Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Book Review: Death Benefits by Nelson DeMille

Death Benefits is yet another story that will come out as an ebook short tomorrow.

This is the story of Jack Henry, a once best-selling author, who lately doesn’t do so well; in fact for the past few years things seem to get from bad to worse.

Jack has written a few critically and commercially successful novels in the past, but his last two books failed miserably, with the results best-felt in his pockets; his empty pockets. He owes half a million dollars in taxes, while he has to pay up to ten thousand dollars a months for his grand mansion in New York City, and to add to that he employs a woman for the house work and a secretary. But these are not his only expenses, as he also has to pay alimony for a couple of ex-wives, while he also rents a summer house in the Hamptons for the mere amount of 140 thousand dollars for the season.

The poor man can’t help to wonder how did he come to that, but not for long, as he already knows the answer: It’s his manager’s fault. Stan Wykoff is to blame for everything, or, at least, almost everything, since he no longer gets him the deals he thinks he deserves. And then his publishers are no better, since they don’t know how to sell his books.

What is a man to do? He can avoid most of his creditors for a while, but from the IRS there’s no escape; he needs to find some money and find it as soon as possible. But where? And from whom?

Suddenly he remembers something, and that thing can prove his salvation. All he has to do is commit a murder and make it look like an accident. Oh, that wouldn’t be so difficult, not for a man of his wit, would it? The question is: Does he have the nerve to see his plan through?

Well, there’s only one way to find out, so he will invite Stan, his intended victim for a weekend of leisure in the Hamptons. The final act is about to be played, but what the finale will be, it’s not my business to reveal.

As for my verdict for the story, in my eyes, it could have been a bit better if the author had put a little more effort into the drawing of his characters. There’s some potential lost here because of the lack of complete psychological sketches of his heroes, but this is, nevertheless, a pleasant read.

The fans of the author will have the chance to get a preview of his next novel The Panther that comes out on October 16 at the end of this ebook.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Book Review: The Thing about Thugs by Tabish Khair

I wouldn’t call The Thing about Thugs simply a crime novel, at least not in the traditional meaning of the term; it is so much more: a historic novel, a literary mystery, a meeting between the present and the past, and kind of a fairytale.

What one mostly enjoys in this book is not the suspense, even if there’s plenty, and it’s not the fast-pace, since it reads like a stroll in the park; it’s the setting, the writing and the characters that make all the difference.

The author doesn’t seem to be very interested in the mystery, since he lets the reader know who is who and what he or she does right from the start. He is mostly preoccupied with the themes of love, racial prejudice, social status, the rich and the poor.

He paints a pretty bleak picture of Victorian London where most of the action takes place, and it’s exactly this picture, this background that grants his tale its validity, which makes it sound a bit outlandish, but nevertheless true.

His characters are sophisticated and fools; men of means and women of leisure; thugs and murderers; servants and dreamers. And most of them are either hypocrites or liars.

Amir Ali, one of the major characters, falls into the latter category. He made up a story to escape his past and find a passage from poor and illiterate India to rich and enlightened England; a story that he almost came to believe himself; or rather a story that defined him: “In some ways, all of us become what we pretend to be,” he says.

He was supposed to be a thug back in his homeland. At least that’s what he said to Captain William T. Meadows, the man who saved him from a life of danger and chaos. But the truth is that he was only a novice, a protégé of a real thug, his uncle. He had to lie in order to avoid killing or being killed, and now, living in London, in a new world that he more than less likes, but doesn’t really comprehend, he comes to realize that his lie will come back to haunt him.

As a series of brutal murders start to take place in the city, during which the heads of the victims are stolen, all the suspicions of the police, largely thanks to the yellow press, fall on the immigrants. People talk about ancient, barbaric rituals being practiced in the dark alleys of the city, and a veil of fear seems to linger over it.

Amir is the prime suspect and he can do nothing to prove his innocence, not without betraying the trust of someone he loves. So he’s left with no choice; he has to become a fugitive of the law in order to survive and make things right. In this battle he’ll not be alone, as the other poor souls of the streets will hasten to his aid: a Punjabi woman, who’s a queen bee in her corner of the world, a mostly drunken Irishman, a few of his compatriots, the thugs and the poppers and the Mole People of London, the crowd that lives underground. They know that he’s a victim of the circumstances, and if they don’t want to become victims themselves they have to take things into their own hands.

