Sunday, September 27, 2009
AUTHOR: JOSEPH O'NEILL
Details: Reading Group Read
This is going to prove a difficult book to blog about. I wasn't sure what to make of the story while reading it, and now that I've finished in, I'm still not sure.
This is the story of Hans van den Broek who reflects on the time he spend alone in New York after his wife went back to England with their infant son, stating a need to spend time apart.
While on his own in a city still traumatized by the terror it has experienced, he joins a cricket team, made up from immigrants, like him, and thus returning to a sport he played during his childhood in The Hague, Holland. He becomes friends with a man with a dubious background and life, whose dream it is to bring cricket to America, Chuck Ramkissoon.
Years later, when Hans is back in London and reunited with his family, Chuck's body is found in a river in New York, with his hands tied behind his back. A discovery that leads to Hans reflecting on those solitary months he spend in New York, his friendship with Chuck and the clues that might have been there to predict his violent demise.
Hans' main obsession those is with the fact that people just seem to drift out of his life, without him being able to stop that or to understand why it's happening.
This book is basically the internal musings of a not really very interesting man, obsessed with a sport I have no interest in. There really isn't a whole lot happening in this book. In fact there are lots of words used to describe very little.
Which makes it all the more remarkable that I had no difficulty at all finishing this book. Of course I had to read all of it because I'm leading the Reading Group I'm reading it for, but that was not my driving force. The book is in fact, so well written that having to read it wasn't hard work at all. In fact, if there had been more action and less introspection, it would probably have been a perfect book for me. And of course for me there was the added bonus of parts of the book being set in Holland, with bits of Dutch being thrown in to the story. Not all the Dutch is explained or translated though, and I wonder how that works for people unfamiliar with the language.
As it is, the authors way with words is what saved this book for me. What this book hasn't done though is inspire me to go looking for other novels by O'Neill.
Saturday, September 26, 2009
TITLE: THE DIRTY SECRETS CLUB
AUTHOR: MEG GARDINER
Details: no. 1 Jo Beckett, forensic psychiatrist mystery
When a high powered San Francisco Attorney drives her car of a bridge, killing herself and seriously injuring her passenger, Jo Beckett is called in to determine if this was an attempted murder suicide, or something else. Jo Beckett is a forensic psychiatrist, who finds out how and why people have died. The police is worried because in the recent past several famous or important people have died under circumstances that were at least suspicious. Soon Jo and the police are on the tail of a society called The Dirty Secrets Club, where rich people brag about their secrets and set each others dares, in order to create new secrets. The Club was supposed to be secret, but it appears that not only has someone found out about it, they are also trying to get rid of as many of the Club's members as they can. And now that Jo is working on the investigation, she's putting herself firmly in the picture of the killers.
This was not a bad mystery, but it wasn't really working for me. Although I enjoyed the story, it never gripped me enough to really keep me turning the pages, and I found it way too easy to put the book down. However, that may be due to the fact that this is the first book in a series, with the author having to make all her introductions, and the reader having to get acquainted with both the author's writing style and the main character. I will therefore try the next one in this series, if only because my library has it. But if that one doesn't really grab me either, it will be the last one.
Monday, September 21, 2009
TITLE: THE ABC MURDERS
AUTHOR: AGATHA CHRISTIE
Details: Hercule Poirot Mystery
Audio: 5 Cd's / 6 Hours
Narrator: Hugh Fraser
When Hercule Poirot receives a letter announcing a murder in a certain location it disturbs him, although Hastings and Scotland Yard are inclined to take it less seriously, until the murder actually takes place. When a second murder is announced and committed, everybody is taking the letter writer, who calls himself ABC, and the alphabetically committed murders seriously though. A third murder is soon committed, and all those involved in the cases get together to hopefully prevent a fourth one.
This appears to be an a-typical Christie murder in that all clues point towards a murderer who is not one of the main cast of characters. But, this wouldn't be a Hercule Poirot mystery if the Belgian and his little grey cells didn't come up with a surprising and insightful solution.
