Friday 24 February 2012

Three book post

It's high time I did a book post here as I have three books that have not been reviewed. I'll do my usual thing when this happens of a brief chat about all three. Starting with a crime story, A Cold Day for Murder by Dana Stabenow.

Kate Shugak is an ex-detective with the Anchorage DA department. She left after a particularly nasty case and is now living alone within 'The Park', a huge national park in Alaska. But two investigators have gone missing in the park, the second when he went to look for the first, and Kate, being a native Aleut, born and brought up there, is the the one her ex-bosses turn to to find them. Kate is extremely reluctant to work for the DA department again but as the second missing man was someone she was involved with, she has no choice. Kate's search involves close friends and family that she hasn't seen for a while. It brings back memories she'd rather not delve into and makes her face again the harsh realities of life for the native population in modern Alaska.

This is a series of books I've been meaning to start for a while. I did actually buy the slim paperback a couple of years ago but when I saw it was free for Kindle I downloaded it and read it that way. I'm a little ambivilent about it to be truthful. I did really like the character of Kate Shugak: she's thoughtful, honest and strong. But where the plot was concerned I suppose I expected a mystery in which Kate took off into the NP and there would be loads about the gorgeousness of the Alaskan landscape. It wasn't really like that at all. There was far more about the problems of the Aleuts... no jobs for young people, the temptations of drink and drugs and so on. To the extent really that the mystery took second place. And while I feel I learnt a fair bit about the problems of the state, and that's *good*, I also would really have liked more about the mystery itself. It just seemed to me that she didn't have to do much to solve it. I rather suspect these books get better as they go along as I know they have some dedicated followers among my blogging friends. My library doesn't have them so I'll watch out for cheap Kindle downloads to continue with the series.

Next: Look Back With Love by Dodie Smith.

This is the first of four autobiographies written by Dodie Smith, the famous author of 101 Dalmations and I Capture the Castle. Dodie was born in the late 1800s, her father died young and Dodie and her mother, Ella, went back to live with her parents, William and Margaret Furber. Already living with the grandparents were various of Ella's brothers and sisters, so what you had was one huge, happy household in which Dodie was doted on and never short of someone to talk to. They moved several times so there are delightful descriptions of the enormous houses they lived in, in and around Old Trafford in Manchester. Gradually the aunts married and moved away but the uncles never did and their prime function it seems was to tease Dodie and keep her grounded. She had young friends from families who were close friends of the Furbers and we have lovely details of how they all passed the time... often involving performing of some kind or visits to the theatre. Dodie was a natural performer and it was her ardent wish be an actress when she grew up. Her mother eventually remarried and the small family moved to London where the book ends and the next one, Look Back With Mixed Feelings, presumably begins. I found this a delightful read, very evocative of the times and full of a sort of zest for life. Though Dodie describes herself as not a particularly happy child, taking things such as the treatment of animals rather too seriously, that isn't really backed up by the atmosphere in the book. She was surrounded by love and it shows. Will definitely read more of these.

Lastly: Love and War in the Apennines by Eric Newby.

Eric Newby is well known amongst travel writing fans as one the best there is. What's less well known is that he served in the Special Boat Section during WW2 and was captured in 1942 off the coast of Sicily, during a secret raid. Love and War in the Apennines decribes what happened to him in Italy after that capture. At first he was held in an Italian POW camp, which was really a converted hotel, in Fontanellato, near Parma, close to the Apennine range of mountains which run the length of Italy. Life there was not that terrible, certainly not in the league of German POW camps, boredom was the chief enemy it seems. The real problems began with the Italian Armistice and The Allies were caught on the hop. The Germans took over the country and the prisoners in the camp decided their best bet was to go on the run. Eric's difficulty was that he was in the prison hospital after breaking his ankle. What follows is the story of his escape, his meeting with his future wife, and the Italians - those who helped him get up into the mountains and those who sheltered him.

I finished this book a couple of days ago and the atmosphere of it is still with me. It's hard to say why. I think partly it was *such* a ripping yarn, not exactly edge-of-your-seat stuff but certainly exciting enough to keep me happy. Also it was about an episode of the war that I knew about, but knew nothing about, if that doesn't sound silly. It was fascinating quite honestly, to read an account of it by someone who witnessed events. But most of all I think I loved the book for two reasons. Firstly, because of Newby's beautiful descriptions of the forests and mountains in which he was forced to hide for almost a year. It was clearly stunningly beautiful but also an atmospheric, at times frightening place. Newby's writing is up to the challenge though:

Now the tunnels under the trees were as damp and vaporous and foetid as the passages in a workhouse, and everything had an air of decay. The moss which had been so brilliantly green now had a dull, brownish tinge and gave off a disagreeable, sickly smell; and the fungi which had appeared so beautiful and strange with the sun slanting down on them, now seemed possitively evil, the fruits of corruption, even the ones that I knew to be edible because, having eaten them, I was still alive. Now after the rain, there were fresh, and to me even more monstrous-looking growths, although, no doubt, they were edible too, enormous puff balls, which had emerged in the clearing of the charcoal burners, the size and shape of human skulls, some of them dead white as if they had been picked clean by birds on a battle field and left for ages in the sun and the rain, some darker, the colour of old ivory; and where a number of them grew together it was as if the buried dead were trying resurrect themselves, by forcing themselves, head first upwards through the earth.

