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Well, I finally managed to read something! Not two as I had hoped but at least it’s better than none !

Book 37 – The Axeman’s Jazz, by Ray Celestin. It’s 1919, and New Orleans is being haunted by a demon – The Axeman, a serial killer who haunts the shadows and leaves tarot cards on his victims. Hunting him are Michael Talbot, a police officer whose personal life skirts the edges of the law; Luca d’Andrea, Mafia man, Michael’s one-time mentor and recent parolee; and Detective Agency secretary Ida, who desperately wants something more in her life, and who ropes in her musician friend Louis Armstrong to help.

The three follow different routes but all roads lead to murder: the segregated city a breeding ground for suspicion and mistrust.  It is only by moving into different parts of the city – socially and morally – that they can start piecing the clues together.

I enjoyed this, for the most part.  The Axeman murders are true crime but have been woven into an interesting and complex narrative where there are multiple truths and motives, all of which are as believable as each other.  Although the killings were gruesome this is not dwelt upon in too much detail, because it is the symbolism of each murder that draws the attention.

In fact the most gruesome part was a torture scene, and this was deeply unpleasant to read and changed the style in a way I can’t define.

Having Louis Armstrong as a key character seemed a bit unnecessary to me; there was no benefit to it so it felt like a gimmick.  If he really was involved in the case I would revise that opinion, of course, but I have not heard that before.

However, the mix of Italian, Creole, Black and Irish characters showed how the view of events and experiences is shaped by the where you view it from in a very thought-provoking way, and worked well with the idea of the segregated but all-encompassing city.

This is ultimately a detective novel with the twist of three detectives, but the use of true crime information coupled with the social elements made this one a bit different from the norm.

It’s definitely worth a read if you enjoy this genre.

Happy reading,

EJ

🙂

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This is the second week of failure to report.  After my last post I started reading a second book last week; unfortunately I am about 50% into both which is no good to man nor beast when it comes to writing a post!

I have, to all intents and purposes, given up on book 1. I am not being drawn back to it and I am a little disappointed to say that because it’s got such promise as a story. Maybe I will pick it up again in a week or so but if not I’ll tell you about it!

In the meantime I picked a really engaging second book but haven’t had a lot of spare time to read it so no joy there either, post-wise. It’s about New Orleans in 1918-1919 but I’ll tell you more when I’ve finished it!!

I hope to complete that one in a couple of days which should give me time to read another by next week and make up some of the shortfall…

So fingers crossed for whole books next time!

Happy reading,
EJ
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I had a day off work yesterday, so naturally lost track of the day of the week!

Sorry about that, but as the book I have been reading for 2 weeks seems to still be getting further and further from an ending, you didn’t miss anything 🙂

It’s an odd book – interesting but not really engaging, so I only read a few pages each day. I don’t want to give up on it but I may need to read two stories at once if I am going to do any more reviews this month…

So I am off to choose a counterbalance story, in the hope of a more interesting post next week!

Happy reading,
EJ
🙂

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I didn’t get through a novel this week, so revisited some poetry instead.  It’s a bit of a cheat really, because I tend to read a few that grab my attention rather than the whole book of poetry, but this one deserves a mention!

Book 36 – Willow, Wine, Mirror, Moon: Women’s poems from Tang China, translated by Jeanne Larsen. This is a book of poetry written 1000-1400 years ago, and is a treasure trove of beautiful imagery and culturally-specific references.  The book is split into sections based on the roles the women had in their society – Women of the Court, Women of the Household, Courtesans and Entertainers, and Women of Religion.  The poems themselves are a mixture but the one thing that binds them together is that they deal with real experiences.  They are a reflection of, and a response to, life as they lived it.

I referred to this book way back in 2012 and have mentioned Jeanne Larsen more than once – her book The Silk Road is one of my favourites – so obviously this isn’t a new discovery.  However, even as a re-read I am struck by the spare beauty of the work.  Simple images convey an enormity of emotions, but there is also a directness, a willingness to address life: loneliness, bitterness, hope, love – these women were constrained by their lives and found an outlet for those feelings in their writing.

