Some books defy classification within a single genre, and that is true of Survival of the Fittest, a new novel by British playwright and actor Robin H...moreSome books defy classification within a single genre, and that is true of Survival of the Fittest, a new novel by British playwright and actor Robin Hawdon. Part historical fiction, part mystery, and part spiritual journey, it's based upon the private, unpublished papers of Charles Darwin and his wife, Emma. Following the recent trend of splitting plots into two or three subplots, Survival opens with depressed widower and London book dealer Maurice Aldridge, who after four years has yet to emerge from his grief over the death of his wife. Maurice relies upon his work and frequent dips into the whiskey stash in his desk to get him through the day. His routine is interrupted one morning by a visit from an American collector of rare books, who want Maurice, for a princely sum, to track down copies of the private journal of Emma Darwin, and the addendum in which the great scientist himself spells out his own beliefs about the existence of God. Both of these prizes have been the topic of rumors for 150 years, but to date, no one has managed to locate either. Maurice is in for the adventure of his life.
Interspersed between Maurice's chapters are segments from the journals of Mrs. Darwin, in which she details her deepest concerns about the spiritual well being of her husband, whom she fears (and many believe today) has imperiled his soul by daring to denying God's role in creation. She paints a vivid picture of family life, which was full of love, loss, the raising of ten children, and some very odorous scientific research, and these passages vividly portray Darwin as man rather than icon.
The third major character in Survival is writing from prison in 1951. Klaus Fuchs is a physicist who worked at Los Alamos on the development of the atomic bomb that put an end to the Second World War. During that period, he was working as a secret agent, providing the Russians with the project details, and following the war was convicted of treason and espionage. With so much time on his hands, Fuchs sets himself to describing the many reasons, most quite moral, profound and philosophical, which guided his actions.
Judging by this novel, Robin Hawdon is a fine author, his writing intelligent, clear, and engaging. His characters nearly step out of the pages, all three protagonists struggling with serious, life altering questions. Their emotions and experiences become those of the reader, and linger in the mind after the book has been closed. This is a work of fiction that could be taken as biography, and has prompted me to look more deeply into Darwin's life and work. It's also a first rate detective story, with its full share of surprises and turnabouts.
Enjoyable, thought provoking, and wholly worthwhile.(less)
Missing Susan is not a conventional murder mystery, in which the investigator tries to nab the killer. Rather, in a refreshing turnabout, the reader fo...moreMissing Susan is not a conventional murder mystery, in which the investigator tries to nab the killer. Rather, in a refreshing turnabout, the reader follows London crime expert and tour guide Rowan Rover, the most unlikely killer for hire imaginable. Rowan's preparing to lead a group of bibliophiles on a tour of sites connected with English mystery novels and crime scenes, when an American businessman approaches him with an offer he can't refuse. All he has to do is find a way to kill the American's niece,Susan, at some point during their tour, and make it look like an accident.
What follows is an almost farcical comedy of errors. Rowan likes to study scandalous murders, but he's never been tempted to commit one himself. Now, in desperate need of ready cash, he accepts the offer and begins plotting. From day one, Susan begins to drive her fellow tourists crazy, so annoying that Rowan begins to think killing her will be a pleasure. Easier said than done. Author McCrumb saves the best bits of the story for the final chapter, by which time your mouth is tired from all that smiling.
Five stars for the enjoyment factor of this imaginative and competently presented novel.
