Monday, January 30, 2012

THE GREATCOAT


TITLE: THE GREATCOAT
AUTHOR: HELEN DUNMORE
Pages: 196
Date: 30/01/2012
Grade: 4.5
Details: Received from and reviewed for BookGeeks
Own

The year is 1954 and although the war has been over for 9 years Britain is still a bleak place with the remnants of abandoned military bases dotted in the landscape, rationing determining what people can get their hands on and daily comforts being few and far between.
Isabel Carey has recently married Philip who is a GP and together they’ve moved to a Yorkshire town where he starts his medical practice. While Philip is happy with his new career and surroundings, Isabel can’t seem to settle. She feels like everybody she meets in the town is judging her and can’t stand the apartment they’re renting, which is impossible to keep warm, or her landlady who lives on the floor above them and seems to spend all her time pacing from the door to the window and back again. This noise keeps Isabel awake at night and makes her uncomfortable.
One night, while Philip is out working, Isabel can’t shake the cold and searches the house for something to keep her warm. When she finds an old greatcoat at the back of a cupboard she takes it down and finds that it keeps her deliciously warm and allows her to sleep. That sleep though is filled with very vivid dreams. When a knock on her front window wakes her up she is scared when she sees a young handsome Air Force pilot staring at her through the window. She quickly closes her curtains but when she opens them again for a second look the man has gone.
It isn’t long before the pilot is knocking on her window again and mouthing her name. This time curiosity wins out over fear and Isabel lets him into her house. To her amazement Isabel discovers that although she has never met this man named Alec before, he seems to know her. And somehow Isabel develops memories about him and his relationship to her as they spend time together. Memories that are vivid and very realistic, although she knows that they can’t be hers.
Soon Isabel finds herself in a passionate affair with Alec while uncertain as to what is real and what isn’t. Because her affair with Alec seems to be taking place during the war rather than in the present while there are manifestations of his visits in her life with Philip.
And all the time her landlady continues her walking from the front door to the window and back again.

This is a fascinating ghost story. The reader has no more of an idea as to what is really happening and what is supernatural than Isabel does. As Isabel slowly pieces together who Alec is and why he is visiting her, so does the reader, and when it seems that all the questions are answered and the haunting has been brought to a peaceful end there is still one more disaster to avert.
In many ways this was as much a love story as a ghost story. Although the way in which the ghost takes over Isabel’s life and memories is spooky, it is never heartstoppingly scary because at no point is there the impression that the ghost has anything but love for the woman he’s visiting. On the other hand, the reader is only too aware that consorting with one who should have departed can’t lead to anything good and can only hope that Isabel will figure that out too, before it is too late.

Helen Dunmore has written a beautiful and haunting story which draws the reader in to England in the late 1950’s. Her descriptions make the greyness of the surroundings and the harshness of life at the time come to life and her characters are realistic.
The thing I appreciated most in this book though is that the author didn’t try to give logical explanations for everything that happens in the story. Some things remain unexplained or uncertain, leaving the reader with much to wonder and fantasise about after the last page has been read.

This book is published by Hammer, better known for its horror movies, through Random house and there will be more original ghost stories to follow. If this book sets the standard, then this is one publishing innovation to look forward to and embrace.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

THE WEB WEAVER


TITLE: The Further Adventures of Sherlock             Holmes: THE WEB WEAVER
AUTHOR: SAM SICILIANO
Pages: 394
Date: 29/01/2012
Grade: 4
Details: Part of The Further Adventures of Sherlock Holmes Series
            Received from BookGeeks
Own

