Friday, December 28, 2012

Book Review: The Testament of Mary by Colm Tóibín


The Testament of Mary is one of those books which leave a bittersweet taste in the reader’s mouth at the end. This has nothing to do with religion; it has everything to do with the sadness that seems to prevail from beginning to end.

The author tells in a beautifully flowing first person narration the story of Mary, or at least some of its parts. Mary in this novella looks like a woman bathed in sorrow. As she recounts the events that lead to her son’s death and their aftermath, she seems weak, secretly angry and quite bitter. And she doesn’t seem to have a shred of sympathy for Jesus before he met his end and his followers. In her eyes they were all part of a conspiracy that she doesn’t name but is quite clear for everyone to see.

Her memories are vivid, “I remember too much;” she says, “I am like the air on a calm day as it holds itself still, letting nothing escape. As the world holds its breath, I keep memory in.”

Nothing escapes her but sleep. She cannot sleep because the recent events have shaken her world; her son’s miracles, the fact that he publicly renounced her, his arrest, trial and crucifixion. But these are not the things upset her the most, it’s her visitors; two of his disciples that come to her time and again, trying to shape her memories into their own liking, determined to convince her that their version of the events is the true one.

“No,” she wants to cry out loud, “no, I wasn’t there until the very end,” but they pay no attention to her, they’ll write the story the way they want it, no matter what. She’s sick of men, and especially these ones: “…all my life when I have seen more than two men I have seen foolishness and I have seen cruelty…” In a way she’s also disappointed of her son, who, she feels has wasted his life for no reason at all: “It was not worth it,” she says, his death served no one.

Her words, her thoughts may sound heretic, but they simply come out of the bleeding heart of a grieving mother: “There are times in these days before death comes with my name in whispers, calling me towards darkness, lulling me towards rest, when I know that I want more from the world. Not much, but more. It is simple. If water can be changed into wine and the dead can be brought back, then I want time pushed back. I want to live again before my son’s death happened, or before he left home, when he was a baby and his father was alive and there was ease in the world.”

But these days are gone. Now even her own story doesn’t belong to her, even her life depends on the charity of others. The only thing she’s left with is her memories, and a bitterness that just doesn’t let go of her tortured soul.

A tale beautifully told in exquisite prose by a master storyteller.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Book Review: Standing in Another Man’s Grave by Ian Rankin


Joy to the world of crime fiction, Rebus is back with a bang. Standing in Another Man’s Grave is one of the best crime novels of the year, and if you don’t believe me that’s your problem.

As Ian Rankin came to realize letting one of your favorite heroes go is not an easy thing to do and thank god for that. Rebus, after taking a short break, returns to the pages of his creator and lets him know that it won’t be so easy to get rid of him. What if he works in cold cases as an outsider? What if the unit is about to close? Nothing really matters to Rebus, apart from solving crimes and punishing the perps one way or another.

At the beginning of the book he seems a bit lost as he enters a world where he’s spend most of his life, but which now seems alien to him. His protégée Siobhan Clarke now holds a higher position than him and she seems to be going places, unlike him whose life never changes. As he realizes at some point he’s an analog man in a digital world. However analog sometimes is better than digital.

Rebus is at his strongest when he’s at his lowest. When everyone is against him he rises up to the challenge and gets things done. And when he’s the target, he’s the one who pulls the trigger first.

One of the most interesting things in this book is the co-existence in the same pages of Rebus and Rankin’s latest cop hero, Malcolm Fox. Fox doesn’t like Rebus and he shows it, he’s determined to take him down as soon as possible; but no matter how hard he tries he’s never able to pin anything specific on him. Yes, he does have drinks with a mob boss, whose life he’s saved, every now and then; yes, he does frequent places which he shouldn’t; and yes, he does tend to take the law into his own hands time and again; but he gets results. He may be old school, but he goes where nobody else can. He may drink a lot, but he works more than everyone, despite his age.

Fox and Rebus are similar in a way: committed, headstrong, restless, but they cannot see that. When they look at each other they only see yet another enemy, whereas if they were working together they could be friends, despite the fact that Fox doesn’t drink.

As for the story, it all begins with a murder that Rebus cannot investigate, and the reopening of an old case which he can. A woman shows up at the unit claiming that her daughter’s disappearance many years ago is connected with those of some other young women. Rebus decides to take a look at the file and he sooner rather than later realizes that the woman had a point. All the women disappeared in the same area and they’ve never been seen ever since. So he starts investigating. And the more he investigates, the more clues he brings to light, and the more enemies he makes. He’s no angel, everyone knows that, but when he’s on the hunt he’ll do anything to get his man. He doesn’t care about department politics, public relations, and keeping up pretenses with colleagues, and that’s his curse, and that’s his blessing.