This is great book in more than one ways, as it copes with many of the issues of that past -and this present- world, and puts them into perspective. The myth is rich, the plot more than interesting and the writing quite exquisite; a joy to read.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Book Review: Deep Down by Lee Child

Deep Down is yet another of the ebook shorts that, for some time now, always come out a couple of months before the publication of a major novel by a crime writer.

The good thing is that Lee Child doesn’t take them lightly as some other authors do, so after the Second Son, we take yet another brief look into the younger life of his popular hero, Jack Reacher.

The events of this story take place in 1986. Back then Reacher was still a relatively new MP stationed in Germany, but he had already made a name of himself for being able to handle tricky situations.

And it is exactly that, a tricky, or rather complicated situation that calls for him to return, if for a brief amount of time, to Washington D.C. His boss, Military Intelligence Colonel Cornelius Christopher, asks him to take on a mission that at first he doesn’t like, since he has had no time at all to prepare for it.

But, as they say, desperate times call for desperate measures, so Reacher, whether he likes it or not, will do what he’s told. So he’ll put on a custom made and seemingly well worn suit and head for the Capitol building, where a committee is meeting to discuss as to whether or not to allow the manufacture of a new sniper rifle.

The military authorities suspect that a member of the committee is leaking out secrets to the enemy, whoever that may be, and it’s up to Reacher to discover who the guilty party is.

The main suspects are four female officers, political liaisons, each of which is on the fast-track to yet another climb in the hierarchy. They are all ambitious women, who are destined for great things, so the question he has to ask is: which of those would dare jeopardize her entire career in order to sell military secrets?

Things are not easy for Reacher to figure out, but after studying the files of the four women he decides who the most likely suspect might be. An accident though will shred his suspicions to pieces and a couple of small twists and turns will make him change his mind for good.

In the end he just has to use his intellect to find the mole and, spoiler alert, his fists to save himself from the enemies.

A well-crafted story that delivers the goods and which also serves as the means that justify the end: the promotion of Child’s next novel A Wanted Man.

Friday, July 20, 2012

Book Review: A Brewing Storm by Richard Castle

One could argue that A Brewing Storm is kind of a hybrid for our era, since it’s the first volume in a serialized novel in eBook format. The second volume A Raging Storm is already out, while the final A Bloody Storm will be published in August.

A Brewing Storm starts with its main protagonist, Derrick Storm, sitting on the shores of a stream in Silver Creek, Montana, and trying to fish.  Storm is a retired CIA agent, who, according to the official records, is dead. His death apparently is the only thing that keeps him alive, since during his time at the Service he’s managed to create a lot of enemies.

However, something will happen that will make him return to Washington, whether he likes it or not. His ex-boss Jedidiah Jones, the head of the National Clandestine Service needs him, and Derrick knows all too well, that if he invited him that’s only because he had no other option.

At the beginning though he declines to follow the agents who’ve been sent to pick him up and lead him to the country’s capital; that until they tell him a word that changes everything: Tangiers. He owes his life to Jedidiah, he’s reminded, so now he’s called in to return the favor.

Thus he follows the agents and upon his arrival in Washington he finds out that his return to action has to do with the abduction of the stepson of a very powerful senator called Thurston Windslow. The FBI which was heading the investigation has messed-up badly, the life of Matthew Dull, the missing man, seems to be in eminent danger and they all expect Storm to save the day. And everyone, with the exception of his ex-boss, seems to be suspicious of him, with FBI agent, April Showers, as leader of the pack.

So Storm will find himself coming back to action with a bang and then a few more. As he starts investigating the case, he comes to realize that there’s more to it than what they let on. For starters both the CIA and the FBI have him followed, then he finds out that there’s more than a suspect involved in the kidnapping, while a lot of other people seem to be circling around, trying to find out something; a secret that he himself would love to know.

The more he gets into this cat and mouse game the more he feels that he can’t really trust anyone, even Jedidiah. He only has his instinct to depend on, but even that will not prove enough to help him through the hard times to come. If he wants to understand the game he has to get ahead of it, and that won’t be such an easy thing to do.

There’s plenty of action and twists and turns here to keep the reader alert and asking for more. Every end is a new beginning, the author seems to say, and the end of this volume promises exactly that.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Book Review: The Empty Glass by J.I. Baker

As far as conspiracy theories go the one described in The Empty Glass seems quite valid.

