julesjones: (Default)
Posting well out of order since this is a review copy. I may or may not get earlier book log done...


Note: I received a copy of the book from the author through Reading Alley in exchange for an honest review.

Tobias is both a fox shapeshifter and a rifter - someone who crosses the rifts between worlds. He works as a field agent for a covert organisation that tries to control rift traffic, but he's of an independent mind even if he's loyal to the organisation. He needs a partner agent suited to him, not one chosen for him to suit others' views.

Etty's from the slums, barely earning a living by disguising herself as a boy and driving her dad's hackney carriage after he was injured. She's driving the nearest cab when Tobias needs a quick getaway one night, and her world will never be the same again.

Tobias may have stumbled upon the perfect sidekick, but first he'll have to convince the people who pay his wages. And even if he does, there's a baptism of fire waiting for the new partnership. There's a whisper of new technology that could change the rift worlds forever -- and it's in the hands of a vicious criminal.

This is an excellent fantasy thriller with a strong romance subplot. The lead characters are engaging and well drawn, and I finished the book wanting to spend more time with them. There's some good world-building, with the main setting being roughly Victorian with low key magic, but references and scenes that make it clear the rift links to worlds at different levels of social and technological development.

This is the first book in a series, and sets up the universe and series arc. It does an excellent job of wrapping up its own story without an annoying cliffhanger while still pointing the way to the next book. I've been annoyed of late by too many books that tried to force me to buy the next by not giving me the resolution to the story - this book does it the better way, by making me want to spend more time in this world.

I've only two minor criticisms; there's a scene that's flat out "beautiful blue-eyed blonde girl awes the primitive natives", and there are some formatting glitches in my copy that made two chapters very difficult to read. It's a measure of how much I was enjoying the book that I persisted through the section with scrambled formatting.

Overall a very enjoyable read, and I'm looking forward to the next in the series.

at Amazon UK
at Amazon US
julesjones: (Default)
Fifth installment of the series about Inspector Singh of the Singapore police, forever being shipped off elsewhere to get him out of his superiors' hair. This time he's on compulsory sick leave, and thus can't claim pressure of work to avoid being dragged by Mrs Singh to a family wedding in India. But the Singhs arrive only to find that the bride-to-be has disappeared. The last thing her immediate family want is the police involved, because of the social stigma -- the obvious motive for the young woman's disappearance is to avoid an arranged marriage. For the family patriarch, worried about his granddaughter's welfare as well as her reputation, an investigation by a family member who just happens to be a member of another country's police force is a much more appealing prospect.

Then a corpse turns up, and the local police are involved whether the family likes it or not. But Singh keeps digging, and finds a tangle of motives that he's not willing to ignore.

Once again Flint has blended a police procedural with a sensitive look at the ramifications of a real life tragedy. This book is deeply rooted in Sikh culture, and that includes the ongoing after-effects of the 1984 riots and massacre in India. But the latter does not overwhelm the book -- it is only one strand in a complex story about a complex society. A particular feature of the book is that it is quite openly an outsider's view of India, complete with an outsider's prejudices and reactions -- but the outsider here is not a white European, but a member of the Indian diaspora of Singapore. Singh finds India at once both alien and familiar, and this colours his reaction to the things he encounters during his investigation.

Singh is a joy of a character to read about, and Flint has created yet another fascinating twist to her series hook of a police inspector who frequently ends up investigating murder well outside his official jurisdiction. The Singaporean Sikh is a marvellous addition to the ranks of maverick detectives in mystery fiction, and I'm very much hoping that there will be a sixth book in the series.


http://www.librarything.com/work/11236931
julesjones: (Default)
I feel rather guilty about taking so long to write my review of this one, partly because Pomegranate were clearly hoping for timely reviews to drive sales for Christmas gifts, and partly because so many of my friends would doubtless have been very happy to help with the "Christmas gift" sales figures...

102) Edward Gorey -- The Lost Lions

Note: I received a review copy of this through the LibraryThing Early Reviewers programme.

Pomegranate provides a treat for Gorey fans with this new edition of a title from 1973 which has been long out of print as a standalone book, although it was available in omnibus format. Hamish, a beautiful young man who likes being outdoors, opens the wrong envelope one day, and finds himself on a path to fame and fortune in films. He finds this to be less appealing than one might imagine, and prefers to raise lions... The story is told in a bare 14 pen-and-ink illustrations with one sentence per illustration, and can be skimmed in a few minutes, but Gorey does a great deal with those 14 illustrations. It's not as blatantly macabre as some of Gorey's work, but still has that eerie, off-kilter humour that was his trademark. And the book might take only a few minutes to read the first time, but you could lose yourself for hours looking at the detail in the drawings and thinking about the things implied therein.

There are other books which are more accessible to new readers and I'm not sure this one would be ideal as someone's first introduction to Gorey, but you don't need much familiarity with his body of work to appreciate the faintly sinister whimsy of The Lost Lions.