Siobhan knows that where everyone else fails Rebus succeeds, so despite the fact that working with him could put her career in jeopardy at the end she decides to give him a helping hand. He’ll do all the leg work, and she’ll be there when the need arises. If not for any reason because she likes him; she likes the fact that he wants to bring justice to the victims no matter what; and he does make her smile.

Well, all in all I’d say that this is one of the best Rebus novels yet. The good detective came back from his break stronger and hungry for action. What a character! Really, what a character! Thumbs up, Mr. Rankin.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

My Year in Reading


2012 has been a great year as far as reading is concerned for me. During it I had the chance to get my hands on some real gems like these: No one belongs here more than you by Miranda July, the incredibly beautifully written Please Look After Mom by Kyung-Sook Shin, Gone Girl, a masterpiece of crime fiction literature by Gillian Flynn, the best novel in the Nikki Heat series by Richard Castle, the return of good old John Rebus in Standing in Another Man's Grave, the laugh-out-loud funny novel Dogma by Lars Iyer, and many many more excellent books.


If I had to choose a favorite I would go for Please Look After Mom but if you asked me which book have really spoken to my psyche my vote would go to Miranda July's stories. It was as if my deepest thoughts and feelings have somehow found their way into her pages. Mrs July, thank you!


As for Rebus and Ian Rankin, well, their reappearance had really been a delight. It just proves that of some characters you just can't let go. Rankin seems at his best as he brings Rebus back to action, and planting in the plot as his personal nemesis his other hero, Malcolm Fox. I hope to write a review for the book soon.


Dogma; what a book! It kept me laughing and laughing. A real page-turner that's not only funny but also has a lot to say. For joy and for wisdom.


Mrs Flynn has hit the jackpot with this one, and deservedly so. Gone Girl has been in the New York Times best seller list for more than six months and it's still growing strong. This is a masterpiece; no question about it.

And now it's the time for the list. Thanks to GoodReads I didn't have to go through my personal archives to retrieve the titles of the books I've read this year. As you see they range from crime fiction to poetry, from literary fiction to nonfiction, and from children's books to graphic novels. I include links of the reviews that I wrote for some of them. For the rest you'll have to do your own research. So here we go:

