Friday 26 April 2013

Thursday 25 April 2013

River God and The Seventh Scroll by Wilbur Smith

 Not entirely sure what I am thinking.  Maybe I am not.

I read River God over a year ago but thought so little of it that I didn't even put a review of it on the blog.  Basically the premise of that novel was that one Egyptian eunuch slave, Taita, was responsible for inventing absolutely everything.

As if that wasn't enough to put me off, I then went and bought (at a second hand sale) the second in this Egyptian series.  Smith does the most unusual trick (sarcasm alert) of weaving a modern story in with an ancient story to help find an ancient buried/hidden treasure.  He further alienates me by putting his own previous novel and himself in the story.

Honestly,  I'm not sure why I picked up the second book when I thought the first one was so dire.  To make matters worse I think I've even picked up the third.  I might have bought them all at the same time.  At least that is the excuse I am going to use.  

You can read these books if you would like to fill your brain with loads of misinformation about the Egyptians.  Otherwise, I suggest you give them all a miss.  

Wonder if I will be able to resist the urge to read it?  God, I hope so.

Wednesday 24 April 2013

Before I Met You by Lisa Jewell

Once again I am faced with a novel with two different story lines interwoven in alternating chapters where the characters have some sort of relationship in common but time goes back and forth.  It seems to be that this is the latest fashion for historical novels.  I'm not sure I am a fan.  I thought it was quite clever the first couple of these I read but now the novelty has worn off.

But it's not just the originality that has gone.  It is the inevitable fact that one story is more captivating than the other so you find yourself rushing through the chapters of one just to get to the chapters of the other.  So it is with Lisa Jewell's Before I Met You.

One plot line is based around 1920s SoHo London where the first world war has ended and Arlette's life as a member of a bohemian set of musicians and artists is just beginning.  Arlette falls in love with the most unlikely of men in the most unlikely of circumstances with the most tragic of endings.  This story line is filled with delicious details of a time and place that was new and fresh and young and free.  Women were granted freedoms previously unattainable.  The very fabric of British society was breaking down and irreversibly changing.  It was a fascinating time and I wanted to read this plot line endlessly.  The descriptions of the clothing was enough to fill my head with dreams of vintage clothing, complete with gloves, hats, and handbags

Regrettably, my joy was interrupted with the modern day plot line which has Arlette's grand daughter searching inexplicably to find a mysterious benefactor cited in her grandmother's will.  I guessed who the benefactor was about 50 pages into the novel which meant that half the book was a complete waste of time for me.  I didn't find any of the modern characters compelling and in fact found myself downright outraged by the rock star falls for nanny (but there's a better man) storyline.  Surely, Arlette's story proved that this atrocious relationship was ridiculous.

I really wish Jewell would have simply told the story of Arlette and left it at that.

I gave this book 4 out of 5 stars.

Tuesday 23 April 2013

Jasmine Nights by Julia Gregson

I received a proof copy of this book ages ago.  I put off reading it because I thought her previous novel, East of the Sun, was a prequel.  After reading that book and liking it well enough, I felt adequately prepared to move on to Jasmine Nights.  Imagine my surprise when I discovered that Jasmine Nights had absolutely nothing to do with East of the Sun.  

Jasmine Nights is set during the second World War and I must admit to suffering some literary WWII fatigue.  It seems that lately there is a glut of it on my bookshelves.  And regrettably, this book offered little additional insight although it did offer an alternative perspective.

The setting of North Africa  and the characters of a band of wartime entertainers, eg singers, magicians, comedians  was new to me.  However, the shattered families, the devastated countries, and the pursuit of a few moments of passion in the midst of chaos and hopelessness, is nothing new.  A singer falling in love with a soldier, stolen nights of tenderness, and a suitably romantic ending make this novel, ultimately, a bit cliched.

I enjoyed the plot and the timing of the novel.  I was compelled to keep reading. So all is not lost.  but the characters failed to jump off the pages and capture my imagination.  

I also enjoyed the place of the novel.  Cairo, in fact all of North Africa, is a place I dream of visiting but avoid because I am apprehensive about the security situation.  So instead I read about it.  Or watch films.  You can never see Casablanca too many times.  The difficulty of travelling in wartime is brought alive in the novel's pages.  In fact, Gregson does a superb job conveying the sense of despair and tragedy of the area.  

She also shines a very bright light on the unsavoury business and characters of wartime.  I loved the various eccentrics who populate the troupe of entertainers, all carrying the burden of past secrets, all running away from something or to something.  They were savvy, desperate, and very resourceful.

I will read more of Julia Gregson because I think she is a good writer.  I just hope she uses her imagination more when it comes to choosing a time.

I give this novel 3 stars out of 5.