Friday, June 29, 2012

The Books of Tomorrow

I have received the Galleys of a lot of new books during the last few days, books which I will for the biggest part review here. The list that follows includes titles that will be released sometime between Sunday and next November. So here we go:

A.J. Scudiere - Phoenix. Out on October 2.
Wei Dong Cheng & Chao Peng - Monkey King Volume 1. Graphic Novel. Out on September 4.
Martin Limon - The Joy Brigade. Out on July 31.
Timothy Hallinan - The Fear Artist. Out on July 17.
Sandra Brannan - Widow's Might. Out on August 7.
Thomas H. Cook - The Crime of Julian Wells. Out on August 7.
Christos Gage & Jorge Lucas - Sunset. Graphic Novel. Out on July 31. I have read it already and I can say that it's outstanding.
Donna Leon - The Jewels of Paradise. Out on October 2.
Thomas Mogford - Shadow of the Rock. Out on August 7.
Various - Psychos. Out on October 2. One of the most "highly anticipated" collections of the year, which includes true crime and horror stories by some of the masters of the respective genres.
Amos Oz & Fania Oz Salzberger - Jews and Words. A father and daughter collaboration that comes out on November 20.
Sara Blaedel - Only One Life. Yet another great Nordic crime fiction novel. It comes out on Sunday.
Dennis Lehane - Live by Night. Out on October 2.
Andy McDermott - Return to Atlantis. Out on August 28.
Laurie R. King - Garment of Shadows. Out on September 4.
Amanda Kyle Williams - Stranger in the Room. Out on August 21.
Sean Doolittle - Lake Country. Out on July 31.
Wole Soyinka - Of Africa. Out on November 1.
David Rich - Caravan of Thieves. Out on August 23.
Emma Elliot - A Thin, Dark Line. Out on August 30.
July Clemens - Dying Echo. Out on August 7.
Ed Ifkovic - Make Believe. Out on November 6.
Donis Casey - The Wrong Hill to Die On. Out on November 6.
Mitchell Scott Lewis - Death in the 12th House. Out on November 6.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Banana Yoshimoto

Some authors we simply like; with some others we feel like they speak straight to our psyches; a few of them we despise; and a special few we simply adore. For me Banana Yoshimoto falls into the latter category. I adore her. I adore her stories, her writing, her women and her modesty.

I remember that the first book of hers that I’ve ever read was Kitchen, back in 1995 or 1996, when I used to live in Athens, Greece. What I really liked was not the myth or the plot of her stories, but their simplicity. Yoshimoto doesn’t write too much and then subtract, she just doesn’t like to talk, or rather write, too much. She, in my mind’s eye, seems to think there’s no reason to tell a story in a hundred pages when she can say it in fifty. And it’s exactly this frugality of her books that makes them stand out. While reading her prose, you never get the feeling that the author is an intellectual; she’s just a story-teller, and a very good one at that.

One would say that the common denominator in all her books are her heroines: some desperate souls, full of passions and prone to mistakes, who have great or not so big dreams, who, one way or another, seem to seek some kind of fulfillment. More often than not they are kind-hearted women, who seem to have suffered a lot in the hands of destiny, but some of them are pure evil as well. These women make unlikely heroines, mostly because they are so common, as common as most of those that live outside the page. They talk about simple things, like their everyday reality, about their lives and their passions; and they discuss important things, like love and loss, their families and the heavy shadow of death.

There’s just one more element that plays a really big role in her stories; that of the paranormal. In her stories people every now and then talk with the dead, there are ghosts coming and going, and time travel is not something out of the ordinary. The good thing though is that the author doesn’t really seem to think that the ends justify the means; she doesn’t try, at least not too hard, to impress or surprise the reader. It’s as if she just wants to point out that the paranormal is no more than a simple part of life.

If there’s a thing that the Japanese authors excel in, is in writing novellas. This, let’s call it genre of literature, really suits them fine. From Ryu Murakami to Shusaku Endo and from Yukio Mishima to Amy Sakurai and even the famous Haruki Murakami at times, all these masters of the written word try to tell the stories of simple people and their struggles with life, in as few pages as possible. Now, most of them have written long novels as well, and so did Yoshimoto with Amrita. The thing is that she claims that she’ll probably never do it again. And I don’t blame her. The novella is her kingdom. And what a beautiful kingdom it is: rich in passions, full of empathy, a martyr to the big joys and the grant sorrows of life; a kingdom that breathes meaning into the word Humanity.

