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Alex's Reading - 2017


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The First Phone Call From Heaven by Mitch Albom 

 

Synopsis: The First Phone Call from Heaven tells the story of a small town on Lake Michigan that gets worldwide attention when its citizens start receiving phone calls from the afterlife. Is it the greatest miracle ever or a massive hoax? Sully Harding, a grief-stricken single father, is determined to find out.  (From Goodreads)

 

Thoughts: I have had this on my TBR for a couple of years, bought after I enjoyed The Five People You Meet in Heaven by the same author. That book was full of emotion and magic, and was one of my favourite reads that year so no pressure then... 

 

Sadly, this one failed to live up to the predecessor. Rather than an alternative view of heaven, and its effects both on the afterlife and on earth, here we had a tribute to the nonsense of current society. Woman gets phone call claiming to be from heaven and TV crews descend on a small town to cover an event which quickly descends into farce. 

 

I found it hard to seriously believe that any TV station wouldn't immediately dismiss these people as total cranks, but there we are. 

 

Sully Harding has recently lost his wife in tragic circumstances, and rather than an exploration of the afterlife, this turned into more of a mystery novel with one man on a crusade to disprove the 'miracle'. The problem is, Sully is very difficult to feel any emotional connection to - which is weird, given his history should inspire that. 

 

Part of the problem was we were quickly taken away from his story arc - which was easily the most interesting - to deal with minor TV producers, and therefore the pacing felt off. 

 

I realise this is quite a negative review and gives the impression I didn't enjoy the book at all. That's not the case, it was an easy, quick read to start the year off and I never felt like abandoning it, but Albom struggled to create the feelings he so effortlessly managed with The Five People here. It felt like it should be a similar read, but actually they were totally different genres almost, and the first was therefore a much more meaningful, and memorable read. 

 

This one was good, but nothing about it deserved more than a 3. 

 

3/5 (I liked it)

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Roman Holiday by Jodi Taylor 

 

Synopsis: Another rollicking short story from the Chronicles of St Mary's. Question: What sort of idiot installs his mistress in his wife's house? Especially when that mistress is Cleopatra VII Thea Philopator, Queen of Egypt and the most notorious woman of her time? Answer: Julius Caesar - poised to become King of Rome. Or as good as. Question: At this potentially sensitive point in your political manoeuvrings, who are the last people you'd want crashing through the door, observing, recording, documenting ...? I think we all know the answer to that one.  (From Goodreads)

 

Thoughts: I am in love with the St Mary's series, and am reading all the novels and short stories in order - trying desperately to space them out and not inhale them! This short story comes in at 3.5, and I must admit I have been putting this off a bit due to the ending of book three, which left me very uncertain about the direction the rest of the series is taking.

 

This is a standalone story that does not rely on you knowing the details of the novels, yet here was Taylor's wonderful sense of humour, refusing to take the series too seriously, talent for dialogue and tying everything together in such a short amount of pages.

 

Ancient Roman is the setting this time, and the glimpses of Caesar and Cleopatra only add to what is a gloriously fun diversion. I now want to return to the series and can't wait to read the fourth novel.

 

Job done, Taylor.

 

4/5 (I really liked it) 

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The Turn of the Screw by Henry James

 

Synopsis: A very young woman's first job: governess for two weirdly beautiful, strangely distant, oddly silent children, Miles and Flora, at a forlorn estate...An estate haunted by a beckoning evil.

Half-seen figures who glare from dark towers and dusty windows- silent, foul phantoms who, day by day, night by night, come closer, ever closer. With growing horror, the helpless governess realizes the fiendish creatures want the children, seeking to corrupt their bodies, possess their minds, own their souls...

But worse-much worse- the governess discovers that Miles and Flora have no terror of the lurking evil.

For they want the walking dead as badly as the dead want them. (From Goodreads)

 

Thoughts: I picked this up with some trepidation as the choice for Essex in the English Counties Challenge. James' reputation left me intimidated, and the thoughts of both Janet and Willoyd didn't fill me with confidence that it was misplaced dread. 

 

However, onwards and upwards!

 

This is supposed to be a scary read, filled with spirits and ghosts and the like. But it isn't. The children don't really do anything that can be regarded as creepy, or even weird most of the time. They do not acknowledge the ghosts/spirits, but the governess just 'knows' what they are doing, plotting and feeling. 

