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tamaranth

May 2017

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2017/44: Thunder in the Sky -- Elizabeth Peters
"It isn’t always easy to distinguish right from wrong, is it? More often the choice is between better and worse . . . and sometimes . . . sometimes the line between them is as thin as a hair. One must make a choice, though. One can’t wash one’s hands and let others take the risks . . . including the risk of being wrong." [loc. 1941]

no detailed spoilers )
2017/43: The Falcon at the Portal -- Elizabeth Peters
‘We are only demonstrating the qualities for which our superior caste is famous,’ Ramses drawled. ‘British phlegm, noblesse oblige, coolness under fire . . . What have I left out?’
‘Don’t be hateful,’ Nefret snapped.
‘That’s the part I left out,’ said Ramses. ‘Hatefulness.'[loc. 5871]


At the beginning of this novel (set in 1911-2) Nefret is finding great amusement in reading from a 'true memoir' penned by Amelia's vile nephew Percy. mildly spoilery )
2017/42: The Ape Who Guards the Balance -- Elizabeth Peters
Nefret had been Priestess of Isis in a community where the old gods of Egypt were worshipped, and I had a nasty suspicion she had not entirely abandoned her belief in those heathen deities. Perhaps she shared the views of Abdullah, who was something of a heathen himself: ‘There is no harm in protecting oneself from that which is not true!’[loc. 3470]


Set in London and Egypt in 1906-7 -- another big gap in the timeline, which I wish had been filled. (There are allusions to events during that period in this and later novels.)

The Ape Who Guards the Balance begins in London, where Amelia has, of course, joined the Women's Social and Political Union.slightly spoilery for overall arc )
2017/41: Seeing a Large Cat -- Elizabeth Peters
"...your Western talk about love confuses me a great deal. You make such a fuss about such a simple thing!"
"It really cannot be described," Ramses said, staring abstractedly at the cat, now lying across his stomach. "It must be experienced. Like being extremely drunk."[loc. 6797]


This novel is set in Egypt in 1903. Ramses and David return, somewhat swashbucklingly, from six months with Sheik Mohammed (in which time Ramses has grown a moustache) and Nefret returns from her medical studies in London. We're also treated to excerpts from 'Manuscript H', being an edited third-person narrative based on Ramses' journal: it contrasts piquantly with his mother's first-person account of events.vaguely spoilery for mid-book )
2017/40: Lion in the Valley -- Elizabeth Peters
I felt like one of the heroes of Anthony Hope or Rider Haggard, dashing to the rescue. (Their heroines, poor silly things, never did anything but sit wringing their hands waiting to be rescued.)[loc. 16494]


In which Ramses is revealed as a Sherlock Holmes fan, the cat Bastet is seduced with chicken, and Amelia learns the name of the Master Criminal. Read more... )
2017/39: The Mummy Case -- Elizabeth Peters
my spirits rose – not, as evil-minded persons have suggested, at the prospect of interfering in matters which were not my concern, but at the imminence of the exquisite Dahshoor pyramids.[loc. 11925]

Read more... )
2017/38: The Curse of the Pharaohs -- Elizabeth Peters
I was flattered that the cat stayed with me; always before she had seemed to prefer Emerson. No doubt her keen intelligence told her that the truest friend is not always the one who offers chicken.[loc. 9086]

Read more... )
2017/37: Grave of Hummingbirds -- Jennifer Skutelsky
Gregory stood still, aware of circumstances closing over his head in a flood, images pouring in: the body in the highlands, laid out on his table under a scalpel; the tattoos and their scabs; Alberto’s beatings at the hands of the police; the woman at the café, who resembled Nita too closely, who seemed an afterthought of Nita or a memory made whole in flesh and bone.[loc. 1552]


Grave of Hummingbirds begins with a mysterious murder and mutilation in Colibrí, a remote Andean town. marginally spoilery )
2017/36: Our Game -- John le Carré
‘Such an inconsistent man you are. One minute you are looking for Emma, the next you are looking for your friend. You know what? I don’t think you wish to find your friend, only to become him. ’[loc. 4325]


Tim Cranmer, retired 'civil servant', receives a visit late one Sunday night: his friend -- or associate -- Dr Lawrence Pettifer has gone missing, and the police wonder if Cranmer can help with their enquiries.minor spoilers )
2017/35: Paradise Lost: The Destruction of Islam's City of Tolerance -- Giles Milton
When the screams from the distant quayside grew too loud to be ignored, the captain ordered the ship’s band to strike up tunes.


