A Tale of Two Cities – Charles Dickens

A Tale of Two Cities – Charles Dickens

I have read a few other Dickens novels; Little Dorrit, Bleak House and Great Expectations. When a friend mentioned she was listening to Hardy’s novels, I decided I should try to read (listen) this one and Our Mutual Friend (I am listening to this one now – 34 hours!).

Who hasn’t heard of Madame Defarge and her infamous knitting?

Here’s the blurb …

A Tale of Two Cities is Charles Dickens’s great historical novel, set against the violent upheaval of the French Revolution. The most famous and perhaps the most popular of his works, it compresses an event of immense complexity to the scale of a family history, with a cast of characters that includes a bloodthirsty ogress and an antihero as believably flawed as any in modern fiction. Though the least typical of the author’s novels, A Tale of Two Cities still underscores many of his enduring themes—imprisonment, injustice, social anarchy, resurrection, and the renunciation that fosters renewal.

The narrator was excellent (I think it was Martin Jarvis). His narration brought the story to life and I feel that Dicken’s novels are meant to be listened to. Towards the end, there were a lot of convenient coincidences (very Dickensian), but the characters were fabulous particularly Jerry Cruncher and Miss Pross. I love they way they talk – Jerry about his wife ‘flopping all over the place’. The story is full of action and has a bit of foreshadowing of how it’s all going to end. There’s a too good to be true heroine, handsome hero, a dedicated hand-maiden, two people who look alike (a very important plot point), a lovely older business man, and the blood-thirsty Madame Defarge. It all makes for an enjoyable (if occasionally tense) romp through the French Revolution.

A review.

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The Murder Rule – Dervla McTiernan

The Murder Rule – Dervla McTiernan

I listened to a short story by Dervla McTiernan while driving to a holiday spot. So when this one popped up on Borrowbox I thought why not?

Here’s the blurb …

For fans of the compulsive psychological suspense of Ruth Ware and Tana French, a mother daughter story—one running from a horrible truth, and the other fighting to reveal it—that twists and turns in shocking ways, from the internationally bestselling author of The Scholar and The Ruin.

First Rule: Make them like you.

Second Rule: Make them need you.

Third Rule: Make them pay.

They think I’m a young, idealistic law student, that I’m passionate about reforming a corrupt and brutal system.

They think I’m working hard to impress them.

They think I’m here to save an innocent man on death row.

They’re wrong. I’m going to bury him.

I listened to this one as well. It was good and unexpected (which is what I want in a crime novel). The characters were well-rounded and sympathetic (the ones that should be sympathetic). It had a nice structure with diary entries from Laura (from the past) and chapters from Hannah’s perspective.

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French Braid – Anne Tyler

French Braid – Anne Tyler

I have read a number of Anne Tyler novels. I like the domesticness and ordinariness of them.

The blurb …

When the kids are grown and Mercy Garrett gradually moves herself out of the family home, everyone determines not to notice.

Over at her studio, she wants space and silence. She won’t allow any family clutter. Not even their cat, Desmond.

Yet it is a clutter of untidy moments that forms the Garretts’ family life over the decades, whether that’s a painstaking Easter lunch or giving a child a ride, a fateful train journey or an unexpected homecoming.

And it all begins in 1959, with a family holiday to a cabin by a lake. It’s the only one the Garretts will ever take, but its effects will ripple through the generations.

This is a family saga, but it has an interesting structure. At the start there is a couple and one of them finds it strange that the other one thinks she sees her cousin at the train station but can’t be sure. How is it possible to not recognize your cousin? We then get the life of the Garretts from different time periods and different perspectives.

I find it difficult to separate my thoughts about the novel from my thoughts about the characters. And I didn’t really like Mercy (and when she took the cat, Desmond, to the animal shelter and then threw out all of his belongings I wanted to cry). I wasn’t a fan of Robin either, although, to be fair, I did warm to them both by the end.

This is a novel about an American family – with all of the rivalries and every day pettiness, but also the connections.

A review.

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Funny Story – Emily Henry

Funny Story – Emily Henry

I have read all of Emily Henry’s novels – and I was very keen to get my hands on this one.

Here’s the blurb …

Daphne always loved the way her fiancé Peter told their story. How they met (on a blustery day), fell in love (over an errant hat), and moved back to his lakeside hometown to begin their life together. He really was good at telling it…right up until the moment he realized he was actually in love with his childhood best friend Petra.

Which is how Daphne begins her new story: Stranded in beautiful Waning Bay, Michigan, without friends or family but with a dream job as a children’s librarian (that barely pays the bills), and proposing to be roommates with the only person who could possibly understand her predicament: Petra’s ex, Miles Nowak.

