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2013 Summary

It’s only taken me a year to finish writing up my 2013 book reviews (and with nearly 30 2014 book reviews to write in the next month), but alas I am here. So what happened in 2013? I got promoted to manager at work; I travelled to Hawaii and went on a cruise to far-north Queensland, as well as visiting the most northern point in Australia for work (Thursday Island for those of you playing at home); I started saving for a house. No man yet, no published book, but you’ve got have some goals left over for the next year right? I set myself one goal in 2013 – read 15 500+ page books. I read two. Maybe 2014 will be my year, eh? (yeah right!!). Anyway, on with the list:

1.   Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson – 598 pages
2.   Rock Chicks: The Hottest Female Rockers from the 1960s to Now by Alison Stieven-Taylor – 314 pages
3.   206 Bones by Kathy Reichs – 308 pages
4.   Britney: Inside the Dream by Steve Dennis – 400 pages
5.   This Charming Man by Marian Keyes – 885 pages
6.   The Iliad by Homer – 460 pages
7.   The Female Brain by Louann Brizendine, M.D – 343 pages
8.   Why Some Like it Hot: Food, Genes, and Cultural Diversity by Gary Paul Nabhan – 223 pages
9.   The Descendants by Kaui Hart Hemmings – 283 pages
10.         Sweet Poison: Why Sugar Makes Us Fat by David Gillespie – 205 pages
11.         A Long, Long Sleep by Anna Sheehan – 342 pages
12.         Underworld by Meg Cabot – 318 pages
13.         Glow by Amy Kathleen Ryan – 385 pages
14.         Before Ever After by Samantha Sotto – 294 pages
15.         The Age of Miracles by Karen Thomson Walker – 369 pages
16.         Alice in Zombieland by Gena Showalter – 394 pages
17.         Awaken by Meg Cabot – 343 pages
18.         Spark by Amy Kathleen Ryan – 375 pages
19.         Insatiable by Meg Cabot – 451 pages
20.         Overbite by Meg Cabot – 275 pages
21.         Pacific Paradises: The Discovery of Tahiti and Hawaii by Trevor Lummis – 201 pages
22.         The Bride Wore Size 12 by Meg Cabot – 392 pages
23.         The Star Queen by Susan Grant – 322 pages
24.         Some Kind of Fairy Tale by Graham Joyce – 389 pages
25.         Star Trek Enterprise: The Good That Men Do by Andy Mangels & Michael A. Martin – 446 pages
26.         Company by Max Barry – 336 pages
27.         A Song For Summer by Eva Ibbotson – 424 pages
28.         The Authenticity Hoax: How we get lost finding ourselves by Andrew Potter – 283 pages
29.         Everlost by Neal Shusterman – 377 pages
30.         Sex at Dawn: The Prehistoric Origins of Modern Sexuality by Christopher Ryan & Cacilda Jetha – 344 pages


30 / 50 books. 60% done!


11079 / 15000 pages. 74% done!

Comparison to 2012:


30 / 42 books. 71% done!


11079 / 11869 pages. 93% done!

Top 5 books (not including re-reads):

5. Sweet Poison
4. Company
3. The Descendants
2. This Charming Man
1. Steve Jobs

Interesting Facts:
Improvement on last year: -12 (-790)
Library books: 22
Non-Fiction: 9
Most read author: Meg Cabot (5 books/1779 pages)
Books with a sci-fi/fantasy element: 14
Re-reads: 0
Sequels/Not a stand alone or first in a series: 7

I had only set myself one goal this year and that was to read 15 pre-selected 500+ pages books. I read two. Consequently for 2014, whilst I didn’t write it down anyway but a entry at the top of my journal, I set myself this goal again, subbing out the two 500+ page books I’d read for two new ones. I can hand on heart say I will not make this goal (something easy to say when its December of said year), but I will beat my result of two (how much by is for another day!). I have set myself no other specific goals for 2014, besides actually hitting the 15000 pages goal which seems to be relatively achievable. We’ll see what 2014 brings (or you will when I write my 2014 summary in a month’s time – I obviously already know what 2014 has brought!).

On to another year folks! Let’s see if I can get the 2014 reviews done before the end of the month.

Book 209: The The Absolutist by John Boyne

Book 209: The Absolutist.
Author: John Boyne, 2011.
Genre: Period Fiction. World War I. War. GLBT.
Other Details: ebook. 321 pages.

September 1919:20 year-old Tristan Sadler takes a train from London to Norwich to deliver some letters to Marian Bancroft. Tristan fought alongside Marian’s brother Will during the Great War but in 1917, Will laid down his guns on the battlefield, declared himself a conscientious objector and was shot as a traitor, an act which has brought shame and dishonour on the Bancroft family.

But the letters are not the real reason for Tristan’s visit. He holds a secret deep in his soul. One that he is desperate to unburden himself of to Marian, if he can only find the courage. As they stroll through the streets of a city still coming to terms with the end of the war, he recalls his friendship with Will, from the training ground at Aldershot to the trenches of Northern France, and speaks of how the intensity of their friendship brought him from brief moments of happiness and self-discovery to long periods of despair and pain.
- synopsis from author's website

I had deeply appreciated this novel when I read in 2011 (Book 117) and it emerged as one of my favourites for the year. Three years later it was selected for our November library reading group and proved an even richer experience reading a second time.

It was also very well received by the members of the group and note was made of how well Boyne had captured the horrors of trench warfare, Given the 100th anniversary of the Great War it proved an appropriate and sober choice to remind us all of the sacrifices made by former generations. A novel I would recommend to all.

#108: The Great Influenza by John M. Barry

Summary:
No disease the world has ever known even remotely resembles the great influenza epidemic of 1918. Presumed to have begun when sick farm animals infected soldiers in Kansas, spreading and mutating into a lethal strain as troops carried it to Europe, it exploded across the world with unequaled ferocity and speed. It killed more people in twenty weeks than AIDS has killed in twenty years; it killed more people in a year than the plagues of the Middle Ages killed in a century. Victims bled from the ears and nose, turned blue from lack of oxygen, suffered aches that felt like bones being broken, and died. In the United States, where bodies were stacked without coffins on trucks, nearly seven times as many people died of influenza as in the First World War.

In his powerful new book, award-winning historian John M. Barry unfolds a tale that is magisterial in its breadth and in the depth of its research, and spellbinding as he weaves multiple narrative strands together. In this first great collision between science and epidemic disease, even as society approached collapse, a handful of heroic researchers stepped forward, risking their lives to confront this strange disease. Titans like William Welch at the newly formed Johns Hopkins Medical School and colleagues at Rockefeller University and others from around the country revolutionized American science and public health, and their work in this crisis led to crucial discoveries that we are still using and learning from today.

The Washington Post’s Jonathan Yardley said Barry’s last book can “change the way we think.” The Great Influenza may also change the way we see the world.


I approached this mammoth book with excitement, which soon dimmed as I slogged through the first 100 pages. It was all background on academic changes regarding science and research, especially in the forming of Johns Hopkins and the Rockefeller Institute, and key figures in this advancement. Interesting stuff, if in a small dose, but it dragged on as I was impatient to get to the actual influenza outbreak. Once I reached that part, I found the book I had hoped for and sped through hundreds of pages in a matter of days. I also jotted down notes related to writing projects. The last part of the book returned to the pivotal men mentioned at the front, and I pretty much skimmed just to have the thing done. So many names were thrown at me that I couldn't keep them straight.

It was a frustrating, disappointing book overall. If I wanted a book about medical science in general for that time period, I would find a book on that subject. This one is titled THE GREAT INFLUENZA. That should be the central subject. This text needed more editorial control--someone to lop off the first and last third.

Books 27 & 28 - 2013

Book 27: A Song For Summer by Eva Ibbotson – 424 pages

Description from bookdepository.co.uk:
When Ellen Carr abandons grey, dreary London to become housekeeper at an experimental school in Austria, she finds her destiny. Swept into an idyllic world of mountains, music, eccentric teachers and wayward children, Ellen brings order and joy to all around her. But it's the handsome, mysterious gardener, Marek, who intrigues her -- Marek, who has a dangerous secret. As Hitler's troops spread across Europe, Ellen has promises to keep, even if they mean she must sacrifice her future happiness ...An unforgettable love story from the award-winning author of Journey to the River Sea and The Star of Kazan.

Thoughts:
I’m not sure why this book ended up on my to-read list, but for some reason I have a ton of Ibbotson’s books on my list. I was going through a phase of borrowing library books rather than reading the 4 million books I own and haven’t read. I took this one with me on my trip to Hawaii but I took it along with a number of other books which was probably a good call, cause this was a hard slog. It wasn’t necessarily a bad story, it was just…dull. Ellen is raised by intellectual women but aspires for a more traditional career path herself. She meets a gardener called Marek and their love story unfolds against the backdrop of World War Two. It sounds really interesting but it just wasn’t. It did nothing for me, and I dragged my feet reading it. There’s nothing wrong with the storytelling itself but I can hardly remember what happened anymore, and I didn’t feel any richer for reading the book. Having said that, books set during the war are really not my thing, so if normal people war stories are your thing give it a go. It just wasn’t for me.