It’s not that the author offers -fact wise- something new when it comes to the death of Marilyn Monroe; it’s that he takes that incident and turns it into an exciting novel, rich in twists and turns, that keeps the reader guessing from first page to last.

Did Marilyn kill herself or did someone have her killed in a way that looked like suicide? The author and his hero, Deputy Coroner Ben Fitzgerald, have no doubt whatsoever that her death was in no way an accident. And there are a lot of facts that support their theory, facts that are buried or distorted by the police and the feds.

If I had to describe this book with just a few words I would say that this is the story of a man with an obsession. And then a man with a mission. And then a man on the run.

Ben Fitzgerald is one of the first people to arrive at the scene, after the police has been belatedly called in and he’s really not happy with what he sees: sloppy police work, too many people contaminating the scene and the placement of the body in such a way that suggests that it’s been moved. To make things even worse he spots a reporter inside the house as well.

He does find though a thing that he likes: Marilyn’s diary. He takes a brief look at it, before he goes away, and not long after he returns to retrieve it, as he believes that within its pages lie the secrets behind the star’s death.

As time goes by, things start to become more hazy than clear. As it seems the authorities are determined to rule Marilyn’s demise a suicide, even if they have to plant evidence to do so, and Ben feels at a loss.

Why? He asks himself. Why is everyone in such a hurry to close the case? But that’s not the strangest thing that happens: all of a sudden, one after the other, all the people who were involved in the investigation, start leaving on holiday, and people who in the recent past were eager to talk about the incident, now keep their mouths shut.

In the end it’s just Ben who’s left behind to investigate at his own time and expense the case, along with the journalist he met at the scene of the crime. And the more his higher-ups are trying to bury it, the more he becomes obsessed with it.

Thus he starts moving from one place to the next asking questions, he reads the diary again and again, he replays in his head like a movie all the events and keeps wondering what the hell is going on?

Everybody seems to lie and everybody seems to have an agenda. It’s obvious that same very powerful people are pulling the strings behind the scenes, but who and why? Could someone really benefit from the death of the star? Does the mob have something to do with it? But, if it did, why would the government want to protect them?

His investigation, his obsession, will lead to his fall, and this is no spoiler since we know that from the very beginning. What we don’t know are the facts that will pave the way for this fall and that’s exactly where the author has put the most emphasis.

This is one of those novels that can be read in a single sitting and which can offer the reader a few hours of pure (thoughtful) entertainment. I’d say that if Baker is a gambling man and he’s placed a bet with himself that he can make his story work, he has won that bet.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Book Review: Murder in Mumbai by K.D. Calamur

Murder in Mumbai is one of those special novels that open the eyes of the reader to the truths of the East, and, in this case in particular, India.

The author, who grew up there, seems to have a love and hate relationship not with his country, but with the city where the action of this book takes place:

“Anyone who’s lived in Mumbai will understand this: You love it; you hate it; you loathe it; you embrace it.”

Well, the two main characters here, Inspector Vijay Gaikwad and journalist Jay Ganesh, seem to share these feelings. They love their city, but they hate its wealth and its poverty, the never-ending traffic jams, the way that the system operates and the fact that no two people are the same under the sun.

For instance, we learn, that if a foreigner or a rich man gets murdered there’s an outcry in the press and the politicians lean heavily on the shoulders of the cops and want instant results, while if a poor man is killed he hardly gets a mention in the broadsheets or the radio.

The victim in this case is not only rich, but a foreigner as well. Her name is Liz Barton and she’s the CEO of a mining company. Who killed her and why? The truth is that she did have a lot of enemies: an environmentalist, a man who’s been left behind in order for her to take the position that was meant for him in the company, a husband who’s unhappy and unfaithful, and probably an opponent from some other company.

Gaikwad is ordered to investigate the case, but in order to do that maybe he just has to cut a deal with the devil. Who’s that? None other than Jay Ganesh. Gaiwad doesn’t like journalists, but he does seem to tolerate Ganesh since the man has more than a little integrity; while Ganesh, even though he has some informers in the force, doesn’t seem to be very fond of cops, but he gives credit to Gaiwad for being honest and not on the take, unlike many others.

Thus the two of them agree to conduct their separate investigations and if something turns up to inform each other.

But investigating a murder case is just not enough for Ganesh, who’s been let go from his previous post in a newspaper for pointing his arrows towards the city’s rich, corrupt and mighty. So at the same time, he continues to look into a series of burglaries that took place in the past few weeks in rich neighborhoods. The perpetrators seemed to be way too smart for the authorities to handle, but maybe he can take them on all by himself.

