Friday, December 31, 2010

THE BRUTAL TELLING

TITLE: THE BRUTAL TELLING
AUTHOR: LOUISE PENNY
Pages: 374
Date: 31/12/2010
Grade: 5+
Details: no. 5 Armand Gamache
Library

What a great book to finish the year with.
This is the fifth Chief  Inspector Armand Gamache mystery by Louise Penny, and everyone of them has been a triumph.
Her characters are interesting and very real to life. No such thing as black and white distinctions in these books. Everybody in the books has their good and their bad sides, and that's one of the reasons these books are so fascinating.
Another reason is that the mystery is always well plotted and the solution always makes sense.

This book starts with two men talking quietly in the middle of the night in a secluded cabin in a forest. Before the night is over, one of them will be dead, but is the other the murderer?
Chief Inspector Gamache and his team are called to the quiet and secluded little town of Three Pines when the body of a man is found in the Bistro belonging to Olivier and Gabri. Nobody seems to know who the man is, where he came from or how his corpse ended up in the Bistro.
Discovering where the man lived should have answered at least a few questions, but instead the contents of his secluded cabin only throw up more questions. Soon Gamache and his team are not only trying to solve a murder, but also trying to figure out where all the treasures came from, and trying to decipher a secret code. And as some of the answers slowly emerge, they lead the team to discoveries that leave the idyllic town shell-shocked.

I truly enjoyed the reading experience this book gave me. Penny tells the story at a sedate pace with a lot of eye for detail and never in a hurry to get from one revelation to another. Yet, the revelations are there for the reader who is paying attention. 
While this is not a traditional page-turner, it is a book that I could only put down with great difficulty. 
Now to find the next book in the series, I hope I'll find it soon.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

THE LOOKING GLASS WARS

TITLE: THE LOOKING GLASS WARS
AUTHOR: FRANK BEDDOR
Pages: 376
Date: 29/12/2010
Grade: 4-
Details: no. 1 Looking Glass Wars
            Young Adult
Library


Alice in Wonderland as you've never known or imagined it. 
Not a cozy children's story, but a rather brutal world filled with lots of wonders as well as violence, hate and wars.
Alyss Heart is crown princess of Wonderland, and celebrating her seventh birthday when the Queendom is attacked, her parents killed and she barely manages to escape her evil aunt, Redd.
With help of Hatter Madigan, Alyss escapes Wonderland and certain death through the Pool of Tears and almost immediately finds herself in Victorian London, alone.
Nobody believes the stories Alyss tells about her own world and her past, and over time and after she's been adopted by Liddell family, Alyss slowly lets go of her memories and her past, emerging herself into her new life and even letting go of her given name for the more conventional Alice.
She did tell her story one final time though, to a man who based a children's book on it and called Alice's Adventures in Wonderland. And it's through the book and it's author that Hatter finds Alyss again, and Alyss can be returned to her own world.
Wonderland is in turmoil though, suffering under Redd's tyranny and viciousness. And with Alyss only barely able to remember her early life there, and not in touch with her powers anymore, does she have any chance of defeating evil and taking her rightful place as queen of Wonderland?
This was a wonderful story, a magical and grown up version of Wonderland. All the magic is still there, but the cuddliness has gone.
I enjoyed getting caught up in Alyss' struggle both in Victorian England, where she's forced to deny her real self, and back in Wonderland, where she has to rediscover who and what she really is. 
The story is fast and eventful and kept me turning the pages. However, I did feel the story was a bit more superficial than it needed to be. I would have loved more insight into thoughts, emotions and feelings. I never really felt I got to know the characters well. At times it felt as if the characters were little more than an afterthought. Necessary to progress the story, but not allowed to take up too much of its content.
Which is why I mark this book a 4-. I'm intrigued enough to read the second book in the series soon, but can't help hoping that the sequel will allow me to get to know the characters and their inner lives better.

Monday, December 27, 2010

THE DISTANT HOURS

TITLE: THE DISTANT HOURS
AUTHOR: KATE MORTON
Pages: 670
Date: 27/12/2010
Grade: 5++
Own

This is one wonderful Gothic novel.
It's 1992 when Edie Burchill's mother receives a letter that has been lost for 50 years. A letter that clearly upsets her. Edie and her mother aren't close though, and that prevents Edie from just asking what is wrong.
She does notice that the return address on the letter is Milderhurst Castle in Kent.
Over the next few months, Edie finds herself finding out more about her mother and about Milderhurst Castle.
She discovers that her mother was evacuated out of London during the first part of WW II. In Kent she was chosen by Juniper Blythe to come and live with her and her family in Milderhurst Castle. And Edie's mom had been happy there with Juniper, her two older twin sisters and even with their scary and mostly absent father, Raymond Blythe, the author of the children's classic, The True History of the Mud Man.
But even then Milderhurst Castle was hiding secrets, and more secrets are to be added. Secrets that 50 years later will be unraveled by Edie. Secrets that cover up a shocking and disturbing history.

This was a fascinating book and a wonderful but rather strange reading experience.
While reading this book it felt as if the story was moving slowly, taking it's time to reveal not a whole lot, or so it would appear. Yet, I couldn't put the book down. Was completely gripped in the story and compelled to keep on reading. On several occasions I thought I knew what the solution to the secrets was, only for the ending of the book to take me by surprise while making perfect sense as well.
Even the one event in the book I did see coming a mile off and thought would dampen my enthusiasm for the story couldn't make me love the book any less. It was the only thing that could have happened at that point in the story, that would have made any sense and therefore it was right, predictable or not.
This is the third book I've read by Kate Morton. This is also the third time she's managed to completely captivate me and wrap me up in her world. There is little as wonderful as having a book living up to or even exceeding your expectations. This book certainly did that.


