john257hopper's 100 books of 2022

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john257hopper's 100 books of 2022

des. 31, 2021, 4:51pm

Here is my own new thread for 2022 reading. I managed 102 books in 2021, my lowest annual total since 2006, when I managed 75. Since then I've always read over 100 books each year, though it was also tight in 2011 (103) and 2018 (104). How on earth I managed 140 and 145 in 2012 and 2013 I really don't know for sure.

gen. 2, 2:36pm

Welcome back and happy reading in 2022!

gen. 3, 7:09am

Thanks Jen :)

gen. 3, 7:50am

1. By the Edge of the Sword - C B Hanley

This is the seventh book in what has become one of my favourite historical mystery series, featuring Edwin Weaver, a scribe to Earl Warenne of Surrey in the early 13th century, in the aftermath of the civil wars that has taken place under King John, and now during the minority of his young son King Henry III. A former member of the Earl's household, Lady Joanna, is accused of murdering her husband and Edwin is called to investigate (both by Joanna to establish her innocence, and by the Earl to establish the facts and if necessary distance his household from her alleged actions). Edwin's headstrong friend Martin is in love with Joanna and his rash actions sometimes hinder Edwin's investigations. Needless to say, there are numerous red herrings and motivations for murder, including potential heirs to the murdered man. As ever, Edwin comes across as an immensely likeable and humane man, trying to do the right thing in very difficult circumstances, where gossip and rumour prevail on all sides and he has to try patiently and persistently to sift out the few hard facts from the morass of hearsay. The conclusion is suitably dramatic and violent and Edwin's quiet courage wins justice in the end. One can sympathise with him as he leaves at the end of the book to return to his young wife Alys who is pregnant with their first child. I love this series and hope there will be many more.

gen. 3, 9:44am

Slightly belatedly, I've gone back through my 2021 reading for favourites. My favourite new (to me) fiction (excluding instalments in ongoing series I already know and love) was, in order of reading not preference:

The Moonstone by Wilkie Collins
Dawn Wind by Rosemary Sutcliff
Life and Death of the Wicked Lady Skelton by Magdalen King-Hall
Day of the Jackal by Frederick Forsyth
The Vanishment by Jonathan Aycliffe

I also greatly enjoyed re-reading some of the Isaac Asimov Foundation series newly released in ebook format; and Coming up for Air by George Orwell

My favourite non-fiction was:

The Death of Caesar: The Story of History's Most Famous Assassination by Barry Strauss
Heloise And Abelard: A Medieval Love Story by James Burge
Prisoners of Geography by Tim Marshall
Jane Austen: A Life by Claire Tomalin

gen. 3, 12:09pm

Hi, John. Good luck with your 2022 reading. I also really liked Heloise and Abelard. I may have to do a re-read. It's been at least 20 years!

gen. 3, 12:21pm

Thanks Tess. I also read a novel based on their story, but frankly the Burge book was better.

gen. 6, 3:51pm

2. Conspiracy of Wolves - Candace Robb

After a gap of a decade, Candace Robb has returned to her murder mystery series set in 14th century York, featuring Owen Archer, a veteran of the wars with France and his wife Lucie, an apothecary. It was nice to reacquaint myself with them in this 11th book in the series. The plot centred around the murder of a father and son, which turned out to be related to a family incident from 20 years earlier involving a series of childish "pranks" that turned ugly and resulted in the death of a young girl and the activation of a long planned programme of revenge. The plot seemed overly complicated and rather ridiculous in places. But good to see the series back.

gen. 7, 3:13am

3. The Bone Jar - Candace Robb

This is a short story in the author's series of Owen Archer Medieval murder mysteries set in 14th century York. It was published during the ten year hiatus between books 10 and 11, but is clearly set earlier as there are references to Archer's patron Archbishop Thoresby still being alive and to his wife Lucie's pregnancy. Archer is asked by Magda the Riverwoman to guard a bone jar she is keeping at her riverboat house on the Ouse, but there is an amusing twist in the tale. This is very short and a bit insubstantial but Owen and Magda come across well here.

gen. 10, 3:37pm

4. A Town Like Alice - Nevil Shute

This is the most famous novel by British author and engineer Nevil Shute. It is a novel of three parts: in the first and by far the most dramatic part, a young lady Jean Paget recounts to her lawyer Noel Strachan (who is the overall narrator of the novel) her experiences during the war in Malaya after the Japanese invaded, as part of a party of British women and children being marched around the country with no one wanting to take responsibility for their fate. Due to the privations of the forced march, poor food and disease, half of the party die en route. Jean assumes responsibility for the group's welfare. She meets an Australian prisoner of war Joe Harman who helps the party by stealing chickens for them; however, he is caught by the Japanese, horribly beaten and crucified and left for dead. Sometime after this, Jean and her party are able to establish themselves relatively securely in a Malay village working in the paddy fields for the remaining three years of the war.

In the second part, having discovered a few years later that Joe survived his torture, Jean visits Australia to try to track him down across the outback; at the same time, unbeknownst to her, Joe is visiting England to look for her. They finally meet and, in the third and least dramatic part, they get together romantically and build a life in the Queensland outback, Jean using her entrepreneurial skills to start a string of business and build up the (fictional) township of Willstown so that it can become "a town like Alice (Springs)". There was perhaps rather too much detail in this section than most most British readers are likely to want to know about breeding of cattle and how to start up a business in the outback. That said, it is an uplifting story of how Jean and Joe are able to overcome adversity to build a life together.

This edition contains an introduction by Eric Lomax, a prisoner of war on the notorious Burma-Siam railway, whose experiences were described in The Railway Man, made into a film starring Colin Firth and Nicole Kidman. The introduction helpfully warns the reader at the outset in bold letters that it gives away details of the plot, so I read it only after finishing the book

gen. 10, 7:33pm

>10 john257hopper: Nevil Shute is also on my list for this year: Trustee from the Toolroom and Pied Piper are available in Australia on Overdrive. Some of his books are available on Kobo Plus (similar to Kindle Unlimited), which is a good source of male British writers from the fifties, sixties and earlier. So far I've downloaded numerous books by John Wyndham, Hammond Innes and Michael Gilbert.

gen. 11, 5:06am

He is the January author in the Monthly Author Reads group here. This group has introduced me to several new to me authors in the last few months.

gen. 11, 12:55pm

>10 john257hopper: Loved that book and am on lookout for more of his works.

gen. 14, 4:00pm

5. The Railway Man - Eric Lomax

This is an account by a former Far Eastern Prisoner of War of: his early life; his wartime experiences working on the notorious Burma Siam railway, including savage beatings and other tortures; and his post war attempts to process his anger and desire for revenge, his nightmares and what we would now called PTSD affecting his life and relationships, until he was able to come to terms with it eventually by tracking down and meeting one of his Japanese interrogators (Takashi Nagase, an interpreter, in fact) and their being reconciled with each other, Nagase having spent decades of his post-war life trying to bring about reconciliation between the bitter war-time enemies. This encounter was the subject of an award-winning TV documentary.

