Wednesday, December 31, 2008
AUTHOR: ANITA SHREVE
Details: Ryan Tubridy book club selection for January 2009
In a private school in Vermont a sex scandal breaks when 3 boys are caught on tape with a 14 year old girl. During the time that follows, a lot of lives are changed for ever, while a few are utterly destroyed.
In this book, most of the people involved in the events leading up to that night, a well as those involved in the scandal itself, give their sides of the story.
This was an interesting book. For a while I wasn't sure if I'd end up liking it or not. What makes this book so different is that no verdict is given about the rights or wrongs of the actions taken by any of the characters. The narrator, in a way, is absent from the story, in so far that only the voices of those involved are heard. And while they may or may not say something about their own actions and motivations, or about their own responsibility or lack there off, it's left to the reader to make up their own mind about how to apportion guilt.
In another book, with another story this could be viewed as laziness or cowardice on the part of the author, but I don't think that's the case here. I'd be hard pressed to point the finger at any one person or action in this book and pronounce a guilty verdict. As in real life, the answer isn't that clear cut. And exactly that is what makes his book so good and thought provoking.
Sunday, December 28, 2008
TITLE: CROSS COUNTRY
AUTHOR: JAMES PATTERSON
Details: no. 12 Alex Cross Mystery
Okay, so there's no denying that Patterson is a master storyteller. He knows how to grab your attention and hold it. He almost forces the reader to keep on turning the pages, thus racing through the book.
However, he appears to have been caught in a trap of his own making. Whereas this series of Alex Cross books started of as very good police thrillers, be it with horrific murders and inhumane perpetrators, he now seems to write from the believe that however gruesome the last book was, the next one needs to be even more extreme. And in doing so he has, for me at least, lost touch with anything resembling reality. The characters, both good and bad, don't read like they might even resemble somebody real anymore. And while I used to like the character of Alex Cross, with this book I lost a lot of my respect for him.
The story, in short, starts when an old friend of Alex' as well as her whole family is murdered. More murders of whole families follow and Cross and Co discover that the man in charge of the gang committing the murders is a Nigerian called "Tiger". When reports indicate that Tiger has returned to Africa, Cross follows him there, which brings him to a world filled with corruption and violence way beyond anything he could ever have imagined.
Like I said, the plot stretched my credibility too far. Would a man, who loves his family, leave them unprotected while a gang specializing in murdering families is on the loose?
Would that man travel to a part of the world he knows next to nothing about, to start a one man investigation (crusade might be a better word) without and clues, contacts or protection?
Would he survive everything that Cross goes through in the book? The answer for me is "no" to all those questions.
So, while I'll continue to read this series, I won't be buying the books anymore. I don't want to spend my money on cheap thrills and easy shockers when there are so many good books out there.
The mark for this book is based purely on its page turning power, not on the quality of the story.
Friday, December 26, 2008
TITLE: EAT, PRAY, LOVE
AUTHOR: ELIZABETH GILBERT
Details: Non Fiction
After a bitter divorce and a deeply felt but unsustainable relationship Liz Gilbert decides to take a year to reassess herself and her life.
She divides her year up into three parts and spends her first four months in Italy where she concentrates on learning Italian and eating good food. During this process she manages to retrieve some sense of fun and (mainly physical) strength.
The next trimester is spend in an Ashram in India, where meditation, hard work, healthy living and big struggles with her demons bring Liz insight into herself, her past, her motivations and insecurities. Thus enlightened she can at last leave the past behind her and start looking towards the future.
Which brings her to the final leg of her journey on Bali. Here, through a toothless medicine man and a female healer she is lead to love. The emotion that through its breakdown brought her on this journey in the first place.
This is a rather special book. The causes of the author's breakdown are recognizable, and her need to go out and find answers as well as herself is one I believe most people come across at some point in their lives.
Of course, not all of us are able to take a year out and travel in order to find our answers, but then, I don't believe that is necessary. I think answers may be found anywhere by those who truly look.
Gilbert's ideas about God and religion are close enough to mine to strike a cord. Having said that, I couldn't see myself doing what she did.
For me the message of this book is loud and clear; in order to be able to truly love another, you must first truly know and love yourself. And as hard as that may be to achieve, it does make perfect sense. If you're not happy in your own company, you will end up bringing that unhappiness into your relationships with others.
Elizabeth Gilbert has to be complimented on not turning this into a heavy, deep, moralizing and preaching book. She has managed to keep it light and at times fun, while sharing some important live lessons in an honest and accessible way.
In my paper reading journal I have several pages of quotes from this book. I'm not sharing these here, because what I take from this book is not necessarily what somebody else needs to read. And whereas this is a public reading journal, my paper one is still for me alone.
Wednesday, December 24, 2008
TITLE: SANTA CRUISE
AUTHOR: MARY & CAROL HIGGINS CLARK
Details: A Holiday Mystery featuring Alvirah Meehan & Regan Reilly
Alivirah Meehan has won 6 tickets on the maiden voyage of the Royal Mermaid and invites Regan and Jack as well as Regan's parents to join her and her husband on the trip.
