Sunday, December 21, 2014

The Job

The next installment in the Fox and O'Hare series. This time Kate O'Hare and Nicolas Fox plan a major con to entice Lester Mendenez, a major criminal wanted all over the world, into the open. He had been in hiding for many years having completely changed his appearance so they not only have to plan how to capture him but also need to first identify him. They carefully select their support team, including Kate's father, as they undertake their mission.  Not wanting to reveal too much of the plot, I can add that this is another entertaining book by Janet Evanovich and Lee Goldberg. A good holiday read.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

At Freddie's

The Temple Stage School in the 1960s supplied many of the West End theatres with child actors. The school is known as Freddie's, named after the woman who ran the school - Miss Freida Wentworth. This short novel by Penelope Fitzgerald is about the management / mismanagement of the school, about the lives of the two teachers who join the staff, about Freddie and her attempts to manipulate her contacts to keep the school afloat in a changing and challenging environment and particularly about a small selection of the children attending the school - especially Mattie and Jonathan. The book is largely about the end of an era and what can be salvaged. The many story lines are intertwined and following what is going on is not always easy, though the night after I finished reading the book I found that I was still thinking about parts of the book, particularly an outcome for Jonathan.

The good, the bad and the emus

It is amazing what you can learn reading fiction. The background for this book (part of the Meg Langslow series) by Donna Andrews is a former emu farm. Not only did I discover that there is emu farming in the United States of America but when I did a Google search I discovered a website for the American Emu Association.

Meg is asked by Stanley Denton to go with him to visit a lady living in Riverton. He has been employed by Meg's grandfather, Dr Blake, to find the woman who is the mother of his son. Stanley has discovered where her home is but he also discovers that she died recently in a fire, possibly murder. Stanley wants to interview the cousin of the dead woman but she is a recluse. As Meg bears a resemblance to the grandmother she has never known, Stanley hopes that having Meg with him might encourage the cousin to provide some information.

When Stanley is asked by Annabel to help discover who committed the murder he needs to discuss the situation with Meg's grandfather, who not only approves of extending Stanley's contract but also decides to round up and rehouse a flock of emus that were released in the area many years previously. Two further murder attempts plus another murder occur when Dr Blake and his cohorts descend on the area for the emu round-up. Meg, Stanley and the police meanwhile endeavour to discover who is committing these crimes and why.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

The Bookshop

A friend recommended books written by Penelope Fitzgerald who started her writing career in 1960. The Bookshop was first published in 1978 and was her second novel. The author's experience of having worked in a bookshop in Southwold provides the background for this book.

It was 1959 and Florence Green had lived in Hardborough on the East Anglia coast for almost ten years when she decided to open a bookshop in The Old House, a building that had been vacant for many years. It was then that Florence encountered opposition from a section of the established community - initially from the bank manager, then from Mrs Violet Gamut, a power broker in the town, who decided that The Old House should be used as a cultural centre and finally by neighbouring premises when the bookshop had partial success. However Florence did have some supporters including Mr Brundish and also eleven year old Christine who helped out in the shop. This short novel explores the challenges faced by Florence in establishing her new venture, including dealing with a poltergeist who occasionally makes his presence felt in the old building, and how she deals with them. The story is told with humour and understanding of living in a small, isolated community. A series of correspondence between Florence and a lawyer, when Violet Gamut attempts to close the business, demonstrates Florence's understanding of the situation and her place in the community.

Penelope Fitzgerald uses words economically in portraying the characters in this community, the situation in the village when the new venture is undertaken by Florence and the injustice that can occur when people try to introduce something different into an established community. Although this is a character driven book the setting of the seaside village also plays a prominent part in the unfolding of the story. In only 100 plus pages the author involves the reader in the affairs of this small community and the struggles of Florence to live life as she wishes. Parallels can also be drawn between the opposition to change in a small town, as portrayed in the novel, with opposition to change that can occur in many community groups.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Hello from the Gillespies

The catalyst for this novel is the Christmas letter that Angela Gillespie circulates to a growing circle of friends on 1 December each year. The letter always lists the good times being had by all the family members, however this year has not been a particularly good year and writing a cheery letter is difficult. Instead she writes about how she really feels and what she thinks of family members. Angela never intended sending the email, however when she leaves the computer to attend to a family emergency another family member decides to help her and, without reading the email, presses the Send button.

The novel is about family, especially families functioning under pressure. It is also about communication or more correctly lack of communication between family members. The Gillespie family depends on Angela to keep them functioning but this leaves her with no time to be herself. It is only when she is removed from the family for a time that the other members of this at times dysfunctional family begin to re-evaluate their lives and values. Genealogy research is also forms a sub-plot throughout the book.

I thoroughly enjoyed reading this family saga set in rural South Australia written by Monica McInerney. The Gillespies certainly have their problems but the story of how they individually approach the challenges of life is told with humour and understanding. If nothing else, you will view Christmas emails in a different light. As December approaches I must start thinking about what I will include this year.

As a postscript, the two blank pages midway through the book are there for a purpose.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

More Torie O'Shea mystery books

Died in the Wool is the tenth title in the Torie O'Shea mystery series of books by Rett MacPherson. When the opportunity arose to purchase the house at one time owned by the Kendall family Torie decided that the house would be ideal as the location for a textiles museum especially as as a previous inhabitant, Glory Anne Kendall, had been renowned for the quilts she crafted. Initially Torie set out to purchase of any of the quilts still on the property and enlisted the assistance of Geena Campbell to appraise the collection. The women soon discovered, however, that the house had a history and Torie needed to use her genealogy skills to unravel the true story of the Kendall family.

The eleventh (and possibly final) title in the series is The Blood Ballard. When Torie is contacted by Glen Morgan who suggests that there is an error in her family tree, Torie re-investigates her research and uncovers a long hidden family story with links to a recent murder. This title was published in 2008.

The Torie O'Shea mysteries are not just 'enjoyable reads' but also provide interesting examples as to how genealogy techniques and resources may be used to unravel mysteries - not just crime but also in general family history research.

Notes about Rett MacPherson - Yahoo Answers

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Gone Girl

Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn was published in 2013 and has been on the reservation list in the library for most of that time, so when it temporarily became available I borrowed it. The screening of the film has renewed interest in the book and the reservation list for this title has once again grown.