Lomax was keen on trains from an early age but followed his father into the Post Office in Edinburgh when he finished his education. Born in 1919, he was of the generation that went straight into the war, and was taken prisoner when in February 1942 the Japanese stunningly captured Singapore, the centre of the British Empire in the Far East. He writes clearly and non-dramatically about the horrific deprivations, the near starvation, dirt, beatings, water torture that came with being a prisoner of war, especially after he was arrested for being one of a party in possession of a radio. More than these even, was the uncertainty even about the immediate future and the sense of sheer arbitrariness of knowing that your entire future life was out of your hands - so the complete depersonalisation and deprivation of personal agency was almost the hardest thing to deal with. In his post-war career, Lomax worked in the last colonial administration of Ghana. It was only later in his 50s and 60s that he started to be able to talk about his experiences, initially only to fellow ex-POWs, then later on to those campaigning to support the victims of torture. His personal wish to gain closure as to whether he and his fellow sufferers had been betrayed or whether the discovery of the radio was pure chance, led to discover Nagase in the end. The last couple of chapters of the book are a moving account of the transition between a desire for understanding and revenge through cycles of grief to acceptance, friendship and forgiveness. This was a great read.

gen. 17, 4:37pm

6. Railway of Hell: A Japanese POW's Account of War, Capture and Forced Labour - Reginald Burton

This is another account of the experiences of an ex-Far Eastern Prisoner of War in working on the notorious Burma-Siam railway under Japanese occupation of South East Asia in World War II. While the author's experiences are horrific, the diseases and malnutrition nearly causing his death, I somehow found this less emotionally engaging than Eric Lomax's The Railway Man. This account seemed more laconic and in places almost as though he was describing events happening to someone else - though in fairness this was no doubt just the author's writing style. On the positive side, Captain Burton is clear about the mental effects of his experiences and the mental attitudes that explained why some lived and some died. From the outset, he and his comrades found it "so hard to believe Singapore would fall....There was a soul-destroying sense of failure, of having expended so much of myself in achieving nothing. And this induced a lethargy; everything seeming so much trouble that it wasn't worth doing. Later on, "I found for myself – and I believe it was true for many others – that I'd no great awareness of the future. Perhaps it was a form of self-protection. The prospect ahead, a captivity of unknown length with protracted ordeals we'd experienced all too many times..." It was the sense of loyalty to their regiment, and at a personal level, "we were to find, later, that it was the man who kept himself as clean as possible, who shaved, and who did his best to be mentally and physically alert who survived". A good account, though not one of the most memorable ones of this type of memoir.

gen. 21, 1:46pm

7. Berlin Red - Sam Eastland

This is the seventh and seemingly the final book in the Inspector Pekkala series in Stalin's Soviet Union (no spoilers here as to the ending). This one is set in the dying days of the Second World War and Pekkala and his sidekick Major Kirov must enter Berlin and rescue an agent who has been leaking to the Allies the secret of a refinement to the Nazi V2 rocket guidance system that will make it far more accurate and breathe new life into the Nazi war effort. The agent is none other than Pekkala's ex-fiancee. While this sounds exciting from this description, the novel has too many characters and changes of scenery and the usual information dumps and excessive use of flashbacks that disrupt the narrative. A good enough page turner to end the series, though.

gen. 24, 3:36pm

8. The Forger - Cay Rademacher

This is the final part of the author's murder mystery trilogy set in post-WWII Hamburg, featuring Chief Inspector Stave. Having been near fatally shot, Stave decides to leave the Homicide department and opts instead to work in Department S which aims to combat the black market that dominates economic activity in the city. While this makes sense in narrative terms, it risks making the plot less interesting for most readers as economic crimes come across as less dramatic. Nevertheless, in investigating some rediscovered objets d'art in the ruins of a bombed office block, a skeleton is also discovered. Stave considers this is not being properly investigated by his ex-colleagues in Homicide, and investigates himself. So far, so good, if a little cliched. But the eventual resolution of the crime struck me as rather bizarre and unlikely, while the economic crime exposed in Stave's new regular job is so petty, that the reader, along with the Chief Inspector, feels nothing but sympathy for pathetic (in the true sense of the word) offender. So, in sum, while Rademacher is a good writer, and the atmosphere of post-war Hamburg is evocatively described, I found this a slightly unsatisfying read in some ways. The novels ends with the drama of the economic renaisssance of the new Deutschmark being introduced in what was to become West Germany, while the Soviets begin to blockade Berlin.

gen. 27, 3:50pm

9. The Quiet American - Graham Greene

This novel is set in Viet Nam during the time in the 1950s when French rule of Indo-China is collapsing and the Americans are moving in. The central theme is the rivalry between an English reporter Thomas Fowler and the eponymous American Alden Pyle, particularly their differing philosophical outlooks and attitudes towards Viet Nam, as expressed through their relationship with a Vietnamese woman, Phuong. Pyle is murdered near the beginning of the novel, though it is never clear by whom, and the rest of the novel flits back and forth in time in a way that I found sometimes confusing. There were some interesting incidents and discussions in here, but overall I found the novel rather unsatisfying.

gen. 28, 1:05am

>18 john257hopper: The Phil Noyce film of The Quiet American is pretty good. It stars Michael Caine, who is always worth watching, and sticks quite closely to the book. There's a 1958 American film too, but its pro-American stance changed the whole point of the book.

gen. 28, 6:08am

>19 pamelad: thanks Pam, I might check out the Michael Caine version if I can stream it from anywhere.

feb. 1, 3:12pm

10. Lily's Promise: How I Survived Auschwitz and Found the Strength to Live - Lily Ebert

This is an intensely moving and inspirational memoir by a Holocaust survivor, the now 98 year old Lily Ebert (nee Engelmann), survivor of Auschwitz, of one of the Buchenwald satellite camps and of a forced death march across Germany before being rescued by US soldiers in April 1945. The work was written in cooperation with her great grandson Dov Forman, who helped to her her story out there on social media and help with gaps in her memories.

Lily was born in Hungary where she lived in the small town of Bonyhád with her three sisters and two brothers and their parents. They were a very close knit, but liberal and tolerant family, and their upbringing was idyllic, despite the occasional spectre of long term historical anti-semitism in Hungary. Life continued largely as normal for the family, until the death of the father from natural causes in 1942. The Holocaust in force came late to Hungary, after the Germans overran the country in March 1944. The elder son was conscripted into a labour service, while Lily, her three sisters and younger brother, and their mother were sent to a ghetto and, along with the rest of the Jewish population of their town, kept in increasingly stringent conditions until they were deported to Auschwitz in early July. On arrival, Lily's mother and her youngest sister and younger brother were immediately sent to the gas chamber, while Lily and her other two sisters Rene and Piri survived to go through months of work, exhaustion and starvation. Lily and her sisters and some others whom they befriended essentially survived by having a mutual support network and being determined to stay together to maintain a small oasis of sanity amid the madness and horror. Lily kept her mother's jewels hidden in her shoe and, later, in successive pieces of daily bread throughout her experiences.

After some four months in Auschwitz, the group were moved to a munitions factory attached to Buchenwald where the treatment was a little better as the Holocaust had destroyed so many lives of slave workers that even the Nazis realised they had to keep their workers alive to keep their flagging war machine going. As the allies advanced into German territory in early 1945, Lily and her group were sent on one of the notorious death marches across the territory ahead of the advancing liberators, before they were eventually saved by stumbling across some American soldiers. Meanwhile at Yom Kippur 1944, Lily had promised that, if she survived, she would never let the world forget what she and her fellows suffered.

After liberation, Lily and her inseparable sisters moved to Switzerland - a country for which she nevertheless felt some resentment, as they has closed their borders to Jewish refugees in 1942, and to where children over the age of 16 were even now prevented from emigrating, thus driving 21 year old Lily to take six years off her age. Later she moved to the new state of Israel where, after briefly and unsuccessfully trying life on a kibbutz, she settled in Tel Aviv and married a confident young man Shmuel who had lived in Israel since before the war, with whom she had three children. Later on Shmuel suffered poor health and needed a cooler climate so the family moved to Britain and settled in north London, leaving Rene and Piri back in Israel.

