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Wednesday, 28 May 2014

Abridged Reading List 2014

I am behind this year, however, I shall endeavour to discuss a few of the books that I have read so far this year, and also some of the books that I intend to read.

20th Jan: The Last Kingdom, Bernard Cornwell 

I have read this book before, and when I clear some space on my reading list, I intend to re-read the rest of this series.

This is the first book in the Saxon Chronicles, and follows the start of the life of young Uhtred of Bebbanburgh, as he goes from younger son, to usurped nephew, to viking captive, to adopted viking son.

He meets King Alfred, and he is our guide as the novel takes us, via Uhtred's blood feuds (he is quite good at collecting these) through what is left of England, and the Danelaw, through the odd Shieldwall.

The book is fast paced and exciting, the characters are well written, and the reader finds themselves rooting for Uhtred, and his friends and family. The ending is left open enough to leave the reader looking forward to the next installment (The Pale Horseman), but satisfying enough for a single book read. 

I gave it 5/5


14 March: Dominion, CJ Sansom

Dominion is set in England in 1952, but it is an alternate 1950's, one in which Churchill was never Prime Minister and the appeasers surrendered to Germany in 1940. Germany is still at war with Russia, and English politics has become gradually more and more right wing, until mid-way through this book, the English Jews are being forcably removed from their homes and sent 'away'.

David, has been spying for the resistance, unfortunately, a slip up blows his cover, but he has one final job to do for the resistance, to help his old uni-friend, Frank, escape from a mental institute so that whatever it is he knows, isn't tortured out of him by the SS.

This is mainly an espionage thriller, and much slower paced that my usual fayre. It is, however, incredibly moving in parts. I wasn't keen on the relationship dynamic between David and his wife, or his affaire with Natalia, but I think that his dysfunctional marriage is rather pivotal, however the affaire doesn't detract from the rest of the plot and it was, in parts, hard to put down.

Overall 4/5


31 March: The Sleeping and the Dead, Ann Cleeves

This is a standalone murder mystery from the author of the Shetland series, and the Vera books (both now TV series').

Detective Peter Porteous has moved to a quiet backwater after (I presume) some sort of break down (which I don't remember being explained fully). During a particularly warm summer, the local lake level is lower than it has been for many years and a canoe instructor at the water-sports centre discovers a body.

The pace was rather plodding for my taste, and I found some of the leads the detective followed to be tenuous, I think a little more foreshadowing would have been better, but I still figured out who dunnit, and part of the why. 

The ending felt a little awkward, and some parts of the plot felt a little too contrived, but I wouldn't discount the author.

Only 3/5 for this one.


15 April: A Place of Execution, Val McDermid

This is a book of two parts.

Part I : 1960's Derbyshire:
Two children in the Greater Manchester area have gone missing, and when a young girl in Derbyshire vanishes in similar circumstances, young detective, George Bennett is determined not to let the journalists link the cases together. 

This part of the book is told in third person pov using George Bennet as the main protagonist, and follows the case from the initial report of the missing teenager, through to the culmination of the eventual court case.

Part II: 35 years later:
Most of the major players in the original case have moved on and the girl's mother has died. When a journalist approaches George, through his son, to be able to write a book based on the case, which has been an important precendent in later court cases. Everything is going fine, until George sends the author a note withdrawing his support, quite close to the end, and then promptly has a heart attack. All he says is that new evidence has come to light. The author then has to turn detective to try to find out what has upset George so much.

The plot itself is intricate and I worked out some, but not all of it. My biggest problem was that the two children referenced as being missing from Greater Manchester in Part I, and the boy who goes missing some time later in part I, aren't fictional. Those children were the victims of the now infamous Moors Murderers, although that wouldn't have been known when the first part of the book was set. I can see why they were referenced, but it left a sour taste for me.

Overall, I was pleased that I was able to work out some of the who, how and why (even if some of the finer details had to be spelled out to me), and I did like the ending, it genuinely worked.

I gave 4/5.

22 May: The Book Thief, Markus Zusak

I saw the film adaptation of this book before I read the book, and I loved it! As always, the book is better!

The book is mainly about a girl, called Liesel Meminger, who is a book thief (as the title suggests). However the book is told from the perspective of Death.

Liesel grows up in foster care, in Nazi Germany. Being British, I am very used to novels about WWII which depict air raid sirens, shelters and normal people trying to get through the war, the blitz and being bombed. We tend to forget that in Germany, ordinary people had exactly the same issues, along with their Communist and Jewish friends or family being persecuted. This novel discusses diverse issues, included what happened to people who didn't join the Nazi Party, people who helped Jewish people in their community, the lack of food, work and money for ordinary families, as well as the air raids, the bombings and Hitler being in charge.

At the start of the book, I found the writing style slightly odd, but it's fast paced, the characters are vivid and personable and this novel will draw you in, and make you cry for thee characters on it's pages.

5/5.

27 May: Fleshmarket Close, Ian Rankin

Where to start! So much happens in this novel, but it is all interlinked, eventually!

St Leonards has closed and DI Rebus and DS Clarke have been moved into Gayfield Square, where they are being made to feel less than welcome. They seem to be unable to find their place, and end up working diverse cases for other areas, under different lead investigators.

Rebus is helping with an apparently racially motivated stabbing on the fictional Knoxland Estate, Siobahn has been approached by a family who she has worked with before, when their 18 year old daughter goes missing. The police don't think a missing 18 year old is a big deal, but Siobahn agrees to help, unofficially. In doing so, she accidentally finds herself assisting in a muder investigation well out of town. On top of which, there is the discovery of two skeletons in a cellar on Fleshmarket Close, which both Rebus and Siobahn attended, and at which something... well, many things... are not right.

The novel then introduces the topic of immigration, through the fictional detention centre of Whitemire. Introducing new characters, and old. The plot itself was engaging, although I found myself becoming frustrated at Siobahn. I was also disappointed with the overall outcome, and how Rebus got there, as well as some parts of the missing persons resolution, which just felt rushed, and too heavily edited so that it didn't make enough sense.

Not my favourite Rebus novel, not least because most of the locations the novel was set in were fictional, and I do enjoy being lead around Edinburgh by Inspector Rebus. But not one I would recommend to someone just starting to read Rebus for the first time!

Overall 4/5.

UPCOMING READS:

I am still re-reading Elizabeth Chadwick's The Greatest Knight, as well as 12 Years a Slave by Solomon Northup and Her Privates We by Frederic Manning. I also have the second and third Miss Marple Novels (The 13 Problems and The Body in the Library, both by Agatha Christie) lined up, and Intractable Heart: A Story of Katheryn Parr by Judith Arnopp.

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