Thursday, September 03, 2009

August Reading Round Up

A place called here / Cecelia Ahern
Since Sandy Shortt's childhood schoolmate disappeared 20 years ago, Sandy has been obsessed with missing things. Finding becomes her goal. Sandy dedicates her life to finding the missing people, offering devastated families a flicker of hope. Jack is one of those desperate people. It's been a year since his brother, Donal vanished into thin air.~ from the blurb
This book was quite fun. I enjoyed the fantastical notions the author creates. I felt it was much better than her previous novel (this month's book club book). If you didn't like PS I Love You, I think you may find this one much better. Compared to it, this book has a lot more depth to it.

The religion/Tim Willocks
Malta. May 1565. From the shores of the Golden Horn, Suleiman the Magnificent, Emperor of the Ottomans, has sent the greatest armada since antiquity to wipe out Islam's most implacable foe, the Knights of Saint John of Jerusalem, in their stronghold on the island of Malta. To the Turks the knights are known as 'The Hounds of Hell'. The knights call themselves 'The Religion'. Meanwhile, in Sicily, a disgraced and exiled Maltese noblewoman, Carla La Penautier, has been trying to return to the doomed island in an attempt to find the bastard son who was taken from her at his birth. The Religion have refused her every plea and a tormented Roman Inquisitor, Ludovico Ludovici, seeks to imprison her. But Carla recruits a notorious adventurer and arms merchant - Mattias Tannhauser - to help her evade the Inquisition and to escape on the last galley to run the Turkish blockade.~from the blurb.
Found myself getting bogged down in this one. Typically as a male author, there is a lot of emphasis on the fighting, blood and guts whereas I'm more interested in the relationships, love and feelings! The female protagonists are a bit pathetic and treated as receptacles for slaking lusts upon which gets a bit wearying after a while. I wouldn't bother with this one again.

About face / Donna Leon
At a dinner party given by his parents-in-law Comissario Brunetti meets Franca Marinello, the wife of a prosperous Venetian businessman. He's charmed - perhaps too charmed, suggests his wife Paola - by her Signora Marinello's love of Virgil and Cicero, but shocked by her appearance. A few days later, Brunetti is visited by Carabinieri Maggiore Filipo Guarino from the nearby district of Marghera. As part of a wider investigation into Mafia takeovers of businesses in the region, Guarino wants information about the owner of a trucking company found murdered in his offices. He believes his death is connected to the illegal transportation of refuse - and more sinister material - in the company trucks. No stranger to mutual suspicion and rivalry between rival Italian police departments, Brunetti is nevertheless puzzled by the younger man's paranoid behaviour. Eventually Guarino agrees to email a photo of his suspect, but by the time the photograph arrives, he himself is dead. Was he killed because he got too close? And how is it that Franca Marinello has often been seen in company of the suspect, a vulgar man with Mafia connections and a violent past?
Still like this series. :)

The last wife of Henry VIII/ Carolly Erickson
Presents a fictional portrait of the sixth wife of Henry VIII, Catherine Parr, following this alluring and resourceful woman from the intrigues and perils of Henry's court to her rivalry with Princess Elizabeth for the affections of Thomas Seymour.~from the blurb
Nice book! If you like Phillipa Gregory then this one will be of interest to you too. Good story and nice take on Catherine Parr with lots of conflict happening to keep you interested. She has written some other fictionalised accounts of various historical figures and also writes non-fiction biographies.

On Hitler's mountain: my Nazi childhood / Irmgard Hunt
An account of a woman who spent her childhood in the shadow of Hitler's famous alpine retreat, otherwise known as "The Eagle's Nest," describes her family's witness to Third Reich activities, the impact of Aryan values on their belief systems, and her membership in the Hitler Youth.~from the blurb.
Very much enjoyed this biography from a perspective we don't often see. Most of the literature on WWII tends to be from the allies POV and often written by male writers - which is fine, just pointing it out. I think it is easy to forget those on "the other side" who also lived, loved and lost. I felt sorry for the mother in this story. Obviously she had some high ideals that she hoped would be delivered by those in power but her trust was betrayed on many levels. Her daughter (Irmgard), the author of the book clearly made life difficult for her in that way that Mums and daughters do. I was also interested to read of the author's struggle with the aftermath of her upbringing and the difficulties of basic living throughout the way and after.