Sherlock Holmes is being visited by his cousin, Dr. Henry Vernier, when Mr. Donald Wheelwright arrives to ask for his help.
During a ball which Wheelwright attended with his wife, a gypsy woman made an appearance and cursed all those attending the event while singling his wife out for specific threats. Recently Wheelwright’s wife, Violet, has found a further, written, threat in their library. Worried about his wife’s safety, Wheelwright wants Holmes to investigate the gypsy and her threat and put an end to the whole affair.
Soon after starting the investigation it becomes clear that others who were present at the ball have felt the results of the curse. A Lord has committed suicide, others have fallen into ruin and an acquaintance of the Wheelwrights discovers that a very valuable necklace has been stolen from his safe.
Assisted by his cousin Henry, Holmes starts his investigation into all these related mysteries and soon suspects that he may be up against the most devious opponent of his career. Professor Moriarty may have been a figment of Dr. Watson’s imagination, but the mind Holmes is trying to out-think now might just be a real-life Moriarty; a criminal mastermind without scruples and an intelligence to match his own who is weaving a web destined to trap all in its reach.
Meanwhile, Henry’s wife Michelle gets drawn into the investigation because she is both Violet Wheelwrights physician and friend.
As the threats against and attacks upon Violet increase, Holmes clearly finds himself drawn to this beautiful, intelligent but troubled woman. The identity of the gypsy woman and of the person(s) delivering the threats and attacks remains obscure though, as does the identity of the mastermind behind the whole affair.

This was a very interesting take on the original Sherlock Holmes stories. For starters, there’s no sign of a Dr. Watson in this story, in fact the man only gets mentioned in relation to his lose allegiance to the truth when writing the original stories.
Instead, this book is narrated by both Dr. Henry Vernier and his wife Michelle, which gives a the reader a dual view of what is happening and maybe a better chance to come to their own conclusions as far as the mystery is concerned.
Except for Watson all the usual features of the Sherlock Holmes stories are present in this book. There are Holmes’ famous disguises, his dealings with those in the lower regions of society, his arrogance and single-mindedness and his reluctance to share his thoughts until he is ready to reveal all to both his fellow characters and the reader.
Through Michelle Doudet-Vernier, who spends a lot of her time treating those less fortunate, the reader gets an insight to all that is wrong with society in the late 19th century, while the setting of the mystery in an upper-class environment makes for a great contrast.
The idea of Holmes in love and unable to deal with his feelings and their consequences, brings a nice twist to the story. Should this story have a sequel it would be great to see how that particular story-line might develop.
I did find both Vernier and his wife a bit too innocent, and oblivious to be completely credible, but I guess they were described that way to make the contrast with Holmes’ genius more obvious.
I do have to say that the solution to this mystery did not come as a great surprise to me, and I don’t think it will to most other readers. However, that didn’t take away from the pleasure reading this story gave me, and there is a certain satisfaction in coming to the right conclusions while reading any mystery.

Overall this was an enjoyable excursion into the world of Sherlock Holmes. It stayed close enough to the original to be completely recognisable while introducing enough new ingredients to make this a fresh reading experience.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

THE FAULT IN OUR STARS


TITLE: THE FAULT IN OUR STARS
AUTHOR: JOHN GREEN
Pages: 313
Date: 25/01/2012
Grade: 5+
Details: Young Adult
Borrowed from Tara

Hazel is 16 and dying. She may be a medical miracle and her tumours may have shrunk, but her lungs are severely damaged, she needs a constant oxygen supply and knows that her days are numbered.
When she meets the gorgeous Augustus Waters at the Cancer Kid Support Group something changes in her life though. She rises out of her lethargy and embraces life and love with fresh determination.
A trip to Holland to meet an adored author brings the two teenagers closer together even if the meeting with their idol is a deep disappointment. The trip also reveals that Augustus’ cancer has returned, and suddenly the cards in their relationship are turned around.

Who knew that such a heart-breaking story could be this uplifting?
John Green doesn’t spare his reader in this book. From the very first page this is an emotional roller-coaster ride and it never lets up.
Hazel and Augustus are the sort of characters I wished I could meet and get to know. Green’s writing brings them to life to the point where I felt the need to hug and comfort them.
It is not all doom and gloom though.  These are two clever and insightful teenagers whose banter is as likely to make you laugh as it is to bring a tear to your eye.
This is a story about teenagers with cancer in which the disease takes a backseat to the spirit of the kids. Not because the book produces miracle cures for them but because they are bigger then their illness. The illness may limit their lives in many ways, but they determine how they live with it.
On a side note, I loved the descriptions of Amsterdam. It is clear that John Green spent time there and really saw and understood the place and the people who live there. I love that Hazel and Augustus gave in to their feelings in my home town, it seemed an appropriate setting.

