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IMG_0080What’s it about?

Ursula Todd is born during an English snowstorm in 1910 and dies immediately.

Ursula Todd is born during an English snowstorm and lives.

And at key points throughout her life things happen to her or she makes choices which sometimes see her die and sometimes see her live, and also see the fates of those around her change, all running in parallel with major events of the twentieth century, particularly World War Two.

Why did I want to read this?

I like what I’ve read of Kate Atkinson’s work, most especially Case Histories (read before I started this blog so no review I’m afraid). Life After Life was consistently well reviewed and everyone seemed to be reading it all at once, especially after it won the Costa award. I knew that I was always going to read this but wanted to wait until I was good and ready  so that I could savour the book without too much chatter. And I’m glad to say it was worth the wait.

What did I think about it?

I thought this was an absolutely wonderful novel. It starts off quite sensationally with the attempted (we’re not sure if Ursula is successful on this occasion) assassination of Hitler, then leaps back to a very short chapter, really only a paragraph, describing the first time (we assume) that Ursula is born, dying before she can take her first breath as she is strangled by her umbilical cord. The throughout the book we are in a world of parallel universes, where Ursula’s life takes different paths at what we come to recognise are key points. In that sense there is a thriller element to it; what’s going to happen to her this time, at what point will the darkness of death descend and she start her story again.

Two things in particular make this work for me. The first is that we avoid Groundhog Day comparisons; not only is Ursula not living the same day over and over, but Atkinson has us picking up the story at different points.

The second is that I really like Ursula as a character and wanted her to have a long and happy life. This is a real issue in one of the strands where she is the victim of domestic violence to quite a horrendous extent, so well written that I was anxious and cringing while I read it (and just wanted to get out of the storyline as quickly as possible, just because of the power of the writing).

The most compelling parts of the novel are those around WW2, whether we are with Ursula in Germany where she has married a man who will become a member of Hitler’s inner circle, or whether we are with her in London during the Blitz. The latter is really astonishing in its recreation of what I imagine it must have been like to be bombed, really very moving. The characters around Ursula are very well drawn and themselves often affected by the different timelines, sometimes living and sometimes dying.

The key question of course is whether there is a purpose to all of this. There are points in the novel where you can clearly see that Ursula knows or suspects things ands tries to prevent them happening and ends up under psychiatric treatment. There are also hints that some of her family may have something like deja vu and get glimpses of what might have been. And the end is quite odd, leaving us with a very minor character, though I for one am not sure why, though still very affecting.

It’s one of my favourite reads of the year so far and a book that I will definitely go back to to see whether I can follow the various threads now that I know where rings are likely to end up.

So if you are one of the few people who hasn’t read this then I can highly recommend it.

 

Scan 4What’s the book about?

Directly from the blurb:

Paris. 1929. For Harris Stuyvesant, his current assignment is a private investigator’s dream – he’s getting paid to trawl the cafes and bars of Montparnasse , looking for a pretty young woman.

This is the background to Laurie King’s second novel involving Stuyvesant and his friend Bennett Grey, following on from the events of Touchstone (which I reviewed here); although I don’t think you need to have read that first it makes the relationships between the three main characters easier to understand. Stuyvesant is being paid to look Philippa Crosby who just seems to have vanished without trace, and in doing so he begins to realise the unpleasantness that lies underneath 1920s Paris and the fact that there may be a serial killer on the loose.

Why did I want to read it.

I think I’ve read every single one of Laurie King’s novels and there seemed no reason to stop now. And I liked the idea of revisiting the Paris of that time following my unsatisfactory visit there through the medium of film (namely Midnight in Paris – you can find out what I thought about that here).

What did I think of it?

I think I found this the hardest of King’s books to get going, partly because the main attraction for me is not Stuyvesant but Grey, and although we begin with him in a very tantalising way, we then leave him and leap back to Paris in one of those “48 hours earlier” type things that you often get in US crime series and which I’ve learned to spot within about 3 seconds of the opening sequence. And that was a bit unsatisfying.

I also found Stuyvesant harder to like this time round, he seemed more boorish that I remember although he does feel mildly guilty (he knew the missing girl slightly if intimately – not a spoiler, we find that our pretty early on) and of course he is suffering from lost love in the form of Grey’s sister Sarah, who of course pops up as everyone who was everyone was in Paris at that time (or so it seems).

But the book really picks up when it becomes clear that there is a pretty nasty murderer with a fiendish plot and some rather unusual friends kicking around, and of course at least one character gets kidnapped, and of course the local police are suspicious of our hero(es), and of course (not quite) every famous artist/writer/character appears or gets mentioned by someone else. Which sounds like I’m criticising but I’m really not; once all the grand guignol stuff starts it becomes a great read and I enjoyed it very much. Must have done; I stayed up until 1.30 in the morning to finish it off.

I will be very interested to see where the characters go from here.