At US$13, this edition isn't cheap, but you do get what you pay for. Pomegranate have a done a superb job on the physical production side. The book is a small hardback with high quality paper in sewn signatures, and crisp reproduction of the pen-and-ink illustrations. It's laid out with one sentence and illustration facing each other per page spread, on a 6 inch square page size that makes it easy to take in the whole illustration at once while still being large enough to see the fine detail. The cover illustration is in colour, but the interior illustrations are in the original black and white. If all you want is access to the story, there are other options, but Pomegranate's new edition is a gorgeous presentation that's a joy to handle. This is a perfect "indulgent treat" for anyone who loves both beautiful books and Edward Gorey.

My review copy came packed with two Pomegranate catalogues, and one of their Edward Gorey bookmarks, which was a nice item in its own right, and I think well worth the $2 catalogue price if you like nice bookmarks. It's crisply printed on heavy stock, and comes in a heavy plastic protective sleeve, from which it can be easily removed if you prefer to use it without the sleeve.


Hardcover smyth-sewn casebound book, with jacket. 32 pages, 6½ x 6 inches.

ISBN 9780764959578

Edward Gorey -- The Lost Lions at the publisher's website.

Librarything entry, with more reviews.
julesjones: (Default)
79) Pati Nagle - Pet Noir

Note: I received a review copy of this through the LibraryThing Early Reviewers programme.

Short fix-up novel about a genetically engineered cat whose creation is commissioned by the security chief of a large space station. The chief wants an undercover agent who'll be overlooked by criminals who might be suspicious of humanoids. A Maine Coon who's been genetically engineered to have human level intelligence, opposable thumbs, and a tongue that can wrap itself around human language is a useful thing to have loitering around fast food outlets and in cargo holds, picking up the gossip. An ordinary-looking cat won't be suspected because the high cost of gengineered animals means they're still rare -- but it's a price that's worth it for someone who wants to bust a drug-smuggling ring.

The book is structured as a series of short stories covering the first year or so of Leon's life, a first person retrospective from the day the Chief collects a know-all kitten from the labs to a year or so later, when Leon's experienced enough to understand how very inexperienced and naive he was that day. The general tone is that of a hard-boiled detective story, only here the hard-boiled tone is distinctly feline-flavoured and the setting is futuristic.

It's a lot of fun following Leon's emotional and intellectual development alongside his cases, and the cases themselves mostly make good stories. There are some good observations of feline behaviour worked into this. Leon's mostly plausible as a portrait of a cat with boosted intelligence, and his relationship with his human partner Devin, a mix of self-centredness and genuine affection after a rocky start, works well. However, there are two flaws which badly broke suspension of disbelief for me.

The first is that Leon is not just super intelligent, at 4 weeks old he speaks fluent English and he's already showing a better grasp of human culture than a human ten year old. Yes, cats develop much faster, but there hasn't been time for him to physically assimilate that amount of information, even if he does spend all day in front of the tv.

The second is that Leon speaks to other, unenhanced animals, who appear to be also human level intelligence in their conversation, even if they're speaking in cat rather than English, which rather undermines the point of him being genetically engineered for human level intelligence. There also appears to be a single human-level language across at least three species who are not regarded as fully sentient by the humans and other sentient species on the station. It felt as if the author was trying to appeal to readers who like to think of their cats as being just little humans in fur coats.

One of the things I did like about the book is that it touches on the ethics of uplifted animals. It's a very light touch, and anything stronger would have unbalanced the book, but it's made clear that Leon is under an indentured contract and is required to pay off the costs of his creation by working for whoever owns the contract. He's effectively the property of Gamma Station Security for several years, and he's unimpressed by this.

Overall, something of a mixed bag. It's a fun light read, and has some laugh out loud moments, but there are some niggles which mean I can't wholeheartedly recommend it. A free sample consisting of the prologue and first chapter are available for download at Book View Cafe, which will give you a reasonable idea of the style.

LibraryThing entry
julesjones: (Default)
46) Alex Epstein -- The Circle Cast: The Lost Years of Morgan Le Fay

Note: I received a review copy of this book as part of the LibraryThing Early Reviewers programme.

Young adult novel about what happened to the sorceress Morgan le Fay between the point in her childhood when her father was murdered by Uther Pendragon, and her return as an adult to trouble her half-brother King Arthur. The book opens at the council of war amongst the Romano-British leaders where Uter (as it's given in the book) first sets eyes on Ygraine, wife of Gorlois. Uter wants Ygraine enough to make war on Gorlois, enough to seek the aid of the magician Merlin -- and with the death of her beloved father, the child Anna finds herself sent to exile by her mother for her own safety. An exile so complete that she must change her name and tell almost no-one who she is when she arrives in Ireland. A safe place with a distant relative proves less than safe when the tribe loses a battle with its neighbours, and Morgan spends years in slavery, learning a little magic openly from the village wisewoman who owns her, and a great deal more magic in secret. Then there is escape, and a few months of peace and study with a new Christian settlement, and then a chance of love with a chieftain's son who can appreciate the knowledge of Roman battle tactics she brings. By the time she is eighteen, Morgan has learnt a great many things, but the one thing she has not learnt is how to let go of the need for vengeance. It has, after all, kept her alive through the dark times...

