Tuesday, 30 September 2014

Books: September Fifty Two in Fifty Two

Here begins a monthly roundup of how I'm getting on with my 52 books in 52 weeks challenge...

"So many books, so little time" 
Frank Zappa

1. M. C. Beaton, Death of a Travelling Man. 3/5.
Some folk relax with a trashy romance, others prefer a Young Adult novel. I choose cheesy murder mysteries. The Hamish Macbeth series is reminiscent of Midsomer Murders - his home village of Lochdubh undoubtedly has the highest per capita murder rate in the UK, and would probably rank in the world top ten - but the familiar characters, romantic landscape and affable hero make for a rather pleasant and inoffensive escape from the real world. Death of a Travelling man is no. 9 in the series (yes, I'm reading them in order), and finally we see some romance for our lead character. The murder is more of a vessel to update us on the lives of the locals, most of whom have a motive, the writing isn't fantastic and the "whodunnit" solicited an eye roll, but it was comfortable and cosy, just right for an easy bedtime read.
2. Philippe Claudel (trans. Euan Cameron), Monsieur Lihn and his Child. 5/5.
Rarely does a book make me cry - even more rarely do I find myself haunted by a book for days, as the plot fragments slowly fall into place. When he steps off the boat clutching his baby granddaughter, a refugee in a foreign land, Monsieur Linh is in mourning. The story of his life and the reality of war is beautifully interwoven with the story of a friend he makes despite their lack of shared language. As a classic novella consisting of few characters strongly explored, I should have been expecting a twist - after all, the blurb on the back did warn me, but I certainly wasn't ready for it. I was too absorbed in the beautiful writing which completely described the feeling of grief - as well as the slow dawning of hope. Wonderful.

3. Charles Elton, Mr Toppit. 2/5.
It's an odd one, this. I listened to it as an unabridged audiobook which probably didn't help, but I found it dragged. If it had been a paperback I would have whizzed through, skim reading, purely to get it finished. The premise is interesting - an unsuccessful children's author dies in a traffic accident, with an American tourist as a witness. The lives of the American and the family become increasingly intertwined and the author's work becomes hugely famous, with catastrophic effects on his family. However, what could be a sharp and funny tale is poorly structured - we know half of the ending at the beginning - and the characterisation is surprisingly two dimensional. The American is overweight and unhappy, the teenage daughter is neurotic, the mother is an alcoholic... Considering the author was the literary agent for AA Milne, whose son Christopher Robin hated the stories which made him famous, I found this book surprisingly dull.

4. Catherine Czerkawska, The Physic Garden. 4/5.
I stumbled across The Physic Garden by accident - it came up as a "one you might enjoy" suggestion while I was getting the hang of my local library's e-book service. Whoever wrote that algorithm was spot on. I enjoyed it. Set in 18th century Glasgow, it is essentially a romance - the tale of a friendship between the University gardener, and a young lecturer, that goes tragically wrong. We know that it doesn't end well from the start, I began to suspect how quite early on too, but that wasn't detrimental. The incredible historical detail (medicine, the dawn of industrialisation, the role of women) was well written without being thrown in for good measure, and the characters were particularly believable. Easy reading, enjoyable, and an impressive first novel.


  1. Oooh how lovely - I'm always on the hunt for new things to read. Thank you!


  2. I love the sound of no 1,2&4 . The first one seems perfect for an evening read. I must make time to read more. Looking forward to your next month recommendations!

  3. The jacket of The Physics Garden it's lovely and it sounds very intriguing, will have to check it out. Good luck with your challenge. Laura xx

  4. So glad you enjoyed Monsieur Linh and his child because I loved that novella. It moved me so much.

  5. I'm adding Monsieur Linh and the Physic garden to my list. Great reviews!