Saturday, July 31, 2010

166 (2010 #31). The Last Estate

by Conor Bowman

This slim, 168-page story begins in 1920 in Gigondas, in the Rhone Valley of France. World War I has ended and the protagonist, 16-year-old Christian Aragon, can't measure up in his father's eyes to his older brother who died in the war. Nevertheless, his cruel father insists that Christian take over the family vineyard. But Christian has other ideas.

He is attracted to his geography teacher, Vivienne Pleyben, who is eight years his senior. She encourages him to enter a contest which he wins, the prize being a trip to Avignon. She and a male teacher are to accompany him, but the male teacher instead goes to Paris to visit his mistress. In Avignon, Christian finds that Vivienne desires him too. Eventually, their forbidden love leads to murder.

This is a somewhat implausible tale with a surprise ending. The main characters are not all that likable. The author is an Irish lawyer who spends many summers in France, including one as a teenager in the real Gigondas. The trial scenes did feel authentic and kept me reading. However, I would have liked to have more description of the setting and more development of the characters. Oh, and more sex would have been OK too.

© Amanda Pape - 2010

[This advance reader edition was sent to me by The Permanent Press and will be passed on to someone else to read and hopefully review.]

Sunday, July 18, 2010

165 (2010 #30). The Clouds Beneath the Sun

by Mackenzie Ford

I received this book through the LibraryThing Early Reviewers program. I chose it as one I'd be interested in reviewing based on the description. The setting of an archaeological dig in Kenya in 1961 was intriguing. Unfortunately, unlikeable characters, inane dialogue, a plodding storyline, and too much melodrama were not offset by the interesting details about African animals and terrain, and there wasn't enough information about the dig itself, or the background of Kenya's quest for independence at that time.

Mackenzie Ford is the pen name of British historian Peter Watson, who spent ten years recently as a research associate at the McDonald Institute for Archaeological Research at the University of Cambridge. The finds at the dig sound plausible, but the idea that two professional archaeologists would willfully desecrate a Masai burial ground (a major plot point), is not. His female protagonist, Natalie Nelson, is a cliche - first obsessing about her breakup with her married lover, then obsessing about sex. Apparently the isolation of the dig contributes to this, as three of the male archaeologists (including a pair of brothers) fall in love with the whiskey-swilling, cigarette-smoking Natalie, and two others (oddly, the two who die) are homosexuals. I just couldn't buy it.

At 448 pages, the book is too long by half that, and I had a hard time finishing the book - I only did because I needed to write this review. This is not a book I could re-read or recommend.

© Amanda Pape - 2010

[This advance reader edition will be passed on to someone else to read and hopefully review.]