This style of work really entices me in, and I have even written my own works influenced by the stylistic methods of these writers; it lives on because of its beauty and accessibility.

I love this poetry and I was glad to rediscover it after a few years, because it fills me with a desire to write.

Happy reading,

EJ

🙂

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As promised, here are the details of the second book I read over the last week.

Book 35 – My Soul To Take, by Yrsa Sigurdardottir.  Lawyer Thóra Gudmundsdottir is called out to a client’s new hotel to discuss the possibility of a claim against the previous owners: his business is a spiritual retreat, and the rumours of ghosts on the site are affecting both his staff, and his potential bottom line.  It’s a strange case, and not one that seems particularly likely to succeed. But when the hotel architect is brutally murdered, Thóra has a far more complicated investigation on her hands – and one that may prove her client is guilty…

This is one of the books I bought at the crime writing convention back in April – the writer was one of the panellists and she was really funny and interesting, plus she wrote in my book which is always nice!

Words of wisdom

I’m telling you this for full disclosure before my review!

I enjoyed this book – I wasn’t sure if it would be too gory as it was described as ‘spooky and gruesome’ but actually it wasn’t too much for me.  The setting was extremely atmospheric: remote, foggy and grey, and this bleakness permeated the story.  The writing was not too convoluted, considering it is a translation, and despite the subject there was also a light touch that balanced out the darker elements.

In fact, this was one of the more unexpected elements really – not only a dark humour but also despite the atmosphere and the subject matter, this book did not have the feeling of heaviness I associate with this genre.

It is also the only crime novel I have come across with a resident sex therapist as part of the story!

This is the second book with the same lead characters and I will probably get the first one now to see where the story starts: I liked the characters, the interaction of murder with the acknowledged tedium of legislation and the glimpses into Thóra’s less than perfect personal life.

So overall I would recommend this for those who, like me, don’t want a lot of explicit gore but want an atmospheric book with a good story.

Happy reading,

EJ

🙂

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I’m pretty tired tonight so although I have two books to tell you about, for today I’m only doing one. The other will follow tomorrow!

Book 34 – Pyramid, by David Gibbins. Jack Howard is an underwater Archaeologist, desperate to find the truth behind the mysterious Pharaoh Akhenaten: was he the Pharaoh who saw the Exodus described in the Bible? And did he play a part in saving those fleeing slaves by destroying his own army? As Jihadi extremists take over in Egypt, the trail Jack follows for the truth takes him into the very centre of a violent uprising…

I have read another book about Jack Howard, although checking back I think it pre-dates the 52 book challenge – The Mask of Troy. I really liked the mixture of history, intrigue, archaeology and scenery in that story.

Unfortunately, the mix in this one wasn’t quite right for me, in a specific ways.  For example, the history was very detailed and fed in large chucks so I found it hard to keep it all in mind. Also, the politics felt heavy-handed and although the concept is understandable, this required suspension of disbelief that didn’t work so well when the rest of the story focussed on real details in a pretty consistent way.

It isn’t that I didn’t like the story but I thought the book as a whole was less enjoyable than the previous one of the series I read.  I felt the historical detail hindered the flow of the story and was almost like an academic lecture in some points.

Nevertheless, if you can get past the fairly dense sections describing various historical events, and the highly intricate descriptions of diving gear and protocols, there is a fun action-adventure which takes place on land and under water, with some excellent locations and the archaeological favourite of secret chambers.

Plus, if you are particularly interested in Egyptian history it ties in a few strands of possibility very cleverly.

I will be back to finish off the week’s reading tomorrow, when I’ve had a bit of sleep!

Happy reading,

EJ

🙂

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This post brings me up to date with the books I have read over the last couple of post-free months and Challenge Tuesdays will revert to their normal place in the calendar!