The plot is relatively simple. Nick comes home to find his wife, Amy, missing and the police consider Nick as the main suspect. However as the story unfolds the many twists and turns keep the reader guessing as to the outcome. The story is told in alternate chapters by Nick and Amy. The story is also revealed by the two main characters in different time-frames. In part one Nick's account begins from the day Amy disappears while Amy's account is told in segments from her diary dating back to when she and Nick first met. Later in the book the accounts run parallel to each other. We learn what is happening therefore entirely from the viewpoint of Nick and Amy. There are other characters but we only know of them when Nick or Amy refer to them.

The book is therefore largely about relationships. How well does one really know another person? It looks at the progression of a marriage over time and how well the husband and wife really understand the feelings of their partner. Amy's disappearance is investigated as a crime and and there is some suspense as different characters become suspects. However we do not really get to know the supporting characters apart from comments made about them by Nick or Amy. What we learn about Nick and Amy is also discovered by piecing together their stories and as the book progresses it is difficult to separate the fact from fiction.

I did not really like any of the characters in the book - Nick and Amy are definitely not likeable characters - and this made it difficult for me to really feel involvement with their story. However the device of alternating the two voices was good and some of the twists in the plot worked well. Generally I thought that the book was too long and it was really only determination that made me finish reading the book rather than a desire to find out what happened.

Friday, November 7, 2014

Torie O'Shea Mystery series

Between 1997 and 2008 American author, Rett MacPherson, wrote eleven books in the Torie O'Shea Mystery series. The main character in the books, Victory O'Shea, is a genealogist and local historian who uses her genealogy skills to help solve crime.

In Sheep's Clothing is number 7 in the series. When Torie, her husband and her step-father visit her Aunt Sissy, Torie is shown a manuscript that her aunt found hidden in her house. The aunt asks Torie to try and discover who wrote the manuscript and, if possible, find out what happened to the writer. Her quest not only uncovers a mystery that occurred 150 years previously but also leads to solving a more recent murder.

Dead Man Running is number 9 in the series. Torie's step-father is running for mayor against the incumbent who lives next door to Torie. When the editor of the local newspaper asks Torie to locate family trees for both candidates Torie discovers discrepancies in the information supplied by the Mayor. When a number of sinister looking men visit the town and appear to be spying on the Mayor plus a body is found on a float in the Oktoberfest Parade, Torrie is determined to find out what is going on.

Books in the cosy crime genre usually involve characters with a passion of some description - food or quilting for example. Using genealogy as a tool is the unique characteristic of this series of books.  Cosy crime books are also normally set in a location where the characters are grouped in a small community and in these books Rett MacPherson introduces the reader to an assortment of interesting characters living in, or near, New Kassel, Missouri. The main character is often, but not always, an amateur sleuth with the ability to solve the mystery. Torie is a flawed character who has the knack of sometimes upsetting people as she pursues her investigations. However if something does not appear right she persists in finding out what is happenening. Her perseverance, active community involvement and ability to work with her supporters ensure she achieves her goals.

Sunday, November 2, 2014

The Narrow Road to the Deep North

The lives of Australian Prisoners of War when building part of the Thai-Burma railway for the Japanese Army in 1943 is the background for this novel by Richard Flanagan. Dorrigo Evans, a doctor at the POW camp, endeavours to assist the malnourished men forced to work under horrific conditions to meet the deadlines set by their captors. Episodes in the story are portrayed through the experiences, not only of Dorrigo Evans, but also via some of the prisoners and also their guards and the Japanese officers. Dorrigo Evans is regarded as a hero but he is only too aware of his weaknesses. Over time he needs to come to terms with the horrors encountered in the war and also his relationships, particularly with his family. 

Life in the POW camp is the central part of the book which portrays the brutality, disease, and challenges of trying to keep alive faced by the prisoners. It also illustrates the humanity and comradeship that can survive in such extreme conditions. However the novel also focuses on Dorrigo Evans' relationship with women before and after the war, initially with Amy, the wife of his uncle, and then with his wife, Ella. Later sections of the book also reflect on lives of some of the soldiers who survive the war as well as some of the Japanese officers and POW guards.

This is a study of love and war and death and the search for truth and understanding of events beyond an individual's control. It took me a short while to adjust to the flow of the narrative but then I just had to keep reading until the end.

The title of the novel refers to a poem written by a Japanese poet, Matsuo Basho (1644-1694).

The Narrow Road to the Deep North won the 2014 Man Booker prize.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

The Rosie Effect

The Rosie Effect is the sequel to The Rosie Project by Australian author, Graeme Simsion. Don Tillman and Rosie are now married and living in New York where Don is a visiting professor at Columbia medical school and Rosie is completing her PhD as well as medical studies. When Rosie becomes pregnant Don's organised life is challenged and the book largely deals with how he and Rosie strive to adapt to the concept of impending parenthood. Don is not your 'average person' and not everyone he meets understands his way of thinking and reaction to situations. This can result in awkward situations not just for himself but also for Rosie and his friends. There are many humorous apects as well as sad moments throughout the book. At times I thought the situations in the plot were a little forced but generally I enjoyed meeting Don and Rosie again and their attempts to reorganise their lives to include a child.

Monday, October 20, 2014

The long way home

Inspector Gamache and his wife have retired to Three Pines where the inspector is recovering from wounds, both physical and emotional, received during his last case. The peace of Three Pines is having its effect until one of the inhabitants asks for his assistance. Clara's husband has disappeared and Armand, Jean-Paul and Myrna help Clara in the search for Peter. Louise Penny is interested in the development of her characters as well as the plot and in this novel we once again explore the challenges and decisions made as the members of this quartet navigate their way on their quest. The book also explores relationships, including jealousy, and the need to be able to accept the talent of others.

