Thursday, February 1, 2018

Read in January

Strong Poison (1931) by Dorothy Sayers (see previous separate review). (5th in the Lord Peter Wimsey series. Read on Kindle.)

Unnatural Death cover art

Unnatural Death (1927) by Dorothy Sayers. (3rd in the Lord Peter Wimsey series.)

I listened to this one as audio book; read by Ian Carmichael (1920-2010) who also played Lord Peter in the 1970s-80s BBC radio  and TV dramas, based on the novels.

This mystery involves the death of an elderly woman, supposedly from natural causes – or…? A will may be involved (or not); Lord Peter gets suspicious, and sends Miss Climpson (private investigator in his employ) to find out more…


Never Let Me Go

Never Let Me Go (2005) by Kazuo Ishiguro  (Nobel prize in literature laureate 2017).

I listened to this as daily series on Swedish Radio. It’s a novel not easy to categorize, but a very engaging story all the same. The Wiki article calls it “dystopian science fiction”. Personally I hesitate whether science fiction is the right epithet, as it’s not futuristic - and not really all that much focus on science either. My impression is that it is set in a fictional past/present corresponding to the 1960s/70s onwards (based on the mentioning of items like for example cassette tapes). The narrator, Kathy, is looking back on her childhood and youth at a place called Hailsham, a kind of boarding school / orphanage in England (the teachers are called “guardians” rather than teachers). One of the strengths of this book is how the author lets Kathy tell things from her own perspective; taking much about her own background for granted, without further explanation – as we all tend to do, with certain things. For the reader/listener, the full implications are not always immediately obvious, though – but our understanding keeps growing, along with the story…


The Hiding Place cover art

The Hiding Place (1971) by Corrie ten Boom (with co-authors John and Elizabeth Sherrill).

I read this book back in my youth and still have my Swedish copy (from 1976). I re-read it now by listening to it as Audible audio book in English (read by Wanda McCaddon). Corrie ten Boom (1892 – 1983) was a (Christian) Dutch watchmaker who, along with her father and sister and other family members and friends, helped many Jews escape the Nazi Holocaust during World War II by hiding them in their home. In 1944, Corrie and her sister were arrested and sent to prison and then on to concentration camp (Ravensbrück in Germany). Corrie survived the war, returned to the Netherlands and set up a rehabilitation center for concentration-camp survivors. She also travelled to over 60 countries and gave public speeches about her experiences.

 

Esperanza Rising cover art

Esperanza Rising (2000) by Pam Munoz Ryan.

I bought this book as Kindle+Audible (Whispersync), but ended up mostly listening to the audio, as I found the narration by Trini Alvarado excellent, and adding a lot to the atmosphere of the book, with pronunciation of Spanish names etc with the right accent.

The main character and narrator, Esperanza, is the spoiled daughter in a rich ranchowner family in Mexico. The family’s situation changes when Esperanza’s father dies; and her mother Ramona, rather than marrying a man she does not want, decides to flee with her daughter to the United States. This is during the time of the Great Depression, and they end up in a poor Mexican labour camp in California. Esperanza has a hard time adjusting to the hardships of their new life – very different from what she’s been used to so far. But gradually, she learns to cope with the challenges. The story is based on / inspired by the life of the author’s own grandmother, also called Esperanza (which is Spanish for “hope”). The author has also incorporated the rhythm of the various harvest seasons into the story.

The book has received good reviews and according to Wikipedia it has also been incorporated into school curriculums in literature, social studies, and Spanish in the US. I really liked the book, and I think it gives “food for thought” for our own time as well, concerning how we treat the present migration situation, and the migrants (not only in the US but the rest of the world as well).


I'll Keep You Safe: the sensational new Hebrides-set thriller

I’ll keep you safe (2018) by Scottish crime writer Peter May (read on Kindle).

I’d been waiting for this one, and downloaded it on Kindle the day it was published… It’s yet another book set on the Hebridean Isle of Lewis & Harris. Like Coffin Road, it’s a standalone novel, even if both have one character (a local police officer) in common with the Lewis Trilogy (The Blackhouse, The Lewis Man, The Chessmen). I’ll keep you safe involves the island’s textile industry, based on the well-know Harris Tweed, but here with a fictional variety called Ranish tweed. However, some of the action in the book also takes place in Paris, France. (The connection being the fashion industry.)

The book starts with a car explosion in Paris, and two people dead – one of them from the Hebrides. Accident? Murder? Terror attack? The mysteries involved brings a French police officer to the remote Scottish island to attend a funeral, and gather more background information. As readers, we get some of the background from a “neutral” narrator; but also gain deeper insight from Niamh, the wife who lost her husband in the explosion. (They were together in Paris when it happened, but she was not in the car). Some of the chapters are written from her point of view, following her process of grieving, and dealing with the present as well as her memories, which go back even to her own and her husband’s childhood on the island, and the development of their relationship, marriage and career over the years. Friends and family and business partners also come into the picture; all mixed with the special atmosphere of the island that the author knows inside out (the geography as well as the impact of the ever-changing weather).  (Myself, I no longer quite know what I recognise from May’s earlier Lewis novels, or the photo book Hebrides [text by May and photographs by David Wilson], or from a certain Hebridean blogger that I’ve been following for even longer…) I recognise the pattern of storytelling from the previous books by May that I read – also involving unexpected twists and turns. But the author has once again managed to produce a book hard to put down, although at the same time worth reading slowly, savouring the details of landscape and atmosphere as well as insights into the complexity of human relationships.


4 comments:

  1. The Hiding Place is a pretty famous book here. I think the last two would appeal to me the most.

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  2. Wonderful selections. Have fun with them!

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  3. I really think I should start reading Peter May's books.

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  4. I read Ishiguru's "The Remains of the Day' which I seem to recall finding compelling. I enjoyed it enough to buy 'Never Let Me Go' which languishes in my bookcases in the loft. Having, of course, read the Peter May Lewis Trilogy I really want to follow up his other novels but so far reading has taken a low prioority in my life in the last year or so. I must do better.

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