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
2 historical fiction
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!