This series is built around an English cathedral community. Each book focuses on one of the major players. All of the players are present in all of th...moreThis series is built around an English cathedral community. Each book focuses on one of the major players. All of the players are present in all of the books, so the reader sees the same events from differing perspectives. Engrossing. IMO, Howatch's best work.(less)
Anyone who has lived in close proximity to animals senses that they can perceive things that humans never notice. A Cat is Watching, written in a plea...moreAnyone who has lived in close proximity to animals senses that they can perceive things that humans never notice. A Cat is Watching, written in a pleasant conversational style, has helped me to better understand my own little brood.(less)
The English Girl is author Silva's thirteenth novel featuring Gabriel Allon, the brilliant, honorable, and ruthless Israeli intelligence operative. Th...moreThe English Girl is author Silva's thirteenth novel featuring Gabriel Allon, the brilliant, honorable, and ruthless Israeli intelligence operative. The book opens with a summons from number 10 Downing Street. The PM has been conducting a secret affair with Madeline Hart, a political aide who was just kidnapped while on holiday in Corsica. Hoping to keep this potential scandal from the press, the Brits are calling in a favor, asking Allon to find and rescue Madeline. Reluctantly, and against his better judgment, he agrees. What follows is a kind of Russian doll of a situation, made up of plots within plots that grow ever more perilous,
Just as Allon is the consummate master of his trade, so too is Daniel Silva. There is no writer working today who is better at crafting a credible, mesmerizing thriller, one that reads like a James Bond movie. Allon, his wife Chiara, and his team, are by now old friends of readers, serve as the hook on which to reel us in. But Silva's secondary characters are equally three-dimensional, and in this case include the killer for hire who recently targeted Allon, the Don of the Corsican underworld, and a peasant woman who can read the future in a bowl of water and olive oil. The exotic settings, which Silva brings to life with rich detail, and the intricate plots that never grow stale or predictable, add to the enjoyment. As for the icing on these cakes, the geopolitical situations underlying all the intrigue provide the moral reason for the mayhem.
All of the Gabriel Allon novels can be read as stand-alones, but, for the richest experience, it's best to take them in order. Highly recommended for those attracted to literary thrillers.(less)
Though it's rated at the pre-school level, I've found Charlie Needs a Cloak to be useful and entertaining for kids up to third grade. In my work as a...moreThough it's rated at the pre-school level, I've found Charlie Needs a Cloak to be useful and entertaining for kids up to third grade. In my work as a museum educator, this delightful tale serves as a valuable intro to the world of pre-industrial textile production, especially in colonial America.(less)
As an inveterate visitor of ancient churches, what I've found invaluable is Visser's thorough lesson on how to read a church, especially an Italian Ca...moreAs an inveterate visitor of ancient churches, what I've found invaluable is Visser's thorough lesson on how to read a church, especially an Italian Catholic one.(less)
Merrily Watkins is a widowed mother and a new Anglican priest. She is assigned to the village of Ledwardine, near the Welsh border, once the center of...moreMerrily Watkins is a widowed mother and a new Anglican priest. She is assigned to the village of Ledwardine, near the Welsh border, once the center of English cider production, but now little more than a weekend getaway for rich folk from London. Jane, her teenaged daughter, is perplexed by her mum's career choice, but delighted because the big old vicarage has room enough for her to have her own apartment. Merrily is hoping for a peaceful transition, but her first week is anything but auspicious. Some of the residents are into reviving ancient customs, such as dancing around the "Apple Tree Man" to encourage the recovery of the orchard and cider business. Some of the newcomers (aka outsiders) are bent on presenting a church play in which "the truth" about a medieval minister is subject to dramatic examination. And Jane has fallen in with both the local folklorist and the village wild child. Then there's the disaster at her installation ceremony....
Phil Rickman is an outstanding writer, skilled at working credible plots, dialogue, characterization, and ambience. In the Merrily series, he expertly and seamlessly blends superstition, folklore, and a touch of the paranormal into the problems of modern day living. Ledwardine is a timeless place steeped in tradition, and filled with colorful inhabitants reminiscent of the traditional English "types", but most definitely real. Merrily and Jane so engaging that the reader begins to pull for them from the first chapter, as they struggle with the realization that there's much more here than meets the eye. And much of it isn't as pretty as the landscape.... (less)
Though it seems to be a secret, the city of Hartford, Connecticut has a rich architectural history. Most visitors content themselves with visiting the...moreThough it seems to be a secret, the city of Hartford, Connecticut has a rich architectural history. Most visitors content themselves with visiting the famous Mark Twain House while just passing through. In fairness, until recently there hasn't been much information published about Hartford's other treasures, but now local historian Daniel Sterner has addressed that problem with A Guide to Historic Hartford. In this well written, liberally illustrated volume, the city is divided into twelve walking tours. I've lived in this region all my life, but until perusing this guide, never knew - or even wondered - how Governor Street got its name. From the oldest extant residence, The Butler McCook House, to the first permanent triumphal arch in America, to the castle-like edifice of the Wadsworth Atheneum, Sterner has compiled an interesting compendium of some of the most unjustly overlooked locations in this three hundred year old city. Pick up a copy, leave it in your car, and the next time you're on one of its streets, check it out. A valuable resource to be sure.(less)