Monday, 28 July 2008

One Good Turn

Title: One Good Turn

Author: Kate Atkinson

Number of pages: 527

Started: 18 July 2008

Finished: 28 July 2008

Opening words:

"He was lost. He wasn't used to being lost. He was the kind of man who drew up plans and then executed them efficiently, but now everything was conspiring against him in ways he decided he couldn't have foreseen. He had been stuck in a jam on the A1 for two mind-numbing hours so that it was already past the middle of the morning when he arrived in Edinburgh."

Plot summary:

It is the Edinburgh Festival. People queuing for a lunchtime show witness a road-rage incident - an incident which changes the lives of everyone involved. Jackson Brodie, ex-army, ex-police, ex-private detective, is also an innocent bystander - until he becomes a suspect.

With Case Histories, Kate Atkinson showed how brilliantly she could explore the crime genre and make it her own. In One Good Turn she takes her masterful plotting one step further. Like a set of Russian dolls each thread of the narrative reveals itself to be related to the last. Her Dickensian cast of characters are all looking for love or money and find it in surprising places. As ever with Atkinson what each one actually discovers is their true self.

Synopsis taken from Random House.

What I thought:

I quite liked this book, it was very readable and easy to get through. It did, however, have a very convoluted plot, with connections all over the place and people’s paths crossing, unknowingly, on a number of occasions.

This book has been described as ‘literary’, but I’m not entirely sure that I know why. It makes various references to works of literature, but surely that does not in itself make this book literary? I think describing it like that might actually put some people off, as it might give the impression that it is very intellectual, whereas it is actually an easy read.

The plot itself was quite good, if you could keep up with all the connections in it, although perhaps a little far-fetched, by the end. But worth reading and I might give another of her books a go.

Monday, 21 July 2008

The Kraken Wakes

Title: The Kraken Wakes

Author: John Wyndham

Number of pages: 240

Started: 17 July 2008

Finished: 21 July 2008

Opening words:

The nearest iceberg looked firmly grounded. Waves, with the whole fetch of the Atlantic behind them, exploded upon it, just as they would upon solid rock. Further out there were other large bergs, also stranded by the falling tide, and looking like sudden white mountains. Here and there among them smaller ones were still afloat, with the wind and the current driving them slowly up the Channel. That morning there were more, I fancy, than we had ever before seen at one time. I paused to look at them. Blinding white crags in a blue sea

Plot summary:

Ships are sinking for no apparent reason, carrying hundreds to a dark underwater grave. Strange fireballs race through the sky above the deepest trenches of the oceans. Something is about to show itself, something terrible and alien, a force capable of causing global catastrophe.

Summary taken from Amazon.

What I thought:

I enjoyed this book, not as much as the other John Wyndham’s but I did enjoy it nonetheless. It did keep making me think of The War of the Worlds and the invasion of beings more intelligent than us. It had that standard theme of how do you get people to deal with their inertia and be willing to deal with a crisis etc and whilst not as good as some of his others, it was a thought provoking read.

Thursday, 17 July 2008

Jamaica Inn

Title: Jamaica Inn

Author: Daphne du Maurier

Number of pages: 267

Started: 14 July 2008

Finished: 17 July 2008

Opening words:

It was a cold grey day in late November, The weather had changed overnight when a backing wind brought a granite sky and a mizzling rain with it, and although it was now only a little after two o'clock in the afternoon the pallor of a winter evening seemed to have closed upon the hills, cloaking them in mist. It would be dark by four. The air was clammy cold, and for all the tightly closed windows it penetrated the interior of the coach. The leather seats damp to the hands, and there must have been a small crack in the roof, because now and again little drips of rain fell softly through, smudging the leather and leaving a dark blue stain like a splodge of ink. The wind came in gusts, at times shaking the coach as it travelled round the bend of the road, and in the exposed places on the high ground it blew with such force that the whole body of the coach trembled and swayed, rocking between the high wheels like a drunken man.

The driver, muffled in a greatcoat to his ears, bent almost double in his seat; in a faint endeavour to gain shelter from his own shoulders, while the dispirited horses plodded sullenly to his command, too broken by the wind and the rain to feel the whip that now and again cracked above their heads, while it: swung between the numb fingers of the driver.

