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So, you know that feeling when one of your dearest friends, someone whose opinion you respect and rely on, goes on and on and on about a book they’ve discovered that you absolutely must read, and you do the “yeah yeah” thing and they still go on about it, not just to you but to anyone who will listen, about how excellent said book is, and how it’s “just all about life, y’know?” and you finally give in and get a copy so that you can have something that resembles a grown up conversation about something that clearly had an impact on them but secretly you reckon it won’t live up to the hype, but it does and you are grateful that they brought it to your attention?

Or is that just me?

Take that first paragraph and insert me, Silvery Dude and A Visit from the Goon Squad at appropriate points and you have a fair idea of what the bits of my life that crossed with the Dudeness over the past few weeks have been like. For more of a picture alcohol should probably be included, and for total accuracy that alcohol should be in the form of red wine and Cosmopolitans.

OK, I will put my hands up and say that I have been a tad unfair to the Silvery One as I often suggest titles to him as a means of “enriching his cultural life” in that annoying “I have a book blog and therefore know of what I speak” way that I sometimes can’t resist just as a wind-up. But he did really enjoy this and said he thought I would as well and so it became my homework while he and his lovely family are having their annual holiday in la belle France. And this is by way of a book report.

And, well AVFTGS is a Pulitzer Prize winning novel and must therefore be both interesting and well written and have something to say, and I settled down to read it and finished the whole thing in two sessions, including a Friday night marathon which led to a late dinner because I wanted to get to the end. And it is all about life, specifically that of a group of friends and acquaintances which takes place over an unspecified period of time (but we are talking years here) with all the good and bad bits and even a bit of a vision of the near future.

I loved the structure which is sort of linked short stories but it doesn’t just take a character from the first and drop them into the second and proceed like that, it goes backwards and forwards and loops about and comes to a satisfying end.

And I didn’t want it to finish and when it did I wanted to start reading it again, I loved it so much. I have ordered a couple more Jennifer Egan novels just to see if this is a one-off (hoping it’s not).

And Silvery Dude can be smug for as long as he likes, because he was right.

The End.

I haven’t read very much by Joanne Harris, one novel (before my blogging days) and half a book of short stories (really must get round to finishing that one day – if only I could remember exactly where I put it). I’m not even sure why I bought this one; must have been a review somewhere that caught my eye because buy it I did, and it has languished on the tbr pile for ages, until I spied it last week when looking for something a little different to read.

So Gentlemen and Players is set in a boys’ grammar school somewhere in England (I think it’s meant to be in the north but that wasn’t entirely clear). It’s the start of a new term and that brings all sorts of rivalries among the teaching staff to the forefront as timetables are changed, rooms re-allocated and the pecking order re-established. We see St Oswald’s partly through the eyes of one of the teachers, Roy Straitley, who has been at the school since the year dot and is fighting against inevitable retirement. We also see the school through the eyes of an unknown narrator, one of the new teachers but we’re not sure which one, a person with a real grudge against the school and everyone in it, and who has come back to take revenge. That story is told as a mixture of reminiscence and present day plotting, and what plotting there is!

This is a gloriously nasty book, and I mean that as a compliment. The unknown protagonist has thought things through very clearly and has a plan which, while it may need to modified as circumstances dictate, is designed to totally  destroy St Oswald’s. There is scandal and murder and spite and I thought it was fantastic. At one point in the novel I thought  “I wonder…” and as I was proved right I felt real satisfaction; for once getting slightly ahead of the author was a joy and not a disappointment as the outcome was as I predicted and just added to the fun (if you can refer to fun in a book where very horrible things happen to people who often don’t deserve them); very satisfying.

This was a slow starter for me but a few chapters in when I realised exactly where this might be going I just couldn’t stop reading, and even broke my rule of not reading too late on a work night, sitting up in bed until I had finished it. One of the quotes on the back of my paperback copy referred to this as “wickedly fun” and I’m not sure I can better that description.

