Wednesday, February 29, 2012


Pages: 358
Date: 29/02/2012
Grade: 4+
Details: Read in Dutch (De 100 Jarige Man Die Uit Het Raam Klom en Verdween)
            To be released in the UK on 27/07/2012

One hour before the celebrations for his 100th birthday are to start Allan Karlsson decides that he has had enough of life in the retirement home where he lives, especially of the bossy nurse named Alice, climbs out of his window and walks of.
Allan doesn’t have a clear plan as to where he wants to go, he just wants to get away. On his slippers he slowly makes his way to the bus station. While he’s waiting for the first bus that can take him further away a young man asks him to mind a big suitcase while he uses the toilet, which Allan, always happy to help others, does. But, when the bus arrives before the young man has returned, Allan takes the suitcase with him.
Allan only travels as far as a 50 Swedish Krona note will allow. When he gets of the bus with his suitcase he finds himself near a no longer operational railway station where he meets Julius Jonsson with whom he has dinner and quite a few drinks.
Meanwhile, the young man is very upset that his suitcase has gone and is determined to find the old man and get his suitcase back before his boss finds out what has happened.
Allan and Julius soon discover that the suitcase is filled with millions worth of Krona and realise that who ever the case belongs to will want it back.
And so a madcap road trip starts with Allan and Julius trying to stay ahead of both the police, who are looking for the missing old-age pensioner, and the gang wanting their money back. And while they’re travelling the two man acquire companions where-ever they go.
At the same time the story of Allan Karlsson’s very long and very remarkable life is told. A life during which he was part of major historical events. A life so filled with adventure that it is a miracle that he managed to reach the ripe old age of 100th.

This is a fantastical book and not a story to be taken seriously. It is also a very funny story that had me laughing out loud on several occasions. Both the main characters life and his escape from the home are highly improbable and or the more fun for it.
Allan has a very simplistic outlook on life. What will happen will happen and there’s no point getting upset or worried about it, and that is the attitude that carries him through adventure after adventure.
I don’t think there is a single character in this book who isn’t either stupid, innocent or corrupt (and often a combination of the three) and that goes for both the fictional and the historically real characters.
I saw this book described as a Swedish Forrest Gump and I think that is a very accurate picture. Allan does meet all sorts of important people and is involved in, if not responsible for, all sorts of world changing events during his adventures.
Not a book to read if you want your literature to be serious or true to life. If however you are looking for a good natured fun read, this is a book you should look forward to and read as soon as it becomes available. It is no accident this book sold over 750.000 copies in Sweden, where it also won the Swedish Booksellers Award and has been in the Dutch bestseller’s list for nearly a year.

Sunday, February 26, 2012


Pages: 372
Date: 26/02/2012
Grade: 5
Details: General Fiction
             ARC received from Real Readers

“I realized then that I’d tried so hard to forget the big things, that all the little things had gone too.”

For twenty years Beth Low has suppressed memories of her mother, Marika, and Hungary. Then her father visits her in London and gives her a package with Hungarian stamps on it.  Inside she finds a letter, telling her that Marika has died and an album filled with photos. Photos capturing the seven summers during with Beth visited Hungary.
Beth isn’t sure that she wants to revisit the past she has so successfully forgotten, but once she opens the book, twenty year old memories come flooding back, unstoppable and precise, not a single detail forgotten. Memories of the time when she was still called Erzsebeth, Erzsi for short. Memories of when she was nine and she went to Hungary with her parents for the first time. Hungary, the home her mother had to flee as a child and the place she couldn’t leave for a second time. Memories of the summers she spent visiting her mother and the new man in her life, the painter Zoltan Karoly, a loud man, larger then life.. And memories of the rest of her years, living a very different life in England with her quiet and withdrawn father.
Summer after summer, Erzsi grows up from a child into a teenager, experiencing her first love, first kiss and first glass of wine during the short time she gets to stay in Hungary every year.
And then the last summer. The summer her love for Tamas ran deeper than ever and the year she decided that she too would leave England and make her future in Hungary. The summer of the bombshell that rocked her life and everything she thought was true. The summer that spelt the end of her holidays in Hungary, the end of every contact with Marika and the end of Erzsi.