Plot summary:

Jamaica Inn tells the story of the 23-year-old Mary Yellan, brought up on a farm in Helford in the early 1800s, but who is forced to go live with her Aunt Patience after Mary's mother dies. Patience is the wife of the keeper of Jamaica Inn, Joss Merlyn. On her arrival at the gloomy and threatening inn, she finds her aunt under the thumb of the vicious Joss, and soon realizes that something unusual is afoot at the inn, which has no guests and is never open to the public. Mary tries to squeeze the truth out of her uncle during one of his benders, but he tells her, "I'm not drunk enough to tell you why I live in this God-forgotten spot, and why I'm the landlord of Jamaica Inn."
Summary taken from wikipedia.

What I thought:

I really enjoyed this book. It’s quite melodramatic but very engaging and I think I particularly enjoyed it because it was set in the part of Cornwall where I was staying at the time and so some of the places I had actually just been to. I thought it was a dark and foreboding plot that did really well at conjuring up images and a sense of doom. Really good read.

Monday, 14 July 2008

Our Man in Havana

Title: Our Man in Havana

Author: Graham Greene

Number of pages: 220

Started: 9 July 2008

Finished: 14 July 2008

Opening words:

"That nigger going down the street," said Dr. Hasselbacher standing in the Wonder Bar, "he reminds me of you, Mr. Wormold." It was typical of Dr. Hasselbacher that after fifteen years of friendship he still uses the prefix Mr -- friendship proceeded with the slowness and assurances of a careful diagnosis. On Wormold's death-bed, when Dr. Hasselbacher came to feel his failing pulse, he would perhaps become Jim.

The Negro was blind in one eye and one leg was shorter than the other; he wore an ancient felt hat and his ribs showed through his torn shirt like a ship's under demolition.

Plot summary:

Wormold is a vacuum cleaner salesman in a city of powercuts. His adolescent daughter spends his money with a skill that amazes him so when a mysterious Englishman offers him an extra income he's tempted. In return all he has to do is file a few reports. But when his fake reports start coming true things suddenly get more complicated and Havana becomes a threatening place.

Summary taken from Amazon.

What I thought:

I quite liked this book, not as much as others of Graham Greene's books that I have read but it was readable in a whimsical sort of way. It reminded me of Catch 22 by Joseph Heller, which I guess was due to the absurdity of them both – in this book that someone could be recruited as an agent and simply make up the whole thing, people, intelligence, details and actually end up in the worrying position of it coming true! Not one of my favourite Greene books but perfectly readable.

Tuesday, 8 July 2008

Hold Tight

Title: Hold Tight

Author: Harlan Coben

Number of pages: 416

Started: 4 July 2008

Finished: 8 July 2008

Opening words:

Marianne nursed her third shot of Cuervo, marveling at her endless capacity to destroy
any good in her pathetic life, when the man next to her shouted, “Listen up, sweetcakes:
Creationism and evolution are totally compatible.”
His spittle landed on Marianne’s neck. She made a face and shot the man a quick glance.
He had a big bushy mustache straight out of a seventies porn flick. He sat on her right.
The overbleached blonde with brittle hair of straw he was trying to impress with this
stimulating banter was on her left. Marianne was the unlucky luncheon meat in their badpickup
She tried to ignore them. She peered into her glass as if it were a diamond she was sizing
up for an engagement ring. Marianne hoped that it would make the mustache man and
straw-haired woman disappear. It didn’t.
“You’re crazy,” Straw Hair said.
“Hear me out.”
“Okay, I’ll listen. But I think you’re crazy.”
Marianne said, “Would you like to switch stools, so you can be next to one another?”
Mustache put a hand on her arm. “Just hold on, little lady, I want you to hear this too.”
Marianne was going to protest, but it might be easier not to. She turned back to her drink.
“Okay,” Mustache said, “you know about Adam and Eve, right?”
“Sure,” Straw Hair said.
“You buy that story?”
“The one where he was the first man and she was the first woman?”
“Hell, no. You do?”
“Yes, of course.” He petted his mustache as if it were a small rodent that needed calming.
“The Bible tells us that’s what happened. First came Adam, then Eve was formed out of
his rib.”
Marianne drank. She drank for many reasons. Most of the time it was to party. She had
been in too many places like this, looking to hook up and hoping it would come to more.
Tonight, though, the idea of leaving with a man held no interest. She was drinking to
numb and damn it if it wasn’t working. The mindless chatter, once she let go, was
distracting. Lessened the pain.