I found the book a bit hard to get into at first, but once I got into the rhythm of the writing I was hooked. Epstein has taken the historical period of 500AD as the basis for his story, a time when the Roman legions had long withdrawn from Britain but many of the British still thought of themselves as Roman. He's drawn on Irish mythology and blended it with modern Wiccan practice to create a believably consistent picture of magic, in a time when both Druid priests and Christian missionaries can draw on the power of the earth, and a young exile can learn to use it to protect herself and the people she loves. The result is a solid addition to the Arthurian legend, covering an area not much touched on, and giving a plausible reason for the adult Morgan le Fay to be who she is. Here she is a strong and sympathetic character, and it's only too easy to understand why she makes the choices she does.

The book's been written in such a way that it can be enjoyed both as a free-standing novel suitable for someone not familiar with any of the mythology and literature that has accreted around Arthur, and as a fascinating new contribution to that ongoing literary conversation. An excellent YA fantasy novel that should appeal to adults as well.

ISBN 978-1-896580-6-30
trade paperback at Powell's
trade paperback or Kindle ebook at Amazon UK (available now)
trade paperback or Kindle ebook at Amazon US (for pre-order)
LibraryThing entry
julesjones: (Default)
35) James Goss -- Torchwood: Ghost Train [audiobook]

2 CD Torchwood story written for audio, and set between second and third series. It's read by actor Kai Owen, for the very good reason that it's a first person narrative from one Rhys Williams, haulage manager. What we get is not just "actor reads book", but "actor in character tells us a story about what happened when he got mixed up in an alien invasion last week".

Rhys has a problem in the form of missing fridges, which to begin with looks like perfectly ordinary pilfering. But as Rhys looks into it, the mystery starts acquiring enough weirdness round the edges to make him think it could be Torchwood territory. Pity Torchwood's having a really bad day, and he can't even get advice about how to investigate his own little problem, never mind actual assistance. Rhys turns private investigator, and finds himself couriering packages that were delivered to Cardiff railway station - after midnight, on a long disused platform. It turns out that there's a Torchwood interest after all, but Torchwood proper is missing or dead, and only Rhys is in a position to put things back the way they should be.

The story's very entertaining, with a perfectly balanced blend of humour and horror, and a lot of running gags that turn out to be plot elements as well. Those plot elements are part of a carefully constructed story where various small details which have been layered in become important as the story gradually unfolds. And it's wonderfully read by Kai Owen. But along with all this, we get some lovely pieces of characterisation. The story revolves around Rhys, but we also see Rhys's view of Gwen and her job, and Ianto and Jack. A great story with plenty of re-listen potential. This entertaining audiobook easily justifies its cover price.

LibraryThing entry
julesjones: (Default)
33) Inspector Singh Investigates: A Deadly Cambodian Crime Spree

The fourth of the series about the portly chain-smoking Inspector from Singapore's police service. This time Singh has been volunteered to hold a watching brief on behalf of ASEAN at the Cambodian war crimes tribunal. The idea is to kill two birds with one stone by 1) keeping him out of his superiors' hair and 2) providing a top murder cop as a delegate as a political exercise. Nobody expects Singh to actually *do* anything other than be obviously present, and he calls on his local counterpart purely out of politeness. Colonel Menhay has quite enough on his plate, between running an investigation into a serial killer who is targeting former Khmer Rouge, and heading up the security for the current trial at the tribunal. But then someone kills a tribunal witness. The UN liaison wants a top murder cop with no ties to Cambodia in joint charge to provide the investigation with credibility in the eyes of the world, and that cop is Singh.

Singh's experienced at working on secondment in other countries, but until now he's always had at least some grasp of at least one of the local languages. This time out he's far more reliant on help from the locals, particularly his interpreter/guide, and has to adjust his methods to suit. And then there are the ever-present ghosts of Cambodia's past, which must be faced to solve the murders in the present. Singh has confronted murder in bulk before, but never on the scale of genocide.

But Singh doesn't let these things deter him from his dogged pursuit of justice for the dead. A justice that requires that the right person be convicted of the crimes, and as ever, Singh is not willing to simply take the first convenient suspect that comes to hand.