Two quotes: 

"After all, it's the librarian's sworn purpose to bring books together with their one true reader." (page 31)

"She says there are stories everywhere, and that people who wait for the right one to come along before setting pen to paper end up with very empty pages."
(page 462)

Saturday, December 25, 2010

ENCORE VALENTINE

TITLE: ENCORE VALENTINE
AUTHOR: ADRIANA TRIGIANI
Pages: 328
Date: 25/12/2010
Grade: 4
Details: no. 2 Valentine
           Also published as Brava Valentine
Library

This is the second Valentine book by Trigiani, and because it has been a while since I read the first one, it took me a little while to get back to knowing and recognizing all the characters.
The book starts with Valentine's gram's getting married in Italy, where she will stay with her new husband.
Italy is also where Valentine reconnects with Gianluca, the man who obviously loves her. The man she can't get out of her head or heart, but can't quite commit too either.
Back in New York, Valentine finds herself now in charge of the shoemaking business, a responsibility she's forced to share with her brother Albert. This is a partnership more likely to go wrong then work well, but because they don't have a choice the two siblings try to make the best of it.
Then Valentine discovers an old family secret which takes her to Buenos Aires where she finds family she never knew she had as well as business associates. It is also where she runs into real trouble with Gianluca.
Back at home, trouble seems to be everywhere. Marital problems and the death of a loved one force Valentine and the rest of her family to face reality and behave like the grown-ups they are. But even if the midst of trouble and heartache, family loyalty and love shine through.
This is a book about love, betrayal, family, friendship,loyalty and loss. It is funny, sad, deep and light-hearted. I always enjoy my visits with Trigiani's characters, and this book was no exception. I can't wait to find out what happens to Valentine next.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

THE ATTENBURY EMERALDS

TITLE: THE ATTENBURY EMERALDS
AUTHOR: JILL PATON WALSH
Pages: 338
Date: 19/12/2010
Grade: 4
Details: no. 17 Lord Peter Wimsey mystery
Library

The mysteries written by Dorothy Sayers were the second English language series I discovered, after Agatha Christie. It was also a series suggested to me by my mother, who owned a few of he books and happily provided me with the ones she didn't have.
The fact that they came so highly recommended by my mother, is only one of the reasons I like the books and the characters so much. Another reason is that Mrs. Sayers wrote good mysteries, with characters who interested me and I found easy to like.
And, I'm still enjoying spending time with Lord Peter, his wife Harriet, his servant and friend Bunter and all the other characters.
This books is set after WW II in 1951. Lord Peter and Harriet have three sons, Bunter is married and has a son of his own, and the world is in the middle of huge changes as far as the aristocratic lifestyle is concerned.
Lord Peter tells his wife about his very first case, one he conducted  in 1921 while he was still suffering the effects of the first world war and which concerned the disappearance of The Attenbury Emeralds.
Shortly after, the new Lord Attenbury comes to the Wimsey's asking for help, again with regard to the Attenbury Emeralds. Somebody is claiming that the Emerald kept by Attenbury's bank, is not actually his emerald, and he needs Lord Peter to find out if this is true, and if it is, what happened to the original Emerald.
Lord Peter, with the assistance of the very reliable Bunter and Harriet has to investigate events which happened over the past 30 years and discovers that the Emerald seems to have left a trail of misfortune, death and destruction in its wake. He also has to deal with a personal tragedy and major upheaval in his own life.
I enjoyed another visit with these characters. I'm not sure that Mrs. Walsh is quite as good at presenting Wimsey and his world as I remember Sayer's being, but she is more than good enough to make me a happy reader. What's more, I'm seriously thinking of reading all the books in the series again. It's been a very long time since I read one of the originals by Sayers.

Friday, December 17, 2010

THE MacGREGOR BRIDES: CHRISTMAS FAIRYTALES

TITLE: THE MacGREGOR BRIDES: 
CHRISTMAS FAIRYTALES
AUTHOR: NORA ROBERTS
Pages: 379
Date: 17/12/2010
Grade: 4
Details: one book with three stories
Own

Romance and Christmas, what's not to like?
This book contains three separate stories, each of them just over 120 pages long.
Daniel McGregor is 90 years old and the patriarch of a rich and powerful family. And when he decides that it's time for his grand daughters to get married, he's is not one to sit back and hope for the best. He makes the girls single status his project and starting with Laura, introduces, what he considers to be, the prefect men into their lives. 

Laura, Gwen and Julia each think they don't have time for love or a serious relationship, but the men Daniel McGregor sends their way are just perfect for them. And although the girls don't like the idea of their grandfather interfering in their love lives and try to defy him, they soon discover that there is no defying their feelings and that resistance is indeed futile.
This is vintage Nora Roberts, so the stories are predictable, the outcome certain and the relationships sexy. This was also a very comfortable and easy read, with characters it's hard not to like. Sometimes it's so nice to just relax into a story and switch the brain of.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

EDGE

TITLE: EDGE
AUTHOR: JEFFREY DEAVER
Pages: 420
Date: 11/12/2010
Grade: 4
Details: Stand-alone
Library

A stand-alone thriller by Jeffrey Deaver, set in the world of protection officers.
A lifter is a professional who can be hired to find people, get information from them by any means, and kill them and anybody they have to go through to get to their target.
Henry Loving, is such a lifter and has targeted the family of police detective Ryan Kessler. Appointed to protect Kessler and his family is protection officer Corte, who had to listen powerlessly six year ago while Loving tortured and killed his colleague and mentor.
Corte now has several goals. He needs to protect the Kesslers, find out why someone has set Loving on them, stop Loving and discover who hired Loving.
Corte is a true professional, dedicated to his job of protecting those targeted and finding those who want them. He is also a man on a mission, determined to not only stop Loving but to capture him as well. Corte is a man who doesn't smile, doesn't get personally involved with those he protects, and appears to have no private life.
But, Corte has a problem since it is not clear why the Kessler family is being targeted, or even which member of the family is the one with knowledge that could be harmful to someone. And while Corte is good at playing the protection game and staying one step ahead of his opponents, Loving is just as good. With the personal history between Loving and Corte, the stakes in this game are even higher than they normally are.
This is not a mystery in the strict sense of the word since it's clear from the start that Loving is the man who must be stopped. The mystery here is who Loving is actually after, and why. Once that has been established, the rest will fall into place.
This was a good thriller; I don't think Deaver is capable of writing a bad thriller. But, although I liked the story, I didn't feel any attachment to it or the characters while I was reading the book. I also found the book surprisingly easy to put down and ignore at times. Still, it's not so much that there is anything wrong with this book, but rather that it isn't quite as good as the Lincoln Ryhme or Kathryn Dance books.

