A quick rest stop along the road of meatier reads. This is the first of a new crime series by former police officer, current novelist and crime show w...moreA quick rest stop along the road of meatier reads. This is the first of a new crime series by former police officer, current novelist and crime show writer, Nigel McCrery. His protagonist is DCI Mark Lapslie, who suffers from synaethesia, a condition that causes him to taste sounds. Of course there is a reluctantly sexy female cohort, gorgeous English countryside and seedy but quaint villages, a snarly and odd pathologist and plenty of hard-drinking underworld sorts. All great fun for a lazy Sunday afternoon!(less)
The first half of this book read like an MTV music video version of the 17th century: gaudy clothes, binge drinking, general debauchery. I was disappo...moreThe first half of this book read like an MTV music video version of the 17th century: gaudy clothes, binge drinking, general debauchery. I was disappointed by the superciliousness of Tremain's portrait of her protagonist, Merivel. He was too much of a caricature to be sympathetic or even amusing. But I'd passed the point of no return, it's a slim book, and I retained enough faith in Rose Tremain's tremendous abilities to carry on. I'm so glad I stuck to the task, as Part 2 redeemed the book, parallel to the redemption of the facetious and sniveling Merivel (with the photo of Robert Downey, Jr. conveniently emblazoned on the book's cover, Merivel's voice ran through my head with RDJr's languidly arrogant tones- I'm sure he was perfectly cast).
To reveal more would reveal too much of the plot, which isn't all that deep, but it's worth uncovering on one's own. It won't be for me one of Tremain's more memorable novels, but the latter half restored it to satisfying historical fiction.
Mary Ward stands shivering in a Suffolk, England field in February, 1952 and realizes she is meant to be a boy. She is just six years old. Within its...moreMary Ward stands shivering in a Suffolk, England field in February, 1952 and realizes she is meant to be a boy. She is just six years old. Within its opening pages Sacred Country promises to take you on a literary journey that will be long and painful. Rest assured, it will also be beautiful and transformative.
Although Mary and her quest for her physical identity are at the heart of Sacred Country, it is a book full of souls searching for emotional purchase. Mary's mother has a tenuous grip on sanity, losing her way at intervals and regaining her footing in a nearby mental hospital; Mary's father is in danger of losing the family farm and slips further into madness borne of anger and alcohol; her brother loses his dream of becoming an Olympic swimmer because he is too afraid to dive. A village friend, Walter, dreams of becoming a country-and-western singer, but must take over the family butcher shop when his father dies. It seems that there is nothing but heartbreak in gray and lifeless post-war Britain, that the future is alive in vibrant cities and on warm continents but in rural England the past rots in small and suspicious minds.
Yet Tremain offers enough light in the gloom that hope propels you forward. Mary's awkward courage as she stumbles through her transformation from Mary to Martin makes her so lovable. And she is surrounded by a small but formidable defense of friends and loved ones: her grandfather, who accepts her unconditionally; her beloved teacher who embraces her intellect and shelters her when home life becomes unbearable; the cricket-bat maker who believes in reincarnation; his maid (who becomes his lover, then his wife) and her daughter, Pearl, who breaks Mary's heart and helps it to heal.
Rose Tremain's writing is flawless. Although this is a narrative focused on character development, the plot moves steadily forward. Although there are numerous characters and several sub-plots, there is a sense of the whole within each part. Vivid details of time and place hold you firmly in each era, the characters evolving with their age, changing with the times. The characters' senses of humor and irony clear the air that could easily turn maudlin under the pen of a less-deft writer.
This is a book about transformation, about letting go of those who cannot change and embracing those who try. Sacred Country touched me profoundly with its humanity, its hope, its brutality and its intense love. It is rare that I close a book and cry at its end. This is a rare book, indeed. (less)
A beautifully written, intense novel. It's about a middle-aged priest serving in a parish in a struggling west Scotland town who (deliberately?) throw...moreA beautifully written, intense novel. It's about a middle-aged priest serving in a parish in a struggling west Scotland town who (deliberately?) throws away all that he has built in a moment of recklessness. It's set in 2003- just after the US invasion of Iraq and travels back in time to 1968 London, when the main character was a student at Oxford and falls in love for the first, perhaps only, time.
It's sad, tragic, frustrating, fascinating- very quiet and deliberate, with an odd sense of hope and life despite its tragic twists.(less)
This was such a good read! It's set in Oxfordshire, England in the late 1970s and in various European locales during WWII. The modern story is of a yo...moreThis was such a good read! It's set in Oxfordshire, England in the late 1970s and in various European locales during WWII. The modern story is of a young single mum who learns that her mother was an agent in an ultra-secret branch of the British Secret Service during the war. Her mum reveals this truth because she is certain someone from her past has reappeared and is trying to kill her.