 

That isn't scary, it's just poor plotting. It is only short, but that shouldn't prevent good plotting or well-rounded characters - neither of which are achieved here. The children are 'adorable', apparently, but given that is repeated every second page, couldn't the author have added a couple more qualities to their characters? Ultimately, I didn't care for any of the characters here and by page 40 I was begging for someone, anyone, to get killed. 

 

The writing style is ok, feels very much of its time, with overly long sentences, why, use, a, full, stop, when, a, comma, will, do. 

 

Even with the page count standing at under 100, I only persevered with this due to the ECC nature. I initially gave this 2 stars, but I might end up revisiting that mark!

 

2/5 (It was ok, I guess)

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Happy Reading in 2017 Alex, hope it's an enjoyable reading year for you :hug:  Don't stress too much about the TBR.

I highly recommend Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell .. fab book but it is huge so I can totally understand why people might be reluctant. Hope you give it a go this year and love it! You'll know pretty soon whether it's for you or not (though give it a good few chapters .. it does take a little while to get into the swing of it :smile: ) Good luck!!   

 

 

Thank you! I bought Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell following some reviews on here - maybe yours? I do intend to get around to it at some point!

 

Wishing you a wonderful year of reading, Alex.  :smile: 

 

Thank you, Chrissy!

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I'm so glad you're enjoying the Chronicles of St. Mary's books!  I love them, but I wasn't as restrained as you, and inhaled most of them within a week on holiday a while back, and now I have the pain of having to wait for the next one to be published after I devour each novel as it comes out.  Having said that, I haven't read the last short story yet, so maybe I'll treat myself to that after my next read, and then it's only three months until the next full novel is released ... I'm getting excited for it already! :lol:

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  • 3 weeks later...

NW By Zadie Smith

 

Synopsis: Set in northwest London, Zadie Smith’s brilliant tragicomic novel follows four locals—Leah, Natalie, Felix, and Nathan—as they try to make adult lives outside of Caldwell, the council estate of their childhood. In private houses and public parks, at work and at play, these Londoners inhabit a complicated place, as beautiful as it is brutal, where the thoroughfares hide the back alleys and taking the high road can sometimes lead you to a dead end. Depicting the modern urban zone—familiar to city-dwellers everywhere—NW is a quietly devastating novel of encounters, mercurial and vital, like the city itself. (From Goodreads)

 

Thoughts: This is my first experience of Zadie Smith, and for long periods I found it a slog. It feels very much style over substance at first, more about the writing style than characterisation or plot. 

 

The first half was slow, but it picked up massively once we met Natalie, and we actually were taken back to the childhood of Natalie and Leah and could piece everything together in a timeline that made a vague sense. 

 

The writing is good, and I did feel we got to know each of these characters intimately through the web that Smith weaves through their lives. 

 

But sitting down to write this review I am struggling to think of much to say, and it's mainly because not a lot actually happens to anyone. Everyone starts off pretty miserable, finishes pretty miserable, and it's difficult to see anything that happened in the interim. Even the ending, when something actually does occur then drifts to a winding halt. 

 

I was fairly sure this book would finish as a 2, but the final half and the writing pulled it up to a 3 at the time I finished it. I'm going to trust myself on that one because I'm not sure now - and I am confident that in 6 months time I won't remember anything about this!

 

3/5 (I liked it)

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Trainspotting by Irvine Welsh

 

Synopsis: Choose us. Choose life. Choose mortgage payments; choose washing machines; choose cars; choose sitting on a couch watching mind-numbing and spirit-crushing game shows, stuffing fudgein junk food intae yir mooth. Choose rotting away, pishing and shiteing yersel in a home, a total fudgein embarrassment tae the selfish, fudgeed-up brats ye've produced. Choose life.  (From Goodreads)

 

Thoughts: I can't honestly believe it has taken me 30 years to read this (I suppose around 15 or so really, I can probably be excused not reading it when first released given I was about 8 years old!). I haven't ever seen the film either, but I read this in preparation for next week's cinema jaunt to see T2. 

 

Disclaimer: I lived in Edinburgh for a few years earlier in my adult life, so I understand a lot of Scottish slang and I recognise a lot of locations mentioned. I am fairly sure both enhanced my enjoyment - I found I could read the phonetic Scottish that the book is penned in very easily. I'm not sure it would be like that for everyone. 

