in and their stifled attempts to break out of their particular system.
There is a situation in the book to disturb every reader.
The downsides:
It's a personal book and therefore relates to Harriet Sergeant's attempts to assist. 
There is no suggestion of any way to help. But then that is the issue.
At £9.99 for a skinny read it's quite expensive but for educational value it is extremely cheap.

Publisher - Faber & Faber

Ten seconds from the sun - Russell Celyn Jones

Ray Greenland has the perfect family life and a desperate secret. When it appears the secret may be outed
Greenland acts to defend his new life- as much as he's able to.
Gradually winding the story like a clock coil Celyn Jones does an excellent job and when the coil snaps your heart breaks.
A one-liner to relieve all the tension placed perfectly in the tale.
Brilliantly planned book, addictive and ready with the hit.

Publisher - Abacus

This is how it ends - Kathleen McMahon

I'm not quite sure why I got this one. To me it fits into the women's fiction bracket-not quite chick lit but it's not one you'd expect your husband to read.
Bruno loses his banking job in the US in the firstdays of the banking crisis and decides to take his chance to discover his ancestry. So it's off to Ireland.
Hugh is the contacthe knows of and he's an awkward older man who doesn't want to know Bruno.
Hugh's daughter, Addie, is an out of work architect. She's slightly more amenable initially and gradually gets to trust him.
There are family trials, secrets and revelations alongside a general medical council hearing for HUgh and a recent trauma for Addie.
Lots of reviews say it's great and heart rending.
For me it missed the mark and was more of an airport read.

Publisher - Sphere

Twelve babies on a bike - Dot May Dunn

One of a rush of books hot on the heels of Jennifer Worth's Call the Midwife series. Jennifer Worth imbued
her books with the heartbreak, hardships and successes of old school midwives and the nuns. Dot May Dunn presents more of an account of each delivery towards qualification. More case study than emotive but not written in a technical way. Stick with Call the Midwife.

Publisher - Orion

The bookshop strikes back - Ann Patchett

It's tiny, a whole 20 mini pages. It is, however, highly attractive to avid readers who are desperate not to
have their reading choice narrowed by chain stores haggling over margin.
Yes, we pay more in independents but we get diversity not dictation.
This is all about Ann Patchett's decision to open her own bookshop and her admittance that she's not the one to run it. It's a success with it's authors stopping by and it's famous name backing.
Good to see an author backing the industry in a money where your mouth is kind of way.

Publisher - Bloomsbury

Sharp Objects - Gillian Flynn

Camille is a reporter in Chicago feeling as though she is tolerated at work and never going to be good. She's
from an old money background and is striking out on her own in a new town.
Having not been home for a while she's underimpressed when her boss assigns her to a story there.
One young girl is missing and another has been murdered. Since Camille's sister died early in life the whole set up is not something she's looking forward to.
Returning home to her mother, stepfather and stepsister is daunting and she's surprised to see her room has not been changed since she left. She's still not the favourite, that honour goes to her stepsister, Amma, who she doesn't know at all.
Arriving back she gets acquainted with the only other stranger in the hick town who just happens to be investigating the murder.
It's not long before the second girl is found and a local boy is placed under suspicion by the other townspeople.
The book has small town pettiness, mental illness, family dynamics, murder and Gillian Flynn is the author.
In it's way it's better than Gone Girl

Publisher - Three Rivers Press

Panopticon - Jenni Fagan

A product of the system Anais Hendricks is placed in Panopticon, a home for chronic young offenders.
This is an excellent book demonstrating the innocence and naivety that manages to place a tentative hold on a soul that should really have been battered into submission by it's mistreatment.
Anais' back story is stated almost dispassionately allowing current events to glare sharply proud of their backdrop.
One of the most harrowing scenes I've read in a long time is in the book - not because it's gorily descriptive, but because the character of Anais has been so artfully described that the scene shocks.
Masterfully crafted book from a debut author.

Publisher - Windmill

Wars of the Roses - Conn Iggulden

Another masterpiece from Conn Iggulden this time closer to home.
Based in England and France there are three main characters.
Derry Brewer:behind the scenes facilitator
Jack Cade:renegade seeking justice following the death of his son
Margaret:French princess married to the British King without sight of him nbefore marriage
So a core cast covering all elements of society highest to lowest. Each has a surrounding of lesser characters that shift and interact with the others.
Starting with the realisation that King Henry does not have the health to govern, increase or even maintain the realm a solution is sought to hold the French on their own side of the Channel. Already in France are British landholdings causing unrest amongst the locals. The solution? Marry King Henry to a French princess but don't allow him to go to his own wedding. High society was well aware that allowing the French to see the king may well give them the confidence to invade. The price of the wedding? The English land in France.
So the wedding of King Henry to Princess Margaret was orchestrated by Derry Brewer and leaves Jack Cade already brimming over with resentment but now with a lot of allies who also despised the bargaining.
Painting fighting as he always does the reader can almost imagine Iggulden with his maps and lead soldiers playing out his battles as he writes. (A computer would spoil the illusion). Weapons are true to the day, including the snobbery relating to them.
Margaret grows up quickly when she gets to England and realises the king is not as she expected. She has to decide who to trust and who to watch and when to step in as the King's voice.
With a battle raging at the tower gates she is left defending her husband's sovereignty.
Fantastic way to learn your history-should be required school reading. Slight note for the appendix- the London Stone still exists in Cannon Street.
Thanks to Conn Iggulden for this advance copy.

