Thursday, April 05, 2012

Reading Round Up

It's been a while since I did this so I'm just going to highlight a few that were particularly "stand out" books.  I'm on a bit of a roll at present with books set during WW1 or just after.

The marriage artist : a novel / Andrew Winer.
Searching for the meaning behind his wife's suicide with her (suspected) lover, art critic Daniel Lichtmann discovers a link to pre-World War II Vienna, forgotten artist Josef Pick, and a remarkable woman. ~ from the blurb
Interesting, poignant and explores love in a variety of situations.

To the end of the land / David Grossman ; translated from the Hebrew by Jessica Cohen.
Ora, a middle-aged Israeli mother, is on the verge of celebrating her son Ofer’s release from army service when he returns to the front for a major offensive. In a fit of preemptive grief and magical thinking, she sets out for a hike in the Galilee, leaving no forwarding information for the 'notifiers' who might darken her door with the worst possible news. Recently estranged from her husband, Ilan, she drags along an unlikely companion: her former lover Avram. Avram served in the army alongside Ilan when they were young, but their lives were forever changed one weekend when the two jokingly had Ora draw lots to see which of them would get the few days’ leave being offered by their commander - a chance act that sent Avram into Egypt and the Yom Kippur War, where he was brutally tortured. In the aftermath, a virtual hermit, he refused to keep in touch with the family and has never met the boy. Now, as Ora and Avram sleep out in the hills, avoiding all news from the front, she supplies the whole story of her motherhood, a retelling that keeps Ofer very much alive for Ora, and opens Avram to human bonds undreamed of in his broken world. Their walk has a 'war and peace' rhythm, as their conversation places the most hideous trials of war next to the joys and anguish of raising children. ~from the blurb
This was written in a slightly strange way that took me a while to get into.  I've not read many books set in this period or from this perspective so it was quite a change for me.  I can't say I really enjoyed it but the writing was quite good. 

The crimson rooms / Katharine McMahon.
"Evelyn is a young woman who has defied convention to become one of the country's pioneer female lawyers. Living at home with her mother, aunt, and grandmother, Evelyn is still haunted by the death of her younger brother James in the First World War. Therefore when the doorbell rings late one night and a woman appears, claiming to have mothered James's child, her world is turned upside down. Evelyn distrusts Meredith at first, but also finds that this new arrival challenges her work-obsessed lifestyle. So far her legal career has not set the world alight. But then two cases arise that make Evelyn realise perhaps she can make a difference. The first concerns a woman called Leah Marchant whose children have been taken away from her simply because she is poor. The second, Stephen Wheeler - a former acquaintance of Daniel Breen, her boss - has been charged with murdering his own wife. It is clear to Breen and Evelyn that Wheeler is innocent but he won't talk. After being humiliated in court, Evelyn is approached by a dashing lawyer called Nicholas Thorne. She is needled by his privileged background and old-fashioned attitudes, but despite being engaged, he cannot seem to resist sparring with this feisty young female. In the meantime, Meredith makes an earth-shattering accusation about James. With the Wheeler case coming to a head, and her heart in limbo, Evelyn takes matters into her own hands."  
Kind of twisty at the end but pretty good.  I liked the constrast between the women in the book.

Jamrach's menagerie / Carol Birch.
'I was born twice. First in wooden room that jutted out over the black water of the Thames, and then again eight years later in the Highway, when the tiger took me in his mouth and everything truly began.' 1857. Jaffy Brown is running along a street in London's East End when he comes face to face with an escaped circus animal. Plucked from the jaws of death by Mr Jamrach - explorer, entrepreneur and collector of the world's strangest creatures - the two strike up a friendship. Before he knows it, Jaffy finds himself on board a ship bound for the Dutch East Indies, on an unusual commission for Mr Jamrach. His journey - if he survives it - will push faith, love and friendship to their utmost limits. ~ from the blurb
Having read another book by this author I was glad to find this one too.  The story doesn't shy away from the more gruesome side of ship journeys.

