Publishing these reviews in threes and fours, I do like the way the sets of books fall together – usually covering a range of my interests, often with interesting juxtapositions. And so it proves to be here!

Amanda Roberts – “Strictly Shimmer”

(Bookcrossing 28 April 2012)

I picked this up from my friend, Meg, at a BookCrossing meetup in the spring, read it while Strictly Come Dancing 2012 was still going, and passed it to our friend, Sam, at the Birmingham Bookcrossers’ Christmas meal. It’s a rather silly Strictly-themed novel that does give some handy background information on the show, and it’s nice to come across some of your telly favourites being mentioned in a book. But ultimately it’s what I take to be classic chick lit (I haven’t really ever read enough genre fiction of any kind to know the tropes), with the characters and plot to go with it (heroine with slightly low self-esteem, girly bonding, the steady friend and the sexy Other, some mild peril … ). A fun read, although not without typos, and I have to admit to turning the corner of a page down: a page on which a character’s name changes for a paragraph, then changes back!

Thomas Hardy – “Two on a Tower”

(December 2012)

I was getting a bit fed up reading the Hardy books on the Kindle, as I have a Collected Works so never know where I am in the book, so I jumped at the chance of picking up Ali’s spare copy of this one in paperback. However, I did get a little irritated at the “helpful” asterisks marking notes in the back on the most simple of concepts, while sometimes blithely ignoring things I did want to know about. But that’s a minor and over-picky comment and it was lovely to read it in the paper.

This is called a romance, and a romance it is, with elements of sensation fiction and sensation or gothic plot devices like letters, bequests and sudden deaths. We have a feisty, memorable heroine, Viviette, who takes charge of her love affair with a younger man and is reasonably three-dimensional (although elderly at 35 …) at the centre of a plot that goes faster and faster, whirling along like the very heavens that form the backdrop to the novel. It’s still a rich and enjoyable book, with memorable scenes and views and the usual rural chorus, of course. The astronomical background is also interesting and, while not his best novel, a good read.

Michael Muhammad Knight – “Journey to the end of Islam”

(21 March 2012)

A different man to the young firebrand who wrote the rather amazing “The Taqwacores” (which spawned an entire music sub-culture of Islamic Punk), Knight takes a trip around the Islamic world, returning to some places and visiting some for the first time, pondering with erudite and pop culture-laden asides on God, saints, worship, equality, monotheism, holy books, holy places, prophets and interpreters of these matters as he goes. Some of it went over my head, I must admit, and I fear some of it may offend the devout (of any religion) but he is always respectful, even if it’s his own form of respect to the fundamental tenets of religion rather than the surface and accoutrements, and it’s a fascinating insight into the mind of a self-reflective convert, a blue-eyed American Muslim in a mainly eastern, darker skinned and brown-eyed world (he has plenty to say on this interesting issue), a seeker for equality and new traditions, immersing himself in almost timeless traditions as he performs the Hajj. Unsettling and powerful; always thoughtful and mindful.

I have his book about America, “Blue-Eyed Devil”, to read, but realise I should have read that one first.

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Currently reading: Tony Blair’s autobiography is proving interesting, and next to be reviewed will be some delightful novels and what is possibly one of my reads of the year (which is why I don’t post my Best of the Year list until the first day of the new year!)