This is a brutally honest and incredibly beautiful book. A book that gave me characters that will stay in my heart and mind for a long time. A book that I should have read at a slower pace because I know I there is a lot in there that deserved more thought and attention. This is a book I will have to read again to get everything it has to offer out of it.
Finally, this is a book in which almost every second sentence is quotable. I have decided to limit myself to the following though:

“Sometimes you read a book and it fills you with this weird evangelical zeal, and you become convinced that the shattered world will never be put back together unless and until all living humans read the book. And then there are books (…), which you can’t tell people about, books so special and rare that yours that advertising your affection feels like betrayal.”

“Some infinities are bigger than other infinities.”

“You gave me a forever within the numbered days, and I’m grateful.”

“The pleasure of remembering had been taken from me, because there was no longer anyone to remember with.”

“The real heroes aren’t the people doing things; the real heroes are the people NOTICING things, paying attention.”

VANISHED

TITLE: VANISHED
AUTHOR: LIZA MARKLUND
Pages: 500
Date: 24/01/2012
Grade: 4.5
Details: An Annika Bengtzon Mystery
            Proof copy received from Transworld Books through BookGeeks
Own


In a deserted port in Stockholm, a woman is fleeing for her life from a gunman determined to kill her. When she dives in the freezing water in order to escape, survival is far from certain. The next morning a security guard finds two dead men in the port, and a murder investigation starts.
Journalist Annika Bengtzon, meanwhile, is approached by a woman who says she has founded an organisation specialising in making people completely disappear by erasing their pasts and creating new futures.
Initially Annika is fascinated by what the woman has to tell her, and impressed by the foundation’s work, but on closer inspection things don’t completely add up. In fact, the more Annika studies the claims, the less likely they become. But before Annika is sure that the woman and her foundation are frauds she has advised a young woman to go there for help. A young woman who is very ill and in desperate danger.
Struggling with personal problems, Annika nevertheless continues investigating the Paradise foundation as well as the young woman. And as more people are killed it becomes clear that Annika is on the verge of uncovering a big criminal operation. And putting her own life in danger in the process.

Wow! There is an awful lot going on in this book. Apart from the crimes, there is Annika’s very problematic personal life, the internal politics in the newspaper where she works, social issues in the society at large and the lives of other characters in the story.
For a long time I found myself wondering how all these, apparently separate story-lines could possibly be connected. I shouldn’t have worried though, since Marklund proved herself a master at gradually and organically tying most of the different threads neatly together. And I suspect that the one or two threads that didn’t get finalised in this book will probably be continued in the sequels.

Liza Marklund is a journalist herself and that is clear from the writing. While reading this book I constantly felt that she knew what she was writing about, not only when it came to the newspaper business and politics but also with regard to organised crime, social issues and violence. All these subjects feature in this book and the opinions of the author are clear, yet I never felt that I was being preached to or that they interfered with the pace of the story.
In fact, the story unfolds at a steady and unrelenting pace, forcing the readers onwards, always guessing at what exactly is going on and very eager to find out.

The book doesn’t end with every single question answered or every evil erased, which, in my opinion, makes the book more realistic and better. The real world isn't a place where good always triumphs over evil, where people always make the right decisions or where answers are always clear-cut, and neither is Liza Marklund's. This means that this book gives the reader more than an escapist reading experience, soon to be forgotten. This story and its characters will stay with me for a while and make me look at certain issues from a slightly different perspective, which ultimately is what I hope for every time I pick up a book.
Now that I have discovered Liza Marklund and her books I look forward to reading the rest of this series.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

ANGEL KISS


TITLE: ANGEL KISS
AUTHOR: LAURA JANE CASSIDY
Pages: 232
Date: 22/01/2012
Grade: 4+
Details: Young Adult / Irish
Library

Jacki King is a normal 15 year old girl. She loves her guitar, performing and writing songs. She is really upset with her mother for taking her away from all her friends and activities in Dublin to the small rural village of Avarna.
However, it doesn’t take Jacki long to start making new friends and even fall in love with the gorgeous but unavailable Nick. In fact, she would say her new life is quite promising, if it weren’t for the nightmares and headaches she’s been having ever since the move. And things get worse when she starts seeing strange visions, hearing voices and acting out of control.
Although Jacki is a realist and has always believed that the dead are dead and gone, she slowly comes to the realisation that not only is there at least one deceased person definitely not gone, that person also wants her to solve a mystery.
But investigating a decades old murder brings with it dangers of a more worldly nature.

