On the Beach – Reading List

Seeing as the idea for this blog was commenced on holiday in Greece this year when I thought, I really ought to start a reading blog, I really ought to write a brief synopsis of the books I read on holiday.  So here you go. This is especially for Clare who asked for a reading list!

Jubilee by Shelley Harris

This book was quite interesting, but didn’t really grip me. The scenes where one young character is abused are very distressing and well-written though.

Empire by Jeremy Paxman

One of the best books I have read in a long time! Fascinating and v well written. I learned a lot from this which is written in Paxman’s intelligent yet user-friendly prose.

The case of Mary Bell by Gitta Sereny

Already blogged about this.

The Inimitable Jeeves by P.G. Wodehouse

My first encounter with Wodehouse, and oh how I loved him. I laughed all day on the beach. Interestingly, my first ever gerbil was called Jeeves.

Porterhouse Blue : a Porterhouse chronicle by Tom Sharpe

Quite funny but not on Wodehouse’s scale. I felt that I ought to be ‘getting’ it a bit more than I was, like there was an in-joke I didn’t find terribly funny.

Deity – Stephen Dunne

While I wouldn’t put Steven Dunne up with Mark Billingham, he’s a gifted crime writer and DI Damen Brook is an agreeable and believable creation. The deaths of several homeless men seem initially unconnected with the sudden disappearance of some teenagers, but slowly horrifying details help Brook put two and two together, and the ending is really quite shocking – you don’t see it coming! Which is what I like most in a book. The plot staggers a little at times, and it does lose its way in the middle, but by the end of the book you are racing to read through. I enjoyed The Reaper, and would certainly read more by Steven Dunne.

The Guilty One – Lisa Ballantyne

The Guilty One is another story about a child killer of children, but its tone is absolutely original. Paul, the main character, is representing a young boy accused of murdering a peer. As court commences we go back into Paul’s past and see how he has been shaped by events in his own life.

Ballantyne has the rare gift of being able to give both adult and child utterly authentic voices. The characters are believable, and the plot taut and deep. I stayed up far past my bedtime to finish off the story and find out what happens to both the main protagonists. This is a book which will stay with you long after you have put it down. I thoroughly recommend it and look forward to reading more by this author.

The Falcons of Fire and Ice by Karen Maitland

For me Maitland has yet to top “The Company of Liars”, her first book, but the Falcons… is an improvement on “The Owl Killers” (her second), and her historical research and characters never fail to disappoint. As usual the story is full of mysticism and mystery. The supernatural is entwined with actual historical events (in this case the Spanish Inquisition and the horrific auto da fee), all the more powerful because belief in the supernatural was a lot stronger in the past.

This is the story of Isabela, who must must travel from Portugal to Iceland to find pure white falcons in order to save her father’s life (he, the Royal Falconer, is accused of killing those in his care). But members of the Spanish Inquisition are on their way to stop her, and the journey becomes fraught with peril for all involved with an unusual ending which I liked.

Maitland’s history is carefully researched and she brings the past to life, but the story doesn’t have quite the intensity of “Liars”. I enjoyed reading it but not to the extent that I couldn’t put it down. It’s a good book, but the author still has to regain the captivating magic of her first novel and unlike that I probably wouldn’t reread this one.

Stranded by Emily Barr

I haven’t read Emily Barr since “Backpack” and I really enjoyed that, so I looked forward to “Stranded”. It didn’t fail to deliver: well-written, with a strong background and good characters, it’s a highly readable if somewhat implausible story about a woman who following her divorce goes on holiday to Malaysia and is stranded (hence the title) with fellow holidaymakers on a deserted island.

The story twists and turns enjoyably and the characters are on the whole well-drawn, though one of the stories between the two Americans fails to convince, and the sub-plot doesn’t quite add up. (I’m trying not to say too much as I don’t want to give anything away.) Some of the plotting is clunky: one of the lines about a pivotal email plot (“who uses hotmail nowadays?”) feels forced and doesn’t make much sense. But don’t let these small flaws distract you, suspend your disbelief and enjoy. “Stranded” is a good holiday read (as long as you’re not in Malaysia).

The Secret Life of William Shakespeare by Jude Morgan

Jude Morgan has a gift for bringing shadowy people of the past to life, and The Secret Life is a real gem of a book, particularly for Shakespeare lovers but in fairness to anyone who enjoys a good read, particularly a historical one. Morgan writes from the viewpoint of both William Shakespeare and his wife Anne Hathaway, and brings them, their friends and family to life. I learned a lot about Shakespeare, and his family, that I had never known, and while of course this is a work of fiction and should not be taken as gospel, it’s still hugely enjoyable and informative.

