Tuesday, May 14, 2013
This is just a short note to let you know that two of my book reviews have just appeared in the Australian crime fiction magazine Crime Factory. The books I wrote about were Donna Leon's The Golden Egg and Joe Clifford's Choice Cuts. For a future issue of the magazine I'll be reviewing Reckoning by R Thomas Brown, as well as Karin Slaughter's Unseen, which is coming out at the beginning of July.
If you want to buy a printed or Kindle edition of the magazine follow this link. If you're only interested in a pdf edition you can find it there as well for free.
If you are interested to know what I'm reading these days and what I'll be reviewing in the future for this blog and other outlets visit my page on GoodReads.
Monday, May 6, 2013
I have to begin this review with an admission: I have never liked “Atonement”, the book that was a great success for the author, and which became a successful movie as well. I found it kind of boring and too long. On the other hand I did like his much shorter “On Chesil Beach”. That one was a pleasure to read, mainly because it told a story in a masterful way and in the right amount of words.
“Sweet Tooth” I have loved as well, even though at the beginning I felt reluctant to dive into its world. I guess that had to do with my distrust of the big newspaper critics who are willing to hail every book as a masterpiece once its author is of McEwan’s fame and caliber. I’m so glad that I was proven wrong, and that I did get to read this novel. It is a masterpiece. I’m not saying that it’s the best fiction book I’ve ever read, but it is one of the best I have read this year.
This is a story of lovers and spies, and of writers and politicians, in a highly charged era of the European history. We meet the heroes in London in the early seventies. The cold war is going strong, the people feel insecure, and the propaganda, or mind games are at their peak. It is under these circumstances that a young and seemingly brilliant woman is recruited by the British secret service. At first she has nothing much to do, she’s a paper pusher, but one day her luck will change and she’ll be given a mission, to help an author promote her country’s interests.
What ensues is an adventure, with not too much action, but with a lot of ups and downs. As the reader will soon come to understand most of the actors in this drama are more or less sad, and they are mostly ignorant: “Everyone knew as much as they needed to know to be happy,” we read, but yet that happiness eluded them.
If it wasn’t for the author’s beautiful prose and the final twist that takes the reader by surprise this would be a brilliant but sad story, as we follow the footsteps of two people who are doomed to fail. However, things are not exactly the way they seem, and as McEwan seems to suggest, even if the whole world comes tumbling down, there’s still hope to be found.
I believe that anyone out there that likes literary fiction of the highest quality should read this novel, as it has a lot to offer: raw emotions, a great story, a beautiful background, and exquisite writing.
Friday, May 3, 2013
While reading Wicked Business I felt like I was going through a Stephanie Plum novel that simply took place in a different world. Almost every main character in this book reminds me of someone else in the latter series. Lizzy is Stephanie in disguise, and Diesel looks and sounds so much like Ranger that it wouldn’t be too difficult for a reader to confuse the one with the other.
What saves this new series of becoming a simple copy of the old one is the author’s wicked sense of humor. When you read a Janet Evanovich novel you know that you’ll smile a lot, and every now and then laugh-out-loud, and that’s not something a reader could or should ignore. Her novels are not so much meant to intrigue the reader or give him food for thought; they are meant to entertain him.
Lizzy and Diesel are two people with supernatural powers and strong feelings for each other who, for some reason, can never be together. Their relationship is not strictly professional, but it can never become purely emotional either. They work together as investigators of sorts, in order to stop bad people from doing bad things, including Diesel’s cousin, Wulf, but at the same time they try to lead something like a normal life. However, these two and normalcy don’t go together, as they have too many enemies who are willing to do anything to hurt them. But, at the same time, they have a few friends as well; a master baker, a wise woman who owns an old bookshop and Glo, a sidekick who’s as colorful as they come: she dresses funny, loves going out on blind dates, and has a heart of gold; a heart that will make her help one of their enemies. Glo, reminds the reader, in more than one ways of Kenzi from Lost Girl, the TV series, something that makes her all the more interesting.
I believe that anyone who loves the Plum novels will like this book as well, as it does have a lot of action, a little bit of mystery, interesting characters, a… genius of a monkey called Carl, and a cat that goes by the name of Cat 7143. If you’re looking for an antidote to everyday boredom this might just be the book for you. 7/10
By the same author:
Wednesday, May 1, 2013
The financial crisis is still growing strong in the western world and even though, no matter how hard we try, most of us don’t seem to understand what’s really going on, others see the opportunities arising from the current situation. The people who know best always say that one should invest when the markets are low. That sounds great, but invest in what? Commodities; this seems to be the answer to the question, according at least to Martin Li, the author of Resources Investment: Profit from Hot Commodities.
Li seems to know really well how the commodities market works, on which companies one should invest his or her money, and when. He goes at great lengths to explain how the financial crisis and the oil prices affect the society and why some stock prices skyrocket or fall with a bang, and he tries to solve the mystery of the eternal lust for gold.
If there’s one thing that someone could get from this book is that in the world of commodities, as well as in the marketplace, there’s no such thing as a certainty. You can buy and sell stocks, you can save your money in gold or play the exchange rate game, but at the end of the day the most important thing is to take calculated risks and don’t try too hard to make an easy profit.
