Reading Highlights – January 2012

I managed to get the year off to a good start with ten books read in January.  This included four audio books.  Crime novels again featured strongly, with six of the ten in this genre.  I was pleased to note that my list included six authors new to me.  I also managed to make a start on four of my Reading Challenges.  Artists in Crime by Ngaio Marsh is my first Vintage Mystery novel.  Bad Intentions by Karin Fossum got me started on Nordic books, while Thursday Night Widows covered two challenges – What’s in a Name and my personal challenge to read 12 books in Spanish.

I enjoyed just about all of the books, with the exception of Invisible by Paul Auster.  This started as an intriguing mystery, then became ever more complicated with an ending I did not get at all.  I have since discovered that Auster’s work is an example of post modernism and meta fiction, whatever that is.  I’ll try to avoid both in the future.

Particular highlights included Thursday Night Widows, which I have already reviewed here.  Four other books deserve a special mention.  Lennox by Craig Russell is the first in what promises to be a series of crime novels set in Glasgow in the 1950s.  Reads like an old style film noir from the USA, with local gangsters and the obligatory femme fatale.  Excellent evocation of Glasgow of that time.  Though not from Glasgow, this was the period of my early childhood, so this was an additional attraction for me.

Cold in the Earth is another first in a series of crime novels.  This one is by Aline Templeton and is set in rural Dumfries and Galloway in the south west of Scotland.   It features Detective Inspector Marjory Fleming as she struggles to resolve the mystery of a woman who went missing 15 years ago.  All this in the middle of a foot and mouth outbreak.  A very different world from 1950s Glasgow, but just as interesting and an equally good read.

A Visit from the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan is an ambitious, witty and bittersweet tale of how individual lives can connect, disconnect and sometimes re-connect.  It is a challenging book to read as the novel flits back and forth over time from the 1970s to the near future.  As the novel progresses we become re-acquainted with old characters and meet new ones, usually in a different period and/or situation.  Instead of a single narrator, we have multiple voices including one which addresses the reader as you.  There is also a chapter which consists solely of power point slides.  Despite, or perhaps because of this the novel works.  The title refers to one of the character’s name for time.  In a sense the novel is a reflection on how time changes everything.

The Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes is more a novella and at only 150 pages, one of the shortest books you can come across.  However it packs a lot into these few pages.  As with much of Barnes’ output, this one deals with ageing and memory.  The narrator, now retired in his 60s, receives an unexpected bequest which forces him to remember a brief relationship he had as a young man.  Or rather he tries to remember, but finds that his memory is not at all trustworthy.  So he embarks on a quest to find out the truth about this past.  But is there anything so simple as the truth about anything?  A wonderful and beautifully written book.

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