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This is the first in a new series of detective stories, set in (you may have guessed) Palestine.  Although it's not brilliantly written (contrary to the claim by a certain Colin Dexter on the front) I'd definitely recommend reading it.  The prose is workmanlike, and I only say it's not particularly well written because the characters spend a lot of time explaining things to each other.  Without getting into the politics, the novel gives a convincing idea of what life is like for ordinary Palestinians, caught between the Israelis on one side and the Palestinian gunmen on the other. 

The characters are good, especially the detective, who is a history teacher on the point of retiring (or being sacked for being too liberal).  He gets involved because one of his old pupils, a Christian, is being set up for a murder that he clearly didn't commit.  The author asks how you can maintain humanity or the semblance of a legal system in the face of the overwhelming pressures of life in Palestine at the moment.  And the answer is a depressing one.  I think the book is well worth reading, and I'll look out for the next in the series, but I think I'll pick my moment to read it - not when I'm feeling a bit low, for instance.
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Have just finished reading the above.  It's an amazingly well-written noirish detective story, set in LA in the 50's (or possibly 60's).  Unlike Chandler et al it's told from a  woman's point of view.  The narrator (Lora King) is a school teacher whose beloved brother Bill marries a woman from the film industry.  Gradually Alice's secrets seep into the text, and start to corrupt Bill and Lora's lives.  The prose is tight, the characters seedy, and the narrator's motives are a secret even from herself.  I was gripped from beginning to end.

Also read:  Jennifer Stevenson's Trash Sex Magic

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This is a puzzling book, in more ways than one.  I picked a copy up at Novacon, and started to read it a couple of days ago.  It's a story about an elderly women (Alma Montague) returning to her hometown, a small town in Mississippi, in order to restore the family mansion and then live out the rest of her days in peace.  But nothing is quite as it seems.  Who is the mysterious Mr Dark?  Why does he give her a key that only she can see, and what is the land that she finds when she uses it, peopled with the dead (but also visited by some of the living) and shifting unnervingly between the past, present, and future?

Having read the first hundred or so pages I was intrigued enough to look the book up on Amazon, only to find that neither it nor the author exist.  Neither on nor on I then googled, and discovered that G A Kathryns is a pen-name of Gael Baudino, and as far as I can tell there are no other works under that name.  I've never actually read anything by Gael Baudino, and I don't know if anyone would recommend them.  [Going back, if you put the ISBN number into Amazon it not only recognises the book but offers you a number for sale in the Marketplace.  This must be Amazon being crap, then.]

So, I've finished the book, and I'm still baffled.  I mean, yes, obviously, it's about the approach of death and reconciliation to it, but there are an awful lot of plot strands that aren't finished off.  Was there intended to be a sequel?  Am I being dense and just not spotting that the answers are all there in the text? In which case please would someone explain to me what is going on with Mrs Gavin and Magic, and a couple of other things that I can't describe for fear of giving away the plot. 

Would I recommend it?  Cautiously.  It's well written, and what's going on is interesting, though baffling.  She seems to me to be very good at describing the tensions and odd relationships between white and black people in a small town in Mississippi, so that's worth reading it for.  Overall I enjoyed reading it.  I wouldn't say it was a must read, but good if you like that sort of thing.
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I hadn't read any Scott Westerfeld before picking up the first volume in this YA trilogy, The Secret Hour.  I'd been seeing good reviews and recommendations of the Uglies books, but My Library (qv) has the Midnighters books, so that's what I've been reading. 

The basic premise is that in Bixby, Oklahoma, there's an extra hour at exactly midnight, which only the people born exactly at midnight can live in.  The characters call it the blue hour, because as time stops for everyone else they see it in blue.  Jessica Day has just moved to Bixby, and as a midnighter she is enchanted by the discovery of the midnight hour.  But her enchantment soon turns to horror as it turns out that midnight is haunted by ancient and terrible shadows that take the shape of the humans' nightmares, and the shadows are hunting Jessica, specifically.  Each of the midnighters has their own power (eg, maths, flying, mind-reading etc), and they need these to combat the shadows, and ultimately to find out what is really going on in Bixby.

I thought the books were absolutely terrific.  Action packed, filled with good ideas, but with enough time for reflection and character development as well.  And, the second book is not a saggy bridge between the first and third, but contains new revelations and developments that make it worth reading in its own right.  I thought the five teenaged heroes/heroines were well-drawn, each of them with their own agendas, and as you see each through their own and through different characters' eyes your opinion of them changes too. 