This book turned out to be one of those unexpected treasures we are lucky enough to come across occasionally. Written in beautiful, descriptive words and sentences it delivers a story filled with love, heartbreak and totally human and fallible characters. Characters with enough depth, faults and good qualities to make them real. There are times you want to embrace them, slap them or just scream at them, because you want the course of their lives to be different from what it is, because you care enough about them to want better for them.
This is a book laden with detail yet never boring or overly informative. It feels as the narrator is describing memories as they come back to her, stating the details as much for her own as benefit as for us, the readers. A picture, at times of photographic clarity, is painted with words that ring true and gently push the reader forward to whatever may be happening next.
It is clear from reading this book that the author has spent a lot of time in Hungary herself. She captures the landscape, the smells and the tastes of the country in vivid detail and with obvious love. A love she’s kind enough to share with the reader.

This would make a wonderful book for a reading group discussion for a multitude of reasons I can’t share here without spoiling the story for those who haven’t read it yet.

Saturday, February 25, 2012


Pages: 344
Date: 25/02/2012
Grade: 4.5
Details: no. 11 Ben Cooper & Diane Fry

When a woman is found dead in her kitchen, with her husband severely injured in the living room, it appears to Detective Sergeant Ben Cooper and his colleagues that they’re dealing with a home invasion and robbery gone wrong. The surrounding area has seen lots of break-ins in the recent past, all credited to a gang named the Savages by the press, and although those earlier crimes didn’t involved murder, this one appears to fit the profile.
Riddings, the village in which the crime has taken place is a very affluent place with expensive properties and lots of security and privacy measures, yet no one appears to have seen or heard anything, apart from one man, the self-appointed neighbourhood watcher. It is also an area with lots of spoken and unspoken tension and resentment between neighbours.
When another break-in takes place, resulting in one person dying from fright, Ben Cooper starts to have doubts about the Savages being involved. His hunches have been spot on in the past, but he knows not to share them until he can find some prove. He is convinced though that the reason behind these attacks should be sought in Riddings itself, and not in some outside gang.
In the end, it will be surrounding area and specifically the sinister mountain ridge called the Devil’s Edge which will provide the answers Cooper needs, as well as a dramatic finale and one more death.
Meanwhile Diane Fry has been side-lined and finds herself going to workshops about police reorganisation. When disaster strikes close to Ben Cooper’s life though, it will be Fry who oversees the case and provides the answers, with Cooper having to worry from far away.

Stephen Booth’s Cooper and Fry mysteries are always well plotted and realistic. His stories seem all too plausible and true to life, which makes them scarier than a spectacular crime plot could ever be.
In these atmospheric books the surrounding area with it’s moors and danger spots is as much of a character as the humans are, adding a darkness all of its own. The descriptions of the landscapes are almost better and easier to visualise then Booth’s portraits of his human characters.
Booth writes realistic characters though. Nobody is without faults and weaknesses, although some have more then others. While Cooper is an overall sympathetic character, Diane Fry has too many personal issues and is too self-obsessed to win much sympathy from the reader. The interaction between Fry and Cooper is fascinating though, even if there wasn’t a lot of it in this book. I do hope that Booth will resolve Fry’s future soon so that she can play a bigger part in future stories and get back to her complicated but fascinating relationship with Ben Cooper.
The last few paragraphs of the book in which new character Carol Villiers, a childhood friend and new colleague of Cooper’s, is seen by him getting into Fry’s car leaves intriguing possibilities for future developments. Hopefully the wait until we find out more won’t be too long.

Thursday, February 23, 2012


Pages: 319
Date: 22/02/2012
Grade: 4+
Details: Received from Transworld Books through Bookswarm
           Uncorrected proof copy

In a small Nottinghamshire town early in the 20th century five girls claim to have encountered a terrifying apparition while walking in the woods. According to the girls the creature they encountered was neither man nor beast and appeared demonic.
While a lot of people are more than happy to brush these statements aside as mischievous attention seeking by the girls, they cause enough upheaval for an official inquiry to be called.
Three local men, a minister, a doctor and a magistrate are joined by Merritt, an official investigator appointed from outside the town. Together these men will interview the girls, witnesses and other interested parties in order to decide what lies at the root of the girl’s statements. They will have to determine if this is a case of group hysteria, demonic possession or, as most are inclined to think, bold lies.
Merritt has been part of similar investigations all over the country and knows that by their nature they are difficult and that he as the outsider will get the blame for anything going wrong.
From the very start though, this investigation is more difficult than any he has undertaken before. With the girls he interviews sticking to their story and the national press taking an active interest in the case Merritt finds himself becoming more frustrated and cornered with every passing day. And while it is unlikely that he is actually dealing with the Devil, Merritt does find himself up against a level of evil that he’s not quite equipped to recognise early enough or adequately deal with.

