Posts Tagged With: London

The Night Watch, by Sarah Waters

In what was a departure for Sarah Waters after three (extremely popular) Victorian novels, this book is set during and around the time of WWII.  It tells the story of four characters – Kay; a lonely woman, tired of life and love; Viv, a young beauty who is loyal to her Soldier lover, despite her reservations; Helen, Viv’s colleague who is harbouring troubling thoughts about her relationship; and Duncan, Viv’s younger brother who has been through some troubling times.

Sarah Waters employs an unusual plot device in splitting the book into three parts which move backwards chronologically.  The first part is set in 1947, when England is recovering from war, and we watch the characters moving through their lives.  The second part is set in 1944, at the height of WWII, and the first part is set in 1941.  (However, each individual section moves forward and tells the events of a few weeks or months in the characters’ lives.)  The second and third parts start to fill in the blanks in their lives so that we discover how they came to find themselves in the situations they are in at the beginning (or the end) of the novel.

Every character – even the peripheral ones – is described wonderfully so that the reader really feels that they have come to know these people.  They are decent characters, but each with their very personal and believeable flaws.  1940s London is also portrayed very vividly and beautifully, with the ravaged city almost being a fifth main character.

I have always thought that Sarah Waters is a wonderful and very talented novelist – this book serves to confirm my opinion further.  I found myself anxious to know how the story turned out, and it held my attention completely.  Highly recommended.

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The Strange case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson

Synopsis by Amazon:

Everyone has a dark side. Dr Jekyll has discovered the ultimate drug. A chemical that can turn him into something else. Suddenly, he can unleash his deepest cruelties in the guise of the sinister Hyde. Transforming himself at will, he roams the streets of fog-bound London as his monstrous alter-ego. It seems he is master of his fate. It seems he is in complete control. But soon he will discover that his double life comes at a hideous price …

Dr. Jekyll is a scientist with a dark secret – he has created a drug which transforms him into his sinister dark side. At first this is OK, but then Hyde, his alter-ego starts making trouble and goes as far as committing murder. Jekyll’s friends start to get suspicious when Mr. Hyde is seen coming and going from Jekyll’s home – and then the hideous secret is out….

I really enjoyed this book. It explores human nature and good and evil – and ultimately the choices we make. The book was exciting and gripping. It is original and well written – clearly a classic.

Stevenson’s characters were great! I liked the fact Mr. Hyde was written in such a way that I really didn’t like him – it is nice to come across a book that sparks emotion and feelings, and this book did that.

I didn’t find this book scary, just a great read.

9/10

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Absolute Beginners by Colin MacInnes

An unnamed male teenage narrator describes summer in London in 1958.  In the earlier parts, his main concerns are his love for ex-girlfriend Crepe Suzette, his misgivings about his family, and spending time with his various friends.  However, as the novel progresses, he describes the rising racial tensions of the time, which inevitably spill over into violence.

The narrator lives in a poorer part of London which he refers to as Napoli, and whose population is very multi-cultural, and also houses a lot of people on the fringes of society at the time, such as homosexuals and drug addicts.  A new youth culture is just emerging and so is the popularity of jazz music in Britain.

I enjoyed this book, on the whole, although I found the narrator hard to engage with, despite the fact that we were seeing events through his eyes.  He seems to have more acquaintances than actual friends, and many of those are fairly transient characters, who seem to serve as a sounding board for the narrator’s thoughts and beliefs.

Things do become more heated at the close of the book, and with it, the maturing narrator also starts to care about bigger issues.  However, although he has strong feelings about the events that take place, I found little emotion in his telling of such events.

I wasn’t around to experience the era or the location of the times described, but the telling of the story does seem to have an air of authenticity about it, and described London as a vibrant and exciting place to be, but with an air of underlying tension.

I usually prefer character driven books, but in this novel, the characters take second place to the city of London itself, which is really the biggest character of all.

Overall, an enjoyable read, and much better than the film adaptation!

