December 31, 2013

Book Review - The Dunbar Case by Peter Corris

Another Cliff Hardy installment. This is a classic of the hard bitten private detective genre. Cliff is on the hunt for some historic information from a convicted criminal. He gets involved in current murder and mayhem, reconnects with an old flame and annoys local gangsters. Taut writing and believable plotting, Cliff has still got it. Wendy

December 29, 2013

Book Review - Return to Priorsford by Evelyn Hood

This is a gentle village drama with a varied cast of characters. I am new to this series but you can catch up fairly quickly. We follow two pairs of lovers and some assorted other families through some twists and turns in a quintessential English village. There are the impoverished gentry, the struggling famer, the local store keepers and publicans in the mix. It's undemanding yet quietly satisfying. Wendy

December 28, 2013

Book Review - The Caspian Gates by Harry Sidebottom

The next installment of The Warrior of Rome story is packed full of battles, adventure and travel as Ballista and his familia experience an earthquake in Ephesus and then head for the Caucausus Mountains to rebuild the Caspian Gates, a barrier to hold the mountain passes against the marauding Alani barbarians. The author teaches classical history at Oxford University and is well versed in the period detail. More importantly, he tells a rollicking good yarn. His warriors are men who fight and kill and face death. They live with honour according to their various gods and customs. Ballista is a northerner of Germanic origin, taken as a hostage as a boy and now a veteran soldier of Rome, whose fate is unfortunately as often decided by the labyrinthine politics of the region as by his skill in fighting battles. The complicated Roman social and political structure is explained enough to let you concentrate on the fighting, the drinking and the sex, with the odd bit of philosophy thrown in. The meditations on being exiled are pertinent and thought provoking. A complete escape from the modern world and well worth a visit. Wendy

December 27, 2013

Book Review - Beseiged: siege Warfare in the Ancient world by Duncan B. Campbell

This informative volume charts the development of strategies and equipment used in besieging towns and cities in the classical worlds of Greece and Rome. Ancient texts, archaeological finds and modern re-constructions of war engines are used to explain when and how they were used. Famous generals such as Hannibal, Julius Caesar and Alexander the Great feature, with descriptions of their successful and unsuccessful attempts to subdue fortified towns. It was quite important for towns to defend themselves, because if they fell, the men were generally killed and the women and children enslaved by the victors. Filled with illustrations and extensively annotated. Wendy

December 25, 2013

Book Review - The Teleportation Accident.

This book starts out in 1930s Berlin in the louche world of theatre and art. The protagonist, Egon Loeser, is desperately in love with a girl, Adele, who seems to love every body but him. His story takes many twists and turns in this dark, funny, quirky novel. There are many characters in his book, all practicing deceptions, seeking love, studying physics, avoiding blackmail, seeking advancement, getting married and working for governments of all persuasions. Read it – you'll either love it like I did, or you'll give up very quickly. If you stay, you will be rewarded. Wendy

December 23, 2013

Book Review - The Scriverner's Tale by Fiona McIntosh

I have thoroughly enjoyed all of Fiona McIntosh's series and this one picks up the story of one of them, several generations later in time, but adding a travel to different worlds segment incorporating modern day Paris. I don't really think this one works for me. I found the exposition rather long and as it was some time ago that I read the previous series, it took a while to work out where some of the characters had their genesis. That said, the explanations to explain the back story did seem to obtrude once I found my bearings. Eventually, you do get to where the current characters'stories take off and that is quite satisfying. However, I would recommend this for interest's sake to the fans and recommend new readers to start with 'Myrren's Gift', volume 1 of 'The Quickening' series or her other series which are excellent. Wendy

December 22, 2013

Book Review - The Knitting Circle by Ann Hood

Love and loss changes a person and the way your life unfolds cannot always be predicted. Mary Baxter is dealing with a great grief. Though reluctant, she joins a knitting circle and finds that this helps her move on through the stages of her healing journey. The book has a simple premise, that people dealing with grief and loss can find a way forward through starting a simple physical process of learning to knit. The process engages the hands and distracts the brain so they can do it at a level they can manage. The more complicated stitches and patterns can be introduced gradually to match their developing functional capability. The act of creating even a simple scarf, out of a repetitive and almost meditative process is quite therapeutic. It also connects them with other people on a very unthreatening level and helps to break down the isolation of their grieving. Even getting help to unravel a tangle or rescue a dropped stitch is practice interacting with and receiving help from other people. As they start to develop knitting skills, they, in turn can 'pay it forward' and help start others on their journey. As Mary gets to know each of the other knitters, and their stories, she finds how to love and live again. This is a quiet novel of loss and grief and it made me cry. It's also a novel of healing, sharing, friendship and love. I'm glad I read it and I'm glad I have found friends who taught me how to knit. Wendy

December 21, 2013

Book Review - Keep Your Mouth Shut and Wear Beige by Kathleen Gilles Seidel

Don't you just love it because of the title? It doesn't disappoint. This is a dissection of a modern family by a penetrating but compassionate hand. The advice in the title is for a mother-in-law to be. The heroine finds that her main rival is not her future in-laws but her ex-husband's new wife. By turns funny, touching and dramatic, this is a lovely read. You may then wish to read her earlier novel 'Summer's End', another heartfelt story about blended families and what is really important about family traditions. Wendy