27 / 50 books. 54% done!


10075 / 15000 pages. 67% done!

Book 28: The Authenticity Hoax: How we get lost finding ourselves by Andrew Potter – 283 pages

Description from bookdepository.co.uk:
What does it mean to be authentic? The demand for authenticity--the honest or the real--is one of the most powerful movements in contemporary life, influencing our moral outlook, political views, and consumer behavior. Yet according to Andrew Potter, when examined closely, our fetish for "authentic" lifestyles or experiences is actually a form of exclusionary status seeking. The result, he argues, is modernity's malaise: a competitive, self-absorbed individualism that ultimately erodes genuine relationships and true community. Weaving together threads of pop culture, history, and philosophy, The Authenticity Hoax reveals how our misguided pursuit of the authentic merely exacerbates the artificiality of contemporary life that we decry. In his defiant, brilliant critique, Andrew Potter offers a way forward to a meaningful individualism that makes peace with the modern world.

Thoughts:
I stumbled across this book while picking some other stuff up from the library. I’m always up for some sociology/anthropology etc, and this seemed interesting. It poses quite a fascinating question: in our demand for authenticity have we actually attracted the opposite? Moreover, what really is authenticity, particularly in our selfie, image conscious world? It’s a reasonable question in the world of pop culture and social media, where Kim Kardahian flashes her whole naked body to the world but no one knows how much photoshop and plastic surgery has been involved. This book works through how the idea of and demand for authenticity came about and how Potter feels that we’ve compromised ourselves. It also looks out the ongoing movement of ideas and concepts and things from ‘underground’ where it is deemed authentic to ‘mainstream’ where it isn’t, and how this is a fallacy in of itself. It’s not exactly the most engrossing book but nonetheless it’s a fascinating question to think about.


28 / 50 books. 56% done!


10358 / 15000 pages. 69% done!

Currently reading:
-        Sex Drive: In pursuit of female desire by Dr Bella Ellwood-Clayton – 312 pages
-        Singled Out: How Singles Are Stereotyped, Stigmatized, and Ignored, and Still Live Happily Ever After by Bella DePaulo, PH.D. – 308 pages
-        When Men Become Gods: Mormon Polygamist Warren Jeffs, his cult of fear, and the women who fought back by Stephen Singular – 305 pages

And coming up:
-        The Second Chronicles of Thomas Covenant: Volume 3: White Gold Wielder by Stephen Donaldson – 500 pages
-        The Odyssey by Homer – 324 pages
-        One for the Money by Janet Evanovich – 290 pages
12. Until the Final Hour - Traudl Junge with Melissa Mueller
Blurb: Traudl Junge was 22 years old and dreamt of a career as a ballerina, until the 'opportunity of her life' beckoned and she was appointed Adolf Hitler's secretary.
From 1942 until his death she was at his side in the bunker, typing his correspondence, his speeches and even his last private and political will and testament.
It was only after the war that the horrible reality of Hitler's regime began to dawn on her, and she became wracked with guilt for liking the greatest criminal ever to have lived. Her journal, written in 1947, is a startling eyewitness account of Hitler's court during its final years and of the building sense of doom as the war progressed.
Thoughts: I had wanted to read this since I was in Sixth Form and I felt the time was finally right to read it. Junge has always fascinated me as a person and this was a wonderful insight into her personality and into the cult of Hitler. Quite a lot of what she said was far-fetched but the majority was incredibly insightful. It's clear that Junge was racked with guilt about her naivety and pushing the negative thoughts aside when it became clear the war was lost. This book is a must for anyone interested in World War Two, especially to see the German perspective.

13. The Thirteen Problems - Agatha Christie [I had no idea this was book 13 of the year!]
Blurb: Every Tuesday evening, a group of friends including an ex-Scotland Yard Commissioner and a crime novelist get together to find solutions to previously unsolved murders. But by far the most adept at solving these puzzles is their host, gentle old Miss Marple - whose mind, it seems, can plumb the depths of human iniquity...
Thoughts: I thoroughly enjoyed this book. Only one of the stories has been adapted for television so it was good to read something which I had no idea of the solution to! Each mystery was really well thought out to say it covered only a small chapter. A nice easy read.

14. Shadows of the Workhouse - Jennifer Worth
Blurb: When Jennifer Worth became a midwife in the 1950s, she joined an East End where many lives were touched by the shadow of the workhouse. For, although the institutions were officially abolished in 1930, in reality many did no close until several decades later.
In the follow-up to her bestselling Call the Midwife, Jennifer Worth tells the true stories of the people she met. There's Peggy and Frank, who were separated in the workhouse when their parents died - until Frank's strength and determination enabled him to make a home for his sister. Jane was a bright, lively child, whose spirit was broken by cruelty, until she found kindness and love later in life. Then there is the matchmaking nun, Sister Julienne, and Sister Monica Joan, who ends up in High Court...
Thoughts: I just did not enjoy this book. Something about Worth's writing style really irritated me. In places she felt highly condescending and a bit preachy. I ploughed through this one to get it finished. It picked up in places but overall I was quite disappointed with it.

15. Bridget Jones: Mad About the Boy - Helen Fielding
Blurb: Is it morally wrong to have a blow-dry when one of your children has head lice?
Is technology now the fifth element? Or is that wood?
Is sleeping with someone after 2 dates and 6 weeks of texting the same as getting married after 2 meetings and 6 months of letter writing in Jane Austen's day?
Pondering these, and other modern dilemmas, Bridget Jones stumbles through the challenges of single-motherhood, tweeting, texting and redisovering her sexuality in what SOME people rudely and outdatedly call 'middle age'.
The long-awaited return of a much-loved character, Bridget Jones: Mad About the Boy is timely, tender, touching, witty, wise and bloody hilarious.
Thoughts: I actually really enjoyed this. It was a tad predicable (could tell have way through who she would end up with) but funny nonetheless. Not really sure it would work as a film, so I'm quite glad they are going with a different story for it.

Books 23 & 24 - 2013

Book 23: The Star Queen by Susan Grant – 322 pages

Description from Goodreads:
A novella, The Star Queen takes place 11,000 years before the Star series books begin. On the decimated planet of Sienna, two lovers struggle to survive and drive out ruthless warlords who have enslaved their people for generations. Together, Romjha and Tai will rebuild their demolished civilization…and begin a star-spanning dynasty with their love.

Thoughts:
I read the Star trilogy several years ago and then discovered that there was a prequel to the series that was only available in a compilation book with two other short stories, which I really didn’t want to buy. Then it got released as a stand alone e-book, so I broke my e-book rule and bought it. You don’t really need to have read the Star series to enjoy this short story (it’s 322 iPhone size pages!). It introduces the ancestors to the characters of the Star trilogy, who are basically hostages on their own planet, doomed to live underground and scavenge due to an alien threat. When non hostile aliens turn up, they team up to defeat their overlords. It was a good, sharp read with Grant’s enjoyable romantic angle that manages to be sweet and sexy not sickly or pornographic. A good quick little read.


23 / 50 books. 46% done!


8480 / 15000 pages. 57% done!

Book 24: Some Kind of Fairy Tale by Graham Joyce – 389 pages

Description from bookdepository.co.uk:
SOME KIND OF FAIRY TALE is a very English story. A story of woods and clearings, a story of folk tales and family histories. It is as if Neil Gaiman and Joanne Harris had written a fairy tale together. It is Christmas afternoon and Peter Martin gets an unexpected phonecall from his parents, asking him to come round. It pulls him away from his wife and children and into a bewildering mystery. He arrives at his parents' house and discovers that they have a visitor. His sister Tara. Not so unusual you might think, this is Christmas after all, a time when families get together. But twenty years ago Tara took a walk into the woods and never came back and as the years have gone by with no word from her the family have, unspoken, assumed that she was dead. Now she's back, tired, dirty, dishevelled, but happy and full of stories about twenty years spent travelling the world, an epic odyssey taken on a whim. But her stories don't quite hang together and once she has cleaned herself up and got some sleep it becomes apparent that the intervening years have been very kind to Tara. She really does look no different from the young women who walked out the door twenty years ago. Peter's parents are just delighted to have their little girl back, but Peter and his best friend Richie, Tara's one time boyfriend, are not so sure. Tara seems happy enough but there is something about her. A haunted, otherworldly quality. Some would say it's as if she's off with the fairies. And as the months go by Peter begins to suspect that the woods around their homes are not finished with Tara and his family...

Thoughts:
I can’t quite remember where I heard about this book, but part of me wanted to read it simply because the main protagonist’s name is Tara, which is my name and I very rarely stumble across characters called Tara (random reason for reading a book, I know, but such as life). It was a very odd book, and I came out the other side struggling to work out the point. Tara disappears as a teenager, never to be seen again. Her family and the boy who loves her spend the next twenty years trying to deal with this. And then Tara comes back. Randomly, out of the blue, one Christmas Day. But she doesn’t appear to have aged all that much in the last twenty years. She’s still young in mindset, she’s trying to work out why the world is different, and no one believes what she’s been through. The book jumps backwards and forwards between the events that lead to Tara disappearing and where she ends up, and what happens there, and the reactions of her family once she returns. Where Tara goes, and what happens there is bizarre, and to be honest, feels a little unfinished, like Joyce wanted her to disappear, wanted her to be changed, but didn’t really know how to pull it off. Needless to say, Tara struggles with the real world, and her family struggle with what she does and doesn’t tell them. The conclusion of the book makes sense, but I feel the ending was unsatisfying in some way. Maybe that was the point – what happens in the end feels like it was fairly unsatisfying for the characters too. Maybe because things happen in life that don’t make sense, and are unsatisfying for all of us. I don’t really know, but I will say one thing: the comment in the description above about the book being very English? Yeah, that part is very, very true!