The contemporary sections of the novel are narrated in first-person by the daughter and the tone is quirky, sweet and irreverant, Kate Atkinson-ish. The parts set during WWII cast the reader as observer and are John Le Carre juicy spy stuff.
Again, it was a story, an approach and a set of characters that surprised me and kept me eagerly turning the page. I love a great yarn! (less)
This is a delightful confection of a novel by the daughter of lyricist Tim Rice. It's a coming-of-age story set in 1954-55 Britain- moving back and fo...moreThis is a delightful confection of a novel by the daughter of lyricist Tim Rice. It's a coming-of-age story set in 1954-55 Britain- moving back and forth from London to the narrator's crumbling mansion home in the country. To call the novel "chick lit" would be to dismiss the wonderful characterization and detailed portrait of privileged young people in post-war swinging London- where Johnny Ray was king and war was a distant memory...for some...
But A.S. Byatt it isn't! It's a sweet, easy read with snappy dialogue and gorgeous clothes. The ending is a bit pat-- of course you knew who would end up with whom-- but it still made me smile and left me with a serious jones for London, particularly the lost world of 1950's London...(less)
I'd put it on my TBR list eons ago and couldn't remember why... and the book was not at all what I expected. But I utterly enjoyed it. Banks made his...moreI'd put it on my TBR list eons ago and couldn't remember why... and the book was not at all what I expected. But I utterly enjoyed it. Banks made his name with SciFi, written as Iain M. Banks. But this story unfolded well and good on this planet. It's about a large and wealthy Scottish family that has made oodles for generations from a game not unlike Monopoly. An American firm wants to buy them out. The story centers on a family black sheep, Alban, who moves through flashbacks of his childhood and his obsession with cousin Sophie as he comes to term with feelings for family, his role in the business and his love life.
Nothing deep nor particularly literary, just an engaging-enough plot, good humor, gorgeous settings and family secrets enough to keep the pages quickly turning. A true summer book. If I lived in a place that experienced summer, that is (less)
A satisfying PD James. I agree with Chris about the wrap-up to the crime- kind of a faded ending- but a treat of a book nonetheless.
After reading a s...moreA satisfying PD James. I agree with Chris about the wrap-up to the crime- kind of a faded ending- but a treat of a book nonetheless.
After reading a several novels set in historic or just old European residences, I think I've determined what is most missing in my life: an airing cupboard. I'm not entirely certain what it is, but I feel that I need one.
So I was planning to return this to the library, throw my name back in the hold queue, and read some other books that await my attention. But I woke at 1:30 a.m., and there it was, just waiting to be opened. Which I did and now I'm hooked...Fell asleep about 45 minutes before the alarm sounded at 4:45... argh....(less)
I read this in one sitting, so I didn't spend much time musing on content and character. I enjoyed the first 2/3 immensely but (at risk of giving away...moreI read this in one sitting, so I didn't spend much time musing on content and character. I enjoyed the first 2/3 immensely but (at risk of giving away too much of the story) I wish Farooki would have remained in the UK and in the present. Zaki's detour to Deauville was tiresome and unbelieveable and the glimpse into the future utterly unnecessary.
Despite these plot stumbles, I dug her accessible and engaging writing and her ability to take the reader beyond stereotypes to show the many dimensions of a modern, multi-cultural society. (less)
A particularly rabid bout of insomnia this morning afforded me the opportunity to grind through the, ahem, FINAL 350 pages of this hefty, squirmy, fan...moreA particularly rabid bout of insomnia this morning afforded me the opportunity to grind through the, ahem, FINAL 350 pages of this hefty, squirmy, fantastical tale...wait..what? Oh, okay, it's over- I can stop thinking in Dickensian cadence and with verbosity. :)
Yep, this was quite the romp; reading 771 pages in 3 work days is a new record for me and one I won't likely compete against for a good long while- not at least until my eyes uncross and I've caught up on my sleep.
Loads has already been written about this tome and I'm too weary to dissect the plot. Not to mention the spoiler potential. I'm not even certain to whom I'd recommend this- it was just a whale of a lot of fun and sped by: don't let the size give you pause- it's a quick (i.e. a light-bodied Beaujolais, slightly chilled, great for sipping on long summer nights as opposed to winter's meatier Bordeaux) read. Like others, I'd wield a red pen to whack it down to a more manageable size, if only to give others who suffer from carpal tunnel syndrome a bit of a break. My own wrists were crying for mercy by the end.
It certainly piqued my interest in Dickens's life- his social circle, influences and beliefs. I'll be mining the Author's Notes for recommendations...
Now, to swallow a glass or two of laudanum to make it through work today. Ah, yessssss Mr. Drood- THERE you are..... ________________________________________________________
I think I'll start reading this today- we'll see- if it doesn't grab me right off, I'll return it and save for autumn, winter....(less)
Now that I've had some time to reflect and shake off the heartbreak of the ending, I'm dropping a star. Some plot points are bugging the bejesus out o...moreNow that I've had some time to reflect and shake off the heartbreak of the ending, I'm dropping a star. Some plot points are bugging the bejesus out of me. I'll be back... ______________________________________________________ Trembling as I turned the final page. Don't even know what to say. Devastated. (less)
I would have given this a solid four stars, but the final third of the book proved disappointing.
