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Search tags: Book-Riot-Read-Harder-Challenge
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review 2018-07-13 15:47
Bog Child / Siobhan Dowd
Bog Child - Siobhan Dowd

Digging for peat in the mountain with his Uncle Tally, Fergus finds the body of a child, and it looks like she’s been murdered. As Fergus tries to make sense of the mad world around him—his brother on hunger-strike in prison, his growing feelings for Cora, his parents arguing over the Troubles, and him in it up to the neck, blackmailed into acting as courier to God knows what—a little voice comes to him in his dreams, and the mystery of the bog child unfurls.

Bog Child is an astonishing novel exploring the sacrifices made in the name of peace, and the unflinching strength of the human spirit.

 

A charming YA novel. It combined two things that I love to read about—Ireland and those archaeological wonders, the bog bodies. Fergus, the main character, is out early one morning surreptitiously digging peat with his Uncle Tally when they discover the peat-stained body of a young girl. When it is determined that she is an Iron Age body, not a modern murder victim, Fergus is encouraged by the archaeologist in charge of the dig to stay interested & involved. As she has a charming daughter, Fergus is only too happy to assist them.

There are some interesting juxtapositions—Fergus’ brother is on hunger strike in prison and Cora, the archaeologist’s daughter, is struggling with an eating disorder. [As an aside, I remember listening to the news regularly in 1981 to hear about the fates of those Irish hunger strikers, especially Bobby Sands.] Fergus is a runner and is pressured into moving envelopes during his runs which presumably have something to do with IRA explosions, but he has also befriended a young Welshman stationed at the village to guard against such things. Both are seeking escape, Fergus from rural Ireland and the young solider from the coal mines of Wales. During all these pushes and pulls, between family and community, law and anarchy, Fergus must pass his final exams with at least three B marks in order to enter University at the end of the summer, to achieve his way out.

We also get some flashbacks to the life of the Bog Child, with some choices of her own to make. I went to a museum display of Bog Bodies that visited my city years ago—there was a large photo of Tollund Man who was found in Denmark and my sister & I both thought that he looked very much like our Danish grandfather, also from Jutland. What a link to the past!

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review 2018-07-05 20:15
Casino Royale / Ian Fleming
Casino Royale - Ian Fleming

In the novel that introduced James Bond to the world, Ian Fleming’s agent 007 is dispatched to a French casino in Royale-les-Eaux. His mission? Bankrupt a ruthless Russian agent who’s been on a bad luck streak at the baccarat table.

One of SMERSH’s most deadly operatives, the man known only as “Le Chiffre,” has been a prime target of the British Secret Service for years. If Bond can wipe out his bankroll, Le Chiffre will likely be “retired” by his paymasters in Moscow. But what if the cards won’t cooperate? After a brutal night at the gaming tables, Bond soon finds himself dodging would-be assassins, fighting off brutal torturers, and going all-in to save the life of his beautiful female counterpart, Vesper Lynd.

 

***2018 Summer of Spies***

Two things about this book surprised me—first that Fleming was a pretty good writer, second that the book was so short! I’ve never attempted any of Fleming’s fiction before, partly because I saw some of the films of these works back about 30 years ago. You can’t live in a co-ed residence in university without at least having some of these movies on the lounge television set and I think I may have been dragged to the movie theatre as well (back when a movie only cost $5 and a person could afford to go).

Bond in the book is much less charming than Bond on the screen. He’s rougher around the edges and the racism & misogyny of earlier times are very apparent. It’s difficult for me to judge—how much of this is the fictional character, how much is just the zeitgeist of the 1950s, and how much of this is Ian Fleming himself?

I’ve requested a biography of Fleming from the library, to help me try to sort this matter. I’m also intrigued by how much he was influenced by the work of Agatha Christie. One of the very first scenes in Casino Royale involves Bond checking to see if his room has been searched, using exactly the same stratagem as a character in Christie’s They Came to Baghdad (the use of precisely placed, unobtrusive hairs). Undoubtedly Fleming read Christie, so I’m interested in that angle as well.

One can’t claim to have read spy fiction without reading Fleming, so I will pick up Live and Let Die in the near future and continue on during my Summer of Spies.

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text 2018-06-29 21:58
Reading progress update: I've read 40 out of 178 pages.
Casino Royale - Ian Fleming

 

I complete see the scene that Broken Tune pointed out as very, very similar to one in They Came To Baghdad.  It would be really hard to miss!

