As another year draws to a close, I am shocked to realise that I have not blogged on here since July! As I have no chance of ever catching up on reviewing all the books I have read since then, I thought it would be easier to do a quick listing. I shall then be able to start 2011 with a (nearly) clean sheet!
In a Dry Season by Peter Robinson
Not much to say about this book - Peter Robinson is one of my favourite crime writers and I always enjoy his Inspector Banks novels - but I must just comment on the recent TV adaptation. While I was thrilled to finally see Inspector Banks as a TV drama I was disappointed not only by the casting of Stephen Tompkinson in the lead role, but also in their jumping in at book number 12 (especially as it wasn't one I have read!) I have nothing against Stephen Tompkinson as an actor, but I didn't feel he was right for the role. Also, by jumping in so late in the series, we missed out on getting to know and understand Alan Banks - his background, his morality and even his personality. I think I would have enjoyed the TV version, had I not already been such a fan of the novels.
Among the Bohemians: Experiments in Living 1900-1939 by Virginia Nicholson
My favourite sort of non-fiction book - one that reads almost like a novel with a wonderful cast of interesting and diverse characters. A perfect 'jumping-off point' for anyone interested in this era.
The Children's Book by A.S. Byatt
I have never read any A.S. Byatt before, despite having Possession on my bookcase for several years now. The Children's Book had appealed to me because of it's Bohemian setting (having not long read Among the Bohemians by Virginia Nicholson) and I loved the allusions to real life characters from the world of literature and art of the time. The world Byatt creates is magical and the way the story moves from character to character while never becoming bogged down or too complex is indicative of her great writing talent. On the downside, it is an overly long book and I did feel that it could have done with more aggressive editing.
Stone's Fall by Iain Pears
This is the second novel I have read by Iain Pears - the first being An Instance of the Fingerpost. Strangely I could probably write the same comments for both: an interesting and unique plot, fascinating characters, well drawn and with great period detail. And yet...both books seem to lack something and I am not quite sure what it is. I enjoyed the story, I cared about the characters, but I found it difficult to read - not because of the prose, more because of a lack of impetus. The plot could be plodding and slow-moving in parts. For once, I almost wished there was a TV or film adaptation that I could watch, rather than reading the book.
The White Queen by Philippa Gregory
Another thoroughly enjoyable historical fiction from Philippa Gregory. She has moved back from the Tudor age now and this is the first in her trilogy about the Plantagenets. Elizabeth Woodville is the central character of this novel and is written as a strong and admirable female character with a strong sense of loyalty and family. Not being a history scholar I cannot really comment on how historically accurate the plot and characterisation are, but what I love about these novels is that they arouse your interest in the subject matter.
Bess of Hardwick by Mary S Lovell
Fascinating and very readable biography. Having visited and loved Chatsworth as well as devouring Lovell's biography of the Mitfords, this was a perfect book choice.
David Blaize by E F Benson
The only Benson I had read before were the Mapp and Lucia books, which are wonderfully observed and subtlely humorous. David Blaize gives you more of the same, this time set in a boys' boarding school.
Good Behaviour by Molly Keane
Aroon St Clare is an absolutely wonderful comic character and this story follows her stumbling from one social faux pas (including the almost-accidental murder of her mother) to another, all in the name of 'Good Behaviour'. I adored this book and will certainly be reading more Molly Keane in the future.
The Princes in the Tower by Alison Weir
Having read The White Queen by Philippa Gregory I was keen to learn more about Edward V and his brother Richard, Duke of Gloucester. Alison Weir is very readable and accessible - her books feel learned and scholarly without being fusty and exclusive. Whether I agree with her conclusion that Richard III was responsible for the princes' murder I am still not sure, although it seems there is no other viable explanation.
Rabbit Run by John Updike
Not really my kind of novel, and certainly not what I would normally read, but I had heard such great things about John Updike that when I found a copy of this is my local charity shop I thought I would give it a go. I'm so glad that I did - this is a really wonderful book, both comic and tragic in equal measures and with an anti-hero that you cannot help but empathise with.
The Present and the Past by Ivy Compton-Burnett
Again, this was an author I had never read, but had heard about through other book bloggers and so picked up a second-hand copy in a charity shop. I am ashamed to admit that I didn't finish this book (I very rarely give up on books - in fact, I would say this is one of only three or four books I have ever cast aside) - I found it far too rambling and without direction. The language, and indeed most of the characterisation, seemed unrealistic and I just had no interest in what the characters would say next, or what would happen to them. One review on Amazon says that Ivy Compton-Burnett is an acquired taste - based on this novel, I wholeheartedly agree!
The Fry Chronicles by Stephen Fry
I adore Stephen Fry and I have to admit that there are very few ways in which this book could have failed to please me. Telling the story of Fry's escape from a delinquent adolescence to Cambridge University there are celebrity anecdotes and plenty of soul-searching from Fry as he tries to understand and explain his addictive personality and his drive for fame. It ends with Fry on the brink of National Treasure-dom and hints at an impending cocaine addiction. Fascinating, honest and written with humour and candour I loved every page of this biography.