As with the Bali book earlier in the series, Shamini Flint has taken a real life tragedy and woven a compelling murder mystery around it. If handled badly it could have been merely exploitative, but this book treats the subject of the Cambodian genocide with great sensitivity. And as with the earlier book, Flint has managing the difficult trick of blending a gentle humour through much of the book without trivialising the crimes she's writing about. Along the way we see how the apparently simple choices people make can haunt them for the rest of their lives. And once again we have the wonderful character of Inspector Singh, with an excellent supporting cast of one-off characters.

This is a powerful story, with characters who make you care about their fate. A worthy addition to the Inspector Singh series.


LibraryThing entry
julesjones: (Default)
Note: I received this as a review copy from the LibraryThing Early Reviewers programme.

Omnibus edition of the Starfarers Quartet, published as an ebook reprint edition. The basic concept is a near-future setting where a space habitat is being built and fitted out for the first attempt at an interstellar voyage, using a recently discovered piece of cosmic string in the Solar System as a means of accessing almost instantaneous travel to another solar system. The habitat is set up as a university campus under international control.

In the first book, the station's purpose is being politicised, with an attempt by the US government to commandeer the habitat and re-purpose it as a military station for use in a peacekeeping mission on Earth, nominally under international control but in reality completely controlled by the US. The university faculty vote to continue their mission as planned, even if it means making an emergency run to the string and out of the solar system.

The second book begins with the Starfarer's arrival in the Tau Ceti system, accompanied by a parting shot from the military cruiser which had been sent to stop them. The alien contact team who were the main focus of the narrative in the first book now get to do their job for the first time. The third and fourth books continue the story of the Starfarer crew's attempts to interact with Civilisation

I found the first book somewhat frustrating to begin with, as I found the writing style a little hard to get on with, particularly the way a lot of point of view characters were simply dropped into the narrative with their own chapter and then abandoned for a while. It made the book feel very bitty to begin with. But once I had a handle on who all these people were and how their individual stories started to weave together, I found it fascinating.

The first book ends on something that is both a bit of a cliffhanger and resolution of the main plot. It could be read as a standalone. The next three books each end with resolution of that book's piece of the story arc, but leave the reader expecting to see more arc -- and unfortunately that includes the last one. It felt to me as if the author had left too many loose ends dangling at the end of the quartet, even though we do see the resolution to the main question of whether they will both make it safely back to Earth, and whether they will be able to leave the Solar System again once they have returned.

Some of those loose ends *really* needed tying up, to the point where I found it seriously irritating that they weren't. It's not billed as a mystery, but one of the plot threads certainly came over to me as being a mystery, with clues being dropped that the Starfarer crew had got something wrong -- and it was never resolved as to whether they had or not. It may be just that I was misreading the author's intentions and she *had* intended for the wrap-up somewhere in book 2 or 3 to be the Final Wrap-up of that thread, but if that was the case she should have refrained from making suggestions that there was a further secret behind the one unveiled. It left me feeling as if the final bit of that storyline in the last few pages was missing a significant part.

That niggle aside, I found the books very enjoyable to read once I'd picked up enough of the character threads in book 1 to follow what was going on. There is wonderful, wonderful world-building with a description of the maiden voyage of Earth's interstellar ship, and the things it finds Out There. And while the number of characters introduced in a very chop and change manner is confusing at first, it makes for a great depth to the characterisation over the course of the four books.

Some particular points of note -- this series has both good science and good emotional development. And on the latter front, the people side of it includes the three members of a poly partnership amongst the lead characters - in a world where legally binding romantic partnerships of any sort are mildly unusual. This isn't thrown in for titillation, but forms part of the world-building. And while we're on the subject of diversity, the lead characters aren't non-stop Default White American.

While I've rated this 3 stars overall, that's partly a reflection of my disappointment with the ending. I'd happily recommend that people download the first book, available as a free sample from BookViewCafe, and try it to see if they like it enough to buy the full quartet.
julesjones: (Default)
Book 3)

Anthology of 20 short stories with the theme of elf love, published by new small press Pink Narcissus Press. This is an ARC I received through the LibraryThing Early reviewers programme.

While the cover art suggests fantasy-subgenre romance stories, the contents are a good deal more wide-ranging. There's a good sampling of traditional themes about elves, some in modern settings and some not, and the endings cover the full span from happy through bittersweet hope to tragic. The genre styles vary considerably as well. And to go with the prose stories, there's one in graphic form.

Unfortunately the quality varied considerably as well, and for me a few of the stories were a waste of dead trees; but the best were well worth my time. There were several authors whose stories felt a bit unpolished but made me inclined to find more of their work once they've got a few more kilowords under their belts. Of particular note was Duncan Eagleson, who provided my two favourite prose stories in the anthology, together with the art for the graphic story (and the cover art, which I liked less than the graphic story).

There's some violence, and some sexually explicit and some erotic content (the two are not identical) covering a range of sexual orientations, mostly not gratuitous.

