TBR@62 Robertgreaves's challenge for 2019/2020 part 1
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My review of Uncle Tom's Cabin:
Thanks to their owner's improvidence two Kentucky slaves, a man and a boy, are due to be sold. The boy's mother runs away with him while the man accepts his fate. This is what happened to them.
I found the eye-dialect difficult to get used to but overall the book was a powerful piece of pleading even nearly 170 years later. Obviously I was broadly familiar with the story before going in, but something that took me by surprise was the casual acceptance that, however devastating, the death of one's child was so general an experience that the author could use it as a commonality that would arouse sympathies for the slaves amongst her white readers, though I must admit I did roll my eyes a bit at the sentimentality of the portrayal of Eva.
My review of Home Fire:
Isma has to bring up her twin siblings, Aneeka and Parvaiz, after their mother and grandmother die. Once they are adults she decides to resume her studies in America, where she meets Eamonn, the son of an up-and-coming MP. Unknown to her, Parvaiz, hoping to live up to their father, who fought for the Taliban in Afghanistan, has decided to join ISIS.
A powerful re-telling of Sophocles' Antigone for the 21st century. The echoes in the names were obvious, some of the twists were foreseeable from knowing the play, but some decidedly were not.
My review of The Truth:
William de Worde invents the newspaper and exposes dastardly political shenanigans to replace Lord Vetinari as Patrician.
Not perhaps Pratchett's funniest but plenty of wordplay and wry observations about the world.
My review of The Sandman: Preludes and Nocturnes:
The story of how the Sandman, the King of Dreams, is captured and stripped of his powers and how he regains them.
There were times when I wasn't quite sure what was going on but I will continue with this graphic novel series at some point.
My review of Frankenstein:
It took me a while to adjust to the more ornate language and even when I had there were times when I was muttering to myself, "do get on with it" as we paused for yet another disquisition on the sublime beauties of the Alpen landscapes or the noble character of practically everybody. But having said that, the story does strike chords which have kept it alive and familiar to everyone for 200 years in all its various incarnations.
My review of The Casebook of Victor Frankenstein:
After a perfectly ordinary university career in Ingolstadt, Victor Frankenstein moves to Oxford and London where he meets Percy Bysshe Shelley and takes up the studies for which he is best known.
Although it has less sublimity, which makes it easier to read, I did wonder at times what the author was bringing to the story that wasn't in Mary Shelley's version apart from Frankenstein's rather meta meetings with Shelley, his two wives, Lord Byron, and Dr. Polidori. And then I hit the ending. Now there was a twist I didn't see coming.
My review of In the Time of Madness:
A journalist follows stories of outbreaks of intercommunal violence in Indonesia in the 1990s.
This book was a bit of a disappointment. Despite some efforts to give background context, there was very little analysis, just the journalist author's personal observations and what he was told by different people. It felt like a re-hash of some of his newspaper reporting rather than adding anything new.
My review of Second Act:
In the run up to Saturnalia, a rapist is on the loose in Rome attacking women, raping them and humiliating them. Is he a copycat or was the wrong man caught by Orbilio and executed earlier in the year? In the meantime, Claudia's insurance fraud is catching up with her and she needs money fast. Is sponsoring and providing houseroom for a troupe of actors a way out?
I thought Claudia and Orbilio had reached some sort of understanding of each other in the previous book, but it appears not. We're back to the banter again. Not that I'm complaining, mind -- it is good quality banter.
My review of Widow's Pique:
Claudia travels to Histria where she hopes to land a contract to supply wine to the King only to find His Majesty invited her for quite another purpose.
I nearly gave up half way through because I was having problems remembering who was who but I'm glad I persisted because it does have a cracker of an ending.
My review of Stone Cold:
Claudia travels to Santonum in Gaul hoping to trace her father, who disappeared when she was 10.
A much better entry in the series than the last one. Witty to the point I was having to stifle my giggles. Of the two mysterious characters (the Watcher and the Scarecrow) one turned out to be who I was expecting, the other didn't. Did Claudia and Orbilio get enough of a shock in the last few chapters to wake them up? I do hope so.
My review of Sour Grapes:
Disturbed by reports that her mother-in-law is about to remarry, which would give control of the family property to her new husband, Claudia tries to find out if it is a love match or a fortune hunter.
Nice twisty penultimate episode in this series.
My review of Scorpion Rising:
Claudia is blackmailed into returning to Santonum to find out who killed 12 year old Clytie, who was being brought up by a female order called the Hundred-Handed.
I enjoyed the actual mystery but I'm quite glad this seems to be the last novel in the series because I've had enough of the way each volume towards the end of the series was implying and in some cases more than implying that Claudia and Orbilio had come together at last only to find at the beginning of the next book that no, they haven't, they're right back where they started.
I also enjoyed your comments on All the Little Liars; I knew Charlaine Harris had written other series besides the Southern Vampire Mysteries, but I didn't know about these. I'll have to check them out.
ETA: Oops - not sure how I found my way here, meant this for the 2019CC thread...well, either way, my comments still stand!