This is not a cheerful book: but it is fascinating, brilliantly written, cautionary and informative.spoilers for history )
2017/34: The Little Stranger -- Sarah Waters
Arriving at that crumbling red house, I’d have the sense, every time, that ordinary life had fractionally tilted, and that I had slipped into some other, odder, rather rarer realm. [loc. 1151]

minor spoilers for events rather than plot (if you see what I mean) )
2017/33: Crocodile on the Sandbank -- Elizabeth Peters
Men are frail creatures, of course; one does not expect them to exhibit the steadfastness of women. [loc. 2586]


Amelia Peabody, brought up in a house full of books and antiquities, has come into a substantial inheritance and decides to use it to fund her travels. Her chosen travelling companion falls ill, but fortuitously she encounters distressed gentlewoman Evelyn Barton-Forbes, abandoned and destitute in Rome, and the two quickly become friends. They journey to Egypt, where Amelia develops a passion for pyramids and encounters irascible archaeologist Radcliffe Emerson and his rather more amiable brother Walter. The Emersons are determined to uncover the secrets of Amarna, Akhenaten's capital, and Amelia and Evelyn become involved in the excavation. minor spoilers )

(no subject)

Apr. 12th, 2017 10:18 pm
tamaranth: me, in the sun (Default)
2017/32: Ace, King, Knave -- Maria McCann
She begins to comprehend the mentality of such people. One need not be especially clever, and certainly not well educated. The essential thing is to conduct one’s life as war: everything is permitted except compassion. [loc. 5102]


London in the 1760s: or 'Romeville', to the 99% who don't inhabit the clean well-lit civilised world of the gentry. non-spoilery )
2017/31: Bring Up the Bodies -- Hilary Mantel
'Strike first, before she strikes you. Remember how she brought down Wolsey.' His past lies about him like a burnt house. He has been building, building, but it has taken him years to sweep up the mess.


Second in the Thomas Cromwell trilogy: I wonder when the third volume will appear.

I didn't like this as much as Wolf Hall: it seemed overlong, a detailed examination of the fall of Anne Boleyn and the rise of Jane Seymour. spoilery for history )
2017/30: Finding Philippe -- Elizabeth Edmondson
Daydreamed for a moment of a life that could be led in a land where they didn’t have a word for pea-souper fogs. Where National Bread would be an impossibility. Where summer came every year.


At eighteen, Vicky Hampden's oppressive father made her a ward of court to curtail her wartime love affair with the dashing French Philippe. Now Vicky is twenty-five, and her favourite aunt has left her an inheritance. She decides to use some of the money to visit France and try to discover Philippe's fate: she's been told he's dead, and she hasn't seen or heard from him since 1943. spoiler b/c disbelief )
2017/29: 11.22.63 -- Stephen King
We never know which lives we influence, or when, or why. Not until the future eats the present, anyway. We know when it’s too late.


Jake Epping, divorced schoolteacher, is a man who doesn't weep over anything -- until one day he's reading an account by one of his students of the night his siblings and mother were murdered by his father.

Serendipitously, Jake's friend Al has a time portal in his diner. It leads to 11:58am on the morning of September 9th, 1958: every trip is a reset, Al says, so you can visit the past again and again. Al himself had attempted to prevent JFK's assassination in November 1963, but late-stage cancer prevented him. Maybe Jake can help. Though the past is obdurate: it doesn't want to be changed ...non-spoilery )
2017/28: All the Birds in the Sky -- Charlie Jane Anders
...she felt like her whole history was taking on a whole new focus, the landscape of her past rearranging so that the stuff with Laurence became major geographical features and some other, lonelier, events shrank proportionately. Historical revisionism was like a sugar rush, flooding her head.


Patricia Delfine discovers that she's a witch at the age of six: however, she loses her magical abilities when her parents lock her in her bedroom, and spends the rest of her childhood trying hard to get birds to talk to her again. She's the target of the school bullies -- as is Laurence (never Larry), a protogeek who creates a 2-second time machine and truants from school to watch a rocket launch.slightly spoilery )

05MAR17 Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, Palace Theatre



I wasn't expecting to enjoy this as much as I did. It is over-long -- the story could have been told in a single 3-hour play -- and there is issues with the characterisation of the 'older generation', Ginny and Draco in particular. (Ginny came across as bland and frumpish; Draco felt like one of those nicely-brought-up boys who has learnt to affect a rough accent.) But the production is splendidly inventive, with special effects to rival anything digital. I think there were a couple of scenes where projections were used -- the rest of it was sheer stagecraft and lighting.