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The Last Days of Newgate by Andrew Pepper

This book, set in London in 1829, is the first book in a series about Pyke, a Bow Street Runner, and sometime crook of questionable (to say the least) morals.

The book is set at a time for great change for the policing system: Home Secretary Peel had his plans to set up one ruling Police Force, and thus put Runners like Pike, out of work.  His plans were opposed by many, and this conflict is very well illustrated in this book.

Pyke finds himself caught up in trying to solve a brutal triple murder, and his investigations uncover a web of deception which perhaps goes as high as the Government itself, and which threatens Pyke’s livelihood and even his life.  

Aided by an enigmatic society beauty (which comes across far less cliched than that sounds), Pyke has to stay one step ahead of the powers that be at all time, as he faces danger from known and unknown persons.

I really enjoyed this book.  The action moves along at a fair old pace, and I never found myself getting bored.  1820s London is brought vividly to life, with detailed descriptions of the way of life.  However, the historical references did not detract from the main storyline; they merely served to help set the scene.

Pyke is a terrific main character.  He is a cruel and brutal man, who I felt I should dislike, but there was just enough goodness in him to make me want to root for him all the way.  As a character who was very believable, his actions still took me by surprise on many occasions.

There is a lot of violence and bloodshed in this book, and I can certainly see that that in itself would turn a lot of readers off.  I wouldn’t recommend it to a squeamish friend!  However, if you want a good crime mystery with plenty of twists and turns, and don’t mind some blood and gore, this is a great read.  I look forward to reading the next installment.

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Love All by Elizabeth Jane Howard

Synopsis (taken from back of book):  The late 1960’s.  For Persephone Plover, the daughter of distant and constantly absent parents, the innocent, isolated days of her childhood are long past.  Now she must deal with the emotions of an adult world.

Meanwhile in Melton, in the West Country, Jack Curtis – a self made millionaire – has employed Persephone’s aunt, Florence, to deal with the gardens of the once beautiful local manor house, which he has acquired and renovated at vast expense.  He also has plans to start an arts festival – as a means to avoid the loneliness of the recently divorced.

Also in Melton are the Musgrove siblings, Thomas and Mary – whose parents originally owned and lived in Melton House – still trying to cope with the tragic emotional consequences of the death of Thomas’s wife, Celia . . . as is Francis, Celia’s brother, who has come to live with them and thereby, perhaps, to find his way through life.

Review:  On the whole I enjoyed this book but found that there were so many characters introduced in individual chapters that it became difficult to follow who was who.  However those characters that did stand out enough to be easily remembered provoked interest and empathy and certainly kept me reading on.  It’s a story that twists and turns and hints at one outcome before hinting at another, while also touching on many family and personal issues.

LibraryThing rating:  3½

Other books read by this writer:  None but may look out for others.

Review by JudyB

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The Various Flavors of Coffee by Anthony Capella

“A well made cup of coffee is the proper beginning to an idle day. Its aroma is beguiling, its taste is sweet; yet it leaves behind only bitterness and regret. In that it resembles, surely, the pleasures of love…..Although in this case, it seems to taste of nothing much except mud. With, perhaps, a faint aftertaste of rotten apricots.”

 

With these words Robert Wallis seals his fate. Not that it didn’t need to be sealed. After having been expelled from Oxford (too much partying, no studying) and cut off by his father, Robert is living in London on credit from various tradesmen. He is the very picture of a dandy, dressing in the most fashionable manner, writing marginal poetry by day and visiting local brothels by night. A dissolute young man who is nevertheless endearing from the very first page.

While sitting in a cafe one morning his remark is overheard by coffee merchant Samuel Pinker. Mr. Pinker wants to develop a reference manual to describe the tastes & smells in the various coffee beans that he imports. He needs someone with a discerning palate and the vocabulary necessary to complete the task. He offers Robert the very last thing that he wants, employment. But even Robert realizes that he will not be able to maintain his lifestyle with no income, so he reluctantly accepts.