Scruffy and chaotic—with a penchant for taking solace in the sounds of heart break love ballads—Miles is exactly the opposite of practical, buttoned up Daphne, whose coworkers know so little about her they have a running bet that she’s either FBI or in witness protection. The roommates mainly avoid one another, until one day, while drowning their sorrows, they form a tenuous friendship and a plan. If said plan also involves posting deliberately misleading photos of their summer adventures together, well, who could blame them?

But it’s all just for show, of course, because there’s no way Daphne would actually start her new chapter by falling in love with her ex-fiancé’s new fiancée’s ex…right?

Emily Henry’s novels have heft – the characters have depth and the situations they find themselves in are reasonable. Plus the novels are witty, and the characters are articulate.

A review.

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Ariadne – Jennifer Saint

Ariadne – Jennifer Saint

I bought this because the cover is so beautiful. I have read one other myth re-telling – Circe.

Here’s the blurb …

As Princesses of Crete and daughters of the fearsome King Minos, Ariadne and her sister Phaedra grow up hearing the hoofbeats and bellows of the Minotaur echo from the Labyrinth beneath the palace. The Minotaur – Minos’s greatest shame and Ariadne’s brother – demands blood every year.

When Theseus, Prince of Athens, arrives in Crete as a sacrifice to the beast, Ariadne falls in love with him. But helping Theseus kill the monster means betraying her family and country, and Ariadne knows only too well that in a world ruled by mercurial gods – drawing their attention can cost you everything.

In a world where women are nothing more than the pawns of powerful men, will Ariadne’s decision to betray Crete for Theseus ensure her happy ending? Or will she find herself sacrificed for her lover’s ambition?

Ariadne gives a voice to the forgotten women of one of the most famous Greek myths, and speaks to their strength in the face of angry, petulant Gods. Beautifully written and completely immersive, this is an exceptional debut novel.

In this novel we see the story from the perspective of Ariadne and Phaedra – essentially pawns in the machinations of men and gods. I found it a bit slow at first, but I pushed on and made it to the end. This novel has a very strong sense of place – Naxos, in particular. I only had a vague idea about Theseus and the ball of string, and I knew nothing about Ariadne after that. So it was interesting to learn more about her.

A review.

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Sweet Danger – Margery Allingham

Sweet Danger – Margery Allingham

I have joined Kate Davies’ Summer of Mystery Club and this is the first book. I listened to it (from Borrowbox)

Here’s the blurb …

Way back during the crusades Richard I presented the Huntingforest family with the tiny Balkan principality of Averna but since then the kingdom has been forgotten, until circumstances in Europe suddenly render it extremely strategically important to the British Government. They hire unconventional detective Albert Campion to recover the long-missing proofs of ownership – the deeds, a crown, and a receipt – which are apparently hidden in the village of Pontisbright. On arriving in Pontisbright, Campion and his friends meet the eccentric, young, flame-haired Amanda Fitton and her family who claim to be the rightful heirs to Averna and join in the hunt. Mr. Campion and his two young friends, Eager-Wright and Farquharson, posted as the Hereditary Paladin of Averna and his entourage! Unfortunately, criminal financier Brett Savanake is also interested in finding the evidence of the oil-rich state’s ownership for his own ends. Things get rather rough in the village as Savanake’s heavies up the pressure on Campion to solve the mystery before they do. In the course of the hunt, Campion dresses in drag, takes refuge in a tree, is nearly drowned in a mill race, and his friends find themselves bound and gagged in sacks, shot at, and witnesses to a satanic ceremony led by the local doctor. The rural calm of Pontisbright is well and truly shattered.

This was a lot of fun in a very English way – like a grown up Famous Five. I am not sure if I would describe it as crime, but more an adventure with a bit of crime thrown in. I would love to see it as a TV series (apparently it was in 1990)

Next up Death of a Ghost.

A review

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The Dud Avocado – Elaine Dundy

The Dud Avocado – Elaine Dundy

I had this on my Kindle for a long time. I had a couple of attempts but never got past the first chapter. Then I decided I needed to get it read, so I focused – 30 mins every day.

Here’s the blurb …

The Dud Avocado follows the romantic and comedic adventures of a young American who heads overseas to conquer Paris in the late 1950s. Edith Wharton and Henry James wrote about the American girl abroad, but it was Elaine Dundy’s Sally Jay Gorce who told us what she was really thinking.

Charming, sexy, and hilarious, The Dud Avocado gained instant cult status when it was first published and it remains a timeless portrait of a woman hell-bent on living.