Publisher - Michael Joseph

The Calling - Alison Bruce

Back with DC Goodhew and this is one of my no fail authors.
As usual it's intricate with a wide cast of characters.
Goodhew is a quiet, thoughtful police officer, calmly working his way through evidence he's stored of previous cases. The book introduces a character who's brilliant as a control freak, no major incidents, just the incipient persuasions that make such people difficult to spot.
Add a girl who's only interested in falling in love - at any price - and you have the start point of a destructive relationship.
Showing sociopathic tendencies the criminal is difficult to find as part of his character is a determination to blend.
Cat and mouse detective story well worth reading.

Publisher - Robinson

Hood rat - Gavin Knight

Which is incredibly worrying.
Just how does a hood rat evolve?
What is required of the role?
And how would you escape?
Covering three cities, London, Manchester and Glasgow Gavin Knight leads us through the underworld as he gets to know the police and the youths involved.
The book covers the drug trade and sink estates as well as the police dedicated to removing the problem.
As it is such a worrying book it does sometimes become depressing as you get further through and no ideas for resolution or reduction are supplied.
This is however corrected at the end of the book and the idea is notable for it's simplicity.
Recommended reading for the police force of Luton.

Publisher- Picador

Alys Always - Harriet Lane

Following a road accident a passerby stops to help. Unfortunately the victim of the accident doesn't survive.
As part of a new initiative the passerby is asked to meet the victim's family and at this point seems to slip into a new identity herself. The deceased's husband is a popular author, the passerby writes for a magazine in a very minor role and seizes the opportunity to make herself feel a little bit more important.
She gradually insinuates herself into the family, trusted by some, ignored somewhat by another and viewed at least warily by another.
It's spookily easy to imagine how a person might do this.
What's not so easy is the ending of the book.
Weirdly addictive reading though.

Publisher - Phoenix

Norwegian by Night - Derek B Miller

Following his wife's death Sheldon moves to Norway to live with his granddaughter.
Left home alone in the flat one day he hears a violent argument and steps in to help the victims.
Through the book are references to Sheldon's Jewishness and the history of Jews in general.
One of the sentences that  rings powerfully relates to his single action to help and was that so hard?
On the run with a young boy who's being hunted by his violent father there are adventures galore and a great relationship between an old man and a young boy who don't speak the same language.
There's action, violence, heartbreak and humour.
I'm in the queue for the next one.

Publisher - Faber & Faber

The Knife Man - Wendy Moore

A biography of John Hunter, the founder of modern surgery.
Impressively researched this book still has an emminently readable quality appealing even to a reader with no
medical knowledge.
In an era of blood letting John Hunter impressed upon colleagues the need to opt for non-surgical care if at all possible. He worked in London and on the battlefield attached to the army trialling his ideas on patients who may or may not be aware that they were guinea pigs.
Meticulously documenting all of his cases and referring back to previous similar cases he was able to build persuasive arguments for or against his notions.
Ideas of such foward thinking nature were not always welcomed by his peers who were making a tidy fortune the old way. Not necessarily being paid by result.
Despite the gravity of the subject matter Wendy Moore manages to tell the story in the round, including his family and lifestyle to enable the reader to fully appreciate his character.

Publisher - Bantam

Weird things customers say in bookshops - Jen Campbell

A five minute read. Some laugh out loud moments, a few sniggers and several 'duhs'.
I did find out there's a bookshop called the Yellow Lighted Bookshop in Gloucestershire. When I'm on holiday there I'll visit.
Worth passing around bibliophiles.

Publisher - Constable

The Humans - Matt Haig

When a maths professor solves an important problem an extra-terrestrial population is worried humanity may
be getting a touch too close.
So they dispose of the professor and send one of their own to inhabit his body and his life.
There follows a crash course in how to be a human and how to relate to a family. With no point of reference to draw upon this proves entertaining. All emotions must be learned and all conversations practised. Why do humans have conversations that mean nothing or alternatively mean the opposite of the words spoken?
Tasked to destroy any human who is aware of the problem solving the imposter has to get to know colleagues as well as family.
Slapstick funny interludes along the way.
This is an interesting take on how life would be lived without protocol, amusing in places.

Publisher - Canongate

Friday, 23 August 2013

Until you're mine - Samantha Hayes

From the back
"You have something someone else wants.  At any cost"

Crime thriller from a well travelled author who is new to me. Fortunately there's a back list available.

Claudia is married to a naval husband and is stepmother to twin boys. She's also pregnant.
When her husband is due to rejoin his submarine it's decided that a nanny might be a good idea and Zoe joins the household.
Meanwhile, elsewhere in the city, someone is murdering pregnant women and trying to remove their babies.

The book lets you into the lives of the household alongside reporting on the police investigation by a husband and wife team. As well as this there's Zoe's story. So really three in one that don't start linking up in a problem solving way until the 100th page or so (from 400).

This has got to be one of the best crime thrillers I've read in a while. From it's slow insidious run up to maybe, maybe not letting you into the secret to the finale that's not a finale towards the end. There are almost two books in one here but that doesn't make it a complicated read.

If you have a relative that likes thriller this is a very safe bet for a Christmas present.

I'm off to buy the others.....

Publisher - Century