December 20, 2013

Book Review - Deity by Steven Dunne

This one sat at the bottom of my reading pile for a while, but what a treat when I finally got to it. Another debut novel. It is an intricately plotted combination of two investigations; one into an unidentified corpse in the river who unaccountably is missing some internal organs; and another into several missing students. The usual suspects are included, the young intelligent female, the maverick brilliant loner with poor interpersonal skills, the supervisor with an eye on the budget and the political realities. The writing is fresh however, and this is another new author to add to my list of ones to look out for. Recommended. Wendy

December 18, 2013

Book Review - Not in the Flesh by Ruth Rendell

Inspector Wexford is getting on and feels the creaks and strains of advancing age which suits me just fine as I do too!. I hope this doesn't put off younger and more active readers because Ruth Rendell is still on top of her game as the unidentified body count rises. Strong police procedural although she does rather telegraph some of the answers. Wendy

Book Review - The Cleaner of Chartres by Sally Vickers

The cleaner has a troubled background but has the capacity to see what is real and hold up a mirror to others allegedly more fortunate. A moving and lovely portrait on the lives she touches. Wendy

December 17, 2013

Book Review - Standing in Another Man's Grave by Ian Rankin

It's Rankin and it's Rebus and he is right back into solving crime whilst upsetting as many of the rule followers as possible. What more do you need? He may have been retired to cold cases but that doesn't stop Rebus from taking over a current investigation, running too close to his informers for Complaints section's liking and further complicating Siobhan Clarke's life. Why do strawberry-coloured trousers have a fascination for the Edinburgh man? (cf Alexander McCall Smith) Wendy

December 16, 2013

Book Review - Eye Contact by Fergus McNeill

This is the first novel from an experienced computer game developer and it is therefore no coincidence that his protagonist has set up a complicated game of murder with its own internal rules, rewards and penalties. A series of seemingly random deaths are connected across police districts as painstakingly detailed work by dedicated investigators does eventually bring rewards. It took me a little while to warm to this one but it was worth it. Another new author to look out for! Wendy

December 15, 2013

Book Review - Gallows View by Peter Robinson

Peter Robinson is one of my favourite British mystery writers with his excellent Inspector Banks series. This story takes us back to when Banks first comes to Eastvale and he has a job to solve crimes and win over the locals. A non-London based police procedural at its British best. I also like Banks' taste in music. Wendy

December 13, 2013

Book Review - Sleep No More by Iris Johansen

Another Eve Duncan story. The author spins a good tale if you can suspend disbelief as to the latest freakishly talented person who helps their investigation and the rather implausible previously unknown sibling. I think that the Bonnie stories stretched on for too long and am rather glad that Bonnie's role in this story is much reduced. You can read this as a stand-alone or you can check back through the earlier stories which are held by the library. Wendy

December 12, 2013

Book Review - A Week in Winter by Meave Binchy

Maeve Binchy liked people and loved to tell stories that show everday happenings, doubts, decisions and love stories. Attachments to places and people are complex and here, she uses the device of a Bed and Breakfast being brought back to life to entwine several stories about people at crossroads in their lives. A charming and gentle read masterfully created to flow effortlessly and reveal truths about very human people. Vale Maeve Binchy. Wendy

December 10, 2013

Book Review - A Killing in the Hills by Julia Keller

Another atmospheric mystery set in the back blocks of the USA. This time it’s the Appalachian Mountains. A beautiful but deadly setting. A scattered small town society where the mines have closed down, there are few jobs and the quickest way to easy money is to feed the habits of intergenerational drug users. The county's Prosecuting Attorney grew up here and has come back to make a difference but questions her decision as a murder investigation involves her family. The author does such a good job of depicting the unrelenting misery of most of the town's inhabitants, that this obscures a fine development of cause and effect. Wendy

December 08, 2013

Book Review - 1356 by Bernard Cornwell

The English and the French are engaged in the Hundred Years War and the English are using their deadly weapon – the long bow- to good advantage. Cornwell hits the mark with another of his muscular historical novels. Mixing in a little religious mystique with full blown battles where you can almost smell the sweat and the blood, this one has an intriguing story amongst the grunt. You can feel the years of training and the strength it takes to wield the long bow. Training that must begin in youth and continue as adult stature is reached. Looking after your bow was one thing but a successful army also needs strategy, as well as supplies of arrows and food and all the logistical supports. The story races along, buoyed by meticulous attention to detail and crafted by a master storyteller. Wendy