Banana Yoshimoto’s Books in English translation:

The Lake. You can read my review here and quotes here.
Hardboiled and Hard Luck. You can read quotes here.
Lizard. You can read quotes here.
Goodbye Tsugumi. You can read quotes here.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Book Review: XO by Jeffery Deaver

I will start by saying that XO is so far the best installment in the Kathryn Dance series.

I’m sure everybody knows what XO means so I’d better cut to the chase. Kinesics behavior specialist and traditional music enthusiast Kathryn Dance takes a few days off from her job at the California Bureau of Investigation and heads out into the countryside to record the work of some not so famous musicians from Mexico.

At first everything seems to work out fine for her. She finds her musicians, she records their songs and starts going through them to decide which ones will end up on her website, from which users worldwide can download them for a fee, most of which ends up in the pockets of the musicians themselves.

However, as one would expect, where Dance goes trouble follows, or in this case precedes her. As she arrives in Fresno where she’s scheduled to meet her good friend and country-pop music idol, Kayleigh Towne, she finds out that the latter is in trouble.

A man that goes by the name of Edwin Sharp, and who’s been stalking her for a long time, is in town and the woman feels really scared. Things get even worse when one of her technicians turns up dead, in what at first looks like an accident but is later ruled as a homicide.

Dance is fast to the scene of the crime, but the locals don’t really make her feel welcome there. Kayleigh is the little town’s star and they are willing to do anything to help her out, but that doesn’t include enlisting Dance’s services.

The main suspect for the crime is of course Sharp, whom they call in for a friendly chat, which doesn’t really help their case. The latter is not only sharp by name and at the point where they think they can break him they achieve nothing. Even Kathryn, who’s observing uninvited from behind the mirrored wall, cannot get a read on the man. He’s either extremely clever and has the situation under control or, unlikely as it may sound, he’s innocent.

The local cops really don’t know what to do with the situation, but there’s at least one thing they are certain about: they don’t want anyone messing with their case and with their town’s most precious child.

As one would expect sooner rather than later things will start getting ugly and they’ll mess up big, time and again; so, like to or not, they’ll have to ask for some help. By that time though things will become so complicated that no one, including Dance, will be able to tell for sure what’s really going on.

All the leads they have show Sharp is the perp, but there’s no real evidence to back up their suspicions. What if more than one person is involved in the case? And who would be clever enough to pull it off without raising any red alerts?

As the questions accumulate the answers become all the harder to find. And that’s exactly when the helper decides that she also needs some help so, in comes the cavalry, in the faces of Lincoln Rhyme and Amelia Sachs.

This a very good thriller that comes along with the lyrics of a whole album written by the author, who, right now, as I’m reading in the web, is on tour performing with singer Treva Blomquist.

If there wasn’t a twist too many I would have given this five stars, but it’s a great read anyway.

Friday, June 22, 2012

Book Review: Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn

This is the best crime novel I have read this year.

I haven’t read any of the author’s previous novels, but I do remember reading great reviews about them here and there and that they were commercially successful. So when I was given the chance to read Gone Girl, I simply took it. And as you can guess from the first line in this article I really loved it.

This is the story of Nick and Amy, and what a story it is. Nick has spent most of his adult life in New York working as a journalist. He used to write about the movies and TV and review books, and live a somewhat worry-free life. And then he met Amy, a woman who at first sight took his breath away and made him believe that she were the one he always dreamed of meeting. Thus he fell in love with her and she fell in love with him, and then they got married, wishing to live together their happily ever after. However their everyday lives were constantly under the heavy shadows created by Amy’s parents, the ones that gave her life and robbed it of her.

How did they do that? Well, they were both writers, a writing team actually, and together they created a series of books with the adventures of the Amazing Amy. The Amy of the books though was someone who the real life one could never be. And the Amy of the books became kind of a weight on her young shoulders and a curse for her life, since she made her a target: beloved by fans, haunted and hunted by stalkers.

Before she met Nick she felt completely alone, having him by her side she became the cool girl that she always wanted to be. Nick has set her free, however, her happiness wasn’t meant to last forever.

First came the economic crisis, which led her parents to bankruptcy. Then came Nick’s letting go from his job and finally came the move from New York to a little town in North Carthage, where Nick was born.

So, all of a sudden, her happy life became unhappy and her successful marriage a prospective failure. Joy and laughter were replaced by tension and anger. They hit rock bottom.

