Friday, 30 March 2012

The Murder of Roger Ackroyd by Agatha Christie

This novel is narrated by James Sheppard, the local doctor who lives with
his sister in the small village of King's Abbott. The story opens with the death of a Mrs Ferrers, an apparent suicide which shocks and upsets the village. When we first meet the Roger Ackroyd of the title he is alive and well, and has some news to impart about Mrs Ferrars' death - she was being blackmailed. Not long after he makes this revelation he is found dead in his locked study - a knife in his back.

There are a number of suspects, all connected with the victim. Throughout the story suspicion falls on each of them. The most obvious suspect is Ralph Paton, Roger Ackroyd's adopted son. A charming ne'er-do-well, he had quarrelled with his father but had recently been seen in the village after staying away for a number of months. It is Ralph Paton's fiancee who approaches Hercule Poirot to investigate.

Poirot has moved into the house next door to Dr Sheppard. He has retired to the country and given up investigating. However, as he says to Dr Sheppard;

But you can figure to yourself, monsieur, that a man may work towards a certain kind of object, may labour and toil to attain a certain kind leisure and occupation, and then finds that, after all, he yearns for the busy old days, and the old occupations that he thought himself so glad to leave?

So he doesn't take much persuading to take up the case.

I really enjoyed this book, not least because - I guessed the murderer! It was more guesswork than deduction, but I was still quite proud of myself.

I'm working my way through the works of Agatha Christie as part of the Agatha Christie Reading Challenge

Tuesday, 27 March 2012

The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller

I had no idea what to expect with this book. All I knew was that it is a re-telling of the story of the Trojan War. Of course I've heard of Helen and that she was kidnapped and that the Greeks went to war to get her back. But that is the extent of my knowledge and I was worried that this book, written by a lecturer in Ancient Greek would be hard going for me. But I had heard very good things about it, so I plunged in.

What I found was a wonderful story. Much of it is set before Helen is kidnapped and the Greeks go to war. The narrator is Patroclus, the princely son of an insane mother and a brutal and uncaring father. After accidentally killing another boy in self-defence, Patroclus is exiled and comes under the care of King Peleus, who has a reputation for taking in lost boys like Patroclus and training them as fighters for his army. Patroclus is a bit of a weakling, not at all skilled, or interested in fighting, so it looks as though his life is going to be short and miserable.

Then Achilles comes into his life. Achilles is the son of Peleus. He is handsome, brave, talented, clever. He is a golden child. He is also part god - his mother is the sea nymph Thetis. An unlikely friendship is established between the two boys. As Achilles' companion Patroclus is exempt from the military training and his life becomes worth living at last.

So the boys grow up together. Achilles perfects his miraculous fighting skills - he is to be the greatest of the Greeks, it is his destiny. But Achilles does not want to fight, he tries to stay out of the developing war with Troy. But Odysseus finds him and persuades him to join the rest of the troops. So Achilles goes to war, where it is prophesied he will die.

I thought that this was a fascinating book, I was completely caught up in it. The friendship between Achilles and Patroclus is wonderfully portrayed with the friendship gradually developing into romantic love. Also very well done is Achilles character development. Once he begins to fight in earnest and sees the respect and awe he commands he becomes a fearsome warrior. He comes to love the power and to be very protective of it. His love for Patroclus is unwavering, but his reputation and standing in the world become more and more important to him. The book has made me want to read more about Greek history and myths and I wish that there was a reading list in the back of the book so I would know where to begin.

Monday, 26 March 2012

A weekend away

On the weekend of Mother's Day the three of us went away to the Golden Sands Caravan Park at Mablethorpe in Lincolnshire. We've been here before - Billy loves it. His absolute favourite thing is to go swimming with his Dad and they went down to the pool both days. While they were there I settled down in the caravan and got some reading done. I finished The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller and started and finished The Good Father by Noah Hawley. I enjoyed both of them very much - reviews to follow.
I don't usually look to buy books when I'm with Mark and Billy, they don't enjoy browsing bookshops. But there was a rack of books in the site shop, mainly romances and I wasn't familiar with many of the authors. But to my surprise I spotted a copy of White Corridor, one of the Bryant and May books by Christopher Fowler. At £2.99 I snapped it up.
Sunday was Mother's Day so I could choose where we visited. As it's so early in the season many of the tourist attractions are closed, but we had a lovely visit to the Windmill at Alford. It is a working windmill (though they weren't milling the day we visited) and visitors can climb up inside and see all the inner workings. According to the leaflet, it is considered by many people to be the finest windmill in England. It is certainly a beautiful building. We climbed up the extremely steep wooden steps and through the window could see the five sails glide round. It was surprisingly quiet. Coming down again the signs advised visitors to come down backwards, like a ladder. This we did, very gingerly. The friendly lady on the desk told us that the miller runs down them forward, carrying a huge sack of flour.
We had our lunch at the teashop attached to the windmill. They had a wonderful array of cakes, none of which I could try, because I've given them up for Lent. I snapped a (bad) photo of his lovely decoration - a collection of teapots strung together and hung from the ceiling.

