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Book Review: Guilt by Jussi Adler-Olsen (Department Q #4)

10/07/2015

I love Department Q. It’s one of the few (well currently only) crime series I follow. I do love Danish crime there’s something about it which makes it different from the somewhat more cuddly British version. I’m not really into small town mysteries or cosy whodunnits. I prefer something a little more sinister.

The Department Q books follow the story of both detective but also the perpetrator and yet manages to keep the suspense levels high. If you haven’t started this series yet, start with the first book – Mercy or as it is known in the USA – The Keeper of Lost Causes. It is the kind of book that has you racing madly though it, missing the bus stop and over running your lunch break. Read my review of Mercy if you want to find out more about the series.

This book – Guilt – is about the mistreatment of women and a political party who are basically eugenics. There is a woman called Nete and all her life she has been accused of being a slut. She was wrongfully sent to an institution for ‘fallen women’ or the mentally disabled by doctors and lawyers linked to this political party who believed that only certain people of a certain type should be allowed to breed. It brings to mind the Laundry rooms in Ireland where women were sent for any silly little reason – having children out of wedlock, or even just being too pretty or a flirt. (Watch the film ‘The Magdalene Sisters’.) The last one closed in 1995. I don’t know much about Denmark’s similar institutions or how likely that such a political party would survive or get anywhere near popular in today’s world. Saying that, nasty parties like UK’s far right and racist BNP still exist and are spoken about so I don’t see why not.

In 1987 Nete has escaped that world until something happens to drawer her back in – and she decides that she won’t be a victim any more. She will exact her revenge…

In 2010 Detective Carl Mørck reopens the case of missing person Rita Nielsen only to reveal she’s only the first piece of the puzzle. Alongside the main storyline are the side stories that run throughout each book, each time tempting you with a bit more information, a further mystery that has yet to be solved. Before the first book started, Carl had been part of a shoot out which left one of his colleagues dead and another paralyzed from the neck down. In this book the case is still on-going. There is also an introduction of Carl’s brother which I assume is another storyline that will continue further into the series.

There is as always a lot going on and barely a quiet moment to rest and think. Carl is suitably grumpy and with the usual family problems that many fictional detectives seem to have to put up with. Enough to put anyone of joining the police force, I would imagine.

I can’t wait to read the fifth book – Buried, but at the same time I don’t want to because the sixth book has yet to be published in English and I can’t remember what book he’s gotten up to in Danish. I do have another book by Adler-Olsen which is a wartime historical but of course, no Carl Mørck in that one.

Isn’t it great when you have a series you just love to be in?

Book Review: Ross Poldark by Winston Graham

09/07/2015

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This must be one of those books that everyone’s mother has read. It became a hugely popular TV series back in the 1970’s – so popular I hear that Sunday services were delayed so people could go home and watch it! Millions of people tuned in. However, the 70’s series is looking kinda old and dated now so the BBC decided it would renew the series and do it again! This time casting two very attractive people to play the characters of Ross Poldark and Demelza Carne.

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I watched half of the original some years ago and remember quite enjoying it. The story was very compelling. I can’t remember much of it though, apart from it being rather dated and not liking the girl who played Demelza. I wasn’t planning to watch the new series either (I have grown a distrust for the BBC ever being able to do anything right ever again) but when I saw that Aiden Turner was playing the dark and ravishing Poldark, well…

The series was as I expected. The BBC have lost their magic touch. I know they had to squash two books into one series and so far having read only the first I think they did a good job in getting the story in without betraying the original book too much. However my bugbear is with the chippychoppy editing. The camera angle changes every two seconds in a scene where two people stand perfectly still. In previous TV series the camera wouldn’t flip flop around. Characters could speak for five uninterrupted minutes and the audience did not get bored, they didn’t switch over to ITV or anything else because they had (and still have) a longer attention span than a fish. I know they had to get through the story at some speed so maybe five minute soliloquys weren’t quite going to the the order of the day, but that still doesn’t excuse as far as I’m concerned the chippychoppy way of putting things together.

