Archive | August 2014

Santa Evita

santa evitaThis is an odd book. It was buried on book mountain and I can’t remember what prompted me to buy it. Perhaps it was one of those sent to me by a book club that I never bothered to send back. Santa Evita by Tomás Eloy Martínez (trans. Helen Lane) is a story about what happened to the body of Eva Peron after she died.

It’s based on some fact, the papers of various people involved, some parts are fiction, and some parts are the ruminations of the author on the process of writing the book. Which parts are which are isn’t always clear, fact and fiction are smoothly blended. Apparently the germination of the story was over many years and it was a difficult book to write.

After Eva Peron died of cancer her body was embalmed. The Argentine Secret Service had been spying on her for years and after the Peron government fell, they took charge of the body. Three copies were made. The government didn’t want Eva’s burial place to become a shrine and the cult of Evita to have a focal point for the opposition. Care of the body was entrusted to a colonel in the Secret Service. Mysterious events seem to happen around Evita and she has a strange impact on those to whom her care is entrusted.

Santa Evita is a strange book. The story itself is a weird one, encompassing the need of people to have heroes, and how fame and grief interact. However, it’s not really about Evita. Most of it focuses on the Colonel who spied on her while she was alive and took care of her embalmed body when she was dead. It’s an exploration of secrecy and madness. It’s a beautifully written (and translated) book, mystical and surreal, and proving reality makes much less sense than fiction. I found the parts about Martínez’ writing process fascinating. It made me really think about the structure of the novel and how that might be more flexible than commercial fiction often allows. This is a strange and wonderful book.


headhunterIn Headhunters by Jo Nesbo, Roger Brown is a top recruiter who finances his lifestyle by art theft. He arranges interviews for executives who own expensive art and steals it while they’re occupied. He’s a successful recruiter with a reputation for never failing to place his candidate, but it doesn’t make enough money to pay for the house and his wife’s art gallery.

Unfortunately for him, a psychotic ex-CEO of a defence company wants a job with another defence company and is willing to go to any lengths to get it. Through a series of misunderstandings and bad decisions, Brown ends up being hunted through Oslo.

I saw the film of this book a few years ago and it’s what prompted me to read Jo Nesbo’s books. I actually read quite a few of his Harry Hole series before I got onto Headhunters, and I enjoyed them a lot. This is even better. I think this is the best of his that I’ve read. It’s written in first person from the point of view of Roger Brown and the voice is engaging and compelling. The plot tension is handled well and a couple of key twists are held back to the very end. Pacing is fast but not breathless. At least half the book is spent on the set up and you’re completely caught up in Roger’s world. He’s not the nicest guy but he’s smart and ingenious and not above doing whatever he has to. I liked it a lot.

The Treatment

200px-ThetreatmentThe Treatment is the second in Mo Hayder’s Jack Caffrey series. Caffrey is still obsessed with the paedophile next door and the mystery of what happened to his brother all those years ago.

Caffrey gets a case that seems a little too close for comfort. A family is held prisoner in their own home for a weekend. No one notices because they were supposed to be going on holiday. Instead, the mother is restrained and locked in a cupboard, the father is restrained on the landing while the son is abused. Then the perpetrator takes the child out of the house and is seen by a passerby. The police sweep the area but can’t find anything.

Whilst investigating this case, Caffrey is also trying to work out what happened to his brother. The cases are linked and Caffrey gets information that takes him out to a remote farm in Suffolk. Some of his actions are ill-advised and Caffrey is risking his job to pursue his obsession.

An extra complication is that Caffrey is dating one of the women that was a victim in the last book, Birdman, and she’s dealing with her experiences in a very public way. His secrecy and obsession with his brother isn’t making things between them better.

The plot twists and turns and the killer is hidden in plain sight. There are a few plausible candidates and Hayder shows how easy it can be to miss what is really going on. I wasn’t keen on the heavy-handed use of dialect for the character of Caffrey’s boss but that was the only thing that spoilt my enjoyment of the book. The resolution of all the plot lines was brutal and I found it very affecting.

Death of Kings

death-of-kingsDeath of Kings by Bernard Cornwell is the sixth book in the Making of England series. Or The Warrior Chronicles, or the Saxon Stories, as it’s also known.  There are at least two more to go.

Uhtred of Bebbanburg is forty-five and broke. All the money he’s ever made has been spent on keeping is oath to Alfred. There have been times when he’s been rich but this isn’t one of them. He still harbours dreams of returning to Northumbria to reclaim Bebbanburg but he doesn’t have the resources and he’s running out of time. Forty-five is old for a warrior. And then there’s the pesky problem of the promises he’s made to Alfred and Aethelflead.