The Boy in the Suitcase by Lene Kaaberból and Agnete Friis
True by Riikka Pulkkinen
Ambiguous Adventure by Hamidou Kane
Me and You by Niccolo Ammaniti (review here)
Beastly Things by Donna Leon
The Pianist in the Dark by Michele Halberstadt
A Clash of Kings by George R.R. Martin
Ragnarok by A.S. Byatt (review here)
What it Was by George Pelecanos (review here)
Raylan by Elmore Leonard (review here)
Catch Me by Lisa Gardner (review here)
Thirst for Love by Yukio Mishima
No one belongs here more than you by Miranda July
Brooklyn by Colm Tóibín
I Haven’t Dreamed of Flying for a While by Taichi Yamada
The Angel Esmeralda by Don DeLillo
Dogma by Lars Iyer (review here)
A Greyhound of a Girl by Roddy Doyle
Baby’s in Black by Arne Bellstorf
The Thief by Fuminori Nakamura (review here)
Please Look After Mom by Kyung-Sook Shin (review here)
The Retribution by Val McDermid
Lamberto, Lamberto, Lamberto by Gianni Rodari
The 7th Month by Lisa Gardner (review here)
Facing the Hunchback of Notre Dame by L.L. Samson
Last Evenings on Earth by Roberto Bolaño
House Blood by Mike Lawson
Kino by Jurgen Fauth
Sea of Memory (Me, You) by Enrico De Luca (review here)
Victims by Jonathan Kellerman
I Dare to Say by Hilda Twongyeirwe
Hear the Wind Sing by Haruki Murakami
Afrika by Hermann Huppen (review here)
Dotter of Her Father’s Eyes by Mary M. Talbot and Bryan Talbot
Persepolis: The Story of a Childhood by Marjane Satrapi
My name on his tongue by Laila Halaby
The Book of Khalid by Ameen F. Rihani
Watchlist: A Serial Thriller by Various Authors
Artemis Fowl by Eoin Colfer
The Arctic Incident by Eoin Colfer
Hearts of Darkness by Dave Thompson
The Eternity Code by Eoin Colfer
Phantom by Jo Nesbo (review here)
Snow Country by Yasunari Kawabata
The Opal Deception by Eoin Colfer
Persepolis 2: The Story of a Return by Marjane Satrapi
The White Oak by Kim White
The Innocent by David Baldacci
Deadlocked by Charlaine Harris (review here)
Honor & Entropy by Arthur Spevak
Stay Close by Harlan Coben
Snatched by Karin Slaughter (review here)
The Lost Colony by Eoin Colfer
The Time Paradox by Eoin Colfer
The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway
Lust Demented by Michael D. Subrizi
The Bad Beginning by Lemony Snicket
The Reptile Room by Lemony Snicket
Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn (review here)
The Wide Window by Lemony Snicket
The Miserable Mill by Lemony Snicket
The Austere Academy by Lemony Snicket
The Ersatz Elevator by Lemony Snicket
The Third Reich by Roberto Bolaño
The Vile Village by Lemony Snicket
The Crime of Julian Wells by Thomas H. Cook (review here)
The Atlantis Complex by Eoin Colfer
The Hostile Hospital by Lemony Snicket
XO by Jeffery Deaver (review here)
The Carnivorous Carnival by Lemony Snicket
Secret Battles of Genghis Khan by Daryl Gregory
The Slippery Slope by Lemony Snicket
The Grim Grotto by Lemony Snicket
The Penultimate Peril by Lemony Snicket
Only One Life by Sara Blaedel (review here)
Sunset by Christos Gage (review here)
The End by Lemony Snicket
A Brewing Storm by Richard Castle (review here)
The Fear Artist by Timmothy Hallinan (review here)
Monkey King by Wei Dong Chen
Lake Country by Sean Doolittle (review here)
A Raging Storm by Richard Castle (review here)
Havana Real by Yoani Sánchez (review here)
The Joy Brigade by Martin Limón (review here)
Shadow of the Rock by Thomas Mogford (review here)
Skin by Mickey Spillane and Max Allan Collins (review here)
Murder in Mumbai by K.D. Calamur (review here)
The Empty Glass by J.I. Baker (review here)
Death Benefits by Nelson DeMille (review here)
Finder, Vol. 4: Talisman by Carla Speed McNeil
Dying Echo by Judy Clemens (review here)
Deep Down by Lee Child (review here)
Killer Charm by Linda Fairstein
Vibrator by Mari Akasaka
Dragon Age: The Silent Grove by David Gaider (review here)
The Thing About Thugs by Tabish Khair (review here)
Criminal Macabre: The Iron Spirit by Steve Niles
The Curse by Mike Norton
Caravan of Thieves by David Rich (review here)
Garment of Shadows by Laurie R. King (review here)
Road Rage by Chris Ryall & others
Kevin Smith’s the Bionic Man Volume 1: Some Assembly Required by Kevin Smith
Sam Capra’s Last Chance by Jeff Abbott (review here)
Batula by Marco Cinello (review here)
Return to Atlantis by Andy McDermott (review here)
Thousand Cranes by Yasunari Kawabata
Low Pressure by Sandra Brown (review here)
John Doe by Tess Gerritsen (review here)
The Absent One by Jussi Adler-Olsen (review here)
Stranger in the Room by Amanda Kyle Williams (review here)
A Bloody Storm by Richard Castle (review here)
Atticus Claw Breaks the Law by Jennifer Gray (review here)
The Offering by Desiree Bombenon (review here)
The Quick Fix by Jack D. Ferraiolo (review here)
Mixed Signals by Jane Tesh (review here)
Mockingbird by Chuck Wendig (review here)
Jews and Words by Amos Oz and Fania Oz-Salzberger
Becoming Holmes by Shane Peacock (review here)
Psychos by Various Authors (review here)
Last to Die by Tess Gerritsen (review here)
Robert Ludlum’s The Janus Reprisal by Jamie Freveletti (review here)
Play Him Again by Jeffrey Stone (review here)
Oreimo Volume 1 by Sakura Ikeda
Three Kingdoms Volume 1 by Wei Dong Chen
Seventy Times Seven by John Gordon Sinclair
Prophet Volume 1: Remission by Brandon Graham
A Wanted Man by Lee Child (review here)
Bones Are Forever by Kathy Reichs (review here)
Dead Girl Moon by Charlie Price (review here)
The Darkness Rebirth: Volume 1 by David Hine
Peter Panzerfaust Vol. 1: The Great Escape by Kurtis J. Wiebe
Island of Bones by Imogen Robertson (review here)
Mulholland Dive by Michael Connelly (review here)
Kirby: Genesis, Volume 1 by Kurt Busiek
Thief of Thieves, Vol. 1 by Nick Spencer
Return of the Thin Man by Dashiell Hammett (review here)
Grandville Bete Noire by Bryan Talbot
Frozen Heat by Richard Castle (review here)
Buffy the Vampire Slayer: On Your Own by Andrew Chambliss
Make Believe by Ed Ifkovic (review here)
Motorcycle High by Dave Harrold (review here)
No Regrets, No Remorse by R.F. Sharp (review here)
Death in the 12th House by Mitchell Scott Lewis (review here)
Hot Stuff by Don Bruns (review here)
Hawken by Timothy Truman (review here)
Saga, Volume 1 by Brian K. Vaughan (review here)
Live by Night by Dennis Lehane
The Shaolin Cowboy Adventure Magazine, Number 1 (review here)
The Buzzard Table by Margaret Maron (review here)
Seconds Away by Harlan Coben
The Strain, Volume 1 by David Lapham (review here)
Crashed by Timothy Hallinan (review here)
Fox Tracks by Rita Mae Brown (review here)
Ratlines by Stuart Neville
A Killer in the Wind by Andrew Klavan
Man in the Empty Suit by Sean Ferrell
Swimming Home by Deborah Levy (review here)
Never Coming Back by Hans Koppel (review here)
The Scroll by Anne Perry (review here)
The Safe Man by Michael Connelly (review here)
The Box Man by Kobo Abe
The Callsign by Brad Taylor
Amanda’s Story by Brian O’ Grady
Standing in Another Man’s Grave by Ian Rankin
The Forgotten by David Baldacci (review here)
The Black Box by Michael Connelly
Mind Maps by Michael Taylor (review here)
Bullets Are My Business by Josh K. Stevens
You Don’t Want to Know by Lisa Jackson
The Andalucian Friend by Alexander Soderberg
Death Leaves a Bookmark by William Link
Perfect Hatred by Leighton Cage