December 07, 2013

Book Review - The Beautiful Mystery by Louise Penny

Another thought provoking, layered mystery featuring Chief Inspector Armand Gamache. His life experience has led him to develop a great understanding of and compassion for human frailty. This time, he and his offsider, Inspector Beauvoir, are still recovering from a difficult police operation where fellow officers were killed, when they are unexpectedly placed into an isolated monastery to investigate the murder of one of the monks. The monastery is famous for Gregorian chants and although a small house of 24 monks, they have been a destination of choice for monks with a passion for divine music and an ability to harmonise. Someone has broken this harmony and murdered the choir director. Gamache is used to reading people and is disconcerted by the ease with which the monks read him. Living as they do under the rule of silence, they have become expert at shielding and reading unspoken emotion. The investigation proceeds slowly but is accelerated by the arrival of a Dominican monk from the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith at Vatican (otherwise and previously known as the Inquisition); and Gamache's superior officer, a man he neither likes or trusts. Unless they can uncover the divisions that culminated in this brutal death, they will not solve the mystery. Beauvoir struggles with the isolation, finding it hard to empathise with the monks' vocation and choices. Gamache finds solace in the divine music but he will need all his formidable skill to solve this one. Classic murder mysteries provide a closed community and a reason for the outside world to be at a distance until the murder is solved; this setting in a remote Canadian wilderness provides all the classic elements in a modern and thoroughly entrancing read. Highly recommended. Wendy

December 05, 2013

Book Review - Inside by Alix Owen

Three stories are intertwined in this novel by a Canadian author. Grace, a psychiatrist, who has a suicidal boyfriend and a particularly troubled teen patient. Mitch who tries to help a desperate Inuit boy, and Anne, an actress trying to make it in New York. Eventually events unfold so we know how these three connect . This sounds depressing and it is not a depressing novel but it also doesn't have a particularly happy ending. The characters do arrive at a greater understanding of themselves in the world, however, and it was a strangely satisfying read. It was also interesting to discover snippets of how daily life is affected by snow which is not something I have ever lived with. Wendy

Book Review - Mrs Queen Takes the Train by William Kuhn

This is a first fiction book by an historian who clearly feels very familiar with the British Royals. An imagined and unexpected journey by the Queen who is aided by a disparate company of household staff and hangers on, takes her to Edinburgh to see the decommissioned yacht 'Britannia'. Initially rather mired in its own capacity to explain why so many of the Royal staff are homosexual, it develops into a pleasant story where several of the characters come to a better understanding of themselves and each other. Not for everyone, it would help to be a monarchist and an Anglophile, I found it gently drawing me in to the rather predictable conclusion. It's a diversion, not a main meal Wendy

December 04, 2013

Book Review - There and Back Again: J.R.R. Tolkien and the Origins of The Hobbit by Mark Atherton

One for the Tolkien enthusiasts. The influences that formed the Hobbit came from many areas of Tolkien's life and interests. History, language, literary sources and geography are discussed in this readable exploration of the many facets of The Hobbit. What, for example, were the previous iterations of dragons and their attachment to hoards of gold? Where did the riddle games that Gollum and Bilbo play originate? A treasure trove to dip in and out of. But the best advice is probably to go back and read The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings one more time! Wendy

The "Who, What, When and How" of Australian Reading

An interesting new survey on Australian reading habits has been published recently. A Changing Story: Trends in Reading Amongst Australians found that the most well-known Australian authors were: - Bryce Courtney - Tim Winton - Matthew Reilly - Colleen McCullogh - John Marsden - Di Morrissey The most identified international authors were: - J.K. Rowling - Stephen King - James Patterson - Jodi Picoult - Dan Brown For the full report, click here.

December 03, 2013

Book Review - The Casual Vacancy by J. K. Rowling

You have probably heard about this one by now. I enjoyed it thoroughly. It deals with the effect on a town, of the death of a small town's councilor thus creating a casual vacancy on the council. His death affects many in the town. From those who are jockeying for his council position to others who only now realize that their relationship was in some way buffered by his presence. I heard a review which said that the dead man was the only nice man in the town and I can see why that is the impression but the writing is more nuanced than that. It doesn't shy away from problems of the disconnected and the poor, viz drugs, abuse, bullying and teenage sex but I found the characterizations compelling and the situations realistic. Wendy

December 02, 2013

Book Review - The Vanishing Point by Val McDermid

An assured and intriguingly different novel from the queen of mysteries, this is a standalone, not part of her successful mystery series. A child is abducted at an American airport while his guardian, Stephanie Harker, is going through security procedures. Who knew they would be where they were and who had a motive? Stephanie tells her story to the FBI and investigations begin on both sides of the Atlantic. Just when you think there is an answer, there's another twist in the tale and the story goes on. A truly surprising ending and a page-turning read. Wendy

December 01, 2013

Book Review - The Trouble with Keeping Mum by Rosie Wallace

A light hearted entertaining novel which yet touches on serious subjects. Annie Cochrane is a Member of the Scottish Parliament, a government minister and the divorced mother of a teenager. Through the course of several months, she delivers on a major new government initiative, manages to have her first affair of the heart for many years, deals with her mother's failing health and tries to stay connected meaningfully with her son. The machinations of some of her colleagues and some personal dramas mean some major re-arrangements in her life. A humorous take on a working mother trying to hold it all together. Wendy