 

This won't be for everyone. It gets very graphic in places, the C word is thrown around a lot, and we are reading about heroin addicts - and absolutely everything that entails. Welsh doesn't play nicely with it, and you will wince in at least three places in the novel. 

 

 

If you don't wince when he wakes up with an underage girl, I've got some questions for you!

 

 

This is really a collection of short stories about our main characters rather than one novel, and Welsh uses this to really vary the emotions up. Disgust is there, but there are also parts that are funny, and parts that really tug on the heartstrings. And yet through all the abuse, foul language, dodgy life decisions, violence, sex and drugs, Welsh manages to evoke sympathy in the reader for this group which lives right on the edge of society. 

 

I will definitely read the sequel and prequel. 

 

4/5 (I really, really liked it)

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Cider with Rosie by Laurie Lee

 

Synopsis: At all times wonderfully evocative and poignant, Cider With Rosie is a charming memoir of Laurie Lee's childhood in a remote Cotswold village, a world that is tangibly real and yet reminiscent of a now distant past.

In this idyllic pastoral setting, unencumbered by the callous father who so quickly abandoned his family responsibilities, Laurie's adoring mother becomes the centre of his world as she struggles to raise a growing family against the backdrop of the Great War.

The sophisticated adult author's retrospective commentary on events is endearingly juxtaposed with that of the innocent, spotty youth, permanently prone to tears and self-absorption. (From Goodreads)

 

Thoughts: I read this for the English Counties Challenge for Gloucestershire and I'm not entirely sure I would have picked it up otherwise. 

 

Lee's writing style isn't for me. It's written more like poetry, which I don't read, and I often got bogged down in the descriptions of things rather than being able to enjoy them. 

 

However, I did enjoy reading about his life in the village and the people in it. It does feel like another world, even though it wasn't that long ago comparatively, and I loved reading about his mother, who was easily my favourite character that we met among the pages. The sleepy pace of this book matches the sleep pace of life in the village, but it doesn't make for a very interesting read, and it was tricky to pick the book up again once I had put it down. 

 

For the Counties challenge, it did evoke a wonderful sense of place and time, so thoroughly deserving of its place on the list, and I am glad I read it, but it's not one I would ever return to. 

 

3/5 (I liked it)

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I'm so happy to see a review of Trainspotting! For someone not accustomed to the language, I can tell you it was such a problem I did Immersion Reading with it! I can understand the spoken word, but not read it! I loved the movie (McGregor, hubba hubba :P ) but loved the book even more.

 

Have you read Fight Club by any chance?

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I see we pretty much agree about Cider With Rosie. :)  I did get more out of it as a second reading as if I'd rated it after reading it at school, it would probably have been a 1/5, but with a more grown up head on, I could appreciate it more, and enjoyed some of the stories but still didn't like the writing style.

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I can imagine reading the text is pretty difficult for someone not used to the dialect! There is also some slang that I've never heard outside Scotland thrown in for good measure.

 

I think the film is a very faithful adaptation, but like you preferred the book.

 

Not read (or seen!) Fight Club. Should I get hold of it?

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I see we pretty much agree about Cider With Rosie. :) I did get more out of it as a second reading as if I'd rated it after reading it at school, it would probably have been a 1/5, but with a more grown up head on, I could appreciate it more, and enjoyed some of the stories but still didn't like the writing style.

Sorry Claire, I typed a reply to Anna, got halfway through, went to sort dinner then pressed post! So I didn't see yours until I posted.

 

I think our views are quite similar, yes. I appreciated the book and remain glad I've read it, but I certainly wouldn't go back to Lee, and it took me a surprising amount of time to get through it. I think it does give a sense of time and place though.

 

I've just finished A Kestral for a Knave for South Yorkshire and that was MUCH better. Really enjoyed that one.

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Trainspotting by Irvine Welsh

 

Synopsis: Choose us. Choose life. Choose mortgage payments; choose washing machines; choose cars; choose sitting on a couch watching mind-numbing and spirit-crushing game shows, stuffing fudgein junk food intae yir mooth. Choose rotting away, pishing and shiteing yersel in a home, a total fudgein embarrassment tae the selfish, fudgeed-up brats ye've produced. Choose life.  (From Goodreads)

 

Thoughts: I can't honestly believe it has taken me 30 years to read this (I suppose around 15 or so really, I can probably be excused not reading it when first released given I was about 8 years old!). I haven't ever seen the film either, but I read this in preparation for next week's cinema jaunt to see T2. 

