Not truly a sequel to A Clash of Kings, many of the events in this installment take place concurrently with the great battle besieging King's Landing...moreNot truly a sequel to A Clash of Kings, many of the events in this installment take place concurrently with the great battle besieging King's Landing at the end of the last book. A large part of the action takes place in the frozen north, in the lands beyond the wall, as the Night's Watch ride out ranging against the wildlings, introducing a new selection of characters to the vast cast.
Information gathered by the Night's Watch beyond the wall, combined with the development of Daenerys's baby dragons as she continues her journey far to the East, advances the evolution of the fantasy and supernatural elements in the books, easing them ever closer to the core of the books. I'm rather glad of this slow-burning fantasy development, as a more heavy-handed approach would have have left me feeling cold a long time ago.
Several additional characters step forward to voice chapters, becoming more rounded, ambiguous and human as a result. Again, what actions are right, honourable and fair, and which characters you should root for, becomes ever more clouded and unclear.(less)
Pellegrino recreates the romance and glamour of 1950s Rome through the life of Serafina, the eldest of three daughters brought up by their prostitute...morePellegrino recreates the romance and glamour of 1950s Rome through the life of Serafina, the eldest of three daughters brought up by their prostitute mother in a tiny flat in the Trastavere district. Determined to carve out her own path through life, Serafina ends up with a job as the personal assistant to the wife of Mario Lanza, a real-life matinee idol of the era, famed for his tenor voice.
However her dedication to caring others means she often sacrifices her own happiness, placing her at odds with those that care for her. And if you know anything of Mario Lanza's life, there are many tragedies that she has to weather before finding contentment.(less)
This is the second book in George R.R. Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire series, which I felt compelled to read after enjoying A Game of Thrones. And I'...moreThis is the second book in George R.R. Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire series, which I felt compelled to read after enjoying A Game of Thrones. And I'm still hooked; the next book is on my library lending list.
At the opening of this installment, (view spoiler)[cruel King Joffrey sits on the Iron Throne of Westeros, with his ambitious mother Cersei acting as his regent. His late father's brothers also lay claim to the crown; popular, loveable Renly with his gathered forces in Highgarden, and cold, aloof Stannis, with his small fleet on the distant island of Dragonstone. The men of the North have named their own king, Robb Stark of Winterfell, and in the icy wastes beyond there are rumblings from Mance Rayder, the King beyond the Wall. The old usurper Balon Greyjoy, the King of Salt and Rock, and his heir Theon, on the distant Iron Islands, view an opportunity to exploit. And far across the seas, Daenerys Stormborn, Mother of Dragons, heir to the Targaryen Kings, builds her khalasar and plots her restoration to the Throne. (hide spoiler)]
And clash all these kings do, both in politics and on the field of battle. As alliances are made and broken and the tides of battle ebbed and flowed, it is never made clear to the reader which side to root for. Events unfold, with devious twists and shocking turns, far darker than AGOT, and all the reader can do is hold on for the ride.["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>(less)
In the dark of a North Atlantic night passengers abandon a stricken ocean liner, the Empress Alexandra. It is 1914, with the memory of Titanic fresh i...moreIn the dark of a North Atlantic night passengers abandon a stricken ocean liner, the Empress Alexandra. It is 1914, with the memory of Titanic fresh in the minds of the characters, and the wartime torpedoing of the Lusitania still to occur. Adrift in an overloaded lifeboat, with scant provisions, and the uncertain hope of rescue diminishing by the day, the survivors form alliances and grievances, with the dawning realisation that for some to live, others must die.
The story of the survivors is recounted by Grace, as she faces trial for murder alongside two of her fellow passengers. But is Grace confused and traumatised by the exertion and exposure in the lifeboat? Was she just a passive witness manipulated into complicity? Is she deluding herself about her role in events? Or is she just as cold and scheming as the others? Rogan leaves it for the reader to conclude. (less)
I started reading this on my way to Norway to join the crew of a replica Viking ship for the summer. It details the history of Arctic exploration from...moreI started reading this on my way to Norway to join the crew of a replica Viking ship for the summer. It details the history of Arctic exploration from the Norse arrival in Greenland and Newfoundland, through the search for the fabled Strait of Anián on the west coast of North America, to the many expeditions supported by the British Admiralty through the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries, and the successful navigation of the route by Norwegian Roald Amundsen in Gjøa.
