Friday, 4 December 2009

Three short reviews

Rather busy at the moment still. I've been reading but not reviewing much and am three books behind so it's time for another batch of quickish reviews. First up, The Sunday Philosophy Club by Alexander McCall Smith.

Isabel Dalhousie is a single woman, a divorcee, in her forties, living in a nice part of Edinburgh. She's a woman of means who has no need to work, her 'job' being that of editing a philosophy magazine. One night, after an evening of classical music, she is a chance witness when a man falls from the upper circle of the theatre, to his death. To all intents and purposes it appears to be an accident but, looking closely at the scene of the accident, Isabel decides it is not and sets about investigating the mystery.

This is the first book of McCall Smith's Isabel Dalhousie series. It's no good comparing these to his Mma Ramotswe books because they are not the same - though it seems some people on Amazon expected them to be. Isabel is a sophisticate and, if the truth be known, a bit of a snob. She's quite likeable though, as she goes about her business observing people and philosophising about life (in that respect I suppose she is a 'bit' similar to Mma Ramotswe). We meet her neice, Cat, and hear about her failed love life and how Isabel dislikes her current boyfriend, and Grace, Isabel's opinionated housekeeper who is devoted to Isabel. All good fun and I easily liked it enough to continue with the series, have got book two on my library pile right now as a matter of fact.

Next - The Cipher Garden by Martin Edwards.

Some years ago Warren Howe was murdered. He was a landscape gardener and was hacked to death with his own scythe in the garden of a client. Warren was a habitual womaniser and not a pleasant character; there are several suspects but the case was never solved. Fast forward a few years and someone is sending short poison pen letters about the case, including one to the new cold case police dept. in The Lake District, headed by Hannah Scarlett. The case is reopened and, with the unoffical help of historian, Daniel Kind, Hannah sets about solving this difficult and emotive case.

Another excellent 'Lake District' mystery from Martin Edwards. A good crime yarn but also quite a lot about the personal lives of both Daniel and Hannah. I like the way the author is clearly leading up to something with these two and am quite happy that he's taking his time about it. It's good on setting too, The Lake District is beautifully described and it's quite easy to imagine yourself striding out on some of the wild, exposed fells. The title refers to Daniel's garden which he discovers is hiding a secret as he tries to bring it under control. I expected that to play more of a role I must admit, it being referred to in the title, but that aspect was interesting nevertheless. A good second book and I will definitely be continuing with the series.

Lastly a Young Adult fantasy, The Sea of Trolls by Nancy Farmer.

Jack lives with his mother, father and younger sister, Lucy, in the north of what is now England, somewhere around the end of the 7th century, AD. He's just an ordinary boy, loved by his mother but treated a little unfairly by his father who is besotted with sister, Lucy. Until he is taken on by the local bard as his apprentice and then it seems he is not so ordinary after all. The bard is from Norway and has lived there with the Vikings, until expelled for a reason Jack is not told. When a Viking raid occurs just a few months into Jack's training, Jack and Lucy are captured and taken across the North sea to the court of one of the viking kings, Ivar the Boneless and his half-troll and shape shifter wife, Frith. Jack mistakenly casts a spell on the unpredictable and bad tempered queen and has to go on a quest to save his sister. It's the adventure of his life... and might even *cost* him his life.

Thoroughly enjoyed this tale of bards and Vikings, 'berserkers', trolls and Norse mythology. It was great fun and very well written indeed. I actually thought Nancy Farmer was British because she made no mistakes whatsoever with the speech of the 'English' children, but it turns out she's American. Very nicely done. Lots of adventure, some humour, and some interesting references to Norse mythology and real Viking history. I have book two - The Land of Silver Apples - on my current library pile and am really looking forward to reading it.


DesLily said...

glad to hear the sea trolls is so enjoyable.. as you know I have the trilogy sitting in the tbr pile *sigh*.. I am reading the septimus heap book at the moment and not sure what next.. I think I will go back to collins and dickens and read "the man who made christmas" and christmas carol and or moonstone.. geez I have to get back into reading.. almost done with this afghan.

Danielle said...

I like the sound of the Martin Edwards mystery. I don't mind a mystery that concentrates as much on the personal lives of the characters as the investigation--I find that aspect of the story fascinating actually. And I have yet to try Alexander McCall Smith, but I do have the first Isabel Dalhousie mystery on my pile.

BooksPlease said...

Of these I've only read The Cipher Garden, which I think is really good.

Somehow McCall Smith's books don't appeal, although your review of The Sunday Philosophy Club makes me think I'd like it.

Cath said...

Hey Pat! I really think you will like The Sea of Trolls. It's a rollicking good adventure that's a lot of fun.

Sounds like you need to go back to the Victorian lit for a bit. Perhaps you like it so much that nothing else measures up?

How's the afghan going?

Danielle: The Lake District mysteries are excellent and I think you would like them. There is a lot of personal stuff which appeals to me more than a just a plain and simple crime story. I can't wait for you to try McCall Smith - I tend to think everyone has already tried him, which is a bit silly...

Margaret: I'm saving the 3rd. Lake District mystery until next year as I don't want to have none left to read. Although I think there is a 4th. one out next year too.

You know, I think McCall Smith books would be your kind of thing as they're very thoughtful and 'thought' provoking. I hope you will give them a try at some stage. The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency is a very good place to start as those are charm personified.

Anonymous said...

The Martin Edwards sounds very tempting, I love mysteries with a lot of character depth.
I also loved the Sea of Trolls, you made me smile when you said you thought Nancy Farmer was British, I can see why you would think that, she bought a depth of realism and accuracy to the book that makes you think she has a particular familiarity with her subject.

DecemberDreams87 said...

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check out my poetry please! comment and follow!

GeraniumCat said...

You've reminded me that I still have to read The Cipher Garden - thanks! I've just ordered it, and the new one, The Serpent Pool, from the library.

Cath said...

Bookpusher: Nancy Farmer did a great job on The Sea of Trolls. You would never have known she's an America author writing British children.

December Dreams87: You have an interesting blog but I'm afraid I don't 'follow' blogs. I use my blog roll to read the blogs I want to read. Thanks for dropping by.

GeraniumCat: My next Lake District mystery will be The Arsenic Labyrinth, which looks particularly good. It's an excellent series.

Susan said...

Oh I so want to read The Sea Trolls! I have it on my Christmas pile my husband is giving me for Xmas! lol and I am trying desperately to find a copy of Martin Edwards The Coffin Trail to read, so far no luck, it's not in print over here.....might have to try Book Depository and see if I can find it.

Darla D said...

I'll be interested to hear what you think of the sequel to Sea of Trolls - I've been meaning to get to it but haven't had a chance yet.

Cath said...

Susan, good luck with finding The Coffin Trail. It's so worth looking for.

I'm currently reading the 2nd. Sea of Trolls book, The Land of Silver Apples. If anything I think might be even better than the first one. I really like Nancy Farmer's writing.

Darla: I think I'm enjoying the sequel, The Land of Silver Apples, as much, if not more, than the first book. NF certainly knows how to write a pacey plot.

Darla D said...

I'm glad to hear it - I'll have to bump that one up on my list!