 

Disclaimer: I lived in Edinburgh for a few years earlier in my adult life, so I understand a lot of Scottish slang and I recognise a lot of locations mentioned. I am fairly sure both enhanced my enjoyment - I found I could read the phonetic Scottish that the book is penned in very easily. I'm not sure it would be like that for everyone. 

 

This won't be for everyone. It gets very graphic in places, the C word is thrown around a lot, and we are reading about heroin addicts - and absolutely everything that entails. Welsh doesn't play nicely with it, and you will wince in at least three places in the novel. 

 

 

If you don't wince when he wakes up with an underage girl, I've got some questions for you!

 

 

This is really a collection of short stories about our main characters rather than one novel, and Welsh uses this to really vary the emotions up. Disgust is there, but there are also parts that are funny, and parts that really tug on the heartstrings. And yet through all the abuse, foul language, dodgy life decisions, violence, sex and drugs, Welsh manages to evoke sympathy in the reader for this group which lives right on the edge of society. 

 

I will definitely read the sequel and prequel. 

 

4/5 (I really, really liked it)

 

 

Great review, and I'm so pleased that you really really liked the novel! :smile2:

I think one of the things that stood out for me in the novel was when the one guy (their names escape me, unfortunately) was getting close to a woman in order to get back to her ex with whom he had problems. He got close to her son, as well, and then BAM! We read about him taking a picture of the young boy's lifeless body, to send to the ex. And I was like, how could he kill him?!? :o And then BAM!! He'd only drugged him!! (I mean of course that's sick enough, but I was so relieved :D ) That was such a rollercoaster for me when I first read it. One has to have a pretty imaginative mind to come up with something like that! 

 

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Sorry Claire, I typed a reply to Anna, got halfway through, went to sort dinner then pressed post! So I didn't see yours until I posted.

 

I think our views are quite similar, yes. I appreciated the book and remain glad I've read it, but I certainly wouldn't go back to Lee, and it took me a surprising amount of time to get through it. I think it does give a sense of time and place though.

 

I've just finished A Kestral for a Knave for South Yorkshire and that was MUCH better. Really enjoyed that one.

I liked A Kestrel for a Knave much more too! :D

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  • 1 month later...

I haven't posted in here for ages :o 

 

Work has been absolutely mental, plus I've been away for a while. We're also moving (although 20 minutes down the road, rather than a 12 hour flight ;) ) so that is taking up some time. But that move will put me back on public transport to work (I prefer that to the car, because it gives me reading time :D ) so should allow for more reading eventually! 

 

I have a ton of reviews to catch up on, as ever. Why does this happen, every, damn, year? :giggle2: 

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A Kestral for a Knave by Barry Hines

 

Synopsis: Life is tough and cheerless for Billy Casper, a disillusioned teenager growing up in a small Yorkshire mining town. Violence is commonplace and he is frequently cold and hungry. Yet he is determined to be a survivor and when he finds Kes, a kestrel hawk he discovers a passion in life. (From Goodreads)

 

Thoughts: I'm really glad this was included in the English Counties Challenge. Not only did I really enjoy it, but I think it raises some important points about growing up in this area of Yorkshire at the time the book was printed. 

 

Billy is a teenager, still in the last year of school, but his elder brother is already working down the mines and that is what is simply expected of a boy with Billy's upbringing. Life is bleak for him. He shares a bed with his elder brother, and is often cold and hungry. He struggles at school, is derided by his classmates and simply bullied by his PE teacher (and possibly others). His mother isn't interested in him, and his father is absent. 

 

Given the schooling system of the time, he has been written off by society early on, and he struggles to join the public library - which then pushes him into thieving. 

 

But then he has a kestrel, which he, and he alone, has been able to train. It gives him a passion in life for the first time. 

 

This is written simply, but brilliantly. It's only a short work, but packs a hell of a lot in. Regardless of the counties challenge, I would recommend this book, but for the challenge it was simply perfect. 

 

It took me a little while to get in to, hence the deduction of one mark, but it's so worth it. 

