Wednesday, March 31, 2010

March Reading Round Up

The girl who played with fire/ Steig Larsson
"This time it is Lisbeth Salander, the troubled, wise-beyond-her-years genius hacker, who is the focus ... of the story. Mikael Blomkvist—crusading journalist and publisher of the magazine Millennium—has decided to publish a story exposing an extensive sex trafficking operation between Eastern Europe and Sweden, implicating well-known and highly placed members of Swedish society, business, and government. On the eve of publication, the two reporters responsible for the story are brutally murdered. But perhaps more shocking for Blomkvist: the fingerprints found on the murder weapon belong to Lisbeth Salander. Now, as Blomkvist—alone in his belief in her innocence—plunges into his own investigation of the slayings, Salander is drawn into a murderous hunt in which she is the prey, and which compels her to revisit her dark past in an effort to settle with it once and for all."--Publisher's information.
Having read the first in the Millennium series last year for the Blogosphere Book Circle I actually went and bought this copy because the waiting list was too long at the library.  Plus I needed something to read on the plane.   Larsson's style is highly engaging.  He reveals things gradually and keeps the reader gripped.  This is not a series for readers of genteel crime fiction - there is brutality, guts and murky, mixed up relationships.  I really want to read the next one.  Think I'll have to buy it too!

The king's mistress / Emma Campion.
"From childhood Alice Salisbury has learnt obedience in all things and at fourteen dutifully marries the man her father has chosen for her... But merchant Janyn Perrers is a good and loving husband and Alice soon learns to enjoy her marriage. Until a messenger brings news of his disappearance and she discovers that her husband had many secrets – secrets which have now put a price on her own head and that of her beloved daughter. Brought under the protection of King Edward III and Queen Philippa she must obediently embrace her fate once more – as a virtual prisoner at Court. And when the king singles her out for more than just royal patronage she knows she has little choice but to accept his advances. But obeying the king brings with it many burdens as well as pleasures, as she forfeits her good name to keep her daughter free from hurt... But as one of the king’s favourites she brings jealousy and hatred in her wake and some will stop at nothing to see her fall from grace…" --Publisher
It took me ages to finish this one which is unusual for me since it's the genre I read the most.  It is a long story and rambles along fairly sedately.  I enjoyed it but I can't say it gripped me especially.

The girl on the landing / Paul Torday.
Michael, a middle-aged man of means, is dressing for dinner at a friend's country house in Ireland. As he descends the grand staircase, he spots a small painting of a landing with an old linen press and the white marble statue of an angel. In the background is a woman clad in a dark green dress. During dinner, Michael comments on the painting to his hosts but they say there is no woman in the picture. When Michael goes up to bed later, he sees that they are correct. This is only the first in a series of incidents that lead Michael to question his grip on reality. His wife Elizabeth is unsettled by the changes she sees in a man she originally married because he was dependable and steady, not because she loved him. Suddenly she is aware that she has never really known Michael and as he changes, she sees glimpses of someone she could fall in love with. Michael, in the meantime, is disturbed by events up at his family's ancestral home in the wilds of Scotland and by a past that he is threatening to destroy everything, and everyone, he has ever loved.~ from the blurb
I picked up this book expecting one thing and was surprised (in the end) about what emerged!  It is a story about a relationship with questions about normality and society's evaluation of what normal is.  As the story progresses, the friction between "otherness" and "normality" creates an engaging story in a wierd way.

March Book for the Book Circle 


Access road / Maurice Gee.
Auckland, N.Z. : Penguin, 2009.
ISBN: 9780143202448 (pbk.)

" As she watches her brother losing the battle with his memories, Rowan wonders how long she can keep her own past at bay. The old family home in Access Road, where Lionel, Roly and Rowan grew up, is crumbling away - but after more than fifty years Lionel and Roly are back. Rowan too, otherwise safe in her 'upper crusty' suburb, is drawn more and more strongly 'out west'. The past is dangerously alive. Clyde Buckley - violent as a boy; enigmatic, subterranean as an old man - returns to his childhood territory. What does he want? What crimes does he hide? And how is Lionel involved? Rowan must abandon safety if she is to find out . . . " --Back cover.