I really enjoyed this debut by Laura Jane Cassidy.
In Jacki King the author has created a believable and likeable character. The issues Jacki deals with in her daily life ring completely true for someone her age and her conversion from sceptic to believer, if somewhat quick, also makes sense.
The mystery around the old murder is interesting and although I did have the solution figured out before Jacki, it was not too obvious.
While this is a shortish and fast-paced story, the author takes the time to describe her characters and the surroundings they live in with enough detail to make them come off the page and create real pictures.
Although this book is a complete story in itself, it could also be the first part in a series. I wouldn’t mind at all if there were future books about Jacki and the mysteries she solves and would most definitely read them. Not just because of the mysteries, but also to find out more about Jacki, her friends and her musical future.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

THE MAGICIAN KING


TITLE: THE MAGICIAN KING
AUTHOR: LEV GROSSMAN
Pages: 400
Date: 20/01/2011
Grade: 4.5
Details: no. 2 The Magicians
Library

Quentin Goldwater and his friends Eliot, Janet and Julia are living in the magical land of Fillory where they are kings and queens. Their lives are filled with luxury and comfort, but for Quentin that isn’t enough after a while. And when a footman is killed it gives Quentin the opportunity to go on a journey, a quest Julia decides to join him on.
What should have been a simple cure to boredom and fun adventure soon turns sour when Quentin and Julia suddenly and unexpectedly find themselves in Massachusetts with no clear idea how to get back to Fillory.
Now Julia’s past and underground training in witchcraft suddenly become important. Making use of contacts from her dark past, Julia leads the way to Venice where, after an encounter with a dragon, she, Quentin and two other friends eventually find their way back to Fillory. Their return is not a comfortable one though. They now know that there are forces at work that would put an end to all magic, which would not only ruin everything the youngsters know to be their lives, but would also destroy Fillory. It turns out the quest Quentin was looking for has only just begun and is now very serious. Quentin and his crew have to find a way of saving magic and undo the damage Julia and her underground magical friends have done in their ignorance and pride.

This, for me, was a much better story than the first one. Not only was there a lot more to the story, the main characters got a lot more substance too. It is now possible to see Quentin as a fully rounded character who is actually learning from his experiences and far less self-obsessed.
Julia’s background story, which is told in chapters alternating with the story of the quest, is fascinating and brings a whole new level to the narrative.
I do still feel that a bit too much of the book is dedicated to introspection and description and I would have preferred more of an emphasis on action, however, this is nowhere near as indulgent as it was in The Magicians.

I read somewhere that Grossman is working on a third book in this series, and I look forward to reading it. I feel that Quentin still has a lot to learn and the story hasn’t yet come to a proper conclusion. And I can’t help hoping that a certain character from the first book will make a return appearance, unlikely as that may seem. After all, this is a magical universe, and a miracle should be possible. For now I can only hope and wait.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

BURY YOUR DEAD


TITLE: BURY YOUR DEAD
AUTHOR: LOUISE PENNY
Pages: 371
Date: 18/01/2012
Grade: 5+
Details: no. 6 Chief Inspector Armand Gamache
Own

This is a book of three stories.
Chief Inspector Armand Gamache is on leave in Quebec City where he gets drawn into a murder in the library where he is conducting historical research. It soon becomes clear that in order to solve the present day mystery he has to look at the mysteries surrounding the founding of Quebec and Canada. In a place where the tension between the English and French populations has lead to violence in the past, the present still holds some of that tension.
Jean-Guy Beauvoir, also on leave, finds himself in Three Pines, taking another look at the murder of the Hermit and the possibility that the wrong man may have been convicted and sentenced for that crime.
And finally there is the story behind that reason that both Gamache and Beauvoir are on leave trying to recover from both physical and psychological wounds that run very deep.
Working separate cases in different locations both Gamache and Beauvoir have to try and concentrate on the present while the recent past is constantly intruding. And while Gamache has to find a way of living with the decisions he made and the responsibility he feels for what happened as a result of them, Beauvoir has to investigate in a place he doesn’t like, using methods he doesn’t approve of or believe in.

