by Leo Tolstoy
narrated by Judy Franklin
"Anna Karenina is beautiful, married to a successful man, and has a son whom she adores. But a chance meeting at a train station in Moscow sets her passionate heart alight, and she is defenceless in the face of Count Vronsky's adoration. Having defied the rules of 19th-century Russian society, Anna is forced to pay a heavy price. "Tolstoy is a breeze compared with Dostoevsky, and the story is engaging and easy to follow, despite its length - a mammoth 35½ hours. Luckily I had plenty of car journeys, and it was the ideal accompaniment to painting the kitchen ceiling. While Anna, her husband and Vronsky feature quite a lot, there are plenty of other stories going on - Anna's brother and his sister-in-law have their own adventures, of equal interest. I was given a print version long, long ago as a school prize, and I'm sure I read it too, but at that age I certainly didn't gain any insight into the Russian world at that period - land economy, a shooting party, local politics, class distinctions - and I'm sure I missed some points on this reading that a Russian or historical scholar would notice. It tails off rather than ending, but apart from that it was a good read.
by Charlotte Bronte
"Written at a time of social unrest, the book is set during the period of the Napoleonic Wars, when economic hardship led to riots in the woollen district of Yorkshire. A mill-owner, Robert Moore, is determined to introduce new machinery despite fierce opposition from his workers; he ignores their suffering, and puts his own life at risk. Robert sees marriage to the wealthy Shirley Keeldar as the solution to his difficulties, but he loves his cousin Caroline."This book doesn't have the passion of Jane Eyre, nor the sweeping plot, but has historical detail instead. Rather than the characters or the plot, the most interesting thing for me was the discovery that at the time of writing, 'Shirley' was a man's name, only becoming associated with women as a result of this novel. All progresses and ends as it should, of course, but for me there were too many subsidiary characters, most of them associated with the church - I don't really know the difference between a vicar, rector, curate and parish priest, but it seemed to matter. And it's stuffed full of references to biblical and Graeco-Roman characters, all of which made me feel I was missing something. Meh.
by Kathryn Stockett
narrated by Jenna Lamia, Bahni Turpin, Octavia Spencer, Cassandra Campbell
"Jackson, Mississippi, 1962. Aibileen is a black maid raising her seventeenth white child. Minny, Aibileen's best friend, is the sassiest woman in Mississippi: a wonderful cook with a gossip's tongue. Graduate Skeeter returns from college with ambitions, but her mother will not be happy until she's married. Although worlds apart, Skeeter, Aibileen, and Minny's lives converge over a clandestine project that will change the town of Jackson forever."This was a freebie from the Observer newspaper, and I'm very glad it was, because it's an absolutely brilliant book. Really excellent, and worth hearing rather than reading because the deep South accents of the narration added a wonderful extra dimension and authenticity. The book ends at about the time I was born, and it's sobering to hear the degree of casual and institutional racism at that time, not all that long ago, albeit in southern USA. Well worth reading, and a great accompaniment to shower room renovation. The film of the book has just been released in this country, and is getting good reviews.
by J. L. Carrell
"A deadly serial killer is on the loose, modelling his sickening murders on Shakespeare's plays. But why is he killing? And how can he be stopped?"In contrast to that last wonderful book, this one was appalling. It's a 'Da Vinci Code' ripoff, substituting Shakespeare for Leonardo, and consisting of a Shakespeare expert chasing around the world following 'clues' to try and find a lost Shakespeare play, shadowed by a murderer who threatens her and kills off various people who help her. I wasn't in the least bit interested in any of the characters, couldn't follow the tortuous relationships either in the present day or in the flashbacks to the 17th century, and didn't care about any of it. Rather than pass this book on as soon as humanly possible, I'm tempted to throw it in the bin, and I NEVER do that.
by Stephen Fry
"Stephen Fry has always loved America, in fact he came very close to being born there. Here, his fascination for the country and its people sees him embarking on an epic journey across America, visiting each of its 50 states to discover how such a huge diversity of people, cultures, languages, beliefs and landscapes combine to create such a remarkable nation."Obviously being a fan of the great Fry this went down very well. The book to accompany the TV series, it consists of short chapters covering highlights of his time in each state, mostly visits to just one or two towns or attractions. In the case of Delaware, he just drove through and didn't really see anything, and Ohio missed out too, but most of the time there was at least something that drew his attention. Very light reading.
by Edward Enfield
"Edward Enfield sets off on his latest cycling trip, carrying few preconceptions but plenty of wit, along the banks of the Danube from Passau to Vienna, taking in castles, churches and good food along the way. As Edward amply reveals in this charming book, there is no place from which to see a country that is nearly as good as the saddle of a bicycle."Acquired (at very low cost) because of a trip along the Danube planned for next year. Very short, easy to read, gently humorous and mostly interesting. It isn't terribly informative about the tourist sights, but if I ever wished to go on a long-distance cycling trip in Germany or Austria, I'd probably take his advice. But it's even lighter (and shorter) than the Stephen Fry above, so I'll be attacking something with a bit more heft next.