I must confess I haven't read a lot of Gee's work.  However, since the book circle started I've now read 2 by him and I'm interested enough to consider choosing some more by him.  Gee is probably one of New Zealand's best writers and his lyrical prose is highly evocative.  I really enjoyed his descriptive writing.

Like the previous book I read (Live Bodies), Access Road is set in New Zealand and to my amusement it appears to be set in the very suburb that I currently live in!  In fact I went looking on the map for Access Road.  (There is one up in Kumeu, but not around here).  I like reading books set in places that I've been to or know about as it gives me strong cues for my visualisation of the story.

The story revolves around the complex relationships between Rowan, her brothers, her husband and a childhood contact Clyde.  I thought it was unusual that the story was set from the viewpoint of an elderly person, though I should clarify it is unusual for me perhaps because it's not a viewpoint I read often.  There is a sinister undercurrent in the book that becomes louder and louder as the story wends it's way along.  The gradual revelation of each part of the jigsaw making up the mystery kept me turning the page.  Recommended.

Total: 4*
Historical fiction=1
Crime/mystery = 3

*Actually I read more than 4, but a lot of them were for the Book Circle books later in the year.  Just like buses they all came into the library at once!  However, last month's book The Bolter has only just arrived so I can read it over Easter.

Monday, March 29, 2010

One way to test my patience

Reliability of Teenage Hoon neighbour
moar funny pictures

That combined with his propensity for Saturday night booze ups does not endear him to me.

Thursday, March 04, 2010

February Reading Round Up

The birthday present / Barbara Vine.
It's late spring of 1990 and a love affair is flourishing: between Ivor Tesham, a thirty-three year old rising star of Margaret Thatcher's Conservative government, and Hebe Furnal, a stunning North London housewife stuck in a dull marriage. What excitement Hebe lacks at home, however, is amply compensated for by the well-bred and intensely attractive Tesham - an ardent womanizer and ambitious politican. On the eve of her twenty-eighth birthday, Tesham decides to give Hebe a present to remember: something far more memorable than, say, the costly string of pearls he's already lavished upon her. ~from the blurb
And it all turns to custard!  Very much enjoyed this mystery.  Vine (the pen name for Ruth Rendall) has some strongly developed characters from a variety of societal levels interacting together in ways that appear random at first but later intersect in surprising ways.  It is also a story of how our actions and decisions affect whole families and society.

The other queen / Philippa Gregory.
A historical novel about Mary, Queen of Scots, who is placed under house arrest with the newly-married Bess of Hardwick and the Earl of Shrewsbury. The intrigues, tangled loyalties and relationships that develop as a result of this untenable situation makes for a very interesting read.  I did find the somewhat wooden character of Bess a little annoying - she was obviously a very strong minded, capable woman in an era where women were given little acknowledgement for their skills in areas outside traditional female occupations.  I felt Gregory pinned her into a particular corner and didn't let her grow much. 

The girl of his dreams / Donna Leon.
Commissario Brunetti and Ispettore Vianello pull a body out of the Grand Canal. No one has reported a missing child, nor the theft of the gold jewellery that she carries. So Brunetti is drawn into a search not only for the cause of her death but also for her identity. His investigation takes him from the canals and palazzos of Venice to a Gypsy encampment on the mainland, as he struggles with institutional prejudice and entrenched criminality to try to unravel the fate of the dead child.~ from the blurb
The usual crime fiction.  Always enjoy Leon's writing which touches on controversial subjects and doesn't necessarily have tidy, parcelled up endings.

Song yet sung / James McBride.
March 1850. In the tense days before the Civil War, a slave breakout in the swamps of Maryland's eastern shore sets loose a riveting drama among slave catchers, plantation owners, watermen, runaway slaves and free blacks. Liz Spocott, a young runaway slave, shot and near death, is wracked by disturbing visions about the future as she lies shackled to an old woman in the prison attic of the notorious female slave-trader Patty Cannon. The ancient nameless woman reveals "the Code", a fiercely guarded cryptic means of communication for slaves on the run. Armed with an array of words that she does not understand, Liz escapes once again, but now must evade an enraged Patty Cannon and a new nemesis, Denwood Long - a troubled slave catcher and waterman, who is coaxed out of retirement to break the Code. ~ from the blurb
I enjoyed this one a lot more than Miracle at St Anna by the same author.  The author captures the flavour of the particular time period where individuals found themselves pulled in all kinds of directions depending on their beliefs and social situation.

