A massive update

Well someone has not been updating the blog due to a number of reasons but the biggest excuse is life. Sometimes it just gets in the way. There were some real highlights Lynda LaPlante's Tennison, Geraldine Brook's The Secret Chord and Robert Galbraith's Career of Evil. So here are the books I have worked my way through.

Restless - William Boyd
Paperback, 336 pages, Published 2007 by Bloomsbury

I have not read any of William Boyd’s works before and thought it was about time I took the plunge. The selection of Fearless was based on purely the blurb that a mother announces to her daughter that she was a spy during World War II.
Eva Delectorskaya/Sally Gilmartin is an intriguing character as a young woman thrust into a world of espionage. You are drawn into her story as she slowly hands to her daughter Ruth the chapters of her life. Ruth is struggling with her life, trying to balance being a single mother, teaching foreign students and trying to complete her degree.
The story flashes between the past and the present but to be honest I would have preferred to stay in the past. When Eva tells her story, it is engaging and you want to know what is happening. There is intrigue and her relationship with Romer I found perplexing (in a good way). One moment you suspected Romer but then you had doubts which is exactly Eva is trying to determine. The incident in Mexico is brilliant, well-crafted and constructed and had you on the edge of your seat.
It is when Ruth’s story comes to the fore you are like what is the point? While Boyd gives Ruth a diverse group of characters to interact with, none of them seem to have any real bearing on the progress of the story. For example what is the reason for Ludger and his girlfriend? At first I thought they may have been spies looking for Eva but they all became red herrings. I was only interested in Ruth’s life when she was interacting with her mother.
It is Ruth’s part of the story that failed to make this a great spy novel for me. Still a lot to like.

Friends like these - Wendy Harmer
Paperback, 481 pages, Published April 1st 2011 by Allen & Unwin

Jo Blanchard is rebuilding her life after she discovers her husband of many years has been having an affair. Having embarrassed his partner's mistress at a prominent school function Jo embarks on a new career as a marriage celebrant. 
There were parts of the book that were funny but they were few and far between. There were plenty of characters in the book and they all had their own quirks. Yet the characters seem to never stray from type and there needed to be some character development. Jo spends most of the book being passive and only really sticks up for herself with the help of the friends. 
There was a lot of promise but it took until halfway mark for the story to really becoming engaging.

Tennison - Lynda LaPlante
Kindle Edition, 400 pages, Published September 24th 2015 by Simon & Schuster UK

It is 1973, Hackney, England and a bright eyed and keen new police probationer, Jane Tennison is embarking in a career in law enforcement. This is not the fully fledged, gritty determined, resilient woman we have come to know through Prime Suspect and Dame Helen Mirren. This is the origin story, the making of the woman and how she was formed. 

Women are entering the police force in greater numbers and are fighting for an opportunity to become more than just typing clerks and tea ladies. For Tennison she will take any position on offer as long as it gets her closer to the action and so that she can learn more about the craft. It is not going to be easy as this is a man’s world and the women are treated appallingly. The shining light for Jane is Kath who acts confidante and mentor. Kath teaches her the ropes and teaches her to stand up for herself. Jane’s other supporter is DCI Bradfield who sees that she has potential in more ways than one. It is a fiery baptism that Jane endures that at times it difficult to read with the rampant sexism and the constant patronising comments of ‘make us a cup of tea, love.’ 

As part of understanding Jane we learn about her family and have the opportunity as a reader to explore those relationships. 

The minor characters are cleverly created and bring a great deal of value to the story. I really did like Renee Bentley’s story, a woman who has known great hardship but remains true to her core values. I am sure many people will understand Renee’s story and have a great deal of sympathy. 
The writing is snappy and engaging and La Plante has recreated the 1970s really well. Not just with the descriptions of places but also the sense of community that still existed. 

Though we have been given a hint of Tennison’s past through the books and the TV series in this novel her background is fully explored and it is fascinating. 

Demon Road - Derek Landy 
Hardcover, 512 pages, Published August 28th 2015 by HarperCollins Children's Books
So what do you do if your parents are not just horrible and uncaring but are actual monsters, big demon looking monsters and they want to kill you and eat you? Well you run and that is what Amber Lamont is forced to do. 

Many will come to the Demon Road because of Landy’s ‘Skullduggery Pleasant’ series. I have read the first in the Skullduggery series and have been described and listened in great detail by an enthusiastic nephew and niece who have read the entire series. So I knew what to expect and was looking forward to reading the book. 

There is humour, fighting, vampires, monsters, action, gore, adventure, travel, intrigue, double crossings and the story moves along at a cracking pace. 
From the moment Amber discovers her parent’s secret you are on a whirlwind of a ride. You meet Milo and ‘the car’ as they commence their journey and along the way they pick up Glen and this forms their core group. 

Amber as a lead character is rightly confused, thrust into a world she does not understand and is trying desperately to find a way to survive and figure out what is going on. She makes mistakes and does not fully appreciate her strength and abilities as a female and when she changes into demon form. I suspect as the series progresses so will her understanding of who and what she is. What I did not understand is why everyone went gooey eyed over Amber the demon who was fast becoming the winner of ‘Demon Road’s next top model’ whereas female Amber is ‘fugly’ and a ‘troll’. 
Milo is the big silent type with a mysterious past. He is part mentor, father figure and the sensible one in the group. He is good with a gun and knows how to make and clean up a mess. 

Glen, how many times do you have to proclaim you are Irish? How many times do you babble on getting everyone into danger? I know a good comic sidekick can be handy but Glen was plain annoying. I am not sure what he really added to the story apart from one or two insights and the odd piece of humour. One thing that did bug me was Glen’s ‘horny’ joke which was used several times and was not funny the first time. 