This was a fascinating story and about so much more then the mysteries the characters investigate. Those mysteries, while fascinating, well plotted and credibly resolved take a back-seat to the personal challenges Gamanche and Beauvoir have to face.
This is a story about going on living despite being surrounded by death, about finding the will to go on when curling up in a ball and retreating from the world seems a much better and easier solution.
The story is as level-headed and sedate as is its main character. Yet there is a constant underlying urgency to get to the answer, an urgency that keeps the reader turning the pages while the thoroughness of the investigation makes the reader slow down to make sure he catches every word and nuance. And, to top it all off, the beauty of the language and images in this book makes the reader want to linger, close their eyes for a minute to picture it clearly before rushing back to read the rest of the story.

Louise Penny writes excelent books. They’re good mysteries, they’re well written novels and they’re subtle page-turners. Her characters feel like friends after six books, people I know, like and would love to meet.
Penny’s novels are always a pleasure and a treat to read.

Monday, January 16, 2012

THE SISTERS BROTHERS


TITLE: THE SISTERS BROTHERS
AUTHOR: PATRICK DEWITT
Pages: 328
Date: 16/01/2012
Grade: 4.5
Library

Charlie and Eli Sisters are hired killers working for a powerful man only identified as The Commodore in 1850’s America.
They are sent on a mission from Oregon to California to kill Hermann Kermit Warm for reasons that are unclear to the narrator Eli. While travelling towards their destination and latest victim the two brothers meet a host of characters who all operate on the darker side of society, in a world where the law of the strongest and quickest rules.
While Charlie seems made for this life filled with cheap brandy and killing, Eli has serious doubts about the missions they are send on. The killing doesn’t come naturally to him and the longer they are travelling the more certain he becomes that what he really wants is a quiet and honest life.
And once the brothers arrive in California and locate their prey, things don’t quite work out as planned and it appears that their luck may at last have taken a turn for the worst.

For a book about hired killers, set in the Wild West during the cold rush, the tone in this book was quite light-hearted. So light-hearted in fact that at times I had to remind myself that the Sisters brothers were killers. At times though, Eli has thoughts about his life, the way it has been up to now and what he would like it to be in the future that are deep and almost philosophical.
This was a very easy book to read. The writing flows nicely and action smoothly turns into introspection and back again.
I can’t say I laughed out loud while reading this book, but there were several times when the events in the story brought a smile to my face.
The setting is fascinating, with huge parts of America being lawless and ruled by whoever happened to be the strongest or most ruthless person in the neighbourhood.
I also liked the relationship between the two brothers. Although they are very close, the differences between them are obvious and at times a permanent split between Eli and Charlie is only narrowly avoided.

I had no idea what to expect from this book when I started it, although I was aware of the fact that most of those who read the book loved it. I’m still not sure how I would qualify this book other than to say it was a pleasure to read such an original work of fiction.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

MR. BRIGG'S HAT


TITLE: MR. BRIGGS’ HAT
          A Sensational Account of Britain’s First Railway Murder
AUTHOR: KATE COQUHOUN
Pages: 339
Date: 15/01/2012
Grade: 4.5
Details: Non-Fiction
            Review copy received from Waterstones

On 9 July 1864 two bank clerks enter a first class train compartment only to discover that it is covered in blood, with no sign of an injured person or body although they do find a walking stick, an empty leather bag and a hat.
Shortly afterwards Thomas Briggs, a senior bank clerk, is found, fatally injured a short way back along the railway line. When Briggs dies without regaining consciousness shortly, a murder investigation commences.
The investigation is headed by Richard Tanner of the still relatively new Scotland Yard Detective Division of the Metropolitan Police.
Faced with a murder without witnesses and few clues, Tanner is conducting a very difficult investigation that only appears to break when a tip seems to point at a good suspect. Soon Tanner finds himself chasing Franz Muller, the young German tailor who appears to be at the centre of the horrific attack, across the Atlantic in an effort to bring him to justice in a case that will be decided by the ownership of two hats.