She also gives us the history of many of his most famous plays, and their places in his life, giving them emotional context. You read not only about the man and his family but about his texts. I couldn’t wait to continue reading this book and will seek out more from this author.

666 Charing Cross Road by Paul Magrs

I’m not normally terribly keen on books about fantasy, vampires, witches et al – no, I haven’t read Twilight! – but I found 666 Charing Cross Road funny, readable and original. When Liza Bathory (yes, you’ll recognise the name) discovers a mysterious booksheller in London she begins ordering from them, with disasterous results; while her niece Shelley who works in a museum finds one of the most unusual artefacts comes quite startlingly to life. Something has been unleashed by Liza’s parcel, but can its evil be contained?

The book is well-written and amusing, without losing its sinister edge. Another review describes it as “unclassifiable” and I’d agree with this. Original and quirky, this is a new voice in fantasy that I look forward to hearing from again.

There But For The – Ali Smith

I really love Ali Smith’s stories. They are small snippets of life, cleverly observed and don’t appear to be about very much, but you come away from them glad that you read them. I also read The First Person, another collection of stories, by her too. Good short stories are often harder to write than novels, I think. I know authors whose novels I have enjoyed (Joanne Harris, Emma Donoghue) whose stories disappointed me. Ali Smith is not one of these.

The Bryant and May books are all tremendous fun. They are detectives working in the Peculiar Crimes Unit, and anyone who knows me knows that peculiar crimes are my most favourite of crimes! I like Fowler’s odd, offbeat spooky stories. I also read Bryant and May on the Loose and White Corridor, and look forward to seeking the rest of the series out.
I read another Fowler novel, Breathe, which was good, but not as human and enjoyable as Bryant and May. There should be gaps in the paragraph now, but I have tried editing it 5 times and it won’t work, and I’m afraid I am losing my temper now, so I am going to leave it and you’ll just have to know I did my best.

Lady Chatterley’s Lover by D H Lawrence

I finally got around to this, the 50 Shades of its day; and found it rather uninteresting. I didn’t understand any of the characters, or warm to them, and I’m afraid Mellors have a moustache absolutely killed it for me. Frankly I thought the pair of lovers, with their little garlands of flowers, remarkably silly, and Lawrence really has no idea what sex is like for a woman because he is very inaccurate (sorry to my brother if you are reading this, just pretend you didn’t see that bit).

I did however think that the book raised interesting questions about relationships based on physical attraction and whether they have long-lasting foundations; the last paragraph of the book says quite a lot on that. I am not keen to seek out more Lawrence, though I fear that says more about me than it does about him.

The Turtle Boy by Kealan Patrick Burke

This is a very odd little book, and is right up my street. It’s the first in the Timothy Quinn series, about a young boy with a most extraordinary gift. He has no idea about it, though, when he and his friend Pete find an odd boy ‘feeding the turtles’ at the local pond. Oof, it’s giving me the heebies just writing it. I am looking forward to purchasing the rest of the series.

The Hangman’s Daughter by Oliver Potzsch

I was surprised by how much I enjoyed this. The hero of the story is the local hangman who’s (believe it or not) a jolly good sort, and you can’t help but warm to him, even as he’s preparing his instruments for torture. The translation is a little clunky at times, but the historical detail is fascinating and I’ve just ordered the second in the series.

The Red Garden by Alice Hoffman

Alice Hoffman is one of my favourite authors, and another of those rare writers who captures both the art of the novel and the short story perfectly. This series of stories tells the story of a ‘red garden’ through the generations and has Hoffman’s trademark whimsy which strays just on the right side of sentimentality.

The Submission by Amy Waldman

An original and thought-provoking book about a group’s attempts to make a memorial for those lost in the 9/11 attack.  I consider this very well-written and winced on many pages, understanding where both sides of the argument regarding the winning entry were coming from.

The Mark of the Angel by Nancy Huston

A silent, secretive German woman enters into an illicit affair with a man who mends instruments. I’m sure there is much more that could be said about this book, but I didn’t find it interesting, and it left me cold. Not just the heroine Saffie’s reservation, and the fact that she and her husband get married for no reason whatsoever, but because I didn’t think the story went anywhere. It’s got good reviews on Amazon though, so pay no attention to me.

Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck

The first Steinbeck I have read, and it made me cry on the beach just as Wooster made me laugh. Steinbeck is as clever with character and dialogue as Stephen King, who I think is a master of it. The story of the friends George and Lennie warms and breaks your heart simultaneously.

Now Clare, if you can’t find something you fancy in that lot, you can pay for me to go back to Greece and spend another fortnight doing nothing but read…

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