But, what should have been a few days of relaxing at sea soon turns into an interesting investigation. Starting innocently enough with two stolen Santa suits, things quickly turn more sinister with reported sightings of ghosts and an attempted murder.
These books are really just a bit of fluff and fun. There really isn't much of a mystery since most of the culprits are in clear view and identified almost from page one.
Still, this was an easy read, seasonal and fun, and I'll more than likely be reading another one next year.
Monday, December 22, 2008
TITLE: THE SUMMER HOUSE
AUTHOR: CHRISTOBEL KENT
Details: Large Print
Rose Fell has left England for a tiny village in Italy after her divorce, but even after a year there she's still finding it hard to integrate.
Elvira Vitale, once a famous model and movie star spends her summers in the same village with her English husband who she's starting to distrust.
Ania is Romanian and works as Elvira's cleaner.
When a young girl is found murdered close to the village and Ania subsequently disappears the lives of the women are thrown together by a danger that for at least one of them is much closer than they could imagine.
This was a good mystery with some nice red herrings, but it wasn't a very satisfying read. The story moved too slowly for me with too much switching from one person to another. It wasn't exactly a struggle to finish this book, but the story wasn't calling me to finish it either.
TITLE: THE PAGAN STONE
AUTHOR: NORA ROBERTS
Details: no. 3 The Sign of Seven Trilogy
It was wonderful reading Nora Roberts as I like her best; writing a trilogy, and it was sad that this was the third book in this trilogy because now I have a wait in front of me before she (hopefully) comes with the next series of three.
In this third books things are about to come to a head. The Seventh of July is ever getting closer and with it the time of the final showdown. Either the six friends will destroy the demon once and for all, or it will win, destroying them and the world they know and love.
As Gage and Sybil grow ever closer despite both their independent streaks, it becomes clear that killing the demon will demand the ultimate sacrifice. But will love, only just discovered, really end so soon and so brutally?
I'm not sure why Robert's trilogies work so much better for me than her stand-alone books, but they do. And this one definitely didn't disappoint.
TITLE: A GATHERING LIGHT
AUTHOR: JENNIFER DONNELLY
Details: Large Print
Set in 1906 in the Adirondack Mountains (USA) the story in this book is part fiction and part (based on) fact.
Mattie Gokey (fictional) is the eldest daughter in a poor family and expected to take over when her mother dies. But Mattie has a talent for writing which she wants to take to college in New York. But with her father set against her ambitions and a local boy courting her, it seems that Mattie's dreams will remain just that.
During the summer, Mattie takes on a job in a local hotel. Grace Brown (fact), one of the guests there gives Mattie a bundle of letters and asks to have them burned. When Grace subsequently drowns under suspicious circumstances, Mattie ends up reading the letters rather then burning them, finding that even through the heartbreak of a stranger, her own future and decisions become clear.
This was a wonderful book. Mattie's fictional life, though hard and unforgiving is realistically described and quite inspirational.
Grace's (real) murder is heartbreaking. I would love to think that it served a purpose in real life, as it did in this novel.
Sunday, December 14, 2008
TITLE: ;MY LADY JUDGE
AUTHOR: CORA HARRISON
Details: no. 1 Burren Mystery
The year is 1509. In England young Henry VIII has just become king, but the Burren on the west coast of Ireland is not yet under English law. Here the old laws still govern, and justice is maintained and enforced by Brehons, local judges.
Mara is such a Brehon and has to investigate the murder of her assistant. On May day he joined other locals on top of Mullaghmore Mountain for the lighting of the traditional bonfire, but he was the only one not coming back from the mountain. And, although lots of people must have passed his slain body on the way down, nobody said a thing.
It soon appears that the young man was a scrupulous blackmailer and that lots of people had reasons for wanting him dead. It's down to Mara to find the murderer and restore justice to her community. However, this murder is not the only crime in need of solving, and king Turlough Don O'Brien provides Mara with another dilemma to ponder.
This was a wonderful book; very well written by a very knowledgeable author, with characters that really come alive. The setting, time and customs are described in such a way that they feel real and natural. I love the idea of Brehon law, as it is based on the principles of confession, forgiveness and compensation.
Even if the mystery itself had been disappointing I would have loved this book, but fortunately the mystery was as good as the rest of the book.
Saturday, December 13, 2008
TITLE: THE PEOPLE NEXT DOOR
AUTHOR: ROISIN MEANEY
On Millar's Avenue are only three houses numbered 7, 8 and 9.
In number 7 lives Yvonne O'Mahony with her daughter Clara. After nearly twenty years of widowhood, Yvonne is turning to Internet dating with less than great results. Her daughter Clara appears to be a normal and happy twenty three year old woman but she's been holding a dreadful secret for over 10 years.
Number 8 used to be home to Dan and his wife Ali, until Ali left him after two years of marriage for Dan's much older uncle, Declan. This leaves Dan angry, confused and hurt. A surprising bit of news will further complicate his life, but his new tenant, Kieran, a man with a secret of his own, provides him with a new found interest in cooking.
Number 9 is occupied by Kathryn, her husband Justin and her mother in law Grainne. Kathryn is struggling to keep her marriage together despite Grainne's constant efforts to cause it to break down.