The detail provided is comprehensive, filling in the spaces around more well-known events, such as the Franklin expeditions, and gives a good account of disparities that exist between official accounts and personal correspondence for various journeys. Williams also catalogues the development of expedition field techniques and improvement of welfare standards over time, leading at times to increased successes but also overstretched confidence and greater tragedy.
However, despite my enjoyment of the subject matter, I found it hard to engage with the writing. Presenting a straightforward factual account of events, whilst freeing the text from speculation and theorising by the author, left the book rather dry and unable to hold my attention for long, disappointing with hours to fill on a long watch. The text is supported by an extensive reference and further reading section, which makes this book an excellent starting point and useful reference for further reading.(less)
The Blackhouse opens with the discovery of a mutilated body in the remote settlement of Ness, on Lewis in the Outer Hebrides. Elements of the killing...moreThe Blackhouse opens with the discovery of a mutilated body in the remote settlement of Ness, on Lewis in the Outer Hebrides. Elements of the killing appear similar to a recent case in Edinburgh investigated by Detective Inspector Fin Macleod, who is drafted in to advise on the case. Fin has ties to the affected community, growing up on the island then leaving it behind at seventeen.
I'd read the second installment of the trilogy, The Lewis Man (my review), before this one, so knew what to expect from May's writing. His vivid description of the starkly beautiful landscape, the distinctive influences of language and religion on the close-knit community, and the extraordinary tradition of the guga (juvenile gannet) hunt, raise this far above standard police procedural novels. The chapter recounting Fin's teenage experience as part of the hunting crew on An Sgeir (a fictional rendering of Sula Sgeir) is particularly enthralling, detailing the customs of a way of life now alien to most of us*, and culminating in tragedy.
The echoes of the past haunt the present, with chapters alternating between the ongoing investigation and Fin's childhood, building towards a charged confrontation and a thrilling climax, keeping the reader gripped to the end.
*I'd recommend that anyone interested in finding out more about the guga hunt look out The Guga Hunters by Donald S. Murray. May references Sula: Seabird Hunters of Lewis by John Beatty, although copies of this may be harder to come by.(less)
I really wanted to like this book much more that I actually did. It had many elements that I enjoyed: the remote setting in Western Greenland; the loo...moreI really wanted to like this book much more that I actually did. It had many elements that I enjoyed: the remote setting in Western Greenland; the looming presence of the late Norse settlers; the creeping uncertainty of a pandemic erasing the world they left behind, somewhat reminiscent of Nevil Shute's On the Beach; and the grim finality as the group compose what may their last letters home. This could have been a truly chilling horror story.
However, these points were counterbalanced by deeply unlikable characters (particularly Nina, whose snobbish, immature voice forms the bulk of the narrative), who seem wholly unsuited to the archaeological project and remote environment that frames the story. Yanni and Ben, each afforded 4 pages or so towards the end of the book for their POV, remain one-dimensional presences rather than fully-formed characters. By this point, the ghostly element of the tale is completely discarded; we never discover if there is a haunting or Nina's declining mental health triggered mass hysteria.
I was completely underwhelmed by the ending, perhaps because it returned to Nina who remained as selfish and pretentious as ever, unaltered by the experience. Her final actions seemed jarringly wrong, (view spoiler)[Yanni,the dedicated archaeologist who died rather than damage his dig in order to survive, would NEVER have approved of the act of scattering his ashes on the site, particularly in such a pristine environment, (hide spoiler)] undermining the previous events.
I felt that there were several issues with the setting that didn't quite ring true. The southern tip of Greenland is far south of the Arctic Circle, Cape Farewell being around the same latitude as the Orkney islands or Stavanger in Norway, which get around 6 hours of light at the winter solstice. Even as far north as Nuuk, there is still 4 hours of light at the solstice. The timescale and description in the book just doesn't seem to match the reality of the setting.
The premise of the book seemed excellent, however I felt it was sorely let down in the execution, and left me feeling disappointed and unsatisfied. I'd recommend Dark Matter by Michelle Paver rather than this.
Around the World = Greenland.["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>(less)
I don't usually read in the fantasy genre (I'll admit that I came to this book after watching the TV series), but Martin's world is low on sorcery and...moreI don't usually read in the fantasy genre (I'll admit that I came to this book after watching the TV series), but Martin's world is low on sorcery and high on swords, and the wide cast of characters are well-developed, multi-dimensional and ambiguous. This is a fantasy with no hero, perhaps even no true protagonists and antagonists. Focus shifts back and forth between several main players, particularly the members of the Stark family, as the timeline progresses, giving the feel of a sweeping historical epic, and keeping me absorbed in the unfolding drama.