The Shadows in the Street by Susan Hill, the fifth Simon Serailler crime novel. I am just 112 pages in, and already heartily dislike (as I think I’m supposed to) one of the new characters; is it too nasty of me to hope that she will come to an unfortunate end, or at the very least get her comeuppance somehow? If this were Agatha Christie I would have her pegged as the third or fourth victim, killed due to her having let something slip in the hearing of the murderer which implied that she knew more than she did. Of course this is a police procedural so that’s sort of unlikely, but one can hope.

Going through a bit of a “must buy” phase at the moment, and these are the newest additions to the TBR pile (which now resembles one of the Alps….)

  • The Deadly Space Between by Patricia Duncker: after the success of The Composer (as reviewed here), why read the books by her that I already have when I can go out and buy a new one?
  • Famous Players by Rick Geary: following on from Jack the Ripper, I thought I’d try one of the titles from the Treasury of XXth Century Murder
  • A Visit from the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan: “You must read this!” said Silvery Dude; I always do what I am told….
  • The Fallen Blade by Jon Courtenay Grimwood: this is actually sort of a present for the Book God but once I saw it I realised I want to read it too, a blend of history and dark fantasy in 1407 Venice
  • The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins: everyone will know what this is all about; with the film being heavily touted I thought I should give this a go;
  • Wolf Brother by Michelle Paver: having thoroughly enjoyed Dark Matter and following a recommendation from Silvery Dude, I thought I would try her children’s series;
  • Your Presence is Required at Suvanto by Maile Chapman: I know absolutely nothing about this book, it was simply lying on a table in the Wimbledon branch of Waterstone’s and I liked the cover and found the idea of a sanatorium in early twentieth century Finland intriguing;
  • The Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes: the only one of the Booker long list that has piqued my interest so far;
  • How to be a Woman by Caitlin Moran: bought because I follow her on Twitter and everyone (including the young woman at the till in Waterstone’s while I was paying for it) told me how funny it was;
  • The Possession of Dr Forrest by Richard T Kelly: Scottish doctors, friends since boyhood, one goes missing, bizarre, unnerving, menacing, one for RIP

It’s good to be excited by books again.

I really enjoy a good ghost story and Dark Matter is a very good ghost story indeed. This had been on my tbr list since I read a number of favourable reviews when the book first came out last year, and the Book God was kind enough to buy me a copy as a present for either Christmas or my birthday (I can’t always remember which as they are so close together).

I had thought to save it for RIP this year but for some reason decided it was just what was needed for a humid and over cast August and was totally gripped by the story as soon as I picked it up.

So it is 1937 and Jack Miller is poor and unhappy and takes up the opportunity to be the radio operator on an expedition to the Arctic. There is tension from the very beginning; there are class issues (everyone else is much more posh than Jack) but he goes along anyway as this is his chance to prove himself – to himself as much as anyone. Through various incidents Jack finds himself alone at their camp on Gruhuken as the sun disappears for months, with only the huskies for company.

Well not only the huskies.

For there is something else on Gruhuken.

This is fabulous stuff. You know right from the outset that the expedition does not go well, that someone is injured and someone dies but not who or how. The bulk of the story is told through Jack’s own journal which gives it an immediacy that a third-person narrative wouldn’t have delivered so well. Whether or not you are afraid of the dark (and I’m not really) the idea of being in a world without the sun for such a long period of time and with no other people around (except for one rather touching interlude) is a daunting prospect to consider. And there is a real sense of foreboding which builds as the story develops.

I am not ashamed to say that this really creeped me out; I was reading in bed and absolutely had to stop, though I devoured the remainder of the story the next day. I found the ending really poignant and have gone back to it a couple of times as it was so affecting and effective.

If you love ghost stories you really must read this; it’s one of my favourite reads of the year so far.