So it’s been slightly over a month since I last posted here and something similar over at Bride of the Screen God. This was an unplanned break due largely to dealing with a range of health issues (all diagnosed and manageable but nevertheless unsettling), a heavy workload and then disappearing for three weeks on holiday in Scotland with the Book God. So I now find myself with a backlog of ten book and five film reviews which I’m hoping to sort out so that I can get back on schedule by early December. Lots of good things to read and see while I was away from the blog and although the reviews may be a wee bit shorter than normal I do want to try and cover everything if possible. Will be very interesting to see how much I’ve retained about some of the older stuff; at least one of the movies goes back to August Bank Holiday which doesn’t seem that long ago in some respects but the gap will certainly weed out those that had a lingering impact. I hope you’ll enjoy what’s coming up, especially all the RIP reads!

I liked this very much, but especially so with added Van Gogh

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The Art of Living

 

 

I had slept

Without a mosquito net

On my first day in the new city

 

Did I say slept?

That isn’t even an exaggeration

That’s an utter lie

 

The room, the cot, the night, the sounds

The earth itself

May have slept

 

Me and the mosquitoes didn’t

We fought

And I was not deadly bruised

I was totally mauled

 

The next morning saw me

At the nearest mall

Searching for a mosquito net

 

Then on every night

I would spread the mosquito net

Over my bed stead

 

And by that time

All the mosquito’s in the room

Would be inside it

 

Happily  I would close the net

Insert all the corners under the bed

And sleep on the floor

 

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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 Moon Over Soho is the second in a series of books which began with Rivers of London which I reviewed here earlier this year, and is more of the same; but fear not because that is a very, very good thing indeed.

Peter Grant is still in training as a wizard in a very special police unit in London. The repercussions on his friends and colleagues from the first story are still being felt, and because his rather wonderful boss, Thomas Nightingale, is still recovering, Peter is left a little more to his own devices.

The story kicks off when he is called to view a body which seems to be giving off a faint whiff of music, specifically jazz, which is one of Peter’s specialities because his Dad was a well-known jazz musician who hasn’t played for a while because of drugs and other things. So we are off on a trail of musicians meeting violent ends after gigs, “jazz vampires”, horrible experiments and a faceless wizard of some power. Along the way we also finds out a little more of the background to wizards in England and a tiny bit more about what exactly happened at Etterberg during the war.

Silvery Dude and I talked about doing a read-a-long as we had both enjoyed the first novel so much but a combination of my reading slump and him taking the book on holiday with him meant that he read it first (curses) but was good enough not to spoil it, just looking on indulgently when I said how much I had enjoyed it. Which I did, of course.

I’m really looking forward to the third volume to see how the wee surprise at the end develops, and had hoped that it would be out later this year but Amazon seems to be indicating that the next tale won’t be published until next spring so I’m just going to have to wait.

Was never very good at that.

But this comes highly recommended, though better to have read Rivers first.

As is traditional at this time of year, I have hit a bit of a reading slump. This is almost always due to getting back into the swing of things after my annual holiday in October; the tendency to be carrying more stuff than normal as the weather takes a downward spiral (am thinking umbrella, gloves etc.) which makes it even more difficult to read standing in my commuter train than usual; a bit more working at home (I haven’t yet found a routine that allows me to read when WaH without getting so involved that I don’t actually do any work); and this year a bit of an upswing in work activity over the past couple of weeks.

But I did manage to finish a book this morning for the first time in two weeks and that gives me hope that I can read the seven I need between now and 31 December to meet my 52 books in 52 weeks target for the first time ever.

What do you think? Will I make it?

So, today was the last proper day of our holiday and we decided to visit a place we have been to several times before, but which is one of our absolute favourites.

Dryburgh Abbey is the prettiest of the four border abbeys (the others being Kelso, Melrose and Jedburgh); it’s an incredibly peaceful setting and if you have to be stuck in the ground somewhere I can’t think of anywhere more beautiful.

Sir Walter Scott certainly thought so as this is where his tomb is, and I paid him a visit as I always do when we are here.

Tomorrow we start our tw0-stage drive home and I probably won’t have internet access so no posts until I’m back in London. By then I may even have finished reading the book I’ve slowly been working my way through all the time we have been in Scotland…..

On the home stretch now, less than an hour to go!

  • Currently reading: When Last I Died by Gladys Mitchell
  • Books finished: 4 (After the Armistice Ball, Anthropology, Nightmares & Fairy Tales: Once Upon a Time, The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie)
  • Pages read: 95
  • Running total of pages read: 966
  • Amount of time spent reading: 1 hour 25 minutes
  • Running total of time spent reading: 9 hours 25 minutes
  • Mini-challenges completed: 1
  • Other participants I’ve visited: 23 (though not always leaving comments – shame on me)

Not sure I’ll finish my las book before the end of the challenge, but going to do my best!

Mostly reporting back on TV watching this month:

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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