Monday, December 6, 2010

I AM NUMBER FOUR

TITLE: I AM NUMBER FOUR
AUTHOR: PITTACUS LORE
Pages: 360
Date: 05/12/2010
Grade: 3.5
Details: no. 1 The Lorien Nine / YA
Library 

John Smith is not like any other teenager. In fact, John Smith is not his name. He's had countless names over the past 10 years, and has lived in an endless variety of places all over the US.
Ten years ago he was one of nine children who were shipped away from the planet Lorien to Earth while his home was being destroyed by the Mogadorians. Now the Mogadorians are on Earth, trying to find the nine now teenagers. The kids have to be killed in order. John is number four and the first tree have already died.
John and his guardian Henry move to Paradise, Ohio, and for the first time since arriving on Earth John is feeling at home in a community. He is also growing into his special powers, legacies, which makes the Mogadorians even more desperate to kill him. The smart thing would be to move away again, but John is tired of running from place to place. His decision to stay in Paradise will have far reaching consequences.
Well, what can I say about this book. It is not a very original story idea, the good few with special powers up against the many evil with their own powers.
The main person in the book slowly growing into his powers and facing the fight rather than run away as he and his guardian have done in the past.
A love interest, a rival who turns out to be good after all.
In short, this was a rather predictable story. It was also fairly supervisual. There wasn't any real character development. In fact, I didn't feel like I was getting to know any of the characters at all. This story was basically about the thrills and adventure, with the characters almost a burden, needed to keep the action going but without any value of their own to bring to the story.
From what I read about this book, I understand that it was written as part of a sort of workshop, especially created to bring about a series of successful young adult novels. And, that's what it reads like, something manufactured rather then lovingly written.
Having said that, it was an easy story to read and I did keep on turning the pages and can even see myself reading a sequel. So it wasn't all bad.
Apparently a movie based on this book is to be released soon.I just hope that the actors who get to play these characters in the upcoming movie manage to give some depth to the persons they portray. But either way, I can see this story being converted into a successful movie. This is the sort of story that probably works better on the big screen than on the pages of a book.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

NEVER LET ME GO

TITLE: NEVER LET ME GO
AUTHOR: KAZUO ISHIGURO
Pages: 468
Date: 05/12/2010
Grade: 5
Details: Large Print Edition
Library

A beautiful, shocking and disturbing story, which only slowly reveals what exactly is going on.
This book raises some ethical questions that it is worth thinking about and for which easy answers don't exist.
It is also next to impossible to describe the story without giving to much away.
The story is told by Kathy, who aged 31, looks back on her childhood spend at Hailsham, a boarding school where she and other kids live for the first 16 years of their lives. Life at the school is mostly good and what you would expect of a private school, except that the reader soon discovers that there are subtle differences. None of the kids appear to have or ever have had parents and there is little or no contact with the outside world. Their contacts with adults is mostly limited to their teachers, who are called Guardians. The kids are aware that they are being prepared for something and that there is a lot they are not being told.
In this otherworldly atmosphere some things are very recognizable though, like the friendships the kids develop and the ups and downs these relationships go through, the jealousies, fights and reconciliations.
Kathy hasn't really thought about her past at the school for years when she is reunited with her old friends, Ruth and Tommy. But then it all comes back to her and as she shares her memories of how she went from innocent to semi understanding, the true horror of the story reveals itself to the reader. But it is in Kathy's present that both she and the reader get a real insight into the horror of her and her friend's lives.
The ease with which I read this story is in stark contrast to the subject matter, but that is one of the reasons this book is so special.It was only after I finished the book and thought about it for a while that the shocking truth of the story hit me fully.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

THE LANGUAGE OF BEES

TITLE: THE LANGUAGE OF BEES
AUTHOR: LAURIE R. KING
Pages: 473
Date: 02/12/2010
Grade: 4.5
Details: no. 9 Mary Russell and Sherlock Holmes
Library

I do adore this series featuring Mary Russell and her husband, Sherlock Holmes. And it had been way too long since I'd last read a story about them.
This book almost made up for the long wait though, since it lived up to all my expectations. Beautifully written, well plotted and exciting without depending on thrills, this was a fascinating read.
Mary and Holmes return home after a long journey to find Damian Adler waiting for them there. Damian is the son of Holmes and "that woman", the one who got away. He is also a young man Holmes didn't know existed until a few years previously. A young man who appeared uninterested in any contact with his father.
Now he's looking for help though. Damian's wife and young daughter have disappeared, and he needs his father to find them. Holmes immediately agrees to help and the two men set of to London.
Mary stays at home where she keeps herself busy trying to figure out why one of Holmes' bee hives has swarmed, but she can't keep her mind of Damian and the mystery he brought to her home. Before long, Mary finds herself in London too, lodging with Mycroft and delving into an obscure religion and blood sacrifices in various ancient locations, taking a variety of forms.
When Damian disappears and his wife turns up murdered, Mary has to wonder not only if Damian might be a coldblooded killer, but also if her husband may for once have abandoned his famous objectivity and reasoning.
Years ago I marvelled at how well Mrs. King partnered the young Mary Russell with the much older Sherlock Holmes, and that sense of wonder is still with me. The relationship works. Their cooperation during investigations is effective, with the two of them being equals when it comes to detection and nicely complementing each other when necessary.
Something occurred to me while reading this book though. Wouldn't it be great if Mary Russell could meet Maisie Dobbs (from the books by Jacqueline Winspear). After all they do operate during the same era. I can't help thinking it would make for a marvelous story if they ever did.