For decades Lily could not talk about her experiences in the Holocaust, her fellow citizens in Israel being divided essentially into two categories, fellow survivors with whom it was felt there was no need to talk about it, and those, like Shmuel, who had not been through those experiences and who could never understood what the survivors had been through. She found it easier to talk when she had grandchildren; and in addition society became more interested in hearing from Holocaust survivors in the years after the Eichmann trial in 1961 had allowed survivors for the first time to recount their experiences to a public willing more now to listen than they had been in the immediate post-war years. Thus Lily could at last carry out her Yom Kippur 1944 promise that the would let the world know what happened and she now continues to do so, working with schoolchildren through the Holocaust Educational Trust and other organisations. Her great grandson Dov has helped by publicising her experiences on social media and using Twitter, for example, to identify a particular US soldier who wrote her a message of hope for the future in 1945. A remarkable and inspiring story.

feb. 5, 7:32am

11. The Mystery of Mad Alice Lane: A Short Story - Karen Charlton

This short story is a teaser for the author's new historical mystery series set in Second World War York. I must say I was a little disappointed in this. It's so short, it's really more of a vignette than a short story, introducing the two young leads Jemma and Bobbie (Roberta) finding a body of a murder victim after an initially unconvincing report by a passing motorist. The mystery is not explored here and it's over before it's really begun. I also did think that the main characters perhaps sounded a little too modern for 1939, though I'll reserve judgement for the first book in the main series, due in April.

feb. 13, 7:38am

12. No Name - Wilkie Collins

This is the third novel I have read by Collins, after by far his most famous two, Woman in White and The Moonstone. I really enjoyed this as a novel of family tragedy, legal drama, vengeance and deception. The plot centres around two sisters, Norah and Magdalen Vanstone, and more particularly Magdalen. Their father dies in an accident, and their mother passes away shortly afterwards in childbirth. They then discover to their shock and consternation that their parents were not married at the time of their birth- clearly a much more significant revelation in 1846 than it would be in later times (Andrew Vanstone had unwisely married an unvirtuous woman in his youth as an officer army stationed in Canada). As a result, according to the inheritance law of the time, Andrew's estate goes instead to his estranged elder brother Michael. In effect, "Mr Vanstone's daughters are Nobody's Children; and the law leaves them helpless at their uncle's mercy"; because of their parents'marital status, "The law which takes care of you, the law which takes care of all legitimate children, casts her like carrion to the winds".

Michael is a curmudgeonly much older man who fell out with Andrew over the latter's youthful indiscretions, and refuses to give his nieces any more than a token amount of money. While Norah accepts the reality of their greatly reduced social and economic status, Magdalen does not and resolves on a complicated plan of revenge to get back the money property they have lost, ranging across the country from York, London, Suffolk and Dumfries and involving disguises and impersonations galore. It's all good fun, with some humorous passages, but also some shocking deaths and Magdalen getting to the state where she contemplates taking her own life. It all turns out right in the end, of course, following the usual series of amazing coincidences that are a hallmark of the 19th century novel. It's a very satisfying read. 5/5

feb. 14, 9:15am

13. No Name - Play - Wilkie Collins

This is the play version of Wilkie Collins's novel that I have just read. Necessarily truncated of course, it contains the essentials of the novel's plot, with a lot of the early events recounted in retrospect in Act 1 when the lawyer states the legal position after Andrew Vanstone's death. There are some key differences - Norah Vanstone here is a bed-ridden invalid who is never seen on stage, and it is Magdalen who eventually gets together with George Bartram. Also, whereas in the novel Magdalen doesn't drink the poison that she has procured for an extreme situation, here she does - but the chemist had smelled a rat and substituted it for a harmless coloured fluid. The Secret Trust is also replaced by a different letter in the last scene also.

Oddly the dramatis personae only lists the male characters in the play. I have been unable to find out much about the play version online, except that it was produced in 1863, a year after the novel's publication, and that Collins apparently had difficulty finding a theatre to show it. I suspect this may be because the plot depends on legal subtleties and lacks much of the immediate dramatic impact of The Moonstone, so translates less satisfactorily from printed page to stage. Oddly, the play No Name is set in 1870, i.e. a few years in the future when it was produced, whereas the novel No Name was set in the late 1840s.

feb. 15, 3:11pm

14. The Rivals: A Comedy - Richard Brinsley Sheridan

This comedy was first produced in 1775 and much of its humour still comes across well, with confusions of identities, romantic misunderstandings and, most famously, the wonderful comic creation of Mrs Malaprop, with her confusions of similar sounding words which have given birth to a term in modern English, such as "an allegory (alligator) on the banks of the Nile" or "the very pine-apple (pinnacle) of politeness". I enjoyed this rather more than School for Scandal.

Editat: feb. 18, 12:47pm

15. Blood Feud - Rosemary Sutcliff

This is another beautifully written historical novel by one of the greatest exponents of the genre in the 20th century. This one concerns a half Saxon, half Cornish boy Jestyn. He leaves home after his mother dies when he is 12 and his stepfather casts him out. After spending some time learning the ways of looking after cows, he loses his way in a storm and is captured by Vikings and sold as a slave. He is bought by a band of Norseman as a personal thrall; however, after saving his master Thormod's life in a fight in Dublin, they become blood brothers and Jestyn joins Thormod's feud to avenge his father's murder at the hand of two brothers. This journey takes him across Europe to Constantinople where his band of Northmen becomes part of the Byzantine Emperor's Varangian guard (as did the famous historical Norse king Harald Hardrada, King Harold II of England's victim at the Battle of Stamford Bridge). He eventually settles in the city and becomes apprentice to a physician and marries his daughter. A lot happens in this fairly short novel and I enjoyed it, though I found it less totally absorbing than most of her others I've read ...perhaps a bit too much happened and it seemed in a way like a summary of Jestyn's life rather than a fully engrossing novel.

feb. 26, 6:43am

16. The Long Ships: A Saga of the Viking Age - Frans Bengtsson

This long novel, published in the 1940s in Swedish, has been regarded as one of the best historical novels ever. I wouldn't go that far myself, but I found it mostly an enjoyable and often amusing read, following the life and voyages of Orm Tostesson in the years around the end of the first millennium, told in a Norse saga style with voyages across Europe and the Balkans and Middle East, tales of battles, horrific massacres, treasure hunts and heroic rescues, weaved into real historical events and characters . Some of the sub-stories go on a bit and become a bit tiresome but there is mostly a good narrative drive and some great set pieces. I noticed a great example of a Viking curse: "may she toss perpetually in the whirlpool of Hell amongst sword-blades and serpents' fangs".

març 4, 3:21pm

17. Borderland: A Journey Through the History of Ukraine - Anna Reid

This is a fascinating and also rather depressing history of Ukraine. At the time of my writing this review, the Russian invasion of the country is just over a week old, and sadly represents just the latest in a many centuries long history of war, massacre and disaster, for much of which time the Ukrainians have not had their own state, but been part of Russian, Polish, Lithuanian or Austro-Hungarian states or empires. This is a book of two (uneven) halves, written during the author's various sojourns in the capital Kyiv. This is a 1000 year history of war and violence, from the founding of the Kievan Russ state and its historic decision to adopt Byzantine Christianity, separating future Russians, Ukrainians and Belarussians from their Polish Catholics to the west; Islam was also an option but Prince Volodomyr liked pork and wine! It is a history involving Mongols, Cossacks, Poles, Jews and many others in a colourful and violent interplay of nations and ethnic groups.

These first ten chapters were written in the mid 90s, just a few years after independence from the Soviet Union, which came suddenly after the failure of the August 1991 coup attempt again Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev. Despite a bumpy start to independence, the author is fairly upbeat at the end of this section that Ukraine may grow along a path towards being a prosperous and significant mainstream European country. The book was republished in 2015 with a more downbeat assessment and four extra chapters on the events of the Orange Revolution of 2005 and the 2014 Russian invasion of the Crimea and the Donbass area of Eastern Ukraine. It does indeed make you realise that Ukrainians have had among the bloodiest history of any national ethnic group in Europe over the longest period of time and in the 20th century for example suffered hideously not only during the second world war (as of course did the Russians) but also in the Great Hunger (Holodomor) of the early 1930s, Stalin's state-inspired famine when the Soviet Union was exporting grain to pay debts at the expense of millions starving mostly in Ukraine.