24 / 50 books. 48% done!


8869 / 15000 pages. 59% done!

Currently reading:
-        The 5th Wave by Rick Yancey – 457 pages
-        A Series of Unfortunate Events: Book the Ninth: The Carnivorous Carnival by Lemony Snicket – 286 pages
-        Sex Drive: In pursuit of female desire by Dr Bella Ellwood-Clayton – 312 pages

And coming up:
-        The Second Chronicles of Thomas Covenant: Volume 3: White Gold Wielder by Stephen Donaldson – 500 pages
-        The Odyssey by Homer – 324 pages
-        One for the Money by Janet Evanovich – 290 pages
Summary:
The number of soldiers wounded in World War I is, in itself, devastating: over 21 million military wounded, and nearly 10 million killed. On the battlefield, the injuries were shocking, unlike anything those in the medical field had ever witnessed. The bullets hit fast and hard, went deep and took bits of dirty uniform and airborne soil particles in with them. Soldier after soldier came in with the most dreaded kinds of casualty: awful, deep, ragged wounds to their heads, faces and abdomens. And yet the medical personnel faced with these unimaginable injuries adapted with amazing aptitude, thinking and reacting on their feet to save millions of lives.

In Wounded, Emily Mayhew tells the history of the Western Front from a new perspective: the medical network that arose seemingly overnight to help sick and injured soldiers. These men and women pulled injured troops from the hellscape of trench, shell crater, and no man's land, transported them to the rear, and treated them for everything from foot rot to poison gas, venereal disease to traumatic amputation from exploding shells. Drawing on hundreds of letters and diary entries, Mayhew allows readers to peer over the shoulder of the stretcher bearer who jumped into a trench and tried unsuccessfully to get a tightly packed line of soldiers out of the way, only to find that they were all dead. She takes us into dugouts where rescue teams awoke to dirt thrown on their faces by scores of terrified moles, digging frantically to escape the earth-shaking shellfire. Mayhew moves her account along the route followed by wounded men, from stretcher to aid station, from jolting ambulance to crowded operating tent, from railway station to the ship home, exploring actual cases of casualties who recorded their experiences.

Both comprehensive and intimate, this groundbreaking book captures an often neglected aspect of the soldier's world and a transformative moment in military and medical history.


I have read many books, fiction and nonfiction, in search of information on medical practices in World War I. I have found some good books, but this--this is the volume I was seeking all along. Mayhew relies heavily on primary source material to describe the nurses, doctors, and personnel who labored among the injured in the trenches. It's brutal, ugly, and beautiful all at once. The true face of humanity emerges amidst the darkest, most dire of circumstances.

Chapters focus on different aspects of the journey: the point of view of those who were injured in various ways; the stretcher-bearers, so often ignored in chronicles of the war; regimental medical officers; surgeons; nurses; orderlies; chaplains; ambulance trains; railway stations where the wounded were piled; and the London Ambulance Column.

Mayhew's extensive citations will provide me with a great deal of additional research material as well.

If you have an interest in--and the stomach for--the evolution of medicine a century ago, do check out this book. It's a quick and engrossing read, and one that will enlighten you.

Book 180: Life After Life by Kate Atkinson

Book 180: Life After Life.
Author: Kate Atkinson, 2013.
Genre: Period Fiction. Alternative History. Reincarnation.
Other Details: Hardback. 479 pages.

What if you had the chance to live your life again and again, until you finally got it right? During a snowstorm in England in 1910, a baby is born and dies before she can take her first breath. During a snowstorm in England in 1910, the same baby is born and lives to tell the tale. What if there were second chances? And third chances? In fact an infinite number of chances to live your life? Would you eventually be able to save the world from its own inevitable destiny? And would you even want to? - synopsis from UK publisher's website.

The novel has an unusual structure as it loops back time and again to explore alternative possibilities experienced by Ursula Todd. She is born in 1910 and the main focus is upon the first half of the century and especially the years leading up to and through WWII. Ursula is haunted by a sense of déjà vu that does at times inform her choices,

I adored this novel. I was not quite sure what to expect and found myself delighted by the unusual form of reincarnation experienced by Ursula. I also enjoyed the fox theme. The house that Ursula grows up in is called Fox Corner and her surname means fox. Foxes also pop up from time to time.

This was a reading group selection and was well received by all but one member who found the looping back frustrating. One member also had missed the intriguing prologue as her Kindle edition had begun with Chapter 1. We had a rich discussion about the possibility of changing history, which is a major theme of the novel.
Book 175: The Narrow Road to the Deep North .
Author: Richard Flanagan, 2014.
Genre: Period Fiction. 1840s Asia/Australia. War.
Other Details: Hardback. 448 pages.

Taking its title from one of the most famous books in Japanese literature, written by the great haiku poet Basho, Flanagan’s novel has as its heart one of the most infamous episodes of Japanese history, the construction of the Thailand-Burma Death Railway in World War II. In the despair of a Japanese POW camp on the Death Railway, surgeon Dorrigo Evans is haunted by his love affair with his uncle’s young wife two years earlier. Struggling to save the men under his command from starvation, from cholera, from beatings, he receives a letter that will change his life forever. - synopsis from Man Booker website.

This powerful multi-layered novel surprised me as given the subject matter I did not expect to be drawn so deeply into its narrative. It deals with the difficult subject of POWs held by the Japanese during WWII in the Pacific. As a result there are many scenes that were hard to read and yet it was so vital to the story that these be as raw as they were. While it would have been easy to demonize the Japanese in charge of the camp Flanagan presents them as bound to a code of honour and a tradition that is very different to that of their prisoners. It does not lessen the cruelty that is portrayed but places it in context.

The novel has quite a traditional structure though it does jump about in time some, chronicling Dorrigo Evans' life in Australia before and after the war as well as the post-war lives of a few of the Japanese and Korean prison guards. Certainly it has the qualities I would consider worthy of a prestigious literary award such as the Man Booker though its accessibility and lack of experimental style may go against current trends in judging such awards.

However, whatever the outcome I felt this was the strongest of the three novels I have read so far on the 2014 short-list. The writing is beautiful even when dealing with the horrors of the POW camp and the love story at the novel's heart was deeply moving. A novel that will remain with me for some time.

#88: Ha'penny by Jo Walton (Small Change #2)

Summary:
In 1949, eight years after the "Peace with Honor" was negotiated between Great Britain and Nazi Germany by the Farthing Set, England has completed its slide into fascist dicatorship. Then a bomb explodes in a London suburb.

The brilliant but politically compromised Inspector Carmichael of Scotland Yard is assigned the case. What he finds leads him to a conspiracy of peers and communists, of staunch King-and- Country patriots and hardened IRA gunmen, to murder Britain's Prime Minister and his new ally, Adolf Hitler.

Against a background of increasing domestic espionage and the suppression of Jews and homosexuals, an ad-hoc band of idealists and conservatives blackmail the one person they need to complete their plot, an actress who lives for her art and holds the key to the Fuhrer's death. From the ha'penny seats in the theatre to the ha'pennies that cover dead men's eyes, the conspiracy and the investigation swirl around one another, spinning beyond anyone's control.

In this brilliant companion to Farthing, Welsh-born World Fantasy Award winner Jo Walton continues her alternate history of an England that could have been, with a novel that is both an homage of the classic detective novels of the thirties and forties, and an allegory of the world we live in today.


These books blow my mind. I read FARTHING recently and immediately ordered the next two in the trilogy. Each book can stand alone but is interconnected. While HA'PENNY wasn't as good as its predecessor--the first person perspective just isn't quite as gripping and sympathetic--it's still a darn good book. I read it over a day and a half, and found many excuses to pause for a while and read more. Walton has created a world that's terrifying because it's so convincing: Britain and Germany, stopping World War II early, and Britain's slide into fascism. The racism is particularly appalling.

The real skill of Walton's writing is how she depicts the two perspective: Violet, an actress who's snared in a bomb plot she really has no invested interest in, and Inspector Carmichael of Scotland Yard, a truly good man who is truly caught in the new Prime Minister's terrible web. It's a book that makes you cheer for the terrorists, as appalling as that is, because you want Hitler dead, too.

I already started the third book.


Number of pages: 784

I was keen to read this book shortly after watching the second season of Game of Thrones, which is based on it.

Ned Stark and his fate are something that we are constantly reminded of throughout the book, and at times I thought maybe this was referenced a bit too much, although it
The title of this book comes from the main plot regarding the number of claimants to the iron throne of Westeros, following on from the first book:

[Spoiler for the first book]
In A Game of Thrones, King Robert Baratheon died, and asked his hand, Ned Stark, to be king until the heir, the obnoxious Prince Joffrey, was old enough to be king. Joffrey had other ideas, and became king anyway, having Ned Stark executed.
made sense for the story to look at the effect his death had on his widow, Catelyn Stark.