In any case, watching the series inspired me to finally read the book.

The book was first published in 1945, a lot earlier than I was thinking. It is a twelve book series set in Cornwall during the eighteenth century. I for a long time thought it was some romantic fiction from the sixties. It is definitely not historical romance. The romance element isn’t really significant. The relationships between all the characters are very well written and absolutely believable. Graham has a matter of fact style of writing, that I notice in many authors of his generation. (Graham Greene comes to mind – the writing is simple but beautifully written, descriptive with just the right amount of emotion but never overdone.) So I would not label this romance – it is about love and lust but the term ‘romance’ has all the connotations that cannot be fully attributed to this book. It is about a wider world than just a love story between two people.

I must admit – the Demelza in the book is described differently to the Demelza on screen played by Eleanor Tomlinson. However, I think that Tomlinson is Demelza down to a tea so she is a red head in my imagination. Ross looks sort of like Aiden Turner but I think I have changed his looks somewhat more in my head. That’s the trouble I suppose with watching things before reading them – the screen version always influences your imagination which can be both good and bad.

I’ve never really read a ‘saga’ such as this and I’m fairly excited to be getting involved in this hotpot of Cornish life during the 1800’s. I became so involved whilst reading this book I had to remind myself that it isn’t real and that Ross doesn’t exist elsewhere other than in my head (and in thousand of other heads of course.) Already I feel wrapped up in the whole mining business, what is going to happen to Francis and Elizabeth, what about Verity and Captain Blamey? Even in just the first book, Graham has set so much up that will lead you on to a further story. It tells so many stories – Ross’ own and his class as well as the lives of the poor men and women who work in and around the mines. It tells a whole swathe of stories.

I’ve already bought the next book of course and should probably buy the rest of the series as I go on. I really want to hurry on and read more. It reminds me of watching a really good television series and not being able to wait until next week. The moment when the credit roles and you know you have to wait a whole week before you find out what happens next… is what I felt upon finishing this book. That’s a rare occurrence. It reads very fast too and although very well written – a rather literary style in fact, it is smooth and easy to read.

So be warned… there may be more Poldark reviews in the future!

Book Review: UFO in her Eyes by Xiaolu Guo

08/07/2015

I had this book out from the library for months, I’m ashamed to say. I’m not a great user of the local library – it just isn’t convenient. I don’t have a car and so always require the boyfriend to drive me down and often the books I get out I don’t feel like reading by the time I get home. I don’t like hogging library books, it is rather selfish in my mind to do so – especially considering I have hundreds of my own books to read! However, the library introduced me to Guo and had many of her books. I have now read their entire collection of Guo and will probably have to go and buy the ones they do not have. I really do like this author and it is rare on my blog to see so many books by a single author pop up within a year that aren’t part of a series!

Anyway, it has now been returned to the library where I hope someone else has taken it out by now.

UFO in her Eyes is about a sighting of a flying saucer in a small backwards village and is told in a series of interviews with various residents of the village. It is not really about a UFO, but how through the villages new found fame how everything changes when “progress” is forced upon them as they enter the “modern world”. Guo’s work often focuses on the change going on in China and to its people. Whether the change that happens to this small village is a good thing leaves a lot to be said.

It’s epistolary format doesn’t lend itself to characterisation and so I found it hard to really get into so much. The light humour was amusing but I didn’t feel this book had anything really different to offer from her other novels. It definitely isn’t her most inspired book but it is short, easy to read and entertaining for the short time it will take to read this book.

Book Review: The Miniaturist by Jessie Burton

03/07/2015

 

This is the July book for my book group and unusually I’m ahead in having already read it. Again it is one of those books currently popular in the bestseller lists and being read by everyone. Which for me is rather off-putting. I’m not past reading bestsellers – no, no – but I tend to wait a year or two once the hype’s over.

