Dwarves by Markus Heitz
I picked this up because I felt like reading a fairly standard, light, fantasy fare. So I can’t really complain that that’s what I got. Translated from German, this novel is a straightforward quest story where characters fall into types, and where everybody acts largely as you’d expect them to. It’s quite enjoyable and there are twists, but overall I found it just a little too two-dimensional for my tastes, even as a light read. Whether it’s lost something in translation or not, there just wasn’t enough meat to the characters to truly care about the adventure.
Skullduggery Pleasant by Derek Landry
This book, on the other hand, was exactly what I hoped it would be, and more. Essentially a YA or even children’s book, this is the story of a teenage girl who is befriended by a living skeleton and drawn into a dangerous adventure involving dark magic. There’s a lot of Doctor Who about this book, in the relationship between Skullduggery and Stephanie and also in the book’s humour. There were a lot of pieces of dialogue in this book which made me chuckle out loud, and that’s a rare thing. There’s nothing devastatingly original here, but what it does it does extremely well. Highly recommended for a light-hearted read.
Where in the World is Osama Bin Laden by Morgan Spurlock
I didn’t have very high expectations of this book. I didn’t mind Supersize Me but I didn’t think it had a lot of depth, so I expected something pretty shallow here. But in fact, Spurlock shows himself to be a thoughtful writer. The “search for Bin Laden” is a bit of a plot device, and it grows old fast. But it is the mechanism by which Spurlock propels himself around the world and particularly Afghanistan and the Middle East, interviewing a large number of people on both “sides” of the “War on Terror”. While Spurlock is not afraid to draw conclusions on his interviewees, he is also fairly open-minded in dealing with the variety of points of view he encounters, and he gives his subject both humour and intelligent thought in equal doses. I’m sure there are stronger analyses of the subject matter, but as a light but researched entree into the subject, it is worth a read.
Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel
This is probably my favourite book of the year, so far. I’m not sure exactly what it is that held me so captivated, but I sped through all six hundred plus pages of it with barely a pause. Wolf Hall is basically the story of Thomas Cromwell, his service under Cardinal Wolsey, then as adviser to King Henry VIII. In part it is a book of political machinations, but it’s also a very human book, not at all dry. The characters here all feel like they are utterly full of life, as though one of our great political and social authors had been dropped in the middle of sixteenth century England and was drafting travelogue despatches of her daily observations and sending them off to the future to read. Thomas is a likeable and intriguing character. Henry, Anne and Mary Boleyn, Sir Thomas More, and the many manhy other characters are all given such depth and intelligence that it is impossible not to care about them. This book won the Booker Prize last year and it is easy to see why. Highly recommended.