Monday, July 21, 2014

THE FINAL SILENCE



THE FINAL SILENCE by Stuart Neville

Pages: 325
Date: 21/07/2014
Grade: 5
Details:  No. 4 Jack Lennon Investigations
             Received from Harvill Secker
             Through Nudge
Own

The blurb:

“Rea Carlisle has inherited a house from an uncle she never knew. It doesn't take her long to clear out the dead man's remaining possessions, but one room remains stubbornly locked. When Rea finally forces it open she discovers inside a chair, a table - and a leather-bound book. Inside its pages are locks of hair, fingernails: a catalogue of victims.

Horrified, Rea wants to go straight to the police but when her family intervene, Rea turns to the only person she can think of: DI Jack Lennon. But Lennon is facing his own problems. Suspended from the force and hounded by DCI Serena Flanagan, the toughest cop he's ever faced, Lennon must unlock the secrets of a dead man's terrifying journal.”

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My thoughts:

I fell in love with Stuart Neville’s writing when I read The Twelve, early in 2011 and he’s impressed me more with each subsequent book.

‘The Final Silence’ is a return to the Jack Lennon mysteries after Ratlines; last year’s wonderful, stand-alone, historical thriller. And it is a welcome return. The books in this series are exquisitely written. Neville pulls the reader into his story on the very first page and hooks them further with each subsequent chapter. His mysteries are not for the faint of heart. He’s not afraid of violence, less than perfect characters or controversial plot developments; all of which make his stories more realistic and thrilling.

Jack Lennon is such a compromised hero. The way he is described, the actions he takes and the decisions he makes are so flawed and yet so very human that it is impossible not to root for him even if while you wish he’d make life easier for himself. His relationship and obvious love for his daughter Ellen may be the only thing that is pure and without a darker side, but it shows his character better than any of his less than ideal decisions do.

The same can be said for most characters in this series. With one or two exceptions they are all human and recognisable because of their flaws, prejudices and mistakes as much as their more admirable traits.

Stuart Neville’s books are about more than ‘just’ the mystery, fascinating as it may be. His characters all have lives that come into play. Their health, background, status influence the way they operate. Every issue is handled with care and sympathy without interrupting the flow of the story or distracting from the mystery; a remarkable achievement to say the least. As a result the book has far more depth than the average mystery/thriller.

“I won’t cry, Flanagan thought. A command to the frightened little girl that still lived inside her despite all the rotten, ugly things she’d seen.”

This book, like its predecessors, is set in Northern Ireland in the present and doesn’t directly deal with the violence of the past or today’s politics. Even so, it is impossible to write a realistic story without touching on the differences between the various factions or politics. Peace has descended so recently that old animosities are still very much alive, be it less openly. Politics don’t play a main role in these mysteries but they’re there, under the surface. They influence people and their actions; they create an atmosphere filled with a barely perceptible but always present tension. Northern Ireland is as much a main character in this story as John Lennon is.

In short, this is a book for anyone who enjoys an in depth, well written and thrilling story written by an author who weaves magic with his words. One warning though; while you could read this book as a stand-alone, I would advise against it. The Jack Lennon books are best enjoyed in the order in which they were written. And since there isn’t a bad, or even less than good, book in the series, you could do worse than going back to the start.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

RETURN ON INVESTMENT



RETURN ON INVESTMENT by Aleksandr Voinov

Pages: 336
Date: 17/06/2014
Grade: 5
Details: Copy received from author
Kindle

The blurb:

“Martin David, an eager but inexperienced financial analyst, is the newest member of the investment team at Skeiron Capital Partners in London. His boss is an avowed financial genius, but he’s also overbearing and intense. Despite his erratic behaviour, Martin can’t help being drawn to him both professionally and personally. 

Too bad his boss doesn’t seem to feel the same. In a firm where pedigree and connections mean far more than Martin’s newly-minted business degree, Martin feels desperately inadequate—at least until he meets the enigmatic investment manager Alec Berger, who promises to help Martin establish himself in the financial community. Martin is so charmed by Alec’s sophistication and wit that he gives him data that should have stayed confidential. 