At the end, the author reminds us that "back in the 1990s, I closed the original edition of this book with the hope that Ukrainians were set for a happier future, and the observation that ‘after a thousand years of one of the bloodiest histories in the world, they surely deserve it’. It’s truer than ever". Indeed, in the most recent years since the Maidan Square uprising of 2014, the central and western parts of Ukraine at least have matured and bear many hallmarks of a modern European country - which is probably why current events seem all the more shocking to us in Britain. I wonder if the author will write a third edition - sadly it would be likely to contain as much grim drama as the first two editions.

març 4, 4:58pm

18. The Visiters - Daisy Ashford

This short book is rather a novelty, having been written by the author as a 9 year old in 1890, though not published until 1919. While obviously displaying the inexperienced in life approach one might expect, it shows an understanding of narrative and plot, and an eye for descriptive detail unusual for one so young, The author wrote other stories at a young age, including one when even younger than when she wrote this one, some of which have been lost. Don't expect great drama, obviously, but this shows some familiarity with, and ability to laugh at, some of the habits of the time.

març 4, 5:39pm

>29 john257hopper: The Young Visiters made me smile.

març 4, 6:25pm

>30 pamelad: yes it was amusing, a light relief after the seriousness of the Ukraine book.

març 7, 4:08pm

19. Forest of Secrets - Fiona Buckley

This is the nineteenth book in the Ursula Stannard series of Elizabethan mysteries. Much of this centred around revived pagan rituals in the New Forest, and whether they might be connected - rather implausibly - to plots to free the imprisoned Mary Queen of Scots. This is at the time of the notorious Babington plot in 1586, the exposure of which caused Mary's final downfall and led to her execution. Ursula and her friends expose the New Forest goings on - which I found it hard to take seriously as an actual plot and, indeed, while sinister and nasty in import, they had no connection to national events. Ursula has to attend the execution of Mary to report back to Elizabeth on how her royal cousin meets her end. As ever I like the recurring characters very much and that keeps me reading, however implausible the plots sometimes are.

març 10, 3:48pm

20. The Forest Dwellers: and the Killing of William Rufus - Judith Arnopp

This novel tells the story of a Saxon family living in the New Forest shortly after the Norman Conquest, suffering under the rule of their new masters who have appropriated all the resources of the forest to themselves. Fighting back they are killed or captured and the story unfolds over several decades telling of their future lives. The story is divided into sections told from different characters' points of view with different interpretations of some of the same events. While this is interesting, I was occasionally a little confused by the jumping around in time. The final section leaped forward a decade or more to the killing of Rufus. A decent story, though it was marred by a fair number of typos and occasional clumsy passages of writing.

març 14, 12:29pm

21. Nothing is True and Everything is Possible: Adventures in Modern Russia - Peter Pomerantsev

This is a simultaneously fascinating, in places horrifying and overall quite depressing account of Post-Soviet Russia, especially under Putin since 2000. One of the key takeaways is the immense and overwhelming sense of dislocation brought about by the fall of the Soviet Union in a comparatively short period of time, almost an existential trauma for most Soviet people, leading to multiple reinventions, with people (sometimes the same people) adopting guises variously as liberal reformers, Soviet nostalgics, Russian nationalists, establishment oligarchs or anti-Kremlin dissidents. The structure of the book is rather rambling and jumps about in time, perhaps self-consciously ironically echoing the nature of Russia during these decades.

In the context of the current (as I write) unfolding Russian invasion of Ukraine , the role of Russia Today in broadcasting Putin's views, but often in a subtle way, is laid bare here: "This is a new type of Kremlin propaganda, less about arguing against the West with a counter-model as in the Cold War, more about slipping inside its language to play and taunt it from inside". So, for example, "the Kremlin switches messages at will to its advantage, climbing inside everything: European right-nationalists are seduced with an anti-EU message; the far left is co-opted with tales of fighting US hegemony; US religious conservatives are convinced by the Kremlin’s fight against homosexuality. And the result is an array of voices, working away at global audiences from different angles, producing a cumulative echo chamber of Kremlin support all broadcast on Russia Today". By the same token, through its "political technologists" it neutralises internal opposition, and "climbs inside all ideologies and movements, exploiting and rendering them absurd", so that the "Kremlin.... owns all forms of political discourse, to not let any independent movements develop outside of its walls".

Some other particularly awful things stuck out in my mind, for example the mass arrests and imprisonment of perfectly legitimate business people, including small kiosk holders, because overnight the authorities had reclassified harmless substances such as food additives as narcotics, in a battle between power brokers in the "law enforcement" apparatus. But how can you enforce law or obtain true justice when crime is owned by the state?: "when the President ascended to the Kremlin the era of the gangster ended. The secret services took over organised crime themselves; there was no way hoodlums could compete". Another shocking aspect was the deaths and exploitation of Russian models at the hands of a supposed self help movement that had more features of a suicide pact than anything else.

I could cite many other examples, but this is a grim subject, perhaps the only positive reflection now being that more people across the world are now aware of the new Russia's methods since the invasion of Ukraine on 24 February 2022. This is a very important book for understanding the post-Soviet Russian reality; the chaos and economic trauma of the 1990s seem almost benign compared to what has come afterwards.

març 20, 3:20pm

22. The Children of the New Forest - Frederick Marryat

This was one of the first historical novels written specifically for children and published in 1847. Set during the English Civil War, the four children of deceased cavalier Colonel Beverley escape from the burning of their family home and are sheltered in the New Forest by Jacob Armitage. They take fictional identities as Armitage's supposed grandchildren. Over time, they get used to their lives there farming and herding cattle. The elder son Edward tries to get involved in the attempts to restore the future King Charles II, with mixed success. The depiction of the Civil War is definitely pro-Royalist, and helped to set the literary narrative of dour Roundheads and romantic swashbuckling Cavaliers. Though it isn't totally one-sided, and Intendant Heatherstone is a Roundhead who understands why people rebelled against King Charles I for depriving them of their liberties and promoting the divine right of kings, while being repelled by the King's execution. The final chapter leaps forward a few years to the Restoration and the four Beverleys taking up positions in the new court.

març 26, 5:58pm

23. Killers of the King: The Men who dared to execute Charles I - Charles Spencer

This book provides a brief account of the trial and execution of Charles I in 1649 in the English Civil War, and more specifically the roles and later fates of the 80 or so prominent men involved in some way in the death of Charles I, whether as part of the commission that tried him, being a signatory to the death warrant or being involved in the mechanics of the execution itself. This was well researched, with some interesting individual life stories, but it made for quite depressing reading, with the unslakeable desire for vengeance on the part of the restored Monarchy from 1660 in pursuing this group of people throughout England, across the continent and even to the New World in some cases, bringing them back, in most cases, to face the most hideous execution of being hanged, drawn and quartered, after a perfunctory or even no trial. There were huge political issues at stake here on both sides of course, with the Divine Right of Kings on the one hand, versus the right of Parliament to circumscribe the powers of a monarch and develop some sort of parliamentary democracy and liberty, on the other. Some might assume that the author, being related to the royal family, will instinctively be on the side of the royalists, but in fact he regards the regicides as "extremely brave" people who " be remembered with respect for their sacrifices."

març 29, 3:31pm

24. May Stuart - Paul C R Monk

This is a spin off novel from the author's trilogy about 17th century French Huguenot families fleeing persecution in their own country and settling elsewhere in Europe and the New World. This centres around French lieutenant turned privateer Didier Ducamp and courtesan turned spy May Stuart. They team together to escape from the activities of the cruel pirate Captain Brook in his hunt for treasure, involving the casual killing of many innocent civilians. I found this last aspect particularly depressing here, perhaps because my mental state has been a bit low recently, and I was really pleased with Ducamp and May getting together at the end and voyaging off to start a new life in America.

març 30, 3:02pm

25. The Nursery Alice - A Children's Edition of Alice's Adventures in Wonderland - Lewis Carroll

This was a version of Lewis Carroll's first Alice novel produced for very young children, containing the same illustrations but simplified (though not that simplified) language. A nice pleasant read on a day when I was feeling in the mood for lighter reading.

abr. 3, 3:30pm

26. Edgar Allan Poe and the Empire of the Dead - Karen Lee Street

This is the third in the author's trilogy of pastiche literary mysteries featuring Edgar Allan Poe teaming up with his fictional detective, Auguste Dupin. Dupin is as ever before obsessed with tracking down his arch nemesis and murderer of his grandparents Ernest Valdemar. There was a large element of Grand Guignol again here, though the constant descriptions of pyramids and other structures composed of human bones, and reenactments of death, got a bit wearing after a while and I felt little sympathy with Dupin's quest. Poe's grief over his dead wife Virginia (Sissy) and the pain of love and loss was a powerful theme of the novel also and had a melancholic effect on me. The literary melange was further added to by the presence not only of many real mid 19th century French literary figures, but also a number of striking figures from Eugene Sue's literary masterpiece Mysteries of Paris, often described as a prototype of Les Miserables, and which I read last autumn. This is imaginative and well written, but I am glad this trilogy has ended.

abr. 5, 3:07pm

27. Castle Rackrent - Maria Edgeworth

I did not get on with this novel. It purports to be a series of accounts of the lives and fortunes of a number of heirs to an estate in late 18th century Ireland, narrated unreliably by an estate steward. Essentially this is a novella prefaced by an introduction and other surrounding material by a narrator who is describing the real life estate of Edgeworth's own father. While it's an interesting experiment and must have been well researched, I could not get into it.