This was a fascinating book and not quite what I was expecting based on the blurb that accompanied it. While I was ready for a story full of supernatural manifestations I found myself mostly reading about people and their all too human shortcomings; pride, greed, vanity, petty resentments and plain old meanness take pride of place in most of the characters in this book, which creates a not very nice but utterly realistic picture. None of the characters in this book are faultless and some are downright despicable, but all are true to life and recognisable. And it is because of the all too easy to believe portrayal of humans in all their selfishness and disregard for others, that this story is more tension-filled than any amount of demons could ever make it.
My one reservation regarding this book has to do with the ending. It seems to me that the discovery on the final pages was conclusive enough to take matters further, which the author, unfortunately, doesn’t do.

The writing in this book is very good. Although this is not an action packed, thrill a minute sort of story the quality of the writing and the underlying tension sweep the story along and the reader with it.
This was my first book by Edric but I know I will be looking for his earlier works in the future. An author who can take what appears to be a straightforward and not very exciting situation and turn it into a fascinating and almost impossible to put down intrigue deserves further investigation.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012


Pages: 259
Date: 20/02/2012
Grade: 3.5

Luce is a young woman living alone away from the town, across the lake as caretaker in an old, empty Lodge. It is a lonely life, but it is safe and peaceful which is exactly what she needs after she fled town. Her peace is disrupted though when the two stranger children are brought to her house. Dolores and Frank are twins, the children of Luce’s sister Lily who was murdered by her husband, Bud. A murder Bud was not convicted for. The twins are troublesome; they don’t talk, don’t show emotions and have a scary fondness for fire.
Bud follows the children to Luce’s Lodge, convinced that they have something that belongs to him, and determined to find it, no matter what he has to do to get it.
Stubblefield is the grandson of the man Luce has been caretaking for and has inherited his granddad’s properties as well as his debts. He has very fond memories of Luce from years ago and very carefully sets about getting closer to her. Determined not to scare her, Stubblefield turns out to be exactly what Luce and the children need in their lives.
When the children see Bud in the Lodge they panic and run of, with Bud hot on their heels, determined to silence the twins forever, because if they decide to start talking he could yet be convicted for murder.

I wasn’t crazy about this book. While the story is interesting, the way in which it was told didn’t quite work for me. The whole story read as description after description, and while that works wonderfully well when it comes to painting a picture of the area the story is set in, it doesn’t achieve a lot when it comes to getting emotions and feelings across.
I never got a real feel for any of the characters in this book. I got from the descriptions that the children were traumatised, Bud thoroughly bad, Luce a good person but a victim of circumstances and Stubblefield a generous and big-hearted man, but they never actually came off the page as such.
I can’t help feeling that a whole lot more could have been done with this story and these characters if only the story had been told in a different voice, and that made this a somewhat disappointing read.


Pages: 231
Date: 19/02/2012
Grade: 4
Details: Translated from Dutch
            Original title: De Omweg
            Received from BookSwarm

A woman, calling herself Emily, has fled Amsterdam and rented a remote farm in Wales. Spending most of her time by herself, avoiding others as best she can, she doesn’t quite get around to continuing her research project on Emily Dickinson. Instead she starts improving her surroundings and keeping an eye on the geese in a field. When she arrived there were ten, but now they’re disappearing one by one. Maybe a fox is taking them, or maybe a bird.
When a young man injures himself jumping over a wall into her garden he stays for the night and then doesn’t leave.
Back in Amsterdam the husband is still getting used to the idea that his wife had an affair with a student and left after confessing this to him. It is only when he discovers that she is ill that he decides to try and find her and travels to Wales with Anton, a policeman.
With the woman’s grasp on reality getting ever less firm, the future is unsure, for her, for the young man, for her husband and for the geese.

This is a minimalist book. The author seems to be using as little words as possible leaving a lot unsaid and open to interpretation by the reader. No clear picture of any of the characters or their motivation is painted. In fact it appears as if everything said and done in this story is accidental, unpremeditated, coincidental.

The woman’s thoughts seem to jump and lack direction, which adds a level of realism to the story since nobody thinks in full sentences and completed narratives. Our thoughts are all over the place at the best of times, and for the woman in the story these are not the best of times by any stretch of the imagination.

