Tuesday 19 May 2015

Harm None by Will North

The setting for Harm None (which, for the longest time, I kept reading as "Harm Done") is the county of Cornwall in the extreme south west of England.  There, an archaeological excavation of an Iron Age site uncovered a skeleton, and it wasn't an Iron Age skeleton.  How did it get there, and how is the local wise woman involved?

Crime, mystery and a touch of magic have the potential to add up to a great book as far as I'm concerned.  In this case they have had only partial success.

I enjoyed the plot and it kept me guessing.  Unlike other reviewers, I didn't work out very far in advance what had happened to Becca. I enjoyed, too, the vivid descriptions of Cornwall.  I could see the Cornish landscape very clearly in my mind's eye.

Where I thought the story fell down was in the characters and dialogue. I understand that Will North has spent a lot of time in Cornwall but, to be honest, that doesn't shine through.  Everyone, from the 10 year old girl, to the detectives, to the old Etonian, spoke with one voice which sounded suspiciously like a London accent or Estuary English.  The little girl veers from "uh-uhs" and "sort ofs" to beautiful and evocative descriptions beyond any 10 year olds I know. 

All the same, I think the story wins though.  I had no difficulty finishing it at all, and at some speed.  It is a page turner.

Harm None is available as an e-book only, at least at the moment, and is the first in a planned series.

Monday 24 February 2014

A Gathering Light by Jennifer Donelly

Somebody from my book group chose A Gathering Light for this month's read.  I didn't realise it was meant as a Young Adult book until someone pointed it out to me.  In fact the library labels YA books on the spine but while my copy did have the label, some copies did not.  Clearly it's a matter of debate as to where the book fits.

Set in 1906, it tells the story of Mattie, a 15-16 year old girl living in the Adirondacks in New York State.  She longs to go to university but at the best of times that's unheard of in the community where she lives, and since the death of her mother, he father needs her on the farm.

The plot has two threads, that of what happens to Mattie, and another that revolves around a drowning based on a true story of a murder.  There are also two time-lines set very close together which I found a little confusing at first until I realised that one was based in the time when Mattie took a job for the summer and the other was earlier the same year.

I found it quick and easy to read, the characters seemed very real, and the descriptions of the setting captured my imagination..
I’d seen a bear cub lift its face to the drenching spring rains. And the silver moon of winter, so high and blinding. I'd seen the crimson glory of a stand of sugar maples in autumn and the unspeakable stillness of a mountain lake at dawn. I’d seen them and loved them. But I’d also seen the dark of things. The starved carcasses of winter deer. The driving fury of a blizzard wind. And the gloom that broods under the pines always. Even on the brightest of days.
Its title in the USA is A Northern Light, and is available from Amazon.com

As A Gathering Light it is available from Amazon.co.uk.

Wednesday 12 February 2014

The Friday Night Knitting Club by Kate Jacobs

I had to read this book for my book group but it's one I might well have chosen for myself.  I'm not a knitter (though I wish I were) but it struck me it could be similar to Maeve Binchy's "Evening Class" and I did enjoy that.

In fact it bore very little resemblance.  It tells the story of single mother Georgia Walker who struggles to bring up her daughter by taking knitting commissions.  The knitting business develops into a shop selling wool which in turn becomes a meeting place for friends united by their interest in knitting. 

It's light and easy enough to read.  The characters aren't terribly well developed and the plot is in parts unlikely to say the least.  It's set very firmly in New York with a side trip to Scotland to visit the wise old granny.  I'm not at all sure Kate Jacobs has ever been to Scotland but I'll let that pass.  A holiday read, I think, or a way to pass the time on a long flight.

The Friday Night Knitting Club is available at Amazon.com
or in the UK at Amazon UK

Wednesday 8 May 2013

State of Wonder by Ann Patchett

 You know the feeling when you finish a book and feel lost?  That is how I felt after I finished this.  I wished it had been far longer.  I found myself slowing down while I was reading it so that I wouldn't come to the end, and this in spite of wanting to know, needing to know, what happened.