Then the financial crisis hits. Banks burn, companies teeter on the brink, and Skeiron’s survival is at stake. Martin is pushed into the middle of the fight for Skeiron—against both the tanking economy and a ruthless enemy who’s stepped out of the shadows to collect the spoils.” 

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My thoughts:

“With his less-than-conservative long hair he looked leonine – a predator in the boardroom, the feline equivalent of the shark prowling the seas for blood.”

‘Return On Investment’ starts with a bang. In fact, to say the prologue pulls you right into the story would be an understatement. I’m not going to say anything else about it except that I defy you to read those first few pages and not feel the urge to read on.

If I’m perfectly honest I have to admit that the words ‘financial thriller’ would under most circumstances be enough to turn me away from a book. In fact, the only reason I did not only want to read this book, but also all but begged the author for a review copy is my complete and utter trust in Aleksandr Voinov’s abilities to bring me a story I will lose myself in.


You have to admire an author who is able to completely captivate you with a thriller set in an environment you know little to nothing about and haven’t really been interested in either. But, Mr. Voinov managed exactly that. Martin’s journey gripped me from the first page and I only got more entranced as the story progressed.

In fact, most characters in this book intrigued me because none of them were what they at first appeared to be. I found myself changing my mind about characters as the story progressed. There were moments when I surprised myself by rooting for somebody I had previously despised and hating someone who had come across as a good guy only chapters before. In most thrillers the distinction between the good and bad guys is obvious from the start. In this book the reader has to wait and see. We learn as Martin learns and just like him we have are eyes opened to unpleasant truths as well as happy surprises.

Return On Investment is not be a typical Aleksandr Voinov romance. In fact I wouldn’t call this book a typical anything. ‘Return On Investment’ is basically a good story spanning various genres and more than lives up to the standard I’ve come to expect from this author. We meet characters who are far from perfect and all the more realistic and recognisable for it. And while the whole financial wheeling and dealing may be a bit more technical than I and other uninformed readers can properly follow, it is done with such skill and ease the reader can almost believe they understand it all. Besides, the whole ‘real-world’ financial debacle is fresh enough in our memories to allow us to understand the atmosphere even if we are a bit vague on the details.

Martin David may be a bit old for the concept but in many ways this is a coming of age story. Martin learns his way around life both professionally and emotionally, and it is a beautiful journey to observe. It was fascinating to watch Martin grow from rather innocent but eager to please into far more secure, balanced and fair.

First and foremost this book is testament to Aleksandr Voinov’s amazing ability to tell a terrific story. I am by now convinced I would read a fictionalised version of the telephone directory provided he had written it. His smooth writing combined with sparkling and realistic dialogue, fascinating characters and an intriguing plot never fails to captivate me. If you’ve enjoyed earlier titles by this author I would advise you not to be deterred by the ‘not a standard romance’ label this book comes with. Read the book; I would be surprised if you didn’t end up enjoying it far more than you thought you might. And you never know, you may learn something about financial shenanigans in the process.

Why the fuck had he agreed to sex? Because his body liked arrogant assholes far more than his rational mind did.”

BRIDEGROOM THE MOVIE IN THE LIBERTIES



I'm not entirely sure when I first heard about Bridegroom, the Movie. I do remember that I became more curious and intrigued with every reference I came across. Friends on Facebook filled me in on details of the story and even without having seen a minute of coverage my heart was breaking a little. 

When I discovered that Shane Bitney Crone would be bringing the movie to Dublin, Ireland for a once off viewing I knew I had to attend. I applied for two tickets and was delighted when we received confirmation that the husband and I would be able to be part of the event.

Yesterday afternoon we drove the one and a half hours it takes us to get to the centre of Dublin. It was a wonderful warm afternoon and as luck would have it we managed to find parking not too far from the venue; an amazing evening foreshadowed in small details.