Book 33 – The Last Anniversary, by Liane Moriarty. Scribbly Gum Island sits off the Australian coast near Sydney, and is famous for the Munro Baby Mystery, where a couple seemingly vanished into thin air and left their baby behind. Only a handful of people live there – sisters Rose and Connie, who discovered the Munro baby; Enigma, the Munro Baby herself, now a grandmother in her 70’s, and her daughters. When Connie passes away, she leaves her house to Sophie – the ex-girlfriend of Enigma’s grandson. But as Sophie discovers, life on the island is not quite what she was anticipating, and the family are harbouring a secret about the Enigma’s missing parents…

Those of you with good memories might remember that I read another Liane Moriarty book back in 2014; I can’t remember it in great detail but I do think the slightly choppy style – short sentences, half-reported conversations etc – is very similar.  However, I was fairly ambivalent about that one whereas I really enjoyed this book.  The characters are distinct and their experiences have a sense of truth to them even in a fairly unlikely story.  For example, 39 year old Sophie wants children, and fears that she may have lost her chance; new mum Grace is terrified that she doesn’t have the ‘right’ feelings for her child and fears her thoughts to such an extent she becomes suicidal.  Margie is a 50-something who has been belittled and ignored by her husband for years despite her obvious skills and business acumen.  Thomas lost the love of his life and settled for a woman who could give him the family stability he craved.

There is a sense right from the start that the Munro mystery is not what Connie and Rose said it was, but there’s also a feeling that at some point it stopped mattering because it is their bread and butter – and it has made the family incredibly wealthy.

The interesting choice Moriarty made was to create the island not as a small, claustrophobic place, as it could be but as something like a theme park.  When Sophie moves onto the island her life opens up and suddenly there seems to be a wide horizon open to her.  Quite literally, in some scenes!

The story covers a lot of emotional ground – sex, love, loneliness, depression, joy, attraction, lies, shame – but at no point did I find it heavy handed.  The idea that someone would give their house to an almost stranger seems unbelievable but on the other hand, the way the characters are written it becomes a lot more believable that I would have imagined.  As you probably remember, I also appreciate it when the ending is satisfying but not unrealistically perfect, and this book got the balance pretty much perfect for me.

Overall I found this book extremely engaging.  I wanted to know the secret, but I also wanted to know the characters, see how they progressed.  I wanted Grace to be well, Sophie to have the child she craved, 88 year old Rose to tell the truth she so desperately wanted to tell.  I cared about the characters.

There’s a twist in the tale that caught me by surprise too – so right to the last page the book is giving something to the reader.  I can’t really ask for more than that!

Happy reading,

EJ

🙂

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After my recent re-reads, I decided to try something new again.  I didn’t realise what an odd story it would be!

Book 32 – The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, by Muriel Spark.  Miss Brodie teaches at Marcia Blaine School, in 1930s Edinburgh; one of the generation of women who lost their loves in the Great War.  She is an educator, a Svengali figure to her favoured students: the six girls who become known as the Brodie Set.  She tells them how she dedicates her prime to them and in return they offer an unswerving loyalty, until one girl realises that Miss Brodie’s truths are not her own…

Well, I’m not sure where to start with this one!

Miss Brodie is a manipulator, a woman whose ‘prime’ is wasted on schemes for her pupils and love affairs with unsuitable men.  She is a deceiver, a fascist sympathiser who teaches her ‘girls’ about the benefits of Mussolini and Hitler.  She lives vicariously through them, even encouraging a love affair with the married man she loves, in order to ask for details. She considers herself a talented teacher, bringing forth the personalities of her favourite few even as she belittles and pressurises them.  Her relationship with the girls continues long after she stops teaching them, even into their adulthood, and yet she never seems able to be honest with them.  When her teaching career ends as a result of her politics, Miss Brodie’s decline is rapid.  She never forgets that one of her own girls betrayed her.