The main storyline took a while to get going, and despite the doorstopping volume of writing, actual action is rather slight, reminding you that this is only the first installment of a cycle. A number of threads are left hanging for the rest of the series, and I can't wait to see what Martin weaves for the characters surviving this first round of the game.(less)
Part of the Cannongate Myths series, this differs from the others I've read. Where other authors re-imagined and re-interpreted myths for a modern era...morePart of the Cannongate Myths series, this differs from the others I've read. Where other authors re-imagined and re-interpreted myths for a modern era, Byatt tells the story of her own discovery of the Norse myths, from the creation of the world to its inevitable destruction, through story of the thin child evacuated from the realities of World War II in the city to a bucolic idyll. As the waif reads, Byatt retells in beautiful, lyrical language, absorbing the reader as the child is absorbed. (less)
I greatly enjoyed this reading this book, with the vast scope and abundance of facts taking in many facets of the Atlantic: the geology of its formati...moreI greatly enjoyed this reading this book, with the vast scope and abundance of facts taking in many facets of the Atlantic: the geology of its formation and ultimate demise; the exploration that defined its boundaries; its military and economic history; its influence on music and the arts; the shaping of cultures on its coasts. Wound through this are tales of ships and wrecks, fishing and flying, invention and ecological destruction.
However, the opening yarn and reasoning of the structure, framed around Shakespeare's Seven Ages of Man, are rather contrived and require considerable explanation, making it a bit of a slog to get to the meat of the book. The narrative tends to leap around, with little connectivity other than overlong personal anecdote, giving a slight disorganised feel overall. I also felt the discussion of climate science rather basic, with a skew towards a sceptic position (perhaps to be more accommodating to an American audience?).
That being said, I'd read more of Winchester's works in future. The sweeping breadth of this book makes it a satisfying and leisurely wade into the waters of the Atlantic Ocean, perfect for a summer on the beach or winter's evening with the wind and waves whipping outside.(less)
The Marriage Plot is the story of Madeleine Hanna, a literature student at Brown University with a privileged background and a f...moreAround the World = USA
The Marriage Plot is the story of Madeleine Hanna, a literature student at Brown University with a privileged background and a fondness for old-fashioned romantic novels, and the two men that she must choose between; Leonard Bankhead, the brooding, bipolar, brilliant scientist (Rochester?) and Mitchell Grammaticus, sensitive, spiritual and searching for truth (St. John Rivers?).
The book contains passages of brilliant, beautiful writing, as one would expect from Purlitzer Prize-winning Eugenides, but initially these are lost amid a discourse on semiotics and literary deconstruction that feels pretentious and self-indulgent.
Madeleine's character is flimsy and lacking in the depth afforded to the male characters, existing only as a mirror to reflect their desire, the idealised vision of a woman, which made it difficult to warm to her situation.(less)
Set mostly on Cape Breton Island, Canada, Fall on Your Knees by Ann-Marie MacDonald is a vast and sprawling book...moreAround the World = Cape Breton Island.
Set mostly on Cape Breton Island, Canada, Fall on Your Knees by Ann-Marie MacDonald is a vast and sprawling book detailing the relationship of four girls, raised as sisters, and their father, against a backdrop of the events of the early 20th century, both global (WWI) and domestic (labour disputes in the mining community of New Waterford). Stories, memories, secrets and dreams intertwine to shape the lives of all involved, revealed in beautiful, lyrically descriptive prose, leaving plenty of corners for darkness, scandal and lies to fester and poison.
Towards the end of the novel, the action moves to 1920's New York and the glamour and grime of Jazz-Age Harlem, as pieces of the puzzle finally start to fall into place. The sweeping story turns up themes of race, religion, goodness, devotion and redemption.
Gone is the first book I've read by Hayder, but the fifth in her series featuring Bristol-based Detective Inspector Jack Caffrey. Despite this, it wor...moreGone is the first book I've read by Hayder, but the fifth in her series featuring Bristol-based Detective Inspector Jack Caffrey. Despite this, it works as a stand-alone police procedural novel.
It explores what must be every parent's darkest fear, that their child is taken by a stranger, before they can have the opportunity to protect them. This horror grips the reader from the outset.
The novel is well-paced, with a good storyline and thrilling scenes, but twists in the plot seemed signposted well in advance and the identity of the culprit was evident to the reader far too early on to maintain the tension of the first part of the book.(less)