willoyd

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About willoyd

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    The Sportswriter by Richard Ford
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    Wharfedale, Yorkshire
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    cycling (mainly touring), running, walking, bird watching, family history.

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  1. Some more shorter reviews: Footsteps by Katherine McMahon **** A novel with two timelines interleaved. In the present day, Helena Mayrick's husband Michael is killed in a walking accident, and, dealing with the aftermath, she is asked to help research and take on the writing of a biography of her grandfather, Donaldson, a well-known Edwardian photographer. The relationship between her grandparents and their child, Helena's mother Joanna, is a bit of a family mystery, and Helena, reluctantly but increasingly involved, starts to investigate. Played out in parallel to this is the story of Donaldson and Helena's grandmother, Ruth Styles. This story is complex but intriguing. As some reviewers have complained, it's not a gallop by any means, but I found the slower pace was thoroughly effective at pulling me into the time period, in enabling the stories to become fully intertwined, and in properly establishing the claustrophobic atmosphere that Ruth is captured by. The slower place also enables the various complexities to be played out to the full, with several small subthreads that provided valuable texture. Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed what proved a fascinating family mystery that so accurately echoed my own (if somewhat less dramatic!) experiences in investigating my family tree. A good story, well told. Snow Falling on Cedars by David Guterson *** Set on a fictional island (San Piedro) off the coast of Washington State, Japanese-American fisherman Kabuo Miyamoto is in court, accused of the murder of one of his fellow fisherman at sea. Whilst the story is mainly set in the courtroom, it is largely told in flashback, through which Carl Heine's death is seen as the culmination of the rocky relationship between the Heine and Miyamoto families, whilst local attitudes are influenced by prejudices based on Japanese involvement in WW2, with perhaps wider implications? I have to say that whilst this is generally highly regarded, and it is certainly well written, it took a long time before I got 'in' to the story, and it wasn't until the flashbacks caught up and the story started to be told almost completey in real-time that I was fully engaged. Before this, it all seemed rather long-winded, and we were told too much. In particular, the story of Isaac and Hatsue's relationship, whilst central to the novel, seemed to drag on for ever. In the end, the denouement came well before the end, and whilst the last pages filled detail out, we reverted to learning every little detail. There are times when less is more, and this felt to be one of them. All Our Wrong Todays by Elan Mastai ** Basically a time travel story, and one that tries (unsuccessfully IMO) to address the paradoxes of travelling back in time. With wafer-thin characterisation, a chronology that simply didn't hold together, and an author bogged down in his ideas and pseudoscientific explanations, this was, in hindsight, lucky to achieve two stars. My reading group (this was our July selection) certainly didn't agree with me - I think I gave it the highest mark of all of us. Personally, I think there was quite a good story trying to get out, but it needed more emphasis on story and less on clever-clever plotting for that to happen. Certainly, one of the weakest books I've read this year to date. The Seabird's Cry by Adam Nicolson ****** Nicolson has a long-standing interest in seabirds, and is the (lucky!) owner of the Shiant islands, lying just off the coast of Harris in the Minch (and written about in Sea Room). He is also a superb writer. Each chapter focuses on one species or family of seabirds and within that tends to concentrate on one major theme or aspect of them (for instance, the navigation systems used by albatrosses, social relationships between guillemots). The result is a book that I found totally fascinating and a joy to read. My only problem is that I will have to keep going back to it, a chapter at a time, simply to absorb all that he says, there's so much to take on board. This was one of those rare books that within a half-dozen or so pages, I just knew it was going to be a favourite. I must go off now and read Sea Room properly - something I haven't yet done (I've no idea why - maybe because it's actually OH's book and sits on her shelves, so I've simply never got around to it?) Callanish by William Horwood *** I really picked this up (a) because we're off to the Outer Hebrides later on this summer for our holidays, and (b) I needed to read a book from a non-human perspective for this year's annual Popsugar challenge. I have fond memories of this book, read at least 20 years ago, and it proved a quick and easy read. My memories of it were that I enjoyed it, but not as much as some of Horwood's other books (especially Skallagrigg and The Stonor Eagles), and this confirmed that view. It was just a bit too heavily leavened with semi-religious mystique for my taste, something I might have stomached quite happily at one time, but which, TBH, made the book feel a wee bit dated now. Enjoyable enough though!