Miss Brodie is both a sympathetic character – her first love killed in Flanders aged 22, her second a married man and her third proposes to their colleague without telling her – but also deeply unpleasant with her bullying ways and scheming.  She brainwashes the young girls into believing her view of the world is the only one, and that their value is what she places on them: if only they behave as she says, they will be the ‘créme de la créme’ she thinks they can be…

Meanwhile, the girls are a lumpen bundle, their personalities and choices contingent on each other and Miss Brodie, their world view shaped by hers.  They follow paths she has set down for them, behave as she has demanded.  Their childhood given oven, in part, to her vanity.  Despite all being ‘famous’ for some reason they merge into a collective whole that is exposed to an adult world long before they are equipped to deal with the consequences.

And so we are left with a story of childhood warped, of personalities frozen in amber.  Only when they leave school do the girls have a chance to slough off the ties and make their own choices.  You are left with the feeling that this is the greatest betrayal of all.

I found this book densely written, confusing in how it swapped from one young mind to another, from the past to the future to the present rapidly and without warning; there is a lot of inner dialogue as well as lectures from Miss Brodie that contain questionable truths.  It’s a short book that demands focussed reading.  Some of the girls seemed larger than life and some faded into insignificance long before the end of the story, but the strongest voices also had the most interesting stories.

I can’t really decide if I enjoyed the story or not.  It’s strange and not at all what I expected.  It’s described as a ‘brilliantly comic novel’ but is certainly not something I would consider a comedy, at least not in the laugh out loud sense.  There is a ridiculousness to the behaviour of Miss Brodie that is darkly humorous, and the foolishness of the children sometimes raises a smile, but it’s also disturbing at its core.

Seeing this through a modern prism will no doubt influence that view – these children are being radicalised in multiple ways; one girl is even encouraged to run off to fight for Franco in the Spanish Civil War, leading to her death.

So overall, would I recommend it to others?  No, probably not.  I am intrigued by it though, and that may yet make me want to re-visit it.

Happy reading,

EJ

🙂

 

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What follows is not a review, as such – these books have been reviewed to death, they have spawned films, fan fiction, websites, fan clubs and even theme parks. I myself enjoyed the studio tour here in the UK, and frequently do Harry Potter themed food for Halloween 🙂

But, the challenge is to share what I have read, so here goes!

Book 28 – Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, by J.K. Rowling. The first book of the series in which we meet Harry, and are introduced to Hogwarts and its life of magic, friendship and evil. What I enjoy about this one is the magic – the sense of the impossible becoming possible and Harry’s delight and amazement. It is also lovely to see the burgeoning friendships that support Harry throughout his experiences. I have read this book a few times and even now the sense of wonder at the magical world makes me feel happy.

Book 29 – Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, by J.K. Rowling. The second book, where we find out that Harry has the hallmark of a dark wizard, and that fame isn’t reality! This book brings us Dobby the House-Elf, Professor Lockhart, Cornish Pixies, and a memory that can take form. This book starts the journey towards the darkness of the series; with a ghost haunting the toilets and Petrified people around the castle, this book has a heaviness and sense of foreboding throughout. It feels like the cold darkness of the Chamber permeates the story.

Book 30 – Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, by J.K. Rowling. With a prisoner on the loose trying to reach Hogwarts, Ron and Hermione at loggerheads and Hagrid trying to save a Hippogriff from execution, Harry has a lot to think about. But when he starts to see the Grim, he worries whether he is going to live long enough to care… This third book focusses on the impact of actions – the choices the characters make and how they affect the future is the theme throughout. This book also plays with the paradox of time travel, and the opportunity to put things right. Finally, it introduces us to the Dementors, whose soul-sucking kiss is a pretty strong concept for children’s books.

Book 31 – Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, by J.K. Rowling. In this book, Harry is mysteriously entered into a competition to compete in the Tri-Wizard tournament – a dangerous and challenging contest set up between three Wizarding schools of Europe. In the classroom, there are other challenges to survive – not least the humiliation of articles written about him by gossip queen Rita Skeeter. But it all pales into nothing when Harry’s fate is revealed, and the world changes for everyone… This book is far longer than the previous ones, full of details that expand the world, if not the story itself. This is where the darkness really takes hold – murder, torture, cruelty, fear and anger fill the pages, with the slight leavening of first romances and school dances. This is the point at which Harry leaves behind his childhood.