As the story continues and the plot unfolds and spreads in different directions the author never misses a chance to talk about what’s happening in the city: the new found wealth, the non-stop ancient poverty, the plights of the common people and the excesses of the rich. He takes us into slums and palaces, into shacks and dazzling skyscrapers, he shows us the big grim picture that’s hidden behind the small grand one.

His heroes are ordinary people, who try to lead ordinary lives, while at the same time working hard in order to make a difference in the lives of others. Sometimes they do, sometimes they don’t. The most important thing is though that they never give up hope.

This is a great novel that I would not only recommend to the fans of crime fiction but also to anyone who’s interested in learning some things about this new and exciting world of ours, as well to those that really enjoy to read a good story that has a lot to say.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Book Review: Skin by Mickey Spillane and Max Allan Collins

Mickey Spillane told his wife before he died to give every little thing that was left behind to his good friend and collaborator Max Allan Collins; and she did.

Skin is one of the stories that the former have started writing and the latter took the task of completing. It stars P.I. Mike Hammer, the most famous character created by Spillane, who all of a sudden finds himself investigating a mysterious case that seems to have more to it than what at first meets the eye.

 It all begins when Hammer, while returning back to town from a meeting of sorts from upstate New York, discovers some dismembered bodies at the side of the road. No longer being a police officer he decides to call Pat Chambers, a man who also attended the meeting, and who’s the Captain of the Homicide Squad. Soon enough the locals join the game as well, followed by an attractive TV journalist called Melodie Anderson.

Melodie seems to be a tough cookie and as she recognizes Hammer, he was her father’s hero she says, she tries to get him to talk to her about the case. Well, Hammer likes being famous, but for the time being he doesn’t seem to have a lot to say. However he exchanges professional cards with the woman and they both head their separate ways.

At first Hammer wants to stay away from the case, but as it seems that’s easier said than done. For starters he’s just too curious to let it go, and then, when the hand of one of the victims is identified as belonging to a famous Broadway producer called Victor King, who’s been reported missing a week before, he has no other choice as to investigate, since he’s hired by the victim’s very young wife to do so.

Well, Hammer has nothing more than his cold logic and his instincts to go on with, and that’s exactly what he does. As he collects bits and pieces of information, as he learns more things about the region, and about a series of events that took place there at years past, he’s certain that if he really wants to find out who the killer is he has to return to the scene of the crimes.

In the meantime Melodie and her cameraman Jason go missing and he has no doubts, than being who she is she’s definitely got herself into trouble. But, what kind of trouble? And do they have anything to do with the case?

As the mystery deepens, the action picks up pace towards the final goal: Hammer’s rough allotment of justice.

I’m sure the noir fiction fans will enjoy this eBook short that seems to come from a different era, but which in reality is a quite modern-world story.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Graphic Novel Review: Afrika by Hermann

Hermann is a widely acclaimed author and illustrator of graphic novels from Belgium.

In Afrika he tells us the story of Dario Ferrer who lives and works in a wildlife reserve in Tanzania.

At the moment Dario is pretty angry because he’s just lost a rhino, and to make things even worse, an uninvited guest arrives; a young and kind of naïve journalist called Charlotte, who’s been sent there by a common acquaintance, Yan Lefort.

Right from the start Dario feels enraged by this woman who seems to think that she knows everything, while in fact she knows almost nothing about what goes on in the region. And as if that’s not enough she decides to show him how wrong he is in doing what he’s doing, since there’s always a better way.

What does he do? Well, he pays the poachers in their own currency. If he meets them he shoots them, if he finds them while hunting, he hunts them like the animals they intend to kill. He’s a hard-ass and doesn’t give a damn about what the people think about him.

Well, time will prove him right and sooner rather than later Charlotte will come to realize that corruption rules the day there, that poaching is an everyday brutal practice and that the local government officials are only interested in doing business with the foreigners.

In the end Dario is the only person that stands between the criminals and the elimination of a big part of the wild-animals kingdom. As the future will show, he’s also the only one that can save her life, as their by then common enemies, will sent a ruthless man after them to teach them a lesson; a final lesson.