  2. I think what you are looking for is a structure that became most prevalent during the "Golden Age" of detective fiction. I would suspect that more recent detective writers have left this formula behind *. I'd therefore agree with Little Pixie about Ngaio Marsh and Margery Allingham. I've recently tried the latter (The Crime at Black Dudley, the first Albert Campion book) and actually criticised it for being so formulaic!! I'd also suggest looking at the British Library Crime Classics series - I've tried a couple and they are all very much of a time and, I suspect, type. Most recently, Murder in White (J Jefferson Farjeon) might, I think, fit the bill (TBH, I'm not enamoured with the genre, but I think they might fit the need). There's also a number of short story collections, which might help accessibility? Aside from these, a couple of other names that might be worth looking at: John Dickson Carr, who is best known for his 'locked room' mysteries, and Ellery Queen (actually a pseudonym for the combined efforts of two cousins), perhaps the best known American equivalent of the Golden Age writers. Overall though, I don't think you can do much better than Agatha Christie. She's always been massively popular and has remained so for a very good reason! I do know that my son absolutely loved these books as an 11-14 year old, and built up an almost complete collection. * Later edit: Actually, the recent spate of 'Cozy Crime' stories, such as MC Beaton's Agatha Raisin series might meet the bill. I dislike them intensely, so am probably not the best person to comment, but from the ones I've tried, I think they might fit the formula you are looking for. They are also from what I remember likely to be very approachable for your age group.
  3. This could start a massive thread! A few that I can remember off the top of my head (all real pubs): Tom Brown's Schooldays: The Peacock Inn, Islington (Tom's departure point for Rugby) Pickwick Papers: in addition to the Bull in Rochester that Janet mentions, PP is stuffed with pubs/inns. They include The Angel Inn in Bury St Edmunds (scene of the election), The Leather Bottle in Cobham, Kent (Tracy Tupman's refuge after being jilted), The George and Vulture (headquarters of the Pickwick Club), The White Hart in Southwark (where Pickwick meets Sam Weller, now demolished) - also mentioned in Henry VI Three Men in a Boat includes a few - usually where the three friends stay or eat. The Barley Mow (where precisely?) is one, The Bull in Streatley is another. The Tabard, Southwark, in Canterbury Tales. The Boar's Head in Henry IV parts 1 and 2. The George, Southwark, appears in Little Dorrit
  4. Thank you all! I like the comment MRTR given your forum name I'm hoping to have more time for reading - but OH is determined to keep me busy! I found myself helping in her school today with their leavers' assembly, so sorting will have to wait a day or so! I'm expecting to do some work (mostly tutoring and supply) and some voluntary work locally. In the meantime I certainly intend to get stuck in to some reading this summer, starting this weekend!
  5. Yesterday was a big day, as I formally retired! I won't be packing in work completely, but intend to work a lot less and do more of what I want to do, including some voluntary work. It was also the last day of term, and amongst the lovely pile of gifts from children in my class, I acquired four books, all of which were on my wishlist(!): Wonderland by Brett Westwood and Stephen Moss Wild Kingdom by Stephen Moss Foxes Unearthed by Lucy Jones A Natural History of the Hedgerow by John Wright That's set me up well for the summer! Today has to be a big sorting sort of day, as there's a substantial pile of possessions and gifts from school to work my way through and find a home for. It's going to be fun, but it's going to feel very weird at times! Even saying the words "I've retired" sounds odd.
  6. We do,don't we?! Have to say that The Circle was universally panned by my bookgroup. We're a pretty eclectic bunch, and there's usually some disagreement, but not on this occasion. Highest score was 4/10, most in the 2s and 3s (I was one of those at the bottom end!). Bulk of the criticism was centred on the thin characterisation and, "plodding", "predictable" writing, although the premise was generally regarded as interesting. Having said that, this month's book, All Our Wrong Todays, got even more blasted by the group - one (not me!) describing it as the second-worst book we'd ever read! (And, before you ask, the worst is generally agreed as Dysfunctional Romance by Derick Hudson!).