It’s been a while since I re-read these books – not since The Deathly Hallows came out, actually (2007) – and my opinion of them has changed over time.  Accepting that the first three are definitely for younger people as the stories get more complex and adult in tone as Harry ages, I think I prefer these nowadays.  I love the magic: the joy of seeing this whole new life open up.  From secret alleyways to auto-knitting to ghosts who live in U-bends via thinking hats and moving pictures, there are so many fun concepts to delight the reader that it’s hard not to think positively about them.

As I re-read four, I could feel how dense it was, how the story had too many strands to contain in a normal-length book, and it took me far longer to read this time than first time round.  The magic was darker – curses, hexes and dark magic dominate the storyline.  Mistrust is a key theme, and that sets a distinctly different tone to other books. Even friendships are damaged in this one.

Those who love the series will love the series.  Those who don’t, don’t.  I continue to enjoy the books but as I get older, I guess I enjoy the innocent joy of new experiences within the earlier tales more than the dark foreboding of later ones.  However, this was never my favourite story of the series and perhaps I’ll change that opinion with the next book.

For now though, I am leaving Harry where he is and reading a couple of new stories.  I’m taking my own summer holiday from Hogwarts now!

Happy reading,

EJ

🙂

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I said I’ve been reading a well known series – and that’s what will be the focus of the next few posts.  However, I shall start with the newest:

Book 27 – Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, by J.K. Rowling, Jack Thorne and John Tiffany. This is a rehearsal script for Jack Thorne’s new play and as it’s very new I will try not to spoil it!

This story starts 19 years after the Battle of Hogwarts. Harry is a father and works at the Ministry of Magic, and his second child Albus, is about to start his own education at the school.

With the pressure of his name, and an unexpected Sorting, Albus find life complicated and lonely. As time passes and his relationship with his father becomes more and more difficult, and he feels increasingly isolated.  Finally, with his best friend Scorpius – someone whose heritage is as complicated as his own – Albus makes a plan that will change things for everyone…

To confirm: it is a script, I knew it was a script, and I didn’t mind that at all. Also, I am discussing what was on the page only, as I have not seen the play.

Scripts allow you to use your imagination in a different way from novels and that’s quite fun, because you get to define the extent of things – how big is an explosion, what does the inside of a building look like and so on.

What is does mean, though, is that the inner dialogue which is a key part of the 7 books is non-existent. Everything is visible, or in the imagination of the reader. This makes it a very different beast to the previous Potter stories.

The other difference is that Harry is an adult now; we are not really following his story so much as the ramifications of his story. That gives us a chance to see the fallout of the past in a way I found quite satisfying – I was hugely irritated by the ’19 years later’ chapter of the last book but since reading the script I feel much less negative about it.

It’s hard to say much more without a huge spoiler and I think it’s better to read this without knowing it. It’s one of those stories where everything works best when it is revealed at the right time.  My advice is not to read spoiler reviews if you can help it (be aware I link to goodreads which often has spoilers in the reviews).

This isn’t a literary work so can’t really be reviewed as such, but it was an enjoyable and engrossing story.  It took me about 2 hours so isn’t very onerous – people have read it faster, but there’s no need; it’s fun to read the stage directions and spend a few minutes imagining what is happening on stage!

You definitely need knowledge of Harry Potter’s world to understand the links between elements so this isn’t one for people who haven’t read the previous books/seen the films.

If you do read it, it’s probably best to read it as a separate entity rather than as the eighth story: it is after all a visual piece which has a profound impact on the possibilities and the choices made. Plus, the story may be Rowling’s but the stage play isn’t, so there are multiple influences affecting the work.

Happy reading,
EJ
🙂

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