Saturday, November 27, 2010

THE WORD FOR YES

TITLE: THE WORD FOR YES
AUTHOR: TOM MAC INTYRE
Pages: 36
Date: 27/10/2010
Grade: 2.5
Details: First five stories in the book read for book club meeting
Library

I should probably start this review by stating that I'm not a short story reader. I like my stories long, full of detail and character development. Short stories, regardless of who has written them or what they are about, always leave me feeling short changed.

These short stories were worse than most though. I'm not sure if that is because there wasn't any rhyme or reason to them, because I'm not Irish or because they just went way over my head. I do know that I've absolutely no idea what the author was trying to tell me in any of these stories.

I only read the first five stories in this book, the stories taken from "Dance the Dance" and I have to say that by the time I had read the 36 pages they covered, I was relieved I didn't have to read on.
I don't think I'll be returning to Tom Mac Intyre's writing any time soon, if ever.  

For what it's worth, here is what I did manage to make of the stories I read:
Stallions: A young boy watches a stallion mounting mares, fascinated and excited, until his mother puts a stop to it.
The Great Sword: A stranger, Syl Jameson, rides into town on his "autocycle" like "Jesus on a motorcycle", angers the priest and mesmerises the boy before he disappears again.
Willy Wynne, Con Moto: A minor uprising in the local cinema where the classes are strictly separated. When a young man, Willy, in the richer seats starts whistling along with the movie music, the "masses" follow.
Gunning's Word: A word, sentence, spoken in anger (or jest?) may well end up sending a sober man to an early grave.
An Aspect of the Rising: A whore shouts abuse at De Valera's presidential residence before the man gets what he thought he was brought to the location for in the first place.

THE GOOD MAN JESUS AND THE SCOUNDREL CHRIST

TITLE: THE GOOD MAN JESUS AND THE SCOUNDREL CHRIST
AUTHOR: PHILIP PULLMAN
Pages: 245
Date: 27/11/2010
Grade: 5-
Own

This book was send to me by by BookHugger as part of their RealReaders programme, for me to read and give my personal and honest opinion.

Philip Pullman is known for his stance against organized religion. That opinion was visible in the "His Dark Materials" trilogy, for those able to read the meaning underneath the gripping adventure story.
In this book, Pullman's ideas are out in the open, clear for everybody to see and impossible to ignore.
This is the story of a baby boy named Jesus, and his twin brother, named Christ, who were born to a woman named Mary. While Jesus was a healthy and strong baby, Christ was weak and sickly, and his mother's farvourite.
In their younger years, Jesus was the child prone to mischief while Christ was quiet and aimed to please his parents.
When Jesus starts preaching to the people, and performing miracles, Christ is one of the spectators. But, Christ is also the one who can see the potential future of Jesus's work. He looks into the future and can see his brother and his teachings immortalized, an institution erected in his brother's honour, and institution that would ensure that his brother's words would live for ever.
Jesus doesn't like the sound of this future his brother can see and wants no part in it. But Christ decides he knows better and starts writing the words and deeds of Jesus down for prosperity. Because he feels that Jesus's stories are at times ambiguous, Christ writes some things down not quite as they are but as he thinks they should be. And soon Christ is approached by a stranger, a man who never reveals his identity but appears to know all about him and his brother and agrees with him that "the statements need to be edited, the meanings clarified, the complexities unravelled, for the simple-of-understanding". And with that events take a course that can't be reversed. A course that was never planned or wanted by Jesus but forced upon him by others.
The language and the story in this book are deceptively simple. And because the main thread of the story is a very familiar one, there is the temptation to fly over the pages. Doing that would be a shame though, since there is a lot on these pages that deserves contemplation and the readers full attention.
This is a story that will give the reader a lot to think about. For some this story will be confirmation of what they already felt. For others, those who are firm believers in the church and its teachings and authority, this will be a hard book to read, and a book that may well leave them angry. For me this was a beautiful and fascinating fable, and a story that will stay in my mind for a long time.

Friday, November 26, 2010

MORTAL REMAINS

TITLE: MORTAL REMAINS
AUTHOR: KATHY REICHS
Pages: 302
Date: 26/11/2010
Grade: 4+
Details: no. 13 Temperance Brennan
            Title in USA: SPIDER BONES
Library


I love this series by Reichs and have done so from the very first book. The fact that a lot of the science in the books goes completely over my head doesn't interfere with my enjoyment at all. However, this one disappointed me a bit. 
There were too many unidentified remains in this book for me. I wasn't far into the book before I lost track of who was who and how they were or weren't connected. I wasn't completely convinced by the way the two story lines were pulled together either.
Having said that, I loved the insight this book gave me into all the work the US military puts into finding and identifying the remains of service men lost in combat. I also enjoyed the fact that Ryan was really involved in the story and that both his and Tempe's daughters were in the story.
This book starts with Tempe being called to a lake where a drowning victim has been recovered. The drowning itself is a bit macabre, but things get really confusing when the man is identified as "Spider" Lowery, who is supposed to have died 40 years earlier in Vietnam.
Tempe is asked to travel to Hawaii to a centre where the US military works on identifying the remains of unknown service men who have died. She's only there a few days when she finds herself facing three sets of remains, who could all be Lowery.
While in Hawaii with her daughter Kathy, Tempe is also asked to assist a local medical examiner who is trying to identify body parts which have been recovered from the sea.
Ryan and his troubled daughter Lily also travel to Hawaii adding extra tension to the situation.
When the Lowery case appears to be connected to the Hawaiian case, things get really confusing. And not just for Tempe.
If you've never read a book in this series, I would not start with this one. If, like me, you are a fan of this series though, you'd be a fool to miss this one, even if it has a few minor "faults".
 