I have to be honest and say that the venue in the offices of Dublin Corporation were much smaller than I expected. In my mind this was going to be an event with hundreds if not thousands of participants. As it was I wouldn't be surprised if there were only about a hundred of us there. One hundred extremely privileged individuals who were treated to an evening they're unlikely to forget any time soon, if ever.

I could try to tell the story behind the movie / documentary in my own words but have decided there is no need to reinvent the wheel. The following has been copied from Wikipedia:

"Bridegroom chronicles the story of Shane Bitney Crone and his same-sex partner Thomas Lee "Tom" Bridegroom, who died in a tragic accident. After Bridegroom's death, Crone found himself cut off and deprived of any legal protection. The film tells the story of their 6-year-long relationship, and the struggles Crone faced after Bridegroom's death, including the family not allowing Crone to attend the funeral of his life partner."

Maybe the viewing went off to a bit of an unfortunate start when the audience burst out laughing at the mention of Garth Brooks early on in the movie. I was grateful when one member of the audience took the time during the question and answer session afterwards to explain no disrespect had been meant. It was just an unfortunate coincidence that the country singer has been in Ireland's headlines for all the wrong and rather obscure reasons for the past three weeks or so. 

During the rest of the movie the only sound in the room was provided by the sound track. The audience was collectively mesmerized by the unfolding story. It turned out to be impossible to watch this and not get emotionally involved. Any story in which two lovers so clearly meant for each other are cruelly torn apart by faith would be enough to break even the toughest heart. For Shane, losing his partner and the love of his life was of course only the start of the nightmare. It is impossible to imagine what it might be like to be robbed of the opportunity to properly pay your last respects to the person you've loved. To have that person cut out of your life as if he'd been a figment of your imagination, to be left with little besides the memories you built together.


Picture property of Liberties Festival
Once the movie was over it was time for a question and answer session with Shane Bitney Crone. The standing ovation he received was much deserved although I couldn't help feeling it made him slightly uncomfortable. I'm so grateful this part of the evening wasn't rushed. I'm fairly sure every single person who wanted to ask a question or make a statement got an opportunity to do so. Unfortunately my memory isn't good enough to share those questions and Shane's answers here. Two however stood out.

Shane was invited to visit Ireland again, next year when we are due to have our referendum on marriage equality. While no promises were made it was encouraging to hear him say he would love to come back. At the moment polls seem to indicate the referendum will pass by a comfortable enough margin. Polls are no guarantee though and I am convinced the cause can only be strengthened by his return to Ireland and, if at all possible, a broadcast of the movie on national television.

I both cringed and held my breath when one audience member asked Shane if he thought he'd ever love like that again. My heart lifted when Shane said that while he wasn't looking for love he didn't rule it out either. 


Once all questions had been asked and answered the audience had the opportunity to meet with Shane one on one for a moment. I'm still not sure where I found the courage. Walking up to someone I don't know, talking to them never mind giving them a hug is so counter intuitive for me. I'm sure I wouldn't have done it if it hadn't been for my husband more or less forcing me. I'm grateful he made me do it though. 

The admiration I felt for him after watching the movie and Q & A got even stronger. I'm not sure where he finds the strength to do what he does because he is for all intents and purposes breaking his heart open, in public, time and again. And yet there doesn't seem to be any bitterness, no hate towards Tom Bridegroom's family. He has found meaning in Tom's death as well as a reason to keep on going. He is doing what he can to change the world into a place where no one will have to go through his ordeal. 

I can't thank Liberties Festival Dublin enough for hosting this event. I am grateful to have been given the opportunity to meet a man who is a shining light in a sometimes dark and depressing world as well as an inspiration for all who meet him. 

Being me I couldn't help myself and had to share my personal hopes and beliefs with Shane once I'd gotten over my shyness. I am convinced we are heading towards the day when being gay will be the same as being a red-head; people may still make fun of you occasionally but in the grander scheme of things it won't make a difference.