By the end of the year I also hope to finish reading:

The Testament of Mary by Colm Tóibín
Farewell to Freedom by Sara Blaedel
Kiku’s Prayer by Shusaku Endo
The Antiquarian by Julián Sánchez

Monday, December 17, 2012

Vanity


I’m trying to create the hologram of my future self,
But it comes out foggy,
Almost like the dream of a day that scatters with
The first blow of the wind of a warm night.
I think hard, I look forward, I plan, and then
I return to today, to reality, disillusioned,
Though always knowing that, I’ll never change;
At least not as long as I struggle to.
Change is only easy as a word.
The outer circumstances often change their skin
And the way they feel but
At the end of the day they remain the same.
You say:
“I’m not sad because I’m lonely,
I’m lonely because I’m sad,”
And that sorrow looks bulletproof.
I seek what I cannot find
And I find what I do not seek;
My life’s story in brief but also
The story of every life.
Time and again I speak the same words
To different people.
Time and again I hear the same words
From different people.
Is this the circle of life?
Of a life that doesn’t move in circles
But follows different paths?
Up and down, and zigzag its goes, and the thought
That anyone could ever change
Its course remains just that:
No more than a thought.
Life writes the rules and life enforces them;
Thus every effort to overwrite them
Proves vain,
Just like life itself, a pessimist would say.

Friday, December 7, 2012

Graphic Book Review: Hawken by Benjamin and Timothy Truman


Hawken by Benjamin and Timothy Truman is a graphic novel that tells the story of a killer unlike any other, a man that seems to be a force of nature.

Tim Truman returns to the Weird West! The industry legend teams with his son, writer Ben Truman, for a violent new tale of the supernatural! In the land of the lawless rode the soulless! Scout, hunter, raider, killer-for-hire: Kitchell Hawken has been many things - most of them bad. Scalped, tortured, and left for dead by the mysterious order called the Ring, Hawken returns, seeking vengeance... but surrounded by the ghosts of every person he's ever killed!

This is one of those special graphic novels that keep the reader constantly at the edge of his sit. There’s too much action in it, great characters, some hints of dry humor here and there, and a plot that drives the narrative from peak to peak.

An old man is riding a blind mule, in 1881, on a trail called The Road of Death that goes through the Sonoran Desert. He has done many bad things in his life. And his name is Hawken. And that’s just about how the story begins; a story full of villains, and in which bloodsheds are never too many pages apart.

Hawken is a man with a mission, and he’s determined to accomplish it no matter what. As it’s already established he’s no angel, but there are worst human beings out there; beings that need to die and thus follow him every step of the way as he heads for his final destination.

The journey will prove long but the old man rode because he was not yet finished. His enemies are plenty, and they all belong to the Ring, a gang or an order of sorts, unlike any other.

Hatred seems to be the keyword in this story. The hatred he feels for his enemies; the hatred they feel for him. In fact everybody seems to hate everyone else, yet: It is rare for a man to kindle a hatred that burns so brightly that it has the power to touch the unliving. Well, Hawken does. And that’s what keeps him going; from town to town, from massacre to massacre.