So, in this book, there is a sense that a large confrontation is going to take place, and that leads to the book’s climactic battle of Blackwater Bay, which described in vivid detail.

Like with the previous book, the story does not actually have a lot of fantasy elements, with the story focussing mainly on politics, which sets this apart from other fantasy series. The only supernatural elements here are Danaerys Targarean’s dragons and a chapter involving a supernatural shadow (and a mention of a ghost later on).

The one thing I noticed a lot more than with the first book, was that the TV series took some artistic license, mostly with the order of events, presumably for dramatic reasons and finding the best way to translate it into a ten-part serial.

In particular, I noticed that there wasn’t as much of Danaerys as I had expected, and that she hardly appeared in the first half of the book, whereas she seemed to take up a significant part of the TV show. Her dragons seemed to be less significant than they were on the show too, and her storyline (which doesn’t really seem to connect much with the others at this stage) seemed a bit harder to follow; the sequence where she enters the mysterious tower near to the end actually seemed a lot darker than it appeared on screen.

As for the other stories, I remember there was a good storyline towards the end involving Jon Snow and one of the Wildlings, which the TV series made a lot more of than it is portrayed in the book. I particularly enjoyed the sections involving Arya Stark, who spends her time pretending to be a boy and who ends up serving Tywin Lannister in Harrenhal.

Overall, I thought this book was an enjoyable sequel, which made me want to keep reading the series (as well as watching the TV show), despite the usual grittiness and unflinchingly violent scenes that make George R.R. Martin’s work a lot more adult in nature than other fantasy books I have read. The book has a good way of hinting at things that are to come, with references to “the dead walking” and one mention of the phrase, “White Walkers” (someone has explained to me what these are now). I noticed the concept of “Wargs” introduced here, which I initially found confusing, mainly because in the world of J.R.R. Tolkien, a Warg is a wolf-like creature; I did find out from the DVD special features that this means a person who can spiritually inhabit the body of an animal, and from what I’ve seen of the third season so far, they play a greater part further on in the series.

One other thing I noticed was that compared to the TV series, the ending seemed a bit abrupt; it is actually a good chapter, following on from atrocities committed by the psychotic Theon Greyjoy, but I was expecting it to have the same ending as Season 2 of Game of Thrones, which was absolutely epic, and chilling. I am assuming this was more creative license on the part of the TV show, and that this was in fact from the next book: A Storm of Swords Part One: Steel and Snow.

Next book: Does God Believe in Atheists?: How past atheist and agnostic thinking shapes peoples' thinking today (John Blanchard)

BRAGGING WRONGS.

Jeff Shaara has continued his novelization of the Western Campaign.  We've previously reviewed A Blaze of Glory, focusing on Shiloh, and Chain of Thunder, with the liberation of Vicksburg.  My earlier reviews commented on a forthcoming trilogy from Mr Shaara.  But Book Review No. 5 gets to review The Smoke at Dawn, which ends with the rebels pushed out of Chattanooga, and the anticipation of at least a tetralogy should the Georgia campaign, or the sack of South Carolina, become material for future writing.

If you're interested in the military history, Nothing but Victory provides that.  Mr Shaara's approach deals more with the interaction of the imagined and actual characters -- Rebel general Braxton Bragg comes off as a particularly nasty piece of work -- and the military accomplishments (lifting the siege of Chattanooga, occupying Lookout Mountain, and clearing Missionary Ridge) play a supporting role.  Perhaps we have read the conclusion of the trilogy, with at least one of the supporting characters invalided home, or perhaps there will be more.

(Cross-posted to Cold Spring Shops.)
Summary:
London, 1920. In the aftermath of the Great War and a devastating family tragedy, Laurence Bartram has turned his back on the world. But with a well-timed letter, an old flame manages to draw him back in. Mary Emmett’s brother John—like Laurence, an officer during the war—has apparently killed himself while in the care of a remote veterans’ hospital, and Mary needs to know why.

Aided by his friend Charles—a dauntless gentleman with detective skills cadged from mystery novels—Laurence begins asking difficult questions. What connects a group of war poets, a bitter feud within Emmett’s regiment, and a hidden love affair? Was Emmett’s death really a suicide, or the missing piece in a puzzling series of murders? As veterans tied to Emmett continue to turn up dead, and Laurence is forced to face the darkest corners of his own war experiences, his own survival may depend on uncovering the truth.

At once a compelling mystery and an elegant literary debut, The Return of Captain John Emmett blends the psychological depth of Pat Barker’s Regeneration trilogy with lively storytelling from the golden age of British crime fiction.


I enjoyed this mystery overall and found it much deeper and more logical than the Bess Crawford series (also set around WWI) I read some months ago, but it still felt flawed. Speller has a fabulous eye for detail, and she truly makes the time period come alive. The mood is brilliant. Sometimes it seems overly complicated, though, and pages are spent on explaining things. The protagonist isn't the brightest bulb. I think I really would have preferred the book told through the POV of his friend Charlie, who is a much more engaging character.

There's also a brief visit with a prostitute early on that squicked me with gross detail--and it was utterly unnecessary to the book. It's there for realism, I'm sure, but it wasn't NEEDED.

I am glad I kept reading beyond that because the mystery was engaging, but at the same time, I really have no desire to read onward in the series.


Number of pages: 380

Just before Christmas, a friend of mine (who was moving house) decided to offer unwanted books to others on a night out; I took this one, since it sounded interesting. I saw that Paul Auster had drawn together lots of accounts from different people in the United States, and I assumed it would mostly be humourous tales about absurdities related to American life, and it started promisingly with a story about how someone saw a chicken walk down the road, knock on a door and go in when admitted.

Sadly, I was disappointed, as many of the stories felt very self-indulgent and would have meant a lot more to the people telling them; a lot of them were about their own families and there seemed to be a lot about people losing possessions, only for them to turn up in unlikely places. I also noticed that a lot of the more light-hearted stories felt like they were leading up to some sort of punchline, which never happened. Some of the stories were just too shocking and unpleasant.

There were a few stories that were a bit better, including war tales from people who had experienced it first hand, and my favourite overall was one narrator telling about how he was faced with an assassin and his efforts negotiating for his own life.

Strangely, there was a chapter that had people telling of their own dreams, many of which ended up as supernatural tales involving how their own dreams seemed to hint at psychic connections with others or communications with people who had just died; I had mixed feelings about this section; at times it felt self-indulgent, but at times I did find myself very surprised about what I had just read.

Overall though, I would not recommend this book.

Next book: NW (Zadie Smith)
Book 104: The Undertaking.
Author: Audrey Magee, 2014
Genre: Period Fiction. Germany- Russia 1940s. War.
Other Details: Hardback. 291 pages.

Desperate to escape the Eastern front, Peter Faber, an ordinary German soldier, marries Katharina Spinell, a woman he has never met; it is a marriage of convenience that promises 'honeymoon' leave for him and a pension for her should he die on the front. With ten days' leave secured, Peter visits his new wife in Berlin; both are surprised by the attraction that develops between them. When Peter returns to the horror of the front, it is only the dream of Katharina that sustains him as he approaches Stalingrad. Back in Berlin, Katharina, goaded on by her desperate and delusional parents, ruthlessly works her way into the Nazi party hierarchy, wedding herself, her young husband and their unborn child to the regime. But when the tide of war turns and Berlin falls, Peter and Katharina, ordinary people stained with their small share of an extraordinary guilt, find their simple dream of family increasingly hard to hold on to. - synopsis from author's website.

I felt that this was powerfully written bringing to the reader a sense of the conditions in Berlin and the Eastern Front (Russian invasion) during WWII. Quite an amazing début novel with stark writing that heightened the experience. However, despite my admiration it left me feeling depressed and tearful. The conditions of war, the deprivation and horror it is all laid out here. This was never ever going to be a 'light read'. Still, I have to salute a writer who is able to evoke these kind of emotions and can appreciate why it has been short-listed for the Baileys Women's Prize for Fiction.

Book 105: The Light of Day.
Author: Graham Swift, 2003.
Genre: Contemporary. Mystery. Literary.
Other Details: Paperback. 323 pages.

On the anniversary of a life-shattering event, George Webb, a former policeman turned private detective, revisits the catastrophes of his past and reaffirms the extraordinary direction of his future. Two years before, an assignment to follow a strayed husband and his mistress appeared simple enough, but this routine job left George a transformed man. - synopsis from Goodreads

While this wasn't awful I really found it somewhat hard going and a bit dull. The stream-of-consciousness style of narration was all over the place as private investigator George Webb mused about his case involving femme fatale Sarah, who really didn't seem all that much for him to get so worked up over, as well as his childhood, his leaving the police force in disgrace, his failed marriage and so on and so on. It felt very unfocused with no real mystery, or tension and a rather limp romance.