This was a great mystery to listen to, narrated really well, including Poirot's accent.
TITLE: LET THE GREAT WORLD SPIN
AUTHOR: COLUM McCANN
On the 7th of August 1974, Phillipe Petit stretched a wire between the, as yet unfinished, Twin Towers of the World Trade Center in New York and walked across, watched by thousands.
This book tells the fictional(ised) story of his performance and of the lives of several other, apparently unconnected, individuals in New York at that time.
Each person's story is told from their individual point of view, in their own voice. And as we read the stories of an Irish monk, a hooker, a young married couple,and a woman living on Fifth Avenue mourning her son who died in Vietnam, among others, we see that our lives are never as disconnected from those of others as we might assume.
A lot has been written about how this book reflects the events of 9/11, and of course it is true that that was another big event involving the Twin Towers. And event that heralded the demise of the Twin Towers, as opposed to their start. And event that also connected unexpected people in unexpected ways.
Still, I would like to think that this book would have been an equally great read had the Twin Towers still been standing.
Yes, the fact that they were destroyed in such a horrendous and violent way with such a tragic loss of life gives this book an added poignancy.But, the picture McCann creates of New York in the 1970's is strong, beautiful and heartbreaking enough to stand on its own merit.
McCann is a master at painting pictures and people with words. He picked me up and placed me in a world I knew little or nothing about.He made that world and the people in it come to life for me. He doesn't use fairy-tale endings for his characters and for that I'm grateful because it makes the story more real, the read more satisfying and the characters more lifelike than you find in most books.
This book comes highly recommended and I'm delighted I bought my copy. I would have hated to have to give this book back to the library.
Friday, September 18, 2009
TITLE: A WHISPERED NAME
AUTHOR: WILLIAM BRODERICK
Details: no. 3 Father Anselm Mystery
It’s been a while since I took five days to read a book of less than 350 pages. This book was worth every minute of it though. It contains a story that demands the reader’s full attention, a history that deserves reflecting upon, written in a language that is sensitive, descriptive and at times heartbreakingly beautiful.
When two strangers come to Larkwood monastery asking about Father Herbert, who has died, and events that took place during WW I, they deeply upset Father Anselm and the rest of the monastic community. They find themselves facing a part of Herbert’s life they never knew existed, a history that might shatter all they thought they knew about Herbert, a man they loved, trusted and admired.
And so, Anselm starts an investigation into the past and the events that took place in the late summer of 1917. Events that lead to the court-martial of an Irish soldier for desertion, with Herbert being on the panel that convicted the man. And event that profoundly touched Herbert, and changed him forever.
This is not a mystery in the conventional sense of the genre, and all the more intriguing for it.
With the story alternating between Anselm’s investigation in the present and Herbert’s experiences in the past, a horrific picture of war is painted, as well as a touching story of human compassion and selflessness.
A wonderful and deeply moving book.
Thursday, September 17, 2009
Lesa, a reading buddy of mine posted a list on Facebook of her 15 lifetime favourite reads and invited friends to do the same.
After giving the question some thought I did manage to write down 15 titles that in one way or another made a lasting impression on me. However, I have to say that this list is very much a result of my mood right now. If I were to attempt to write another list a week from now, I'm sure there would be at least a few other titles there, with some of the ones listed now having disappeared. But, for what it's worth, here's my (tri-lingual) list: -->
In no particular order:
1. Gone to Soldiers by Marge Piercy; one of the last books my mother and me read together and loved equally.
2. Es Waren Ihren Sechs by Arthur Neumann; a book I read for my German exam about 30 years ago about the "White Rose" movement in Germany during WW II. A book that made an everlasting impression on me.
3. Mijn Vader Woont in Brazilie by Thea Beckman; Beckman was my favourite author from about the age of 10, and I was fortunate enough to once meet her.
4. The Book Thief by Markus Zusak; a deeply moving book about WWII that I loved despite the fact that I vowed years ago to never read a book about that period again.
5. Van de Koele Meren des Doods by Frederik van Eeden; a beautiful story about the mental decline of a woman in the late 19th/early 20th century.