It is hard to know the driving force behind the actions of the characters in this book. Nobody seems to think about why they’re doing or not doing things, and nobody seems to question the other characters about their reasons.
Everything and everybody is kept at arm’s length. The woman calls herself Emily, but it is unlikely that is actually her name. Her husband is only identified as such, “the husband”. These two main protagonists don’t want to get close to the people around them.

The minimalistic approach and jumbled thoughts almost make this novel too realistic. No prettifying of life for this author, life is depicted in sober terms and a gloomy light, just as it was in The Twin. This doesn’t make for an easy to read book, but it does create real feelings in the reader and makes the story strangely compelling. On several occasions I had to put the book down for a little while just to process what was actually happening.
The writing in this book is sparse, unemotional and yet leaden with meaning even if the reader has to look for that meaning between the words and lines.

A lot of the narrative in this book revolves around language and translation, which makes me wonder how much, if anything, was lost in the translation of this book from Dutch. The fact that this is a story about a Dutch woman situated in Wales makes that question even more fascinating. I will have to try to get my hands on the original some time, just to discover if reading the book in Dutch makes a difference to the story and the feelings it evokes.


TITLE: 1222
Pages: 313
Date: 19/02/2012
Grade: 4+
Details: no.Hanne Wilhelmsen

1222 metres above sea level the train travelling from Oslo to Bergen derails during the start of the worst snow storm in Norwegian history. With the snow and freezing temperatures getting steadily worse, the 269 passengers have no hope of a quick rescue and no choice but to take refuge in centuries old mountain hotel close to the crash site.
The hotel has withstood anything nature could throw at it for hundreds of years and is well stocked so the passengers should be safe from the elements and in no risk of food or water shortages. The safe-haven feels less save after the first night in the hotel though when one of the passengers is found just outside the hotel, murdered.
Among the passengers is former police inspector Hanne Wilhelmsen. Retired from the police force since she ended up with a bullet lodged in her spine during her last case which left her paralysed from the waist down, Hanne has been leading an almost reclusive life. And when she’s asked to use the knowledge and training from her old career to investigate the murder she is very reluctant.
But with tension growing among the passengers, the storm outside showing no sign of lessening and no where to hide from the people around her, Hanne soon finds she’s looking into what exactly is going on around her, almost despite herself.
And the murder is only one of the mysteries Hanne is faced with. What exactly was the reason for the extra carriage added on to the train, why was it so heavily guarded and who exactly are the people hiding on the top floor of the hotel?
There are more then enough unanswered questions to keep Hanne occupied and very frustrated, because there’s always a chance that the murderer will strike again.

This was a very nice modern day variation on the traditional manor house mysteries. Locked in the hotel with nobody being able to come or go, the murderer has to be one of the people there. For any readers not immediately recognising the classical set-up of the story there is a nice reference to “little grey cells” towards the end of the book, and the solution to the mystery is revealed during a group meeting with Hanne taking the role of the story-book detective taking their time to target various suspects before revealing the actual murderer and the reasons behind the crime. There is some of the conceit we often find in the classical mysteries here as well; the reader is not given all the clues the story detective has access to. In this book that is due to Hanne being easily distracted and a little hard of hearing. But whereas Hanne is able to remember what she thought she had forgotten or missed, the reader doesn’t have that benefit.
While I enjoyed the mystery and the setting, I wasn’t as charmed by the main character. For me Hanne was a bit too anti-social and selfish as well as inconsistent. Her need to be alone and uninvolved didn’t quite fit with the interest she took in some of her fellow passengers and her constant observing and (internal) questioning of those around her and their motives.
However, I did find this a quick read and once I started the book I found that I needed to keep on turning the pages in order to find out what exactly was going on. The issues that caused me minor irritations at times weren’t big enough to stop me racing towards the revelations at the end of the story.

Saturday, February 18, 2012


Audio: 7 CD’s / 8 Hours /
           Narrated by Alyssa Bresnahan
Date: 17/02/2012
Grade: 4-
Details: no. 1 Harper Connelly

Ever since Harper Connelly was hit by lightning she has a special gift. She is able to locate dead people and tell how they died. She can tell the cause of death and whether or not it was natural, although she can’t see who caused a death in case of murders.
Using her gift to make a living, Harper travels with her step-brother Tolliver, from place to place. She gets in, finds the body, cashes the check and then gets out again. Because although people do want their dead found, they are not comfortable with what she can do and often don’t like what she discovers.