“I had to tell someone how much I enjoyed The Dud Avocado. It made me laugh, scream, and guffaw (which, incidentally, is a great name for a law firm).” —Groucho Marx

“A cheerfully uninhibited…variation on the theme of the Innocents Abroad…Miss Dundy comes up with fresh and spirited comedy….Her novel is enormous fun—sparklingly written, genuinely youthful in spirit.” —The Atlantic

This was at times charming, funny and annoying. The final romance was a bit rushed, but otherwise if was a fun, mostly light-hearted romp (and don’t worry you will eventually learn why it’s called The Dud Avocado)

A review (Rachel Cooke wrote the introduction to the edition that I read – it is similar to this review)

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Birnam Wood – Eleanor Catton

Birnam Wood – Eleanor Catton

I read and enjoyed The Luminaries, but I resisted reading this one for a while. And then I needed a new audio book and noticed it in my husband’s library.

Here’s the blurb …

Five years ago, Mira Bunting founded a guerrilla gardening group: Birnam Wood. An undeclared, unregulated, sometimes-criminal, sometimes-philanthropic gathering of friends, this activist collective plants crops wherever no one will notice: on the sides of roads, in forgotten parks, and neglected backyards. For years, the group has struggled to break even. Then Mira stumbles on an answer, a way to finally set the group up for the long term: a landslide has closed the Korowai Pass, cutting off the town of Thorndike. Natural disaster has created an opportunity, a sizable farm seemingly abandoned.

But Mira is not the only one interested in Thorndike. Robert Lemoine, the enigmatic American billionaire, has snatched it up to build his end-times bunker–or so he tells Mira when he catches her on the property. Intrigued by Mira, Birnam Wood, and their entrepreneurial spirit, he suggests they work this land. But can they trust him? And, as their ideals and ideologies are tested, can they trust each other?

A gripping psychological thriller from the Booker Prize-winning author of The Luminaries, Birnam Wood is Shakespearean in its wit, drama, and immersion in character. A brilliantly constructed consideration of intentions, actions, and consequences, it is an unflinching examination of the human impulse to ensure our own survival.

I really enjoyed this until the last ten minutes and then I hated it. What’s with terrible endings that ruin everything that went before? (Game of Thrones for example). I suspect it has a very ‘literary’ ending and I am alone in disliking it.

A review.

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Filed under 2, Audio, Fiction, Thriller

Redhead by the Side of the Road – Anne Tyler

Redhead by the Side of the Road – Anne Tyler

I like Anne Tyler. I have read a number of her novels. This one is quite short, more of a novella.

Here’s the blurb …

Micah Mortimer isn’t the most polished person you’ll ever meet. His numerous sisters and in-laws regard him oddly but very fondly, but he has his ways and means of navigating the world. He measures out his days running errands for work – his TECH HERMIT sign cheerily displayed on the roof of his car – maintaining an impeccable cleaning regime and going for runs (7:15, every morning). He is content with the steady balance of his life.

But then the order of things starts to tilt. His woman friend Cassia (he refuses to call anyone in her late thirties a ‘girlfriend’) tells him she’s facing eviction because of a cat. And when a teenager shows up at Micah’s door claiming to be his son, Micah is confronted with another surprise he seems poorly equipped to handle.

Redhead by the Side of the Road is an intimate look into the heart and mind of a man who sometimes finds those around him just out of reach – and a love story about the differences that make us all unique.

This had all of the hall marks of an Anne Tyler novel – A Baltimore setting, a close look at an ordinary person. Micah is a very orderly man – he has a daily cleaning roster and he drives very carefully – and life has taken a bit of a toll on him. He left college early to start up a tech company, but couldn’t work with the investor, and several relationships have failed (and the one with Cass is looking doomed). He is a good man trying to do the right thing, he just doesn’t know sometimes what the right thing to do is.

A review.

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These Old Shades – Georgette Heyer

These Old Shades – Georgette Heyer

This is the third novel in my read all Heyer’s romance novels in publication order. First was The Black Moth and second Powder and Patch.

This one is still set in the Georgian era – think powdered wigs, high heels, and lots of silk brocade. It has some characters from The Black Moth (the evil Duke of Andover is reformed – somewhat, and he is now the Duke of Avon, so maybe not the same character?).

Here’s the blurb …

The Duke is known for his coldness of manner, his remarkable omniscience, and his debauched lifestyle. Late one evening, he is accosted by a young person dressed in ragged boy’s clothing running away from a brutal rustic guardian. The Duke buys “Leon” and makes the child his page.

Reading the novels in order highlights Heyer’s growth as an author. In my opinion this ‘sequel’ is better than The Black Moth.

I think modern readers will struggle with the age difference (20 plus years) and the fact the heroine is the hero’s ward.

It’s witty, well-researched, and there is a bit of intrigue. A very entertaining read.

A review.

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