Over the next 13 months all these people will go through ups and downs and life changing events, discovering that what they need can be found closer to home than they ever thought possible.
This is another author clearly writing in the vein of Meave Binchy, yet with her own voice. It must be the legendary Irish talent for story telling that makes these authors so good at describing ordinary people with fairly uneventful lives in such a compelling way.
Friday, December 12, 2008
TITLE: THE DAY OF THE DEAD
AUTHOR: JOHN CREED
Details: no. 2 Jack Valentine Mystery
After the events in book one, Jack Valentine is no longer working covert operations. And when an old friend asks him for help because his daughter has fallen in with a powerful heroin dealer in New York, it seems a straight forward enough request.
However, before they can even leave for New York Jack's friend, Paulo, is nearly killed in an attack, and Jack has some idea of what he's up against.
In New York Jack is reunited with Deirdre and Liam, and recruits some more help for his rescue mission. However, almost from the start it's clear that they are fighting someone far more powerful then they were lead to believe.
As the operation moves from New York to Mexico, Jack slowly realizes that once again he's been given at best half truths and incomplete information. And with the body count rising a happy ending seems unlikely.
These books keep on reminding me of the Jack Reacher stories, not least because of all the violence, but like Reacher, Valentine too has redeeming qualities. Right now I've only got one more title to look forward to in this series, but I can always hope for more.
Tuesday, December 9, 2008
TITLE: SKIPPING CHRISTMAS
AUTHOR: JOHN GRISHAM
The best way to describe this book is probably "A Christmas Carol" for modern times.
Luther and Nora Krank (no, I don't think their surname is a coincidence) have seen their daughter off to Peru, not expecting her back for at least a year. Now that it's just the two of them they are not looking forward to Christmas. And when Luther has a close look at the costs connected to the festive season, he decides that it is just not worth it. He comes up with a plan that involves skipping Christmas and instead taking his wife on a cruise.
As Christmas day approaches. the couple is faced with colleagues, friends and neighbours among others who just can't understand or accept their decision, going to all sorts of lengths to make them change their minds.
But when an unexpected event throws a spanner in their cruise plans, it's those same neighbours who safe the (Christmas) day.
My main complaint with the book is that if I was put under that amount of pressure to celebrate Christmas in a certain way, I'd probably not only cancel Christmas but move house as well. Other then that it was an easy and seasonal read.
Monday, December 8, 2008
TITLE: DEAD COLD
AUTHOR: LOUISE PENNY
Details: no. 2 Armand Gamache mystery
This is an amazing series of books. Louise Penny is an astonishing author. Not only does she deliver a well plotted, well worked out and thrilling mystery, she is also a master at describing people, places, moods and atmosphere. The way in which she describes the village of Three Pines and the people living there makes me want to go there, visit there or even move there.
Chief Inspector Armand Gamache is sent to Three Pines to investigate a murder. A woman has been electrocuted while watching a curling match. Despite the fact that a lot of people were watching the match, nobody, apparently, saw anything or knows anything. And although the murdered woman was universally disliked, no clear motive stands out.
Gamache and his team have a difficult investigation ahead of them. And things are further complicated by the fact that past actions have made Gamache an unofficial outsider in the Surete Du Quebec, while forces are plotting to cause his downfall. Is there anyone he can trust?
Very, very good. And this was a well timed read with the story taking place over the Christmas period.
Saturday, December 6, 2008
TITLE: FOOTPRINTS IN THE BUTTER
AUTHOR: DENISE DIETZ
Details: Large Print edition/ Stand-alone
This was a bit of a strange reading experience. On the one hand it was a fun mystery with moments that made me smile. On the other hand, there were a few occasions where I thought things weren't explained enough or the story and/or main character made jumps that just weren't explained enough.
Ingrid Beaumont is a songwriter who shares her house with Hitchcock, her big dog.
The day after a high school reunion, Wylie Jamestone is found murdered. He had angered many people during his life and during the reunion, so there's no shortage of suspects. He leaves Ingrid both a painting and a challenge to find his murderer. A challenge Ingrid accepts although she doesn't actually like mysteries.
Tuesday, December 2, 2008
TITLE: REVOLUTIONARY ROAD
AUTHOR: RICHARD YATES
This book tells the story of a suburban tragedy. First published in 1961 and set in 1955, it's very much a portrait of that time. Yet, I can't help feeling it's also a timeless tale of loneliness within a marriage, alienation within the suburbs.
Frank and April Wheeler are a married couple with two children, living in the suburbs from where Frank commutes into New York City to an unsatisfactory job while April stays at home for an unfulfilling existence of her own.
Hope alights into their dreary life and relationship when April comes up with a plan for them to leave all behind for a fresh start in Paris.
However, the combination of Frank cowardly back tracking from this plan and an unplanned pregnancy mean that instead of a positive new beginning, the story ends in tragedy.
This is not a happy or optimistic story. Although there are no out and out bad characters, none of them have any redeeming qualities either. It describes small and uneventful lives in a small and uninteresting environment.
However, somehow the book avoids being depressing, even while the story is sad and thought provoking.