It's almost impossible to categorise the novel which was, unsurprisingly to me, shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize 2012. It's in part an adventure, a mystery, a romance of sorts, a medical novel, and with a little science fiction thrown in for good measure.  It will remain with you in your thoughts for some time after you have finished reading it, I feel sure.

It starts off in the USA where Marina Singh works as a pharmacologist for a pharmaceutical company.  She is sent to Brazil  to find out what is happening in the development of a new drug where the research is being carried out deep in the Amazon jungle.  The new drug is expected to lengthen the period of women's fertility well beyond the menopause.  Some of the characters are better drawn than others but they all come across as real, with their own virtues and failings. 

 Highly recommended.

State of Wonder is available from Amazon.com with a different cover image.

And also available from Amazon UK
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Tuesday 4 September 2012

The Kashmir Shawl by Rosie Thomas

After their mother's death, Mair and her siblings are left to clear out the house that had been her parents home in Wales and where she'd been brought up.  I've been through this process myself and I know what it can be like.  You find all sorts of things that make you wonder and about the story behind them.  And this is what happened to mair.

She found a beautiful Kashmir pashmina shawl with a lock of dark brown hair and these led her to try to discover their story and that of her grandmother.

The story is told both from the perspective of Mair and of her grandmother who had left rural Wales to set off for a life as a missionary's wife in India and then in Kashmir.  Mair attempted to follow in her footsteps and so we see the region both as it was during the time of the British Raj before independence and more recently.

I thoroughly enjoyed the story even though it was a little overly romantic for my taste and the plot a bit contrived, but the descriptions of the area and the mental images they conjured up will stay with me a long time.

An article comparing The Kashmir Shawl and A Carpet Ride to Khiva.

The Kashmir Shawl is available on Amazon.com
and also on Amazon UK
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Tuesday 21 August 2012

The Girl Who Played Go by Shan Sa

I first heard about this book in its original French when Shan Sa won the 2001 Prix Goncourt des Lycéens for La Joueuse de Go or The Girl Who Played Go.  The Prix Goncourt des Lycéens is a literary prize voted for by secondary school students.

Shan Sa was born in China and didn't move to France until she had finished secondary school herself so winning a literary prize in her adopted language was no small achievement.

I read it for that reason and because I wanted to read a book set in China.  It wasn't until I'd finished the book that I realised that the format of the story was based on the game of Go, a very tactical that game I don't really know or quite understand.

It is set in China, Manchuria, at the time of Japanese occupation.  The chapters alternate telling the story of the girl and her opponent in Go, a Japanese soldier.  The chapters mirror the conflict in the game as well as the conflict between the girl and the soldier, and between China and Japan.  It wasn't the easiest read, but a fascinating glimpse into a part of Chinese history I hardly knew, nevertheless.

The Girl Who Played Go from Amazon.com

The Girl Who Played Go from Amazon.co.uk

Thursday 9 February 2012

The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova

Not a light and rapid read, this one: my copy had over 700 pages and it's full of detailed descriptions.  The cover is dark and the story is dark, the story of a young girl who is searching for her father who in turn is searching for Vlad the Impaler, or Dracula.

Judging from the blurb on the back and the selected reviews, it seems to be aimed at people who enjoy books about vampires and I've seen more than once the suggestion that it is an update of Bram Stoker's Dracula.  It isn't.

I will confess that I found my attention wandering at times and in part this was due to finding it hard to tell who was the narrator.  There are three narrators: the daughter who remains nameless throughout, her father, Paul, and her father's mentor, Professor Bartholomew Rossi.  They all sounded much the same.  I have to say, the narrative wandered a bit and there were many times when I wondered how much of the history/geography was fact or fiction. 

However this was more than compensated by the wonderful, atmospheric, descriptions of Eastern Europe and Turkey.  In many ways this is padding to the plot and I can appreciate there is rather a lot of it but it may be what saved an overly long novel as far as I'm concerned.
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