Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Booker Longlist Announced

This year's longlist for the Man Booker prize has been announced. Read the full list below:

Julian Barnes The Sense of an Ending (Jonathan Cape - Random House)
Sebastian Barry On Canaan's Side (Faber)
Carol Birch Jamrach's Menagerie (Canongate Books)
Patrick deWitt The Sisters Brothers (Granta)
Esi Edugyan Half Blood Blues (Serpent's Tail - Profile)
Yvvette Edwards A Cupboard Full of Coats (Oneworld)
Alan Hollinghurst The Stranger's Child (Picador - Pan Macmillan)
Stephen Kelman Pigeon English (Bloomsbury)
Patrick McGuinness The Last Hundred Days (Seren Books)
A.D. Miller Snowdrops (Atlantic)
Alison Pick Far to Go (Headline Review)
Jane Rogers The Testament of Jessie Lamb (Sandstone Press)
D.J. Taylor Derby Day (Chatto & Windus - Random House)

For more info visit the Man Booker Prize website

Monday, July 25, 2011

Book Review: The Tiger’s Wife by Téa Obreht

The Tiger's Wife is one of those books that manage to carry the reader’s imagination away simply by their myth; a story where it’s not that easy for one to tell the difference between the real and the imaginary, where tradition and everyday life many times come into collision, before finding their binding threats in the world of story-telling. Obreht, the young author, won the Orange Prize for this book, and before reading it I had my doubts as to whether she deserved it or not. Now those doubts exist no more. She did deserve it. As someone who lives close to, and every now and then in, the Balkans, I can understand better than most outsiders the realities of its people, enjoy its myths and legends, and meditate on the recent history of the region.
     But, let’s take a look at the story. Natalia, when she was still a young girl, used to go often to the zoo with her grandfather, sit along with him in front of the tigers’ cage and read The Jungle Book. Their favorite hero, as one would expect, was a tiger, who time and again was coming into life in Natalia’s imagination. But that was not the only tiger she knew, as every now and then her grandfather would talk about another one; one that decades ago arrived all of a sudden at the village of Galina, where he grew up. The animal used to terrorize the people just by being there, even though most of them didn’t even manage to get a glimpse of it. The only people that were not afraid of it were him, and a young deaf mute girl, who was married against her own will, with a tyrannical man. The two of them agreed, without any words spoken of course, to protect the tiger from the evil men, and the woman, sooner or later, and after her husband’s disappearance, would come to be known throughout the village as The Tiger’s Wife.
     But stranger things have happened during the long life of Natalia’s grandfather; none stranger though than his meetings with an undead man, some sort of a magician or not. Gavo, that was his name, had the ability to read in the coffee cup when one was to die. As the story goes, he used to travel from one place to the other, unchanged over the years, foretelling people’s deaths. Her grandfather, despite all the rumors and what by his own eyes has seen never came to fully believe in his magic. Sometimes reality though can prove harder to comprehend than fantasy. If one asked him one day what he best remembered of his meetings with Gavo, he would only mention this aphorism: “The greatest fear is that of uncertainty”.
     The narration travels back and forth in time, covering many decades and two big wars, in almost an offhand way. (“Doors are probably wide open, and blowing a breeze of paramilitary rapists”). And even though most of the story takes place in the past, the present is not quite absent from these pages; the present and its modern paradoxes.
     To put first things last: When we meet Natalia, she’s a young doctor and she’s travelling with her friend Zora, to offer their services free of charge at an orphanage in the non-existent city of Brejevina. In the fields surrounding the property the members of a family are working day and night to recover the corpse of a man, who’s believed to have cursed them all. It is on the way there that Natalia is informed for the death of her grandfather. After her departure the old man set on a journey that led him at a place not far from where she’s staying, and where he breathed his last.
     That was exactly the reason that pushed the girl to start a trip back to memory lane, where the present and the past interconnect, the prejudices resurface and history finds its way into the world of legend, or the opposite.
     This is a great story, told in a flawless narrative manner. If I can judge from the author’s debut I’d say that we should expect to see much more from her in the future. Now, as to whether she will be able to meet the expectations, that’s a different story. Let’s hope she will.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Book Reviews… Preview

OK people, I’ve been reading really hard for the past few weeks, and some of the stuff that fell into my hands and dropped into my brain was quite amazing. In the near future I’m going to deliver to you quite a few book reviews of titles yet to come out in the U.S. but also some that are already in the bookshops, electronic or otherwise. The reviews of the books that haven’t come out yet I will post about a week before their release (you can see the publication date at the end of each entry), and as of this moment the list stands as follows:

Bad Intentions by Karin Fossum. A great psychological thriller. (9 August)
The Magician King by Lev Grossman. I’m still reading it, so for the time being, no comment. (9 August)
The Keeper of Lost Causes by Jussi Adler-Olsen. A great detective story from Denmark about a clever but troubled cop who’s willing to go where no one has ever been before. (18 August)
Nairobi Heat by Mukoma wa Ngugi. A detective story from Africa. A different view of the world. (13 September)
Penguin Lost by Andrey Kurkov. Black humor from the Ukraine… and beyond. (27 September)
Theodora: Actress, Empress, Whore by Stella Duffy. Now, what more can I add to that title? (27 September)
The Dead Kid Detective Agency by Evan Munday. Absolutely great. The fans of Neil Gaiman will love this one. (1 October)
Shards by Ismet Prcic. A refugee’s odyssey, from Bosnia to California (4 October)
Cain by Jose Saramago. Brilliant. The last book of a master storyteller that shreds the Old Testament to pieces. Provocative and funny. (6 October)
Scenes from Village Life by Amos Oz. Interconnected stories about life in a village in Israel. Very much about love and less about war. (20 October)

The following books are already out and will find their place in this blog sooner or later:

The Preacher by Camilla Läckberg. Murders and mysteries in an otherwise peaceful Swedish town. A good read.
The Train by Georges Simenon. The name of the author is all that one needs to know to read this book.
Pearl in the Sand by Tessa Afshar. A love story with a historic-religious background. The ladies will love it.
Pigeon English by Stephen Kelman. Trying to find a home far away from home and solve a mystery as well. The story of a special boy told in superb style.
Death and the Penguin by Andrey Kurkov. Dark and funny. The story of a man and a penguin and much more. Love, death, mystery, paranoia. Excellent.
Carte Blance by Jeffery Deaver. The Bond is back, and maybe he’s better than ever. A job well done by the popular thriller writer.
A Game of Thrones by George R.R. Martin. An amazing journey into the worlds of fantasy. Great writing and excellent plot. (This book is very popular these days, but so what?).
The Tiger’s Wife by Téa Obreht. History and legends, myths and reality, and a beautiful narrative voice from a very young and promising author. Winner of this year’s Orange prize.
Smokin’ Seventeen by Janet Evanovich. The funny adventures of a special lady and her friends in a city full of criminals and… toothless vampires.

Read on…

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Book Review: Dead Reckoning by Charlaine Harris

This book I’ve read more out of curiosity than real interest, since its heroine is Sookie Stackhouse, famous from the cult vampire series True Blood, which I really enjoy watching. I’m saying out of curiosity because, with the exception of Bram Stocker’s Dracula, I’d say that I’m not really a fan of the specific genre of literature.
     Anyway, in Dead Reckoning (the 11th of the series if I’m not mistaken) we find Sookie, who has recently discovered that she’s part fairy, living with her great-uncle Dermot, who looks a lot like her brother Jason, and her cousin Claude, both of whom have more fairy blood in them that she does. Their symbiosis is not exactly perfect, not even close to that, as Claude quite often manages to get on her nerves, while Dermot doesn’t really try to help her put things right. However the troubles she faces at home are only trivial if compared with those she has to put up with at work, since some people try to kill her not just once but twice, while her very good friend and boss, Sam, who’s a shape shifter, also seems to be having a hard time to make ends meets. And as if that’s not enough, Victor, Eric’s, her new boyfriend’s that is, worst enemy is appointed regent of the vampires in their county. Victor seems determined to provoke Eric in any way possible and thus draw him into a fight that he’s certain to win. The latter, who knows well who his enemy is and how he thinks, will be left with no choice but to ask for the help of Sookie and others, in order to strike first. Among them will be Sookie’s ex boyfriend, Bill.
     In the meantime, in the now famous, or rather infamous, city of Bon Temps, a lot of things start to change as some new species of creatures arrive at the scene; like goblins, different kinds of werewolves, elves etc.
     Each passing day brings along with it a surprise, most of the time bad, for Sookie, who though, after all she’s already been through, doesn’t seem to be scared of anything or anyone anymore. With her characteristic cool and furious manner, she seems to travel lightly from one place to the next, trying to make good deeds, to help her friends out or even give them a wakeup call when they lose their way, all the time being desperately in love with Eric, someone who has eyes for no other woman.
     Some of the episodes here are laugh-out-loud funny, quite a few are dramatic, but either way they are all fun to read. The author is only interested in entertaining the reader and she simply does that. Now, if you were to ask me which I like the best, the TV series or the book, I’d answer without hesitating for a moment, the first. Let us not forget that behind it is the creator of one of the best series ever made, the fabulous Six Feet Under. But at the same time, let’s not forget, if it wasn’t for the books there would be no Sookie, and without Sookie, well…
     This is a book that can be read in one sitting and I’m sure the vampire or, specifically, the Sookie fans will enjoy it.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Book Review: One Summer by David Baldacci