Hermann delivers to the reader a somewhat short but beautifully written and illustrated story that sheds plenty of light on the grim subject at hand, but he also creates an unforgettable character. Dario has his set of values and beliefs for which he’s willing to fight and/or even die. He’s as hardcore as they come, but he’s no super-hero, he has his weaknesses, and it’s exactly those that make him look more human than most.

The author makes us believe in this hero and somehow he also manages to plant into our heads the idea that if people like him really existed someplace out there, this world would be a much better place to live in. Dario may be violent, but that doesn’t mean that he’s not fair, and in the end that’s all that counts.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Book Review: A Raging Storm by Richard Castle

The second volume of the eBook novel featuring the not so retired agent Derrick Storm, A Raging Storm, starts like this: “A dead United States senator was in his arms.”

How did he end up there? That we already know from the first part of the story, A Brewing Storm. A sniper shot Senator Thurston Winslow from the roof of the police headquarters building in Washington D.C.

Before he died though, he managed to whisper a few words into Storm’s ear: “Midas. Jedidiah knows.”

Jedidiah Jones was Storm’s former boss, a man to whom he owes his life, and he was the one who called him in, in order to help save the Senator’s stepson who’s been kidnapped; something which did not turn really well either, as he also ended up dead.

Storm needs to think things out to make a sense of what is really happening, but right now time is not a luxury he can afford; he has a killer to catch. Thus he goes after him, along with FBI agent April Showers, with whom right from the start, he has a certain love and hate relationship. She doesn’t like him but he likes her. On the other hand, he seems to like all women.

Anyway, the killer escapes and once again they are trying to pick up the pieces left behind. Time though, as I already said, is not on their side, so in a rush, they have to pack up their things and fly to London, where they are scheduled to meet Ivan Petrov, an oligarch and sworn enemy of Russian president Oleg Barkovsky.

The way the author describes Barkovsky brings to mind president Putin, as he is also a populist and autarchic leader, who’s determined to take the country back to the glory days of the former Soviet Union, while allowing elections to take place and the market to reign free. His rhetoric turns time and again against the western powers, who are trying to undermine Russia.

Well, the Americans and the Brits are not enemies with the Russians anymore, but they are not good friends either. So they are trying, under a cover of deep secrecy, to help Petrov move on with his plans of undermining Barkovsky’s authority.

However, there seems to be a traitor in their ranks, since the arrival of agent Showers in London, all of a sudden, becomes public knowledge, while certain people seem to have them on their scope: their rooms are bugged, they are followed wherever they go, and the people they talk with, well, they seem to hide more than what they say.

Storm, is much more experienced than his colleague in this game, but that will not prove enough to help them avoid new and serious trouble. The two of them will come time and again face to face with double agents, expert assassins and traitors, and at the end of the day they’ll just try to save whatever can be saved from what now seems to be an unavoidable wreck.

Who to trust anymore they do not know, so it is up to them to make things right. How? Well, I guess we’ll find out next month, when A Bloody Storm comes out.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Book Review: The Joy Brigade by Martin Limón

The events narrated in The Joy Brigade take place in the early 1970s, when the passions are still heated on the Korean peninsula. The presence of the US Army in the South makes the people feel more and more uncomfortable, while in the North the People’s Army seems to be preparing for a big event: an assault against the former in order to reunite the country.

The US army chiefs feel quite unsettled about the situation and that’s exactly when Sergeant George Sueño, a young Mexican American stationed indefinitely with the U.S. 8th Army in South Korea as a Military Police detective, comes in. This time his mission though is quite different, as he no longer has to try and make soldiers behave, but is ordered to do the impossible: infiltrate the inner circles of the North Korean Communist Party.

Why do that? To smuggle out an ancient map detailing the network of secret tunnels that run underneath the De-Militarized Zone. How is he supposed to do that? By meeting its keeper, Doc Yong, as he calls her, an ex-lover of his that had to flee to the North after she was accused of murder.

Things are complicated to start with, but they will become more so as he’ll arrive at the North Korean port city of Nampo, aboard an Albanian merchant freighter. He first has to escape the attention of the port authorities and then meet a disillusioned hero of the revolution who’s supposed to take him to Pyongyang, where he’s going to meet the Doc, but also compete in a Taekwondo tournament in order to get closer to his goals. Talk about complicated, huh!

There’s an old proverb that goes: When the people are planning the gods are laughing. Well the gods would have a pretty good laugh if they caught a sniff of George’s plans. This is not a novel where someone would wonder how something could go wrong, but one where he or she would be surprised if nothing did.