The adults have their own agendas too, good and bad, and as we learn more about what is going on and the history of what has gone on in the past, the more the judgements that we made when reading the first book are revised or undermined.   I just love it when the author plays with your expectations, but is always just one step ahead of the reader.  Highly recommended.
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I've dutifully been trying the exercise that my sister Caro (WINOLJ) recommended to get through the backlog - you know, reading one "old" book for every new book read.  At times I look at the shelves full of old books (that have been unread for at least six months) and wonder why I ever thought I might enjoy reading them.  Then I came across The Bull Calves by Naomi Mitchison.  And I thought "why not?" (Well, for a start it's 532 pages long, although this does include over 200 pages of footnotes which do not all have to be read, although some of them are quite interesting.)

The Bull Calves is a picture of some of her ancestors, the Haldanes, in June 1747, as Scotland tries to recover from the effects of the '45 rebellion.  It starts off so slowly that I almost gave it up - the first chapter consists of introducing a crowd of people who are virtually indistinguishable, despite there being two pages of family trees at the beginning of the novel (a bad sign, I generally think).  And she refers to them variously by their title, or their first name, or their nickname, which while realistic is not great for the reader.  And then there are people christened John who are called Robert, and that sort of thing, or vice versa.  But then one of the younger girls starts asking her Aunt Kirstie about her girlhood, and her boyfriends, and gradually it takes off.  And then I was gripped, because suddenly you're introduced to Jacobites and witches and Red Indians and traitorous cousins, and it's great. 

She's also made a huge effort to invent a language that resembles what the characters might actually have spoken, but is easy to read for the non-Scot.  I love historical novels where the writer has really thought about the language and does not (for instance) have characters in Regency or Victorian England using Americanisms just because the author has a tin ear for language, or can't be bothered.  One of the reasons why I love Georgette Heyer so much is they way she invented Regency slang in the same way, by taking elements of thieves' cant and turning it into something that the modern reader can understand.

So I was quite pleased to find a number of other Mitchisons on the unread books shelves.  The next one I picked up is called Sunrise Tomorrow, and looks to be a heartwarming story set in Botswana, written more than twenty years before Alexander McCall Smith bought up the franchise.  and then of course I remembered the African connection, and why thinking about Mitchison always reminds me of Doris Lessing, who has also written science fiction.  And I wonder vaguely why Lessing is so much better known than Mitchison, who appears to be at least as good a writer. 
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My sister (WINOLJ) suggested that one way of coping with the unread books piles was to read one "old" book, then a "new" book, then an old one again.  Old is open to definition, but in my case let's say I've had it on the shelves for more than six months.  So I picked up a "very old" book which [info]la_marquise_de_gave me many years ago - Kolyma Tales by Varlam Shalamov.  My goodness, 500 pages of short stories about life in the Siberian gulag.  Starvation!  Overwork!  Beatings!  60 degrees below!  Gosh, I am going to be so improved when I have finished this.  I have reached page 258 - more than halfway!
[Bad username or unknown identity: ]


Feb. 15th, 2008 12:34 pm
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I'm about halfway through The Yiddish Policemen's Union by Michael Chabon.  It's very entertaining, although I'm finding the slang a bit impenetrable.  What on earth is a shtarker, a shammes, a shomer or a patzer?  I'm just letting it roll over me.  And it's a detective story, which I love.  A police procedural, set in the (alternate-world) Jewish enclave of Sitka, In Alaska.

I was going to say "and the man can write", a muscular prose stuffed with engaging metaphors.  And then I came across "Landsman careens to his feet".  What?  No way!  It would have been implausible if the author had written "careers to his feet" as the guy has just been shot and is lying face down (prone) in the snow.  "Staggers", or "lurches" or "climbs" would work. But careens - aargh!  And then, a few pages later "Sometime in the middle of the night, Goldy careers into the room."  Better.  OK, put the first one down to crap editing, which I guess is the lot of even Pulitzer prize winners these days.


Jan. 30th, 2008 07:53 pm
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Still struggling through Interesting Times, Eric Hobsbawm's autobiography.  It may be frivolous of me, but I expect an autobiography to be personal (and, if I'm lucky) entertaining.  This isn't either.  He has lived through interesting times, but he doesn't write about them at all engagingly.  Plus, his prose is horrid.  Sigh.
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Yes, just been out in the garden.  Mostly tidying up, pruning and weeding.  I don't even know the names of half the weeds, but I know they're Bad.  You can tell which ones are the weeds - they're the plants that are flourishing, as opposed to what you actually want to grow.  Still, have sprayed the roses and put home made compost on them, so am feeling a sense of achievement.

Currently reading:

Eric Hobsbawm's autobiography, Interesting Times (not very interestingly written)
Eldorado by Laurent Gaude, for my French book group
The Eustace Diamonds, by Trollope - resembles Georgette Heyer in a number of aspects, only more real, somehow
Obligatory Georgette Heyer for moments when the above are all Too Much:  Cotillion


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