6. Light a Penny Candle by Meave Binchy; not necessarily because it was Binchy’s best book but because it started a life long love affair with her novels.
7. A Cat Among the Pigeons by Agatha Christie; again, not necessarily because this was her best mystery, but because this was the first of her mysteries I read in English rather than in translation and was probably the start of my fascination with mysteries.
8. Wipneus en Pim by B.J. Wijckmade; a series of books for kids about two little dwarfs and their adventures. Books made extra special because my granny would get me one or more copies every time she had occasion to buy me a present.
9, The Mists of Avalon by Marion Bradley Zimmer; the story of King Arthur from the perspective of the women. Very well written and a book I tend to go back to every few years.
10. The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien; the best fantasy story ever.
11. The Belgariad by David Eddings; again fantasy and a series that I loved because of the characters and the humor in it.
12. Jip en Janneke by Annie M.G. Schmidt; a Dutch series of stories about toddlers that get up to all sorts of mischief and adventures. Written about 50 years ago, the books are still going strong and keeping Dutch kids happy.
13. Anne Frank’s Diary; just amazing
14. Tuesdays with Morry by Mitch Albom; another book I keep on returning to.15. Sophie’s World by Jostein Gaarder; a very readable book about world philosophy with an intriguing and fascinating story.
Monday, September 14, 2009
TITLE: STILL ALICE
AUTHOR: LISA GENOVA
Wow, this must be one of the saddest books I've ever read. I've been known to read stories with tears in my eyes in the past. But I can't remember the last time I had tears streaming down my cheeks, leaving me unable to read on while finding myself pleading with the universe to please spare me and those I love Alice's fate.
This is the story of Alice, who is 49 and a Harvard professor when she finds herself dealing with disturbing lapses of memory and periods of complete disorientation.
When she is subsequently diagnosed with early-unset Alzheimer's this is devastating, not just for her but for all those around her too. Not only because those who love her have to watch her dreadful decline, but also because this is a genetic disorder, with all the potential consequences that holds.
The reader is with Alice and her family as she fairly quickly loses her grip on her memories, her independence and her life. And we watch as the individually and together have to adjust their lives, expectations and prospects.
The big question that remained for me is, should the ones close to the Alzheimer's sufferer completely sacrifice their own lives, even when the sufferer won't be able to recognize them or appreciate their efforts? Or should they try to retain their own routines?
I for one don't know, and I hope I'll never have to make that decision. And I'm glad that the book didn't give a moral judgment in that respect. I think, in real life, as in the book, that is a very individual issue with various "right" answers depending on who the question is posed to.
This is a book and story that will stay with me for a very long time.
On Saturday September 12th, Tara and me were fortunate enough to again be present at the launch of a new book by Celine Kiernan in Crannog Bookshop in Cavan Town, Ireland.
The book being launched was THE CROWDED SHADOWS, the second part in the Moorhawke trilogy, and a big favourite with both my daughter and mine.
Crannog is a charming, independent bookshop, but not the biggest of stores and the place was packed for this launch. All those present were made to feel very welcome and offered a drink before the launch started.
After the owner of the bookshop welcomed all of us, he introduced Michael O'Brien of O'Brien publishers. He started of by listing a host of countries and asking the audience what those countries might have in common, the answer being that in all those countries Celine Kiernan's books have been published and successful. For an author, in the middle of publishing her first trilogy, this is a huge achievement, but well deserved in my opinion.
He also explained the new cover art that was introduced with this second book in the series, and that is now also being used for new editions of the first book; this art was created by the German publisher of the book and fits the stories so well that is now also being used her in Ireland.
He ended his speech with an appeal to the audience to please support their local independent bookshops. As he said, that's the only way to ensure that us the public will continue to have a real choice when it comes to our reading, as well as a way of safeguarding the publishing of local interest publications. An appeal that was loudly applauded by the audience and is fully supported by me.
The next person to speak was Celine's agent who explained that prior to Celine she had never represented an author in this genre and was only reading part of the manuscript to recommend an agent who might be able to represent Celine when she fell in love with the story and decided to expand her horizons.