The sense of an ending

The sense of an ending by Julian Barnes won the 2011 Man Booker Prize. The book is divided into two sections. In the first we meet Tony Webster and three of his friends completing their final year at school and attempting to establish their views on life. They vow to stay in touch and initially meet from time to time before drifting apart. Some years later Tony learns that one of his friends has committed suicide. Over the years Tony had a number of relationships, including a not always satisfactory relationship with Veronica. Eventually he married Margaret. They had a child and twelve years later they divorced, amicably. The second section of the book occurs when Tony is sixty and he receives a small, unexpected bequest when Veronica's mother dies. Puzzled, he tries to establish why he has been remembered and also strives to retrieve part of the bequest that Veronica is withholding.

The book is about relationships. It is also about memory and how we perceive and interpret the past.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Dragon Man

Dragon Man by Australian author, Garry Disher, is the first book in the Inspector Challis series and is set on the Mornington Peninsula. A young woman is found murdered after she has been raped and before investigations can really get under way, a second woman disappears. A journalist at the local paper receives messages from the murderer which she passes on to the inspector. Running parallel with this murder investigation a number of fires have been set on the peninsula along with a series of burglaries and another, possibly unrelated, murder. Allegations have also been made about the behaviour of some members of the police. Inspector Challis strives to keep the team focused on solving this series of crimes as well as resolving some of the personal conflicts encountered by members of the team. The plot focuses on a number of the police investigating the crimes as well as several of the perpetrators. Readers therefore gain an insight into the characters of a number of the major players in the novel as they try to work out who committed the crimes.

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Chestnut Street

Irish author, Maeve Binchy, died in 2012 but over the years she wrote a number of short stories about families living in a fictional location in Dublin, Chestnut Street. The stories have now been collected together in one volume. Three of the stories in this compilation have been published previously but the remainder are new. The book provides a feeling of community as the relationships of people living in Chestnut Street are explored. Some of the characters appear in more than one story which helps to re-enforce that the book is not just about isolated families but about a neighbourhood. Whether the stories are happy or sad they portray a group of people trying to make the best out of what life has dealt them.

Friday, October 10, 2014

Chief Inspector Armand Gamache books

A number of posts in this blog have been about books written by Canadian writer, Louise Penny. Although they can be read in random order, the Armand Gamache series of books really need to be read in sequence:
  1. Still Life
  2. A Fatal Grace (also known as Dead Cold)
  3. The Cruelest Month
  4. A Rule Against Murder (also known as The Murder Stone)
  5. The Brutal Telling
  6. Bury Your Dead
  7. A Trick of the Light
  8. The Beautiful Mystery
  9. How the Light Gets In
  10. The Long Way Home
  11. The Nature of the Beast
For more information about these books see the official website of Louise Penny

Sunday, October 5, 2014

The Children Act

Fiona Maye is a High Court Judge in the family court. She is approaching 60 and has been married to Jack for 30 years. Reasonably happily she thought until one night Jack asked for her permission for him to have an affair. This leads Fiona to reevaluate her relationship with Jack and also to involve herself more than ever in her work.

Working in the family court Fiona regularly deals with the problems of others - people going through a messy divorce, custody battles, children being removed from the country illegally for instance. Then she has a case in which she needs to decide whether Adam, a seventeen year old boy, has the right to refuse a blood transfusion that will save his life. Adam's parents are Jehovah's Witnesses and he has been brought up to believe that having a blood transfusion is a sin. The complexities of making the decision, as well as the ramifications of that decision, form a major part of this novel by Ian McEwan.

This is a relatively short book - only 213 pages. It is beautifully written as it delves into complex relationships, difficult decisions and their consequences. This is definitely a book to try and read without interruption.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

How the light gets in

Another installment in the excellent series of Chief Inspector Gamache books by Canadian author, Louise Penny. How the light gets in ties together many of the threads from the earlier novels in this series but as the story progresses, for those starting with this title, the author provides an outline of what has happened previously. However, to get the most from this series of books, they should be read in order.

When Armand Gamache is contacted by Myrna Landers about a friend who is missing, he goes to Three Pines to hear the full story. This leads to the discovery of a murder and a story that began in the 1930s. Solving this mystery is only one of the threads in this book as internal problems in the Surete de Quebec have intensified resulting in members of Armand Gamache's team being dispersed throughout other departments in the Surete. Chief Inspector Gamache is particularly concerned about the welfare of Jean-Guy Beauvoir whose health and mental state continues to decline. With his few remaining supporters, plus the assistance of his friends at Three Pines, Armand Gamanche is determined to find out what is going on at the Surete and who is trying to destroy him, even though it may mean him losing his job and possibly his life.

Louise Penny not only writes about crime, she writes about people and the reader becomes immersed both in the story plus the lives of the characters and the often difficult decisions they have to make. A range of emotions are encountered when reading these books as the characters encounter the good and evil that makes up life. It is extremely easy to become totally involved in this world created by Louise Penny and not want to do anything else until reaching the end of the novel.

Friday, September 26, 2014

The silkworm

The second book in the Cormoran Strike series, this novel by Robert Galbraith is another murder mystery being investigated by detective and former soldier, Cormoran Strike and his assistant, Robin Ellacott. Cormoran is 35 and is a damaged person, not just physically (the lower part of one leg was amputated when serving in Afghanistan), but also emotionally as his former fiancee is about to marry. The main case investigated in The Silkworm concerns the search for the author, Owen Quine, who is reported missing by his wife. Quine has just completed his latest book and the release of the draft manuscript upsets many fellow authors and others from the publishing world as well as other associates of Quine. When Quine's body is discovered in bazaar circumstances the investigation turns into a hunt not only to discover the killer but also to find out why this has happened. Although the policeman leading the investigation is a former colleague of Strike when in Afghanistan, Strike is convinced that the police suspect the wrong person and sets out to solve the case himself.

The working relationship between Strike and Robin, who also wants to be an investigator, is further developed in this well written, fast paced mystery, adding another dimension to the novel. I have enjoyed reading the first two books in this series and look forward to the next installment in the Cormoran Strike series.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Everything I need to know I learned from a Little Golden Book

For many generations young children were read to and later read titles published by Golden Books. I vividly remember The Big Brown Bear (originally published 1944) about a bear who is warned by his wife to stay away from the bees but of course tries to get honey from the hive and ends up being chased by the bees. Badly stung, he takes refuge in the river and catches a fish for dinner.
The first Golden Books were published in 1942 and cost 25c making the purchase of these books accessible for most families. Approximately 600 titles were published over the years and many are sought after by collectors.