Editat: abr. 9, 3:37pm

>27 john257hopper: Same. Couldn't get into it.

>40 john257hopper: I put your book number by mistake.

abr. 9, 7:48am

28. Dead Line - Stella Rimington

This fourth novel in the author's series of intelligence-themed thrillers featuring MI5 officer Liz Carlyle features a threat to a Middle East peace conference in Gleneagles in Scotland, from a source with their own particular motives. The number of agents running other agents in double or triple bluffs confused me a bit, but as ever Liz is a sympathetic figure and her colleagues are becoming clearer and more well-rounded ongoing characters, some of them rather likeable like her boss Charles Wetherby and her her assistant Peggy Kinsolving. I am enjoying this series more now and, as always any scepticism about the apparent implausibility of some of the plot twists, is offset by the fact of the author's former position as MI5 Director General.

abr. 15, 8:20am

29. Sword of Kings - Bernard Cornwell

This is the twelfth novel in the author's Uhtred series. The events here, as in the previous novel, continue to surround the jockying for power as King Edward the Elder (Alfred's son) is dying, between Athelstan and his half brother Alfweard, sons of different wives of King Edward disputing each other's legitimacy/suitability for the throne. Uhtred as ever moves across the country involved in mayhem and bloodshed, but eventually returns to Bebbanburg again after Athelstan emerges triumphant.

abr. 18, 7:16am

30. Smoke & Cracked Mirrors - Karen Charlton

This is the first novel in the author's new historical mystery series set in Second World War York. Two friends, enthusiastic amateur sleuths Jemma James and Bobbie Baker, reared on Agatha Christie, Freeman Wills Crofts and Dorothy Sayers, found a detective agency and build up a business through advertising. They have some interesting cases of insurance fraud, blackmail, adultery, and finally identity fraud and murder, though this isn't clear from the start of the events relating to that. I like Jemma and Bobbie and I enjoy the setting in York, as it's one of my favourite cities, and there were some colourful and interesting secondary characters. I don't really find the basic scenario convincing though. Could two young ladies really have made a success of this in the circumstances of the war and attitudes of the time towards women doing exciting and dangerous work? Very happy to be proved wrong, but this struck me as a little unlikely.

abr. 24, 3:39pm

31. Tess of the D'urbervilles - Thomas Hardy

My third visit to the lovely town of Dorchester and surrounding parts of Dorset and as a consequence, my third Thomas Hardy novel. Tess is a simultaneously heroic and tragic figure, in her relationships with two men Alec D'urberville, who seduces and by implication rapes her, and Angel Clare, whom she marries, loses and then regains. I found the ending quite sudden and shocking. There is also humour, especially in the early parts with the Durbeyfield family, Tess's parents keen to show themselves the lost but superior branch to the aristocratic D'urbervilles. As with other Hardy novels, there is a very good feel for the ebb and flow of rural life, farming and the seasons. This is not plot-driven like Mayor of Casterbridge, but is more tragic than the more similar Far from the Madding Crowd, and Tess's travails make a powerful impression on the reader.

abr. 27, 11:13am

32. The Story of the Treasure Seekers

This is another classic Nesbit children's book, the first of her trilogy about the six Bastable children who live with their widowed father in Lewisham in south London. In order to save their father's straitened finances, they develop a range of bizarre but mostly endearing schemes to raise money, including digging for treasure in their garden, selling sherry, rescuing an old gentleman from being attacked by their (the children's) own dog, kidnapping their next door neighbour, and pretending to be bandits and newspaper editors. It's all good light hearted fun, though not for me as good as Five Children and It or The Railway Children.

abr. 30, 3:43pm

33. Railway to the Grave - Edward Marston

This is the seventh novel in the Railway Detective series set in mid 19th century Britain. Grief stricken by the disappearance of his beloved wife Miriam, Sir Aubrey Tarleton commits suicide by walking into the path of an oncoming train. Inspector Colbeck and Sergeant Leeming pursue a number of lines of enquiry, including that Sir Aubrey may have murdered his wife and committed suicide in remorse. Various locals are suspected, but the eventual solution to the mystery was rather surprising and I didn't find it wholly convincing. I increasingly like the main characters and their ongoing character traits are becoming slightly endearing, esp. Leeming's constant missing of his wife and children. I enjoyed this one more than many others, though the resolution of the mystery, as I say, slightly marred this feeling.

maig 3, 3:21pm

34. The Painted Veil - W. Somerset Maugham

This was my first book by Somerset Maugham and won't be my last. I was impressed by his writing style, and his analysis of the human emotions in the relationships young British woman Kitty Fane has with her worthy but to her dull and unexciting husband Walter, and her affair with the exciting but less worthy Charlie Townsend. It's set against the colonial backdrop of British colonials in Hong Kong in the early 20th century. Kitty enjoys her affair with Charlie, but when it is threatened with exposure, Charlie backtracks and refuses to leave his wife Dorothy. In exasperation and disgust, she accompanies her husband on a dangerous mission to a cholera-stricken town where Walter, a bacteriologist, is charged with helping the local convent of nuns to alleviate the suffering of the townspeople. He eventually succumbs to the disease and Kitty realises his true worth. Back in Hong Kong, Kitty discovers she is pregnant and is taken in by the Townsends, much to her discomfort. It is an open question whether her baby is Walter's or, more likely, Charlie's. She returns to Britain to find her mother has passed away and she tries to form a relationship with her distant father as he is posted to a new life-changing role in the Bahamas.

I really enjoyed this novel and the author's descriptions of Kitty's emotional traumas and dilemmas, and relations with other characters, which rang as true and realistic, notwithstanding the very different setting (and the typical for the time assumptions of racial superiority of white Europeans over the Chinese). A great read.

maig 12, 3:22pm

35. Imperial Woman: The Story of the Last Empress of China - Pearl S Buck

This is a biographical novel based on the life of Empress Tzu Hsi (Sacred Mother), the most powerful figure in late 19th century China and the real power behind the throne during the reigns of two of the last three weak Emperors in China. She was originally chosen as one of many concubines to the young Emperor Hsien Feng. Her position confirmed when she gave birth to a healthy male heir, she then became Regent to her son when Hsien Feng died aged 30 ("For ten years of her young womanhood she must rule in her son’s place. And what was her realm? A country vaster than she could guess, a nation older than history, a people whose number had never been counted, to whom she was herself an alien"). She ruled over her equally weak nephew when her son died at an even younger age. In many ways an arch-conservative, she was unable to stem the tide of other countries' attempts to exploit China economically, and failed to realise the need for her country to compete through developing industry and railways and trading more overseas. As depicted in this novel, she is a compelling figure, clearly dominating the court with a strong sense of what she at least sure as China's imperial and national interest ("a man’s mind in a woman’s body"), dealing with the competing forces of aggressive foreign nations, the Tai Ping rebellion and later the extreme nationalist Boxers. An autocrat of course, but seeing herself as a benevolent one, "she set herself to clean away rebels and reformers from among the Chinese whom she ruled, and to bring the whole people under the power of her own hand and heart again". This novel ends a few years before her death in 1908. The author records in a foreword that "decades after she was dead I came upon villages in the inlands of China where the people thought she still lived and were frightened when they heard she was dead. "Who will care for us now?" they cried".

Editat: maig 16, 3:56pm

As more light relief, I read the next three books in a light-hearted time travel series by Jason Ayres.

36. Man out of Time

This is the third in the author's Time Bubble series, following various plot threads from the previous novel, including the exiling 22 years into the future of one of the most unpleasant characters from the previous novel, and how this affects his character. There was not such a strong plot drive in this as in the previous two novels, but this was still a good novel about time travel anomalies and paradoxes, with another cliffhanger ending.