 

The chapters are short & snappy.  I'm having a good time, despite Bond's attitude toward women.

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review 2018-06-05 20:00
The Hunchback Assignments / Arthur Slade
The Hunchback Assignments - Arthur Slade

The mysterious Mr. Socrates rescues Modo, a child in a traveling freak show. Modo is a hunchback with an amazing ability to transform his appearance, and Mr. Socrates raises him in isolation as an agent for the Permanent Association, a spy agency behind Brittania's efforts to rule the empire. At 14, Modo is left on the streets of London to fend for himself. When he encounters Octavia Milkweed, another Association agent, the two uncover a plot by the Clockword Guild behind the murders of important men. Furthermore, a mad scientist is turning orphan children into automatons to further the goals of the Guild. Modo and Octavia journey deep into the tunnels under London and discover a terrifying plot against the British government. It's up to them to save their country.

 

Although others have classified this book as young adult, I would consider it to be for a younger audience than that. I would recommend it for tweens and young teens. I’m rating it three stars, but that’s for the reading experience from my current vantage point as an adult. I think that if I’d read it at the right age, I would definitely have rated it at four stars.

The story is an interesting mix of steampunk elements and allusions to classic literature. The main character, Modo (the hunchback of the title) harks back to Quasimodo of Victor Hugo and Modo’s partner in crime, Octavia Milkweed, reminds me obliquely of La Esmeralda in The Hunchback of Notre Dame. Like Quasimodo & Esmeralda, Modo becomes enamoured with Octavia. Unlike Quasimodo, Modo has a paranormal ability to change his appearance for limited amounts of time. Because of his crush on Octavia, he spends quite a bit of time & effort to avoid being seen by her in his natural state—this is obviously a state of affairs that will progress in future volumes.

The story’s villain, Dr. Hyde, has some roots in Stevenson’s Dr. Jekyl and Mr. Hyde, without the virtuous Jekyl state. He performs many horrible experiments on both adults and children, but nothing vivid enough to leave younger readers with nightmares, unless they are ultra-sensitive. The bolts that he inserts in his experimental subjects reminded me strongly of the popular-culture version of Frankenstein’s monster.

Unlike so many of these alternate history Victorian stories, this one seems to be aimed more at boys than at girls, although I think any girl of the right age would definitely identify with Octavia. But with Modo as the narrator of the tale, the appeal to boys is greater. Since I think that reading for young men is a neglected demographic, I am glad to know about this fun, engaging series.

The author, Arthur Slade, will be attending the When Words Collide conference this August (2018) and I am glad that I read one of his books before hearing him speak there.

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review 2018-05-22 18:48
Forensics / Val McDermid
Forensics: An Anatomy of Crime - Val McDermid

The dead talk—to the right listener. They can tell us all about themselves: where they came from, how they lived, how they died, and, of course, who killed them. Forensic scientists can unlock the mysteries of the past and help serve justice using the messages left by a corpse, a crime scene, or the faintest of human traces. Forensics draws on interviews with some of these top-level professionals, ground-breaking research, and McDermid’s own original interviews and firsthand experience on scene with top forensic scientists.

Along the way, McDermid discovers how maggots collected from a corpse can help determine one’s time of death; how a DNA trace a millionth the size of a grain of salt can be used to convict a killer; and how a team of young Argentine scientists led by a maverick American anthropologist were able to uncover the victims of a genocide. It’s a journey that will take McDermid to war zones, fire scenes, and autopsy suites, and bring her into contact with both extraordinary bravery and wickedness, as she traces the history of forensics from its earliest beginnings to the cutting-edge science of the modern day.

 

I cancelled my cable TV years ago because I was making myself paranoid, watching way too many true crime stories. Plus, I had an unhealthy addiction to the show “Criminal Minds.” I’m pleased to report that I’m a much calmer person now that I’m not being inundated with this sort of entertainment. However, that former obsession with crime shows means that most of what McDermid writes in this non-fiction volume was not new to me, hence only a three star rating. If you are new to the world of forensic investigation, I think this would an excellent introduction.

McDermid has obviously had to research this field to make her mystery novels ring true. And what better way to make that research pay off again but to write a non-fiction book about the subject! It was good to get a British POV on these matters. Here in Canada, we tend to be bombarded with American material, both in books and television, so many of the case studies were new to me.

The author goes into just enough detail to make things comprehensible, without overloading the reader. The explanations are clear and easy to understand. I think it would make a good reference for jurors who are responsible for making decisions based on these methods.

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