Posts Tagged ‘Books’

“Wolf Hall” by Hilary Mantel

I’d been wary of this 650 page tome, wondering whether it might be rather heavy, but when I saw it in the Book Fridge I thought ‘why not?’  It’s the story of Thomas Cromwell, who became the main assistant to Henry VIII at the time when Anne Boleyn was Queen.  While the story of the Tudors is well known, Hilary Mantel makes it all fresh and immediate, especially as she writes in the present tense.

Her research is impeccable, and there are many small gems of observation, with fascinating side stories.  I liked the details about mathematics and accounting, and how they breakfasted on mushrooms with eggs baked in cream (yum!).  Any cat or dog lover could appreciate Thomas’s observation that “Comfort is often imparted at the cost of a flea or two.”

It’s taken me a week to get through it, and the effort was worthwhile.

“There’s so much detail to digest
historic fiction at its best.”


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This is an amazing and enthralling book.  Subtitled “A Westerner’s story of her Arab family” it’s the true story of a woman who formed a relationship with a family in the Gulf States in the 1970s.  Opening her London home to two young sons of a Sheikh led to her being invited to visit their home which she did frequently over a period of years.  She became accepted as one of the women of the family and learned a great deal about Arab and Islamic customs and culture.  Her recounting of and reflections on this make fascinating reading.  This was a privileged family coming to terms with the changes that the discovery of oil and contact with the West were bringing to their society.  “They knew they were the powder keg at the end of a short fuse and were equally aware that matches to light it were often in the hands of ignorance and fear.”  Reading this book helped me to understand more about the Arab way of life and Islamic traditions, and I thoroughly recommend it.

“The Arab women all wore masks
while carrying out household tasks.”


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This is a powerful, scary, and absorbing story, with relevance to current calls for an inquiry into the abuse of children in state care.  It’s about choices and the consequences of those choices, and has the kind of suspense that makes it hard to breathe.  The female protagonist addresses the reader directly in a way that draws you in.  I found it totally engrossing, but uncomfortable, and I think books by this author could be strictly rationed.  Too many at once might be bad for your blood pressure.

“This book is an absorbing thriller
which keeps you wond’ring who’s the killer.”

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Short Stories?

I enjoy reading a full length novel.  Short stories have never particularly appealed.  I appreciate one or two in a magazine, but a full book of them rarely works for me.  They need to be savoured individually, rather than read one after the other.

I was tempted by Anne Enright’s “Taking Pictures” and read the first nine of the nineteen stories.  They are well-written and absorbing, but I found I was craving something that engaged me more fully, and turned to the next novel on my pile.  Anne Enright’s been returned to the book fridge where I hope she finds a more sympathetic reader.

At our writing class we are sometimes asked to complete a short story, which can be a challenge for me.  I’ve never had the inclination to try and write a book.  Short blog posts and poems are the creative writing that suits me best.

“Short stories simply are not me
blog format suits me beautifully.”

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What a wonderful writer Ngaio Marsh is!  She’s clear, engaging, literate, and thoroughly enjoyable.  I haven’t read her books for years, and was pleased to find this one sitting in the Book Fridge.  This is a very civilised murder story, set in a London Theatre.  It features Detective Inspector Roderick Alleyn and was first published in 1951.  The murder doesn’t happen until over halfway through the book, by which time I was well involved with the characters.

Christchurch people can be proud to know that Ngaio Marsh was one of us.  Last year I was privileged to visit her home in Cashmere, which re-awakened my interest in her writing.  I look forward to re-reading others of her excellent murder mysteries.  “Opening Night” was one of four Marsh novels adapted for television in 1977 and was the first New Zealand television drama ever shown in the United States.

“Ngaio Marsh is queen of crime
enthralling readers every time.”

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The history of Singapore from 1927 to 1956 makes an absorbing background for this historical novel.  The fictional stories of three different characters are set among authentic incidents, during colonial rule by the British and wartime occupation by the Japanese.  There are engaging details of the different cultures which make up the strata of Singapore society.  I enjoyed reading of a time and place I knew little about, especially the fight for independence from colonial rule.

“Rules imposed by ex-pat masters
were for local folk, disasters.”

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Lately I’ve read a number of mystery novels.  They come to me via the Book Fridge, and are good relaxation.  I don’t remember coming across Martha Grimes before.  Her writing is in the style of the old fashioned mysteries.  This book could have been written in the 1940’s and I had to check to see that it was first published in 1999.

The story is set in an isolated clifftop house in Cornwall, and the mystery keeps you guessing with an impressive cast of eccentric characters.   It’s obviously one of a series (the 16th Richard Jury mystery).  I became impatient with the antics of the ongoing crowd in the last few chapters, but I guess they were necessary for those readers who are series fans.  Good rainy day entertainment.

“There’s several mysterious crimes
within this book by Martha Grimes.”

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