When Harper and Tolliver arrive in a small town they have been hired to find the body of a missing teenage girl, which Harper does without much difficulty. But when she determines that the girl has been murdered, and subsequently uncovers that other people didn’t exactly die in the way people had thought, things get tense. And it isn’t long before Tolliver and Harper find themselves under threat from all sides. And although it is not in their job description and all they really want to do is drive on to the next job, they have to discover what has been going on in town before they can safely move on.

I enjoyed this story. I liked the idea of someone being able to find dead people and revealing the cause of their death. I also enjoyed the mystery which was written in such a way that the reader had as good a chance of discovering the truth as Harper had.
I wasn’t too impressed with Harper and Tolliver though. Harper especially didn’t ring quite true for me. She is complete mess once separated from Tolliver yet very capable of defending herself while under attack. She feels scared and helpless without her brother, yet that doesn’t stop her from putting herself in dangerous situations. As a character she didn’t make a lot of sense and her frequent whining didn’t make her a very sympathetic character either.
Tolliver didn’t quite get off the page for me. I couldn’t get a real feel for him but what I did get didn’t make me like him very much.
Harper and Tolliver come with a heavy and depressing back story, and although I can see how that may provide the basics for future stories, it did feel a bit like overload to me.

Overall I enjoyed listening to this book but I can’t see myself rushing out to get my hands on any sequels. When it comes to Charlaine Harris, I think I prefer the Sookie Stackhouse stories.


Pages: 459
Date: 17/02/2012
Grade: 4+
Details: Received for Review from Random House

The blurb on the back:
“When Nina Revskaya, once a great star of the Bolshoi Ballet, decides to auction her jewellery collection she believes she has finally drawn a curtain on her past. Instead she is overwhelmed by memories of her life a half-century before.
It was in Russia that she fell in love – and where, spurred by Stalinist aggression, a terrible discovery led to a deadly act of betrayal.
Now living in Boston, Nina has kept her secrets for half a lifetime. But two people will not let the past rest: Drew Brooks, an inquisitive young associate at the auction house, and Grigori Solodin, a professor who believes the jewels may hold the key to his past. Together these unlikely partners unravel a literary mystery whose answers hold life-altering consequences for them all.”

This is a fascinating story. The parts of the narrative set in 1950’s Moscow had me enthralled. On the service it is just a story about ballet, love and jealousy. It is almost possible for the reader to forget that the ballet and the meeting of two lovers is taking place in an atmosphere of suspicion and constant danger.
And that makes sense, because people living under such circumstances do have jobs they are passionate about, do fall in love and feel all the emotions connected to sharing your life with someone else.  They wouldn’t constantly think about the political system under which they happen to be living, they would mostly just try to get on with life and be as happy as they could possibly be.
But between the lines the suppression of people, the fear those people live with and the constant vigilance they had to keep up just to avoid being arrested and exiled are evident.
Once the reader stops to think about it, it becomes clear that the setting and the political situation at the time are as much a character and driving force in this story as the humans involved in the story.

The Bolshoi Ballet made for a very interesting setting, even for me who doesn’t know a lot about and isn’t very interested in ballet. With Nina Revskaya the reader initially concentrates on dance and love only to slowly discover and recognise the evil and duplicity of Stalin’s regime. And through Nina it is possible for the reader to understand why and how a person would be so caught up in their passion that the knowledge of that evil would remain in the background most of the time.

I wasn’t as impressed with the modern day part of the story. It is good, and it provides a great handle for unravelling what exactly happened in the past, and why Nina has stayed silent about that past for so long. The Boston background however, just didn’t provide the same tension or level of interest that Stalin’s Moscow gave.
While Nina and her Victor had me rooting for them from the moment they met, even though it is clear that there won’t be a happy ending, I just didn’t care as much about Grigori and Drew. The magic attraction I could feel between the dancer and her poet wasn’t quite there for the professor and his auctioneer.

Overall though, I really enjoyed this book. With Drew and Grigori I wanted to find out what exactly had happened and why. And I was glad and impressed that, although I had a good bit of the answers figured out before the end of the book, it didn’t work out quite as I had suspected.
I think this is a very impressive debut novel by an author I will be keeping an eye on from now on.