However, Swift has previously won the Man Booker and his works are considered literary rather than genre fiction, so maybe not a surprise that this flaunted the conventions of crime fiction and was more an examination of a man's thoughts on one particular day. The Light of Day was itself long-listed for the Man Booker in 2003.

This was a reading group selection and I wasn't surprised that all of the group apart from one was not impressed with it. Like myself no one felt it was a bad novel, more just 'meh'. The member had read and enjoyed other of his novels so likely was prepared for his style. We did all agree that George Webb's feelings for Sarah were quite tragic and it did generate discussion about this point.

It has been a week since I read it and it is one of those novels that I've appreciated more with a little time. Despite the rambling style the novel's heart about this rather sad, down-at-the-heels man having hope for the future has remained with me as did Swift's meticulous mapping of George's day in London. As a result I have amended my score on Goodreads.
Summary:
"War, superb as it is, is not necessarily a filtering process, by which men and nations may be purified. Well, there are many people to write you of the noble side, the heroic side, the exalted side. I must write you of what I have seen, the other side, the backwash." —Ellen La Motte, Volunteer Nurse, May 4, 1916

During World War One, Ellen La Motte became one of the first American war nurses to volunteer to go to Europe—and she witnessed its horrors firsthand as she worked near the Western front. Her controversial book, which the US banned in 1918, vividly and graphically describes the "backwash of war": the dirty, smelly, lice- and disease-ridden bodies of the wounded French soldiers she cared for. They compose the “human wreckage” of highly organized and industrialized warfare. Sometimes cynical, sometimes poignant, La Motte's observations retain a freshness that makes for compelling reading. Arranged into 14 vignettes depicting typical events and scenes, The Backwash of War paints a picture of that conflict that, sadly, still resonates powerfully today.


I was provided a gratis ebook copy of this book through NetGalley.

This 200-page book packs a powerful punch. It's said that any book that's truly about war is anti-war, and that's the case here. La Motte never judges the politics behind the Great War (the greatest open criticism she offers is in one section where she scoffs at the men who show off pictures of their wives and sniffle at how they miss her, then use convenient Belgian prostitutes), but she paints a visceral image of the consequences. The forward of the book says that the original publication sold well in America in 1916, but after the country entered the war, the government quietly banned its publication. That doesn't come as a huge surprise to me. The book is extremely graphic even by modern standards.

These are the two opening sentences in the first story:
When he could stand it no longer, he fired a revolver up through the roof of his mouth, but he made a mess of it. The ball tore out his left eye, and then lodged somewhere under his skull, so they bundled him into an ambulance and carried him, cursing and screaming, to the nearest field hospital.

In particular, La Motte isn't shy about describing the conflicting stenches in the ward. I had to Google the term "anal fistula"--good times, there. As a writer who loves researching medical subjects, this book is gold. I will likely buy a print copy so I can easily bookmark sections. I can compare it to A Surgeon in Khaki by Arthur Anderson Martin, a WWI memoir of a doctor who died in duty soon after his book's publication; Martin is far more gentlemanly in his ward descriptions, instead going into detail about the different damage offered by varying types of bullets, and a constant frustration at Britain's lack of preparedness for the war. La Motte as a female and American nurse is much deeper into the psychology of the ward--she offered true vignettes, rather than stories. Both are excellent books, and the writers bring very different viewpoints to the same horrible place.

There are many books and reprints on World War I being released right now at this centennial of the war's begin. These chronicles are invaluable. They offer an important look at the past, but also show how little has changed.
Book 70: Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet .
Author: Jamie Ford, 2009.
Genre: Period Fiction. Coming of Age. War. Racial Tensions.
Other Details: Paperback. 447 pages.

1986, The Panama Hotel. The old Seattle landmark has been boarded up for decades, but now the new owner has made a startling discovery in the basement: personal belongings stored away by Japanese families sent to interment camps during World War II. Among the fascinated crowd gathering outside the hotel stands Henry Lee, and, as the owner unfurls a distinctive parasol, he is flooded by memories of his childhood. He wonders if by some miracle, in amongst the boxes of dusty treasures, lies a link to the Okabe family, and the girl he lost his heart to so many years ago. - synopsis from UK publisher's website.

This event sends Henry's thoughts back to the early 1940s when aged 12, he began to attend the exclusive Rainier Elementary as a scholarship student. Henry's father is strongly anti-Japanese due to the ongoing war between China and Japan that preceded the attack on Pearl Harbour. He makes Henry wear a button on his shirt that reads'I am Chinese'. At Ranier Elementary Henry is the only non-white student and is bullied. Then Keiko Okabe transfers in from another school. Given that she and Henry are scholarship students they are required to assist in the cafeteria during lunch and strike up a friendship. While Keiko's parents welcome Henry into their daughter's life, he has to keep the friendship secret from his family. Over time their feelings develop into young love, despite their tender ages. Then comes the news that all Japanese-Americans, even second-generation Americans such as Keiko, are to be interred in camps for the duration of the war.

The narrative moves between the 1940s and 1986. Henry is a recent widower, struggling with his grief and also seeking to repair his relationship with his adult son, which had become strained during his wife's long illness.

This was a novel that I'd describe as undoubtedly worthy but received a rather lukewarm response from me as the central love story was a bit too sentimental for my taste. Maybe if Henry and Keiko had been a little older but 12/13 years old did seem very young to fall in love so deeply. I knew very little about the internment of Japanese-Americans during WWII and in that respect the novel proved informative. I did also feel that Ford did a good job with his setting capturing the Chinese and Japanese communities of Seattle as they were in the early 1940s. The Panama Hotel does exist and the discovery of the abandoned possessions did happen and this added another poignant element to the novel.

The novel was selected for my library reading group and it was well received by all present, including myself as I did feel it had many positive aspects. We were advised by the librarian that two members who were not able to make the meeting disliked it but they were not present to tell us the reason why. There was a great deal of discussion around the themes of the novel including the racial issues explored. One of the main supporting characters was an African-American saxophone player named Sheldon, who befriended Henry when he was a child and was still in his life in 1986. We had read Esi Edugyan's Half-Blood Blues in January, which also featured a number of jazz musicians and the racial prejudice they experienced during WWII, so it was easy to discuss the two novels for their comparable themes. We also discussed the thorny question of whether the U.S.A.'s internment of Japanese-Americans was justified following the outbreak of war with Japan?

Jamie Ford's website - excerpt from novel and other links on left.

Book #12: Prince Caspian by C.S. Lewis



This book is almost a direct sequel to The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe and brings back Peter, Susan, Edmund and Lucy. Set a year after their previous adventure, it opens with the children being mysteriously whisked into Narnia from a station platform. However, they find that many years have passed since they last visited (the series has already established that Narnia has a different time stream to our world), and all the talking animals have gone into hiding; the Castle of Cair Paravel is in ruins. The rightful king, Prince Caspian, is in exile while another king sits on the throne, following an invasion of the “Telmarines”. It turns out that the Narnians also summoned the children specifically to save them from the oppression. The whole story leads towards the meeting between the children and Caspian, and the battle to reclaim the throne. Once again, the lion Aslan is present, guiding the children, mostly through appearing to Lucy.

The book feels shorter and is certainly less complex than its predecessor; to give an idea, the BBC televised both books in the late 1980s. The adaptation of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe just about managed to fit into six half-hour episodes, while, Prince Caspian ran to just two half-hour episodes (it was padded out slightly with a cliffhanger that set the scene for the very next book in the series, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader).

I remember reading this book (or at least having it read to me) when I was young and getting very frustrated at an extended flashback with the dwarf Trumpkin telling Caspian’s backstory, which takes up about a quarter of the story, but reading it again I just enjoyed getting to revisit the characters from a book that I absolutely loved when I was young. I noticed that when the climactic battle finally does arrive, it doesn’t take up a large portion of the story (although the more recent movie of this book milked it for all it was worth), and much more weight is given by the actions of Aslan and the other heroes of the story. I noticed that, for a children’s book, it actually got quite violent at times; for example, one scene where they talk about a hag getting decapitated.

Reading Michael Ward’s The Narnia Code was very useful for helping me understand the whole Biblical allegory that this story involves. The main subject here is “putting on the armour of God” (a metaphor used in many of Paul’s letters in the Bible); early on, all the children are shown finding their weapons from the previous book, and it mentions that it is Edmund’s fault he has none (he was betraying his brother and sisters when Father Christmas showed up with the weapons). Aslan mentions at one point to Lucy that only she can see him, but eventually the others will too; taking into account that he represents Jesus, it’s not hard to get an idea of what C.S. Lewis was aiming for here.

Overall, this isn’t one of my favourite Narnia books, but I found it to be an enjoyable read all the same.

Next book: Thud! (Terry Pratchett)

4: The Guns of August

Originally posted by audrey_e at Book 4: The Guns of August
4 THE GUNS OF AUGUST Barbara Tuchman (USA, 1962)

8guns
In this military history book, Tuchman focuses on how the belligerents prepared for a war most believed would be short, and the first month of what was to be known as the Great War.

