Monday, January 28, 2013

Book Review: The Book Thing by Laura Lippman

The Book Thing is yet another eBook short in the Bibliomysteries series; a series that I’ve really come to love. There’s nothing like a good short story, and when its subject matter is books, then it’s even better.

The author tells us the story of a neighborhood children’s bookshop in North Baltimore, where her trademark heroine Tess Monaghan, buys the goods for her daughter, Carla Scout. Tess thinks that it’s great that places like this still exist, and she does everything she possibly can to support it.

However noble her actions may be though, the bookshop is in jeopardy, not only because of the competition from the eBook market, but also because someone is stealing many books every now and then, without ever being caught. Tess decides to work the case pro bono, in order to set things right. So she sets shop in the shop, and lies in wait for the perp to show his face.

She doesn’t spend all her time there though, so while the tale unfolds, we get to follow her to her everyday walks around the neighborhood, we meet someone who’s widely known as the Walking Man, and we learn some things about the pessimist owner and the optimist sales girl of the bookshop.

As the story progresses the plot takes a weird turn that even makes Tess stand still for a moment in utter surprise, as the perp is just someone who’s trying to do something right, the wrong way. And he, just like the heroine, has the love of books as his driving force.

If you expect too much action and a deep-seeded mystery in the book at hand, perhaps you’ll be disappointed. However if you want to read a well-written story about lonely souls, and not so desperate people, who find refuge in the pages of the books, you’ll absolutely love it. This is one of the best volumes in the series.

Reviews of other books in the series:

The Book of Virtue by Ken Bruen
An Acceptable Sacrifice by Jeffery Deaver
The Scroll by Anne Perry

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Book Review: The Book of Virtue by Ken Bruen

I will say it right from the start: This eBook short would be much better if it was a little bit longer. The story is good, the plot is solid, the humor is a big plus, but the pages are just not enough.

The Book of Virtue is the story of a young man who's suffered a lot in the hands of his abusive father, a man who was "Tough. Cruel. Merciless... when he was happy." Frank was a cop, working in the streets of New York, so when he could not appease his rage on the thugs, he did it by hitting his son. His police pals described him as difficult, but he knew him better than that. So when he died he was more than happy, and in his memory he played "Another One Bites the Dust."

After his father's death, things changed for the better. He got a job at a fancy club and started making some money, and he was in love with his best friend's girlfriend, CiCi. CiCi and he seemed to have a lot in common. They liked the same things, they definitely liked each other, and they loved books; or at least she did, since she combined "Sensuality with knowledge," while he was not a great reader. In fact the only book he has read in ages was the one that his father left him, called Virtue, which made him think that maybe his old man was trying to fill in the blanks of his education with that single volume.

We don't get to learn too much about CiCi's reading habits though, since right now the time has come for both of them to move on with their lives. They know how to do it, how to score big, but they need to move carefully, in order to make things work out the way they want them to. Thank God she's a brilliant girl who can really come up with a great plan, but...

The characters are well-crafted and the twists and turns quite surprising, but as I've already mentioned this story is a bit short for my taste. A more elaborate plot or a wider cast of characters could do it some good

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Book Review: Phantom by Jo Nesbø

Harry Hole, Jo Nesbø’s damaged hero comes back from retirement in order to help Oleg, the boy he helped raise—in a past that now that seems as distant to him as his own youth— prove his innocence in a murder case.

Phantom is the most appropriate title one could think for this novel. Hole is a phantom of his old self, and is haunted by his past, but he’s also on the hunt for a man nobody seems to know much about.

His return to Oslo from Hong Kong, where he has somehow managed to make a new beginning feels almost like an ordeal to him. He feels at a loss in his own city, a city whose streets and alleys, bars and underground dens knows like the back of his hand. I no longer belong here, he seems to think, and perhaps he’s right.

But how can you help someone who doesn’t want your help? How can you get into places, find people, and ask questions, when you no longer carry a badge? Harry has no juice anymore, no power, and if it wasn’t for an old colleague he’d feel as lonely as one could be in his native land. Even Rakel, his ex-lover and Oleg’s mother, the woman who summoned him, doesn’t seem to want to come in close contact with him.

Despite all the obstacles though or from a sense of duty towards the former or love for the latter, he simply cannot get on a plane and fly back to the place he came from. So he checks-in in a rundown hotel and starts investigating. This case though will prove hard to crack, since more often than not he finds himself at a dead end; every answer he gets gives birth to new questions, and every clue he follows seems to lead him to yet another dark place, to yet another labyrinth.

As the reader follows Harry through the darkness of the streets, he comes face to face with junkies and drug dealers, with cold-blooded killers and some desperate people; people like him. At times he feels like that he should give everything up and leave, but deep down he knows that he’d never do that. He loves Oleg, and so he’ll keep on fighting for him, even though the boy of the past, the young man of today, doesn’t really seem to like him anymore. Could he be hiding something from him? Did he actually kill the man he’s accused of killing?

He has to find the answers, no matter what, and he has to keep fighting with his personal demon; the one that keeps telling him to go to a bar and lose his self in oblivion. But he doesn’t drink anymore, and he really shouldn’t start again now. Not now, not quite yet.