Amy though desperately wanted things to be the way they used to be, and she started working in order to stir their relationship towards that direction. However, just before her efforts started bearing fruit, she all of a sudden vanished from the face of the earth. Where did she go? Was she abducted or did she simply run away? Could she be dead? If yes, who was it that killed her? As usual the husband is considered the prime suspect. Nick keeps protesting his innocence, but his behavior is considered curious if not suspicious by everyone who meets him, as well as from the general public.

Who is Nick? And who was Amy? These are the big questions here. Is Nick as careless and detached as he seems? Was Amy as bright and innocent as she looked?

The author gives us a chance to take a good look into the private, but mostly separate lives, of her heroes, through diary entries, thoughts and discussions. Nick and Amy, they both say their own version of the story, and they both hide more than what they say.

The more one reads the bigger the mystery becomes and the twists and turns come in waves. Nothing is what it seems and all the clues lead some of the main characters from one dead end to the next.

The final solution is just as surprising as the facts that precede it, but what one mostly enjoys by reading this book is its built-up, the whole construction of a world that’s in many ways amazing, just as much as Amy.

Friday, June 15, 2012

Book Review: Deadlocked by Charlaine Harris


The truth is that I wasn’t planning on reading this book. And it’s also true that I didn’t really expect to like it. But I did. And I did.

Deadlocked is the 12th volume featuring the now famous Sookie Stackhouse and her band of merry or not so merry creatures. Sookie is one of those heroines for whom the reader, whether he likes it or not, just has to feel some kind of sympathy or even empathy; if not for anything else for all the bad things that happen to her and for her struggles to offer a better life to the ones she holds dear.

What happens in this book? Well, it all begins when Felipe de Castro, the vampire king of Louisiana, decides to pay a visit to Eric Northman. Eric is, to put it in a Games of Thrones terminology, the hand of the king in the Bon Temps region, and he’s suspected of foul play. The two men don’t really like each other, but when it comes to official affairs they do follow protocol: first they party and then they get down to business.

Things though don’t go as planned, as the cops show up and break the party. They’ve received an anonymous call that there was the dead body of a young woman in the yard and that just proved to be the truth. The main suspect for the crime is none other than Eric who’s fed on the woman a few minutes earlier.

Now Sookie, who is Eric’s lover, has to work with Bill, her ex-lover and sheriff of Area Five, to prove that he is innocent. But that will not be such an easy thing to do, since the word trouble is almost synonymous with Sookie. Thus, at the same time she has to investigate a murder, solve the differences between some of her close relatives who happen to be fairies, take care of her friend Tara who’s pregnant and also try and protect her good friend Sam from his psycho girlfriend Jannalyn.

Murder, mayhem, betrayal, chaos; these words just mean business as usual in Sookie’s world and despite all the unpleasant surprises she tries hard to make things work just the right way. But will she make it?

I have to say that this novel is much better than the one that preceded it, which for some reason made me think that maybe it was just about time for this heroine to retire. The author by giving the book at hand a light touch of normal world mystery, which reminded this reader of a police procedural, has managed to breathe new life into the series. Some fans though may consider it as a departure from or a betrayal of the well-established universe they have come to know and love.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

The Most Important Books of the Fall


I have received an eBook containing excerpts from 33 of the most important books of the fall, according at least to their publishers and Book Expo America. So here's what to look for in the coming months:

Peter Heller - THE DOG STARS. 7th of August.
Matthew Dicks - MEMOIRS OF AN IMAGINARY FRIEND. 21st of August.
Hanna Pylvainen - WE SINNERS. 21st of August.
M.L. Stedman - THE LIGHT BETWEEN OCEANS. 31st of July.
Sarah Maas - THRONE OF GLASS. 7th of August.
David Levithan - EVERY DAY. 28th of August.
Junot Díaz - THIS IS HOW YOU LOSE HER. 11th of September.
Shani Boianjiu - THE PEOPLE OF FOREVER ARE NOT AFRAID. 11th of September.
Amanda Coplin - THE ORCHARDIST. 1st of September.
Jasper Fforde - THE LAST DRAGONSLAYER. 4th of September.
Jessica Khoury - ORIGIN. 4th of September.
Kevin Powers - THE YELLOW BIRDS. 11th of September.
Lawrence Norfolk - JOHN SATURNALL'S FEAST. 4th of September.
Lance Weller - WILDERNESS. 4th of September.
J.R. Moehringer - SUTTON. 25th of September.
Dennis Lehane - LIVE BY NIGHT. 2nd of October.
Eric Devine - TAP OUT. 11th of September.
Jenny Han and Siobhan Vivian - BURN FOR BURN. 12th of September.
Libba Bray - THE DIVINERS. 18th of September.
Ned Vizzini - THE OTHER NORMALS. 25th of September.
James Meek - THE HEART BROKE IN. 2nd of October.
Mark Helprin - IN SUNLIGHT AND IN SHADOW. 2nd of October.
Scott Hutchins - A WORKING THEORY OF LOVE. 2nd of October.
Rhoda Janzen - DOES THIS CHURCH MAKE ME LOOK FAT? 2nd of October.
Teresa Rhyne - THE DOG LIVED. 1st of October.
Bee Wilson - CONSIDER THE FORK. 2nd of October.
Neil Young - WAGING HEAVY PEACE. 2nd of October. An autobiography.
Iris Anthony - RUINS OF LACE. 1st of October.
Diana Athill - MAKE BELIEVE. 5th of October.
Janet Gurtler - WHO I KISSED. 1st of October.
Barbara Kingsolver - FLIGHT BEHAVIOR. 1st of November.
Bill Roorbach - LIFE AMONG GIANTS. 13th of November.
John Kenney - TRUTH IN ADVERTISING. 8th of January 2013.

