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Winter in Madrid by C.J. Sansom

Winter in MadridTitle: Winter in Madrid
Author: C.J. Sansom
Pages: 549
Buy: Book Depository; Waterstones;
Source: Purchased copy
Rating: 5 stars

I recall this book being a recommendation to me as a result of my love for The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafón. I subsequently picked this up and was drawn once again into the era during and around the Spanish Civil War, a period and place in history my knowledge of was previously non existent.

This is an excellent novel that has convincing characters and a genuine feeling of authenticity about the conditions in Madrid following the Civil War that evoke the scenes being written and the grimness into your mind. The story line itself has many parallel threads that develop to a conclusion full of suspense and drama.

While it is historical fiction it is also both spy novel and a love story. The historical basis shows the developing political machinations in Europe at the time, with the risk of Spain allying with the Germans against Britain, and the efforts of British diplomats to avoid this by subtle relationship building with key people in the Spanish government.

While all of this may suggest literary espionage in the Le Carré vein, that’s not quite what we get. Sansom deploys a fractured time scheme, moving between past and present: we are back in Harry’s loveless childhood, then in murky 1940s Madrid, where betrayal is the order of the day, or in the public school where Harry and opportunistic Sandy first meet. Similarly, the reader is catapulted from Barbara’s relationships with her lovers Sandy and Bernie to the humiliations of childhood, where unhappiness over her appearance is to mark her for life. But as Winter in Madrid progresses, Sansom adroitly draws the disparate strands of his ambitious saga together.

The effects of the Spanish Civil War on the various classes of people in Spain are documented well and the novel also explores the bitter wounds caused to family and social relationships by the polarisation of the nation into two different sides.

The story is gripping and moves along at a steady pace and you are drawn into caring for the characters and what happens to them. A truly great book.

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Dark Eden by Chris Beckett

Dark EdenTitle: Dark Eden
Author: Chris Beckett
Pages: 404
Buy: Waterstones; Amazon
Source: Purchased
Rating: 5 stars

There is a quote on the back of my copy of this book from Alison Flood of the Guardian. It perfectly catches my thoughts on the novel and the world that Chris Beckett has built within Dark Eden.

Dark Eden is truly its own world built philosophically, metaphysically, and linguistically into a believable and impressively fascinating world by Beckett. There is an anthropological angle to this and the biological worlds they live on is unique and engaging. The people exist with their own history and with their own customs in a different world longing to return to Earth.

The story is about the descendents of two marooned explorers living on an alien world, an alien world that doesn’t have a sun, but is somehow warm thanks to the planet they live on and the vegetation that grows on the planet extracting warmth from the planet and bringing both heat and light to the surface.

How this would work on a physical level in reality is not something I can answer but it sure makes the world that is Dark Eden both unique and fascinating. The story is written following different individuals living amongst ‘the family’ on a first person basis, switching each chapter between different individuals.

I would say there is largely one main character with a couple of important supporting characters who move the story along. It deals with how humans interact with a world, or not, and how humanity develops in an alien environment with a knowledge and history that encourages longing for the Earth and rescue. It is a novel that combines dystopia, evolution and alien life forms, and does so very well.

In a way the story is a play on Genesis, the first story of the Bible that tells the story of Adam and Eve (replaced  by Tommy and Angela) but from the perspective of an alien world and a science fiction basis in that the reproduction of related individuals has led to a very genetically linked society with birth defects such as claw-feet and ‘bat-faces’. As these descendents of Tommy and Angela are initially small they must have lived out a lonely existence in a strange world, and although family reached over 500 around the time the novel starts, the effect of the initial isolation and challenges has a profound effect on the society that developed on Eden.

In Alison’s words though, it is ‘A world I’m desparate to return to’

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The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon

Title: The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time
Author: Mark Haddon
Pages: 275
Buy: Book Depository; Waterstones
Source: The Mrs
Rating: 5 Stars

 

It is 9 minutes past six in the evening. I am writing a review of a murder mystery novel. I like murder mystery novels as they involve puzzles where you try to solve the mystery before the answer is revealed.

The novel I am reviewing is written by a boy with Asperger’s Syndrome. I like reviews because you always know what someone thought of the book they are reviewing by the number of stars they have given the novel at the top of their review. It is a social convention that books are marked out of five, and that the more stars you give them, the more you liked the book.

(A convention is a set of agreed, stipulated, or generally accepted standards)

I liked this book a lot. That is why I gave it five stars. What first drew me to this book was the title. The title is very long which is unusual for a novel. The title of this book is ‘The Curious Incident of the Dog In The Night-Time’ and it says the author is Mark Haddon. But it isn’t. I have read the book and the author is actually Christopher Boone, this is one of the mysteries contained within it. In the book he states throughout that he is writing this book because he likes murder mystery novels as well, and he had a mystery he needed to solve. (He later had two mysteries to solve).

The initial mystery he had to solve was about a dog that had been killed with a garden fork which he found at 7 minutes past midnight. The dog belonged to his neighbour, this neighbour was a friend of his. The neigbour came out after a while and accused Christopher of killing the dog. As did the police officer, who touched Christopher. So Christopher hit him.

I think that day must have been a Black Day for Christopher due to what happened, if he had been on the bus I think he would have seen four yellow cars in a row. When I read this book however I saw 5 red cars in a row and so it was a Super Good Day and I enjoyed the book very much, I also had a strawberry milkshake on the way home which was good.

Christopher then sets out to solve the mystery of who killed the dog with the garden fork and proceeds to investigate this crime, against his father’s wishes. This is the main premise of the book at the start before it develops into a wider story arc. I’d like to tell you more about the book but my friend says that doing so would make my review full of spoilers (this would diminish or destroy the value of the book to those who have not read it), so I won’t do that.

Instead I will finish my review here. And then I will get the train home. And then I will read another book and write another review. And I know I can do this because Christopher Boone has taught me that I can do anything.

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