This was a fascinating read. The murder and its setting, a closed off train compartment, are truly mysterious. The only evidence available being very circumstantial leads to the answers suggested being highly ambiguous. It is hard to read this book without being both horrified at and fascinated by the standards of crime investigation at the time and the way the justice system worked in those days.
But it is not just the crime that makes this book so interesting. The author paints a great picture of England at the height of the industrial revolution, the ambivalent feelings this rapid progress awakened in people and the ins and outs of daily life in London.

I enjoyed comparing investigative methods, court proceedings and journalistic standards of the time with those we are used to today and can only be glad of the progress we have made in the 150 years since this case hit the headlines.
I feel that this well written and thoroughly researched book would be a great read for anyone with an interest in true crime, history, and/or social studies.

Friday, January 13, 2012

THE END OF THE WASP SEASON


TITLE: THE END OF THE WASP SEASON
AUTHOR: DENISE MINA
Pages: 404
Date: 13/01/2012
Grade: 4
Details: no. 2 Kate Morrow
Library

In a wealthy suburb of Glasgow a young woman is brutally murdered by two intruders into her house.
DS Kate Morrow, five months pregnant with twins and a past she chooses to deny, investigates the murder while her station faces internal unrest.
In Kent, millionaire banker Lars Anderson hangs himself from a tree in front of his house, leaving his fragile family to deal with his dubious and hateful legacy.
When the two deaths are connected, the depth of Anderson’s selfishness and the harm it has caused are fully exposed and the fall-out appears enormous.
For Morrow bringing this case to a successful conclusion means she can resolve some issues with her own past and family.


This book is not really a mystery, at least not for the reader. The perpetrators of the vicious murder are identified right at the start of the book. While Ds. Kate Morrow and her colleagues are trying to find out who committed the murder and why, the big question for the reader is if it is going to happen again, and how the police investigation is ever going to get to the solution.
But even with the investigation as conducted by Morrow being described in detail, I don’t think that was the real subject of this book. For me this book was more about relationships and the various forms they take. The relationships we cherish, those we want to deny, and those we’re stuck with whether we like it or not.
I do feel that the picture the author paints of people is rather coloured by prejudice. It would appear that the rich and powerful are all bad, selfish and out to better themselves, regardless of who they might destroy in the process, while the less well off, although by no means described as angels, all have redeeming features and softness shining through the rough exterior.
I haven’t read any other books by Denise Mina, so I have no way of knowing if this contrast is one that features in all her work or unique to this book. I liked her writing in this book enough to pick up something else by her in the future, if only to find an answer to that question, though.

This is a very well written story. It is hard not to be fascinated by the selfishness of some of the characters, not to feel sorry for those who were at their mercy and not to cheer for those who make it despite the odds apparently being stacked against them.
There are one or two characters though I still can’t make up my mind about; I’m still not sure if Thomas especially was just plain bad, mad, a bit of both or just too neglected and too much of a teenager to use good judgment. And while I like it when a book stays with me after I finish the last page, I’m not sure how much I enjoy this level of confusion about a character’s motivation.
All in all this was a book that intrigued me, but not only for the right reasons.

Monday, January 9, 2012

SOLACE

TITLE: SOLACE
AUTHOR: BELINDA MCKEON
Pages: 341
Date: 09/01/2012
Grade: 4+
Details: Read for Book Club
Own

Mark Casey is a doctoral student in Dublin, struggling to find any enthusiasm for the thesis he is supposed to be writing while also trying to balance his father’s demands for help on the Longford farm with his own needs. While the gap between Mark and his father appears to be getting wider, his mother tries to keep a fragile peace between the two men.
Joanne Lynch is a trainee solicitor and the daughter of a man Mark’s father has considered an enemy ever since he was wronged by him twenty years ago.
When Joanne and Mark meet at a party the attraction is instant and before long they are in the middle of a love affair. With their relationship still in its early stages, Joanne finds herself pregnant and before they’ve had a real chance to get to know each other, Mark and Joanne find themselves the parents of a baby girl.
Just when the new family are starting to find their feet and some balance in their lives, disaster strikes. In the subsequent months both Mark and his father have to reassess their lives and priorities in an effort to keep on living and moving forward.