 

4/5 (I really liked it)

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El Narco by Ioan Grillo

 

Synopsis: The world has watched stunned at the bloodshed in Mexico. Thirty thousand murdered since 2006; police chiefs shot within hours of taking office; mass graves comparable to those of civil wars; car bombs shattering storefronts; headless corpses heaped in town squares. And it is all because a few Americans are getting high. Or is it? (From Goodreads)

 

Thoughts: I'm not sure the world has watched stunned, to be fair. Perhaps in the USA, but I'm not sure in the UK this is ever really given much attention. 

 

But no matter, this is a good starting point. What is impressive about Grillo is that he has used sources from both sides of the border to look at the American influence and the Mexican experience. He is British, but has worked in Mexico, on the US side of the border in Texas, and has spoken to a wide ranging set of people involved in the drug trade - and in policing it. 

 

He talks of economics and politics, as well as getting high, violence and gangs. 

 

I certainly felt much better informed after reading it. Just don't expect a comfortable read by the fireside. 

 

4/5 (I really liked it)

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Cockroaches by Jo Nesbo 

 

Synopsis: When the Norwegian ambassador to Thailand is found dead in a Bangkok brothel, Inspector Harry Hole is dispatched from Oslo to help  hush up the case. 

 

But once he arrives Harry discovers that this case is about much more than one random murder. There is something else, something more pervasive, scrabbling around behind the scenes. Or, put another way, for every cockroach you see in your hotel room, there are hundreds behind the walls. Surrounded by round-the-clock traffic noise, Harry wanders the streets of Bangkok lined with go-go bars, temples, opium dens, and tourist traps, trying to piece together the story of the ambassador’s death even though no one asked him to, and no one wants him to—not even Harry himself. (From Goodreads)

 

Thoughts: From Mexican true crime to a fictional thriller written by a Norwegian and set in Thailand. A half change of pace. 

 

I read The Redbreast, which is third in this series, a few years ago when it was published in the UK. A whole host of these were published from book 3 onwards before the publisher went back and released the first two in English. I read the first one, the Bat, last year and I wanted to read this one next, reread The Redbreast and go on from there. I do like to read series in order!

 

But I'm not sure the publisher didn't make the right decision if I am honest. I was never sure why they started with book 3, but IMO the first two are weaker than the subsequent novel, and reviews from those who have progressed further suggest the later ones stack up to the third rather than its predecessors. 

 

Certainly this is a solid effort, but I suspect I would have found it less so if I did not already know the character of Harry and had become invested in him. I preferred the Bat, which is set in Sydney, but I did live there for 18 months so I suspect being able to envision the places talked about played a part. 

 

Anyway, this is a good thriller that does have the requisite twists and turns. 

 

However, what is interesting is the development of the Harry character, from Australia and then on to Norway in the Redbreast. It's a worthwhile part of the series for that alone.

 

But as a thriller, it is the weakest of the three I have read. Nevertheless, I still found it an enjoyable read and I am going to go on with the rest of the series happy that better awaits. 

 

3/5 (I liked it)

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Good luck with the move :)! Are you looking forward to the new house? Public transport can be great to read on :). I often read on the train from and to university, if I felt up for it and didn't have to study in a uni book at the time or do homework. I hope you'll get more reading time :). Sorry to hear it's been busy at your work. Do you think that will calm down? I'm not sure what your job is :blush2:. Good luck catching up on reviews :).

 

I should still read a book in the Harry Hole series, but I've got so many books on my TBR :P.

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  • 2 weeks later...

I work in sport - so the offseason is the down time. This year, that means spending June and the first half of July chasing tumbleweed across my desk ;)

 

It's either manic or quiet, no in between!

 

I agree about public transport, it means I arrive at work having lost myself in a book rather than fighting with drivers on the motorway.

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Cranford by Elizabeth Gaskell

 

Synopsis: A portrait of the residents of an English country town in the mid nineteenth century, Cranford relates the adventures of Miss Matty and Miss Deborah, two middle-aged spinster sisters striving to live with dignity in reduced circumstances. Through a series of vignettes, Elizabeth Gaskell portrays a community governed by old-fashioned habits and dominated by friendships between women. Written with acute observation, Cranford is by turns affectionate, moving and darkly satirical. (From Goodreads)

 

Thoughts: I have snipped the synopsis for minor spoilers. 

 

I read this in February  :blush2:  but am just reviewing now. I picked up my first Gaskell last year as part of the English Counties Challenge, and thoroughly enjoyed it - North and South - so I came to this one with high expectations. 