Monday, February 13, 2012


Pages: 450
Date: 13/02/2012
Grade: 5
Details: no. 33 Eve Dallas

Eve Dallas’s first ever arrest as a rookie cop in New York was an accident. During a house-to-house investigation she stumbled across a depraved paedophile who was collecting young girls in his apartment for his enjoyment. This arrest kick-started Eve’s career in homicide and brought back the first memories of her own, horrific, childhood.
Now, twelve years later, Eve is a lieutenant in New York’s Homicide squad and that sick criminal, Isaac McQueen, has escaped from prison with two goals in mind. He wants to get back to his depraved habits and he wants his revenge on Eve.
When McQueen escapes to Dallas, Texas, and abducts a young woman who was one of the girls rescued by Eve, she feels she has no choice but to follow him there, find him and re-arrest him.
But Dallas is where Eve’s past lies and it is a place she hoped to never have to go back to. With her husband, Roarke, by her side Eve thinks that she’s able to keep her own feelings and memories under control while hunting down McQueen. She couldn’t have known that her past still holds surprises for her and that she’s not only putting her life in danger but also her sanity.

This is the 33rd instalment in the Eve Dallas series and while it can easily be read by someone who has never read a book by J.D. Robb before, this story leans on past story-lines maybe more than other books in the series did. During the previous 32 books Eve’s memories of her horrific early years have slowly been returning to her and coming to terms with everything that happened to her has been an even slower process. In many ways that past comes to a climax in this book, and I think the reader who is familiar with the emotional rollercoaster she’s been on would get most out of this book. Having said that, Robb includes enough details from earlier books for a novice to her series to be able to keep up and get the full picture.

As expected, this was a fast, thrilling and exciting story. J.D. Robb rarely disappoints me with one of her Eve and Roarke adventures.
Robb’s characters are strong, recognizable, clever, and fun. Conversations sparkle, the action is descriptive and exciting while the intimate scenes are hot. What’s not to like?
The ingredients are familiar; horrible crimes, a deprived but clever criminal, Eve’s dark humour, Roarke’s technical wizardry and an explosive finale. And yet, even though I know exactly what to expect before I pick up the book, these stories never fail to completely grab a hold of me and keep me hooked until the very last page, leaving me wanting more as soon as I close the book.
You would expect such predictability to lessen my reading enjoyment, but it doesn’t. If anything, the experience is quite the opposite. I look at these books as a sort of homecoming, a safe read when I need something to lift my spirits.
J.D. Robb is of course the pseudonym Nora Roberts adopted when she decided to try her hand at a mystery series set in the not too distant future. Fans of Nora Roberts’ romance novels will recognise a lot in these stories and characters. The main difference between Robb and Roberts is that the Eve Dallas books are proper mysteries and plotted as such. While romance does play a big role in these books, it takes a backseat to the crimes committed and the process of solving these mysteries.
I can only hope that Robb will continue with this series for as long as I’m able to read.

Sunday, February 12, 2012


Pages: 412
Date: 12/02/2012
Grade: 5
Details: Book club read for Dialogues Through Literature Project

This is a horrendous book. It deals with violence, death, grief and pain.
This book is about the victims of the troubles in Northern Ireland. It is about those who lost loved ones and those who survived attacks but wear the scars, both physical and psychological for the rest of their lives. It is a book about Protestants and Catholics, about people who were actively involved in the armed struggle and those who only found themselves in the wrong place at the wrong time. It is a book about those left behind, carrying a loss and a pain that never lessens.
When atrocities happen the news media are always eager to talk to the victims or their relatives, to splash the sensational story all over the front pages, catch the headlines and the attention of the rest of the world. Once the news has been reported though, it is no longer news. The reporters move on to the next big story, the next big headline, while the victims suddenly find themselves deserted. The pain of loss as big as ever, the rest of the world suddenly doesn’t want to know anymore.
This book acknowledges the fact that the pain and loss are something the victims carry with them for life. It tells both the stories of the murders and non-lethal attacks as well as the story of the aftermath, of what the survivors are still going though, 5, 10, 20 and even more years after the fact. Suicides, clinical depression, alcoholism, heart-failure, the damage done to those who survived is horrendous and almost unimaginable. It is a story worth telling and a story that should be read by the rest of us who almost never find out what happens after the spotlight switches to the next story. Because, while this is a book about the people who suffered as a result of the troubles surrounding Northern Ireland, this is of course a universal story about all people who ever had to live through violent conflicts, see the devastation and still try to live a “normal” life afterwards.

I remember, years ago, watching a programme on Dutch television about two families from Belfast who had become great friends during a holiday in Spain, only to tell the interviewer how they wouldn’t be meeting each other when they returned home again. Because they were from different religions, it just wasn’t safe to be seen to be friends. I couldn’t get my head around that concept at the time, and if I’m honest, I still don’t completely get it. I don’t think it is possible for anyone who hasn’t lived through the situation to completely get it.