37. Splinters in Time

This is the fourth Time Bubble novel. The survival of one of the main characters who was killed in the original timeline causes disruption to the various universes here. Josh, jumping around in time, encounters various alternative realities, including ones where: King Harold won the Battle of Hastings and the 21st century turns out to be as untechnological as the 19th; one where the President Trump-North Korea stand off results in nuclear war; and where all males have been killed by a virus. This felt a bit disjointed in places, but good fun.

38. Class of '92

This is the fifth Time Bubble novel. In this one Josh is stranded back in 1992, dealing with a new time bubble in Oxford that spits out at four day intervals people and creatures who have disappeared into it in the past, including ultimately even a dinosaur. Restricted to this one time zone, the plot has more room to breathe and the characters are more rounded, including a young policewoman Rebecca Osakwe, who meets with a tragic fate. The story also contained a few humorous references to 70s and 80s Doctor Who which, as a fan, I appreciated.

maig 18, 3:34pm

39. Death Comes as the End - Agatha Christie

This is one of Agatha Christie's most unusual novels, being a historical fiction whodunnit set in ancient Egypt around 2000 BC. It has tended to get overlooked due to the lack of the usual Christie Golden Age of crime fiction feel. However, I found this difference rather effective, as it thereby strips away the usual iconography and trappings and allows a concentration on the fractious relationships between the members of Imenhotep's family, whose lives have been disturbed by the appearance on the scene of a new young concubine the master of the house has installed to replace his deceased wife. There are quite a shocking number of deaths in the household before the final, surprising conclusion is revealed. This is one of only four Christie novels never to have been adapted for the screen or stage.

maig 22, 2:40pm

40. Father Goriot - Honore de Balzac

I studied this classic of 19th century French literature nearly 40 years ago when I did my French A level. This was my first read of it since then (bar an abortive attempt in 2008). On the positive side, it portrays well the relationships between the residents of the pension Vauquer, especially between the title character, the student Rastignac and the mysterious Vautrin. Later on Goriot's relationship with his daughters becomes more prominent. Despite all this and some well drawn scenes, I don't enjoy this. And frankly, the main reason is that it is not divided into chapters, it is just one continuous narrative, and I find that massively offputting, a psychological deterrent to me.

maig 30, 2:42pm

41. League of Spies - Robert Merle

This is the fourth book in the author's series of historical novels set during the French wars of religion in the 16th and 17th centuries. This novel focuses on the 15 or so years after the infamous St Bartholomew's Eve massacre in 1572, particularly focusing on the attempts by the moderate King Henri III to keep his kingdom together, with the extreme Catholic League led by the Duc de Guise wanting to wipe out all Huguenots, while the childless King has no heir except his distant cousin the Protestant Henri of Navarre against whom he has to pretend to wage war while secretly wanting Navarre to succeed peacefully to the throne. In the last chapter, the moderate but exasperated King finally decides there is no alternative other than to assassinate Guise to prevent his plotting to overthrow him. This fourth novel felt less closely connected than its predecessors with the personal fortunes of the novels' narrator Pierre de Siorac who, nevertheless, manages to conduct his usual range of romantic and sexual escapades with many ladies. Not the best of the series, but a solid and enjoyable read as always. Now my problem is that none of the remaining nine books in the series have yet been translated into English and even the French versions seem hard to find.

Editat: maig 31, 5:57am

42. Lyra's Oxford - Philip Pullman

This is a spin off novella set in the world of the author's His Dark Materials series, between the end of the original trilogy and The Book of Dust. Lyra and her daemon Pantaleimon rescue a witch's daemon who claims to be seeking a cure for a sickness from which his mistress (but not he) suffers. But all is not as it seems. The story is brief, but quite dramatic, and as for Once Upon a Time in the North, the book also includes some snippets of interesting and amusing documents from Lyra's world). The book is also slightly annoyingly padded out with material from other related works taking up around a third of its length.

maig 31, 8:13am

43. Serpentine - Philip Pullman

This is another spin off story from the His Dark Materials universe, but I wouldn't even call this a novella, it's really more of a scene where Lyra and Pantalaimon travel to see Dr Lanselius to talk about witches and humans separating from their daemons. Lots of illustrations (not as good as in the other books in my view) and plenty of spaces. Does feel like a bit of a rip off.

juny 2, 4:58pm

44. The Song of Heledd - Judith Arnopp

This story is based on an early Medieval Welsh poem and tells of the story of the eponymous princess, sister of King Cynddylan of Powys who is married against her will to King Cadafael of Gwynedd to cement an alliance of Welsh kingdoms fighting against the English kingdom of Northumbria. Heledd has other ideas about whom she loves. While this sounds like a standard romantic trope of a Medieval lady married against her will, her actions and her choices have profound repercussions for those whom she loves and for the future of Welsh politics. She comes across as rather self-centred here and I didn't warm to her.

juny 5, 5:08pm

45. Jasper Tudor: Godfather of the Tudor Dynasty - Debra Bayani

This is an account of the life of a little known Tudor, the uncle of the first Tudor king Henry VII. He was a brother of Edmund Tudor, who died before his son's birth and was married to Margaret Beaufort. In the author's words "If any man was responsible for the triumphant rise of the Tudor dynasty, that man was surely Jasper Tudor, Duke of Bedford and Earl of Pembroke." He was a loyal mainstay of the Lancastrian party for several decades during the Wars of the Roses and subsequently, and accompanied his nephew into the latter's exile in Brittany during the quarter century of Yorkist rule. We don't know much about Jasper as a person outside his political role and on many occasions this is simply a history of the Lancastrian-Yorkist rivalry, with the occasional mention of bits of property Jasper acquires across the country, intermixed with speculation about what he may have been doing at any particular time. Despite these weaknesses, this is a useful book in reminding us that sometimes the most significant actors in history in terms of what they lay the ground for, are also among the least known.

Editat: juny 11, 7:22am

46. Uncrowned Queen: The Fateful Life of Margaret Beaufort, Tudor Matriarch - Nicola Tallis

This is a very readable and well researched biography of one of the most important female figures of late Medieval English history, mother of the first Tudor king Henry VII and indeed at times, almost his deputy, especially after the death of Henry's wife Elizabeth of York in childbirth in 1503. Later, slightly outliving her son who died in 1509, she was also unofficial regent to her grandson Henry VIII during the first two months of his reign until he came of age and married his brother's widow Katherine of Aragon. The book of course covers the political and military events of the Wars of the Roses and subsequent events, but also brings across clearly Margaret's intense devotion to her son's interests. Giving birth to him before her fourteenth birthday - extremely young even for the time - and largely perforce separated from him during his childhood and adolescence, she was utterly devoted to him throughout the whole of his life, both as exiled pretender and later as king. Henry's father Edmund Tudor died before he was born, and Margaret's subsequent marriages were made with the view of attaining security for herself as well as protection of her son's interests. The book also brings across Margaret's religious devotion, and her charitable and educational work, in which she took a personal interest and role which exceeded that of the merely conventional royal patronage of the age - she was the founder of Christ's and St John's Colleges, Cambridge.

juny 11, 7:39am

S'ha suprimit aquest usuari en ser considerat brossa.

juny 12, 2:47pm

47. The Beaufort Bride: The Life of Margaret Beaufort - Judith Arnopp

This is the first of an uneven length trilogy of novels dramatising the life of Tudor matriarch Margaret Beaufort, mother of King Henry VII. This covers only the first 14 years of her life, but this packs in a lot, a betrothal when she was only 7 and a marriage to another man at the age of 12, and giving birth, with great difficulty, to her son, after the death of her husband Edmund Tudor of plague. At the end of the novel she is being introduced to the man who is to be her third husband, Henry Stafford. Telling a novel from the point of view of a child, albeit an intelligent and observant one like Margaret Beaufort, can be a challenge to put across, but she comes across quite realistically here.

juny 19, 4:08pm

48. Aurora Floyd - M E Braddon

This is Mary Elizabeth Braddon's second most famous novel after Lady Audley's Secret. Like that one it also concerns a respectable woman with, at least by the standards of the mid 19th century, a disreputable secret in her past. This slightly lacked the sparkle of the other novel, but still contained moments of drama and tension and some interesting characters. There is a murder central to the mystery of Aurora's past, though the identity of the culprit is hardly a surprise and I was slightly hoping for a last minute twist. As an author of Victorian sensationalist novels, Braddon is for me almost up there with Wilkie Collins, though she is undeservedly far less well known.