The Miniaturist is set in Holland during the 17th Centuries about a young woman who arrives on the doorstep of her new husband, a flourishing merchant of the day. She arrives alone amidst a strange household, unsure of herself or her position. Her husband is often away and the house is run by his sister, who has secrets of her own to keep. As a wedding gift, Nella’s husband gives her a miniature replica of their house. At first perturbed by this strange gift she contacts a miniaturist to furnish her toy house. However, the elusive miniaturist seems to know things about Nella and her husband’s household, things that she shouldn’t, or couldn’t know…

I really loved the writing and the setting. The characters were all interesting and I really liked how Nella was not just some passive woman depressed by her lonely situation. She took control of it – somewhat unsure but slowly more confident as she grew into a stronger person. The plot seemed at first to be based around the mysterious miniaturist and this is where for me the story fell down quite flat – which was a disappointment.

Burton is a good author, but I feel she relied on wanting some mysterious element to draw the reader through the story when really it wasn’t needed. Had she completely removed the Miniaturist from the book, it wouldn’t have made much of a difference. Considering this is the title and thus supposedly the backbone of the story – it makes the book as a whole rather spineless. The other plotline would have been even more interesting had she concentrated on the lives of Nella and her household and their own much more intriguing mystery.

In a way, this makes me feel more disappointed than I would with a book that just plain stunk from start to finish. It makes me feel like I could have had a really good book but was let down by the author’s own lack of confidence. The idea of the miniaturist felt like a cheap trick to get the reader interested – especially considering the prologue – but didn’t deliver and results. Maybe Burton thought no one would be interested in a simpler story and needed that extra something. Either that or she was unable to develop a strong enough story around her idea for a mysterious miniaturist. As if she had two stories in her head that tried to play out in this one and neither story really won.

However, to say that this detracted a great deal from my overall enjoyment of this book would be wrong. I did really enjoy the book despite of all this and I’m looking forward to reading something else by Jessie Burton in the future.

Book Review: The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins

28/06/2015

This is one of those summer best sellers that everyone, including my book group is reading. It is a thriller about a woman who witnesses something whilst on her daily commute to London and she ends up getting involved in a potential murder case.

The trouble with these books that become really popular, especially at this time of year, is that they’re really not that great. Granted, they are an easy read and I guess make good holiday reads but that is all they ultimately have going for them.

The story is told from the perspective of three women, but mostly Rachel who is an alcoholic. On her commute to London, the train stops at the signals every day and she stares across to the houses opposite and forms a fantasy story based on a couple she sees when they’re in their garden. She sees them almost every day and they have become a part of her life. She calls them Jess and Jason. They are her ideal couple. There is a better reason for her obsession with this couple – she used to live on the same road as them, a couple of houses up. Her ex husband still lives there with his new wife and new baby. Jess and Jason become who she wants to be.

One day ‘Jess’ whose real name is Megan disappears. Rachel believes she has witnessed something important to the case. It is the catalyst to everything that happens next.

Rachel is a complete and utter fantasist. It is quite interesting to read a book told from the perspective of such a dysfunctional woman. In fact all three protagonists are quite dysfunctional in some way or other. All of them seem to feel beholden to a man. However as a thriller I found the book quite lacking. For one it wasn’t thrilling enough. It was easy and towards the end became more of a page turner but all in all plot wise there wasn’t much going on. It was only when I started looking at it as a character study of a person I hope to God I will never be, that I found it more interesting and became more involved.

What I did enjoy was that the author never held back on how mad Rachel came across. No one other than her friend Cathy showed her much sympathy. It showed every dark and ugly aspect of an addiction, including the self delusion, the regret and guilt that came after. She went to the lowest of the low and the author didn’t try to make her seem sympathetic. As a reader you root for her of course because she’s the main protagonist and you do feel a bit sorry just as you would anyone in such a state. Hawkins doesn’t sugar coat alcoholism though. It is what it is.