  7. Wow, you do have a lot going on. I don't know how you juggle all these - I'd lose track big time. I find I struggle to even maintain two, and usually land up sitting down with one and reading it intensely just so I can then get back to the other before losing the thread.
  8. To the Bright Edge of the World by Eowyn Ivey ****** Set around the fictional story of an expedition up the Wolverine River in nineteenth-century Alaska, the narrative alternates between (mainly) the journal of the expedition leader, Lieutenant-Colonel Alan Forrester, and the journal of his wife, Sophie, left back in Vancouver Barracks, expecting their first child, interspersed with the modern-day letters between the couple's great-nephew (and inheritor of their cache of documents) and the curator of the museum in Alaska to whom he is donating the cache. Other documents also feature, including letters between the couple, but it's the journals that provide the spine. So far so straightforward, but right from the off, this book had me absolutely enthralled. Ivey evokes characters and places to perfection, her writing precise and to the point - there are no long descriptions but she describes beautifully, every word counting to the full. Whilst this is a scientific expedition (and Sophie gets wrapped up in quite a scientific activity too), there is a strong streak of superstition and mysticism - is this magical realism? - that permeates the story. It never takes over, it's never even certain, but it colours the atmosphere and gives the whole story a texture that helps grip the reader's imagination. This is very much the world of the Native American into which the white man is intruding - and perhaps more was lost than we can imagine with the submission of the indigenous population. A distinct bonus is that all three strands equally appealed, so there was none of the impatience and restlessness that can sometimes creep in with multi-stranded stories, where one wants to get back to one of the threads. These were well balanced, and fed off each other. They also each had their own stories to tell. Having said that, Sophie Forrester particularly grew on me: one could only admire the way she dealt with the vicissitudes thrust upon her, and admire what she made of the chances that did come her way. Interestingly, the book is based on a real-life expedition up the Copper River in Alaska, and the 'maps' of the Wolverine do largely tie in with the Copper River's geography. However, 'based' is the word - this is definitely a work of fiction. But it is a work that as one reads feels all too real, and that is a mark of both the author's ability and achievement. This is comfortably the best book I've read to date this year, and must be a strong contender for Book of the Year. It was certainly a brilliant restart to my reading tour of the US States - if only I could guarantee the rest were as good! It's a shoe-in for 6 stars, but it's interesting to note that several reviewers felt it wasn't as good as The Snow Child. I must try that!
  9. Followed by Adam Nicolson's The Seabird's Cry. Just completed the first chapter - outstanding!
  10. Finished All Our Wrong Todays - this month's book group read. Interesting premise, but it all felt rather thin - on character and on science (I'm no physicist, so may have some of this wrong, but the logic didn't work for me). Too plot driven for my taste, and the plot felt wobbly. 2/6 stars.
  11. Glad to have entertained! But you're right - reviews about things that are rubbish - not just books, but films, restaurants etc - do seem to make for much more interesting reviews. I'm sure that says something significant about us, but am not sure quite what!
  12. Interesting list. I wouldn't have had Jane Austen's books ranked so low down, especially Emma which I regard as a better book than P&P - but I love all of hers, and she is probably my favourite author. Having said that, I'd agree with which 3 appear in the list, as I do with the Dickens books (and with the fact that Bleak House is listed as his best), and probably with Middlemarch being on the top of the pile (although it's not my favourite book, it's definitely one of the greatest IMO). I'm not such a fan of the Brontes is the critics are it seems!
  13. For an alternative view on the book, see this set of reviews!
  14. Well that's definitely understandable! That Wainwright list does look a good one. As they all do it seems - I've just tracked back through previous lists to the first one in 2014, and have to say that every year looks good - especially the shortlists. I've read a fair few on these lists, and got others to read on my shelves, and of the ones I've read, there's not been a bad 'un. I think it's likely to be a stronger point of reference for my reading in the future - but over a longer period of time. What you're doing is a bit too tight a timescale for me, but more power to your reading elbow!