In spite of the uneven quality, this is a worthwhile anthology -- this is a good selection covering a range of story types, and I could have quite happily read the whole thing in one sitting without feeling that the stories were too repetitive. While my copy was an ARC, I personally wouldn't have been disappointed had I paid the full cover price of US$15 for the trade paperback. Whether other readers feel the same will really depend on how many of the stories work for them, and regrettably I have to say that the anthology is sufficiently uneven and unpolished that I can't wholeheartedly recommend it at that price.

I'll try to write up some detailed notes on individual stories later, but in general I'd agree with TPauSilver's comments on LibraryThing.


Released in February 2011, but available now for pre-order direct from the publisher.

LibraryThing entry.
julesjones: (Default)
Book 68

This YA novel was first published in 1963, and was set around fifty years in its then-future. Nearly fifty years on, it has aged remarkably well. Right on the first page, I was taken back to the sensawunda I had when I first read this book as a young teenager around thirty years ago -- not least because in the first paragraph Clarke beautifully evokes the sense of wonder his teenage protagonist feels at the sight of an international cargo vessel and the daydreams it inspires about the places it has seen.

When sixteen-year-old Johnny Clinton finds that the giant hovercraft has made an emergency landing near his home, his curiosity leads him to sneak aboard for a look around, and leaves him trapped as an accidental stowaway when it lifts off again unexpectedly. The orphaned Johnny's not too upset at the idea of being carried away from the home he's reluctantly offered by his widowed aunt, so he doesn't come out of hiding until the craft crash-lands in the Pacific Ocean. The crew have abandoned ship, and Johnny is left with nothing but a packing crate and his own clothing to keep him afloat and sheltered -- until a pod of dolphins find him and and save his life by pushing his makeshift raft the hundred miles to the nearest land.

That land is Dolphin Island, an island on Australia's Great Barrier Reef which is home to a research station studying dolphins. The station tracks down where Johnny came from before he's even released from the infirmary, but he's offered the chance to stay, an offer he's quick to accept. He rapidly builds a new life for himself, one that mixes ongoing formal education with involvement in the scientific work on communicating with the dolphins. There's more than a little adventure as well.

This is an excellent short novel, with an engaging protagonist, an interesting story, and some superb world-building. Clarke drew on his own experience of skin-diving on the Great Barrier Reef to paint a wonderful word picture of the Reef and its marine life. Clarke's extrapolation of technology hasn't suffered too badly as reality caught up with it -- it's different to what really happened, but not so much so that it jars. And glory be, the story hasn't been visited by the Sexism Fairy. There's a distinct absence of female characters, but not in a way that says that women shouldn't worry their pretty little heads about difficult things like science. Definitely one for my keeper collection.

LibraryThing entry
julesjones: (Default)
Book 65

I received an uncorrected proof copy of this through the LibraryThing Early Reviewers programme, having been sufficiently intrigued by the description to request it even though it's outside my usual reading range.

Description: In the tunnels beneath New York a young man is missing. With each passing minute he heads deeper underground, further from the world of light and reason and closer to the moment of his great surrender. Above ground Ali Lateef of the NYPD is assigned the case. The boy's mother Violet is reluctant to help and Emily, Lowboy's girlfriend and only confidante, appears to have vanished too Can Lateef find Lowboy before it's too late?

As it turns out, I think on the basis of the first few chapters that it's probably a superb piece of writing, but I'm finding it sufficiently disturbing to read that I don't really want to keep reading it. Lowboy is a 16-year-old paranoid schizophrenic, off his meds and on the run in the subway system of New York. The book opens in his viewpoint, and he's clearly already losing connection with reality, although you don't get the details until the next chapter, in Lateef's point of view. Wray's prose is stunning, in a blend of psychological thriller and litfic that provides a dizzying look inside Lowboy's damaged mind, contrasting it with the world as it appears from consensus reality. Too dizzying for me, and I'm abandoning ship in large part because Wray is so good at what he's doing here.

In spite of which, I'd still say that this book is one more reason for me to keep requesting Canongate's offerings to the Early Reviewers. I'm glad I tried this one, even if in the end it wasn't for me.

LibraryThing entry

[Normally I'd pass this on via the "who wants it next?" thread on Early Reviewers, but I've had it such a long time there may be no point. If anyone wants dibs on it, yell.]
julesjones: (Default)
Book 62

Third of the Superintendent Hannasyde mysteries. Silas Kane is the senior male member of the Kane family, childless owner of the Kane family fortune. When he's found dead at the foot of a cliff one morning' his family are distressed, but most of them suspect nothing more than the obvious -- he insisted on having his usual evening walk along the clifftop path in spite of it being a foggy night, and must have missed his way. But when his heir is found shot dead not long after moving into the family residence, Silas's death takes on a more sinister aspect. And it's not as if there's a shortage of motives. A nice obvious one is that the other partners in Silas's business wanted to go into a risky but potentially profitable deal, one that could only go ahead with a capital injection from Silas, which Silas wasn't willing to give. And of course, Silas's nephew and heir Clement needed the money he inherited, and Clement in turn has the next oldest cousin as his heir. Then there's pure personal animosity as a motive for an eighty-year-old lady, of all people, to have committed one of the murders.