juny 20, 11:25am

49. Arthur: Prince of the Roses - Alison Weir

This is a short story told from the point of view of Prince Arthur, elder son of the first Tudor King Henry VII, acting as a companion piece to the first novel in Weir's Six Tudor Queens series focusing on each of the wives of King Henry VIII. The story brings across clearly the weight of expectation and destiny placed on young Arthur as the progenitor of a line of future kings descended from ancient Welsh princes, including the legendary Celtic/Romano-British war leader of the same name, and who will supposedly restore the fortunes of Britain and its kings. In reality, Arthur is a bookish and physically weak boy who doesn't live up to his parents' or society's expectations for ideal kingship and chafes in the shadow of his ebullient and talented younger brother Henry. The stage is set when Arthur, already suffering from the tuberculosis that will shortly kill him, first reluctantly meets his destined bride Catalina (Catherine) of Aragon. Arthur's story is tragic at a human level, and it is interesting to speculate how differently English and world history would have turned out had he been healthy and succeeded to the throne instead of his younger brother. I look forward to the main series, and other companion short stories.

juny 26, 4:27pm

50. Katherine of Aragon, The True Queen - Alison Weir

This is the first in the author's six novel series tracing the lives of Henry VIII's six wives. Katherine of Aragon's marriage to the Tudor monarch was longer than all the other five marriages put together and far more significant in its longer term impact than any of the others, only Anne Boleyn's coming anywhere close. It finished in a hugely protracted divorce, the consequences of which were surely more far-reaching than those of any other divorce in history, certainly in British and arguably European and world history, as it gave rise to an irrevocable split in the Christian church, the most powerful international force of the time. Katherine's profound sense of duty comes across very clearly here, as does her almost unbelievable levels of personal sense of love and loyalty to Henry, amounting to what comes across to the modern reader as utter naivety at the time when her successor Anne Boleyn is already married to the King and crowned Queen, when Katherine even believes she will be recalled to court and reinstated after the Pope eventually after years of delay pronounces Katherine's marriage to the King legitimate. Katherine does nevertheless come across as a noble, if somewhat irritatingly stubborn, character and I felt sadness at her eventual death in the quietness of an isolation in the countryside amounting effectively to imprisonment. Alison Weir writes the Tudors like very few other authors and I think in particular is one of the very few who is equally effective at both fiction and non-fiction.

juny 29, 5:45pm

51. The Coffin Trail - Martin Edwards

This is the first in a series of whodunnits set in the Lake District, one of my favourite areas in the country. Daniel Kind is a disillusioned Oxford academic historian who moves to the Lake District with his partner journalist Miranda, buying a cottage with connections to the history of his family and their knowledge of a boy Daniel met in his childhood on a family holiday, who later died in tragic and controversial circumstances after the horrific murder of a young woman. Senior policewoman Hannah Scarlett looks into the case as the first of a series of cold case reviews. Daniel, as the son of the senior policeman with whom Hannah worked on the original case, creates ripples in the local community through his questions about the case. The final resolution is suitably unexpected, with some late twists and turns. The characters are well drawn, though I'm not sure yet if I quite like Daniel. But interesting enough for me to read subsequent novels in the series.

juny 30, 1:19pm

52. The Blackened Heart - Alison Weir

This is another short story in the author's series of novels tracing the lives of Henry VIII's six wives. This is told from the point of view of Margery Otwell, one of the handmaids to Katherine of Aragon, who continues to serve her mistress when she falls into disfavour and the King forces through their divorce. As the pressure grows on her mistress as she lays dying at Kimbolton, pressure largely driven by the ever more powerful Boleyn faction at court, a sinister network closes in on Margery. Quite a sudden and shocking ending.

Editat: jul. 7, 5:07pm

53. The Maid of Buttermere - Melvyn Bragg

This novel is based on the true story of Mary Robinson, a beautiful young woman from the village of Buttermere in the Lake District (daughter of the owner of the Fish Inn, now the Buttermere Court Hotel), who was infamously inveigled into marriage by a rogue by the name of John Hatfield, who impersonated a genuine aristocrat and MP, Alexander Augustus Hope. The story was a regional sensation of the time and was commented upon by the Lakeland poets Wordsworth and Coleridge. In fact, despite the novel's title, this story was much more about the motivations and thought processes of Hatfield, than about Mary herself, who despite coming across as honourable and strong-willed also lacks depth as a character and is rather portrayed as a symbol of female innocence manipulated by a deceitful man.

Of course this is as much a novel about the Lake District as a region as it is about any of the characters. For example, this description of Buttermere: "Mr Fenton looked up the length of the lake to the fortress of fells which lent Buttermere its utterly secured character: only one or two distant forms indicated a human presence and they shaded into the evening haze. There was a deepening purple of the crags, the water mirrored that and yet parts of the surface still glittered from the peach reflections which came off some of the clouds. It was peace itself. ......... There was something about the scale, the balance of lake, fell and sky, the colours, the secluded space, the deep peace which not only appealed to what was best in him but seemed, in some way he could not explain but he knew that he could feel, to fulfil him, make him whole, in some profound way to represent him."

Similarly: ".....vale of Grasmere, a prospect described by great poets as an unsuspected paradise, depicted by painters as a jewel set in nature, sought out by the fashionable, protected by the sensible, evoker of sublime epithets, a small, ovaloid dream lake ringed by mountains proportioned in a measure which touched the intelligence as much as the eye; if any one place deserves the description, then Grasmere Vale could claim to be in the very eye of the Romantic storm, in its beauty, its seclusion, its inhabitants and its capacity to draw in and draw out some of the greatest artists of the era"; or, as Hatfield describes it more prosaically to himself, "like a soup bowl with a little puddle left over in the bottom"!

jul. 12, 2:50pm

54. Recollections of a Tour Made in Scotland AD 1803 - Dorothy Wordsworth

This is an account by Dorothy Wordsworth of a six week tour she made with her poet brother north of the border from their Lake District home in the late summer of 1803. They were accompanied by fellow poet Coleridge for part of the way, though he seems to have been ill most of the time, and before long went his own way in greater comfort. Dorothy's poetic descriptions of the Scottish countryside will ring familiar to anyone who has read her more famous Grasmere Journal, and the landscape has many similarities. Dorothy's descriptions of the many sub-standard inns they stay in along the way are quite amusing and show how much poorer and bleaker the Scottish countryside was at this time than most parts of England. Towards the end of the tour they spend time with Walter Scott, at this time also a fellow poet, and not the prolific novelist he would become better known for later. The first half of this account was written contemporaneously, while the latter half suffers slightly from having been written up at a later date, somewhat lacking the detail and fluency of the earlier sections. A good read, though.

jul. 15, 3:20pm

55. Waverley - Sir Walter Scott

This first novel by Sir Walter Scott is often described as the first historical novel ever. While I have read and quite enjoyed three other Scott novels, Ivanhoe, Kenilworth, and Rob Roy, I could not get into this. It is over rich in cultural references and Scots dialect, almost like a brain dump, at the expense of any kind of plot. So I have given up around a quarter of the way through and I will not find out what happens to English officer Edward Waverley when he is posted north of the border at the time of the Young Pretender's uprising of 1745. No rating.

jul. 17, 5:43am

56. The Mystery of Cloomber - Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

This short novel tells of the story of an old British soldier of the Afghan wars of the 1840s who is scared witless by a memory of something in his own past, from which he tries to hide in an old gothic mansion in a remote part of Scotland, where he and his family live as recluses. His secret turns out to be the killing of a holy man, which gave rise to a threat of spiritual vengeance by some Buddhist priests. The story is atmospheric and well told but, like other Doyle stories involving Asian cultures (the Sherlock Holmes story The Sign of Four) mixes elements of different religions and cultures (the slain Buddhist adept is called Goobal Shah, and one of the avengers Ram Singh). Doyle was an intelligent man of the world so it is disappointing he makes these ignorant mistakes though, with respect to the Afghan wars, the narrator acknowledges "in my own heart that the murderous spirit has been set on foot by the Christian before it was taken up by the Buddhists". Despite these flaws that tend to grate on the modern reader, this is a gripping piece of writing that showcases the variety of different genres of fiction that Doyle produced.