I won't go into details about the plot: suffice to say that Albus Severus Potter is a Difficult Child, and so is his father. There's plenty of fan service and in-jokes, and subversion of canon: and though I can see why the ending disappoints some, I think it works well.

11MAR17 Twelfth Night, National Theatre



An absolutely delightful production, with a female Feste (who's marvellous: Doon Mackichan) as well as the highly-publicised 'Malvolia' (Tamsin Greig). The production's setting is Twentieth Century Modern (shades of Sixties, Seventies, Eighties: 'bring me my veil' produces sunglasses) with a jazz setting of 'O Mistress Mine' and Hamlet's 'To be or not to be' set to a torch song in a sleazy gay bar, the Elephant.

Absolute high-point was the 'cross-gartered' scene, with music (Tamsin Greig has an excellent voice) and a ... surprising costume. Greig brings something new to the role, and her parting words ('I'll be revenged on the whole pack of you') feel more sincere, and more ominous, than in any other production I've seen.

Kudos also to Tim McMullan (Sir Toby Belch, reminiscent of some persons of my acquaintance) and to the musicians, who did not have an easy job of it -- there was genuine (theatrical) weather in the final number, 'Hey ho, the wind and the rain'.

Highly recommended.

31MAR17 Beethoven, Symphonies 1 and 9 -- Dresden Philharmonic (cond Sanderling), Cadogan Hall



The First Symphony is very cheerful but not especially Beethovian, at least to start with. I was there for the Ninth, which is one of my top five in terms of classical music to see live: I wasn't disappointed. The Dresden Philharmonic were precise and vivid and the choir(s) (Cardiff Ardwyn Singers and Cardiff Polyphonic Choir) clear and well-balanced. Thomas Faulkner (bass) was the best of the four soloists, who were behind the orchestra and in front of the choir rather than in front of the conductor -- this may have made the tenor and mezzo harder to hear. But oh, that finale! Thoughts of the dear lost EU (of which this is the anthem) made me weepy: it's such an uplifting piece, but it felt a little like a glimpse of something lost. I wonder how Brexit will affect tours by European orchestras?

But: Beethoven's Ninth. Good for the brain and the heart.
2017/27: A Quiet Life -- Natasha Walter
... she has been cleverer than all of them, she thinks to herself. No one suspects her. Valance even thinks that she will work for him, if he needs her. Even Mother, even Ellen, even Winifred; nobody thinks that she was anything but an innocent wife. Her mask has been a good one. Has her face stayed intact behind it?


Based on the life of Melinda Marling, the wife of Donald McLean, A Quiet Life tells the story of Laura Leverett who travels from America to London just before the outbreak of the Second World War. On board ship she meets some Communists, including the charismatic Florence: in London she pretends to her relatives that she has a secret boyfriend, so as to slip out to Party meetings. Then she meets Edward, a sophisticated chap who works at the Foreign Office: he turns out to be a spy. They marry. Now Laura is a spy too. Edward and Laura go to Washington after the war: then Edward's double life is uncovered, they return to England, and Edward flees his house in Surrey and his pregnant wife.

This could have been so much better than it was. Laura seems to have little personality and no real direction. She overhears various damning comments about herself but, if she's upset or angry, we don't see it. She is also oblivious to her husband's homosexuality, and to her own romantic / sexual impulses towards Florence and other women of her acquaintance. Which is not to say that Edward and Laura have a platonic relationship: on the contrary, sex is the glue that holds them together, though it is presented in a transactional way: did they both climax? Did they climax together?

Walter may have heard the axiom 'show, don't tell' but she is having none of it. Far too many conversations are summarised, rather than given in full: "in their comments on her, which moved from the admiring to the moralising, they hinted at their own desires. After that the conversation led on to other things, but they felt more warmly now towards one another..." This technique makes Laura feel more distant. I don't know how much of her behaviour is in service of the mask she must present, the pretty silly American wife: but there doesn't seem to be anything much behind the mask. True, there's a secret that she's kept since her teenaged years: I'm not sure if the nature of this secret was ever indicated, though I suspect it is something to do with her family, from whom she attempts to distance herself throughout the novel. Only once abandoned by Edward is she forced to accept that her mother's fidelity is in fact love: it's not clear whether Laura reciprocates at all.

I did like the descriptions of wartime London -- and there are occasional flashes of excellence, like the description of London seen from a fast car 'rolling past the windows with a kind of emphatic repleteness'. On the whole, though, I would rather have read an actual biography.

I may have missed something: much more positive review