This was a quiet and unsentimental story, although the emotions and feelings of the main characters are firmly at the centre of it. While the content of the story has all the makings of an emotional roller-coaster, the subdued tone in which the story is told means that those emotions are only implied. The reader has to dig deep to actually feel the love, pain and despair which the characters have to be going through in the context of the story. At the same time though, the story does leave the reader with a lot to think about and images that linger even after the book has been closed.

This book deals with the contrasts between life in the city and in the country-side, between the traditional expectations of the older generation versus the hopes and dreams of the younger. The story succeeds very well in describing live and relations in small Irish towns, where everybody knows everything about everybody and nothing ever stays hidden. It also gives a realistic picture of the devastation a big loss has on a person’s life and how such a loss can lead to confusion about what is a priority or even what is normal behaviour.

I had a few, minor, issues with the story. For starters, I could at no point while reading sympathise with Mark. From the start of the book I wanted to tell him to grow up, make up his mind, make a decision and stick to it. For a 30 year old man he had very little idea of what he really wanted and never seemed to be able to make a real decision. I also wasn’t entirely sure about the ending of the book. It seemed to me that nothing had been resolved when I closed the book and that the issues that had been introduced at the start of the story where still unresolved.
Having said all of that, I was intrigued by the story, its characters and their lives. The characters were almost too realistically human in that they just muddled on and didn’t really face up to the issues in their lives. And the book was very well written. The language is beautiful and the words flow in such a way that I had a hard time putting the book down.

This is an ambitious and well written novel and a very promising debut by an author I know I will be following from now on.

Friday, January 6, 2012

THE PADRE PUZZLE


TITLE: THE PADRE PUZZLE
AUTHOR: DAVID HARRY
Date: 06/01/2012
Grade: 4.5
Details: E-book received from author
            No. 1 Padre Island Mysteries
Own

Before I say anything else about this book I want to mention that if it were possible I would have rated this book 4.5 stars. It may not be perfect, but it is a very good read.

Jimmy Redstone is a Texas Ranger currently on leave after having been shot in the shoulder during an operation which would have seen him charged with murder if it had not been for that injury.
Now, in a last ditch effort to get re-instated to the job that is his life, he's on South Padre Island trying to rehab his shoulder through an intensive work-out programme.
On South Padre Island, located on the Gulf of Mexico near the border between the USA and Mexico, Redstone meets up with Markus Cruses, the son of a former partner of his, who is the local Coast Guard Chief.
Redstone goes out with Markus on patrol after a call out, only to discover that the emergency they thought they were responding to doesn't exist. When they return to the Coast Guard base they discover that a body has been found on the beach and the police have started an investigation.
Unable to resist his curiosity, Redstone starts asking questions about the murdered man himself. Before long he is asked by his superior in the Rangers to conduct an unofficial and under-cover investigation into the murder since the victim on the beach was a Texas Ranger, working under-cover in a drug-running gang.
From there on things move quickly. A second man dies and Redstone soon finds himself officially included in the investigations, partnered with Angella Martinez, a beautiful rookie police-woman. The investigations appear to include every law-enforcement agency known to men and Redstone can't help thinking that he is not getting all the available information.
When Markus ends up in hospital, people start threatening Redstone, demanding he hand over something he doesn't have and Trich, Markus' fiancée turns out to be the daughter of an important Mexican drug-runner, things get murky and confusing.
But never in his wildest imaginations could Redstone have foreseen the magnitude of the threat South Padre Island, he and the USA as a whole face.

I was asked by David Harry to read and review this book for him. I'm usually a bit wary about requests like that because I haven't quite figured out what I will do if it turns out I don't like the book. But, fortunately, this was not the occasion where I had to answer that question.
This is a very well told story. Jimmy Redstone is a wonderful and very realistic main character, and the tale is told at a brisk pace while it also takes the time to give the reader a good picture of the characters and landscapes involved.
I downloaded a copy of this book to my ancient e-reader and for some reason something went wrong with the formatting. This resulted in the book showing up on the reader in sentences that were only one word long, spread over nearly 4900 pages. As soon as I noticed this I knew that the story had better be good and captivating if I were to read it to the end. The fact that I not only made it to the end, despite the desperate reading format, but also gave the book this 4.5 star rating proves beyond any doubt that this is a great mystery. 
I look forward to reading the sequel in the future.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