As someone who is fascinated with WWI, I think it's safe to say few military history books are as accessible and yet as detailed as this one. Tuchman manages to capture the atmosphere in which all the wrong decisions were made by generals, and their heartbreaking consequences. Her writing is elegant, even witty, but she's always conscious that she's writing the first act of a tragedy. The details on the generals and their clashing personalities alone make the book worth reading.
My only complaint is that it's a little too easy to sense Tuchman's anti-German feelings.

4.5/5


Number of pages: 496

Polly Perks has disguised herself as a man and joined the military in order to find her missing brother. This is, put simply, the premise of Monstrous Regiment, which doesn't entirely feel like a typical Discworld novel due to the fact that the recurring characters hardly appear, excepting for a few appearances from the City Watch and a fleeting appearance by Death.

At first I was worried that this book was giving evidence of Terry Pratchett repeating himself too much, particularly as this ends up as yet another story involving war. The book also features another of the Igors, who seemed to become a running joke starting with Carpe Jugulum, and yet another vampire who has taken a vow to stop drinking blood, leading to scenes that feel lifted out of previous books. The books also brings back William de Worde and Otto from The Truth, who are acting as war reporters.

However, if you stick with this book it becomes mostly enjoyable. Spoilers below:

[Spoiler (click to open)]

Around a quarter of the way into the novel, it gradually becomes obvious that almost everyone else in Polly's regiment is also female, which leads up to some hilarious climactic scenes, not just the fact that many of the senior officers are also women dressed as men, but also a sequence where they have to dress up as washerwomen to infiltrate the enemy fortress. I think what I found most amusing in this whole section was that the female characters, disguised as men, who were dressed up as washerwomen, initially are still believed to be male.



I get the impression from other things I've read that the whole concept of women joining the military disguised as men is based on things that have really happened, and I noticed that the tone of the book took on a similar dark tone to Night Watch. At times, I found this to be hilarious, but some parts of the story seemed like the bleakest thing I've ever read in the Discworld series, including apparent references to wife beating.

Overall, this book is worth sticking with until the end, though it's not a classic like many of the earlier novels.

Next book: The Shining (Stephen King)

2: Suite Française

Originally posted by audrey_e at Book 2: Suite Franaise
2 SUITE FRANCAISE Irène Némirovsky (France, published in 2004 but written during WWII)

4suite
In 1940, as the Germans approach Paris, French people from a variety of economic background flee the capital in panic.

Suite Française is a well-written, accessible novel, with a gripping format. Chapters after chapters, with a chilling sense of humor, the author depicts all the levels of French society as they struggle with a new order. While solidarity isn't absent, pettiness and cruelty often prevail in the middle of memorably lyrical descriptions.
What impressed me the most about this novel, is that while Némirovsky was going through the occupation as she wrote about it, she manages to be as objective as possible about the events. I felt no strong resentment against the Germans, nor against anyone else. There was just the voice of an author who was trying to to depict what she knew in the most faithful manner.
As she was Jewish, Némirovsky died in Auschwitz before being able to complete what should have been a long series of novels about the war, which is why I was left with a bitter taste in my mouth at the thought of how great the series could have been.

4/5

Tags:

Books 6-12 for 2013

6. Death at Wentwater Court by Carola Dunn. 180 pages.
7. The Winter Garden Mystery by Carola Dunn. 185 pages

First two books in the Daisy Dalrymple mystery series. Set in 1923, they're decent, competently written mysteries - nothing too deep or challenging, but solid, comfortable stories, with sympathetic characters. Not outstanding, but definitely enjoyable.

8. Warlord of Mars by Edgar Rice Burroughs. 124 pages.

The last book in this series ended on something of a cliffhanger, so Rob asked to go straight on to the next one. More swashbuckling hokum with John Carter, Prince of Helium. The main character is definitely a fighter rather than a thinker, but his loyalty to his friends makes him a sympathetic character anyway.

9. Strangers at Snowfell by Malcolm Saville. 231 pages.

I read some of Saville's books from the library when I was a small person and remembered them fondly, so I snapped this one up when I found it in a charity shop.

As often happens, it wasn't quite as good as I remembered - a perfectly decent story, but lacking that extra something that makes some children's books really special.


10. Requiem for a Mezzo by Carola Dunn. 160 pages.
11. Murder on the Flying Scotsman by Carola Dunn. 150 pages

Two more adventures for the Honourable Daisy Dalrymple. Engaging and enjoyable if not particularly outstanding. I shall read more of these if I can find them.

12. Back Home by Michelle Magorian. 387 pages.

I snapped this book up in the charity shop when I saw it was by the author of "Goodnight Mister Tom".

It tells the story of Rusty, who is returning to England after having been evacuated to the USA for the duration of WWII. She has trouble adjusting to her family again and they have trouble accepting how much she has changed.

Not such a classic as "Goodnight Mister Tom", but it still had me onside for Rusty and furious at the injustices she's subjected to.

Book #2: Night Watch by Terry Pratchett



Number of pages: 364

In this book, Terry Pratchett provides a time travel story that pays homage (vaguely) to The Terminator (including a very conspicuous reference near the end). The story opens as a standard City Watch novel, as Commander Samuel Vimes is dispatched to arrest a murderer called Carcer, leading to a thrilling chase. However, this unexpectedly ends with a lightning strike that sends both Vimes and Carcer back in time.

In the past, Vimes assumes a new identity after an encounter with the Monks of Time (previously seen in Thief of Time), and joins the Night Watch as a sergeant, where he meets his younger self. However, the young Samuel Vimes isn't exactly cut out to be a member of the watch, so it is up to the older version to train him up. All this time, Vimes is also faced with the prospect of trying to apprehend Carcer and deal with an upcoming revolution.

The opening of this book feels like typical Discworld, with lots of big laughs (the most bizarre moment involves a clock that chimes silences); however, after Vimes is sent back in time, the tone becomes darker and much more serious. There are still laughs, but they are spread a lot more thinly than usual within the book's drama. The story takes advantage of the time travel aspect by including younger versions of Colon and Nobbs, and also features Reg Shoe before he became a zombie; there are a few other self-referential moments that are better appreciated if you are familiar with the Discworld series.

The night watch of this book, are evidently based on the characters of the same name from George R.R. Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire series, and there are some very clever moments, particularly when someone questions if something really is a revolution of the majority of people are rebelling. Overall, I thought this book was enjoyable, though it was difficult going at times, and it felt a bit overlong (it is certainly one of the longer Discworld novels). Overall, it's not a good choice as a first book to read in the series, but it is definitely worth trying if you are a fan.

Next book: A History of Capitalism According to the Jubilee Line (John O'Farrell)

Books 6, 7 & 8 - 2013

Book 6: The Iliad by Homer – 460 pages

Description from bookdepository.co.uk:
Much more than a series of battle scenes, the Iliad is a work of extraordinary pathos and profundity that concerns itself with issues as fundamental as the meaning of life and death.

Thoughts:
It took me close to two years to read this book but I was determined to (my own novel series references it, so I felt I had to in order to be legitimate) so I got there in the end. It’s a tough slog, very descriptive, and sometimes I got so bogged down in those and trying to keep track of who’s who that I lost the story. The thing I took most of it was how little Helen is discussed despite the fact that she is the whole reason the battle even takes place. Ultimately, I felt sorry for Hector more than anyone. When I watched the film, starring Brad Pitt and Eric Bana, I really felt sorry for Achillies as well, but that same sentiment doesn’t come through in the book, except perhaps towards the end. The Hollywoodisation of the story improves it in my opinion, though obviously I appreciate that the time period the book is set in is very different. Ultimately it’s a fascinating story about life, death, the choices we make, and what drives us to do the things we do. Now to read the Odyssey! 


6 / 50 books. 12% done!


2965 / 15000 pages. 20% done!

Book 7: The Female Brain by Louann Brizendine, M.D. – 343 pages

Description from bookdepository.co.uk:
In this groundbreaking book, Dr Louann Brizendine describes the uniquely flexible structure of the female brain and its constant, dynamic state of change - the key difference that separates it from that of the male - and reveals how women think, what they value, how they communicate, and whom they'll love. She also reveals the neurological explanations behind why: a woman remembers fights that a man insists never happened; thoughts about sex enter a woman's brain perhaps once every couple of days, but may enter a man's brain up to once every minute; a woman's brain goes on high alert during pregnancy - and stays that way long after giving birth; a woman over 50 is more likely to initiate divorce than a man; women tend to know what people are feeling, while men can't spot an emotion unless someone cries or threatens them with bodily harm! Accessible, fun and compelling, and based on more than three decades of research, "The Female Brain" will help women to better understand themselves - and the men in their lives.

Thoughts:
I picked this book up several years ago when I was on holidays in Dubai (I know, weird right?) and I was on a small non-fiction kick this year so decided to read it. Whilst I don’t agree with all the book says, it does give a very interesting perspective on how the female brain works and how it drives a woman’s decisions. Moreover, it provides quite an interesting comparison of the way male and female brains differently perceive emotion, and I must admit, I have referred to it on a number of occasions in real life (i.e. reminding myself that a reaction from a man doesn’t necessarily mean what I think it means because we perceive things differently, which should be obvious and yet I know so many people who don’t even care to think that someone else might perceive something differently to the way they do). I also enjoyed the piece on menopause (not that its remotely relevant to me at the moment) as I explained a lot of what is happening to the body at the time much better than anything I’ve ever read. I’ve even offered to give a little summary of the book to my female colleagues at work (we have a future female business leaders discussion group within the professional services firm that I work for) as I think there is definitely stuff in here that every woman should know about (even if its just to be conscious of it in raising our own daughters and dealing with our mothers and sisters!).