jul. 18, 3:33pm

57. Beyond the City - Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

This is another gem of a little known short novel by Conan Doyle, centring on the relationships between three neighbouring families in a London suburb, observed ruefully by two aged spinsters whose father used to own the land on which all these houses all now stand. It is very funny, and there are some interesting discussions on female emancipation, with which Conan Doyle appears to have a basic philosophical sympathy while satirising, though quite affectionately, the "fanatic" excesses to which they tend to go. Despite initial tensions between the households, the financial ruin of the young man in the one of the households due to embezzling of funds by his business partner brings the families together as they try to help him, and the story ends with a double marriage. A nice, upbeat read to distract me on a blisteringly hot day.

jul. 22, 3:19pm

58. Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone - J K Rowling

I must be one of the few people who has never until now read a Harry Potter book, but I have now done so after seeing the excellent if rather long stage play Harry Potter and the Cursed Child. It is good fun and has a natural heart-warming old fashioned feel about it that I think is the key to why it appeals to readers of all generations. I thought the ending was a little rushed.

jul. 23, 1:16pm

59. Pygmalion - George Bernard Shaw

This is the original play version much better known as the musical My Fair Lady. As such, this lacks the variety of scenes of the latter, with the Ambassador's ball taking place off-stage and no Ascot race day. The hilarious scenes of Eliza's elocution lessons ("the rain in Spain is mainly in the plain" etc. are missing here). Aside from that, the dialogue is nearly identical and sparkles and flows like quicksilver though, as when I saw the musical a few days ago, I was irritated by the way Eliza is treated not only by Higgins, but perhaps even more so by the housekeeper Mrs Pearce, as though she is little more than an object with no feelings. In any case, the play/musical are both well worth reading/watching.

jul. 26, 3:53pm

60. Death in Blitz City - David Young

I have read and enjoyed the author's previous series of crime novels set in East Germany in the 1970s and 80s, but this was a change of scene, being set in Hull, in the north east of England, during the second world war. The body of a young woman is discovered in a bombed out house, but she has been strangled and, shockingly, her heart removed. The resulting investigation covers murders of part time prostitutes and black US GIs stationed nearby, mixing themes of racism in the segregated US army with local government fraud in Hull corporation, though I wasn't clear how and why these were linked.

The central protagonist Inspector Ambrose Swift has an interesting backstory from the Great War and his previous policing experiences in London which could point towards a potential interesting prequel or two. His sidekicks are also interesting, Jim Weighton, a part time bare knuckle boxer, and Kathleen Carver, a clever and resourceful young woman determined to make her way in the male dominated world of policing. Despite these promising aspects, this is apparently a standalone novel and not the start of a new series. I guess we'll see.

Editat: jul. 31, 6:49am

The three short novels in Edgar Rice Burroughs's Caspak Trilogy.

61. The Land that Time Forgot

I enjoyed this rather more than I did on my previous reading a decade ago. It is adventure/science fiction in a Jules Verne style though with more of the "boys' own" macho style that is dated now, mixed with blatant racial stereotyping, all of which the reader has to accept on its own terms for the sake of the narrative drive and for the time in which the story was written. All the characters are pretty one dimensional anyway. I got a bit confused by the various captures and re-captures between English and German sailors during the First World War at the beginning but the plot was easier to follow once they got to Caprona. I'm not totally sure what the difference is between Caprona and Caspak . In any case, I liked this well enough this time round to begin immediately reading the second part of the trilogy (they're all short books).

62. The People that Time Forgot

I was a bit disappointed with this sequel to The Land That Time Forgot. I was expecting it to follow the adventures of Bowen Tyler and Lys after they accept their fate as being finally stranded in Caspak beyond hope of rescue. Instead it follows the adventures of Tom Billings, the man who finds the message in a bottle that Tyler threw into the sea at the end of the previous novel. He and his companions attempt to land on Caspak and Tom adventures across the land accompanied by a woman he meets, Ajor. This novel relies less on action and more of how Tom discovers more about the complicated societies on the island, where individual members of tribes progress through levels from apelike creatures to increasingly higher forms of humanity. This makes the novel somewhat more intellectually interesting but less readable as an adventure story.

63. Out of Time's Abyss

This final volume in the Caspak trilogy follows the adventures of Bradley, one of the sailors whose path became separated from that of most of his fellows in the previous novel. It is very like the second volume in that Bradley like Tom Billings in that book adventures across the surface of the continent and finds and rescues a Caspakian woman, Co-Tan, with whom he falls in love. Most of the enemies Bradley faces though are not dinosaurs or wild animals, but the intelligent but hideous and murderous Wieroos, who have a much more advanced civilisation than any other hominid race in Caspak. After many brushes with death, at the end of the novel, Bradley and Co-Tan meet Billings and Ajor and they and all the surviving crewmembers of their ship and of the original German U-Boat sail off into the sunrise.

ag. 3, 3:52pm

64. Sayonara - James Michener

There was a time around 20 years ago when I read several of Michener's epic historical novels, but none since I finished The Source in January 2004. So after a gap of 18 and a half years, I am reading this shorter novel, inspired by seeing the musical South Pacific last weekend. And yes I know that musical is based on a different Michener book, but this one has similar themes, specifically racial tension between US military forces and the native populations of, in the case of this book, Japan in the early 1950s.

Major Ace Gruver is the son of a four star general, engaged to Eileen Webster, daughter of a slightly less highly ranked US general. He is posted to Kobe in Japan to help to dissuade an acquaintance and former member of his unit in the war in Korea, Joe Kelly, from marrying a Japanese woman, Katsumi. This argument is advanced partly on simple racist grounds, but also on not embarrassing the US and its armed forced by fraternising with "the enemy" (though the war is in the past and Japan and the US are allies in the war against the communists in Korea). But as he gets to know them better as a married couple, he comes to recognise the quality of their union, which he contrasts favourably with his relationship with Eileen, who he sees as becoming like her battle-axe of a mother, a woman whose overriding concern is to promote her husband's military career and to preserve the proprieties of military life, including not "consorting" with Japanese women.

Gruver in turn falls in love with a beautiful classical dancer, Hana-ogi and wishes to marry her, even at the cost of abandoning his military career and not returning to the States. Eventually Kelly's and Gruver's relationships with their Japanese partners reach a tragic crisis point due to the pressures they are placed under (the film version, as so often, ends in a more upbeat way). This novel explores racial and cultural tensions very movingly and effectively, with Gruver coming to appreciate what he sees as the simple and honest life of the ordinary Japanese people compared to the complex and manipulative lives of his American compatriots, combined with anger at the naked racism of many of his military superiors. At the end, when he is parted from Hana-ogi seemingly permanently, he presciently remarks that "All this should have happened fifty years from now. Then maybe there would have been a chance. In my day there was no chance for such a marriage.” A moving and powerful novel about love across racial and cultural boundaries.

Ahir, 9:04am

65. Memoirs of a Geisha - Arthur Golden

This is a fictional memoir researched by a US author through talking to real geisha. Through the medium of the fictitious geisha Sayuri, he brings across the lifestyle and customs of this very culturally specific group of people, about whom there are many myths and mis-representations in the western world. There are many colourful characters as Sayuri, separated from her sister, her only surviving family member, grows up in the okiya (geisha house) from the age of 9 (in 1929) moving through her apprenticeship period and facing the bitter jealousies of real and potential rivals. I enjoyed this novel which covers a period of over 20 years through the closure of the geisha communities during the second world war and partial recovery thereafter, though the community shrinks considerably in the second half of the 20th century.

The novel was somewhat controversial when published, as Mineko Iwasaki, the main geisha source from whom the author derived his information, was upset about being acknowledged as such, and sued the author, though the case was settled out of court. There were apparently some differences of opinion and/or interpretation over what she told him about her experiences. I have no independent knowledge of where the truth lies in any such disputes, but this novel reveals a rich, colourful and (to the western eye) alien lifestyle and does not glamorise the difficulties and controversial aspects. A worthwhile read.