Besides that though, The Girl on the Train isn’t really great and maybe had it come out at a different time in the year it wouldn’t have become a best seller. It makes you turn the pages but ultimately leaves you feeling rather flat at the end.

Book Review: The Forgotten Son by Christa Laird

21/06/2015

Christa Laird wrote one of my favourite books as a child – Beyond the Wall which is about a Jewish boy’s escape from the Warsaw ghetto and living as a refuge in the forests. It is one of the most powerful stories I have ever read. She has always fascinated me because she hasn’t written many books and I wonder why? She’s the type of author who just manages to convey a scene or emotion or anything very clearly and very cleverly. (You can get Beyond the Wall and Shadow of the Wall on ebook now thank heavens.)

The Forgotten Son is a book long unpublished and not available as an ebook unfortunately. It is  lacking in appeal to young people now perhaps. It is a historical novel about the son of the Medieval couple Heloise and Abelard. Theirs is a famous love story - 

In 12th Century France, Heloise is living with her uncle. She is an educated woman. She meets Abelard a scholar teaching at Notre Dam. They fall in love and eventually she falls pregnant. They escape to Brittany where Abelard was born. When her uncle realises though he arranges a secret marriage between the two so they can return to Paris although they keep their marriage a secret. However – it turned out to be a trick to lure Heloise back and get rid of Abelard. Abelard was attacked in bed and his genitals were cut off. Feeling he could no longer teach at Notre Dam, Abelard persuaded Heloise to give up her child and take orders to become a nun. Abelard himself took orders and became a monk.

The fate of the child is not recorded in history other than he went to live with his father’s family and his name was Astrolabe. This is where Christa Laird picks up and tells the story of Atrolabe’s struggle to come to terms with his parentage. It’s a fairly simple story, but with hidden complexities woven in. The relationship between Astrolabe and his aunt and cousins, his growing attraction for a young woman on the estate, meeting his father and his expectations and disappointment. The book is quite short at less than two hundred pages, but Laird managed to pack in quite a lot so it seems a longer story.

What I really do like about Laird is that she treats her audience as if they are intelligent but keeps things as simple and clear as they need to be without extra baggage. It is a well written story and enjoyable although nothing quite as impactful as Beyond the Wall. I am not disappointed in reading another Christa Laird.

This however – is not her last book evidently. Shortly before starting this and quite out of the blue I found she had published a new book – after all these years suddenly another pops up. It is not published in the UK yet however and only in South Africa.

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The Dangerous Dream of Ben Maludzi is published by Shuter &Shooter. I don’t know why she has suddenly released a new book – but she has – or if it will ever be published in the UK – but what a surprise. So naturally I spent a small fortune buying it and having it shipped over. It is completely different from her other books once again. The first two – which are sequels – about the Holocaust, the second about a Medieval romance and now this one – about a young South African boy. I wonder what inspired her to write any of her books and why she never pursued writing as a career. If her books simply were not popular enough I find this a crying shame as she is a fantastic author.

I think more people should be able to read her books – so I do recommend with my heart that you go out and get Shadow of the Wall and Beyond the Wall as ebooks and read them. Christa Laird is a hidden treasure. I look forward to reading this surprise forth book and who knows if it’ll be her last.

To be reviewed…

20/06/2015

I have fallen way behind on reviewing and really do mean to write some up soon. It’s become three times harder these days however due to cats.

Meet Noranti (left) Tali (middle) and Toru (right).

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The books I have to review are…

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The cats meanwhile have been walking all over my keyboard hardly allowing me to type. Noranti is at this moment hunting the flashy lights on my laptop. Now she is trying to hunt the text as it appears on screen. I could just kick them out but that’s just more trouble! Tali and Toru are fighting on my lap… and now Noranti has joined in.

*sigh*

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