Hannaysde's problem is that there are several good candidates for each murder, but anyone with good motive and means for one is a poor candidate for the other. If, of course, the death of Silas really was a murder and not just an unfortunate coincidence of an accident. And that's before it becomes clear that someone is now targeting Clement's heir.

I spotted the murderer fairly early on, when the second murder took place, although I didn't work out how he'd done it. It took me a little longer to make the connection on what his true motive was. This is no criticism of the book, because Heyer kept me guessing almost to the end as to whether I was right. That's just as much fun as not spotting the clues until near the end. And there's plenty of entertainment along the way, with ample red herrings, a cast of characters large enough to provide plenty of character interaction without being too large to keep track of, and some sparkling dialogue.

Hannasyde is a recurring character, and there are references to earlier cases, but he's actually something of a cypher in comparison with the one-off characters he encounters. There's no real development of him as a character from book to book. Instead, what shines here are the character studies of the people caught in the backwash of murder. They're often stereotypes or exaggerations, but still are nicely drawn caricatures of certain personality types, and the way they react to stress.

Great fun, and I'm looking forward to the next one.

LibraryThing entry
julesjones: (Default)
Book 59 (Although I've actually been reading this on and off for several months, and have only just got around to writing a capsule review.)

Second volume of memoirs from Diana Dors. This is in A-Z format, with several short tales under each letter heading, covering a range of topics. A lot of it is salacious gossip about assorted big names of the day, and not just people from the entertainment field -- some sympathetic, some not. There is also a small selection of photos of Dors.

If you're interested in Dors herself, or the period in British cinema and tv when she was working, this is well worth reading, and the format makes it a good book for dipping into for ten or fifteen minutes; but be aware that it really was aimed at the salacious gossip market, so if you find that sort of thing tedious you might be better giving this a miss, as you'll be skimming large chunks of it.

LibraryThing entry
julesjones: (Default)
I've previously reviewed the three books published so far in the Inspector Singh Investigates series by Shamini Flint, but those were reviews that tried to give an idea of what the books were like without significant spoilers. Is anyone interested in spoilerific discussion, since at least one of you has gone out and read the books as a result of my reviews?

A quick summary: Inspector Singh is an overweight, chain-smoking, unfit detective in the Singapore police force. He's very good at catching killers, but he doesn't really fit into the current force culture, and his superiors are only too happy to get this disgrace to the force temporarily out of sight and out of mind by loaning him to the police forces of neighbouring countries.

One of the reasons he's so good at his job is that he works by understanding how and why people behave the way they do -- a Singapore Sikh version of a certain Belgian detective, or a little old lady from St Mary Mead. Singh's his own man, not just a flimsy pastiche of those characters, but he holds the same appeal for a reader.

The books are set in South East Asia, but some aspects of policing are the same the world over. And the setting is written from the inside -- Flint is a lawyer who has worked in both Malaysia and Singapore, and knows whereof she writes.

I picked up the first book from a table in The Works, because the premise of a crime-busting Sikh detective travelling South-East Asia sounded intriguing. The blurb on the book looked worth investing a couple of hours of time, so I bought it, and found a book that certainly had its flaws, but showed a lot of promise. When the author found my review and offered me review copies of the next two books, I was glad to accept. Those books made good on the potential I'd seen in the first, and I'm now eagerly waiting for the fourth book to come out. Some reasons why coming up in the comment thread...
julesjones: (Default)
Book 55

This is a 2-CD audiobook of the first five stories from the Miss Marple collection "The Thirteen Problems", read by the late, great Joan Hickson, who played Marple on tv in the 80s and 90s. In each story, a small group of friends gathers together each Tuesday night, and spend part of the evening with one member telling the story of a mystery they encountered, and the others trying to work out what actually happened. Miss Marple, of course, is always the one to solve the puzzle, by drawing on parallels she has seen in village life down the years.

Hickson's reading is an absolute joy to listen to, not only because she is Miss Marple for myself and many other fans, but because she is a superb reader. Her reading is perfectly paced, and brings the characters to life. The stories themselves are entertaining enough, although are probably best taken two or three at a time rather than all at once, as otherwise the consistent pattern of the stories could become annoying formulaic rather than pleasurable. I found that I usually worked out roughly what had happened and who had done it, but the exact details of how weren't that easy to spot -- although clear enough in hindsight...

A marvellous way to spend a couple of hours, although I may go out and buy the set with the complete "Thirteen Problems" to replace this set and its companion set "The Blue Geranium and other problems", which don't quite cover the full 13 between them.