My review of 1984:
It is easy to see parallels between the world of 1984 and the world we see around us but ultimately I don't think the world of 1984 would be sustainable. Be that as it may, deservedly a classic.
My review of Vindolanda:
Action adventure on the northern edge of Roman Britain, before the Wall was built.
The author tells a good yarn although there were times it seemed the author was determined to give us the benefit of ALL his research into the Roman Army and I felt quite overwhelmed. Still, good enough for me to continue with the series.
My review of Brigantia:
Ferox is asked to investigate the murder of an imperial freedman now working for the procurator. Is it linked to a series of thefts of collectible items related to the history of Britannia?
More cloak and dagger stuff going on here as well as the battles but most of it pretty forgettable so I had to keep stopping to look back to work out what people were referring to.
My review of The Sweetness At The Bottom of the Pie:
Flavia de Luce hears a father in a late night argument in his study. Early the next morning she finds the body of a stranger in the garden who dies just as she reaches him. Could her father really be a murderer?
The series seems to garner a lot of love, but I found this rather a wobbly start. The story was interesting enough but although I could not comment on the philatelic aspects, some of the family history and religious asides would suggest that the author hasn't done his homework. Still, I will try the second one before making up my mind whether to continue.
My review of The Weed that Strings the Hangman's Bag:
A travelling puppet master's van breaks down in the village and he agrees to put on two shows in payment for accommodation and van repairs. But why is he pretending not to know people he has obviously met before? Flavia investigates.
I'm not that interested in chemistry and again there were historical details which didn't quite ring true, so I don't think I will be continuing with this series, despite the intriguing titles.
My review of Not A Hazardous Sport:
An anthropologist travels to Indonesia to work amongst the Toraja people in Sulawesi and then brings some Toraja craftsmen back to work on building a rice-barn in the Museum of Mankind in London.
Light hearted, amusing reading. Don't expect any great anthropological insights.
My review of My Cat Yugoslavia:
Bekim's family came to Finland as refugees from Kosovo when he was a young child. The book alternates between his life now and his mother's life from when she first met her husband-to-be in 1980 down to the present day.
Bekim's narrative was interesting and sympathetic to him as an immigrant and him as a gay man in the opening and concluding sections. His mother's narrative was interesting throughout if a bit lacking in context - was Bajram's brutality typical of men in that time and place or was he unusual? However, Bekim's narrative in the middle was -- odd. I'm still trying to work out what exactly was going on with the giant talking cat. An abusive partner? A projection of Bekim's own dark side? Or does Bekim just live in a world where there are giant talking cats?
My review of Things Fall Apart:
Okonkwo's life as a traditional man working his way up in Umuofia society and how he comes to grief at the beginning of colonial expansion into the lower Niger.
It's a fascinating warts and all portrayal of a way of life, though I'm not sure how representative Okonkwo is meant to be. There doesn't seem to be an audiobook version, which is a pity as it reads more like spoken language.
My review of The Sparsholt Affair:
Evert Dax seduces David Sparsholt at Oxford during the War. This is just a curtain raiser to the story of David's son Jonathan as a gay adolescent and man from the 1960s to the 2000s.
I enjoy Alan Hollinghurst's books while I'm reading them, but I sometimes wish the characters didn't all inhabit the same rather rarified social milieu.
A fascinating exploration of how the differences in population between the West and East of the Roman Empire even during the second century AD led to very different outcomes up to the Arab conquests and beyond.
My review of The Bernini Bust:
Jonathan Argyll is in Los Angeles, delivering a Titian to a private museum. Before he gets paid for it, though, the owner of the museum is killed, apparently to facilitate the theft of a Bernini bust another art dealer is delivering. Of course, it's all a bit more complicated and after Johnathan is involved in a car crash, Flavia is seconded to liaise with the Los Angeles police since the bust may have been smuggled out of Italy.
Another good twisty episode which kept a smile on my face. I thought I'd read the whole series before, but this one was new to me.
My review of Fortune's Fool:
While demolishing a 20-year-old wall on an estate he inherited from his father, Pliny finds a skeleton buried inside the wall. Who was it and why was it put there? Some people seem determined that he will not find out.
The 'who' was fairly obvious, though watching Pliny uncovering the 'why' was good fun. I could think of several ways out of the dilemmas in his personal life but of course he didn't ask my advice.
My review of The Gods Help Those:
Pliny's Tiber-side warehouse is partially washed away during a storm and some bodies are found in the remains, including one whose mouth was sewn shut with thirty pieces of silver inside.
A good twisty whodunnit, but
My review of A Dying Fall:
A friend from Ruth's student days dies in a house fire and the next day Ruth gets a snail mail from him saying that he has made a major archaeological discovery but is frightened and asking her to come and help verify the origins of a skeleton.
Very atmospheric with a tantalising air of menace from an unknown source. One quibble which may be just the ebook formatting, but some sort of typographical clue such as an extra line space or a row of asterisks when the scene changes would be helpful.
My review of The Outcast Dead:
Nelson suspects a woman all of whose babies died may have murdered them. But is he being misled by echoes of previous cases? In the meantime Ruth has found what looks like the body of a notorious 19th century childkiller just as a TV documentary about the killer is being made.