Plot summary:

How well do you really know your child?
Tia and Mike Baye never imagined they’d spy on their kids. But their sixteen-year-old son Adam has been unusually distant lately, and after the suicide of his best friend Spencer Hill, they can’t help but worry. Within days of installing a sophisticated spy program on Adam’s computer they are jolted by a cryptic message from an unknown correspondent that shakes them to their core: “Just stay quiet and all safe.”
As if Mike Baye isn’t dealing with enough, he also learns that Lucas Loriman, the sweet kid who grew up next door, is in urgent need of a kidney transplant. As the boy’s doctor, Mike suddenly finds himself in possession of an explosive secret that threatens to rip the Loriman family apart at the seams.
Nearby, while browsing through an online memorial for Spencer, Betsy Hill discovers a surprising detail about the night of her son’s death. Before she can find out more, Adam disappears, taking the truth with him and sending shockwaves through the neighborhood.
As the lives of these families collide in tragic, unexpected, and violent ways, long-hidden connections in their small suburb begin to work their way to the surface. And when an unidentified Jane Doe is beaten to death not far away, those connections threaten to turn this quiet community upside down—and force these desperate parents to decide whether there is any line they won’t cross to protect those they love most in the world.
Summary from Harlan Coben’s website.

What I thought:

A good read. I like Harlan Coben’s books (his standalone ones, I’m not so keen on the Myron Bolitar ones) and I would add this one to the list. His books tend to follow a formula someone goes missing or is dead and then turns up (or do they?) years later. This one doesn’t actually follow that formula, but is an interesting read, although quite violent in places. I think maybe it didn’t engage me quite as much as some of his other books, but it had the usual theme of family bonds and what can break them, which is always interesting to see his take on.

It did have a very complicated plot though and in essence two stories running in parallel. At times I couldn’t remember who all the different characters were and wished that I had taken notes and drawn a diagram of the connections. If you read it, I suggest you have a pad and paper to hand to keep up – or maybe I just wasn’t paying enough attention! A quick and easy read that wasn’t as good as some of his others but it was engaging and worth a read.

Thursday, 3 July 2008

The War of the Worlds

Title: The War of the Worlds

Author: H.G. Wells

Number of pages: 172

Started: 28 June 2008

Finished: 3 July 2008

Opening words:

No one would have believed in the last years of the nineteenth century that this world was being watched keenly and closely by intelligences greater than man’s and yet as mortal as his own; that as men busied themselves about their various concerns they were scrutinised and studied, perhaps almost as narrowly as a man with a microscope might scrutinise the transient creatures that swarm and multiply in a drop of water. With infinite complacency men went to and fro over this globe about their little affairs, serene in their assurance of their empire over matter. It is possible that the infusoria under the microscope do the same. No one gave a thought to the older worlds of space as sources of human danger, or thought of them only to dismiss the idea of life upon them as impossible or improbable. It is curious to recall some of the mental habits of those departed days. At most terrestrial men fancied there might be other men upon Mars, perhaps inferior to themselves and ready to welcome a missionary enterprise. Yet across the gulf of space, minds that are to our minds as ours are to those of the beasts that perish, intellects vast and cool and unsympathetic, regarded this earth with envious eyes, and slowly and surely drew their plans against us. And early in the twentieth century came the great disillusionment.

Plot summary:

The night after a shooting star is seen streaking through the sky from Mars, a cylinder is discovered on Horsell Common in London. At first, naive locals approach the cylinder armed just with a white flag only to be quickly killed by an all-destroying heat-ray, as terrifying tentacled invaders emerge. Soon the whole of human civilisation is under threat, as powerful Martians build gigantic killing machines, destroy all in their path with black gas and burning rays, and feast on the warm blood of trapped, still-living human prey. The forces of the Earth, however, may prove harder to beat than they at first appear.

Synopsis taken from Amazon.

What I thought:

I enjoyed this book and can see how it has been really influential on later science fiction – I could definitely see elements of The Day of the Triffids in it. It was a very descriptive book and was very good at conjuring up images of London (although I might be at an advantage as I know a lot of the places it referred to). The thing I had to keep reminding myself was that the invaders were more intelligent than humans. It was easy to think that man would automatically superior when actually we were up against a far more formidable foe, who learnt quickly and was beyond man’s ability to defeat. Really interesting read. I didn’t like it as much as The Day of the Triffids but it was well worth reading.