THIS MONTH'S BOOK REVIEWS...THIS MONTH'S BOOK REVIEWS
James Gault reviews Love Lost in Time by Cathie Dunn
I apologise in advance for having the cheek to offer a review, written by a man, of a book aimed mostly at women. Can the male persona really absorb and do justice to the wishes and tastes of female readers? For you to judge.
Cathie Dunn writes historical romances and her favoured setting is Scotland in the Middle Ages. Her latest novel takes her into unfamiliar territory. We’re still talking romance and intrigue, but this time she offers us two interlinked stories. Both are set in Southern France, but one is a contemporary love story while the other is a dark tale set in the eighth century: the time of the emergence of France as a nation and Christianity as the predominate religion in Western Europe.
The historical part is handled with the same sure touch that brought her success with her earlier works. The characters all conceal hidden secrets; the heroine overcomes distrust of the hero and finds true happiness; loyalty is tested and rewarded; dark deeds are done and are avenged. We’re offered an engrossing story which holds our attention from beginning to end, with the historical settings meticulously researched just as we’ve come to expect in Cathie’s novels. She exposes the period’s religious tensions exceptionally well: the struggle for supremacy between believers in the ‘one true God’ and the polytheistic followers of the pagan religious, and we see the emergence of the religious intolerance that still plagues the world today.
The contemporary part of the story, intertwined with the historical events, has the same elements of romance and intrigue. I liked it, but not as much as the other part. I think this might be a masculine point of view, but ,as far as the historical process goes, I felt a little let down.. The heroine discovers the ancient bones of the eight century heroine under the floor of her new home. She then excavates them, carefully but not meticulously. As a fan of TV archaeology programmes, I personally would have wanted the excavation to be more rigorous and scientific. Perhaps then the clues from the dig might have exposed the circumstances of the eighth century heroine’s death to the modern characters, as in a modern archaeological investigation.
But forget my personal intellectual meanderings; this is a well written and rewarding read, especially for lovers of the genre. A good read, even for a mere male.
James Gault reviews The Silence of the Girls by Pat Barker
Continuing this month’s theme of reviewing historical novels, I picked up Pat Barker’s reworking of Homer’s The Iliad. You probably have to know the basics of the original story to place the novel in context, but who isn’t familiar with the tale of the beautiful Helen of Troy stolen by Paris form her husband Menelaus and the subsequent great siege which ended with the mythological Trojan horse.
The book, however, is no ancient Greek epic poem; it’s a modern novel with a very powerful feminist undercurrent that explores misogyny and the fate of women in a culture dominated by men. The writing style is contemporary which serves to emphasise that the many and varied views presented on the role of women are meant to be not just historical revelations, but pertinent comments on how women are treated today.
Real lovers of historical novels may well be disappointed in this book because it doesn’t seem to capture the feel of the period. It is not really historical fiction but the retelling of a celebrated myth from a new point of view. But above all it is comment on how many men think and behave even today.
I felt sorry and angry for the women in the story, and at the same time disappointed that thousands of years had resulted in so little progress in the underlying prejudices against women. Pat Barker gives us an excellent and engrossing story but above all a biting criticism of men through the ages.
Ted Bun reviews A Beginner’s Guide to Free Fall by Andy Abramowitz
An absorbing and well written tale in which nothing much happens but I couldn’t stop reading.
Davis almost has it all, good job he enjoys, loving wife, a daughter he dotes on and a sister that worships him. Then in a matter of hours it had all gone, except his sister.
Alone in a squalid bachelor flat he has to rebuild his life. He does get help from his sister and a couple of other unlikely sources.
I am glad I picked this story the Kindle Firsts list … a lovely read.
My Book of the month
James Gault reviews Knots in Smooth Cotton by A.L. Wall
The theme of my reviews this month seems to be novels based in the past. This one recounts the history of three English families from before the First World War until the middle of the Second. The families’ stories are brought together through their interaction with one philandering rogue, who leaves abandoned women and children in his wake wherever he goes. It’s an engrossing story that holds the reader’s attention from beginning to end.
The narrative style the author uses is different and interesting. In first person monologues, a variety of different characters recount the episodes of the story. It’s an intriguing and disorientating approach, but it is perfect to carry the characterisations and the plot forward.
My only criticism of the book is that its layout and cover are uninspiring, and this is a great shame because it will inhibit its popularity and prevent it reaching the wide audience it deserves. It’s a classic example of a book that’s a lot better than its cover, so don’t be put off or you’ll miss an intriguing and entertaining read.
Ted Bun reviews The Bicycle Wheel Genius by Michael Beyer
Another outing for the Norwall Pirates, several years further on from the Snow Babies. Former leader Mary is long gone, Valerie is handing over leadership just as the new tale starts.
A mad scientist, a mad (psychotic) killer, killer humanoid robots, a government out of control, aliens, time travel, sexual realignment and the rest of the population of Norwall.
A fun story, although at one point there are too many characters with names beginning with D … and once or twice it becomes a little difficult to follow the narrative. No, you don’t lose the thread it just a bit tangled, then it is that type of non-linear story.
Did I mention the Rabbit called Milles?
James Gault reviews The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead
Yet another historical novel, set in the Southern States of the USA before the Civil War and the abolition of slavery. It’s the story of the network of clandestine escape routes used to help escaped slaves reach safety. It wasn’t a railroad, but a collection of abolitionist sympathisers, safe houses and transport arrangements.
The main value of this novel is in the importance of its theme. I don’t mean to suggest by this that the novel is anything other than a brilliantly written and engrossing story. It tells of one young girl’s convoluted path to freedom, of hope followed by disappointment and despair, of lives lost and lives saved. It’s an emotional tale that cannot but move the reader, all the more so because it is written in a journalistic style which renders a stark credibility to the events. Read it and you read a great story.
But this novel is more than that. The evils of racism and slavery should never be forgotten, and novels like this keep them in our minds should a false sense of modern moral progress lead us to let them slide from our memory. This novel shines a stark beam of light on the hypocrisy of those eighteenth century ‘gentlemen’ in straw hats and white suits, throwing away their moral compasses to feed their greed and self-interest. And let us not kid ourselves we are dealing with an event of the past, finished and done with. The same violation of human rights went on for another two centuries, and is still with us today. That is why you must read this great novel.