This is a very difficult book to read, the pain and devastation are heartbreaking while, for me, the violence feeding on violence and growing ever bigger and more intense is incomprehensible. It is probably not a book to read back to back without interruption, like I did. Since this was a book club read and there were others waiting to read it after I finished it, I felt I had to keep on going. Were I to advise anybody on the best way to read this book I’d probably tell them to read it in small portions. That way they wouldn’t have to deal with the constant stream of pain and loss, and it would give them time to deal with the feelings these personal stories evoked in them.

As for me, I am glad I read this book. This is a story that needs telling and, more importantly, a book that needs to be read and maybe some of us will take something from the book. Some understanding we didn’t have before, a nuanced view where previously we only saw black and white. If this book opens the eyes of just one person who was blind before it will have achieved its goal.
While most of the book left me with a feeling of despair, the last 30 pages or so did lift me up. The words there seem to indicate that although prejudice and anger are by no means over, there are signs that people, especially the younger generation, have a broader view and a more positive outlook. I hope that is true, and that it is an attitude that’s growing and winning ground because if so then maybe the words that kept on running through my head while I was reading this book won’t apply anymore. 
The line I kept on hearing in my head may be from a song written for a different conflict but the words: “men’s blind indifference to his fellow men” seemed to fit what is described here all to well.

Friday, February 10, 2012


Pages: 341
Date: 10/02/2012
Grade: 5
Details: no. 1 Alexei Korolev Historical Mystery
Own; Copy received from author

Alexei Korolev is a criminal investigator with Moscow’s Militia in 1936. When he is told to investigate the murder of a young woman who was found, horribly mutilated, in a disused church he has no idea how much trouble he is going to end up finding himself in.
Although this is a criminal investigation, a political investigator from the NKVD takes an active interest in the case and the investigation, demanding daily updates from Korolev and providing titbits of information when he feels like it.
When it turns out the woman was American, the case gets a whole lot trickier. And then another body is found, mutilated in a similar way but this time the victim is a member of the Thieves, the rulers of Moscow’s underworld. Now the case is not only a political minefield but also highly confusing. What could possibly be the connection between the American woman and the seasoned criminal?
Korolev and his young partner Semionov slowly gather clues and try to make sense of them while around them political power-games are played out and one false move on their part could send them into exile or an even worse end.

This was a very good mystery. Korolev is a plausible main character. He is likeable, but not too good. He really wants to be a loyal communist and believe in the system, although he’s not blind to its faults and has some feelings which don’t quite fit the new doctrine.
A credible picture is painted of the fear and uncertainty that ruled everybody’s lives in those days, although it doesn’t make this a depressing read.
The mystery itself is well plotted and credible. The story provides tension as well as lighter moments in exactly the right balance and the pace of the story makes this a book that is very hard to put down.

I haven’t read any other reviews for this book, but without a doubt comparisons will have been made to Tom Rob Smith’s trilogy. And to some extend those comparisons would be right. However, I prefer this story over the ones by Smith.
While Smith’s books felt more like political stories build around a man who happened to be an investigator, this is first and foremost a mystery, despite its setting. Underneath it all, the book is about a police detective trying to solve horrendous murders as best he can despite the circumstances he has to investigate under and the political minefield he finds himself in.
And although the politics of the time and the ways in which they determine what people can say, do and even think are always present, the mystery remains the main focus of the story. And that for me made this book a fascinating and riveting read.

I’m going to have to get my hands on the next Korolev mystery, The Bloody Meadow, real soon. This is a mystery series I will be following faithfully from now on.

Thursday, February 9, 2012


Pages: 372
Date: 08/02/2012
Grade: 4.5

The year is 2044 and the world is a mess. We’re out of oil; famine and poverty are wide-spread as are crime and disease. Most people spend as little time as possible in the real world, instead living their lives in OASIS, a fantastical and limitless virtual world, created by James Halliday, the ultimate geek and software designer with a passion for the 1980’s, the decade in which he grew up.
Wade Watts is a teenager whose real life circumstances are desperate. Living on the top floor of a stack of mobile homes with an aunt who doesn’t want him and only allows him there for the food tokens he’s entitled to, he spends most of his time in his hide-out, logged into OASIS. That is where he goes to school, spends his free time and meets the few friends he has. And, for the past few years, that is where he, like millions of people, is on a treasure hunt.
When James Halliday died his will stipulated that the person who could find the three keys he had hidden in OASIS and open the gates connected with them would inherit his fast fortune. Ever since the terms of the will were made public millions have been trying to decipher the clue that should lead them to the first key, but after five years the hunt appears to be going nowhere. And then Wade, or rather his avatar Parzival, finds the first key and unlocks the first gate. Suddenly everything changes. While others are hot on his heels, Wade finds the whole world interested in the person behind Parzival and while most of that interest is good-natured there are those who want to find the keys at all cost in order to change OASIS into something it was never meant to be.
Officially the real identities of avatars on OASIS should be secret, but as Wade soon discovers that is not actually the case. He finds himself threatened both in the virtual and in the real world, and when real people start dying he realises that he has far more on his hands than just the quest for the keys.
Parzival/Wade’s quest for the keys and the ultimate price will not only changes his life it will affect the whole world.

