Sunday, 31 January 2016

What I've been reading

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King Solomon's Carpet
by Barbara Vine

narrated by Michael Pennington
"Eccentric Jarvis lives in a crumbling schoolhouse overlooking the tube line, compiling his obsessive history of the Underground. A group of misfits are also drawn towards his strange house. Damaged, dispossessed, outcasts, they are brought together in violent and unforeseen ways by London's dark and dangerous underground system."
King Solomon's Carpet is apparently another name for the London Underground, or perhaps for any tube or underground metropolitan transportation system. Not a name I'd ever heard before, and possibly invented for this book, although the author made no use at all of the figurative possibilities of the name. A group of people all come together and their stories are interwoven, but I didn't believe any of it - not the relationships between the main characters, or what became of them. They were just stick figures rather than thinking, breathing humans. Not a great read.

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The Tales of Max Carrados
by Ernest Bramah

narrated by Stephen Fry
"Max Carrados is blind, and yet he has developed his other faculties to such an amazing degree that they more than compensate for his lack of sight. Assisted by his sharp-eyed manservant, Parker, Carrados is the mystery-solver par excellence. "
A freebie download from those nice people at Audible, this was a short audio book of just a couple of stories. I hadn't come across this blind detective before, but apparently he was contemporaneous with Sherlock Holmes, which is quite a coincidence given how much Conan Doyle I've been listening to recently. It was a little unrealistic, suggesting for example that the detective could read print by feeling the paper it is written on. Apart from that, not so different from Holmes.

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by Giulia Enders
"Our gut is almost as important to us as our brain or our heart, yet we know very little about how it works. And scientists are only just discovering quite how much it has to offer; new research shows that gut bacteria can play a role in everything from obesity and allergies to Alzheimer’s."
A Christmas read courtesy of Lola II, and very interesting. I'm prepared to believe its contents on the whole, and learned a couple of things that may prove useful - best posture for Number Two's on a standard Western toilet for example. Holidaymakers over New Year were treated to quite a few gut-related 'facts', although there were some objections to the timing of delivery of my pearls of wisdom. It does get a bit less interesting in later chapters, though.

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Flowering Wilderness
by John Galsworthy

"Dinny Cherrell has been proposed to numerous times, but no one has ever come close to touching her independent spirit. That is, until she encounters Wilfred Desert. When his past actions come back to haunt him, and the disapproval of Dinny's family work against them, their love is tested to the very limit."

I can't believe how much I enjoy Galsworthy's writing. This book is all about a man who is forced at gunpoint to convert to Islam, and how this act is perceived by society back home. It doesn't sound like a promising basis for the book, but honestly I would enjoy reading Galsworthy's shopping list. All his characters are portrayed so exactly that I'm sure I would recognise them if I met them in the street. And as ever, it is illuminating to be presented with a snapshot of society and mores from the time, and see how attitudes have so dramatically changed since then.

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Titmuss Regained
by John Mortimer

narrated by Paul Shelley
"In Rapstone Manor, Lady Grace Fanner is dying, defiant to the last. Awaiting the event is the Right Honourable Leslie Titmuss MP, Secretary of State at the Ministry of Housing, Ecological Affairs and Planning (HEAP). He is alone now after the death of his wife, and the manor house becomes an essential weapon in his pursuit of the beautiful widow of an Oxford don."
I thought this was better than the first of the trilogy, then I thought again and I'm not sure, as it lacks the little mystery of the first book. Most of the characters reappear along with some new personalities, but as for the first book, none is particularly appealing or attractive. Which means, again, I didn't care much what happened to them.

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The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August
by Claire North
"No matter what he does or the decisions he makes, every time Harry dies, he always returns to where he began, a child with all the knowledge of a life lived a dozen times before. Nothing ever changes - until now."
Lola II recommended this book, and lent it to me. Featuring a form of time travel, it's a cross between Groundhog Day and The Time Traveler's Wife, and what impresses me most knowing that the writer is just a teenager is the maturity of the writing. I have been thinking about this quite a lot when reading recent books and imagining that I could take my writing one stage further and write something bigger than a selection of short self-centred articles. But the words! I tend to cut to the chase and tell the story; most writers of 'quality' use far more words than I would. I suppose every writer has a style, but it's interesting to note when a book doesn't quite hang together - how did the editor help? what could have been done to rescue the situation? For example, Galsworthy's women are impressive, capable, articulate and I'd certainly be flattered if any of them considered me as a friend. Mortimer's women are a little two-dimensional and often serve only to move the plot forward, but I don't much like even his most likeable male characters. Women don't play much of a part in North's book, but those that appear are portrayed as reliable and sympathetic; the men are mostly brutal and deceitful. Was this deliberate? Was the writer aware of how their characters come across? Would I be able to imbue my characters with just the right personalities, and manipulate the reader into liking or disliking them just the right amount? I'm sure that a creative writing course would be an interesting experience, but I've got enough on my plate at the moment. I might add it to my Bucket List for the future, though.

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The Maltese Falcon
by Dashiell Hammett

narrated by Eric Meyer
"Sam Spade is hired by the fragrant Miss Wonderley to track down her sister, who has eloped with a louse called Floyd Thursby. But Miss Wonderley is in fact the beautiful and treacherous Brigid O'Shaughnessy, and when Spade's partner Miles Archer is shot while on Thursby's trail, Spade finds himself both hunter and hunted."
As well as all those mentioned in the blurb above there are two cops, a Fat Man, a Greek, a Youth, Sam's secretary and a Tall Man - the American fictional private eye genre often has too many characters, making it hard to follow. Often the plot is too intricate and difficult to understand as well, but this one pretty much avoided all of the pitfalls, and I could follow what was going on. It was a good read, but unmemorable.

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