Photo Gallery for Bridegroom the Movie

“IT’S A PITCHED BATTLE, BUT LOVE BLINDINGLY OUTSHINES HATE IN BRIDEGROOM.” – CHARLES MCNULTY, LOS ANGELES TIMES

Sunday, July 6, 2014

KING PERRY



KING PERRY by Edmond Manning

Pages: 343
Date: 06/07/2014
Grade: 6
Details: no. 1 The Lost and Founds
Own / Kindle

The blurb:

“In a trendy San Francisco art gallery, out-of-towner Vin Vanbly witnesses an act of compassion that compels him to make investment banker Perry Mangin a mysterious offer: in exchange for a weekend of complete submission, Vin will restore Perry's "kingship" and transform him into the man he was always meant to be.

 Despite intense reservations, Perry agrees, setting in motion a chain of events that will test the limits of his body, seduce his senses, and fray his every nerve, (perhaps occasionally breaking the law) while Vin guides him toward his destiny as "the one true king."

Even as Perry rediscovers old grief and new joys within himself, Vin and his shadowy motivations remain enigmas: who is this offbeat stranger guiding them from danger to hilarity to danger? To emerge triumphant, Perry must overcome the greatest challenge alone: embracing his devastating past. But can he succeed by Sunday's sunrise deadline? How can he possibly evolve from an ordinary man into King Perry?

A Bittersweet Dreams title: It's an unfortunate truth: love doesn't always conquer all. Regardless of its strength, sometimes fate intervenes, tragedy strikes, or forces conspire against it. These stories of romance do not offer a traditional happy ending, but the strong and enduring love will still touch your heart and maybe move you to tears.”

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My thoughts:

I bought this book on the basis of a quote:

“...have you ever done anything so significantly outrageous, so beautiful and insane, that on days when your life feels dull, these shining moments leap out? Do you have an answer to the question ‘Did I live? Did I touch the world?’”
The quote was posted on Facebook by A.J. Rose an author I adore and who consistently blows me away with his words and stories. If he was quoting and recommending a certain book, I didn’t need any further encouragement. I bought the book, started reading and got lost in a world I didn’t know existed. And, as my rating above shows, it was one of my better decisions – even if it did disrupt every plan I had for my weekend. I do not give a book six out of five very often. When I do it is a sure indication the book has touched me in ways I wasn’t expecting and won’t forget.

Before you read on let me warn you; this is not going to resemble a review. This post won’t be like my usual reflections on books. It’s going to be too long, contain too many quotes and won’t stop gushing.

This is the sort of review where I flounder, find myself lost for words. Not a single one of the words I know (in two languages), no sentence I could string together can convey what this book did to me, or live up to the wonderful beauty and powerful expressiveness of the words in ‘King Perry’. Or, as it says in the book:

“Can anyone articulate the language of the heart?”

I’m not going to say a whole lot about the actual story. You can read what you need to know in the blurb and the rest should be experienced. Yes, experienced; you don’t read this book, you live it. You feel every single emotion, see the sights and get lost and found in the wonder of it all. You may put the book down (always reluctantly) because there is something you really need to do, it won’t mean you’ve put the story down; it will accompany you, pull at you and make you hurry through your task to get back to it.

The image of the Kings and Queens losing their lustre, forgetting their power was as heartbreaking as it was recognisable. It is an inescapable fact of life that all of us encounter the end of innocence sooner or later. At some point all of us find ourselves face to face with the real world, suddenly forced to exchange our dreams for the stark reality of having to make our own way. When the things we considered certainties in our lives are suddenly taken away we all have to reassess who we are and how we live. Some of us might wish we had a Vin to help us along. Regardless of his methods.

“They forgot that they served a higher mission, lived in devotion to a kingdom where all men were necessary and equally blessed. Many became lost.”

“This is what the remaining kings called them, the Lost Kings or the Lost Ones. Men who forgot their gold vanishing into a world that looks much like our own.”

On the surface this is the story of Vin saving Perry from himself, from the darkness he’s allowed himself to get lost in, from the pain that has become so familiar he doesn’t even know he’s carrying it with him anymore.

“When Perry sees his gray-suited grief, he barely recognises that part of himself; it’s just another bank customer making his regular withdrawal.”