7 / 50 books. 14% done!


3308 / 15000 pages. 22% done!

Book 8: Why Some Like It Hot: Food, Genes, and Cultural Diversity by Gary Paul Nabhan – 223 pages

Description from bookdepository.co.uk:
Do your ears burn whenever you eat hot chile peppers? Does your face immediately flush when you drink alcohol? Does your stomach groan if you are exposed to raw milk or green fava beans? If so, you are probably among the one-third of the world's human population that is sensitive to certain foods due to your genes' interactions with them. Formerly misunderstood as "genetic disorders," many of these sensitivities are now considered to be adaptations that our ancestors evolved in response to the dietary choices and diseases they faced over millennia in particular landscapes. They are liabilities only when we are "out of place," on globalized diets depleted of certain chemicals that triggered adaptive responses in our ancestors. In Why Some Like It Hot, an award-winning natural historian takes us on a culinary odyssey to solve the puzzles posed by "the ghosts of evolution" hidden within every culture and its traditional cuisine. As we travel with Nabhan from Java and Bali to Crete and Sardinia, to Hawaii and Mexico, we learn how various ethnic cuisines formerly protected their traditional consumers from both infectious and nutrition-related diseases. We also bear witness to the tragic consequences of the loss of traditional foods, from adult-onset diabetes running rampant among 100 million indigenous peoples to the historic rise in heart disease among individuals of northern European descent. In this, the most insightful and far-reaching book of his career, Nabhan offers us a view of genes, diets, ethnicity, and place that will forever change the way we understand human health and cultural diversity. This book marks the dawning of evolutionary gastronomy in a way that may saveand enrich millions of lives.

Thoughts:
I went on holidays to Hawaii in November this year just gone. Every time I go somewhere new I randomly decide a few months before hand that I should read some books about the place, that I should learn the language, the culture, etc. I never do. This year at least, I actually made an effort. I typed Hawaii into the local library’s catalogue and ended up ordering three books, of which this was one. Coincidentally, this book suited my new interest in diets and intolerances. The Hawaii connection is pretty small, a discussion in the final chapter. The actual book itself is about the significant increases in food intolerances and issues as a result of deviating from historical diets established in particular races over thousands of years as a result of the food available in their native homes. It’s an interesting hypothesis, and being from Australia, with our own indigenous population who are fairly well known to have issues with alcohol (personally I think this whole country has problems with alcohol – the binge drinking culture is out of control – but I say that as a non-drinker), learning of similar problems in other indigenous cultures and Nabhan’s theories on why was a great learning piece for me. Moreover, as I have recently self-diagnosed myself as being gluten intolerant, learning about the increase in similar problems throughout the world was fascinating. A good read, and an interesting hypothesis, even if it is backed up by as much anecdotal evidence as it detailed research.


8 / 50 books. 16% done!


3531 / 15000 pages. 24% done!

Currently reading:
-        The Other Queen by Philippa Gregory – 437 pages
-        Helen of Troy: Goddess, Princess, Whore by Bettany Hughes – 412 pages
-        The Diviners by Libba Bray – 578 pages

And coming up:
-        The Second Chronicles of Thomas Covenant: Volume 3: White Gold Wielder by Stephen Donaldson – 500 pages
-        The Odyssey by Homer – 324 pages
-        One for the Money by Janet Evanovich – 290 pages

50: Parade's End

Originally posted by audrey_e at Book 50: Parade's End
50 PARADE'S END Ford Madox Ford (England, 1924-1928)

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The life of Christopher Tietjens, which devastatingly culminates with the Great War, as he struggles with his increasingly obsolete values, an unfaithful wife and a doomed love affair.

Parade's End is a tetralogy comprised of Some Do Not..., No More Parades, A Man Could Stand Up -- and Last Post.

This is the hardest book review I've had to write this year, and interestingly enough the last one.
I'm not sure how I feel about this book because some parts were absolutely amazing, while the whole tetralogy was overly long and difficult to get through. At times, it felt as if Ford was trying too hard to write a modernist novel, and yet he is sometimes so successful, that one is reluctant to blame him for polishing his modernist skills.
Parade's End's action is told through the consciousness of its characters; characters who constantly obsess over specific events or ideas. Their obsessions change with time, and become less and less mundane as the war and the trenches make their appearance. A Man Could Stand Up --, the third volume and the best, includes some of the most vivid and haunting accounts of trench warfare I've ever read.
Ford also messes with the chronology, so the narratives constantly goes back and forth in time. While it makes the plot challenging to follow when it focuses on the mundane lives of the English aristocracy, these jumps make perfect sense in the context of the war, when a soldier is unable to let go of what he has seen and heard.
Overall, Parade's End is an extremely challenging read, sometimes to the level of Faulkner's work, and I truly feel that Some Do Not... and Last Post (the first and the last volumes) were not as compelling as they should've been. Yet the best moments in the second and third books make the whole tetralogy worth the read.

3.5/5

50/50 SUCCESS!

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Book 232: In Search of Lost Time Vol 6: Time Regained.
Author: Marcel Proust, 1927. Translated from the French by Andreas Mayor and Terence Kilmartin; revised by D J Enright.
Genre: Modern Classic. Literary. Comedy of Manners. GLBT.
Other Details: 2000 Vintage Proust Edition. Paperback. 693 pages.

'Time Regained' begins in the bleak and uncertain years of World War I. Years later, after the war's end, Proust's narrator returns to Paris and reflects on time, reality, jealousy, artistic creation, and the raw material of literature - his past life. This edition includes the indispensable 'A Guide to Proust', compiled by Terence Kilmartin and revised by Joanna Kilmartin. - synopsis from Vintage Books website.

This novel was published five years after Proust's death and as with The Captive and The Fugitive lacked the tight editing of the earlier volumes. Yet I found this a deeply moving final volume given its meditations upon art and literature, ageing, death and the coming together of the Narrator's thoughts on the nature of Time, which forms the overall theme. As he writes near the end about his book: "I thought more modestly of my book and it would be inaccurate even to say that I thought of those who would read it as "my" readers. For it seemed to me that they would not be "my" readers but the readers of their own lives, my book being merely a sort of magnifying glass... it would be my book, but with its help I would furnish them with the means of reading what lay within themselves." This certainly proved true for me, especially the themes of the final volume.

So much of the earlier volumes of the novel seemed to exist out of time yet here having the Great War featuring in the opening pages it felt as if reality had suddenly impinged upon the privileged existence of the characters. Here was the end of La Belle Epoque. Still with the end of the war life in Parisian high society continued as it ever had with people rising, falling and rising again on Fortune's wheel. The final set piece of the novel is another great party where most of the surviving characters appear once more.

On finishing this book I feel as if I should present myself with a custom t-shirt with the caption 'I finished Proust's 'In Search of Lost Time!'. Overall this well deserved its classic status and I am so glad that I took up the challenge to read it. It was a challenging work given its style and yet ultimately a deeply rewarding one. The Guide to Proust that takes up the final 220 pages wasn't very reader friendly and so I didn't access it, preferring the Patrick Alexander reader's guide detailed below. On a final note I did love the flower-themed covers of my Vintage Classics editions.

Book 233: Marcel Proust's Search for Lost Time: A Reader's Guide to The Remembrance of Things Past.
Author: Patrick Alexander, 2007.
Genre: Literary Studies.
Other Details: Paperback. 385 pages.

An accessible, irreverent guide to one of the most admired—and entertaining—novels of the past century. There is no other guide like this; a user-friendly and enticing entry into the marvellously enjoyable world of Proust. At seven volumes, three thousand pages, and more than four hundred characters, as well as a towering reputation as a literary classic, Proust’s novel can seem daunting. But though begun a century ago, in 1909, it is in fact as engaging and relevant to our times as ever. Patrick Alexander is passionate about Proust’s genius and appeal—he calls the work “outrageously bawdy and extremely funny”—and in his guide he makes it more accessible to the general reader through detailed plot summaries, historical and cultural background, a guide to the fifty most important characters, maps, family trees, illustrations, and a brief biography of Proust. Essential for readers and book groups currently reading Proust and who want help keeping track of the huge cast and intricate plot, this Reader’s Guide is also a wonderful introduction for students and new readers and a memory-refresher for long-time fans. - synopsis from US publisher's website.

This has proved an invaluable companion to my reading of Marcel Proust's 'In Search of Lost Time' from March onward. I was especially grateful for his 'Who's Who in Proust' to assist me in keeping track of the many characters as well as to appreciate its themes. I was quite disciplined in not reading ahead in the detailed summaries of each volume and read them after I'd completed the book.

Patrick Alexander's web page on 'The Guide'.

