Sunday, December 29, 2013

The hen of the Baskervilles

Another humorous romp in the life of Meg Langslow as told by Donna Andrews. Meg is helping to organise the Virginia Un-Fair but when vandalism of some of the exhibits is discovered and two birds are stolen from the poultry exhibit before the fair opens she is also involved in solving these mysteries. Then the murder of the former husband of Meg's friend, Molly, poses another threat to the event. Who is the murderer and are the events interlinked? Fortunately Meg is able to enlist the help of the many members of her family in order to unravel the mysteries.

Bertie's guide to life with mothers

Another instalment in the 44 Scotland Street series by Alexander McCall Smith as told primarily through the eyes of six (about to turn seven) year old , Bertie.  This collection of short stories continues the description of the lives of a collection of people who have had an association with an apartment block in Edinburgh including Angus Lordie,  Domenica and Cyril who are visited by Antonia and Sister Maria-Fiore dei Fiori di Montagna, Matthew and Elspeth who are looking for larger accommodation to house their triplets, and Big Lou who wants to make a change in her life. The majority of the book however deals with the problems faced by Bertie. As his mother continues to control his life Bertie dreams of turning 18 when he will be able to leave home and live in Glasgow. However when his mother takes the opportunity to attend a literary festival in Dubai, Bertie discovers some freedom as his father allows him to plan his own birthday party and also attend the cub camp. These short, amusing observations of life in the city continue to be a joy to read.

A few right thinking men

Sulari Gentill has created an interesting collection of characters in this addition to Australian crime fiction. The first book in the Rowland Sinclair series was published in 2010. The plot for A few right thinking men is set in Sydney between December 1931 and April 1932. Rowland Sinclair, an artist, lives in a large house in Woollahra with three fellow artists - Ed (Edwina) a sculptor, Clyde a painter and Milton a poet. The political tensions of the early 1930s fuelled to some extent by the economic depression form a major part of the book. Fear of the possible growth of Communism in Australia sees the development of right wing movements including the Old Gard and the New Guard formed to 'protect democracy' in New South Wales. Rowland discovers that his brother is a member of the Old Guard but Rowland's friends have views tending to the left of politics. Rowland manages to continue living in his comfortable lifestyle until his uncle, also named Rowland Sinclair, is murdered. When the police investigation appears to be making little progress Rowland and his friends make their own investigations.

This was a traumatic time in New South Wales politics and Gentill portays a sense of this as Rowland investigates the identity of the people who attacked his uncle. Using the time frame of the story I found it interestingto investigate articles about New South Wales politics in Trove, including the opening of the Sydney Harbour Bridge.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

The Book Thief

I first read and enjoyed this book by Marcus Zusak when it was published in 2005. With the film of the book being released in January I decided it was time to read the book again. The story begins in 1939 in Germany when Liesel and her brother, Werner, are being taken to the home of their foster parents, the Hubermanns, at Molching on the outskirts of Munich. Werner dies on the train leaving Liesel to face her new existence alone.

 At her brother's funeral Liesel finds a book in the snow and, although she cannot read, the book becomes her greatest possession. Hans Hubermann helps Liesel learn to read so that she can eventually read her new possession, The Grave Diggers Handbook. Gradually she acquires additional books and books and reading become a key part of Liesel's existence. The Book Thief is a story of the devastation of war on ordinary people. It is a story about friendship, love, understanding and trust. It is the story of a young girl growing up in a very uncertain environment. It is a story where the narrator is Death and throughout the book Death provides his viewpoint on the futility of war and provides observations on the behaviour of humans.

Books also determine, to an extent, the telling of the story as the main sections of the novel involve the title of a book recently acquired by Liesel. The Book Thief is a beautifully written story that deserves the acclaim it has received in Australia and overseas and I found the second reading of the book just as moving as the first time I read it.

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Takedown twenty

This is number 20 in the Stephanie Plum series but this series of books continues to to be entertaining to read. The normal cast - Stephanie, Lula, Connie, Joe Morelli, Ranger, Grandma Mazur and Joe's grandmother, Bella, all take part in the action of this story about a bounty hunter attempting to apprehend clients who have missed their court appearance. There is the occasional dead body, people shooting people and cars, plenty of mishaps and near misses and general devastation when Stephanie attempt to do her job. Each book has additional outlandish characters, usually baddies, who contribute to the mayhem.

The main target in Takedown Twenty is Uncle Sunny Sunucchi who likes to kill people. Unfortunately he is Joe Morelli's godfather and the Morelli family and Uncle Sunny's neighbours and associates do all they can to protect him and hide his whereabouts. There is a large price on Uncle Sunny's head but capturing him is a challenge. Naturally there are other subplots in Stephanie's eventful life, not to mention her romantic relationship with Morelli and working relationship with Ranger.

Unusual things happen in Trenton. When looking for Uncle Sunny 'a giraffe loped past us. It continued on down the road, turning at Sixteenth Street and disappearing into the darkness.' (page 4) Lula names the giraffe, Kevin, and his reason for apparently living on the streets of Trenton is a focus as the plot unravels. This is all good fun and once again I enjoyed reading this latest offering from Janet Evanovich.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Talking about detective fiction

P D James is well known as a writer of detective fiction. In this book she discusses the writing of detective fiction, particularly British books in this genre. Authors she discusses include Arthur Conan Doyle, G K Chesterton, Agatha Christie, E C Bentley, Gladys Mitchell, Edmund Crispin, Cyril Hare, Josephine Tey, Dorothy L Sayers, Margery Allingham and Ngaio Marsh. There is also a chapter on American 'hard boiled' detective writing highlighting the work of Raymond Chandler and Dashiell Hammett. The author looks at why readers enjoy detective fiction and provides an insight into what methods authors, including herself, use to write successful detective novels.