LibraryThing entry
julesjones: (Default)
Book 54

This edition is an abridged audiobook on 3 CDs, running time about 3 hours, read by Nigel Anthony. According to LibraryThing, it's the last of four novels featuring Colonel Race.

A year ago, a group of people sat down to dinner around a table in the Luxembourg table. One of them was dead by cyanide at the end of the evening, apparently a suicide. But Rosemary's husband tells a friend that he has come to believe that she was murdered, and has set a trap for the murderer in the form of a remembrance dinner on the anniversary of her death. It's a trap that will be sprung in the worst possible way, leaving his friend Colonel Race to tease out the clues -- before a third murder is committed.

In a series of flashbacks, Christie shows how each of the people around the table that night had a motive for murdering Rosemary, including her husband. As the action moves forward to the anniversary dinner and its aftermath, each character study is developed further, shedding new light on people's behaviour but often only changing their motive rather than removing it. Race has a problem on his hands -- there is an abundance of suspects for each murder, but any individual suspect really only has all three of method, motive and opportunity for one of the murders. And yet the murders are clearly linked...

The solution to the mystery is simple in hindsight, but well concealed by the array of convincing motives on offer. And even when Colonel Race finally understands the pattern of events, the suspense continues, because the pattern points to one more murder that must take place.

The mystery is an enjoyable way to pass a few hours, and the book is by and large well read by Anthony. I did find his reading of female characters' dialogue slightly irritating, as he used a slightly falsetto voice which simply sounded silly to me and thus pulled me out of the story slightly. But it's an enjoyable audiobook that I'll be happy to listen to again.

LibraryThing entry
julesjones: (Default)
This is an abridged version of the first volume of Niven's memoirs, read by Niven himself. The edition I have is 2 CDs, with a running time of about 2 1/2 hours.

It says something about Niven's talent for storytelling that as a teenager I utterly adored my parents' copies of Niven's memoirs, even though I had no idea who he was and had never seen any of his films. I picked them up because they were books and they were there, and I had a marvellous time. His anecdotes were frequently hilarious, occasionally desperately sad, and always entertaining. The books offered a fascinating insider view of Hollywood in the thirties to sixties, although I now know that some of Niven's stories were closer to fiction than fact in his quest to entertain his audience.

The audiobook of A Moon's a Balloon was recorded in 1977, and Niven is charming, funny, and a superb reader. It starts with his school and Sandhurst days in the 1910s and 1920s, and then covers his first military career (with some hair-raising stories about his antics in the Highland Light Infantry). It moves on to his initial move to the US, and how he ended up in Hollywood. Niven's later career was a glittering one, but as he entertainingly describes, he started at the bottom of the ladder, and was not the most promising of new actors when he first had a chance to break out of the ranks of the extras. The audiobook also covers his return to the UK on the outbreak of war and his (eventually successful) attempts to rejoin the armed forces -- though Niven was always reluctant to talk about his war experience, and says very little about his time with the Commandos in the print book, and even less in the audiobook. Then there's a passage about his return to Hollywood after the war.

Though some of his anecdotes were embroidered, or re-told as his personal experiences when in truth they happened to his friends, he has a knack of making the listener feel as if they could have been there. And there's real emotion as he reads some of the passages -- most movingly, you can hear him holding back the tears as he reads the passage about the death of his first wife, even though she had died some thirty years before this recording was made.

Unreliable narrator though he may be, from the perspective of a reader/listener in the early twenty-first century this is a fascinating slice of history. Fascinating, and hugely enjoyable. I'm very glad I bought this.

LibraryThing entry
julesjones: (Default)
Back in July I reviewed "The Heyday" by Bamber Gascoigne, and you can find the review on LibraryThing as well as on my assorted blogs. However, I had to be careful about spoilers in the review, which prevented me from discussing it in as much depth as I'd like. Since at least one of my friends has now read it as well, I'm opening a comments thread for spoilerific discussion of the book. I hope to be back later today with my own more detailed thoughts, but comments are welcome now if anyone wants to start the ball rolling.
julesjones: (Default)
Inspector Singh is back, but for a change his superiors aren't intent in temporarily ridding themselves of him by lending him to a neighbouring country's police force. This time the high profile murder is a lot closer to home, in the Singapore offices of an international law firm. The overweight, chain-smoking policeman in white trainers may be a disgrace to the force, but he's also very good at his job. Who better to lead the investigation into the brutal murder of the law firm's senior partner?

For once he has all the resources of the police force to call upon. This is a high profile case involving wealthy, influential expatriates who bring enormous value to the country, and the police administration wants it solved. But the flipside for Singh is being forced to treat the suspects a good more gently than he'd like. Not that Singh is into police brutality, but keeping both suspects and innocents with useful information off balance is part of his toolkit. He has to think of more devious means to achieve it than simply dragging them down to the nick for a surprise interview.