Everything I need to know I learned from a Little Golden Book by Diane Muldrow provides a collection of sayings or comments on modern life illustrated with pages from Golden Books.

Examples include:
Get some exercise every day - with illustration of animals exercising from the book Animal Gym (1956)
Turn off the TV from time to time - with illustration from the Naughty Bunny (1959)
Use your imagination - with illustration from Nurse Nancy (1952)
Let your children know you love them - with illustration from Baby Dear (1962)
Go fly a kite - with illustration from Chicken Little (1960)
but remember to stop and smell the strawberries - with illustration from Poky Little Puppy (1942)

It is all good fun and the illustrations bring back lots of memories even though Big Brown Bear is not included.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Top secret twenty-one

A note on the cover of this book describes Janet Evanovich as 'Queen of Kick-Ass Crime'. This is the twenty-first title in the popular Stephanie Plum series featuring bounty hunter, Stephanie Plum who with the aid of an assortment of lovers, friends and acquaintances, attempts to persuade those who missed their court appearance to return to the police station to be rebailed.

The two main plots in this book involve the attempts to apprehend Jimmy Poletti, used car dealer who sells more than used cars, and the search for the person who is attempting to kill her friend and associate, Ranger. As usual there are explosions - buildings as well as cars - over the top characters and, of course, plenty of action and laughs.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

The Scuptor's Daughter

The website - Tove - acts as a virtual museum and story of the life of author, Tove Jansson. Known for her books for children written about the lives of the Moomins, Tove Jansson also wrote a number of books, including a series of short stories, for adults, some of which have been translated into English and may be found in library collections.

The Sculptor's Daughter is a collection of short stories based on memories of the author's early life. Although not an autobiography, as such, the stories are based on events or memories of childhood. The stories provides a glimpse into the life of child living in a bohemian lifestyle on an island. Tove's father was a sculptor, Viktor Jansson while her mother was an artist, Signe Hammarsten-Jansson. The other adult who influenced her upbringing was her grandfather who was a minister so religion was to the forefront when staying with him. The stories are told of memories of life through the eyes of a child and contain a mixture of realism with fantasy. The short stories of Tove Jannson should be read slowly and enjoyed.

Travelling Light

A collection of short stories by Tove Jansson, now translated into English. The stories deal with people facing unpredictable situations and challenges -a man reluctantly travelling and forgetting the name of his hotel, an artist visiting an apartment where she once lived to find that a former friend has changed their life story, a lecturer staying in an English conclave in Spain finds herself sorting out disputes between the residents instead of the quietness that she had anticipated and a family deciding how to cope with a young visitor who disrupts their life are just a selection of the situations provided in this collection of short stories for the reader to contemplate.

Fighting on the Home Front

During the past month I have been concentrating on researching my family history research. Researching an individual or a family can often lead to undertaking research on a broader topic - in this case, women in England during the First World War.

Fighting on the Home Front: the legacy of women in Wold War One by Kate Adie (2013) is a good book for an overview of the effect of the war on the lives of women in England. With so many men fighting overseas women stepped in to keep essential services operating and also to assist with the war effort in England and overseas. Some of the work was paid but much was voluntary following on the practice of voluntary work undertaken by many women prior to the war. The skills of these women were put to good use not only in supporting the war effort but also in supporting women whose roles had dramatically changed during this period of conflict.

The Virago Book of Women and the Great War 1914-1918, edited by Joyce Marlow (1998). This is a chronological account of events that occurred from 1914 to 1918 from the perspective of women. The book contains excerpts from newspaper articles, books, diaries, correspondence, memoirs portraying the effect of the war on women in many countries, including England, involved in the fighting and the social changes that followed.

Singled Out: how two million women survived with out men after the First World War by Virginia Nicholson (2007) looks at the plight of women who had been brought up to believe that they would marry and have families but, because of the large numbers of men killed and wounded during the war, were to remain single. The book looks at stories of women who found different ways of coping in a new world and the wide reaching social changes and, sometimes, opportunities that opened for some women after the war.

Monday, June 9, 2014

28 Books You Must Read

I was interested to see this booklist from Bookworld - 28 Books You Must Read to Call Yourself Well Read - especially as I have read and generally enjoyed about half of them. The list includes children's books and books for teenagers as well as for adults. There is also a mixture of older titles as well as newer ones plus some non-fiction. Some more books to look out for when I have some spare time.
  1. Charlotte's Web by E B White
  2. Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak
  3.  The BFG by Roald Dahl
  4. Harry Potter by JK Rowling
  5. The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time by Mark Haddon
  6. The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins
  7. Tomorrow, When the War Began by John Marsden
  8. The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky
  9. The Book Thief by Marcus Zusak
  10. Cloustreet by Tim Winton
  11. Wolf Hall by Hillary Mantell
  12. The Spy Who Came in From the Cold by John Le Carre
  13. Follow the Rabbit Proof Fence by Doris Garimara Pilkington
  14. Neuromancer by William Gibson
  15. The Wind Up Bird Chronicle by Haruki Murakami
  16. A Fine Balance by Rohinton Mistry
  17. To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
  18. Persuasion by Jane Austen
  19. Animal Farm by George Orwell
  20. Catch 22 by Joseph Heller
  21. In Cold Blood by Truman Capote
  22. Guns, Germs and Steel by Jared M Diamond
  23. A Fortunate Life by A B Facey
  24. A Short History of Nearly Everything by Bill Bryson
  25. Long Walk To Freedom by Nelson Mandela
  26. The Brian That Changes Itself by Norman Doidge
  27. The Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwell
  28. Gallipoli by L A Carlyon

Sunday, June 8, 2014

Sapphire Skies

The gym that I go to is not only for exercise - from time to time it also involves discussions about books or films. Two of my 'gym buddies' were recently discussing  books by the Australian author, Belinda Alexandra, so I decided to read her latest novel, Sapphire Skies.

Belinda Alexandra's mother is Russian which helps to explain her interest in that country and the setting for this book. Lily is an Australian living in Russia. Her partner, Adam, had died from cancer and Lily decided to escape Sydney for a time as she readjusted to a life without Adam. After a bomb exploded in the underground railway near her work, Lily discovers that an elderly lady that she had befriended has been injured. Lily and her landlady, Oksana, look after the lady, who is reluctant to reveal her name, and her dog. Over time the secret of the elderly lady's life is revealed.