Finally, it was the turn of Celine herself. She basically limited herself to repeating O'Brien's call to support the independent bookshops before she launched into a reading from the new book.
This reading was very well picked. It was an exciting part in the story and also highlighted how good a writer she is. I had read the book before coming to the launch, but had I not, I know that reading would have made me start the book as soon as I returned home.
The evening in the bookshop ended with book signings, which took quite a while because Celine is a genuinely nice person who took her time with every single reader coming up to her table with a book. She had a smile and kind words for everyone, including Tara and myself.
But. this was not the end of the evening because Tara and me were also invited to the launch party in a local restaurant. Here all those partying along were presented with a celebratory glass of champagne and a very impressive spread of food.
My only regret about the evening is that I wasn't feeling great and that Tara and me had to leave relatively early. The real party and dancing had only kicked of when I told Tara it was time to go. However, despite the rushed ending both Tara and me had a wonderful night and are truly grateful to have been invited to this event. Just as both of us are waiting with baited breath for the final book in this amazing trilogy.
(The two pictures here are the covers of the first two books in the trilogy. For book one I have used the German cover, which only seems fair because it was the German publisher who came up with this design.)
Saturday, September 12, 2009
TITLE: RED BONES
AUTHOR: ANN CLEEVES
Details: no. 3 The Shetland Quartet
Whalsey is a small island you of Shetland Mainland. When a young archaeologist digs up human remains she hopes they will confirm a 16th dwelling on the spot. The locals though are speculating the remains could be more recent, and Mima, the old woman on whose land the dig is taking place, is very upset by the find.
When Mima is subsequently shot and killed it appears to be a tragic accident, but Inspector Jimmy Perez is not convinced. Just as he can't believe that the young archaeologist committed suicide a few days later, even though she had a troubled past.
But with the investigation being unofficial and partially being left to Sandy who is inexperienced and personally involved, it proves hard to get to the bottom of family rivalries, jealousy, loyalty and local myth.
Ann Cleeves once again paints an atmospheric picture of life in a remote and isolated community. They mystery is good and the solution makes perfect sense and fits the story. Yet, I found this book a bit slower and less engrossing then the previous two, with maybe a bit more introspection by the main characters then I would have liked.
Still, with this being a quartet there is a fourth book on the way, and I will most definitely read it.
Wednesday, September 9, 2009
TITLE: THE CROWDED SHADOWS
AUTHOR: CELINE KIERNAN
Details: Book 2: The Moorhawke Trilogy
Wow, this was some reading experience. And action filled roller coaster ride where neither the main characters nor the reader are allowed to let their guard down for even a moment.
Wynter Moorhawke, after having left her beloved father behind, is travelling alone through forests filled with danger in an effort to find the rebel Prince Alberon. But others are on their way to his camp as well, and most of them are deadly dangerous.
A reunion with Razi and Christopher should make the journey safer, but with old enemies closing in on them, they can't ever relax.
Joining up with a group of Christopher's people, also on their way to the Rebel Prince's camp, appears to bring them at least the safety of numbers, except that Christopher is desperate to leave them again, and unable or unwilling to explain why.
Religious and cultural differences arise and could easily tear the group apart again. They could also cost our heroes their lives.
And all the time the question remains; Why does Alberon appear to be seeking alliances with those who should be his enemies?
This book was darker and more action packed then the first one. It also revealed more about the main character's backgrounds and motivations, which I found very satisfying. Especially since the author succeeded in making them well rounded and multi dimensional.
Celine Kiernan is a master at drawing the reader into her web of mystery, intrigue and violence. Her way with words makes the world described in the book real, a place you might well go and visit one day, if you were brave enough.
Although this book does come with a "not for the feint-hearted" warning, it would be a shame to miss out on this story if you enjoy a well written, and captivating adventure.
