Favourite Books: August 2007 – 2010

I’ve been really enjoying looking back at some of my favourite books and this month I’m  looking back at some I read in August in each of the years 2007 ‘“ 2010. Click on the titles to see my original reviews.

Looking back at these books makes me want to re-read each one. I was enthralled by them all:

2007

There is so much I loved in Season of the Witch by Natasha Mostert, a thrilling, spine tingling story of mystery, mysticism and magic, abounding with symbolism. It’s a modern day gothic epic, mixing computer technology with witchcraft, alchemy and the power of the human mind, in the search for enlightenment.

I raced through the book with that nervous tension anticipating danger that you feel watching a horror film build up, leaving me breathless as I read.

Gabriel Blackstone is a computer hacker by trade, and by inclination he is a remote viewer; someone whose unique gifts enable him to ‘˜slam rides’ through the thought processes of others. He is contacted by an ex-lover who begs him to use his gift to find Ronnie, her stepson, last seen months earlier in the company of two sisters, Minnaloushe and Morrighan Monk (wonderful names). The beautiful and mysterious sisters are descendants of Dr John Dee, a mathematical genius, alchemist and secret adviser to Queen Elizabeth I. Both of them bewitch Gabriel as he seeks to unravel the mystery behind Robbie’s disappearance.

2008

August 2008 found me reading a completely different genre – Pompeii by Robert Harris is historical fiction. The story begins in August AD 79 just two days before the eruption of Mount Vesuvius and builds up to a climax. Whilst most people are blissfully unaware of what is about to be unleashed upon them one man ‘“ the engineer Marius Attilius Primus realises the danger when the aqueduct Aqua Augusta fails to supply water to the people in the nine towns around the Bay of Naples. Then Vesuvius erupts destroying the town of Pompeii and killing its inhabitants as they tried to flee the pumice, ash and searing heat and flames.

The book brought history to life and I could feel the danger and fear as Vesuvius inevitably destroyed Pompeii. I particularly liked mixture of fictional and historical characters and the inclusion of Pliny, then the Admiral of the Fleet, as he watched and recorded the progress of the eruption and the account of his death.

2009

In August 2009 I read The Rebecca Notebook and Other Memories which gives a glimpse into the mind of Daphne Du Maurier. Rebecca has long been one of my favourite books, so I was fascinated to read the notes she made as she was writing the book. She began to write Rebecca in 1937 when she was thirty years old, living in Alexandria and feeling homesick for Cornwall. She jotted down chapter summaries in a notebook, setting the book in the mid 1920s ‘˜about a young wife and her slightly older husband, living in a beautiful house that had been in his family for generations.’

As she thought about it ideas sprang to her mind ‘“ a first wife ‘“ jealousy, something terrible would happen ‘“ a wreck at sea. She became immersed in the story, losing herself in the plot, as so many of us have done ever since.

I enjoyed the other short pieces in this book ‘“ her ‘˜memories’ of her family and her own life and beliefs. Some are about her family, some about her childhood and some about the house she loved, Menabilly.

2010

Finally in August 2010 I read Thirteen Hours by Deon Meyer, one of the best books I read that year. I was engrossed in it right from the start. It’s tense, taut and utterly enthralling. Moving at a fast pace the book follows the events during the thirteen hours from 05:36 when Rachel, a young American girl is running for her life up the steep slope of Lion’s Head in Capetown.

The body of another American girl is found outside the Lutheran church in Long Street and an hour or so later Alexandra Barnard, a former singing star and an alcoholic, wakes from a drunken stupor to find the dead body of her husband, a record producer, lying on the floor opposite her and his pistol lying next to her.

Meyer is a fantastic story teller and creates such wonderful characters. DI Benny Griessel is mentoring two inexperienced detectives who are investigating these crimes. I grew very fond of Benny, who is also an alcoholic and struggling to keep his marriage together.  The book also reflects the racial tension in the ‘˜new South Africa’ with its mix of white, coloured and black South Africans. There is a strong sense of location, not just from the cultural aspect but also geographical.

Pompeii by Robert Harris

Pompeii

Recently I’ve been going from book to book and not finishing any of them, apart from Pompeii by Richard Harris. If you’ve read my recent posts you’ll maybe understand why I’ve been unable to concentrate on reading, but even if the words have not been making much sense as I read them I find the actual process of picking up a book, turning the pages and reading the words to be therapeutic.

Somehow Pompeii made more sense than any of the other books I looked at these last few weeks. For one thing it’s so easy to read and you know the broad outcome right from the start. Vesuvius erupts destroying the town of Pompeii and killing its inhabitants as they tried to flee the pumice, ash and searing heat and flames.

Part of the book’s appeal to me was because I visited Pompeii and had a trip up to the summit of Vesuvius some years ago and so I could picture the location. It was not only Pompeii that was affected – the whole area stretching from the town of Herculaneum in the north of the Bay down to Stabiae in the south suffered from the eruption.

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Vesuvius Crater

The summit of Vesuvius, today looks flat from below and climbing to the top reveals the enormous crater as a result of the eruption.

 

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Frescoes at Pompeii

The remains of luxurious villas with their frescoes can still be seen and most poignantly some of the inhabitants perserved by the ash that killed them.

The story begins just two days before the eruption of Mount Vesuvius and builds up to a climax. Whilst most people are blissfully unaware of what is about to be unleashed upon them one man – the engineer Marius Attilius Primus realises the danger when the aqueduct Aqua Augusta fails to supply water to the people in the nine towns around the Bay of Naples. Attilius realise that the problem lies somewhere to the north of Pompeii, on the slopes of Vesuvius. The tension mounts as he tries to repair the aqueduct and persuade people of the danger, hindered by the disappearance of Exomnius, his predecessor and the disbelief of the town magistrates. The power behind the town officials is the former slave Ampliatus who made his fortune after the last earthquake had devasted Pompeii. Harris gives vivid descriptions of the luxury of the town – its villas and baths – the corruption of its leaders, the poor living conditions of the general population and savage cruelty shown to the slaves. Ampliatus helps Attilius but only under his own terms – to continue the financial arrangement he had with Exomnius.

Interspersed with the story are details of the ingenuity and skill of the Romans in engineering, and of the nature volcanoes. I’m not technically minded but I found this more than interesting and added to my enjoyment of the book. I particularly liked mixture of fictional and historical characters and the inclusion of Pliny, then the Admiral of the Fleet, as he watched and recorded the progress of the eruption and the account of his death. But my favourite character is the hero of the book, Attilius – incorruptible, resourceful, stubborn, determined and an expert at his job. All in all I found the book brought history to life and I could feel the danger and fear as Vesuvius inevitably destroyed Pompeii.

This is Harris’s description of the horror of the impact of the eruption:

Pompeii became a town of perfectly shaped hollow citizens – huddled together or lonely, their clothes blown off or lifted over their heads, hopelessly grasping for their favourite possession or clutching nothing – vacuums supspended in mid-air at the level of their roofs.

This is the only book I’ve read by Robert Harris, but I would like to read more of his, particularly Imperium, again set in Ancient Rome and following the career of Marcus Cicero. I’d also like to read The Last Days of Pompeii, although I suspect I may not like the melodramatic style of this book by Sir Edward Bulwer-Lytton written in 1834, but it would be an interesting comparison.