Sunday, 30 November 2014

Murder Out Of The Blue by Steve Turnbull / A Tramp Abroad by Mark Twain / Burial Rites by Hannah Kent

Murder out of the Blue by Steve Turnbull
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

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As light relief after the intensity of The Ark Before Noah, I chose one of my new steampunk books for my next read. Bought as part of the Indie Steampunk Book Extravaganza 2 (a Facebook event), Murder Out Of The Blue is a novella by a new-to-me indie author and I was primarily attracted to it by the atmospheric cover art and it's price - 77p on Kindle at time of writing.

Murder Out Of The Blue is set a little later than other steampunks I've read and this particular world isn't at all reliant on supernatural phenomena which is refreshing. The fabulous air-ship upon which the tale takes place is temptingly described and I would love for it to be actually invented. I'd certainly buy a ticket!

Maliha Anderson is a strong heroine with an interesting heritage, let down here only by the novella format in that I wanted to learn more about her and her life but extensive characterisation is missing. There are several teasing hints and presumably more will be explained in future books. I am often frustrated by this same trade-off in shorter works as there is essentially room for either story or character, and it takes astounding authors such as Colette to successfully combine both. However Turnbull has still done a good job of introducing his world and heroine here. The crime story is nicely woven together with a satisfying denouement and I enjoyed the reading of it. Perhaps I'll read novellas 2 and 3 back to back to enable greater immersion!


A Tramp Abroad by Mark Twain
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

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A Tramp Abroad is my first 'factual' Mark Twain book and I'm not completely sure how I feel about it. Initially difficult to get into, the first few chapters are an odd blend of observations, hearsay, retelling of local myths and flannel. Once the style settles down, I thought the book flowed more but it's still quite hit and miss - a bit like watching a Monty Python episode. There are very funny anecdotes that are probably greatly exaggerated or mostly made up but with satirical grains of truth that I enjoyed. These are entertaining to read and raised a chuckle. However they are interspersed with other passages that are either bizarrely odd or simply dull. A mountain climbing expedition is so overegged that it becomes boring, but an American trying to strike up conversation on a boat trip made me giggle.

For a foot tour of Europe, Twain only actually visits Germany, Switzerland and Italy, and most of the book is Germanic travel. He obviously is a walker as several of his reminiscences are understanding of the activity and its way of promoting thought and conversation, but if there is a chance to go by any other method, he seizes it every time.
I can't say that any of Twain's travelogue has inspired me to follow in his footsteps and I had hoped it would. Perhaps this is a poor example of his non-fiction writing or perhaps I should stick to reading his fiction.


Burial Rites by Hannah Kent
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

One of my WorldReads from Australia

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Every once in a while I read a novel that manages to completely transport me to its era and location and I am delighted that Burial Rites by Hannah Kent did just that. Set in 1820s Iceland, Burial Rites weaves a fictional narrative around the historical truths of the life of Agnes Magnusdottir, the last woman to be executed in Iceland.

We visited Iceland a few years ago so I could picture the types of landscape within which the story takes place, but even without this experience Kent's wonderful rich descriptions make the desperate rural lives easy to imagine. I could even feel the cold! While Kent has imagined details of houses and clothing, this imagination is obviously rooted in extensive research and historical fact. She has brought Agnes out from being a semi-mythological monster into a real living and breathing woman with a poignant tale to tell. The Icelanders' customs and religious practices are fascinating to learn about as they are familiarly Christian yet shaped by the extreme circumstances of living with the ever-present natural dangers of Iceland. I thoroughly enjoyed reading Burial Rites, even though it is not by any means a happy story. Simply brilliant writing.


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