  15. Still falling behind, perhaps because I'm actually reading more (this has been my best June since I started keeping records), so another fistful of mini-reviews: The Misty Harbour by Georges Simenon **** I find Simenon's atmospheric Maigret stories totally addictive - the literary version of the old black and white films of light and shade, murky streets and alleys, early morning drizzle, and smoke-filled bars (Camels of course!). Set in Ouistreham, a town I remember as the starting point for one of our most memorable cycle tours in France, this has got it all. Great stuff! And there's so much more to come too - just loving reading the series! The Circle by David Eggers * Dystopian novel set in Silicon Valley, recently made into a film and read because it was a book group choice. The main protagonist, a rather naive, starry-eyed Mae Holland is gradually consumed by a company, The Circle, and a life that is completely focused on social media at the expense of direct human relationships. Aspires to much, and has an interesting premise, but has to be one of the worst written books I've read in a while - ranks alongside the drivel that was Divergent. Characters are paper-thin (tissue paper!), language at the level of a primary school child's writing, and the plot blindingly obvious - the identity of the mystery character for instance being obvious from his first appearance (who else was it going to be?!). Never mind Duffer of the Year, this is a serious rival for Duffer of the Decade, and I resented reading every one of its interminable 400+ pages. Having said that, there was one good line - ironically, it was the last one. The Lady and the Unicorn by Tracy Chevalier **** Tracy Chevalier is almost always good value as a novelist, and this did not disappoint. The Lady and the Unicorn may not be quite in the same league as Falling Angels or The Girl with a Pearl Earring, but is definitely worth reading (and a breath of fresh air after the nightmare of the previous book). It is the fictional history of the eponymous and famous set of six fifteenth-century tapestries now on display in the Musee de Cluny in Paris and how they came to be made. I'm no expert on fifteenth-century history, but Chevalier does have a habit of getting inside the skin of her characters and bringing them to life. Things may well not have happened this way (indeed, the author makes no bones about having to take fictional liberties), but with all her novels, one feels it could have happened so, and I almost always finish her books wanting to find out more about the real-life characters and events she includes (and don't have any problem with them often turning out a bit different to the way she portrays them - these are novels after all). The Sparrowhawk's Lament by David Cobham **** A review of the state and status of each of the fifteen breeding raptor species in the UK by a man who has been involved with birds and filming for pretty much all his life. This is a beautifully presented hardback, with masses of evocative pencil drawing by Bruce Pearson. Cobham himself is very readable, and overall I thoroughly enjoyed the book, but there were one or two minor irritations. Firstly, this was meant to a book about 'How British Birds of Prey are Faring"; in actual fact, it's more a memoir of David Cobham's experiences with them. Yes, there is a goodly sprinkling of overview and looking at each species as a whole, but it's run through, nay overwhelmed in places, by personal anecdotes, memories, journal extracts etc, which, for me, change the whole nature of the book, and not for the better. Each chapter also seems to have been written largely in isolation from the others, and as a result there's far too much repetition, particularly when it comes to historical event like the various acts of parliament or events such as the conscription of gamekeepers, or of references (particularly to Leslie Brown's British Birds of Prey). This was a good book, but with a bit more thought it could have been a great one - maybe even just by making it clearer what it was about. I did learn a lot though! Half in Love by Maile Meloy *** I bought this on the Kindle as a curiosity induced follow-up to seeing the film Certain Women, which was an absorbing and affecting contemplation on the lives of three women living in Montana, and based on three of Meloy's short stories. I'm not a great fan of short stories, so this was always going to have to work hard to completely convince me. In the end, it didn't, and I did get to the end of quite a few asking myself what the point was, but there were a few that really made me sit back and think, and at the end there was a cumulative impact that made me go back and re-examine some of the stories again. On the whole, I got to the end of most of them thinking that here was the basis for an effective novel or character study, but that they were just too under-developed for me. Maybe I'm not patient enough, or maybe I just don't have sufficient insight or skills to draw out everything Meloy is trying to say - the ones that I most appreciated were, after all, just that bit more obvious in terms of a twist or outcome to round the story off. This may be why Certain Women made such an effective film - the director (Kelly Reichardt) perhaps doing that work of drawing out the interior for me, and making it a bit more 'obvious'. If one is into short stories, I suspect this makes a very interesting and challenging collection; certainly reviews suggest it is. I needed a bit more.