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January 27th, 2013

Book 20: The Wine of Solitude.
Author: Irène Némirovsky, 1935. Translated from the French by Sandra Smith, 2011.
Genre: Period Fiction. Coming of Age.
Other Details: Hardback. 256 pages.

Hélène is a troubled young girl. Neglected by her self-absorbed mother and her adored but distant father, she longs for love and for freedom. As first the Great War and then the Russian Revolution rage in the background, she grows from a lonely, melancholy child to an angry young woman intent on destruction. - synopsis from publisher's website.

The novel follows Hélène Karol from the ages of eight to twenty-one and charts her changing relationships to her parents and her mother's younger lover, Max. This is said to be Némirovsky's most autobiographical novel and certainly there are themes here that appear to greater or lesser degree in other of her works, including a wealthy family forced by the Revolution to relocate from Russia to France and the relationship between a vain, self-absorbed mother and her neglected daughter.

This was a very melancholic novel, even bleak at times. However, this is not caused by the Great War and Russian Revolution, historical events that remain very much in the background of the narrative, but the emptiness of the lives of the Karol family despite their material wealth. The writing as always with Némirovsky was exquisite but somehow I just didn't engaged with it to the degree I did with other of her novels. It may have been the characters, who were hard to relate to apart from the Hélène as a young girl, or just that its style felt more intellectual than her other novels.
#6 JRR Tolkien: The Hobbit
I am pretty sure, I am not the only one who decided to re-read this one after watching the film. Enjoyable as ever, it also makes obvious the challenges facing Peter Jackson. While the Lord of the Ring is an epic tale, the Hobbit is a bed-time story. The dwarfs are often comical, and the elves are closer to the Little People of English folklore - teasing and somewhat cruel, rather than to the Tolkien elves of later books.

#7-8 Phil Rickman 'The Bones of Avalon' and 'The Heresy of Dr Dee'
I like historical detectives, and these ones are a treat. Especially, since the main detectives are Dr. Dee and Lord Dudley. A promising start of what I hope will be a long series.

#9 Brigitte Hamann 'Elisabeth: Kaiserin wieder Willen' (An empress against her will))
A biography of the Austrian Empress, famous for he beauty, her extravagant life and her tragic and sudden death. Very well researched and engrossingly written. The general impression after reading the book though was, that here was a woman who did not manage to overcome her inner demons and to take the full advantage of all the many possibilities which life has offered her. Not unusual, but hardly inspiring.
Book 21: Falling Awake.
Author: Charles J. Harwood, 2011.
Genre: Suspense. Contemporary. Erotic elements.
Other Details: Paperback. 300 pages.

Falling Awake, previously titled Domestic Bliss tells the story of Gemma who is faced with the prospect of repossession after her husband Liam vanishes under mysterious circumstances with only a weird doodle as a clue to why. A black contorted nonagon shape would indicate that Gemma is dealing with anything but your run-of-the-mill money lender. But her problems are only just beginning when in desperation Gemma takes up an evening job performing sexy routines with Charlene for insomniac voyeur Luke who watches from across the courtyard in his apartment.

This was the second novel by Harwood that I was asked to read and review by one of our local librarians given that its author is local and was looking for feedback. However, while the kidnapping plot of The Shuttered Room falls into a genre I am interested in, Gemma and the financial problems she faces following her husband's desertion and the solution she finds to earn extra money really wasn't my cup of tea. Actually the highlight of the novel for me was Gemma going wildly off-script and subverting the eroticism of the performance. It was a great development for her in terms of coming out from under male domination.

While the writing itself was fine, I just felt that I wanted the author to make a greater commitment to either the thriller or erotic aspects. It made me reflect on the fact that when self-publishing without the critical eye of an experienced editor it is easy to avoid feedback from someone with the authority to suggest changes as friends and family are unlikely to be critical in order to spare feelings.

Book 22: Ten Big Ones (Stephanie Plum #10).
Author: Janet Evanovich, 2004.
Genre: Chick Lit Crime Fiction. Comedy/Drama
Other Details: Unabridged Audio. (Length: 7 hrs, 38 min ) Read by Lorelei King.

In this tenth outing for the inept bounty hunter she comes up against a Trenton gang and quickly realises that she is out of her depth despite her stubborn streak. With Ranger away on business and her on-again/off-again relationship with Joe Morelli in off-mode, she has to go into hiding so as not to endanger her friends and family. When she stumbles upon a property owned by Ranger it is ideal but potentially opens her up to a different kind of danger when her secretive colleague finds out.

The threat level here was higher than normal for Stephanie though her misadventures as Goldilocks when she intrudes on Ranger's private life balanced this out nicely. It was also great to see the return of Salvatore (Sally) Sweet, the cross-dressing rock musician to the story and his branching out into wedding planning. The ending did seem a little hurried without the usual epilogue. I plan on moving right on to Book 11 this coming week.

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