The story is told from several viewpoints. We learn of the life of the flying ace Natalya Azarov through the memories of Valentin Orlov and also from Natalya's perspective. Initially I found it difficult to become involved in the story as the first chapters jump from events in 2000 to events in the 1930s and back again and involved different stories - the discovery of a plane downed during World War II, Lily's life in Moscow and Natalya's life prior to the Second World War. Eventually the pattern of the stories become interwoven and the story of the role of female pilots during the war and the political intrigue when Stalin ruled Russia is powerfully portrayed. As Natalya's story is revealed Lily also comes to terms with the challenges in her life. Sapphire Skies is a novel but it introduces the reader to the horror of aspects of Russia's recent history. However it is also a story of survival and of love.

Saturday, June 7, 2014

Australia's favourite novelist?

Booktopia Blog recently conducted a survey to decide Australia's favourite novelist - You may or may not agree with their list but it may suggest some additional authors to try.

Sunday, June 1, 2014

The Summer Book

Although best known for her Moomintroll books, Tove Jansson also wrote a number of books for adults including, The Summer Book. In a collection of seemingly unrelated chapters Tove Jansson captures the essence of living on a small rugged island in the Gulf of Finland for several months over summer. The main characters are the elderly grandmother and her young grand-daughter, Sophia. The grandmother's son who is Sophia's father is also on the island but usually remains in the background.

The book revolves around the relationship between the grandmother and Sophia as they explore their island and observe the natural and often minute changes that occur over time as Spring becomes Summer and then Autumn approaches. Together they observe the sea, the small animals and insects that inhabit the island, the moss and small flowers that appear and disappear. They discuss and have differing opinions about life and religion and change. There is also the presence of death throughout the book - the death of Sophia's mother, the cat who kills small birds and animals and the approaching death of the grandmother. We see the island on warm calm days and during storms and the celebration for mid-summer. This is a beautifully written book, often philosophical, often humorous, where the small things of life matter. The Summer Book was originally published in 1972 with an English translation in 1974. The English translation was republished in 2003, two years after the author's death.

The Guardian 12 July 2003 published a detailed review of this book.

The Heist

Readers of Janet Evanovich books know what to expect but with this new series written with Lee Goldberg you can add additional action and tension. The Heist is the first book in the Fox and O'Hare series. I read the second book in the series, The Chase, before this book as that was the title that came across my path first. As you would expect, much of this book is setting the scene and introducing the reader to the cast of characters - Nick Fox (conman), Kate O'Hare who was a Navy Seal but now works for the FBI) and their team of specially chosen co-workers capable of successfully staging a con. How and why Nick and Kate are working together as a team is also explained.

In this book, Nick and Kate are charged with conning a corrupt investment banker who has retreated to a remote Indonesian island. First they must establish the location of the missing man and then persuade him to return the stolen money - obviously not an easy assignment, made even more complicated when a boatload of pirates arrive on the scene. One of the characters, Willie, describes her experiences as a great adventure and this book is an over the top adventure story with  humour thrown in plus, a few explosions and of course, a little sexual tension. All good fun.

Monday, May 26, 2014

The Death of Lucy Kyte

When Josephine Tey inherits the house in Suffolk that belonged to her godmother she does not anticipate the story that she is to unravel involving the house and local inhabitants. Josephine knew the outline of the story of the Red Barn Murder and that her godmother, Hester Lackspur, had played the role of Maria in a play about the murder. However when she discovers the draft of a book that Hester was working on Josephine becomes immersed in the story and its sinister overtones that reach into the present, including her godmother's death.
 As in her previous books, Nicola Upson interweaves real stories and people with fiction and fictional characters to produce a story that keeps the reader involved until the end.

Sunday, April 27, 2014

Murder in Mississippi

When John Saffran was in the United States recording the television series Race Relations he interviewed Richard Barrett, a white supremacist. As part of the episode Saffran decided to obtain a sample of saliva from Barrett to have a DNA test made to determine whether Barrett had any coloured heritage. Needless to say Barrett was not amused when he discovered the prank and withdrew permission for the show to be broadcast. This should have been the end of the story but when Barrett was murdered a year later Safran decided to return to the United States to follow the court case and try to determine and record what really happened and why. Saffran takes us into another world very different from Australia. The characters he encounters are generally not pleasant people but Saffran's wierd slant on life makes this generally a readable true crime book. As there is a long waiting list for the book at the library I skimmed through the second part of the book but I may have another look at it when the demand for the book dies down.

Behind the sofa: celebrity memories of Doctor Who

As part of the celebrations of 50 years since the airing on British television of the first episode of Doctor Who in November 1963, the early memories of viewing this series of programs by authors, actors, directors, comedians and people who worked on the shows have been recorded in this book. One hundred and sixty-nine contributions were made to this project which also serves as a fund-raising exercise for Alzheimer's Research UK. Each short contribution provides another aspect of the experience of watching Doctor Who, either the early series or the new version of the program, which has became an institution in many countries of the world, not just the UK. A number of the contributors make special mention of the following of the show in Australia. A book to pick up and dip into for Doctor Who fans everywhere.

Sunday, April 6, 2014

The search for Richard III the King's grave

Another book about the recent discovery of the body of King Richard III beneath a Leicester car-park. This one is written by Philippa Langley, screenwriter and member of the Richard III Society, and historian, Michael Jones. In alternating chapters the story of the discovery of the body and subsequent identification is interwoven with an account of the life and times of Richard III, including later depictions of his character by the Tudors and other non-admirers. Photographs and maps add to the story. The book provides a readable account of events that occurred in the fifteenth century. The recent discovery of the King's grave has provided additional information about the events and the man himself.

Fear in the Sunlight

On an episode of Flog It earlier this year, Paul Martin visited Portmeirion a village built on the Welsh north coat by architect, Sir Clough Williams-Ellis, between 1925 and 1975. The main setting for most of this Nicola Upson novel is Portmeirion in the year 1936. Although the village was incomplete guests stayed at the hotel during the summer and during the day tourists also paid to visit the village, making it a busy place in the warmer months of the year.