“I think long ago, Perry’s heart made unwelcome room for sadness, and then believing that it could handle no more, slammed itself shut, preventing joy’s free roam.”

Dig a little bit deeper and the story is about Vin as much as it is about Perry. Perry isn’t the only one who needs to start looking at himself and his life in a new, brighter, light. While Vin may know he has work to do, I think there are a few things about himself he doesn’t see; things that are obvious to those he helps and easy to spot for the reader.

Can a story be whimsically profound or profoundly whimsical? If there is such a thing, this book is its prime example. I think Edmond Manning may have broken every single rule anybody ever established with regard to writing and created something exquisite in the process. His descriptions spring to life before your eyes.

“Staring at these hills already blanketed in soft mist, a person might believe that the land got jealous of the ocean’s whale population and created these hills in loving imitation.”

“The sun seems fascinated to get closer to this paradise landscape, and keeps dropping half inch by half inch in the west. Tenderly he flies to his lover, the Ocean, who twists in delight with his imminent arrival. ‘Patience, my love,’ the Sun whispers in long golden rays. ‘Soon I am yours.’”

And his insights on subjects such as joy, kissing, forgiveness, and the loss of a loved one are almost overwhelming; too close to the truth. They hit home, make you sit up and think, examine your own experiences and your reactions to them.

“I think Joy sleeps in strange places. We’re always looking for her in shiny, happy, fun times, assuming that Joy prefers her twin brother, Pleasure, when she often hangs out with her somewhat stoic big sister, Strength. Joy is not always easy to recognize, dirt-smudged and sweating, brambles in her hair. I want to believe she sometimes wears a ski mask.”

“Kissing is such a surreal way to interact. You press your squishiest part to his and read the connection in a dozen ways: the level of affection, the warmth of feeling, the need to dominate, the ability to explore, and various shades of hesitancy. All that communication from such a slender little strip of flesh.”


“I wonder sometimes why we don’t have more words to express forgiveness. The words we use are so trite, so limited. How do you describe that first melting of a friend’s face after a vicious fight, the moment when you suddenly know that eventually, you will survive this. (...) The body expresses forgiveness before the brain agrees. Where are the words for those shifts that later evolve into full forgiveness.”

“But people underestimate how a father’s death impacts a young boy. They don’t understand what it means when the man you assumed would teach you everything suddenly doesn’t exist. He doesn’t die exclusively that one time when everyone wore black and cried. He dies every birthday. He dies at school award presentations when he’s not beaming amid the proud parents, and when that horny teenager has no one to avoid for awkward discussions of wet dreams. His father dies every time Perry says, ‘Don’t worry, that happened back when I was a kid. I’m over it.’”

Oh my God. The ‘forgiveness castle’ took my breath away. That has to be one of the most beautiful and profound tales (fables?) I’ve ever read. Goose bumps, admiration and wonder only begin to describe how I felt when I read those words. I would love to share them here but can’t help feeling that this review is by now more than long enough. Besides, if the quotes above haven’t tempted you yet, one more won’t make a difference.

This is a life affirming story, a fable to make you think about how you approach life, what is holding you back and all the things you’ve allowed to stand between yourself and true happiness. This book asks you to open your eyes to your past, your present and what you want for the future. It forces you to look at yourself and ask if you truly are being your best self, living your best life.

I’m delighted a sequel to this wonderful book is already available. I’ve just bought it and although I’m tempted to read it straight away I won’t. I need some time to allow this story to settle inside me. I also want to be able to read ‘King Mai’ with as few interruptions as possible and that’s the sort of commitment I can’t make for another 13 days.

This may well be the longest review I’ve ever written and yet I feel it doesn’t begin to convey all my feelings about the book. Like I said above, I just don’t have the words to articulate everything I feel. I will say that Edmond Manning has found himself a loyal fan for life, just as I have found an author I need to read and share with the world.

I’ll end this review with one more quote because it is a truth I was brought up on and something I always try to remember.

“It hurts to live with a broken promise.”