Sunday, November 21, 2010

VIOLA IN REEL LIFE

TITLE: VIOLA IN REEL LIFE
AUTHOR: ADRIANA TRIGIANI
Pages: 282
Date: 21/11/2010
Grade: 4+
Details: No. 1 Viola
            Junior Fiction, age 12 - 14

I love everything by Trigiani. She could write about potatoes growing, and I would marvel at her way with words, This book didn't let me down.
This story is about 14 year old Viola. When her parents have to go to Afghanistan for a year for a movie project, she's send to the Perfect Academy boarding school, much to her displeasure.
She's convinced that she will be miserable, having to spend a year amidst strangers in South Bend, Indiana, away from everything she knows and loves in New York City. Her only real connections with her past life are provided by her computer and her video camera which she uses for a video diary.
But, the Perfect Academy has a few surprises in store for Viola. Over the course of the school year she learns about friendship, love, making movies and ghosts.
This was a fun read. Viola is a very likable character. A true teenager and therefore rather self-absorbed but also quick to recognize her own shortcomings and willing to see the best in others.

You know you're reading a good story when you find yourself smiling at certain passages while with others you suddenly discovers your eyes are tearing up. If you discover that you actually care about the characters in a story the author has done a great job. And all of these things happened to me today, while I was reading this book.
I really enjoyed spending time with Viola and am delighted to discover that there is a second Viola book scheduled for release next April. I'm looking forward to reading "Viola in the Spotlight" when it comes out.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

THE FALLEN ANGEL

TITLE: THE FALLEN ANGEL
AUTHOR: DAVID HEWSON
Pages: 398
Date: 20/11/2010
Grade: 4.5
Details: no. 9 Nic Costa
            ARC send to me to review by EASON Book Club
Own

This title is to be published February 4, 2011.

This is the ninth book in the Nic Costa series and before I begin my review I have to admit that I didn't read any of the previous titles.
The story starts with Rome detective Nic Costa being the first person on the scene when British academic Malise Gabriel falls to his death from an apartment. He finds the death man being cradled by his young daughter Mina. From that first moment onwards Costa is intrigued by the teenager and the impression she gives of having something she needs to say but can't.
Although it's not immediately clear that this was more than a tragic accident a tentative investigation is started by the police. An investigation that gains speed when the apartment is emptied of its contents within a day of the death and the disappearance of Mina's brother.
When another death occurs in the same building and the family of the academic proves not only very uncooperative but also uninterested in discovering what happened, everybody's suspicions are roused.
The death shows shocking similarities to the 16th century legend of Beatrice Cenci, a young noble woman who was tortured and executed by the Vatican after she and her family killed her father, who was abusing her.
Is this really a case of history repeating itself, or is there a darker, more hidden explanation. And with none of the people involved prepared to give honest answers to questions, will Costa and his colleagues ever get to the bottom of this case.
This is a very well written book. It is as much about the characters involved, the relationships between them and their emotions as it is about solving the mystery. I would call this a mystery rather than a thriller, and there are a lot of psychological undercurrents. Rome in the height of summer, is a wonderful setting and almost a character in the story in itself.
The mystery is well plotted. Every time the reader thinks she knows what's going on another twist is introduced. And when I finally thought I had it all worked out, the author had one more surprise in store for me.
Yes, I think I might have gotten more out of this book if I had read the previous titles in the series, but I don't think I missed out on much. This book can very well be read and enjoyed on its own, although it might entice you to go back and read the first 8 books. I know I will be looking for those now. I found myself another author to add to my list of "must reads".

Sunday, November 14, 2010

ROOM

TITLE: ROOM
AUTHOR: EMMA DONOGHUE
Pages: 321
Date: 14/11/2010
Grade: 5
Own


When the book starts it's Jack's fifth birthday and he celebrates it with his Ma in Room, the small space that has been his whole world since the day he was born.
Everything Jack knows, sees, feels and smells exists in this space, about 30m by 30m big. The things and people in the room are the only things that are real. Things on TV are just that, things on TV, and not real. 
The only other real human is "Old Nick" the man who comes to visit Jack's Ma at night. But Jack never sees Old Nick because his mother always puts him safely in Wardrobe to sleep before the guest arrives.
Now that Jack is five though, things are about to change.
Over the course of a few days his mothers starts explaining to him that there is a world outside. That she had a life before Room and before Jack. That a lot of things they see on television are real. Young Jack can't understand any of this; his whole world is turned upside down and he doesn't know what to think or believe. 
And it's get worse when Ma comes up with a plan for Jack to escape and get help to rescue her. It's a huge thing for a five year old to have to do, and a very scary and confusing introduction to the world for Jack.
But leaving the world of Room for the world outside comes with a whole set of problems for both Jack and Ma. It is going to take all their courage and determination to overcome those problems and make sense of the world outside Room.
This was an amazing book. I'm not sure how a book can be this harrowing and this beautiful at the same time. How it is possible to want to smile and cry at the same time. I don't understand how a story with such a depressing core can be this uplifting. I just know that it was all those things.
This story is told by Jack, in his words. He has a very big vocabulary for a five year old, however, it is also all his own since he was raised in isolation. This makes the story heartbreaking at times. He will describe things that are normal or even good to him, while the reader knows that was he is actually describing is wrong and disturbing.
This book will stay with me for a long time. It has thrown up questions that will take some time answering. This was a great read.