This is a new author to me; I selected the book from...moreI would have given this a solid four stars, but the final third of the book proved disappointing.
This is a new author to me; I selected the book from the New Reads shelf at my local purely on the author's name- Morag is one of my favorites (long story. Turns out she's best-known for her crime/thriller genre novels. The Night Following doesn't fit easily into this category- it's a psychological drama; there is a crime central to the plot, and another that's woven into a story-within-the-story, but the stories are not of the detective novel variety.
What earned my appreciation and rapid devouring of the book was the believable, empathetic portrayal of a woman unraveling under profound depression and the heartbreaking behaviors that result from guilt and grief. It's very reminiscent of William Trevor-characters wobbling on the edge of sanity, seeking each other out for validation. It is original, clever, and the secondary story is at least as engrossing as the primary.
But alas. It's a personal taste thing, I suppose. I have little patience for the bizarre and creepy that lacks a sense of humor (I loved Drood because you never lost the sense that the writer carried a wry little smile on his face as he pounded away at the keyboard). This novel slipped into a morass of moribundity and I wasn't keen to follow. It's not that I needed a happy ending- I actually rather liked the final bits, as dark as they were- I think I was hoping for some redemption and enlightenment. Or at least an acknowledgment that Prozac in small doses may provide some relief. (less)
The suspense that kept me eagerly turning the pages of this compelling and entertaining read didn't emanate...more**spoiler alert** SPOILER SPOILER SPOILER!
The suspense that kept me eagerly turning the pages of this compelling and entertaining read didn't emanate from the evils seemingly hidden in the walls of the crumbling estate, Hundreds. I'm generally not attracted to books featuring paranormal mysteries and I withhold a fifth star because of the Twilight Zone elements that set my eyes to rolling (only Stephen King has kept me up at night, afraid of my very furniture). Fortunately, the climax of haunted house bits happens so close to the end that it is in fact anticlimactic and you've already enjoyed a great story.
Waters deftly wields her suspense wand around her characters (one of which is this magnificent and tragic mansion). What held me enthralled was the relationships between the characters. Their encounters, memories & conversations as seen through the perspective of a hapless country doctor feel like a walk on thin ice- disaster seems imminent in this idyllic Warwickshire setting. Questions of who is suspect, who is genuine, how coded are their interactions, how real is the attraction, how dangerous is the crumbling of spirits are woven through the events that show the destructive forces of Hundreds. I wasn't entirely certain I was reading a ghost story and forgot about that premise as I got lost in the subtle power of the narrative.
Just darn good storytelling. Clap clap clap clap!(less)
Although the theme of this novel- an immigrant quixotically flailing to adapt to life in a cold, detached city- is well-trodden territory, Tremain bri...moreAlthough the theme of this novel- an immigrant quixotically flailing to adapt to life in a cold, detached city- is well-trodden territory, Tremain brings an 21st sense and sensibility to these wonderful characters.
Lev, a widower who leaves behind his mother and young daughter in an economically-doomed Eastern European village, does not have to fight the bureaucratic quagmire of his immigrant predecessors (he is, after all, a citizen of the EU), but that does not mean he is welcomed or has an easy time making his way in London. His struggles to pull himself up by those proverbial bootstraps, to create and follow a dream and decide whether it would be best for his family to relocate to the UK or for him to return home with his fortune in British pounds sterling takes the reader through this "year in the life."
Tremain is a tremendous storyteller and crafts a fully-realized man in Lev- I felt great care and empathy for him. Less so for the minor characters-I'm still trying to determine the purpose of Sophie, who was about as interesting as a Neko wafer and at least as vapid, and her weird sexual proclivities. But all in all a tender, funny, hopeful, lovely read. And great bonus of fun for foodies who love to read about the restaurant world!(less)
It's great fun to read the inaugural adventure of Edinburgh's dubiously venerable copper John Rebus. In terms of a good whodunit, this was a bit over...moreIt's great fun to read the inaugural adventure of Edinburgh's dubiously venerable copper John Rebus. In terms of a good whodunit, this was a bit over the top- secret paramilitary ops, repressed memory, little girls vanishing in the thick, damp Scottish air, sweaty hook-ups and always, always too many cigarettes and whisky chasers. But it was good to have a context for Rebus, a beginning that shed more light on his past.
This was published the year I graduated from high school, so the technology, or lack thereof, seems almost quaint. However did the gumshoes do it before CSI? Good old-fashioned street pounding is infinitely more interesting that matching up strands of DNA on a computer screen, at least to this reader! (less)