According to the aforementioned eBook the following titles will hit the shelves as well:

Michael Chabon - Telegraph Avenue. 11th of September.
Zadie Smith - NW. 11th of September.
Tom Wolfe - Back to Blood. 23rd October.
Ian McEwan - Sweet Tooth. 23rd of November.
T.C. Boyle - San Miguel. September.
Howard Jacobson - Zoo Time. October.
Alice Munro - Dear Life. October.
Michael Ennis - The Malice of Fortune. A thriller starring Leonardo da Vinci and Niccolo Machiavelli. October.
James Patterson & Michael Ledwidge - Zoo. 3rd of September.
John Grisham - The Racketeer. 23rd of October.
Lee Child - A Wanted Man. 25th of September.
Michael Connelly - The Black Box. 25th of November. To read an extended excerpt follow this link
Jo Nesbo - Phantom. September. You can buy the British edition that's already out from here.
Lene Kaaberbol & Agnete Friis - Invisible Murder. October.
James M. Cain - The Cocktail Waitress. September. A long lost manuscript from one of the hard-boiled classic authors.
J.K. Rowling - The Casual Vacancy. 27th of September. Harry Potter's creator is back, but without him.
D.T. Max - Every Love Story Is a Ghost Story. 30th of October. A biography David Foster Wallace.

The following books are autobiographies:

Salman Rushdie - Joseph Anton. September.
Chinua Achebe - There Was a Country. October.
Arnold Schwarzenegger - Total Recall. October.

Finally, October will bring us the fist volume of a new tetralogy of novels by  Lemony Snicket titled Who Could That Be At This Hour.

Book Review: Snatched by Karin Slaughter

 For quite some time now I refused to award a book a five star review because simply almost none of the new novels I’ve read this year so far deserved it. Well, my attitude changed when I was fortunate enough to get hold of this novella.

Snatched seems to be just one of those special books where not a single word is out of place. And it’s so beautifully written that it takes the reader’s breath away. No I’m not talking about top shelf literary fiction here but for an absolutely thrilling read, with a great plot, well-crafted characters and quite a few surprises in the mix.

The main protagonist is special agent Will Trent, who’s been assigned the duty to monitor the men’s toilets in Atlanta Airport, as a form of punishment for not having had a haircut. He’s been on the job for two weeks now and found it a complete bore. Something however is about to change.

What? Well, by a curious turn of events he’ll find himself from one moment to the next in the epicenter of a kidnapping case. He’ll overhear an exchange between a man and a six or seven year old girl and his instinct will raise the alarm. So, he’ll approach them to take a look, and while his suspicions will be aroused even more, he’ll do nothing to stand in their way, because apart from a gut feeling he has nothing else to show.

The events that will follow though will prove his instinct right, but they will also place him in an awkward position, since he didn’t act on it, and as a result the said little girl went missing. And that despite the fact that the airport exits were sealed immediately and all the flights out were cancelled.

Now, all he can do is co-operate with his partner Faith Mitchell, his boss Amanda Wagner, who placed him in that position, and dozens of other cops from different states, in order to find out what the final destination of the abducted girl was and discover who’s really responsible for the crime. His feelings of guilt will cloud his judgment, but they will not stop him from working hard and fast to save the day.

This is an action-packed story that will surely offer moments of pure reading pleasure to every crime fiction fan.