Monday, September 7, 2009
TITLE: DEATH IN ECSTACY
AUTHOR: NGIAO MARSH
Details: Insp. Alleyn Mystery
Audio: 8 Cd's / 7 hours 52 minutes
Narrator: James Saxon
When Nigel Bathgate, journalist and friend of Alleyn's, sneaks his way into a curious religious ceremony one rainy night, he is hoping for some distraction and maybe a story. What he ends up witnessing is murder.
Cara Quayne had been practising for her role in the ceremony for a month. But only moments after drinking the sacred wine of ecstacy she is dead. Poisoned with cyanide.
The group of suspects is limited to her fellow initiates and the high priest, but there are plenty of motives; jealousy, lust, money, and those are only the immediately obvious ones. Alleyn and his team will dig up more dirt before the murderer is revealed.
I had read this book before, but so long ago that the story was virtually new to me. I still enjoy these mysteries featuring Alleyn, a lot, although they do suffer from the same problem as a lot of mysteries written around the same time; Not all information is shared with the reader, giving the fictional detective an unfair advantage over the reader when it comes to solving the mystery.
TITLE: WHISPERS OF THE DEAD
AUTHOR: SIMON BECKETT
Details: no. 3 David Hunter Mystery
Still recuperating from the violent attempt on his life in the last book, forensics expert David Hunter has left England for Tennessee. Here, at the place called The Body Farm, where he learned his profession, David hopes to discover if this is still what he wants to do. So when his old mentor Tom Lieberman, invites him to take part in an investigation, it only seems natural to say yes.
The crime scene they're asked to investigate though doesn't make any sense as far as either the time or the cause of death is concerned. And as more bodies are being found it becomes clear that they are dealing with a murderer with extensive forensic knowledge. A murderer who is playing games with them, and who is choosing his victims ever closer to those involved in the investigation. This murderer with his unknown motivation may well end up getting away with his crimes, leaving a trail of devastation in his wake.
A good murderer with the murderer well hidden in the cast of characters, leading to a nice twist in the end. And I really appreciated the fact that one particular thing didn't actually happen.
Sunday, September 6, 2009
TITLE: BROTHER ODD
AUTHOR: DEAN KOONTZ
Details: no. 3 Odd Thomas
After surviving the horrendous and tragic events that took place in Pico Mundo (in books one and two), Odd Thomas has left his home town for a remote monastery in the High Sierra.
But Odd, being who and what he is, can't escape the mysterious, the ghosts and the horror for long. After several months of peace and quiet he spots three bodachs in the building and knows that he has very little time before death and destruction will be unleashed on this peaceful sanctuary.
Not knowing exactly who he can trust and up against a force unlike anything he has encountered before, Odd has a major struggle on his hands if he wants to safe the lives of all of the innocents around him.
For some reason I didn't enjoy this book as much as the previous two. It wasn't nearly as compulsive a read for me, although I can't quite put my finger on the reason for that. However, I enjoy the series as a whole enough to want to continue on with it.
Thursday, September 3, 2009
TITLE: THE ADULTERESS
AUTHOR: NOELLE HARRISON
Noelle Harrison has outdone herself with this book. Without a doubt it is her best novel yet. The language she uses is descriptive, beautiful and seductive. The images she creates are alive and real, as are her characters.
Those characters never feel too good or too bad to be true, but nuanced. And I know her descriptions of the landscapes are accurate because a large part of the story is set in Cavan, where I live.
This story never felt like it was trying to be too clever or as if the author was trying to prove something. The feeling it left me with was that of a story written from the heart by someone who felt strongly about her characters.
This is the story of Nicholas, who flees Dublin for Cavan after his wife confesses to having slept with someone else. In Cavan he buys a cottage in need of renovation, but he soon discovers he's not alone there.
He shares the cottage with the ghost of June, who moved into the house during World War II with her husband Robert. June, who proclaims herself an adulteress.
Nicholas and June's stories take turns on the pages of this book in a story of love and loss, of secrets and regrets, and ultimately of forgiveness and hope. A story that holds more secrets and revelations than the reader would necessary suspect. Indeed, a mythical and fascinating story that needs to be read slowly, so that the reader can savour every single word.