 

But it just didn't resonate on the same level. North and South maybe spoke to me more what with its themes of social justice, industry, the city, north and south divide etc, but there was so much more meat on the bones, and I didn't get nearly so much out of Cranford, I'm sorry to report. 

 

There is some gentle humour here with the attitudes of the time, and it is refreshing to see so many women - particularly elder single women - at the forefront of literature. But this is a series of short stories of small town life, and it plods along nicely without too much happening. I enjoyed the read and I am glad I read it, and it certainly gives a glimpse of Victorian rural life. The characters are interesting and Gaskell can certainly write. 

 

However, when compared with North and South, and The Old Wives' Tale by Arnold Bennett (which represented Staffordshire) it just didn't bring so much to the party. A very different book I grant you, and it's certainly stood the test of time and a TV series, but not one which I relished so much as the previous two novels I mentioned. 

 

3/5 (I liked it)

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  • 3 weeks later...

At Bertram's Hotel  by Agatha Christie

 

Synopsis: When Miss Marple comes up from the country for a holiday in London, she finds what she's looking for at Bertram's Hotel: traditional decor, impeccable service and an unmistakable atmosphere of danger behind the highly polished veneer. Yet, not even Miss Marple can foresee the violent chain of events set in motion when an eccentric guest makes his way to the airport on the wrong day! (From Goodreads)

 

Thoughts: I have read a lot of Agatha Christie now, but I'm determined to read them all at some point. Brilliant escapism and the woman was a master of mystery. 

 

However, I think this is the weakest of hers that I have read so far. The last one I read felt like it was going to be a let down because it all seemed to be heading to such an obvious conclusions signposted from chapter one - and then she put in an amazing twist. So when this one started off in similar fashion I was expecting a similar ending - but is never arose. This felt predictable, and that is not often a word I associate with dear Agatha.

 

Plus, Miss Marple disappears for huge lengths and doesn't even feature much during the denouement.  I find it difficult to review Christie without giving away spoilers so I shall leave it there, but this was a disappointing read that from another author probably only merits two stars. However, reading other reviews it seems this is generally considered one of her weaker efforts which is good news, as it means it isn't just me tiring of her (and I do try to space out my Christies for that every reason!)

 

3/5 

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It Can't Happen Here by Sinclair Lewis

 

Synopsis: A cautionary tale about the fragility of democracy, it is an alarming, eerily timeless look at how fascism could take hold in America. 
Written during the Great Depression, when the country was largely oblivious to Hitler's aggression, it juxtaposes sharp political satire with the chillingly realistic rise of a president who becomes a dictator to save the nation from welfare cheats, sex, crime, and a liberal press. 
Called -a message to thinking Americans- by the Springfield Republican when it was published in 1935, It Can't Happen Here is a shockingly prescient novel that remains as fresh and contemporary as today's news. (From Goodreads)

 

Thoughts: This book was published in the 1930s, but has recently enjoyed a comeback tour for reasons obvious from the synopsis. 

 

Here's a few (non spoilery, they come from early on in the novel) extracts presented without comment: 

"My one ambition is to get all Americans to realize that they are, and must continue to be, the greatest Race on the face of this old earth, and second, to realize that whatever apparent differences there may be among us in wealth, ancestry or strength - though of course this does not apply to people who are racially different from us - we are all brothers..."

 

"Doremus Jessup, so inconspicuous an observer, watching Senator Windrip from so humble a Boetia, could not explain his power of bewitching large audiences. The senator was vulgar, almost illiterate, a public liar easily detected, and his 'ideas' almost idiotic..."

 

Written in the 1930s, when facism was taking hold in Germany and Italy, this was a response to the idea that it couldn't happen here - here being the USA. The system of checks and balances, geography, modernity, etc. Lewis wrote this to show just how easy it was for fascism to take hold during a depression, when people are struggling for work and to support their families. 

 

Fast forward to the current political climate, and it seems we are in for the 'modern' version. The UK has gone more right wing, France is in the middle of a very interesting election, and Donald Trump is US President. 

 

And a lot of the first half of this book rings as true today as it would have done in 1930s Europe. The second half is quite a frightening disintegration and is more relevant to the 1930s than now (we hope!) but it's an absolutely fascinating look at the political system through the eyes of a newspaperman in the US. 

 

I gave it a 4 at the time of finishing (cough, at the start of March, cough) but it has really stuck with me and I would thoroughly recommend it. 

 

4/5 (I really, really liked it)

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