I didn’t know anything about Michelle Paver but understand from Silvery Dude (who has read her back catalogue and has taken a copy of Dark Matter on holiday to France) that she has written a whole series of children’s books and I’m really tempted to give them a try.

But this is one story that will linger with me for a long time.

What is it about Scandinavian crime? I’m not reading it all, but there is quite a lot in the stacks and I’m not sure why; I don’t think it’s a bandwagon on which I have jumped along with many others as everything I’ve read so far has been great, but it is interesting how much has been published over the past few years.

Although I have to confess that I picked this up without really registering that it actually was Scandinavian; for some reason I thought it was German – probably just because the hero’s name is Martin Beck, which (feebly) sounds faintly German to me.

Bit of a rambly intro into a review of a book which I enjoyed very much.

Roseanna is the first of 10 novels in the Martin Beck sequence which look at crime as a reflection of Swedish society (as explained by Henning Mankell in his fascinating introduction) and was published in 1965. It is the story of the investigation of the murder of Roseanna, though at the beginning we know nothing about her for quite a long time, she is simply a body pulled from a lake by a dredger, clearly murdered but by whom?

What makes this such an interesting read is how it concentrates on the tedium of much police work. It takes Beck and his colleagues ages to find out anything about the victim other than the stuff that is revealed by the post-mortem, and what they do find out is partly based on luck.

Beck himself is not what I expected; yes, like a lot of detectives, he isn’t entirely happy at home, though he at least is still married to his wife unlike so many others, and he is prone to depression and has problems with his digestion which gives an interesting perspective on how he handles his job. The importance of team work comes across; Beck is not one of those detectives who goes off on his own following hunches, this is a proper police procedural. And the killer and his motive (if it can be called that) was sadly all too plausible.

Will definitely be looking for others in the series.

This is part of the Treasury of Victorian Murder series, and was the one I was always going to get first simply because I have been fascinated by the Jack the Ripper, and indeed serial killers of all sorts, since I can remember, all the way from Gilles de Rais to Ted Bundy.

A bit morbid, I know, and the sort of admission that immediately gets you marked as the obvious suspect in any decent American crime series. Especially when coupled with the kind of books on the subject that I have in the stacks.

Can’t explain it, just once of those things, no need to be afraid, honest.

So Jack; well, iconic killer largely because his murders not only remained unsolved but have spawned the wildest of theories about his identity, from the Duke of Clarence to Walter Sickert to Sir William Gull, which in turn has led to some great books, both fiction and non fiction. And of course the movies; my particular favourite being Murder by Decree with the great Christopher Plummer.

But I digress.

This is a great little book, which tells the basics of the story as it happened as if through the diary of a contemporary who had access to the police. I loved the artwork which managed to give a real sense of place and conveyed the gruesomeness without dwelling on it, probably helped by being in black and white.

A very nice addition to my true crime library.

So I am clearly the last person in the universe to have read this novel but I don’t care, sometimes it’s good to come at these things when everyone else has had their say and the initial fuss has died down, though I guess the film version had interest flaring up a bit and I must admit that it was the movie adaptation that got me thinking that I should probably have a go at this.

And breathe.

So this is the story of Kathy, Ruth and Tommy and their special upbringing at Hailsham and how they find out what that really means. The story is told looking back by Kathy, who can probably be argued is an unreliable narrator but I’m not so sure that is the case here; we all look at the past from our own perspective and try as hard as we might we can’t help make others look worse and ourselves look better even while we think we don’t. I won’t say much more about the plot (such as it is) because you are either one of the few people still not to have read it in which case I don’t want to spoil it, or you have read it so you already know.

I rather like Ishiguro, though I’ve probably only read his first three novels, Remains of the Day being a special favourite. I know that he isn’t everyone’s cup of tea; the Book God hasn’t had a go, and Silvery Dude found The Unconsoled so frustrating that he claims to have thrown it across the room. I’m not sure I can say that I enjoyed this one as the subject matter is such that enjoyment might not actually be possible, but it was a real reading experience and I did want to find out how things would work out for them all.