As usual, the author includes real people in her work of fiction. Josephine Tey and her friends arrange to spend a few days at Portmeirion to celebrate her 40th birthday. Also staying at the resort was Alfred Hitchcock and his wife, Alma, plus a party of their guests from the world of film. When the bodies of two of the guests are found murdered along with a probable suicide Josephine's friend, Chief Inspector Archie Penrose, carries out the initial investigation until the local police arrive. The complicated relationships between many of the guests and their connections with the local area are revealed as the investigation proceeds. A crime story with many twists and turns, involving the world of show business set in an exotic location and told by a gifted writer make this novel well worth reading.

For those interested in Portmeirion there are a number of films on YouTube including one by Jools Holland.

The Namesake

Jhumpa Lahiri has written a novel about immigration - demonstrating the variety of reactions to the difficulties faced when trying to live in a different culture. When Ashima and Ashoke leave their families in India to settle in America, Ashima finds it difficult to feel comfortable in her new country while Ashobe, with his work to occupy much of his time, has fewer problems. Gradually they build up a support group of other Bengali families living in America with whom to celebrate special events that would normally be shared with family. They also return to Calcutta every few years to maintain their ties with family in India. However their two children, Gogol and Sonia, who are born and educated in America, find the trips back to India confronting.

Much of the novel revolves around the experiences of Gogol, later Nikhil, as he struggles to live in two cultures and also discover who he really is and what he wants from his life. Perhaps this summed up towards the end of the book:
He had spent years maintaining distance from his origins; his parents, in bridging, that distance as best they could. And yet, for all his aloofness toward his family in the past, his years at college and then in New York, he has always hovered close to this quiet, ordinary town that had remained, for his mother and father, stubbornly exotic. (page 281)

This beautifully written book also looks at the importance of names when establishing our own identity. Although the book is set in the United States and India the situations explored could also apply to immigrant groups living in Australia or any other country.

Sunday, March 30, 2014

The Chase

The second book in the series co-written by Janet Evanovich and Lee Goldberg about an FBI agent, Kate O'Hare, who is 'unofficially' partnered with a fugitive on the FBI's ten most wanted list, Nicolas Fox. When the Chinese reclaim a bronze rooster on loan to the Smithsonian there is a problem. The rooster on display is a fake. Nick and Kate's task is to find a way to locate the stolen rooster and replace the fake artifact with the original. As the person who now possesses the real rooster is also the head of a major world security network the task is obviously not going to be easy. This fast moving action novel contains plenty of suspense as Nick and Kate with their team not only locate the original rooster but also seek revenge on the person who stole it.

Friday, March 28, 2014

Philomena

Earlier this year I saw the film, Philomena and I came away really angry about the treatment of young mothers and their children born out of wedlock by institutions, particulalrly the church, in Ireland in the 1950s. Reading the book on which the film is loosely based confirmed my anger. Both Philomena and her son tried to find each other but each time they visited Sean Ross Abbey theywere told by the nuns that they could not provide information about the other party. Philomena did not find any information about her son until after his death.

The film concentrates on the story from Philomena's viewpoint while the majority of the book, originally published as The Lost Son of Philomena Lee, looks at the story of her son after he was taken from Ireland, at the age of three, to live in America. Anthony, whose name was changed to Michael, had difficulty entirely accepting his new life and, although his political career led him to  holding a high position within the Republican Party, he never felt that he belonged to his adoptive family or to his new country. Michael was gay and the book also looks at the position of homosexuals in the 1980s, particulalrly with the arrival of  AIDS.

Martin Sixsmith wrote the book after studying diaries, documents, photographs and transcripts of interviews with people involved in the story of Anthony and Philomena. Although there have been changes to the adoption laws in Ireland the treatment of young mothers with illegitimate children by the church is still being investigated.

All in all a thought provoking book and film.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Duck the halls

Another of Donna Andrews' fun novels featuring Meg Langslow and her large extended family. Christmas celebrations are well underway in Caerphilly until someone releases a number of skunks in the local Baptist Church. As a result Meg is summoned to help find locations for Baptist Church events within the other churches in Caerphilly until all evidence of the skunks' visit has been removed. However when the Baptist Church choir holds a concert at Trinity Episcopalian Church, a large snake emerges from one of the decorations causing a break in proceedings until the snake is removed. Over the next few days various other animal related incidents occur creating uncertainty in the town, however when the fire brigade is called to a fire in the basement of Trinity Church and the body of a church member is also discovered in the basement the citizens of Caerphilly become concerned. Apart from the fire and the murder there are suspicions about the real identity of the Baptist Church choir master and what has happened to the goods left to the Trinity Church as part of Mrs Thornfield's Estate? Also, will Meg and Michael and their sons be able to enjoy a traditional Christmas meal together?


Sunday, March 9, 2014

Brat Farrar

When Brat Farrar is approached in the street to impersonate Patrick Ashby, who is believed to have committed suicide eight years previously, he initially refuses but eventually agrees to the plan. After extensive coaching he is ready to meet the Ashby family and claim the inheritance as the eldest son instead of his 'twin brother, Simon'. Much of the book describes the reactions of family and friends to the return of Patrick. Fortunately Brat loves horses as the family property is a horse stud and this makes it easier for him to fit into the family routine. However Simon does not hide his mistrust of Brat and the longer Brat stays with the family he realises that he is in danger. This story of suspense is also about acceptance and being part of a family. As usual Josephine Tey tells the story through the lives of her characters as well as the twists and turns of the plot.

Brat Farrar was first published in 1949. It was the basis for a gothic film, Paranoiac (1963), and later was filmed for BBC television in 1986.

Josephine Tey

Two for sorrow

Much of the plot of Two for Sorrow revolves around the hanging of two women at Holloway Prison in 1903 for baby farming, resulting in the death of most of the babies. Thirty years later repercussions from this event are still affecting the lives of families affected by the crime and its outcome.

