A charming journal following the exploits of wannabee bee-keeper James Dearsley, in his first year as a novice. The book is full of ‘well I didn’t know that’ moments and offers some interesting insights into the trials and tribulations of establishing successful hives. Of course, it is a timely introduction too, as there is much handwringing around the international decline in the bee population and the potential impact on man, from such a threat to bio-diversity. I suspect readers are likely to include some people weighing the possibility of enlisting into the beekeeper ranks and though the book is not a manual, it does offer some pros and cons for what might seem an idyllic notion. Intriguingly the author does also draw parallels with that other seemingly eccentric British pastime of morris-dancing, complete with the need for a customary costume. Still, he makes a very compelling case for the hidden community of enthusiasts and a rewarding way to get back in touch with nature. For those wishing to take their exploration of bee-keeping further there is also a useful list of additional resources in the back. One for the curious to crawl over.
I am generally a fan of John Grisham, whose books can be relied upon to be well paced, and tap-in to a common curiosity about courtroom dramas. Grisham also seems to often offer a critique of the US legal system, which makes for interesting observations, albeit woven into storylines that frequently hinge on broad social themes, about which he also provides compelling commentary. In this instance the fault-lines between black and white Americans in the southern US forms the backdrop. It is also worth reflecting on the fact that this was Grisham’s first novel. By his own admission there are elements of autobiography here and it is possible to discern a certain rawness to his talent that perhaps becomes polished in the following 20+ books. In “A Time to Kill” though, there is a simmering exploration of justice weighed against an understandable and perhaps instinctive desire for revenge, which is ultimately tested before a jury of fellow citizens. By the end I’m sure most of us know which way we’d vote.
I’m embarrassed to say that this was my first taste of Terry Pratchett, curiosity tweaked by a swathe of obituaries lamenting his loss. And just one book into an impressive catalogue of work, I can see why the author’s fans are so numerous. One of the Discworld series, the story centres on the Ankh-Morpork Watch led by Commander Sir Samuel Comes and his diverse team, as they unravel two murders and a lingering threat to the local overlord. Any tale including werewolves, dwarves, vampires and golems is likely to engage, but it is the delightful humour which sets the writing apart. Inventive, bazaar and laugh-out-loud funny, this is simply a wonderful indulgence.
This might be described as a ‘marmite’ book. I was drawn to ‘The Unconsoled’ based entirely on my enjoyment of ‘Remains of the Day’ and ‘Never let me go’ and the confidence that attends the offerings of a consistently great writer. However, though I stuck with it (it’s quite long), for me, it never reached those heights. With the belated benefit of reading other’s reviews, the responses do appear to be polarized, but notwithstanding those readers who list this book in their top twenty reads, sadly I must confess to feeling rather disappointed. I disliked intensely the surreal twists of the book and derived very little pleasure from it. Indeed, never before have I cared less about the characters and outcomes of any novel. Of course, it is possible that I am merely parading my ignorance, but given my former blissful immersion in the other works of Ishiguro, by contrast I found ‘The Unconsoled’ was bland and uninteresting. Incidentally I love marmite, but I’m fairly inconsolable about this book!
A return to Jake Brigance as a hero of the courtroom marks the continuance of John Grisham’ s first novel. JB now in his thirties has not enjoyed the take-off of his career that might have been anticipated following his triumph in “A Time to Kill”, set three years previously, but his brand of delivering legal representation with an ethical edge remains thoroughly compelling. Of course, the latest tale is dependent upon a scenario which duly presents a moral maze, through which JB must navigate on behalf of a victim of circumstance, facing high calibre legal gladiators. As always, Grisham confirms his standing as a consummate story-teller and his pacing of the plot translates into a strong ‘page-turner’. The book reinforced my relish of the wise Judge Atlee, who wields power on the Ford County bench, mentor of JB, but unashamed arbiter of fair play, at times based on an apparently instinctive, ‘common sense’ view of justice. There are a couple of mechanisms used to maintain the pitch of impending failure, but nonetheless, the resolution of the court case is satisfying and confirmed my standing as a fan of Grisham’ s skill as a writer of thrilling fiction.
Witty, insightful, poignant and thought-provoking, for men of a certain age Marcus Berkmann’s book provides a useful compass with which to navigate those twilight years, with humour rather than resignation, grace rather than grumpiness. Should be compulsory reading for all men with the potential to age predictably.