The Scottish prisoner : a novel / Diana Gabaldon.
"London, 1760. For Jamie Fraser, paroled prisoner-of-war in the remote Lake District, life could be worse: He’s not cutting sugar cane in the West Indies, and he’s close enough to the son he cannot claim as his own. But Jamie Fraser’s quiet existence is coming apart at the seams, interrupted first by dreams of his lost wife, then by the appearance of Tobias Quinn, an erstwhile comrade from the Rising. Like many of the Jacobites who aren’t dead or in prison, Quinn still lives and breathes for the Cause. His latest plan involves an ancient relic that will rally the Irish. Jamie is having none of it—he’s sworn off politics, fighting, and war. Until Lord John Grey shows up with a summons that will take him away from everything he loves—again. Lord John Grey—aristocrat, soldier, and occasional spy—finds himself in possession of a packet of explosive documents that exposes a damning case of corruption against a British officer. But they also hint at a more insidious danger. Time is of the essence as the investigation leads to Ireland, with a baffling message left in “Erse,” the tongue favored by Scottish Highlanders. Lord John, who oversaw Jacobite prisoners when he was governor of Ardsmiur prison, thinks Jamie may be able to translate—but will he agree to do it? Soon Lord John and Jamie are unwilling companions on the road to Ireland, a country whose dark castles hold dreadful secrets, and whose bogs hide the bones of the dead."-- Publisher description.
Have to love every opportunity to read about Jamie :-)  Great mystery too.

The crimson portrait : a novel / Jody Shields. 
Spring 1915. On a sprawling country estate not far from London, a young woman mourns her husband, fallen on a distant battlefield. The eerie stillness in which she grieves is abruptly shattered as her home is transformed into a bustling military hospital. Recoiling from the chaos, unhinged by grief, the young widow finds unexpected refuge in a tender young soldier whose face, concealed by bandages, she cannot see. Their affair takes a fateful turn when she confronts--and seizes upon--the opportunity to remake her lover in the image of her lost husband. The crimson portrait is a novel of glittering surfaces that belie dark truths. Its rich cast comes into focus as the novel peels back layers of suspense and intrigue to illuminate the abiding mysteries of affinity and desire. ~ from the blurb
I have to confess I didn't quite finish this one because I was listening to the audiobook from Overdrive and my time limit expired before I quite reached the end.  That is the one thing that annoys me about Overdrive, is the inability to renew for a few days. Anyway, the writing is beautiful, the story is engaging.

And Such Great Names As These / Allen Makepeace 
The war, with its horrifying, endless slaughter on the Western Front, is the backdrop to this story of the conflicting demands of duty, loyalty and love. Dolly Weston, her husband reported missing, falls in love with a wounded army officer. To complicate things further, a deserted emerges and unhealed wounds from a bitter past are reopened. And then there is 10-year-old Joshua, drawn into the world of three people whom he comes to admire and love, but who are destined to be driven cruelly apart. ~ from the blurb
This was an audiobook too - really liked it.

The help / Kathryn Stockett. 
Limited and persecuted by racial divides in 1962 Jackson, Mississippi, three women, including an African-American maid, her sassy and chronically unemployed friend, and a recently graduated white woman, team up for a clandestine project. ~ from the blurb
Loved this book! But oh I cringed at some of the attitudes portrayed - so glad things have moved on in many places in terms of race relations, but also horrified that stuff like this still exists too.

Born wild : the extraordinary story of one man's passion for lions and for Africa / Tony Fitzjohn ; with Miles Bredin. 
"Born Wild is a story of passion, adventure and skulduggery on the frontline of African conservation. Following Tony Fitzjohn's journey from London bad boy to African wildlife warrior, the heart of the story is a series of love affairs with the world's most beautiful and endangered creatures - affairs that so often end in pain, for to succeed in re-introducing a lion or leopard to the wild is to be deprived of their companionship. Tony tells of his twenty years in Kenya with George Adamson of Born Free fame - a time of discovery, isolation and frequent danger living far from civilisation. And when he was prevented from re-introducing any more animals into the wild and made unwelcome in the country he loved, Tony had to start anew in Tanzania."--Publisher's description.
Having avidly read all of Joy Adamson's books about lions when a young teen this book was a nice insight to the conservation program from another perspective, probably one that was more revealing than my teenage self would have liked.