Unfortunately my memory of the events and backstory of the first book, which apparently I read this time last year, is rather vague, so a lot of this book was lost on me. Atmosphere and characters are what this author does best. The actual events are rather forgettable.
My review of The Ghost Fields:
When land is being cleared for building a housing estate near an abandoned WWII air base, a plane is found buried with the pilot still inside. But the pilot had been shot in the head.
Good twisty fun -- and its seems even Cathbad is fallible.
My review of Last and First Men:
Many millions of years hence, the most evolved form of humans, having learnt that the Sun is about to become a supernova, send back a message to us, the first form of human, about the historical and evolutionary path from us to them.
It is a novel of ideas rather than of character or plot since we rarely see individuals rather than historical movements and descriptions of types of human. I found it compelling if somewhat heavy-going at times, but I am so glad it is done.
My review of Saturnalia:
Decius Caecilius Metellus is summoned back to Rome by his father to investigate the death of a relative, Celer. Was was he poisoned by his wife, the notorious Claudia, or by one of his many political enemies or did he die by natural causes?
Good world building of Rome. Creepy as Decius's investigation leads him into the world of witches.
My review of Nobody Loves A Centurion:
When Decius joins Caesar's army in Gaul, he soon makes himself unpopular. But he is the only person Caesar can ask to investigate the murder of a brutal centurion. Was he killed by his own men or by the one of the enemy forces preparing to fight against the Romans?
Exciting, atmospheric thriller/mystery.
A tribune calls down a curse on Crassus as he leaves on his expedition to conquer Parthia. Decius is tasked with finding out who put the tribune up to it and taught him the secret rituals he was not supposed to know.
Nice twisty investigation and very atmospheric with the creepy stuff. Shame about the death of a recurring character.
On the journey I also read my Nos. 43 and 44 A Cotswold Killing and A Cotswold Ordeal, both by Rebecca Tope. Although they came as part of a single ebook box set The Cotswold Mysteries Collection, since there is no treebook single volume omnibus I count them separately. They were my one hundred and fourth and one hundred and fifth ROOTS for 2019. They also fit the RandomCAT, AlphaKIT, and SeriesCAT.
A Cotswold Killing
On the first night of her first engagement as a house sitter, Thea hears a scream outside. The next day she finds a body in the garden.
This felt more plausible than most amateur 'tec cozies, with a good awareness of how difficult it can be to understand people's relationships when you come into a new community and aren't aware of their histories.
A Cotswold Ordeal
Another house sitting job, another corpse.
I'm not sure I really followed what was going on with the climax and roundup here but that may be because I'd been travelling for 24 hours.
Starting my no. 45, the next in the collection Death in the Cotswolds, which is my one hundred and sixth ROOT.
My review of Death in the Cotswolds:
When Thea and Phil attempt to combine a romantic getaway with clearing out his deceased aunt's home, Ariadne, one of his childhood friends, finds a corpse in the local barrow.
Unlike the others so far in this series, which are told in the third person from Thea's point of view, this story is a first person narrative by Ariadne, an interesting character in her own right, even if I did want to shake her at times.
My review of A Cotswold Mystery:
Thea has another house sitting job and of course one of the neighbours is murdered and the evidence seems to point to Thea's client's mother.
Phil was mainly offstage in this one with Thea's daughter playing his police connection role. Now that Thea is planning to expand her business and is setting up a website, how long before she starts getting reviews urging potential clients to avoid her for their neighbours' sake?
Good for you to give up on it.
My review of Eight for Eternity:
Two conspirators are sentenced to be hanged. The rope breaks twice for each conspirator and they are taken to a monastery while the authorities decide what to do next. The body of one of them is found in a cistern. Who killed him, thwarting the Emperor who was inclined to show clemency? John the Eunuch is ordered to investigate.
John's investigation kept my interest, but the background detail was disappointing. The Nika riots seemed more of an inconvenient obstacle that hampered John than the terrifying events they must have been.
Today we spend with the kids and grandkids at my daughter's place, which was very nice. With great food and good company.
My review of Major Pettigrew's Last Stand:
When Mrs Ali from the village shop comes to collect the paper money, she finds Major Pettigrew in a state of shock, having just heard of the death of his brother. The two become friends despite the disapproval of family and friends on both sides.
Sweet, funny romance between two people who are going against their respective cultural and family traditions, though some of the supporting cast do not rise above being just caricatures.
My No. 51 is the next in the Wes Peterson series, A Painted Doom.
My review of The Bone Garden:
Bodies are found buried under a plinth in a Queen Anne garden being excavated and restored and a petty thief finds a dead body in a holiday caravan.
As usual, I enjoyed watching the police and archaeological investigations and the parallels between them.
My review of A Painted Doom:
A medieval skull and later the decapitated body are found in an archaeological dig and an aging pop star's body is found dead in a hedgerow.
The usual two for the price of one parallel mysteries combining present day police work and historical mystery, which make this series so compelling
Books read in 2019: 183
M/F read: 122/61
LGBT authors or themes: 27
Books by authors whose first language is not English: 17
Fiction/Non Fiction: 146/37