Even the hero has his doubts as to whether his mission could ever be accomplished, as he’s afraid that he’ll not only get arrested but that he’ll be tortured as well. The plan is ridiculous and he knows it, everyone does, but yet he has no other option; it’s either try and stop a war, or do nothing and pay the consequences.

Well, he tries. He tries hard. And he succeeds. And he fails. Yes, he does both, since his is a mission of many and varying parts, with varying degrees of difficulty. During his long journey into the secluded country he’ll come to learn a lot of things about its people, he’ll face danger and meet kindness, and he’ll get to know tenderness and bathe in deception.

The author seems to know his subject matter so well that the events he describes sound more or less true. The wars, the landscape, the madness, he describes in words rich in their simplicity. As for his characters, they are all full of passions and with deep belief in their causes, even the infamous ones, like the pretty and sadistic she-Captain Rhee Mi-sook and the infamous Moon Chaser, a man of many faults and just as many qualities.

 The Joy Brigade, that took its name from a female brigade, the members of which were supposed to serve the nation and the Great Leader by becoming slaves to the male elite, is not only a thriller. It’s also a story about fathers and daughters, about pride in war and disgrace, and about love in its most pure and its most vile forms.

Love is beauty, love is life, but at the same time it could be ugliness and death. The author masterfully plants into his story the different manifestations of love, which at some points offer the reader more thrilling moments than the action itself.

Monday, July 9, 2012

Book Review: Havana Real by Yoani Sánchez

Havana Real includes some of the texts that Yoani Sánchez, the most famous Cuban blogger, have posted on her blog over a long period of time, and which in a very direct I’d dare say way, manage to dissolve the illusions of all those people in the west, especially Europe, that still think that Cuba is a socialist paradise of sorts.

Sánchez is, even though it would be unfair to label her, the voice of generation Y (the Greek Y and not the Latin as she’s fast to point out), as far as her homeland is concerned, since through her posts in the internet she has managed to shine a light on the other side of her country, the one the hordes of tourists never see and the comrades of faraway lands choose to ignore.

She writes about the oppression of the people by a ruthless regime, the widespread poverty, the corruption, and the intimidation tactics that are often used against the opponents of the state, the collapse of the health and education systems and the lack of critical for survival supplies in the markets. And she invites or rather dares all those people who claim that they sympathize with the hardships of the Cuban people to: “Come here and live as Cubans for a week. Then we can talk.”

Her mantra is, paraphrasing president Obama: “Yes, we want.” And they want nothing more but the basics: bread, education, freedom, in a country where someone can end up in jail for being predisposed to commit a crime.

1984 is there, and it really looks bad.

Friday, July 6, 2012

Book Review: Pearl in the Sand by Tessa Afshar

I guess one could say, without putting too much effort into it, that Pearl in the Sand by Tessa Ashfar, is a historical romance.

The events of the story take place in Palestine in the era of Moses. It’s exactly there and then that Rahab, one of the main characters, is born and raised. She and her family live in poverty and sometimes despair. That’s exactly why her father decides to sell her, or rather rented her out for a fee to a rich merchant; in order for them to survive.

Rahab will spend quite some time with the man and when she’s finally set free, she’ll decide that what she wants to do is become a prostitute. That way she will earn enough money, but she’ll also be afforded the benefit of being able to choose her own lovers.

The years will flow by fast and she’ll become not only rich, but also powerful and famous. However, whatever she does, no matter how much wealth she amasses, she cannot fill the void that she feels inside. There’s something missing from her life, but she doesn’t know what. And that until the winds of fortune start to follow a different course.

Everything changes in her life at about the time Moses, gets closer and closer to her city, while fighting against and beating in the fields of battle all the tribes that oppose the presence there of him and his people. By his side is Salmon, a man seemingly made out of stone, a fierce warrior and lover, with whom Rahab will fall passionately in love. But she will not only love him, as time goes by, she will also start to worship his god, a god that seems fair and compassionate if compared to the gods she has know so far. Thus she will follow that man and adopt his beliefs, and amidst the chaos of war the flowers of love will blossom.

I have to say that this is not a book that I would recommend to everyone since it’s obvious that its target market is the female reader.