It's not often I'm bowled over by good writing but that did it for me and this book is full of amazing scenes like that. My second reason for loving this book was that the indomitable spirit of the Italians who harboured Newby, despite the very real peril of doing so, shines in this book. They would not have considered themselves to be heroes, but heroes they were... ordinary farming families who had nothing, still found it in their hearts to take him in, feed and clothe him, and hide him from the authorities. It brings a lump to my throat just writing about it to be honest. What a wonderful testament to the human spirit.

I will definitely be reading more by Eric Newby and already have another book lined up, A Traveller's Life, autobiographical essays about his lifetime of travelling. Can't wait to get to it.


DesLily said...

oh wow! You've been a reading fool! must be because you finished that puzzle!

ahhh the "love and war" book sounds good :o) something about being the the woods ..I could smell the "decaying leaves and such" ..I actually like the smell...sorta kinda...i guess I like it because it lets me know I'm in the wilderness and not somewhere else!

I will never catch up to you lol..but I will confess I'm not trying very hard lol.. still more crocheting than reading.. oh well... this too will pass LOL..

monix said...

I have just finished 'Look back with love.' That zest for life that you mention is apparent on every page and I can't wait to get hold of the rest of her autobiographies.

Cath said...

Pat: Well not quite... I finished the puzzle and then took up doing sudoku with a vengeance. But I think it's frying my brain, LOL.

I like that 'decaying leaves in the woodlands' smell too. This book is fantastic if you like woods and mountains. I'm still thinking about it.

Maureen: It was a lovely read wasn't it? The trouble is I *think* the rest of the books are in the Exeter stacks and have to been reserved. Not that I'm any slouch when it comes to reserving library books.

My Gallery of Worlds said...

Wow! Look Back With Love souns like such a contrast to Love and War in the Apennines, but they both sound wonderful ;) Great post Cath

Cath said...

Kelly: Well, yes and no. The Eric Newby had an unsettling background but there were such a lot of positive things in it too, so not so different really.

Anonymous said...

Yikes! I've somehow managed to miss several of your posts, Cath. How much fun I've had catching up.

Well, three more books to add to my groaning list. I'm especially intrigued by Love and War in the Appenines. Those real life heroes, ordinary folks who do extraordinary things, like harboring Newby.

FleurFisher said...

I have Look Back With Love on order from the library - Cornwall has all three volumes of autobiography in reserve stock - having rad so much good about it. And Newby is on the maybe one day list.

Cath said...

Penny: Of course, I can't judge your taste in books exactly but judging by what I've read of your reviews, Love and War in the Apennines would be a book you would enjoy I feel.

FleurFisher: I'll be interested to hear what you think of Look back With Love. I hope you do try the Newby one day - I actually liked it more than the Dodie Smith.

Yvonne @ Fiction Books Reviews said...

Hi Cath,

Three really diverse books there, you seem to like to mix the genres up a bit when reading, which is what I also tend to do.

I was really excited when I saw your first book 'A Cold Day For Murder' and read the synopsis and was expecting your usual enthusiastic review .... I can understand your feelings though, if the plot took such a back seat to the characterisations. That isn't always such a good thing with a mystery/thriller, where really the plot is such a pivotal element of the book.

I have made a note of the series and I might check it out at some point, but probably only if I come across a second hand copy cheap somewhere.

As the charity shop I volunteer for is in the nearby garrison town of Warminster, we quite often get US personnel stationed there and they donate quite a few books etc. to us, when they are due to go home, or move on to another base ... so who knows, this one might just appear one day!

Thanks for the honest review.


Cath said...

Yvonne: Yes, I find if I read too much of the same thing I end up getting bored so I have to ring the changes.

I left a link on your blog for the free download of a Cold Day for Murder. I wouldn't at all say it was bad book, average really.

How interesting that you often get American books donated. That must make for some unusual discoveries!

Yvonne @ Fiction Books Reviews said...

Hi Cath,

Thanks for that link, I will be sure to use it later today, as I wouldn't mind giving the book a try. It isn't that I don't trust your judgement, more a matter of what one person does not enjoy, may not be the same for the next person. Also, I can't turn down a 'freebie' book, it's not in my nature!!

I do seem to get quite a lot of review requests from US authors, although I am not sure why. I generally tend to get all my requests directly from the authors full stop, and seldom from the publishers.

I am not sure how other bloggers seem to amass so many 'freebies' from publishers, but it would be good to find out someday.


Cath said...

Yvonne: Free books must be grabbed! I'd love you to read it as I'd be very interested in your thoughts. Life would be boring if we all liked the same thing.

I'm not sure how people get in on the 'free books from publishers' thing. The only thing I've noticed is that it's the more high profile bloggers who seem to have managed it and all they seem to have to do is ask and they get. Possibly it has to do with the amount of traffic those very popular bloggers get on their blogs.