Saturday, 24 July 2010

July Reading

Summer is a perfect time for reading - in the park under a shady tree, or on the beach taking a well-earned holiday. But Katherine tells me times are tough in the human world, so if you can’t afford a real holiday this year the Muse suggests taking a “mind-holiday” in a book instead...

Natural Flights of the Human Mind – Claire Morrall
Peter Straker is a recluse (a bit like the Muse!) who lives in a crumbling lighthouse on the Devon coast, haunted by the 78 people he believes he killed when he crashed his plane on a railway line, derailing a passenger train. He spends his days trying to piece together the lives of the victims, and has not flown since. Then he meets Imogen, who has inherited a rundown cottage in the nearby village complete with a barn containing an old Tiger Moth plane, which she dreams of restoring to its former glory despite having no money for repairs. Peter helps her mend her roof, while Imogen’s brother gets interested in restoring the plane. Peter wants nothing to do with the plane, but when relatives of the train crash victims finally track him down at his lighthouse, seeking justice, events push him into the skies once more…

This is a haunting and beautifully written novel by a Booker shortlisted author (who also wrote “Astonishing Splashes of Colour”). Her characters have lonely souls and crumbling lives to match their surroundings, yet this book also contains healing and redemption. The ending is not the obviously happy kind you might find in the enchanted mists, but that makes the book more realistic. (The Muse was a bit disappointed Imogen never finished her children’s book, though… it sounded fun!)

Next up is a book Katherine won in the Bookette’s draw last month, so the Muse says it’s about time she did a post on it! This one takes you to the Mediterranean…

Dido – Adele Geras
Queen Dido of the title is a rich and beautiful widow, mistress of the ancient city of Carthage, who falls in love with Prince Aenas when his men seek refuge in her city after escaping the Trojan War. Dido’s story is a tragic one, and the book spans a single day and night when Aenas decides to sail off into the sunset… or in this case sunrise… never to return.

You might already know the tale of Dido, but this beautifully structured and atmospheric novel also tells the stories of lesser known characters at the queen’s court – including the queen’s handmaiden Elissa, who is appointed nursemaid to Aenas’ small son and soon falls in love with the handsome prince herself. In the close community of the palace, she knows she’ll be in trouble if anyone finds out. Court poet Iopas is hopelessly in love with Elissa, while the queen’s sister Anna is hopelessly in love with Iopas, and when it becomes obvious Elissa is pregnant she gets caught in the middle. Knowing it can’t be his baby, jealous Iopas goes straight to tell the queen. Meanwhile, kitchen boy Cubby – a bit short in the brains department – is sent to guard the queen’s bed without knowing why, and sees shining strangers drifting through the palace corridors after dark. These are the gods, often present in Adele Geras's novels, meddling in human affairs. In this book you’ll meet Aphrodite the goddess of love, and Artemis the virgin huntress, who advise and comfort the women. But when grey-cloaked Hades appears, even Cubby knows all is not well…

If you like your romance set in ancient times with ghostly gods and handsome heroes, this book is for you. It is a standalone novel, but ties in well with Adele Geras’s previous books “Troy” and “Ithaca”. All of Adele's characters seem like real people, even those who might not have been real, which helps bring the history alive. If you’ve not read any of them yet, the Muse advises starting with Troy, since that one tells the story of the Trojan War that sparked off all the others.

Troubadour – Mary Hoffman
This is another historical teenage romance, but set in a very different period and location – the south of France at the time of the Crusades. It is more realistic than Dido, being based on real history rather than myth, so should appeal to those who like their romance without the gods interfering.

Bertran de Miramont, the troubadour of the title, is witness to a brutal murder in the first chapter when one of the Pope's men is killed by an assassin. He gives chase but is unable to catch the heretic, and later becomes a suspect himself. Meanwhile Elinor, eldest daughter of a minor lord and madly in love with Bertran, flees marriage to a much older man by disguising herself as a boy and joining a troupe of travelling players. As the young lad Esteve, she has a beautiful singing voice that captures the hearts of her listeners, including Bertran when he hears her sing at the castle where he has been imprisoned to await interrogation.

After a daring prison break, during which Elinor persuades her new friends to rescue her beloved, her troupe goes on the run, and so does Bertran – but in opposite directions, while the country is torn apart by war around them. Will Elinor and Bertran escape the slaughter and eventually find happiness together? You’ll need to read this well-researched book to find out.

PS. the Muse advises looking for a copy with the UK cover, because Katherine thinks it's much prettier than the US one! What do you think? (UK cover on left)


IMPORTANT NOTE
You might have noticed the Muse has stopped using glitter ratings on this blog. This is because Katherine does not think it appropriate to give creative works a mark out of ten - or five - or whatever, and has told me not to! She says books can’t really be compared to other books, because each one is a unique creation in itself… you either enjoy the story and characters, or you don’t. Everyone is a different sort of reader with different tastes and moods at different times, and even unicorns have their favourites (as you might have noticed from previous posts). So the Muse hopes you enjoyed your tour of these literary holiday hotspots, and will forgive him for not "scoring" them.

Tell us what YOU have been reading this month (and what you think about the glitter ratings?)...

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