Books 5 & 6 - 2012

Book 5: Catching Fire by Suzanna Collins – 472 pages

Description from bookdepository.co.uk:
After winning the brutal Hunger Games, Katniss Everdeen returns to her district, hoping for a peaceful future. But Katniss starts to hear rumours of a deadly rebellion against the Capitol. A rebellion that she and Peeta have helped to create. As Katniss and Peeta are forced to visit the districts on the Capitol's cruel Victory Tour, the stakes are higher than ever. Unless Katniss and Peeta can convince the world that they are still lost in their love for each other, the consequences will be horrifying. This is the terrifying sequel to "The Hunger Games".

Thoughts:
I rarely read a second book in a trilogy or series directly after reading the first but I couldn’t help myself with this one. Collins has created an engaging world, and despite some concerns initially that the book would just be a re-telling of the first as a result of Peeta and Katniss having to go into the arena again, Collins has managed to create a new and engaging story that sees character and plot development. Moreover, I personally found the concept of the arena really clever and it was one of the things I was most excited to see in the film adaptation (which I personally thought was significantly better than the first movie). Perhaps the thing that struck me most in reading this book was how much Katniss is taken advantage of. Not just by the Capitol and the whole media train of the Victory Tour and the President, but by everyone who go onto use her and her actions in the first Hunger Games as a jumping off point for their rebellion. Poor Katniss, acting entirely on fear and instinct (in the first book) because a quasi-Messiah and yet it is apparent throughout that all she wants is to protect her family. Having read a number of books about celebrities destroyed by their fame as a result of the actions of others wanting to ride their coattails, the similarities struck me as very sad. A great addition to young adult literature – what Twilight should have been!


5 / 50 books. 10% done!


1836 / 15000 pages. 12% done!

Book 6: Mockingjay by Suzanna Collins – 455 pages

Description from bookdepository.co.uk:
Against all odds, Katniss Everdeen has survived the Hunger Games twice. But now that she's made it out of the bloody arena alive, she's still not safe. The Capitol is angry. The Capitol wants revenge...This thrilling final installment of this ground-breaking trilogy promises to be one of the most talked-about books of the year.

Thoughts:
The final book in the Hunger Games trilogy sets itself out quite different, seeing as it doesn’t have a hunger games event to fuel the plot. Instead, poor Katniss, now knowing a lot more about the country of Panem and the lies of the Capitol than she did before, finds herself the unwilling spokeswomen for the regime trying to bring down the power of President Snow and the Capitol, whilst also trying to find out what happened the her ‘fiancé’ Peeta. As evidenced towards the end of the second book, I couldn’t help feeling bad for poor Katniss, forced once again to do the bidding of someone else. I was ultimately glad for the overall outcome and Katniss’ actions because what is clear throughout is that in end, Panem was just setting itself up to replace one dictator with another. Probably the worst part of this book is what befalls Katniss’ sister Prim. It brings into sharp reflection the whole situation and how everyone ended up there in the first place and neatly closes the circle started by the first book. Moreover, being a big sister myself to a much younger little sister, the event definitely emotionally affected me. Ultimately, I feel that this trilogy says a lot about humanity now, about our constant drive for growth, for power, for dominance, and our sick enjoyment of others’ misery. Collins’ has created the kind of story many authors long to write, one which both raises important questions and discussions about humanity whilst also proving to be a runaway success. Moreover, she has created a true role model for teenage girls (which is thankfully backed up by the frank authenticity of Jennifer Lawrence in both bringing Katniss to life but also leading the media juggernaut such a successful franchise brings), a heroine with dimension, who has both conviction but also the emotional scars of what she has been through.


6 / 50 books. 12% done!


2291 / 15000 pages. 15% done!

Currently reading:
-        The Other Queen by Philippa Gregory – 437 pages
-        Helen of Troy: Goddess, Princess, Whore by Bettany Hughes – 412 pages
-        Sex at Dawn: The Prehistoric Origins of Modern Sexuality by Christopher Ryan & Cacilda Jetha – 374 pages

And coming up:
-        The Second Chronicles of Thomas Covenant: Volume 3: White Gold Wielder by Stephen Donaldson – 500 pages
-        The Odyssey by Homer – 324 pages
-        One for the Money by Janet Evanovich – 290 pages
Originally posted by audrey_e at Book 47: Voyage au Bout de la Nuit / Journey to the End of the Night
47 VOYAGE AU BOUT DE LA NUIT / JOURNEY TO THE END OF THE NIGHT Louis-Ferdinand Céline (France, 1932)

2voyage

The life of Ferdinand Bardamu - an anti-hero and self-proclaimed coward - from his involvement in the Great War, to his life in the African colonies, his experience working for a Ford factory in the United States, and his return to France as a medical doctor in an asylum.

Céline's semi-autobiographical first novel is one of the most haunting texts I've ever read. His writing style combines slang with some deeply lyrical passages; the emotions are raw, disturbing, embarrassingly familiar.
The main character's experience of trench warfare is a trauma that sets the tone for the entire novel. Because of the great war, Bardamu is a pessimist, and yet his refusal to die, arguably despite the moral cost and the ugliness of life, is what pervades his journey; a journey that ultimately goes to the heart of human instincts.
Louis-Ferdinand Céline was no doubt a terrible human being, but this book is a must-read for anyone interested in 20th Century literary fiction. His work clearly influenced many of the great writers who came after him, such as Kurt Vonnegut and his Slaughterhouse-Five (the similarities between the two novels being very obvious).

5/5

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Book 225: The Devil and the River.
Author: R. J. Ellory, 2013.
Genre: Period Fiction. Southern Gothic. Crime. Police Procedural. War.
Other Details: Hardback. 432 pages.

On a perfect summer evening in 1954, sixteen-year-old Nancy Denton walked into the woods of her hometown of Whytesburg, Mississippi. She was never seen again. Two decades on, Sheriff John Gaines witnesses a harrowing discovery. A young woman has been unearthed from the riverbank, her body perfectly preserved, yet she bears evidence of a brutal ritualistic killing. Nancy has come home at last, but her return does not bring closure to her family, nor to the townsfolk of Whytesburg. Already haunted by his experiences in Vietnam, Gaines must now stretch his abilities to the limit, pushing himself ever closer to breaking point. What really happened to the beautiful and vivacious Nancy? And why do her friends refuse to talk? As Gaines closes in on the truth, he is forced to not only confront his own demons, but to unearth secrets that have long remained hidden. And that truth, so much darker than he could ever have imagined, may be the one thing that finally destroys him. - synopsis from author's website.

I always look forward to reading a novel by R. J. Ellory as he is such a good storyteller and each book is very different to the others. The Observer reviewer wrote: 'The Devil and the River' is lots of fun. Voodoo and murders and gothically imposing southern dynasties – what's not to like? I wholeheartedly agree as this proved another intelligent and engaging thriller from Ellory.

He does seem to have the knack of capturing mid-20th Century rural USA and getting under the skin of his characters. The novel was as much about the effects of war upon returning veterans as it was about the central crime of the murdered teenager. The novel is quite harrowing in a number of places including the memories of the Vietnam War that keep intruding into Gaines' consciousness. I had hoped for more of the voodoo/hoodoo/conjure elements though it was consistent with the plot and characters that this was kept more as background to its Deep South setting.
Summary:
Horses and mules served during the Civil War in greater numbers and suffered more casualties than the men of the Union and Confederate armies combined. Using firsthand accounts, the many uses of equines during the war, the methods by which they were obtained, their costs, their suffering on the battlefields and roads, their consumption by soldiers, and racing, mounted music and other themes are all addressed. The book is supplemented by accounts of the "Lightning Mule Brigade," the "Charge of the Mule Brigade," five appendices and 37 illustrations. More than 700 Civil War equines are identified and described with incidental information and identification of their masters.

I received this book through the Early Reviewers program on LibraryThing.

If you engage in any sort of research into the Civil War, or write anything based on the period, let me save you the hassle of reading this review: just get the book. It's fantastic, though not flawless.

Armistead took an an admirable task that involved reading 3,000 books and articles to glean any information on the use of horses during the Civil War (on a cute side note, he was inspired to take on this unique angle because of his granddaughter's obsession with My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic). The book is filled with direct citations, with footnotes to exact page numbers and everything. I was curious about one fact listed, and I was able to find the old book online for free, download it, and look up the exact page number Armistead noted.

The Civil War utilized at least 3,000,000 horses and mules. Some horses were used by both sides as they were stolen or sold. Armistead breaks down how horses were acquired by both sides, their value, the required training, matters of transportation, riding accidents, their use in battles, lack of feed and health issues caused by the war, stampedes and runaways, the eating of horses, equine impact of soldier morale, and then about a 100 pages wherein he lists over 700 horses (and a pony and a few mules) who are named in Civil War records and what is known about them. He also observes where horses have been connected with the war in error.

Armistead says at the beginning that he didn't create a comprehensive volume on the subject, but it seemed to me that he did a pretty darn good job with all the available resources.

There were a few bothersome things. I do wish he used more subheadlines in all the chapters to make it easier to find certain subject areas again. A few chapters do use them, which makes the lack elsewhere more frustrating. There were also scattered issues with copy-editing where words were run together, but it wasn't a constant problem and overall it's a well-assembled book.

As a writer, this is a book I will absolutely keep on my shelf. I can see myself referring to it time and again.

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