My reading: Reflecting on 2011 and looking forward to 2012




At the start of 2011 I set myself the goal of reading at least 100 books over the course of the year. Now that the year is behind me again, I’m glad to be able to say that I managed to read 125 books in all.
2011 was the year during which I started receiving books to be reviewed by me. Although I had been blogging about every book I read for years by that stage, writing reviews that were intended to be read by others was a whole new, but very gratifying, experience. Receiving books to review also meant that I got to read several books that might otherwise have slipped by me, in genres that I had not been pursuing in the past few years.
It was nice to discover that I do still enjoy the occasional Fantasy and Science Fiction titles. What was even nicer that a few authors have since started to offer their books to me for reviews, which I interpret as meaning that I must be doing something right.
In numbers, the past year looks as follows:

Ø      Books read: 125
Ø      Books owned by me: 62
Ø      Books from the library: 63
Ø      Young Adult/Juvenile Fiction: 15
Ø      Non-Fiction: 6
Ø      Graphic Novels: 1
Ø      Short Story Collections: 2
Ø      Books I graded 5 or higher: 18

And the following were my favourite reads of 2011, in alphabetical order:

Ø      Down These Green Streets, Irish Crime Writing in the 21st Century, edited by Declan Burke (NF)
Ø      The Drop by Michael Connelly
Ø      A Visit from the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan
Ø      Left Neglected by Lisa Genova
Ø      Turn of Mind by Alice LaPlante
Ø      Sister by Rosamund Lupton
Ø      The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern
Ø      A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness (YA)
Ø      State of Wonder by Ann Patchett
Ø      The Watchers by Jon Steele
Ø      Before I go to Sleep by S.J. Watson




All  though all these books were marked 5 or higher, not all books marked as such are mentioned here. These are the books that proved to be most memorable for me. 

I participated in one reading challenge last year; The Ireland Reading Challenge hosted by Carrie Kitzmiller on her Books and Movies Blog. I far exceeded the goal I had set myself of reading 6 books that were related to Ireland, but since that’s where I live, that is hardly surprising.
I will be taking part in the Ireland Reading Challenge for 2012 as well. This year the challenge has been spiced up a bit. I’ve now committed myself to reading more then 10 books that are either set in Ireland, written by an Irish author or have some other link to Ireland, as well as to read books in as many of 11 different genres as I can. I’m excited about this because there are one or two genres there, like poetry, that I don’t normally read.
Other than that I haven’t set myself any reading goals for next year yet, but that could easily change over the next few weeks. I do hope to continue reviewing books and also intend to read a few more books in my mother-tongue, Dutch. Last year I read exactly two books by Dutch authors, and that just isn’t good enough.

DODELIJKE HOBBIE

TITLE: DODELIJKE HOBBIE (Deadly Hobby)
AUTHOR: M.P.O. BOOKS
Date: 02/01/2012
Grade: 4+
Details: no. 6 District Heuvelrug

            Free E-Book
            Read in Dutch, the original language
Own  


Andre Lourier is looking forward to a quiet Christmas. He has been asked to house-sit for his favourite cousin and her husband, who is not fond of Lourier at all.
Although he has been given strict instructions, Lourier forgets to set the house alarm on the first night and disaster strikes. The house is broken into and the priceless collection of porcelain houses, collected by his cousin's husband, is stolen.
Initially Lourier hopes that the police will solve the case and return the collection before its owners return. But when a triple murder is committed in a nearby town the police have to allocate all their resources there and the theft is firmly placed on the back-burner.
Desperate not to have his negligence exposed, Lourier starts investigating the theft himself and appears to be on the right track.
Unfortunately he has no idea how much danger he has been in, a danger that is still lurking, waiting for a second chance...

This is the sixth book in the "District Heuvelrug" series. I haven't read any of the previous books, but that didn't interfere with my enjoyment of this novella at all.
This was a well plotted mystery. While the reader knows that the theft and the tripple murder almost certainly have to be connected, there is no way they are going to figure out how or why until the moment the author decides to reveal the solution. And even when everything has been made clear, the danger for our main character has not yet been averted.
I received a free e-book copy of this book and was happily surprised when I read it. I really enjoyed reading this story and will probably try to get my hands on other books in this series when I'm next visiting The Netherlands.