The strange thing is that the most of the humor here is provided by his victims, his ghosts. They argue with him, they have a laugh at his back, and they urge him to move forward until he reaches his goal. So it comes as no surprise that when some philosophy finds its way into the text, it has to do with them:

“All men are haunted, whether by ghosts or by memories.”
Though, “sometimes it is the living who are the ghosts.”

This team of father and son do a great job in delivering to the reader a story that is not only gripping but also hard to forget. Hawken is a character that plants himself into your memory and makes you think of his persona and his mission again and again. I guess in the hands of a capable and imaginable director this could make a beautifully dark and slightly funny movie.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Graphic Novel Review: Guillermo Del Toro and Chuck Hogan's The Strain Volume 1 by David Lapham, Mike Huddleston and Dan Jackson


The Strain Volume 1 is a graphic novel that combines the genres of traditional vampire literature and ancient folklore in order to deliver a modern day tale of horror and nonstop action.

When a Boeing 777 lands at JFK International Airport and goes dark on the runway, the Center for Disease Control, fearing a terrorist attack, calls in Dr. Ephraim Goodweather and his team of expert biological-threat first responders. Only an elderly pawnbroker from Spanish Harlem though suspects a darker purpose behind the event - an ancient threat intent on covering mankind in darkness!

This is an adaptation of the first novel in the Strain Trilogy by Guillermo Del Toro and Chuck Hogan, or maybe not exactly so, as the authors point out in their introduction.

This is not an illustrated version of our novels. This is a graphic retelling: a visual translation and a definitive one. As such, we asked only for the application of fresh energy and bold thinking. Other than that, we granted David Lapham and Mike Huddleston free reign and embraced them as true partners in this enterprise.

It all begins with a flashback. We visit a rural scene in the country of Romania in 1927. An old woman tells a boy that goes by the name of Abraham the story of Jusef Sardu, an eccentric nobleman, in order to make him eat his foot. According to her, and local legend, Sardu was a man unlike any other. He was so tall that he looked down on everyone, yet looked down on no one. And the children loved him. He was sick though, but what his illness really was nobody knew.

Sardu used to live a peaceful life, until one day his noble father, decided to take him with him for a wolf hunt that would lead to a disaster and which would change, in unimaginable ways, his life forever.

Young Abraham believed the story, even though at the time he didn’t exactly know what had happened to the man. In the years to come he would come to find out, and thus find in a mysterious way his life’s true purpose.

And back to the future, which is today, we go. Though we live in an era in which a terrorist attack is always the most frightening thing that could possibly happen, a yet more unusual and terrifying event takes place; an event that will bring the then boy and now elder man Abraham back to action. When an airplane lands in New York and rumors start spreading around about the fate of its passengers, he knows who’s behind the whole thing. But how can he help the authorities cope with the threat? And how can he convince them that he, a frail old man, knows more about it than they do?

He has no choice but to risk his freedom in order to save innocent lives. So he comes in contact with the authorities. He tells them his thoughts, he yells at them that they have to do as he says before it’s too late, but to no avail.

In the meantime the flashbacks continue and during them we get to know Abraham better, as well as his nemesis, Jusef Sardu, the man he’s determined to stop no matter what. But how can one kill the undead? He knows how, but the stubborn young men won’t listen to him. They’ve even thrown him in jail.

Now it’s up to Dr. Ephraim Goodweather to save the day. But will he make it? It seems unlikely, since he doesn’t really know what he’s up against to. However his job is not the only thing in his mind right now; he also thinks about his son Zack and his ex-wife Kelly, whom he still loves, and he secretly mourns about the life that he dreamed about but that wasn’t meant to be. He’s a brave man, willing to admit his mistakes and do anything to right his wrongs, but at the same time he’s just a human being, who’s simply trying to make it through another day, and who at moments also seems weak and lost for hope.

This is a story with a good plot, great character built-up and beautifully dark illustrations which bring to life the bleak subject matter. I haven’t read the Strain trilogy, but if this graphic novel is any indication about how good the books are, I think that maybe I should at least give them a try.


Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Book Review: Mind Maps: Quicker Notes, Better Memory, and Improved Learning 2.0 by Michael Taylor


Mind Maps could easily carry another subtitle: How to Train Your Brain! According to the author there’s a simple way to do that: Mind Mapping.

If someone ever told me that there was a way for me to start reading faster than I already do, I’d say that he was crazy. And if I’d never read this book I’d insist he was. However in the book at hand I’ve discovered a simple example, which I’ll call for the purposes of this review 'Reading by the Dot,' that left me speechless. Thanks to it I did not only read a paragraph in great speed, but I’ve also memorized almost every word of it.

It is widely known that every person uses only a limited amount of his mind’s capabilities. This book offers the reader a chance to enhance his reading and learning experiences, and improve his memory as well.