Gilead / Marilynne Robinson
"Reverend John Ames of Gilead, Iowa, a grandson and son of preachers, is afraid he hasn't much time left to tell his young son about his heritage. And so he takes up his pen and vividly describes his prophetlike grandfather, who had a vision that inspired him to go to Kansas and "make himself useful to the cause of abolition," and the epic conflict between his fiery grandfather and his pacifist father. He recounts the death of his first wife and child, marvels over the variegated splendors of earth and sky, and offers moving interpretations of the Gospel. And then, as he struggles with his disapproval and fear of his namesake and shadow son, Jack, the reprobate offspring of his closest friend, his letter evolves into a full-blown apologia punctuated by the disturbing revelation of Jack's wrenching predicament, one inexorably tied to the toxic legacy of slavery"—Booklist
This isn't a typical book I'd read but I found myself strangely enchanted by it all the same. One of the things I liked about it was the weaving of spiritual thoughts into the everyday living. I especially liked the thought that love bestowed is not about the worthiness of the recipient and also children bring joy to their parents just by their very existence. Both thoughts can be taken at face value but also (for those who live by faith) have a deeper meaning too.

The Principessa /Christie Dickason
Robert Cecil, Secretary of State to James I, has a problem. He owes a vast and secret debt to the Prince of La Spada, who is dying and has called in the loan - and Cecil cannot pay. To Cecil's surprise, the Prince will agree to a hostage but he wants Cecil's firemaster: Francis Quoynt, the best in his dangerous business. Cecil immediately seizes the chance, for Quoynt also serves as his spy. But an unexpected purpose waits for Quoynt who is recruited into a war of ambitions between the volatile Prince, his illegitimate son and heir and - most lethal of all - his daughter, Sofia - the Principessa.~from the blurb
A kind of fanciful story set in an imaginary country. It was okay - I enjoyed all the pyrotechnics.

Live bodies/ Maurice Gee
An Austrian Jew in a 1940s antipodean and colonial society, Josef Mandl is in harmony and in conflict with Austrians, Germans and New Zealanders alike. His story mirrors the alien experience everywhere.~from the blurb
Great yarn. Would recommend it.

Miracle at St Anna / James McBride
In a historical novel based on events at a small village in Tuscany during World War II, four African American soldiers from the 92nd Division, a band of partisans, and a young Italian boy come together to experience a miracle.
This one reminded me of the movie Saving Private Ryan. It was kind of a wierd story really. Not sure I could say I enjoyed it, but it was sort of moving in a strange way.

To Siberia/ Per Patterson
A brother and sister are forced ever more closely together after the suicide of their grandfather. Their parents’ neglect leaves them wandering the streets of their small Danish village. The sister dreams of escaping to Siberia, but it seems increasingly distant as she helplessly watches her brother become more and more involved in resisting the Nazis.~from the blurb
This was well written but a bit sad.

Blogosphere Book Circle Book of the Month

PS I love you / Cecelia Ahern

Synopsis: Holly and Gerry have a running joke - that she'd never cope without him. When Gerry dies of a brain tumour, Holly's life falls apart. But then she receives a package from Gerry - a last bequest. "The List" is a bundle of notes, each containing "to do" lists, aimed at getting her back on track.~from the blurb

I can't honestly say I enjoyed this one. I found the writing naive and without much depth which perhaps isn't surprising given the age of the author when she wrote it. The characters seem to spend most of their time partying or getting drunk which is so not my scene. The only character with any sort of depth was the brother Richard. The main character annoyed me and her friends weren't much better. Entirely predictable most of the time though the ending did have a twist which was probably the best bit about it. In fact, the two scenes that had any worthiness were those set in the newsagents. Someone needs to re-write this book - prefereably someone who has actually been married and with a bit of added maturity it could actually be rather good. Less drunk scenes, more elaboration of the Richard character's issues and realistic relationships thank you very much.

Funnily enough her second book is much better.


  1. Yay, you read "Live Bodies", Penny. That is my favourite Maurice Gee book. He certainly does tell a great yarn!

    Once again, some titles here I'm very keen to add to my must read list.

    Re. the Ahern book - I only managed a few chapters before I abandoned it. I couldn't stomach anymore. It was terrible, lol. Chick lit just isn't my genre.

  2. I've hardly done any reading lately! You put me to shame lol

  3. Wow- your reading puts me to shame too! I read - PS I love you- a couple of months ago as I reserved it from the local public library. Awful stuff- I can imagine it as a movie tho. Not my scene at all- although I read it all- very unsatisfying and predictable.

  4. Wow - how do you get through so much? Nice to know that my reaction to the Ahern book wasn't just me :)

  5. I love reading your monthly book reviews. There sounds to be a couple of books there that I might enjoy reading.

  6. Totally agree about PS I Love You.

    And how on earth do you have time to read so many books each month - I think I'm doing well when I do 3-4!