But as Singh starts digging, he keeps being handed potential motives. Mark Thompson had called a after-hours meeting at short notice of the senior lawyers in the office, and it's probable that someone killed him to stop him disclosing whatever it was he'd discovered was going on behind the scenes. Too many of the lawyers have something to hide, and their attempts to cover up their secrets only end up making each of them look potentially guilty of murder. Then there's the current wife and the ex-wife of the murdered man, each set on blaming the other, and with good reason. It's a long, slow process of solving each individual mystery, and Singh is going to need those resources he has on tap.

Singh has always been clearly portrayed as a Sikh, but in this book we see his home life, and his ties into the Sikh social network and culture. All the more so because by an unfortunate coincidence that causes him a great deal of grief during the investigation, the distant nephew of his wife who didn't show up to a "meet the local relatives" dinner turns out not to have done so because he was one of the lawyers called to the meeting with Mark Thompson. Singh's quite capable of keeping family and business separate, but others don't always see it that way.

The book as a whole does an excellent job of portraying Singapore and its particular blend of tension between expats and locals, and between different ethnicities. Even within the law office, sexism and racism amongst the expats from assorted countries provide fuel for crime -- and the racism isn't just whites considering themselves superior to locals.

Flint does a superb job of blending social commentary with a solidly written police procedural. Singh with his understanding of human nature has echoes of the best Miss Marple and Poirot stories, but he's very much his own man, in his own skillfully drawn setting. As with previous books, he's a joy of a character to read about, but here we learn more about him -- and about his home city. Flint has drawn on her own experience of being a Malaysian lawyer in Singapore to produce a richly detailed story with a cast of vividly written characters.

It's relatively light in tone, although it doesn't pull away from showing the harsher side of Singapore law, and there are some emotionally wrenching moments. A great read, and you don't need to have read either of the previous books in the series to enjoy this one.

ISBN: 978-0749929770
LibraryThing entry
The Singapore School of Villainy (Inspector Singh Investigates) at Amazon UK
at Play.com
Inspector Singh Investigates: Singapore School of Villainy Bk. 3 (Singh Investigates 3) at Amazon US
Inspector Singh Investigates: The Singapore School of Villainy -- Kindle edition (which is sold from Amazon US, but looks as if it might be available in the UK as well, along with the first two books in the series)
at The Book Depository
julesjones: (Default)
For the Brits -- yes, *that* Bamber Gascoigne. This was his second novel, according to the "about the author". It's the story of a young woman's heyday one Edwardian summer, as reconstructed many years later by her grandson from her diary and photographs. It's a sweet, gentle and often very funny mystery, with a touch of bittersweet romance.

Sir Benjamin's only family since the age of eleven has been his grandmother, and by extension her staff, in particular the butler Meredith. Even in her eighties Agnes is an incorrigible flirt, and often refers in cryptic fashion to her heyday, one Edwardian summer just before her marriage to Benjy's grandfather. A summer she spent as an actress in a travelling repertory company. Benjy has always been fascinated by the hints she's dropped, and after her death he pores through the diaries and photographs he finds in her wicker actor's skip. He slowly constructs a picture of his grandmother's life that summer of 1905; first thrown into general lodgings with a family within the company, then taking up her own lodgings (in separate bedrooms but joint sitting room) with another new company member, Jimmie Blin, and finally the pair of them inviting another new boy, Edward Jones, to join them. The picture that emerges from the diaries and photos is the development of a friendship laced with a very innocent and chaste sexuality, at the same time that Benjy's grandfather first sees Agnes and starts to court her. Benjy will not be satisfied until he finds the end of the story, and the reason why Agnes chose his grandfather over Jimmie or Edward. And then there is the mystery of Edward, who appears in none of the photographs because it was his camera which took them. The only picture Benjy has of this man who caught his grandmother's heart all those years ago is the one painted by her words describing him.

Benjy has some help in his task of discovering his grandmother's world and preparing it for publication, for Meredith the butler was also once an actor, in the far-off days before a stray bullet in the Great War took his stage voice. There are all sorts of little details that Meredith can explain to him, details that bring back to life a long-lost world of Edwardian theatre. Not all the details can be shared, of course, for there are some things that one just doesn't share with the staff. And so Benjy fumbles his way to an understanding that his grandmother might have been less shocked by some of his own adventures than he had always assumed.

The best one word summary of this book I can think of is "delightful". It's sweet, funny, and brings a lost world vividly to life. It's long since out of print, which is a shame, but usually available cheaply second-hand.

LibraryThing entry

Profile

julesjones: (Default)
julesjones

April 2017

S M T W T F S
      1
2345678
910111213 1415
16171819202122
2324 2526272829
30      

Syndicate

RSS Atom

Most Popular Tags

Style Credit

Expand Cut Tags

No cut tags