Friday, November 12, 2010

POSTCARD KILLERS

TITLE: POSTCARD KILLERS
AUTHOR: JAMES PATTERSON & LIZA MARKLUND
Pages: 420
Date: 12/11/2010
Grade: 4+
Library

NYPD detective Jacob Kanon is a desperate man, travelling through Europe following a trail of horrific murders.
His quest started after Jacob's daughter, Kimmy and her fiance, were murdered in their hotel room in Rome. After that, young couples have been killed in various European cities. There is no obvious link between the murders except that each murder was preceded by a postcard, send to a local reporter.
In Stockholm, Swedish reporter Dessie receives an anonymous postcard, and soon finds herself, against her better judgment, teamed up with Jacob in an attempt to find the killers, proof their guilt and stop them.
But, the murderers have a few tricks and surprised of their own up their sleeves, and just when it seems that the case is closed they give it a whole new twist.
What can I say about James Patterson? His stories are by this stage so predictable as to seem formulaic. And in many ways the same is true here. Extremely brutal murders, committed by clever, elusive and not entirely sane murderers, all leading to a high voltage conclusion.
But, because this story was set outside the USA and co-authored by a Swedish writer, this book did distinguish itself from other recent Patterson books, be it only in subtle ways.
The contrast of a New York cop having to cope with European police procedures was good and added an extra edge to the story. However, as always Patterson's characters are quite two dimensional and there's never any doubt that these stories are about the action far more than the people.
I recently bought "Red Wolf" by Liza Marklund and haven't read it yet. I think I'll be picking it up fairly soon though because now I'm curious to find out what her writing is like when it's all her own.

Monday, November 8, 2010

THE REVERSAL


TITLE: THE REVERSAL
AUTHOR: MICHAEL CONNELLY
Pages: 389
Date: 08/11/2010
Grade: 5
Details: no. 16 Harry Bosch, no. 3 Mickey Haller
Library

Although Harry Bosch and Mickey Haller have crossed paths before and now both know that they are half brothers, this is the first book in which Connelly has his two heroes working together on one case.
Haller is asked by the District Attorney to prosecute a special case. Over twenty years ago a man was convicted of killing a young girl and sentenced to life imprisonment. Now DNA evidence has put that verdict in doubt and Jason Jessup is about to be released. Haller is to be the special prosecutor of a re-trial, and although he suspects he's being set up for a fall, he accepts the job asking for his ex-wife Maggie as his second chair and Harry Bosch as his special investigator.
Both Bosch and Haller are convinced that Jessup was guilty of the crime and are determined to get him convicted again. But Jessup has a very good defense lawyer, who won't stop at anything to get his client pronounced innocent and in the process earn him millions of dollars.
Through Bosch's investigations it seems that the prosecuting team has everything they need in order to get the second conviction. But Jessup is a loose cannon and about to throw a major spanner in the works.
As always, Michael Connelly has written a very good and gripping mystery, made even more interesting by the fact that alternating chapters are told from either Bosch or Haller's point of view. But this book is more than "just" a terrific thriller. We also see the two half brothers getting closer and their daughters meet for the first time.
Connelly has stated that he doesn't like repeating himself in his books, so it's unlikely that we'll see Haller prosecute a case, or work together with Bosch again. However this book does seem to indicate that the budding relationship between the two men will be further developed in future books, and I certainly hope it will be.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

ELEGY FOR APRIL

TITLE: ELEGY FOR APRIL
AUTHOR: BENJAMIN BLACK
Pages: 313
Date: 06/11/2010
Grade: 4
Details: no. 3 Quirke Mystery
Library

These mysteries, set in Dublin in the 1950's, are dark. Nobody appears to be having fun and Dublin's fair city comes across as gloomy. However, that is probably an accurate portrait of the city at the time. Rationing after WW II was not completely lifted yet and Ireland had only been an independent republic for about 30 years. The economy was struggling, jobs were scarce and progress seemed a distant dream.
It is in this atmosphere that the story is set. Quirke has spend some time in an drying out institute and has just decided to check himself out when his daughter comes looking for is help. Phoebe's friend April has been missing for about two weeks, and Phoebe is worried about her. 
Reluctantly Quirke agrees to help Phoebe, but they soon find themselves facing April's family who are powerful players in the city with government connections and who don't want the girl's disappearance either made public or investigated. This attitude however does not stop Quirke or his daughter and with the help of Garda Inspector Hackett, they continue to investigate.
During the process Phoebe discovers that she didn't know her friend as well as she thought she did, and that the other members of the group she and April were part of are not quite what she thought they were either. Quirke finds himself up against the demon drink again, and not quite winning the battle.
For a long time it looks as if they will never find out why April disappeared, where she went or even if she's still alive. And when they do get to the bottom of the case it shows a very dark side to human nature and leads to a dramatic conclusion.
While this is a rather dark story, it is also a very well written book. The language is beautiful and depicts the gloom of Dublin City in all it's glory to such an extend that the reader can feel the cold and the fog. The mystery is very well plotted and the solution as credible as it is shocking.
I couldn't read several of the books in this series in quick succession. But at the rate of one book every year or so, this series works well for me.
 

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

THE TREE OF SEASONS

TITLE: THE TREE OF SEASON
AUTHOR: STEPHEN GATELY
Pages: 306
Date: 03/11/2010
Grade: 3.5
Details: JF 9 -11
Library

One night Josh (12 1/2), Michael (10) and Beth (10) Lotts, see strange lights and hear strange noises coming from the forest behind their house. The forest belongs to their Great-aunt who is a horrible person, although Josh can vaguely remember her once being very nice.
The next day the three kids go to the forest to investigate and find themselves entering a world they didn't know existed. The forest is a magical place with in its centre The Tree of Seasons which leads to four different kingdoms which rule the four seasons in the normal world.
But all is wrong is this magical world. An evil ruler is trying to take over all four kingdoms and destroy the four seasons in an attempt to take control of both the magical and the "normal" world. This evil ruler has also replaced their great-aunt in order to get her hands on the forest which she intends to destroy as soon as possible.
With the aid of some magical friends and gifts, Josh, Michael and Beth go on a quest to save the Tree of Seasons, the magical kingdom, the forest and their great-aunt.
This was a wonderful adventure story and fairytale. Stephen Gately obviously had an amazing imagination. However, this book could have done with a major re-write and a better editor. The story just doesn't seem to flow equally smoothly at all times and there were a few occasions on which words were repeated in quick succession where another word could easily have been used.
But, considering that Stephen Gately died (aged only 33, such a shame) while writing the book, it's easy to forgive whatever faults it may have. I also think that the 9 to 11 year old's this book was written for wouldn't be bothered with the points I picked up on, if they even noticed them. I suspect that kids that age would be too caught up in what is a very good story to bother with any technicalities.
The world has lost a potentially very talented story-teller when Stephen Gately died so prematurely.
 