As we read in the introduction: “A Mind Map is a diagram you create to organize your thoughts. In conventional note-taking, you write information down line by line or perhaps column by column. Mind Mapping differs from such note-taking in that you present the information more in the form of a diagram.”

And how does that help me? one would ask. Well, for starters, I’d answer, it helps with your memory since it is easier to remember images than words. Visualization is the key word here. Kids, just as much as the adults, do not have many difficulties in remembering images but when it comes to words it’s a different story.

One of the examples that the author uses to prove his point is the diagrams he uses to create an overview of the popular novel To Kill a Mockingbird. Through these diagrams we follow the book from point one all the way to the end, taking a good look at the characters and their interactions, and thus get a brief yet detailed view of the story. “One idea is interconnected with many other ideas,” we read, and, as we well know, one person is interconnected with many other persons, which helps prove the point.

Mind Mapping has many advantages; it balances the brain, simplifies life, helps with creativity, and speeds up the learning processes. It also has some disadvantages though since it asks of you to change your habits, to spend time to get to know how it works, and maybe creates some minor problems when it comes to speaking since language is an auditory process. The former though overrule the latter, since learning how to operate with Mind Maps can help you change your life for the better in many ways.

“…essentially, there’s no limit to how vast your Mind Map can become. A subtopic in the first Mind Map you create may become the central idea in the next one you draw. Each subtopic in a map is in effect a center of another map. This is the beauty of the technique—relationships may go on as extensively as they exist in your mind.” Now, how interesting is that!

To be honest before reading this book I knew next to nothing about how Mind Mapping works. I’ve read things about it here and there, but I’d never thought to give it a try. Well, all that has changed. I now find this subject as intriguing as they come. As someone who reads dozens of books every year, and always wishes to read even more, I believe that adopting the technique of Mind Mapping will help me achieve my goals. I think that if I should come to master it the results could be, if nothing else, highly satisfying.

Mind Mapping can help one in many walks of life: from organizing vacations to creating business plans, from generating presentations to solving everyday problems, and the list goes on and on.

A lot of people say that everything is in our head; the book at hand proves them right. And then it highlights the way one has to follow to reach his own high point, to widen his horizons.

If you’d ask me to put this book in a category I wouldn’t know which one to choose. Is it a self-help manual? In a way it is, but it’s much more than that. To use a metaphor I’d say that this is a guide of how to use the GPS of your brain to find the destinations you desperately seek, and need.

Monday, December 3, 2012

The 10 Best Books of 2012


The New York Times has announced its list of the best books of the year according to its editors. Thus without further ado here are the chosen titles in each category.

Fiction:

Bring Up the Bodies by Hilary Mantel.

Building Stories by Chris Ware.

A Hologram for the King by Dave Eggers.

NW by Zadie Smith.

The Yellow Birds by Kevin Powers.

Nonfiction:

Behind the Beautiful Forevers by Katherine Boo.

Far from the Tree by Andrew Solomon.

The Passage of Power by Robert A. Caro.

The Patriarch by David Nasaw.

Why Does the World Exist? by Jim Holt.

Friday, November 30, 2012

Book Review: The Shaolin Cowboy Adventure Magazine No 1 by Andrew Vachss, Geof Barrow and Michael A. Black


The Shaolin Cowboy Adventure Magazine No 1 by Andrew Vachss, Geof Barrow and Michael A. Black includes two novelettes that remind the reader of Pulp Fiction (the movie and the genre) and science fiction stories.

I'll say it right from the start; this is one of the most enjoyable books I have read this year so far. It's action-packed, it's funny and it doesn't take itself seriously. The two stories in this volume are quite different from each other, but that doesn't necessarily mean that the reader can't enjoy them just the same.

The first story tells what the Way of "No Way" is all about. It is here that we for the first time set eyes on the Shaolin Cowboy, a mercenary of sorts that wanders around an almost deserted land, where the only law is that of the outlaw. The Cowboy is not your usual mercenary though; he does have his own code of ethics, he always wears a Chicago Cubs baseball cap, and he travels on a mule that's too strong and in its own right has quite an attitude. The two of them definitely complement each other in more than one ways. They are not only partners in crime but they also have a silent understanding that never allows one to get into the other's way.

As we get to know the Cowboy better we come to realize that he's not only lethal but also kind. When the need arises he helps the weak and even goes out of his way to find them refuge. The villains though are a different story. They are evil, simple as that, but their characters and the way the author describes their looks is one of the reasons that I really enjoyed this story.