There’s a lot of knowledge in these pages concerning everything that keeps this industrialist world of ours going around. The author tells us all we need to know about fuel and the precious metals, as well as for the companies that extract and distribute them to the world. He explains why things happen in one way or another, and points out the impact that China and India have as rising economies and consumer societies in today’s world. And he quotes experts in an effort to explain how our energy needs drive the prices up, along with the exhaustion of the “cheap” oil wells.
Before reading this book I was under the impression that I knew a lot about how things work in the oil and mining industry; well, I was wrong. The truth is that I knew too little, but now that has changed, since I, at last, have the full picture. You don’t have to be in finance or in one of the industries the book preoccupies itself with to read this; all you have to be is interested in the world around you, a world that changes by the day. This is a perfect guide to the turbulent economic waters of this modern era, which can easily be read and understood by one and all.
By the same author:
Monday, April 29, 2013
As it is usual the case with Scandinavian crime fiction what the authors seem more interested about is talking about the local societies and their many ills than crime itself. Camilla Läckberg is one of those writers who have started becoming more and more popular in the west mainly because of her characters. Detective Patrik Hedström and his writer wife Erica, do not only seem to be everyday people, but also people with big hearts, who can feel the pain of the others, whose psyches are deeply scarred by the past, and who care more for justice than anything else.
In “The Stranger” there are too many people circling around them, but also around the rural area where they live, and mostly where Patrik works: the chief of the Tanumshede police station who’s as lazy as they come; a cop who lives and breathes in boredom; another cop who’s finally got a lucky break; and finally a new transfer, an ambitious woman who at some point in the future wants to become chief of police herself.
And these are the people that only reside in the police station. Add to them an ambitious politician, a mysterious psychologist, the cast and the production team of a reality show, an old woman desperately in love, as well as another old woman that lives all alone in the wilderness, and you almost get the full picture. I say almost, because most of these people have a lot of secrets to hide and a lot of pain that weighs on their shoulders.
Läckberg seems to be more interested in dissecting the society than giving the readers a mystery; in making them think about everyday life, instead of trying to solve the puzzles. A road accident turns out to be a murder. Then another murder takes place that puts the city and the cops on the spotlight. And Patrik is caught in the middle of two investigations that seemingly have nothing to do with each other, even though there’s a chance they do. One can feel sympathy for some of the characters and their strife, but this is not an angelic world we live in, so most of them simply make him dislike them.
The author seems to enjoying playing with the reader’s perceptions. What is good and what is evil? Would you act any differently if you were in the perp’s shoes? Can you really judge a person by his or her looks? Can somebody escape the past unscathed?
If you are looking for an overcomplicated mystery, you’ll like parts of this book; but if you’re searching for a novel that speaks about damaged people and the many evils of modern society you’ll simply love it.
By the same author:
Friday, April 26, 2013
I don’t know how David Baldacci managed to write two great novels in a row but he did, and that’s what counts. A few months ago he surprised us with the second installment of his John Puller series “The Forgotten”(review here), which was much better than the first novel, and now he pulls the same trick with his Will Robie vehicle “The Hit”.
If there’s one thing someone can always come to expect from a Baldacci novel is high-octane action, unconventional heroes, conspiracy theories and enough twists and turns to make their head spin. If you add to that mix the “sympathy for the devil” element, then you’ll come to understand what this book is all about.
I’m not saying that Will Robie is the devil, but he’s as close to him as they come, since he’s a gun for hire; though the US government’s gun for hire. He’s a cold-blooded assassin, someone who’s supposed to have no feelings, who’s trained to follow orders without any second thought, and who’s not supposed to have a mind of his own. But is that even humanly possible? At first glance it looks as it is, but as the plot unravels and the mysteries, as well as the bodies, start piling up, things seem to change. And soon enough Robie doesn’t only start to question the motives of his superiors, but also those of himself. He’s supposed to be the good guy, no matter what he does; he’s serving his country; but are the rest of the people just as patriotic, or in some cases blindsided as he is?
That’s not the only question that arises in his mind though; there are too many to list. Could he one day have a normal life? Could he connect with people like others do? Was he right to stay afar from the girl whose life he saved? Could he be loved? As one can easily guess, Robie is damaged goods. However, as it seems, he’s not in this hell of a life all alone. There’s a rogue agent who’s in just a bad place, or even worst, as he is. And there are people, who in the names of patriotism or ambition, are willing to do just about everything; even become mass murderers, if that’s what it takes.
Baldacci has given us yet another explosive novel, with lots of action and well-drawn characters that can take one’s breath away, and which I’ve read in one sit. I’d highly recommend it to all his faithful fans, but also to anyone else out there who enjoys a good thriller.