It brilliantly starts off as a historical novel and ends up as a love story. I don’t know the history, or rather the mythology, of the region that well, so I cannot say if the author gives the reader a true representation of it, but that nevertheless doesn’t really matter, since the era only serves as the canvas onto which the mythos comes to life.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Book Review: Lucia’s Eyes and Other Stories by Marina Sonkina

There are six short stories in this collection and they are all well worth reading.

The Eyes of Santa Lucia tells us the story of Anton, a boy who grows up somewhere in Russia with his dear father, before the latter is declared an enemy of the state and arrested. Anton is in love with his Spanish neighbor Lucia, a beautiful and mysterious girl, who just by being there brightens up his days.

In the story titled The Runic Alphabet we watch a man as he goes through a long stretch of grief over the death of his beloved Ariadna.

Tractorina’s Travels, that follows, is also a sad story. Tractorina, the main protagonist, will fall victim of a fraud, orchestrated by her late husband’s son, which will leave her alone and penniless a long way from home. Somehow, though, she’s not surprised since as the author puts it: “With Perestroika people have lost their moral compass.”

In Carmelita we meet a man who’s spent most of his life being invisible, but that only until he inherited a lot of money, which at last made him visible. Being rich he decides to travel to Mexico, where he will meet a woman who was everything that he never had, but which he was destined to lose sooner or later.

The events of Christmas Tango take place in Montreal, Canada. This is the story of a shy young man, who -at long last- in his thirties he discovers his biggest passion in life, which is nothing else but tango. Little by little he’ll learn the dance and not before too long he will excel in it. Thus he’ll start dancing time and again with women of all ages that in his eyes looked like “chimeras, just like life is.”

Angels Ascending, Angels Descending is yet another sad story. The story of a sixty-two year old woman that suffers from heart problems and who in order to live has to go under surgery. As she’s left alone in a bed she has all the time in the world to reminiscence about her life, about her youth; a youth which she feels that she wasted searching in vain for her one true love, the perfect being who was never meant to be with her.

Though sad most of the times, these stories are not only well-written, but mostly they are stories with a heart. They speak in a direct way about the people, with their hopes and dreams, their sufferings and disappointments. Happy endings don’t often occur in life, the author seems to say. And I couldn’t agree more.

Monday, July 2, 2012

Book Review: Me, You by Erri De Luca

Me, You is one of those beautifully written and tender books that talk about the past; a past during which everything seemed to be much simpler than today and where people were more friendly and open-hearted, and the summers smelt of play and love.

It is during a summer that a city boy arrives at an island, where all of a sudden he feels a sense of joy and unlimited freedom overwhelming his youthful being. He was, as he puts it, a city kid, but during the summer he used to be transformed into a savage.

However that’s not exactly true; he did not transform into someone else when he was there, he just became his real self; a self that enjoyed going fishing with his uncle and mysterious Nicola, who fought during WWII in Sarajevo, and who taught him the ways of the sea without ever telling me what to do, and who also told him that from the sea you get what it gives and not what you want. He also liked wandering around the island and meeting people, following his cousin Daniel to the beach and participating in his parties and, every now and then, being naughty.

The summers always made him feel rich, but this one was bound to prove his best ever, since during it he would meet a girl, a bit older than him, that would fill his heart with joy and make him feel for the first time how it is for someone to be in love: “Within Caia was a revelation that could be reached by love”.

Caia was not an ordinary young woman. Most of the time she looked deeply lost in thought, every now and then she seemed to bathe in melancholy, but she always had an aura of wisdom surrounding her being. It was as if life has taken everything away from her and gave her in exchange an almost unnatural, for her age, maturity. Her eyes looked dark, kind of haunted, as if they’ve seen everything there was to see. And most probably it was that darkness in her gaze that he found her most attractive, almost mesmerizing feature. “In her presence my breathing was even; away from her it was agitated.”

What was the best thing that happened during their time together? Sitting one night at an open air cinema, watching For Whom the Bell Tolls, and him, hugging her from behind and smelling her hair.

Well, she couldn’t stay there forever and neither could he. She left first and that broke his heart, even though another girl, of his own age this time, materialized almost out of thin air to claim a piece of what was left inside of him: “She was inviting me to an age that have disappeared from my body and mind,” he says, and he surely couldn’t go back there. Not yet, anyway.

This is a beautiful story about summer, love and an age of innocence, for the magical moments of life which become scarcer as time goes by, for times long gone but never forgotten; a bittersweet novella that somehow manages, in a very direct way, to transmit its deeply humane messages to the reader.