Monday, 19 March 2012

The Passage by Justin Cronin

This is a book which has been on my TBR list for ages, so when I spotted a copy in the library I checked it out immediately. It's a long book at well over 900 pages, but I couldn't put it down - I loved it.

The story starts with a little girl named Amy, born to a mother who loves her but isn't in a position to look after her. So Amy is left in the care of the nuns at the Covent of the Sisters of Mercy. That is until the men from the government come to look for her. From here we go to reading the e-mails of Jonas Lear, a scientist who is part of an expedition to the jungles of Bolivia. the expedition is looking for something (at this stage the reader doesn't know what), and Jonas is concerned about the number of American military personnel who are accompanying the expedition. Something goes wrong and people start falling ill with an unknown disease. The disease finds its way into the general population of the US, and society begins to break down.

This takes up about the first third of the book and then the action leaps forward about 100 years. A small colony of people are living in California. Their whole lives are built around protecting themselves from the virus which has wiped out most of the population. Their small settlement is surrounded by a high wall, and to leave the safety of the wall is a dangerous business. It has to be done sometimes to gather food and to perform maintenance on the electricity generator which provides the settlement with power. The generator is vital because people infected with the virus are very, very sensitive to light, so the lights are kept on at all times. However, unknown to the majority of residents, the generator is wearing out.

The final part of the book involves a trek to try and link up with other outposts of survivors, a brave task as they aren't sure if there is anyone else out there. For all they know they might be the only ones left.

I thought this was a great book and I raced through it. I love stories that are set in the future but have enough of our own world in them to make them recognisable. This was a beautifully realised world, there was nothing that jarred. It seemed entirely possible that in a world where a deadly virus escaped that this could be the result. I've just read on Twitter that the sequel The Twelve will be available in the UK on the 25th October this year. I'm really looking forward to it. This is the trailer for it.

Thursday, 15 March 2012

Miss Garnet's Angel by Salley Vickers

I loved this book. The main attraction for me was its setting - Venice. It is somewhere I have always wanted to visit, and Salley Vickers' descriptions have made me want to go there even more.
The story concerns Julia Garnet, a retired school teacher who is somewhat set in her ways. She has shared her home with her friend Harriet for many years, and when Harriet dies, Julia finds herself at a loss. She makes an unusually spontaneous decision to rent out her house and go and live in Venice for a few months.
The rest of the novel is about Venice and its effect on Julia. In learning about the city and uncovering the layers upon layers of stories and myth, she begins to learn about herself and her own life. In England she was a reserved woman who kept herself to herself, but in Venice she gets involved in other people's lives. This doesn't always bring her happiness, sometimes it brings her heartache, but it all helps to chip away at the wall she had built around herself.
Salley Vickers has put a reading list in the back of the book and I will certainly be making a note of some of the books for further reading about Venice.

Monday, 5 March 2012

Murder at Deviation Junction by Andrew Martin

Murder at Deviation Junction is the fourth of the Jim Stringer novels. Set in 1909, Jim Stringer is still in the railway police, and still wishing that he was back working the engines.
A body is found close to the railway line near Saltburn, an apparent suicide - but Jim suspects something more. He also believes that journalist Stephen Bowman knows more than he is saying. The dead man, Paul Peters, was a press photographer, a colleague of Bowman's. Just before he died he had been interested in taking pictures of a Club Train. A Club Train was a sort of chartered train, a group of (wealthy) people who all made the same journey regularly would club together to charter a fancy train where they didn't have to mix with the hoi-polloi. The specific train Peters was interested in ran from Whitby to Middlesbrough, passing the place where his body was found.
I enjoyed this book, I rarely come across a novel set in the area where I live, and it was good to see place names I'm so familiar with popping up. Middlesbrough is a town built on the steel industry, much of which is gone now. It was good to read descriptions of it in its heyday and imagine what it was like.
I was glad to see Jim's wife Lydia back in this one, I missed her in the last. She is a feminist in days when opportunities were just starting up for working-class women like her,

Lydia had spent the past two years fretting about our futures - mine and hers both. Would she end up at the kitchen sink? That was her leading anxiety. She was a New Woman, forward thinking. There was to be a sex revolution, and you knew it was coming by the speed at which Lydia went at her typewriting.

I enjoyed this book, but I definitely preferred the first half to the second half. I thought the second half became a bit far-fetched. But all-in-all I thought it was a good read.