This is a book about and a must read for geeks, especially those who grew up in the 1980’s. Having said that, this was a fascinating read for me, who doesn’t qualify as a geek in any way shape or form.
Although I had a hard time getting my head around the idea of a virtual world as fast and integrated as OASIS and wasn’t always able to keep the virtual and the real world separate, I did find myself completely caught up in the story, the quest and all the references to the 1980’s.
In fact, for a large part it was all the links to the 1980’s that made the book so fascinating for me. Although I would know next to nothing about computer games during that (or any other) period, I got a great kick out of the movie and music references. I can’t help feeling that either the author is a dedicated geek with a preference for the 1980’s himself or did an amazing and impressive amount of research. I didn’t check any of the references in the book, but the few I recognised we’re all spot on.

This is a very well written book. Nothing happens that doesn’t have significance at some (sometimes much later) point in the story. The story deals very well with the advantages and down-sides of living in a virtual world and the picture it paints of the real world in the near future is realistic enough to be scary. At the same time the book does a great job showing that no matter what environment you put them in, young adults have the same concerns, hopes and fears everywhere and at anytime. The characters of Wade and his friends make this a book about growing up as much as a fantasy about virtual living.

Sunday, February 5, 2012


Pages: 527
Date: 05/02/2012
Grade: 5
Detail: Review copy received from Hutchinson through Random House

The year is 1912 and after the death of their father and baby brother the three Avery sisters, Aurora, Clover and Bella hit the road with their mother to start their career as vaudeville stars.
Flora Avery, the girls’ mother, worked in vaudeville before she married their father and gratefully uses contacts from the old days to get her girls started. But, it is by no means plain sailing.
The world of vaudeville is highly competitive and knows no mercy. If you don’t entertain the audience you are out, no matter who you are or how bad your circumstances.
Aurora Avery, aged 16 when the story starts, is the eldest of the three sisters and the clever one, shrewd and determined to do whatever it takes to make sure her family and she will not only survive but prosper. Clover, one year younger is thoughtful and quiet, but determined once she makes up her mind. Bella, the baby, is full of fun and good natured but headstrong and single-minded when push comes to shove.
The vaudeville world will take the Avery’s through ups and downs, expose their weaknesses and enhance their strengths. It will bring them into contact with a host of characters some good and dependable, others who would use them and others again who look down on them.
When the girls start on their career they have little but their hopes to sustain them, but as the years go by and they grow up they learn about life, about themselves and about the world. Ultimately they emerge as strong, independent women while never losing the close bond that was forged through blood, shared experience and a deep love.

This is a wonderful story about what ties a family together, about learning to deal with life and keeping your chin up no matter what obstacles you find in your way. Through ups and downs, and individual and joint interests the four women always have each other to fall back on. Innocence, pride, fear and naïve carelessness all combine to make the three Avery girls irresistible characters. By the time I finished the book I felt I knew the girls personally and would have been proud to call each one of them my friend.
The book shows the compromises that need to be made in order to gain or keep the life you want, and the rewards as well as the disappointments you might meet on the way.
This is also a fascinating insight into the world of vaudeville. Filled with intimate details the life of the artists on the stage is shared with the reader to such an extent that it is easy to visualise the settings, the performances and the hard work that goes into making it all look easy.
Readers will recognise some of the songs mentioned in the book, and quietly hum along as the lyrics appear on the page.
This is a book to read at your leisure, unrushed while savouring every word. Allow yourself to join the stars on the stage, let the descriptions of acts and sets transport you to the world of vaudeville in the early 20th century and enjoy the applause of the appreciative audience.
And, once you finish the book you will want to put your own hands together to applaud Marina Endicott for the wonderful book she has gifted her readers.