Monday, 12 May 2014

Six in April

I read six books in April.

The Physic Garden by Catherine Czerkawska, published by Saraband. Set in Glasgow in the 19th century. Young gardener William Lang forms an unlikely friendship with botanist Dr Thomas Brown while working in the university physic garden. Around them, City life is never short of drama: poverty and pollution preys on all but the lucky few and resurrection men prowl the streets to procure corpses for anatomists to experiment on. Atmospheric, full of fascinating historical detail, but above all a great story.

Year of Wonders by Geraldine Brooks. I first heard of Geraldine Brooks (Australian-born and now living in the States) when she won the Pulitzer Prize in 2006 with March, the story of Meg, Jo, Beth and Amy’s father while he is away as a chaplain on the front line in the American Civil War, which also tells us something of his early life and how he met and married Marmee. March is faithful to the spirit of Little Women while being very much its own self and is one of my very favourite books.

So I was keen to read something else by this author and her first novel (2001) Year of Wonders did not disappoint. It is set in a different century and country from March and is based on a true story, as it is set in 1666, in Derbyshire, when the Great Plague reached Eyam and the decision was taken by the villagers to isolate themselves to prevent its further spread. Events are seen through the eyes of an eighteen-year-old widow, Anna. No less a person than Hilary Mantel said of it ‘It has a vivid imaginative truth, and is beautifully written.’ With which I can only agree and urge you to seek out Geraldine Brooks right now.

Take My Breath Away by Sally Quilford. My Weekly Pocket Novel: a murder mystery on the set of a remake of the film Cleopatra.

Treasures: What do we treasure most? published by Scottish Book Trust to celebrate Scottish Book Week 2013. Contributions from some famous folk eg Richard Holloway, Mairi Hedderwick, Denise Mina and John Barrowman, plus a host of others, ‘these items tell the stories of the people of Scotland’.

Truly, Madly, Deeply, an anthology of stories by members of the Romantic Novelists’ Association, some huge best sellers such as Katie Fforde and Adele Parks, others at various stages of their writing career. Many different settings and eras – I particularly liked the Indian setting of the stories by Jenny Harper (The Eighth Promise) and Louise Allen (Head over Heart). Other favourites were a contemporary story that harked back to ‘Summer '43’ by India Grey, and a contemporary story set in London, The Fundamental Things by Heidi Rice – lots of good reading here. I got the e-version which has eleven more stories than the paperback.

The Hundred-Year-Old-Man Who Climbed Out Of The Window And Disappeared by Jonas Jonasson – a good yarn and, along the way, a look at the history of the 20th century as our unlikely hero inadvertently meets President Roosvelt, Mao Tse-tung, Stalin and de Gaulle amongst others. A note on the front of the book says it is soon to be a ‘major motion picture’ – whether this refers to the one made in Sweden which came out at the end of last year I don’t know; it sounds as if a Hollywood one is in the offing too maybe. Very cinematically written so I feel as if I have seen the film already.

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