Josephine Tey is researching the story for a novel that she plans to write and draft chapters of the book are interspersed among the chapters outlining the investigation by Detective Inspector Archie Penrose and his team of two murders which are suspected to be related to the events of 1903. One of the themes discusses the difference between fact and fiction and whether factual events should be used as the basis for a fictional work. An examination of friendship between men and women as well as between women is another theme in the book. This book by Nicola Upson has almost 500 pages but I found that I was so involved in the intricacies of the plot that I had to keep reading.

Silent kill

This is Peter Corris' 39th book in the Cliff Hardy series. When Cliff is approached to act as security advisor to Rory O'Hara, an activist and want to be politician who is going on a month long tour to promote his views on a variety of issues, he looks forward to some constant employment. Unfortunately the tour gets off to a bad start leaving Cliff without a job until he employed to locate the person who killed the daughter of a Korean businessman. The book has plenty of action with kidnapping, murder, and Cliff travelling long distances across Australia to locate the killer. Complications arise as it is dicovered that others also want the killer found and eliminated.

Sunday, February 16, 2014

The Battle for Lone Pine

Subtitled Four days of hell at the heart of Gallipoli, this book by David W Cameron recounts the events of the four days from 6 August to 9 August 1915. There were two thousand, two hundred and seventy-seven Australian casualties during the four days with more than 8oo dead. It was estimated that there were more than five thousand Turkish casualties. The battle can be described as a blood bath.

Based on diary entries, correspondence and official reports such as those noted by Charles Bean this is a very human account of the lead up to the battle as well as the four days when the battle took place as experienced by those involved. As we remember the Centenary of World War I this book provides a telling reminder of the sacrifice of  young lives at the Battle of Lone Pine.

Mapping the First World War

The Great War through maps from 1914-1918. The Imperial War Museum in London has in its collection maps documenting war zones and maps used in war. A selection of these maps, along with photographs, is used to show the history of the First World War. Types of maps vary from those showing country boundaries, maps showing key battles, trench maps and maps from newspapers and propaganda. Battles include those at Gallipoli, the Middle East and the Western Front. With chapters arranged in chronological order this book by Peter Chasseaud provides an informative interpretation of the story of a world at war.

Deal me out

This is an early title in the Cliff Hardy series by Peter Corris. It was first published in 1986. Cliff is hired to locate a car that has been stolen from a car hire firm. He discovers that the person who took the car is known to him, William Mountain, but he also discovers that Mountain is missing. Mountain's girlfriend is also looking for him and works with Cliff to try and locate him. It soon becomes obvious that they are not the only people looking for William Mountain and the search is becoming dangerous. Murder and hostage taking are only two of the dangers encountered as Hardy uncovers the deadly game that Mountain is playing. This is a fast moving Sydney based crime novel.

The Floating Brothel

Sian Rees recounts the story of the voyage of the convict ship, Lady Juliana, which travelled to New South Wales  in 1790 with 226 female convicts on board. The voyage took 309 days. The ship departed Portsmouth on 29 July 1789 and arrived at Port Jackson on 3 June 1790. The book describes life in London in the late eighteenth century, the voyage of the Lady Juliana and also provides pen portraits of some of the convicts. My great (x3) grandmother, Mary Bateman was one of the convicts on the ship. Mary, aged 14, was working as a prostitute in London when she and a fellow worker encouraged a patron under the influence of alcohol to enter the building where they worked in Cable Street and, after sex, relieved him of his watch. This event led to a new life for the girls on the other side of the world. Sian Rees has produced a readable, well documented account this part of Australia's history. A television documentary based on the book was made in 2006.

Barracuda

Christos Tsiolkas has written a novel about the fear of failure and the difficulty of living a full life after success which is not fully realised.

Danny Kelly is a swimmer. Swimming is his life and when he wins a scholarship to a school where he can work towards his goal of being an Olympic swimmer he can see his future success within his reach. Although he really does not fit in at the new school where he is an outsider he trains hard at his swimming and when he wins races he is a hero - the barracuda. When life is difficult he assures himself that he is the best.

The novel questions whether the win at all cost attitude that can exist in Australia is the attitude that we should impart to our children. Children should be encouraged to do their best but should their life revolve just around the one goal? What resources are in place if, for some reason, the goal is not achievable? What happens when the life the person has trained for has ended and the rest of life stretches ahead? How does one cope with a dramatic change in life expectations?

This is a thought provoking book which parallels real life situations where we hear of athletes' difficulties in coping with life after sport.

Angel with two faces

The second in Nicola Upson's series of books based around the novelist, Josephine Tey.

Inspector Archie Penrose has invited his friend, Josephine Tey, to holiday with his family in Cornwall. The story opens with a funeral where Archie is a pallbearer. Harry Pinching had ridden his horse into a lake and drowned. The funeral introduces the reader to the main characters and also suggests that this is a village of secrets which must be kept from Archie.

The local police invite Archie to lead the investigation which takes up much of his time. Meanwhile Josephine observes the villagers and learns some of the secrets they are trying to hide. She befriends Harry's sister, Loveday, a young girl not readily understood by most of the villagers, and tries to understand the power network that appears to exist. Archie has also been seconded to be the narrator of a play at an open air theatre and when the main character is murdered the need to find out what is really going on in the village intensifies.

This is a well written murder mystery that endeavours to uncover how events of the distant past can still affect the present.

Adventures with the wife in space

The subtitle to this book by Neil Perryman is Living with Dr Who.  In the book Perryman details his lifetime fascination with the BBC television show, Dr Who. 50 years of Dr Who was celebrated in 2013 and the show has a growing legion of fans throughout the world. Started initially as a children's show the new series of Dr Who is watched by people of all ages. There was a gap in the show from 1990 to 2005 when the new series began. There was a Dr Who film in 1996. The program has steadily gained popularity in its new incarnation. Although it is not always easy to follow the plot it is almost always entertaining. The Christmas specials have become part of Boxing Day entertainment. There have also been a number of anniversary specials.

Part of the book details a project that Peryman undertook with his wife, Sue - not a Dr Who fan , to watch all the available episodes of the first (classic) series of Dr Who. He then recorded her reactions to each episode in a blog, Adventures with the wife in space. The initial episodes were in black and white and were produced on a minute budget. The rickety sets were often  the standout. Sue rated each episode and the public often commented on her reactions.