Jo Nesbø delivers another great yet bleak crime fiction novel that talks about the darkness that lurks in the hearts of men.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Book Review: Revenge by Yoko Ogawa

Yoko Ogawa is one of my favorite Japanese writers. Her novels are more often than not bleak, she describes worlds and lives where usually things tend to go wrong. And there’s a kind of sadness throughout her narratives; a sadness that somehow manages to make the reader smile. Reading a Yoko Ogawa story is like watching a House M.D. episode as Dr. James Wilson announces to a patient that he’s going to die and the latter thanks him for it.

Revenge (out on January 29, 2013) is the first short story collection by the author that comes out in English, even though I am not quite sure I can call it so. The eleven tales included in this volume are in one way or another connected with each other. The author plays with voices and the timeline, as she takes the reader from head to head, from situation to situation.

For some reason there are no happy endings in these stories, and maybe that’s exactly what makes them so special. We read about everyday lives, but highly unusual ones. We get to visit a garden where carrots that have the shape of hands grow, a museum of torture, a deserted zoo, a hospital, and a high-end hotel. As we follow the heroes from place to place, from sorrow to sorrow, the interest mounts, making us feel that desperate people are doomed to lead desperate lives.

“The room smells of death and disinfectant,” we read in Lab Coats, but the truth is that the whole book smells of death. There are no heroes here, only antiheroes. As they traverse from tale to tale, and narrate their own sad stories, death seems to follow their every step. Most of them are eccentric. One is an inventor of sorts that somehow becomes a museum curator; another is a painter, and one of the most important ones is an author. And somehow they all seem to have reached a dead end in their lives.

Maybe it’s the city, the hectic pace of life that makes them feel at a loss, but maybe not, as they do find the time to go places, sit still in a bakery and reminiscence, spend some time at a hotel, or even take care of a Bengal tiger.

The author has a unique way of placing people together at one place or another, at connecting the dots of their lives together, without even showing that she’s doing that. It’s as if she’s trying to say that we are all fragmented people, leading interconnected lives.

The prose is as beautiful as it could be, and having read some of Ogawa’s books both in Greek and English I can say that Stephen Snyder did a great job with the translation, since the stories at hand read like they were originally written in this language. This tome was a joy to read and I’m certain that I’ll return to it in the future.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Book Review: An Acceptable Sacrifice by Jeffery Deaver

If there’s one thing I really like about Jeffery Deaver’s short stories, is that they always manage to surprise the reader, one way or another. An Acceptable Sacrifice is not the exception to that rule.

It all begins with the meeting of two partners in crime, or rather law-enforcement. An American agent and his Mexican counterpart set house in the city of Hermosillo in Sonora, Mexico, with a single mission in mind; to stop a terrorist attack from happening.

They, and their respective agencies, suspect that a local drug lord is planning an attack on a tourist bus to mark the anniversary of the local government’s war on drugs. The man behind the planned attack is someone who’s so clever, and looks so clean and respectable, that no one ever managed to find a single clue that he’s involved in any illegal activities.

The two agents have their doubts that he’s indeed a criminal mastermind, but they have no choice but to carry on with their mission. The order is simple and clear: take him out before he takes anyone else out.

But how can they do that? The man lives in huge house, behind thick walls and bulletproof windows that looks like a fortress. They have to find a way to get in and plant a bomb, but in order to accomplish that they first need to spot his weakness, and he doesn’t seem to have one. Or does he?

Well, everyone has a weakness, and since this eBook belongs in a series consisting of Bibliomysteries it makes sense that his is books. He likes to collect old and valuable tomes from all around the world and he’s an avid reader. “That’s it,” the agents think and they start planning the attack; an attack that won’t be so easy to carry out; not only because their target is a very suspicious man, but also because timing is of the utter importance. Will they make it or will everything go wrong? And what if the man isn’t who they believe him to be?

As one would expect from a master storyteller, when it comes to the crime genre there are no easy answers to questions like these. Read the story, enjoy the plot, and prepare yourselves to be surprised time and again, by its few but yet great twists and turns.

By the same author:

No Rest for the Dead

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Man Asian Literary Prize Shorlist Announced

The Man Asian Literary Prize shortlist has been announced, and it includes no surprises since all of the books included in it have received favorable reviews in the western press, with the exception, I think, of Hiromi Kawakami's The Briefcase

As of next year the Prize will seize to exist under its current name and the organizing committee is on the lookout for some new sponsors, which I guess won't be so hard to come by. Here's this year's list:

Between Clay and Dust by Musharraf Ali Farooqi

The Briefcase by Hiromi Kawakami

Silent House by Orhan Pamuk

The Garden of Evening Mists by Tan Twan Eng

Narcopolis by Jeet Thayil

Thursday, January 3, 2013

The Costa Award Winners

I was delighted to find out that one of the best graphic novels I've read last year, and which unfortunately I haven't found the time to review yet, has won the Costa prize in the biography category. Dotter of her Father's Eyes is a beautifully told story, illustrated in a masterful way. It brings to life the characters' stories in an almost intimate manner and highlights their feelings without ever becoming melodramatic. Anyway, I'd highly recommend it to everyone.

Here's the list of the winners in every category, who by a lucky coincidence are all women:


Bring up the Bodies by Hilary Mantel

First Novel:

The Innocents by Francesca Segal


Dotter of her Father's Eyes by Mary M. Talbot and Bryan Talbot


The Overhaul by Kathleen Jamie

Children's Book:

Maggot Moon by Sally Gardner