One Summer is not the first family drama written by the great crime author (read the excellent Wish You Well) and we sure hope it will not be the last.
     Baldacci seems to be leaping from the one genre to the other without any apparent difficulty. On the one hand in his books we meet trained killers, read conspiracy theories, and enjoy scenes of fast paced action, and on the other we find ourselves enjoying stories full of love and tenderness and, yes, with a touch of melancholy at the top. However, even the latter, manage to grab the reader by the throat and never allow his or her attention to drift away for a single moment from the action, from start to finish.
     It all begins when we meet Jack Armstrong, an Iraq and Afghanistan war veteran. He’s a dying man, confined in bed, breathing with the help of machines, at his home in Cleveland. What the enemy bullets and the bombs haven’t managed to do, is now done by a mysterious illness, from which the chances to survive are minimal, or rather nonexistent. However he’s not alone, as he always has by his side his loving wife Lizzie, whom he married when very young, and his young sons; Jackie, who’s just two years old and Cory, who’s twelve. They all seem to have come to terms with the idea of his demise. However, there’s someone who’s not there for him, and that hurts. His daughter Michelle, or Mikki, as they all call her, is a girl of sixteen who at a first glance doesn’t seem to know how to handle the situation, so instead of sticking close to him, she chooses to stay as far away as she can. Jack, trapped day and night in his own bed, in his very home, he mentally visits his past, counts his blessings and spends as much time as he possibly can talking to his family, but also secretly writing a series of letters to Lizzie. Through these letters he intends to explain to her some things, and confess some others, while, in a way, he also wants to convince her to go on and lead a happy life after he’s gone.
     Christmas day will be his last; or, at least, that’s the plan. However destiny, as usually is the case, has its own plans for him. Thus on Christmas Eve the wheels will suddenly turn and Lizzie will die at a traffic accident. As one would expect now things will dramatically change, as Jack will not only lose the love of his life, but also his kids, who will move away to live with their grandmother and aunts, each in a separate home, leaving him behind to die. Death, his death, seems to be the only thing he can control anymore and any time he decides to leave the world, the exit door will open. The only thing he needs to do is push a button and ask the doctors to put him out of his misery. However, even though death looks to be an attractive option, something holds him back from embracing its graces, despite the fact that “Sometimes living was far harder than dying”. As he reaches the point of no return, and decides to put an end to it all, exactly then the miracle happens; he starts to get better. Nobody can believe this miraculous reversal of fortune; not his doctors, not even himself. Each passing day though brings him closer to full recovery, and as time goes by his will to live is getting stronger and stronger. Now, with the help of his best friend Sammy, is determined more than ever to put things right, and make a new beginning with his kids. To achieve that though, he first has to make peace with his past. “You should respect the past. You should never forget the past. But you can’t live there”. The road to salvation will be long and winding, and Jack, better late than never, will at last come to realize that he needs other people’s help to reach his destination.
     This is a well written story that talks about love and death, about the big passions that rule our lives, about the darkness that lurks in the teenage soul, as well as for the big truths that we fail to see, even though they are constantly right in front of our eyes. A brilliant novel by a master storyteller.

By the same author

Hell's Corner
The Sixth Man

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Colm Tóibín and Edna O'Brien competing for the Frank O' Connor award

I know that this is old news, but I've managed just now to get into the internet after a few days holiday. Anyway, here's the shortlist for the Frank O' Connor award, the richest of its kind as far as short stories are concerned:

Gold Boy, Emerald Girl by Yiyun Li
Light Lifting by Alexander MacLeod
Saints and Sinners by Edna O'Brien
Death is Not an Option by Suzanne Rivecca
The Empty Family by Colm Tóibín
Marry or Burn by Valerie Trueblood

Friday, July 1, 2011

Theakstons Old Peculier Crime Novel of the Year shortlist

The shortlist of the Theakstons Old Peculier Crime Novel of the Year award has been announced. The winner will be announced on Thursday 21st July during the opening night of the Harrogate festival. The competing books are:

From The Dead by Mark Billingham

Blood Harvest by SJ Bolton

61 Hours by Lee Child

Dark Blood by Stuart MacBride

The Holy Thief by William Ryan

The Anatomy of Ghosts by Andrew Taylor

This year P.D. James (photo) will also be honoured for her outstanding contribution to crime fiction.