This amusing book is not only about the project but is also an account of a young man growing up. It is also about how people can become obsessed with, in this case, a television program and its characters and how attitudes may change over time. One of Perryman's fears was how he would also react to episodes that had entertained or scared him as a child.

I purchased a copy of this book for the Dr Who fan in my family. I hope that he enjoys it.

Sunday, February 2, 2014

Australian War Memorial: treasures from a century of collecting

One of the most moving events I have experienced was at the Australian War Memorial in Canberra. It was evening and we were standing, with small candle-like torches, looking over the Pool of Reflection as the Last Post was played. It was obvious that this is a very special place.

The Australian War Memorial was opened to the public on 11 November 1941 but collecting items for the museum had been a project for much of the century. This 600+ page work by Nola Anderson celebrates the development of the collection for the Australian War Memorial. The War Memorial has displays relating to all wars and peace keeping operations in which Australians have been involved. The biggest collections, of course, relate to the First World War and the Second World War however the first military excursions include the Crimean War, the Boxer Rebellion and the Boer War. Korea, Vietnam, the Middle East and Timor are other operations covered. The Australian War Memorial uses photographs, art works, documents and artefacts (all sizes) to tell the stories of Australians in war zones. Much of the story is told using photographs of collection items to explain the involvement of Australians in world conflicts. It serves as a tribute to the men and women who have served their country when it was required.

Monday, January 13, 2014

Eyrie

The central character in the latest novel by Tim Winton is Tom Keely, an environmentalist who has lost his job and his wife and is living in a small apartment on the 10th floor of a building in Freemantle. Tom is down on his luck. His health is deteriorating and despite the encouragement and concern of his mother and sister he refuses to do anything about it. He has friends who ask after him but he has done his best to isolate himself from his past connections. One day he discovers that a neighbour on his floor lived in the same street as his family when they were both growing up. Gemma Buck looks after her six year old grandson, Kai, and despite his best intentions Tom reluctantly becomes involved with the lives of Gemma and Kai.

Location and environment are important in Tim Winton's novels. In Eyrie the description of the rooms where Tom and Gemma live and the surrounding streets of their part of Freemantle are described by Winton in detail as is the view of the water and the wharves from their balconies. The sea features regularly throughout the book and it is really only when swimming in the sea that Tom finds relief from the pressures of life. Meeting Gemma again brings back memories of their early childhood when Tom's family protected Gemma and her sister from an abusive parent. Gemma remembers Tom's parents, especially his father, as heroes and tells Kai stories about them. This creates additional pressure on Tom who feels he should also protect Gemma and Kai but is not sure that he has the willpower or strength to do so.

This is largely a novel about relationships - about Tom's relationship with his mother and sister; his relationship with Gemma and Kai plus his relationship with the memory of what his father may have done. Gemma also struggles with her attempts to bring up her grandson and to protect him from his parents. Memories of her past life contrast with the reality and challenges of her present life. The characters usually attempt to do the right thing but often it is not clear what the right thing to do really is.

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Moving among strangers

In 1965 the book, To the islands by Randolph Stow was on the Matriculation reading list. I had never read a book like this before and was particularly fascinated with the descriptions of the Australian outback and the moral issues faced by the characters. I thank my English teacher for her enthusiasm for the book and for introducing me to the works of Randolph Stow. I later read and enjoyed Tourmaline and years read Stow's children's book, Midnite: the story of a Wild Colonial Boy, with my children. Unfortunately Randolph Stow has become a neglected author in Australian literature.

I was therefore interested to read this book by Gabrielle Carey which has the subtitle, Randolph Stow and my family. Carey's mother had been a friend of Stow and the discovery of a few letters prompted the author to discover more about the life of Randolph Stow, his relationship with her family and in consequence discover much about the history of her family. To a large extent the book is about uncovering family stories that have been hidden over time. It also demonstrates the importance of not taking one person's version of events as necessarily being the truth. In her search Carey meets members of her family in Western Australia that the previous generation would have nothing to do with and that meeting provides a different interpretation of the family story. Conversely in England she needs to speak to many people who knew Stow to try and piece together the later years of his life in exile away from Australia.

After reading this book I now want to reread To the islands and Tourmaline and also another title by Stow, The merry-go-round in the sea. I also need to find our copy of Midnite so that our grandchildren can read it when they are older. The book however is also a useful example of how one can uncover the stories that are important to understanding how a family has evolved over time and actions that have affected actions of family members.

The real macaw

The real macaw is the thirteenth book in the Meg Langslow series of books by Donna Andrews. Meg wakes one morning to the sound of animals that appear to be in her house. Going downstairs she discovers a collection of animals from the local animal shelter that her grandfather and father have'rescued' and brought to her home for temporary protection. A short time later it is discovered that one of their colleagues has been murdered. To add to the complexities of life the town is facing final difficulties and many of the public buildings are about to be taken over by a financial company. Meg also discovers that a number of properties in the area may be forcibly acquired and sold. As the mother of two four month old twins Meg does not really need these additional challenges but with the help of numerous family members and friends at least some of the mysteries can be resolved.

Although it is not essential to read the books in order the later titles do contain a continuing story.  I read this title out of sequence and now have the answers to events that occurred in the next two books in the series. The wide range of characters in the Meg Langslow books always provide an entertaining read.

Saturday, January 4, 2014

Gentlemen formerly dressed

The fifth book in Sulari Gentill's Rowland Sinclair series is set in England in 1933 after Rowland and his friends have escaped from Germany. In London Rowland and his brother visit Lord Pierrepont in the hope that they could persuade someone in the British government to listen to Rowland's story about atrocities occurring in Nazi Germany. Unfortunately when they arrive at his rooms they discover that he is dead and his niece who also acts as his assistant is suspected of murdering her uncle. Rowland and his friends attempt to prove the innocence of Allie Dawe and in so doing find themselves in a world of spies and that their lives are in danger. The book is set in London in the time when appeasement with the Germans was paramount. As with her first book Gentill weaves a fictional story with historical fact providing an outline of mistrust and events occurring in the 1930s.

I have not read numbers 2 to 4 in this series but it was still possible to follow the plot, however it probably would be a fuller reading experience to read all the books in the series as published in sequence in order to fully follow the story.