There are some really promising parts in this book. The world is wonderfully created and there are some wonderful minor supporting characters. Yet overall all the elements did not just pull together for me and I found myself being in two minds. There are parts that I really did not like and other parts which are enjoyable. Give it a go as I am sure the series will continue to develop. 

A Career in Evil - Robert Galbraith
Hardcover, 489 pages Published October 20th 2015 by Mulholland Books

Cormoran Strike’s past has come roaring back and rather than target the man, it is Robin who is cops the full brunt of the killer’s attention. With four possible suspects, the number of victims increasing, a myriad of twist and turns and fantastic pacing this book continues to push Galbraith into the upper echelons of great crime writers. A Career in Evil is darker than previous two and it is bloodier, violent and misogynistic. 

The pursuit of a serial killer is the central driver of this book but Galbraith has craftily woven in some wonderful engaging subplots. The central focus is on Cormoran and Robin as their personal and working relationship continues to develop. It is not an easy relationship but there is real respect developing between the two. 

Robin is trying to prove to everyone that she is not a ‘mere girl’. That she is capable of looking after herself and that she can be a private detective. Robin’s frustration at not been taken seriously or treated equally is palpable and that is a good thing. For you see a woman who wants to be her own person and is willing to take risks. The men in her life Cormoran and Matthew both want to protect and wrap Robin up in cotton wool. Both men under estimate Robin’s abilities albeit in different ways and for different reasons. We learn more about Robin’s backstory and I applaud the author for taking the decision to make her a survivor not a victim. 

Cormoran’s life before he becomes a private detective is explored in greater detail; again you have a better understanding of the man and his motivations. 

In this book Galbraith has allowed the killer to tell their story. It is quite chilling and disturbing to read. It does give the novel greater intensity and ramps up the fear level. It was interesting to see Galbraith try and give a serial killer dimension and be something more than a cliché. 

As for the darkness in the novel it invades everywhere with the drugs, prostitution, assaults, rapes, child abuse and people who live in harmful fantasy worlds where they want to be maimed or hurt. It is a bleak world that Galbraith has created. Yet the darkness of the people is offset by the other great character in this book the world that Cormoran and Robin inhabit. I have never been to Britain but Galbraith really captures the essence of the places, from the chip shops, the pubs and cafes. The detail is fantastic and really enhances the story. 

So I picked this up on Friday night and I had finished it by the early hours of Saturday morning. It has been a while since I have been so consumed by a crime thriller, a really good read. 

The Witch's Daughter - Paula Brackston
Kindle Edition, 416 pages, Published January 18th 2011 by Thomas Dunne Books
This book is about two characters who are the same character. You have Bess in the past witch and Elizabeth present day witch both telling their stories. 

I had reached the halfway mark and I started to think what is the point, where is it heading? So far present day Elizabeth befriends Tegan, arrives in a new town and sets up house. In the past Bess has been courted, her family has died from the plague, her mother has been accused of witchcraft and she has met evil warlock Gideon. I have all this information but it is not driving me anywhere. 

Brackston has created a detailed world and it is well researched but this book was just not for me.

The Lost World of Byzantium - Jonathan Harris
Kindle Edition, 280 pages, Published August 15th 2015 by Yale University Press 

I am not an academic but someone who loves to read about history. I had read JJ Norwich's take and it is hard to surpass. Jonathan Harris does a good job at giving a concise history of Byzantium. He is able to convey the vastness, the depth, the legacy and machinations that made this Empire. 
I found the writing style to be fluent and engaging and not so academic that I was nodding off to sleep. There are great stories told with humour and wit and well researched. 
A really interesting book 

The Secret Chord - Geraldine Brooks
Kindle Edition, 316 pages, Published October 6th 2015 by Viking 

Brooks has written a novel that is not about the romanticism of the Biblical King David but has imagined a complex man who lived in a time of war, brutality and spiritualism. Natan, David’s long-time adviser and seer has been dispatched to write the true story of David’s rise from outlaw to King. David wants the truth to be told, warts and all and Natan finds himself talking to those hostile and friendly to King David. What Natan reveals is King David’s legacy that is both dark and enlightening in achievement. 

I love Brook’s writing she has the uncanny ability to sweep you straight into the story with wonderful characters, strong dialogue, great rhythm and pacing. As I was provided with an advance copy I was ready to sit, read and underline. I only achieved the first two as I found myself so immersed into the story. The world that Brooks creates is wonderful as she captures both the harshness and beauty of the landscape. 

David is a wonderfully complex man, struggling to be King, father, leader, friend and creator of a new nation. His flaws are those of any other man he has ambitions, desires and a need to create an everlasting legacy. To do this David’s decisions are not always pure or ‘right’, there are times when he makes mistakes and errors of judgement. It is refreshing to see the layers of myth stripped away and this man presented for us to come to know. 

I found Natan to be a good narrator as he describes his first meeting with David and subsequent interactions together. The development of the relationship between the two men is interesting as it is Natan who is David’s harshest critic as he expects more than a man or a King as a leader. 
Women are normally historically silent in this world as their narrative is rarely captured. Brooks gives them a voice that is powerful and immensely sad. For the women in King David’s time they are used for political advantage and as sexual playthings. Those women who garner respect are few but that was the reality. There are some wonderful strong female voices in the novel. 

I found the story compelling with the brutality of wars, rapes, murders and betrayals and Brooks does not gloss over any of this. It is a remarkable imagining of the story how a man becomes King.