Five of the Best!

FIVE 5-STAR READS
JUNE

SMILEYS

Each month this year, I’ll be looking back over my reviews of the past five years and picking out my favourite from each year. Cleo from Cleopatra Loves Books came up with this brilliant idea and kindly agreed to let me borrow it.

So here are my favourite June reads…click on the covers to go to the full reviews, though it must be said my early reviews were somewhat basic…

 

2011

 

The BlackhouseI’ve been a long-term fan of Peter May’s since back in his China Thrillers days, but I felt that with the Lewis Trilogy he took a real step up to take his place as one of the very top crime writers in Britain today. The Blackhouse is the first book in the trilogy introducing us to DS Fin MacLeod, who is sent back to Lewis to investigate a murder that resembles one that took place earlier in his Edinburgh patch. Returning home after 20 years away, Fin is thrown into remembering and re-assessing his difficult childhood and adolescence. The book alternates between the present day and Fin’s past and it gradually emerges that the shadow of that past may be involved in the current investigation. This was one of the earlier examples of the double timeline that has now become almost obligatory in crime fiction, but it’s done much better than most, with both the current story and the past equally strong and coming together to a dark but satisfying conclusion. And the rest of the trilogy is even better…

 

2012

 

secret life of william shakespeareThis is a beautifully written novel, each word carefully crafted to draw the reader in to a world full of poetry and drama. Morgan fills the gaps in our knowledge about Shakespeare’s life by creating a character who is completely convincing and compelling – a man who questions his own existence except as he lives through his work. But much though I loved the story of Shakespeare and his London life, for me the standout feature of the book was the character of Anne Hathaway – her love for Will, her fear of losing him, her strength to let him follow his driven path despite the cost to herself. We see Anne grow and develop as she tries to reconcile her pride in Will’s accomplishments with her sense of abandonment. She has to provide the strength that can make their relationship survive his absence, that gives him the freedom to be something she never fully understands. A wonderful book that will appeal not only to Shakespeare fans but also to anyone who appreciates a superbly crafted tale filled with poetry, humanity and tenderness.

 

2013

 

feral“Rewilding recognises that nature consists not just of a collection of species but also of their ever-shifting relationships with each other and with the physical environment. It understands that to keep an ecosystem in a state of arrested development, to preserve it as if it were a jar of pickles, is to protect something which bears little relationship to the natural world.”

This book is a call for us to step back from nature conservation as we know it and give nature space to recover on her own. Monbiot suggests that humanity has lost something precious by its disconnect with the wild world and that we in the UK have taken that disconnect to further extremes than most. He isn’t arguing for a return to the world of hunter/gatherer, but for the return of at least parts of the country to true, unmanaged wilderness status and for the reintroduction of some of the top predators we have driven to extinction in our islands. A cogently argued and inspiring book that made me look with fresh eyes at what our landscape has become, and imagine what it could be if we have the courage to hand back the controls to nature herself. Although he talks specifically about the UK, much of what he says is relevant to the whole ‘first world’.

 

2014

 

oxcrimesYou only have to look at the cover of this book to see some of the huge names who have contributed stories to this anthology in aid of Oxfam. In total, there are twenty-seven stories, most of them original, and the overall quality is exceptionally high. There are a few that are really quite short, but most of them are pretty substantial and a few of them star the detective for whom the author is famous. As well as straightforward crime/detection, there are examples of both horror and sci-fi with a crime element, and black humour puts in more than one appearance. Anthony Horowitz, Yrsa Sigurdardottir, Ian Rankin, Val McDermid, Neil Gaiman, Mark Billingham, Peter James… need I say more? To be honest, you’d need to be pretty much impossible to please if you didn’t enjoy at least some of these stories. Imaginative tales and great writing from top authors – the fact that it’s for a good cause is just an added bonus.

 

2015

 

the grapes of wrathFirst published in 1939, this is a fairly contemporaneous account of the devastation wrought on Oklahoma farming communities during the Depression. Driven by poverty and lack of work, many of the farmers are uprooting their families to go to California, their own promised land, where, they are told, the country is filled with fruit ripe for picking, and there is work for all. Starkly political, overly polemical, emotionally manipulative and tending towards bathos… but also hugely powerful, brilliantly written, immensely moving and just as relevant to today as to the time of writing. I can’t remember the last time a book made me this angry, both at the subject matter and at the author’s manipulation of the reader. Made me think, made me cry, made me want to throw my Kindle at the wall, bored me silly at some points, and left me so enraged it took me weeks to be able to write a (reasonably) coherent review. Not an easy read, or an enjoyable one… but a book that deserves to be read.

 * * * * *

If you haven’t already seen Cleo’s selection for June, why not pop on over? Here’s the link…

The Secret Life of William Shakespeare by Jude Morgan

secret life of william shakespeare‘…And all the men and women merely players’

😀 😀 😀 😀 😀

If you’re going to write a book about one of the greatest writers of all time, then you need your own writing skill to be able to stand the inevitable comparisons. Jude Morgan’s does. This is a beautifully written novel, each word carefully crafted to draw the reader in to a world full of poetry and drama.

The King's Men (internetshakespeare.uvic.ca)
The King’s Men
(internetshakespeare.uvic.ca)

Morgan fills the gaps in our knowledge about Shakespeare’s life by creating a character who is completely convincing and compelling – a man who questions his own existence except as he lives through his work. Morgan broadens out the tale to allow us to meet some of the other greats of Elizabethan drama, – Marlowe, Jonson etc – painting a picture of how the competition amongst these men drove each to strive for ever greater heights. We are shown how patronage and the Court influenced the dramatists and poets of the day, but we also see the other side of London – the constant fear of plague resulting in regular closure of the theatres, the uncertainty and often poverty of the players’ lives, the need to please both masters and audience. All this gives a real insight into the development of Shakespeare’s writing, but the author wears his research lightly and weaves his knowledge seamlessly into the story.

Anne Hathaway's Cottage (wikipedia)
Anne Hathaway’s Cottage
(wikipedia)

But much though I loved the story of Shakespeare and his London life, for me the standout feature of the book was the character of Anne – her love for Will, her fear of losing him, her strength to let him follow his driven path despite the cost to herself. Through her we see the contrasting life of small town Stratford, still very rural, where everyone knows their neighbours and family is everything. We see Anne grow and develop as she tries to reconcile her pride in Will’s accomplishments with her sense of abandonment. She has to provide the strength that can make their relationship survive his absence, that gives him the freedom to be something she never fully understands. Will says ‘You made Will Shakespeare, Anne. And without you there wouldn’t be a life, but the unformed shape of one, never to be.’ And such is Jude Morgan’s skill that this reader believed this completely.

Anne and Will (www.konokene.com)
Anne and Will
(www.konokene.com)

A wonderful book that will appeal not only to Shakespeare fans but also to anyone who appreciates a superbly crafted tale filled with poetry, humanity and tenderness. Highly recommended.

I was originally inspired to read this by this review from one of my favourite Amazon, and now bloggy, reviewers, Lady Fancifull.

NB This book was provided for review by Amazon Vine UK.

Amazon UK Link
Amazon US Link