The dreadful dullness of employment is greatly reduced when Robert meets his assistant. Mr. Pinker’s lovely daughter, Emily, serves as secretary and partner in the task. Robert, of course, is attracted to her (and her father’s wealth). He feels that he is a wonderful catch, a view not shared by Mr. Pinker. In order to win her hand he is given a mission. A five year trek to Africa, to plant and grow a crop of the best kind of coffee available. Obviously this kind of job is not to Robert’s taste but again, he sees that his life has left him few options and he agrees to go.
Africa will profoundly change Robert in ways that he cannot begin to imagine. The man who returns to London has learned hard lessons and survived harrowing experiences. The years have changed London and its inhabitants, as well. When he returns he will have to rebuild his life and try create a future for himself.
Mr. Capella has written a fantastic historical novel. He brilliantly describes London at the end of the nineteenth century with all of its wonderful depth, from the glamorous upper class drawing rooms to the seedy, poverty stricken streets. Then he takes us to the dusty plains and steamy jungles of Africa and introduces us to the native people, showing us their struggle to maintain their way of life in the face of outsiders in search of wealth and land. It is a rich, evocative, compelling story and I loved it.
The Various Flavors of Coffee will be published by Bantam on September 2, 2008

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The Bullet Trick by Louise Welsh

This book has some terrific writing, but a storyline that unfortunately does not match up to it.
To be fair, when I started reading this book I was quickly hooked, and felt that it might even become one of my absolute favourites.  Unfortunately, the ending felt rushed, was pretty predictable and let down the rest of the story. 
Nonetheless, it was a worthwhile read.  The main character – and the narrator – is William Wilson, a down-on-his-luck conjuror from Glasgow.  Hoping to make his fortune, he takes a job in Berlin and ends up recruiting a mysterious American girl named Sylvie as his assistant.  The story flicks back and forth between Berlin and Glasgow, as it slowly reveals the dark events that took place in Berlin, and how they have brought William to his present state of despair.  To say much more would be to give too much of the story away.  One minor gripe is that there was a seemingly unnecessary sub-plot regarding a decades old disappearance of a lady, which Wilson ends up becoming embroiled in.  The loss of this particular storyline would have not affected the book in any way, although it was in itself not an unenjoyable diversion from the main story.
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Admit One: A Journey Into Film by Emmett James

Emmett James has been in love with movies his whole life. He grew up in a
nondescript London suburb where, to him, things seemed very ordinary, even
boring. He can remember his first movie at the age of about three, Walt
Disney’s The Jungle Book, which he largely slept through. The beginning and
the end are clear, though, and he liked what he saw. Now, how to stay awake?
The answer? Every child’s best friend…SUGAR, of course!

In this funny and upbeat memoir Mr. James takes us on a “This is your life”
kind of ride by linking his past to the films that shaped his world. The
yearly television viewing of The Wizard of Oz and the terror of the Wicked
Witch inevitably caused him to have a bladder accident. Plus if it looked
remotely gloomy outside he was jumpy, watching the skies for a rogue
tornado. Poor kid, England has gloomy weather fairly regularly.

E.T. The Extra Terrestrial inspired a love for the BMX bike and eventually
led to a short lived life of teen crime, causing his parents to move the
whole family from London to Cambridgeshire, a fate worse than death to the
author. Especially when the new home, built in about 900, turns out to be
haunted. The author’s room is the scene of a hair-raising ghost sighting.

Emmett’s love of films inspire him to be an actor and so, at the first
opportunity, he moves himself to Hollywood looking for his own piece of the
American Dream. He finds it, too.

I happen to be about the same age as the author and as I was reading I was
thrust back in time, back to my own movie experiences. When I had to be
taken out of Walt Disney’s Bambi because I cried and cried when his mother
was shot. When my best friend and tough girl astonished me by crying at E.T.
(I’d never seen her cry before).

This is a story to take you down your own memory lane and remind you of the
wonder and magic of the movies.

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