Alice Hartley's happiness / Philippa Gregory.
Alice Hartley can no longer arouse interest in her pompous husband the adulterous professor. Then she meets Michael a student with an excessive libido and Alice discovers revenge sex and a large house suitable for conversion. Soon the house is thigh deep in women casting off the shackles of oppression but neighbours don't seem to understand. ~from the blurb
I'm not sure what I was expecting with this one.  It's entirely different to Gregory's historical fiction.  I laughed a lot at the story becaus scenarios were very amusing.  I enjoyed the way Alice stirs up the staid neighbourhood with her new age theories and ideas in particular.  A bit of enjoyable fluff, Thelma and Louise ending notwithstanding!

The sand castle / Rita Mae Brown.
It's August, 1952, and seven-year-old Nickel spends the day at the seashore with her mother, aunt, and cousin Leroy, who is recently motherless and frightened of the world around him. As the group begins work on a magnificent sand castle, the sisters try to coax Leroy out of his shell by telling stories about their own childhood trips to the shore. But Nickel's taunting of her cousin escalates, and the weight of family history between her mother and aunt rises to the surface - until a surprise attack forces them all to come together.~ from the blurb
This was really a short story I think.  Set over the period of one day, one outing where lots of family history and drama is revealed.  I felt so sorry for Leroy.  The 50's era is strongly portrayed in this one.  

Mister Pip / Lloyd Jones.
Mister Pip is a love story, a story about the meaning of names and the power of words. It is about growing up, survival and the search for clues to make sense of life. Thirteen year old Matilda lives with her mother on the Pacific island of Bougainville, which suddenly becomes a violent place: Rebels want the copper mine, which is poisoning their island, to close. They are trying to drive the redskin army, enemies from neighbouring Papua New Guinea, into the sea. The abandoned schoolhouse is overgrown with jungle. In this troubled world, Mr Watts decides he will open the school once more, and read 'Great Expectations' by Charles Dickens aloud to his students, a chapter a day. Stories flourish on the island. While the lives of Pip and Magwitch and other characters from 'Great Expectations' are transformed in their new tropical setting, the locals come to the schoolhouse to tell their own tales, about the meaning of the colour blue, about broken dreams, black birds, devil women and a dozen other subjects. In Matilda's eyes, Pip is as real as any living person. He has become her friend. She writes his name in the sand and decorates it with shells. That's where the redskin soldiers see it, and decide they must track this stranger down. Who is this Mr Pip? The search to find him will have devastating consequences for Matilda, Mr Watts and the entire village. Matilda may never stop looking for him. ~ from the blurb
I found this one hard to classify in terms of genre.  I think it's probably a coming of age story as much as survival.  It starts off quite slow but the end parts have some rather shocking events.  I liked it.  I liked the sultry, tropical feel of the book and Jones brings out the oppressive fear of the redskins rather well.

The darkness looking back / by Andrea Jutson.
Deliveries are failing to reach their targets - because the intended recipients are dead. What starts as a grisly murder without a motive turns into something more sinister, as another body is discovered. Someone wants them found; someone who wants to send a message. A serial killer is at work and his victims are women with too much love to give. To track down the avenging Cupid, Detective Constable Andy Stirling needs all the help he can get from psychic medium James Paxton. When the media get wind of Paxton's involvement, however, the manhunt rapidly becomes a circus. As pressure mounts from all sides, Paxton and Stirling must find the killer before he strikes again.~ from the blurb
This book is set in Auckland which is quite neat from my point of view.  The other interesting thing about it is that the author works in the joint library I work in... so I see her sometimes in my lunch break. :-)  I wasn't quite sure how I was going to find this book but I was pulled into the story really quickly and felt at home with it all.  It certainly has a New Zealand flavour to it.  Am definitely going to get out the sequels.

8 books total

3 crime/mystery
2 historical fiction
1 literature
2 fluff/chicklit/dunnowhattocallit

NB: have yet to get February's Book Circle book in my hands.  I'm about 3 on the list now so it's getting closer!