Wednesday, 27 November 2013

Catching up again

I am becoming rubbish at keeping this up to date, and the whole point is to write a few words about each book as soon as I finish it while it is fresh in my mind. But once again I have several to write up. I blame these short little ebooks I keep reading. I get through them pretty quickly, faster than I have time to sit here and write my blog.

Anyway, recently read:

Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier
Last read this one in my teens. What a wonderful book it is. So beautifully written. I love the leisurely pace at which events unfold, the way the narrator although first person fades into the background, eclipsed by a character who isn't even present. How du Maurier pulls this off is a masterclass in itself. It's a book to study if you're a writer, and savour if you're a reader. Creepy and clever and very satisfying.

Gracie's War by Elaine Everest
I've known Elaine mostly online for many years now and was delighted to see her first novel out. It's an enjoyable wartime romance, very evocative of the era and the location (north Kent). Gracie marries in haste to wide-boy Joe, but her heart belongs to soldier Tony. As the war progresses and Joe gets deep into the murkier sides of 1940s life, Gracie wonders whether she can ever have a chance at true happiness. But things do work out, as they always do in this genre, the story is well told and the end is satisfying.

My only quibble with this book was the number of formatting and punctuation errors which unfortunately did detract from the story. It's not a self-published book (if it was, there'd be only the author to blame). You would expect better from a specialist ebook publisher, so I was disappointed in this respect.

The Prince and the Singularity by Pedro Barrento
I came across this book because the author posted a link to his blog in a Facebook writers' group. The author looks EXACTLY like my brother, so I went to read his blog, was intrigued, and then went to take a look at his book. The blurb also intrigued, the 'look inside' feature showed the book was well-written (and crucially for me at the moment, well-formatted) so I bought it. That has to be the most surreal reason for buying a book - because the author looks like my brother.

The book is a take on creation myths. Gods are bored, playing cards, and creating universes as forfeits when they lose. Along comes a Prince who is somehow a bug in the system. Oh, I can't explain the plot. It defies description!

Back when I was about 20 I spent my days reading stuff by Richard Bach (eg Jonathon Livingstone Seagull) and Robert Pirsig (Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance). Reading this book brought those two to mind. It's nothing like either of them - in fact it's nothing like anything I've ever read before but it's quirky and unusual and makes you think, just like those two do.

I loved the circularity of it, and the way it explains nothing in the end, but also asks the question what is reality and is it good or bad? Some things are currently unexplainable; the nature of reality is one such topic; but this book manages to show that reality is unexplainable in a very enjoyable way. If this review comes across as circular and doesn't actually tell you what the book is about, that's a good thing because that's what the book is like anyway.

I think it's good. Read it and make up your own mind.

Wednesday, 13 November 2013

The Haunting

The Haunting by Alan Titchmarsh

I've read a few of Alan Titchmarsh's books before, and I enjoy his easy-to-read style. So when my son sent me this book for my birthday I was delighted. The blurb talks about a novel told in two time frames, with a genealogy element - right up my street. In fact that pretty much describes my own completed novel. So I looked forward immensely to reading it and it was allowed a major queue jump.

In the historical story, maid servant Anne Flint is witness to a tragic accident, and is then abducted. She gets away from her abductor and is subject to more adventures before finally getting back to the Hampshire village where she'd worked.

In the contemporary story, Harry Flint gives up his job as a teacher, moves into a tumbledown cottage in a remote part of Hampshire and researches his ancestors. Next door to the cottage, in an old mill, lives Alex Overton, a young widow who soon catches Harry's eye. She's got secrets of her own. Inevitably the two fall in love.

I enjoyed this story, and it's definitely easy to read. However, and it is a big however, (spoiler alert) the plot relies entirely on coincidence. Not one, but several. Harry, Alex and Harry's best mate all turn out to be descendants of the characters in the historical story. Alex just happens to be living in the mill where Anne Flint spent her last days. Harry's best mate's ancestors owned the mill, and he just happens to have a diary from 1816. In the historical story, when Anne Flint is on the run in Portsmouth, her employer's son just happens to come across her. And so it goes on. This felt like lazy plotting to me. Each event ought to occur naturally out of what's come before. If people are researching the past, they should need to actually research it, not have a diary with all the detail just handed to them. I felt quite annoyed by this in the end. My own two time period genealogical novel has no such coincidences in it.

Recommended as an easy read but don't expect to be blown away by the clever plot.