Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Call Me Crazy - Anne Heche - Book 20

Call Me Crazy by Anne Heche is both an easy and a difficult book to read. Easy - because Anne Heche tells her tale in an easily accessible style. Difficult - because the subject matter is sexual abuse. It is a poignant and funny story of Anne Heche's double life as a child and adult in a family who never talked about the things that weren't right, and as a successful actress. We follow Anne's journey as she comes to terms with her past, confronts her demons, goes crazy and comes out the other side, rooting for her all the while. This is an emotional read - and you'll come out the other side with a renewed appreciation for all that's good in your own life, as well as respect for someone who's survived a devastating experience.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Keeping The World Away - Margaret Forster - Book 19

Like many of Margaret Forster's books, Keeping the World Away deals with the lives of women. This time the lives of 6 women are recounted through the device of a picture of an attic room painted by Gwen John, the first woman in the story. Gwen John was a real artist, often overlooked during her lifetime, and the start of her painting career is the launchpad for this story. The strangely haunting picture affects everyone who owns it, giving them a message that helps them to deal with issues in their lives. Along the way we get the feel of major European cities and tiny hamlets at different times over a period of 100 years. The stories intersect, giving us the chance to resolve unanswered questions about each woman who has previously owned the picture - and the novel ends with the knowledge that the painting will continue its journey - and its effect. A good read.

Amazon's description:
An enigmatic painting by Gwen John created as the young English artist pined for her neglectful lover, Rodin, connects the disparate characters in this century-spanning sentimental tale. Forlorn Gwen paints a canvas of a corner of her Paris flat intended to "signify herself—calm, peaceful, content" and gives it to a friend, who misplaces it. So begins the painting's journey as it ends up in the possession of an artistically bankrupt teenager, an impoverished nurse, a downtrodden farmer, a scorned wife, an aging woman returning to Paris after a long absence and, finally, a promising art student, all of whom find either strength or solace in the valuable work. Though the men characters are less than convincing, Forster captures a wide swath of 20th-century European womanhood. (Aug.)
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The Winter Ghosts - Kate Mosse - Book 18

A belief in the supernatural will help with reading The Winter Ghosts. How else can we immerse ourselves in the world of Freddie Watson who meets several ghosts - and almost falls in love with one - in a trip to France some years after the end of the First World War? Freddie is in mourning for his brother and is, in a sense, already living with ghosts. Perhaps that's why it's so easy for him to tune into the messages from the ghosts of people who died in appalling circumstances some 700 years ago. This is a haunting and mysterious tale, which richly evokes the reserved people of a remote French town as well as the Cathars who lived there centuries before. I enjoyed this book immensely, though the plot is rather obvious.

Amazon's description:
Freddie Watson is a stilted young man who has not gotten over older brother George's disappearance on the Western Front during WWI. It is now 10 years since the Armistice, and Freddie, after a stay in a mental institution, has come to the French Pyrenees to find peace. While motoring through a snowstorm, he crashes his car and ends up in the small village of Nulle, where he meets a beautiful young woman named Fabrissa. In the course of an evening, Fabrissa tells Freddie a story of persecution, resistance, and death, hinting at a long-buried secret.

Crime Zero - Michael Cordy - Book 17

What if you could get rid of crime through genetic manipulation? This 1999 novel is set in 2008, in which such things are possible (the author might be a few years off, but who knows what's happening in labs now?) The story follows the efforts of politicians and others to get rid of the crime problem once and for all. While some scientists work on Project Conscience, a therapy to make criminals reform by enhancing feelings of guilt, others want to go further and get rid of the criminals altogether. It is what you might call the ultimate solution as it involves eliminating those who commit most of the crime. Psychologist Luke Decker and geneticist Kathy Kerr must work together to stop this solution from happening - and it's a thrilling read, as mankind as we know it will change if they fail.

Amazon's description:
Genetics figured in Cordy's debut, The Miracle Strain, so it's hardly surprising to see it surface again here. In the near-future, scientists have found a way to isolate the genes that cause violent behavior in men, and a project to alter the genetic makeup of serious offenders is underway. Then FBI forensics specialist Luke Decker discovers that the men behind the project are up to no good.

The King's Daughter - Barbara Kyle - Book 16

This is the story of the time of Bloody Mary. The novel covers attempts to reinstate Catholicism in the mid 16th century. It has everything - intrigue, murder, a dashing Spanish soldier of fortune - but somehow I just couldn't immerse myself in the world that author Barbara Kyle painted. Perhaps it's because I've been spoiled by the excellent novels of C J Sansom, but although there was nothing wrong with the book, it just never gripped me in the way I would have wanted. For me, this is only a three-star read.

Amazon's description:

Upon the death of her father, Henry VIII, Queen Mary assumes the throne after a long exile. Her first order of business is to wed the devout Prince Philip of Spain, creating a powerful alliance that will transform Mary-s fanatical dream of ridding England of Protestantism into terrifying reality. And so begins the reign of Bloody Mary...
Even as she plans for her own nuptials, Isabel Thornleigh is helping to lay the groundwork to overthrow Mary and bring Elizabeth to power. But none of the secrets Isabel has discovered compares to the truths hidden in her own family. With her beloved father imprisoned by Queen Mary, only Carlos Valverde-a Spanish soldier of fortune-can help Isabel. Now with England-s future at stake, Isabel risks all to change the course of history...

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Michael Caine biography - Book 15

For my next book selection, I moved from fiction to non-fiction. Titled The Elephant to Hollywood, Michael Caine's biography is a great read. It's the second biography he's written; the first one dating from when he though his career was over. However, even if you haven't read the previous one, this autobiography fills in all the blanks, covering his development as an actor from childhood to the age of 77.

Having spanned a few generations of Hollywood actors, Michael Caine has worked with or known anyone who is anyone and there's liberal name dropping throughout the book. It's not done in a boastful way, but in a matter of fact manner. Along the way, Michael Caine shares the lessons he learned about acting and his favorite films (both his and those by others).

I really enjoyed this book and found it hard to put down. Michael Caine's voice was evident throughout, with British humor and an attitude of not taking things too seriously. Highly recommended!

Heresy by S J Parris - Book 14

I stayed with the Tudor period (well, the Elizabethan period, really) for my next book, a novel by S J Parris called Heresy. This book introduces Giordano Bruno (which for some reason kept reminding me of Britain's ex-PM, Gordon Brown), a lapsed Catholic Italian tasked with rooting out seeds of Catholicism in England at the behest of Walsingham. He goes to Oxford in search of conspiracy and finds it in abundance. There are several murders, not to mention petty academic rivalries in these hallowed halls.

S J Parris has been compared to C J Sansom, but although Heresy was a good read, it didn't grip me in quite the same way as the Sansom's Shardlake series. However, I think it's a worthy addition to the ranks of historical detective fiction and am looking forward to reading the next in the Giordano Bruno series - Prophecy.