November 22nd, 2013



#68 Blanche d'Alpuget 'The Young Lion'
A historical novel about Henry II and his contemporaries: Eleanor of Aquitaine, Empress Matilda, King Stephen, King Louis VII and others. I have enjoyed it as, I believe, anybody who likes Sharon Kay Penman, Philippa Gregory etc, would. The afterword surprised me a bit in that I don't think I have noticed the things the author apparently wanted me to notice, but oh well...

#69 Max Frei: Chronicles of Echo Vol. 1-4
The book is something of a phenomenon in Russia and I was happy to finally see it on Kindle. Mine was in Russian, but an English translation is available. But unfortunately I am not all the impressed. It is pleasant, there are some nice ideas, but I mostly feel frustration that that potential has not been fulfilled.

#70 Cynthia Harrod-Eagles: Dynasty 12: The Victory
Continuing with the story of the Morland family. I really like that saga and I become so attached to the characters. One thing, though, which becomes increasingly more noticeable is that all the really strong characters are women, and they are also the ones who stick in memory.

Book #63: The Yellow Birds by Kevin Powers

Number of pages: 226

Kevin Powers' book is a gritty and harrowing novel set around the Iraq conflict.

Central to the book is the relationship between Privates John Bartles and Daniel "Murph" Murphy. We learn very early on, however, that Murph has been killed and the book focusses largely on the effects on John of his loss. The story is told from John's point of view in a memoir-like style, and vividly describes the conflict that takes place around him, as well as telling of how he was asked by Murph's mother to keep her son safe.

The story is not told in a linear style, and it jumps back and forth in the timeline; however, the beginning of each chapter indicates where the reader is in the chain of events. So, one moment, John will be talking about losing Murph, and then there will be a chapter about him and Murph both fighting in the war, and then there will be a chapter set after his return from the conflict. One of the most profound an enjoyable and profound moments was the depiction of his arrival home, and his descripton of how he goes up to his bedroom, slowly undresses and then puts his dog tags back on and stands looking at himself in the mirror. I noticed also that when senior officers are mentioned, they seem to come across as uncaring and unpleasant.

The dialogue is very descriptive about John's feelings throughout, including his friendship with Murphy, and both characters are easy to care about very quickly. Amongst the depictions of events, there are several moments where the narrator talks at length about his thoughts about what has happened, while the narrative slowly builds towards the moment when Murph was killed.

Overall, I loved this book; it wasn't particularly long, but I found it to be incredibly thought-provoking as a depiction of modern warfare and its effects on individuals, plus the struggle to overcome the loss of a friend.

Next book: A Good Parcel of English Soil (Richard Mabey)
red flowers

Book 208: The Mysteries of Glass by Sue Gee

Book 208: The Mysteries of Glass.
Author: Sue Gee, 2004.
Genre: Historical Fiction. England 1860s. Relationship Drama. Religion.
Other Details: Hardback. 342 pages.

It's the winter of1860 when Richard Allen, a young curate, travels to a small hamlet outside Hereford to take up his first position. It's in this quiet place of wind and trees, birds and water that Richard is to fall passionately in love - but he cannot find fulfilment, for his lover is Susannah Beddoes, the wife of the vicar of his new parish. As Richard's feelings challenge him to his core, he develops a strange relationship with another woman, the solitary and eccentric Edith Clare. Against the backdrop of immense social and industrial change, the consequences of Richard and Susannah's affair are dramatic as they - as well as Oliver Beddoes - grapple with doubt and what it means to lose faith when the great certainties are in question. And throughout it all, the crossing-keeper's daughter Alice Birley - an observer of incidents and events she does not fully understand - has her own part to play... - synopsis from UK publisher's website.

I found this a beautifully written story about a young curate and his forbidden love for the wife of his senior colleague. In it Susan Gee does not bow to modern sensibilities but examines what such a love would mean to these individuals and the environment in which they live. I read it in a single day as it was due to be discussed at a reading group meeting though I rather wish that I had given myself more time to appreciate its graceful pace.

Sue Gee evokes her rural setting and the passing of the seasons in the early 1860s with great skill. There are also musings about religion as Richard comes to address his faith. Of course the publication of Charles Darwin's On the Origin of the Species the previous year is making its impact, though it is only one aspect of his questioning.

Another reviewer on Goodreads remarked on its feminist themes, which are certainly present though understated. At one point Susannah says to Richard: "sometimes I have thought I can hardly bear to be a woman.". When he protests she continues: "I am a woman - I must do nothing. Women must suffer, women must wait, women must follow, must be quiet and good, must never say what we feel". A powerful sentiment, which is reflected by the lack of power experienced by a number of women in the novel.

I found it a bitter sweet story though I am glad it was selected for the group as I would never have picked it up otherwise. However, I seemed to be alone in enjoying it as it wasn't to the taste of my fellow reading group members who complained about its slow pace and literary style. I offered my opinion that Susan Gee was seeking to evoke the atmosphere of Elizabeth Gaskell's Cranford, a novel that is mentioned favourably by Susannah in the narrative.