This installment of the series does feel very much like a mid-series book. It’s a bit slow and not much seems to happen. Alfred dies, his nephew tries to steal Wessex from his son, and the Danes combine forces to attack. There’s the threat of betrayal from an ally and lots of riding around the countryside looking for people to fight.

As always, the writing is excellent, and Cornwell provides a masterclass in simple yet effective prose. The characters are vivid and Aethelflead had a particularly good part in this book.


birdman-re-issue-november-21Birdman is Mo Hayder’s debut novel and the first to feature Jack Caffrey, a handsome yet troubled detective. I enjoy a thriller and Mo Hayder is easy to read. Which should not be confused with easy to write.

Someone is murdering women and sewing live birds into their chests. Disturbingly, Hayder is able to present several plausible suspects. There’s a lot going on in the book aside from the investigation; there’s Caffrey’s struggle with the unresolved disappearance of his brother, and his overlapping romantic relationships. The plot is handled well and the real murderer is introduced early and hidden in plain sight.

Caffrey’s resolution of the crimes opens up some questions for the reader. Caffrey takes a personal path that might feel very satisfying of a need for retribution, for terrible crimes to receive terrible punishment. Birdman is a blend of horror and thriller and it is the horror ending we’re presented with; the evil that has risen is wiped out of existence. Only then can we sleep safe in our beds. But Caffrey is an officer of the law; he’s meant to serve it, not take it in his own hands. It’s an uncomfortable presentation of what a person might do when their sense of right and wrong is complicated. On reflection, this is a more thoughtful book that it appears, and I enjoyed it a lot.


The Point is to Change It

150px-The_point_is_to_change_itI have always bought more books than I read, which has resulted in a bookshelf of unread books that I call book mountain. It is currently the smallest it’s ever been. Still some of the books on there have been in my possession for some time. Such as The Point is to Change It which I must have bought fifteen years ago.

Compiled from essays and articles first published in Living Marxism, this book examines trends in political life in the aftermath of the death of history. With the Berlin Wall down and the Soviet Block collapsed, how does the left respond to capitalism? The book was published in 1996 and, twenty years on, the world it talks about is depressingly similar to the one we currently live in. I can’t help but agree that the world needs to change.

The tone of the book and some of the things that are conflated with social ills didn’t sit well with me. It’s presented as progressive and as suggesting solutions to the problems of capitalism. It doesn’t really do that. There’s a thick seam of nostalgia for some idyllic past when we didn’t waste our time with the women and blacks getting upset about trivial things, when we weren’t so soft, and valued self-confidence over victimhood. There’s a lot of privilege and entitlement in that kind of nostalgia. The values extolled are very much those attributed to white, straight men and denied to others. And there are no real solutions to speak of. There’s a manifesto at the back. It’s two pages out of two hundred and seventeen. It is mostly a rehash of the problems and lacks any call to action. Even if you did agree with the analysis (and there’s much in there that I do agree with once you detach it from the whining), you’d be hard pressed to know what to do about it.

The Viking Gods

the-viking-gods-114-pI went to the British Museum’s Viking exhibition and I’m minded to read the Edda at some point. However it’s a big, heavy book and I’m putting it off on the basis that I don’t want to carry it back and forth to work. In the meantime, I also bought The Viking Gods, a small, lightweight book of snippets from the Edda, translated by Jean I. Young and accompanied by illustrations by Lorenz Frӧlich and Eggert Pétursson.

It’s a beautifully presented book. I liked the illustrations and enjoyed the stories. There’s not much depth but there’s a little bit of origin myth, a page for each of the main gods and some stories of life in Valhalla. It was lovely, and whetted my appetite for the Edda itself. When I’m feeling strong.

Stupid Cupid

stupid cupidStill on the search for a romance I can enjoy…

I ran out of book while I was at work so went raiding the book drop. I wasn’t feeling that mentally energetic so I went for an easy read. And I’m still looking for that sweet and sexy feminist romance. At this rate I might have to write it myself. Please leave any recommendations in the comments!

Stupid Cupid by Arabella Weir is the story of a woman who persists with a wedding despite the absence of the groom. Hat is dumped by her fiance, Jimmy, about six weeks before their wedding. She’s in shock and without any better idea, she just continues with the wedding train. Part of her thinks that Jimmy is just having cold feet and will change his mind. Part of her just doesn’t want to deal with calling off the wedding. And part of her wanted a wedding far more than she wanted a marriage.