Saturday, October 30, 2010

HECTOR AND THE SECRETS OF LOVE

TITLE: HECTOR AND THE SECRETS OF LOVE
AUTHOR: FRANCOIS LELORD
Pages: 273
Date: 30/10/2010
Grade: 4+
Details: no. 2 Hector's Journeys
            Translated by Lorenza Garcia
            ARC
Own

I was send this book by Bookhugger, as part of their Real Readers Programme, for the purpose of reading and reviewing this title prior to its release in January 2011.
This is the Second "Hector" title by Francois Lelord, who is a psychiatrist (maybe even the psychiatrist named Francois, mentioned in the story?). The first book is "Hector and the Search of Happiness", which I haven't read but hope to get my hands on in the not too distant future.
The story in this book is charmingly simple.
Hector is a psychiatrist who is hired by the pharmaceutical company where his girlfriend works, to find Professor Cormorant. The brilliant scientist has disappeared together with his research for the company; a modern day love potion.
Leaving behind his troubled relationship with his girlfriend Clara, Hector travels to the far east, where he finds the trail of Cormorant as well as the beautiful Vayla, with whom he falls in love.
Together with Vayla, Hector travels to find and subsequently join the professor, discovering more about the love potion while at the same time trying to make sense of his own feelings as well as love and heartbreak in general.
Supervisually this is a charming and undemanding little fable about love and the emotions that assault us when we fall in and out of love or a relationship. On a deeper level though this is a very insightful work about all the conflicting feelings and emotions we go through, and try to deal with, when faced with love in all its aspects. What makes this book so special is that it teaches the reader a lot about emotions (s)he will have been confronted with in the past and will probably face again in the future without ever giving the reader the feeling that (s)he is being lectured to.
In fact, the story is written with what appears to be such a detached attitude that I didn't realize how much I had started to care about the characters and their emotional well-being, until I had finished the book.
This is a charming book, filled with wisdom that all of us could do with. Read it to be delighted, or read it to be enlightened. Either way you won't be disappointed.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

THE STRAIN

TITLE: THE STRAIN
AUTHOR: GUILLERMO DEL TORRO & CHUCK HOGAN
Pages: 495
Date: 28/10/2010
Grade: 3.5
Details: no. 1 The Strain Trilogy
Library

I suppose that end of the world/end of humanity stories have been around for a long, long time. I think it's a recent phenomena though to have humanity killed off through a vamparic virus. I first encountered that idea in "The Passage", and came across it again in this novel. And, coincidentally or not, both books are the first instalment in a trilogy. But, that's where the similarities end. 
Whereas in "The Passage" the virus more or less wins, leaving very little humans alive to try and find a way to live very early on in the first book, "The Strain" takes us through the destruction of the humans at a slow pace, initially almost one human at a time.
A plane from Germany lands in New York City only to completely shut down immediately after landing. When Dr. Ephraim Goodweather, an investigator of biological threats, enters the plane with a colleague he finds all the passengers and crew bar four dead, having died apparently peacefully.
However, they soon discover that these are anything but normal corpses. They stay warm, they don't decompose as they should and they appear to contain no blood.
By the time Eph realizes that he's dealing with something contagious, three of the four survivors have checked themselves out of hospital and returned home, free to spread whatever it is they were exposed to.
Meanwhile, holocaust survivor and New York pawnbroker Abraham Setrakian knows that the evil he's been hunting all his life has now arrived in his home town.
Setrakian and Goodweather and a few others have to unite in an effort to stop this spread of evil before it is too late. But with the vamparic virus multiplying rapidly, and most of the authorities still refusing to believe there even is a problem, they face an impossible fight.
This book didn't quite work for me. It had a rather slow start, involving too many different characters for my liking. I got confused trying to figure out what was happening to whom and irritated by the repetition in the story when it came to describing the symptoms of the victims and the attacks they would inflict upon others.
The pace of the story does pick up about half way through the nearly 500 pages, but because there were still too many characters involved for me I found it hard to get involved in the story or even care what was happening to whom. 
On the other hand, the story was interesting enough to keep me reading right up to the end, although I have to admit to skimming over the pages when I was nearing the end. 
I haven't made up my mind about reading the rest of this trilogy. Right now I don't think I will, but it is possible that once a bit of time has passed I'll be curious enough to try the second book.

Celine Kiernan meets Bailieborough Book Club



For over two years now I've been running a monthly book club in Bailieborough Library in Co. Cavan. As a club we've read a wide variety of books and have always enjoyed interesting and lively discussions of those titles.
Yesterdays meeting was no exception. It was however different and more exciting than those previous meetings since we had the opportunity to discuss the book we had read, "The Poison Throne", with its author, Celine Kiernan
The Poison Throne is the first book in The Moorhawke Trilogy which meant that my book club members came up with a few questions that really couldn't be answered by the author without spoiling the storylines of "The Crowded Shadows" and "The Rebel Prince". That didn't stop the conversation from flowing effortlessly though. There was a lot of curiosity about the setting of the book, the reasoning behind the talking cats and ghosts and the horrors of torture. As Celine pointed out, all of these had an important function in the book, either to show how much the once tolerant kingdom had changed or to illustrate that in a violent situation there is no such thing as pure good or pure bad characters. 
That in fact is one of the things I most admired in this trilogy; the way in which it realistically shows that when faced with danger, violence or war everybody has to make choices and decisions they wouldn't even consider under peaceful circumstances.
As always the talk did stray away from the book under discussion at times, and we found ourselves talking about the merits of a good story as opposed to books that just seem to want to impress with words, and originality versus formulaic stories. The merits of authors such as Beckett, Joyce on one side and Nora Roberts and James Patterson on the other crossed the table. 
What was supposed to be a one hour long meeting effortlessly stretched out and when, after about 1 1/2 hours I did had to end the event it really was a shame. I think we could easily have talked on for the rest of the afternoon.
Celine & Me
I feel that this was a wonderful opportunity and experience for the book club. You rarely get a chance to find out what an author really set out to do when they wrote a story, where the idea came from and what may be coming next. And, what may be coming in the future is what excites me most personally. Celine let slip that she's tempted to write a prequel to the Trilogy at some point. At the moment she's working on other, unrelated, books, but I really hope that she will write the story of Jonathan and Lorcan. And when she does you can be sure that I will be one of the first to post a review of the book, right here.
I can't thank Celine Kiernan enough for taking the time to meet with us and give us such a fascinating afternoon. I can only hope it was as satisfying an occasion for her as it was for us.
Finally, I would like to say a big thank you to Kay Curley for bringing in the lovely homemade cake. I only wish I had thought to take a picture of it.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