Reviews of other books by the same author:
No Time Left
The Sixth Man
Tuesday, April 16, 2013
Kate Atkinson - Life After Life
A.M Homes - May We Be Forgiven
Barbara Kingsolver - Flight Behaviour
Hilary Mantel - Bring Up the Bodies
Maria Semple - Where’d You Go, Bernadette
Zadie Smith - NW
Thursday, April 4, 2013
Two major UK book awards shortlists have been announced today; the ones for the Arthur C Clarke and Bollinger Everyman Wodehouse prizes. The talking point when it comes to the first is that there are no female authors included in the list, even though four out of the five judges are female, while everyone seems to be happy with the second one. Here are the lists in full:
The Arthur C Clarke Award
Nod by Adrian Barnes
Dark Eden by Chris Beckett
Angelmaker by Nick Harkaway
The Dog Stars by Peter Heller
Intrusion by Ken MacLeod
2312 by Kim Stanley Robinson
The winner will be announced on the 1st of May.
The Bollinger Everyman Wodehouse Prize
Zoo Time by Howard Jacobson
Skios by Michael Frayn
England's Lane by Joseph Connolly
Heartbreak Hotel by Deborah Moggach
Lightning Rods by Helen DeWitt
The winner will be announced at the end of May, but no date has been set yet.
Sunday, March 31, 2013
The western world is sailing in turbulent economic waters. The salaries are going down, jobs are lost, the poor are getting poorer, and the rich are not getting richer as fast as they used to. Sometimes it’s really difficult to make ends meet, not to mention buying something or some things that are necessary for one’s home. And that’s exactly why I’ve decided to title this article The Age of the Coupon.
Coupons of course are nothing new; you could see them around for decades now; on products’ packages, on advertising material, in newspapers and magazines; and they, as much as everything else nowadays, have also taken a fancy to the internet.
At the beginning not many people would feed their buying habits with them. In the old days you could go to a supermarket or a mall, and watch elderly people using them or the very poor, but the middle-class people mostly shied away from them, as if they would get stigmatized if they were seen making a transaction with them. During the last few years though, things have changed dramatically. The recession have bitten people badly and they had to find ways to save money to make their lives a little bit easier; so as unlikely that would seem a few years ago, they started using coupons, if not for any reason because they could find them everywhere.
Now, most coupons have a short life span, but others don’t. In either case, their use is nowadays a must, whether you’re buying in person or through the internet. You know how people say that one should enjoy the finer things in life every now and then? Well, coupons do well when it comes to serving that purpose, whatever your vice may be. If you would like a new gadget or DVD box set, a new mobile phone or a pair of special gloves, a tablet or even a simple cap, coupons can help you realize your dreams without too much economic bleeding.
My own vice is books. I’ve been using Amazon to buy my books for years, especially since there never seemed to be any other alternatives out there, in my part of the world. I remember how I longed for the big packages to be delivered with my books neatly settled inside them; what a joy it was to get a new volume in my hands! But now I, just as much as the times, have changed. I’ve entered the electronic age, and, even though I hate to admit it, I’ve never looked back. The e-books come cheap and fast, and they can find me everywhere. And what’s even better is that they can come in cheaper yet, thanks to the coupons.
But of course the coupons can benefit you just as much, or even more, as they do me. My needs may be very specific but yours could be varied and demand a large amount of money; money that these days is hard to come by. I know people that spend a lot of time in the internet looking for bargains, whether they’re furnishing a home or buying an mp4player, whether they’re movie freaks or pure music fans. These are the people that could benefit the most from the digital coupon explosion. And if they don’t know where to look to find what they need, they should worry no more, since now there are websites created and operated exactly for this purpose. One of the best out there is Promo Code 4 Share which collects, among other things, the best offers that Amazon has to offer and serves them hot on your plate. Thanks to websites like this shopping, despite the economic meltdown, can still be a little bit fun, and interesting as well, since the coupon hunters can find in there, if they search hard enough, products that will surely meet their needs.
Thursday, March 28, 2013
Sometimes reading a travel book can be an exhilarating experience; it doesn’t happen very often but when it does it can make your day. I have read many books of this genre in the past, since I’ve been a traveller for more than twenty-five years now, but none gave me such pleasure as Martin Li’s Inca Trails.
What I mostly liked about this book is the fact that it’s not a travel guide, but rather a travelogue. The author set out on a journey across Bolivia and Peru to retrace the ancient paths of the Incas, and during it he came to meet a lot of interesting characters, adopt a mule called Coco, taste the local cuisine, spent the nights out in the open or in dreadful lodges, and find his way across the land on packed-up buses.
Li does not, at any point, try to impress the reader, and he doesn’t seem to care if the people think that he’s brave or a coward; all he cares about is the journey, the stories he learns, and the new memories that form in his head day in day out. The people he meets, we meet as well, as he describes every character that has an important role to play in the narration in detail; the landscapes that capture his gaze, also capture ours, through his words and pictures. His journey is far from easy, but the way he describes it makes it sound so.
If I were a TV producer I’d use this book to film a series of documentaries that talk about the lands the author visited and the people he encountered, and I’d have someone narrate the history lessons he delivers as well, since this is one of those special books that can offer learning, adventure and bits and pieces of fun at the same time. I’d highly recommend it to everyone who’s not only interested in travelling, but also history and ancient civilizations.