The boss, the big boss of the land actually, is a fat man that goes by the initials T.A. These mean Totally Awesome according to his followers, but what they really stand for is Toxic Amoeba. It is exactly this man that the Cowboy is traveling to meet through the desert, the Terror-tories, a journey that offers the reader a lot of action and some laughs. For instance at a point our hero sees a sign that says: You are now leaving the endless desert, and not before too long he finds another one that suggests: What, you didn't bring a dictionary? Look up "Endless," stupid.

Well, Cowboy is about to live the adventure of his life, an adventure that reminds the reader of the movies of Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriquez, and during which anything can happen.

The second story in this volume Time Factor is written by Michael A. Black, and it more than less belongs to the Sci Fi genre. This is the story of Dr. Riley and another couple of men who are assigned a mission into the jungles of New Mexico. They have to find the members of an expeditionary force that went missing. However, in order to accomplish that, they first have to travel back in time, and the Cretaceus period, where the scenery is to say the least imposing.

What happens to them while there gives birth to too many questions into the mind of Dr. Riley, but the truth is that the answers he will not like; answers I will not provide, because when it comes to spoilers this is as good, or as bad, as it gets.

In this story too there's plenty of action and some great characters that are not so easy to forget. It is violent, but it's also funny in a way, especially when one of the heroes insists on doing his own thing, putting everyone else into trouble.

I really look forward to the second edition of The Shaolin Cowboy Adventure Magazine.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Book Review: The Forgotten by David Baldacci


If you asked me a year ago I’d tell you that David Baldacci somehow looked like he had lost his touch; this year though I say: he’s back with a bang.

The Forgotten is one of his best books and it is no exaggeration to say that John Puller pulled it off. When he first appeared in Zero Day I did think that he was here to stay. What I didn’t believe was that his next adventure would be better than the first one.

It all begins with a letter. Betsy Puller Simon writes to her brother John Puller Senior to let him know that there’s something rotten in Paradise, Florida. Strange things seem to happen during the night, she says in an understatement, and she asks for the help of Puller Junior to investigate.

Puller who works for the Criminal Investigation Division of the U.S. Army knows that Aunt Betsy is a down to earth person who wouldn’t try to create something big out of nothing at all, so he decides to use the remaining days of his holiday time to head down to Florida to see what’s going on.

However he arrives there too late. By that time Betsy is already dead. According to the local police she’d accidentally drowned, but somehow Puller doesn’t buy it. If it wasn’t for the letter maybe he’d accept the coroner’s verdict but he’s certain that there’s something fishy going on.

And there is, as soon the bodies of an elderly couple will wash up at the beach, with bullet wounds in their heads, and lots of mysterious things will start to happen. In the end Paradise is everything but what its name suggests, as in that small community there is a really high crime rate, there’s corruption in the police force and elsewhere, and secrets and lies rule the day.

Puller is bound to create more enemies than friends while there, since his arrival seems to stir things up. He doesn’t know who to trust and he sure as hell doesn’t expect any help from the police. Only a young and beautiful officer seems competent and honest enough in the Police Force, and it is with her that he collaborates at first.

As the plot thickens though he comes to realize that he’ll need all the help he can get. He may be fast, and strong, and smart but he cannot out the bad guys all by himself. Much welcomed help will arrive from a female General of the U.S. Army who has a history with him, a giant of a man who’s after a rich guy who wronged him badly, a kid who’s trying to lead a better, non gang-affiliated life, and a mysterious woman with a mission.

In here we have lots of mystery, amazing action scenes, some sentiment every now and then, the inevitable twists and turns and a hero who’s bound to make life difficult for his literary arch-rival, Lee Child’s Jack Reacher.

Well done Mr. Baldacci; well done indeed!

By the same author:

Hell's Corner
The Sixth Man
One Summer
No Rest for the Dead
No Time Left

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Book Review: Fox Tracks by Rita Mae Brown


Fox Tracks by Rita Mae Brown is the 8th novel in a series featuring foxhunter and fox lover, and amateur detective, Sister Jane.

While outside on Manhattan's Midtown streets a fierce snowstorm rages, nothing can dampen the excitement inside the elegant ballroom of Manhattan's Pierre Hotel. Hunt clubs from all over North America have gathered for their annual gala, and nobody is in higher spirits than "Sister" Jane, Master of the Jefferson Hunt in Virginia's Blue Ridge Mountains. Braving the foul weather, Sister and her young friend "Tootie" Harris pop out to purchase cigars for the celebration at a nearby tobacco shop, finding themselves regaled by the colorful stories of its eccentric proprietor, Adolfo Galdos.

Yet the trip's festive mood goes to ground later with the grisly discovery of Adolfo's corpse. The tobacconist was shot in the head but found, oddly enough, with a cigarette pack of American Smokes laid carefully over his heart.