THE POISON THRONE; A RE-READ

TITLE: THE POISON THRONE
AUTHOR: CELINE KIERNAN
Pages: 368
Date: 23/10/2010
Grade: 5
Details: no. 1 The Moorhawke Trilogy
Re-read for Bookclub discussion
Own

I'm not usually a fan of re-reading books. When you read a book for the second time there are no surprises and therefore, usually there's less tension. But, that wasn't how it felt this time. I enjoyed this book and story even more this time around than I did in September of 2008 (click here for my review at that time).
If that is because I just rushed my way through the story the first time around, or because I know the characters better now that I've finished the trilogy I don't know. All I know is that I was just as eager to keep on reading and stay in the story as I was two years ago, that my heart was breaking for Wynter Moorhawke once again, as she saw her life changed beyond imagination and was forced to make impossible decisions.
Wynter Moorhawke is 15 years old when she and her father, Lorcan, return to King Jonathan's court after an absence of five years. But, what should have been a happy homecoming soon turns sour as they discover that nothing is as it used to be. Crown Prince Alberon has disappeared and his father is busy erasing all signs that he ever existed from the kingdom while forcing his bastard son Razi to accept the role of crown prince. 
Razi doesn't have any desire to ever become king, and knows he will never be accepted as such, but when the king threatens to kill his friend Christopher if he doesn't cooperate, Razi is left without a choice.
And before too long all are left without options.Tolerance and good will which used to characterize the kingdom have been replaced by mistrust, violence and torture. In order to stay free and alive Wynter, Christopher and Razi will have to make impossible decisions and leave behind all they love. Risking their young lives to safe a kingdom on the brink of destruction.
This book is so beautifully written. The reader experiences the story through Wynter's eyes, discovering and learning to understand what's happening around her as she does. In doing so the reader is also part of her dilemma's and the heartbreak her chosen path brings her. 
I can't recommend this book enough!!

Friday, October 22, 2010

INSTRUMENTS OF DARKNESS

TITLE: INSTRUMENTS OF DARKNESS
AUTHOR: IMOGEN ROBERTSON
Pages: 374
Date: 22/10/2010
Grade: 4+
Details: no. 1 Crowther & Westerman Historical Mystery
Own


Set in 1780 this stories start when reclusive Gabriel Crowther,a student of Anatomy, is raised from his bed by Harriet Westerman. The body of a man has been discovered on Westerman lands in rural England, and Harriet recruits Crowther to help her discover the manner and reasons for the man's death.
At more or less the same time a man named Alexander Adams, a seller of sheet music, is killed in London in front of this two young children. The murderer is about to kill the children too when he's interrupted and flees.
Harriet Westerman is not a typical lady of her times, her husband is a sea captian and away and she is fiercely independent, and is determined to find out why the man was killed on her land, who he was and who killed him. Gabriel Crowther is a man who has his reasons for not mixing with society and knows better than most that it may be best to keep his own council, but still finds himself persuaded by Harriet to get involved.
As they delve deeper into the mystery, and more deaths follow it becomes clear that they are dealing with a ruthless opponent, and decades old secrets which somebody is desperate to keep. 
This was an intriguing story and rather dark. The description of the times was very interesting and made the story come alive.
I did have the guilty party identified long before the main characters did, but that didn't lessen my enjoyment of the story since I didn't quite guess at the motives and it was fun to see how the mystery was solved in a time before fingerprints and other forensic evidence. I will definitely read more by this author.

Friday, October 15, 2010

MINDING FRANKIE

TITLE: MINDING FRANKIE
AUTHOR: MAEVE BINCHY
Pages: 424
Date: 15/10/2010
Grade: 4.5
Library

There was a time when I couldn't wait for a new book by Maeve Binchy, and would rush out to buy a copy as soon as a new title was published. Then, more recently I was a bit disappointed with her books either because it wasn't really a novel, more a collection of short stories, or because the sole purpose of the book appeared to be giving earlier characters another outing.
This book has a good few characters from earlier books making a reappearance once again, but this time it worked for me because they showed up in a completely new story with enough new characters to give the book a fresh feel.
This is the story of Frankie, a little girl whose mother dies the moment she is born. Because Stella, Frankie's mother, knew this would happen she's made a point of contacting Noel, a troubled young man with a problem with alcohol and a life that is going nowhere, and told him that he's the baby's father.
Suddenly Noel finds himself in a position where he has to change himself and his life completely if he's going to be a dependable father. With the help of his American cousin, Emily, who has recently arrived in Ireland, and Lisa, a girl with several issues of her own and a lot of other people in his community, Noel manages to kick his dependency on alcohol, improve his job prospects and be a loving, good and reliable father. All of this notwithstanding attempts by Moira, Frankie's social worker, who is convinced that it's only a matter of time before Noel will mess up and Frankie will have to be placed elsewhere.
This is definitely a feel good book, although there are a few very sad moments as well. It's life in a community where we would all love to live, filled with people we would all love to call our friends. This is an easy, comfortable and comforting read. This is Binchy almost completely back to her old writing powers.