The weeks pass quickly and the situation is complicated by Hat’s perfect sister and hypercritical mother. A friend suggests a beard; Hat should have a stand-in pretend to be Jimmy and go through with the wedding with her. Said friend just happens to have a suitable man to hand. Naturally, Hat finds the new chap much more to her liking.

It was ok. Not nearly as infuriating as the last romance I read and Hat was a reasonably rounded character, even if she did suffer from low body-confidence and too much self-deprecation. The supporting characters were a little stereotypical and included the gay best friend and louche old lady. It’s supposed to be a comedy but it didn’t make me laugh. My taste isn’t for farce though, so if you like that sort of thing, you might enjoy it more than I did.

7 Secrets of the Prolific

the-7-secrets-of-the-prolificThe 7 Secrets of the Prolific: The definitive guide to overcoming procrastination, perfectionism, and writer’s block by Hillary Rettig is one of the most useful books I’ve ever read. I was struggling to finish a novella manuscript. I don’t really get blocked; I can always write something and I have numerous projects on the go. What I struggle with is completing a piece.

It turns out that the problem is perfectionism. I’m alright at the start of a project when I have this amazing idea in my head and I have the whole book to realise that vision. As I go on, I run out of time and become increasingly aware that what’s on the page is vastly inferior to what I imagined. I know this. The problems perfectionism causes me are legion.

There was a lot in this book to help, mostly focussed on what perfectionism actually looks like in your life. I know I’m a perfectionist and I know how that happened. What was eye-opening was attributing some of the things I do around procrastinating to perfectionism. My inner voices would have me believe it’s laziness, but my inner voices are full of shit and need to shut up.

The proof of the effectiveness of this book is that I finished the novella. I am currently editing it and preparing it for submission to publishers. I got over the mental blocks that were making it hard, painful and slow. I got past the need for it to be perfect and began to be able to appreciate what I’d achieved.

The 7 Secrets of the Prolific is self-published and there’s a chapter in the book extolling the virtues of self-publishing and how to do that in a professional manner. It was thought-provoking and made me reconsider whether I would self-publish a novel.

This is a great book, I got so much out of it, and I highly recommend for anyone with procrastination issues.

The Big, Not-so-Small, Curvy Girls, BBW Romance Dating Agency

curvy girlsIt turns out I don’t like writing reviews of books I really didn’t enjoy. (Even though I do it a fair bit). I’ve been putting this one off for some time.

Romance isn’t my normal genre and it’s not a favourite, but I occasionally read it because sometimes I do want a romantic story. Unfortunately, it seems that I what I consider romantic isn’t the same as the romance genre and I’m often disappointed. Also, I claim to read widely and sometimes I have to prove it. 😉 When I bought The Big, Not-so-Small, Curvy Girls, BBW Romance Dating Agency I was looking for something sexy and sweet and easy to read. And if not too much to ask, non-stereotypical gender roles. That was too much to ask so I settled for a protagonist that is fat.

What I got was depressing and infuriating. The main character Becky, wants to start her own business, a dating agency for big women and men and those that appreciate them. A laudable goal, except the book was written in 2013 and it doesn’t appear to have occurred to her that online dating is a thing. There are loads of websites, catering to all sorts of persuasion, from people wanting to date within their own religion to people looking for a specific body type. She’s got a lot of competition.

Becky is self-deprecating to an off-putting degree. While it might be realistic that she’s insecure about whether or not the object of her affections likes her back, I really wanted to read about someone positive, assertive and body-confident. Becky’s best friend Sam seemed a bit like that and I would rather have been reading about her.

The other thing that annoyed me may well be a trope of the genre and not specific to this book. I don’t read enough romance to know. Becky and Reed (said object of affection) spend a lot of time mooning about how lovely and amazing the other is, how they like them more than they should (Diet Coke ad type beefcake Reed has a model girlfriend, who is conveniently unpleasant), and how they are falling in love with the other. All this is based on very little interaction. They are declaring undying love after about three short dates. I spent much of the book frustrated with the total lack of a basis for liking each other. I don’t know how difficult it would be to write a romance where two people develop affection for each other through shared interests and spending a lot of time together, but I suspect it would be hard. And lack drama and be a bit dull for the reader. Even so, the intense emotional reactions appeared elicited by the mere sight of the other and wasn’t convincing at all.

I didn’t like it.