I found it terribly sad, I have to say, and it’s a sadness that has lingered with me several days after I finished the book. Thinking about what it must be like to effectively have no past and no real future except the one that is created for you, and no control over your destiny, just unbearable.

I always find it interesting when a mainstream author wanders into sci-fi, though I get the impression that Ishiguro wasn’t really interested in the detail of the world he created, seeing it presumably as just a useful backdrop against which to examine his themes. And that’s my only quibble with the book; as a lover of sci-fi I had loads and loads of things I wanted to know about this world, about donations and completion and how it all worked and what actually happened, which in the novel is unsatisfyingly vague.

But I’m glad I read it and as I said, it really stuck with me

(still thinking about it now…)

The Strange Case of the Composer and his Judge is the first Patricia Duncker book I have read, though I do have another novel and a book of short stories somewhere in the stacks, and I got a hold of this one via the good offices of the very nice people at Bloomsbury ages ago. So something I meant to read and review a while back but the Curse of the Slump took hold, and here we are months and months later finally getting around to reading it.

So, it’s New Year’s Day 2000 and hunters in the Jura region of France find bodies lying in the snow, the result of what appears to be a mass suicide by a cult, not the first time this particular group, The Faith, has done something like this. The investigating judge, Dominique Carpentier, a specialist in religious sects both real and fake, is determined to get to the bottom of this though in some ways, apart from the tragic deaths of the children, it isn’t clear whether any crime has been committed. In pursuing this, Dominique comes across the composer Friedrich Grosz who knows more than he at first lets on. And a battle of wills gets underway.

I absolutely fell in love with Dominique, a woman of intellect and strong convictions, and at first it seems strange when she falls under the spell of Grosz, but he is also a fascinating and powerful character and I could absolutely see why she might be drawn to him.

This is a hugely enjoyable and clever (in the right way) novel which I found difficult to put down. The sense of place is very strong, especially when we are on Dominique’s home turf, and the mixture of religious belief, astronomy and music is very seductive. I wished the ending had been different but it absolutely made sense.

Beautifully written and very enjoyable, I’ve been recommending it to the Book God and Silvery Dude and frankly anyone else who will listen to see what they might think of it. No takers as yet, though.

For another perspective on this book you should visit Paul Magr’s blog where he talks through his reaction.

So the book slump looks like it’s officially over (fingers crossed) and on Monday last I met up with Silvery Dude after work and we headed off to Forbidden Planet on London’s Shaftesbury Avenue to have a wee look at what was on the shelves. In my case this was all about spending money in a bookshop for the first time in absolutely which is why I bought more than the Dudester who was looking for something for his holiday in France at the end of the month.

I had a list; didn’t find anything that was actually on that list but didn’t do too badly either:

  • Horns by Joe Hill: “now Ig is possessed of horns, and a terrible new power – he can hear people’s deepest darkest secrets – to go with his terrible new look” – ooh, murder, revenge, nastiness (signed copy too)
  • Deathless by Catherynne M Valente: Cory Doctorow says this is “romantic and blood-streaked, and infused with magic so real you can feel it on your fingertips”
  • Rule 34 by Charles Stross: “so how do some bizarre domestic fatalities, dodgy downloads and an international spamming network fit together?”

And afterwards, just because I wanted to, I bought this online:

  • The Fall by Guillermo del Toro and Chuck Hogan: “we survivors are bloodied, we are broken, we are defeated”

Not a bad haul at all, I think. Read any of them??

Bride of the Book God

Follow brideofthebook on Twitter

Scottish, in my fifties, love books but not always able to find the time to read them as much as I would like. I’m based in London and happily married to the Book God.

I also blog at Bride of the Screen God (all about movies and TV) and The Dowager Bride, if you are interested in ramblings about stuff of little consequence

If you would like to get in touch you can contact me at brideofthebookgod (at) btinternet (dot) com.

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August 2011