So it all begins with a murder, as it should really, but it’s not the crime that sets the pace and makes this such an interesting book to read, but the characters. First we have Sister Jane, a woman as unconventional as they come. Then there’s Gray Lorillard, her boyfriend and an opium smoker. Before too long in comes Crawford Howard, Sister’s enemy and a man so rich that can buy his way into and out of everything. And then there’s “Tootie”, a young woman who decides to give up Princeton, forget about her planned career and her family’s fortune and become a veterinarian.

However these are not the only things that make this novel such a good read; it’s also the hunting scenes. The author’s descriptions of the action as it takes place are in most parts really great.

On and on they flew, the sound of hoofbeats thrilling. Shaker rode well with his hounds. Betty, feeling that water in her boots, on the right and Sybil, a swift-moving speck on the left, charged over undulating pasture… Hounds disappeared over a swale. An old tobacco barn hove into view as Sister galloped down that incline, then up the other side. The hounds surrounded the old curing shed, some eagerly wiggling through spaces, logs deliberately built that way a century and a half ago.


Speaking of tobacco, it does have an important part to play in this novel as well. It’s not only that the murder of the tobacconist will spark a series of events that will put many lives into danger, it also has to do with the rights of smokers. Sister is really angry with the politicians that pass one law to protect the health of the public, but when it suits them just forget, or avoid, to pass another one, for the very same reason.

“…I was thinking about the people who love laws that inhibit other people’s choices. Is smoking a good thing to do? No. But those sanctimonious rulemakers live rather luxurious lives. They aren’t working on an assembly line or in scorching sun outside. If your job is repetitive and boring or dangerous, sometimes that little hit of nicotine takes the edge off. The people that make the laws go get prescriptions for Prozac and how does anyone know the long-term effects of all that crap?”

Right! Another interesting fact here is that the animals talk between them, something that inputs lots of humor into the narrative. I especially like the hate and hate relationship between the Sister’s dogs and cat. The cat is just like a spoiled and sly princess. She always gives the dogs a hard time and is the unofficial ruler of the domestic kingdom.

“Ow, ow, ow,” the harrier howled.
Hearing the commotion, Sister hurried out to the mudroom. Golly didn’t budge.
Sister opened the mudroom door, a gust of wind blew snow on the floor and the two dogs, heads down, hurried inside. Drops of blood fell on the slate floor. Neither dog looked the cat in the eye as she was prancing sideways, hoping to incite even more terror.
“Hateful. Hateful. Hateful.” Sister knew exactly what the cat had done.
“I’m the Queen of All I Survey! Dogs do my bidding. Humans feed me right on time.” With that loud declaration, she shot through the door into the kitchen, crossed the floor at a good clip, and ran up the narrow back stairway to the main bedroom. Then she dashed out into the long upstairs hallway to run victory laps.


In an unconventional household like Sister’s one could expect nothing less. These minor domestic troubles just seem to add spice to her life, and the fact that at her age she has a boyfriend she doesn’t want to marry, does nothing but prove that she’s true to her words: An unmarried woman is incomplete. When she’s married, she’s finished.

Crime, mystery, foxhunts and lots and lots of laughs; what more could one ask for in a novel? Rita Mae Brown makes sure that the reader has fun while reading her book, and she does so in a splendid way.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Costa Award Shortlists 2012


The shortlists for this year's Costa Awards have been announced yesterday. For the first time two graphic books are included them: Dotter of Her Father's Eyes (a great book, which I have read but did not get to review yet) in the biography category and Days of the Bagnold Summer in the best novel one. The winners will be revealed on January 2. Here are the full lists:

Novel Award shortlist

Hilary Mantel - Bring up the Bodies
Stephen May - Life! Death! Prizes!
James Meek - The Heart Broke In
Joff Winterhart - Days of the Bagnold Summer

First Novel Award shortlist

JW Ironmonger - The Notable Brain of Maximilian Ponder
Jess Richards - Snake Ropes
Francesca Segal - The Innocents
Benjamin Wood - The Bellwether Revivals 

Biography Award shortlist

Artemis Cooper - Patrick Leigh-Fermor: An Adventure
Selina Guinness - The Crocodile by the Door: The Story of a House, a Farm and a Family
Kate Hubbard - Serving Victoria: Life in the Royal Household
Mary Talbot and Bryan Talbot - Dotter of Her Father’s Eyes

Poetry Award shortlist

Sean Borodale - Bee Journal
Julia Copus - The World’s Two Smallest Humans
Selima Hill - People Who Like Meatballs
Kathleen Jamie - The Overhaul

Children’s Book Award shortlist

Sally Gardner - Maggot Moon
Diana Hendry - The Seeing
Hayley Long - What’s Up with Jody Barton?
Dave Shelton - A Boy and a Bear in a Boat