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March 17, 2010

February Books 2010

Filed under: february books — Chantal @ 5:15 pm

Sari rouge (Le)12. Sari rouge by V.V. Ganeshananthan

My rating: 3 of 5 stars
The story of a family of the Tamoul diaspora through the eyes of a daughter trying to make sense of her life, her parents and her origins. This is a classic for a first novel, the quest for where we came from and trying to figure out where we are and where we are going. I didn’t know much about Sri Lanka history, the Tamoul, the social upheavals, etc.

It’s also about someone not fitting into the country where she is born and not really connected to the place people assume she is from. The best part is the disconnection and the sorrow of the narrator who is very much aware of her not fitting in. Not American but raised the American way and removed from her family traditions, even beliefs.

It’s interesting, compelling, it has a voice, a flow for the reader to grab on to and be let through the lives of people, in my case, that I wanted to learn more about. As far as first novels go, it’s a good one. It has problems : the structure of the narration doesn’t always work, I got annoyed at the flashback but not really flashback trick really fast. But overall I enjoyed it.

Night Soldiers13. Night Soldiers by Alan Furst

My rating: 3 of 5 stars
Interesting view of the “spy business” circa 1930. How Russia then the USSR recruited young men and a few women from the Eastern European countries to built up their Secret Service.

The plot is a bit all over the place, the characters are a bit also all over the place. The main character Khristo is strong, smart and a bit heroic in an Atlantis John Sheppard way (no men left behind, etc). The historical background is amazing in the descriptions, the set-up, the reader is inside the secret services (British, OSS, NKVD and a few others splinter branches.

I liked it. It took me more time to read than I would have liked because the plot was not as “thrilling” and this one is not a page turner type of narrative but worth reading at a slower pace.

Ready (Mercenary/Goddard Project, #3) (Mercenary Trilogy, #1)14. Ready by Lucy Monroe

My rating: 2 of 5 stars
More like 2 1/2 stars. Average action/romance, light on the action novel. Both lead characters are a bit under developed for my taste. Nothing extraordinary or even special.

Storm Watch (Harlequin Blaze)15. Storm Watch by Jill Shalvis

My rating: 2 of 5 stars
Barely 2 stars. Wooden characters, paper thin character development, too many secondary characters (even if it’s only two). One redeeming thing, Jason is likable.

The Cat Who Could Read Backwards (Cat Who..., #1)16. The Cat Who Could Read Backwards by Lilian Jackson Braun

My rating: 3 of 5 stars
Quick reread. I vaguely remembered this opening book of Lilian Jackson Braun. There is a break in this series. The first three were written in the mid 1960’s, Braun stopped and twenty years after publishing The Cat Who Could Read Backwards she wrote The Cat Who Saw Red and it relaunched the series.

This is KoKo’s bow, where Siamese Cat and newspaper reporter Jim Qwilleran meet. Qwilleran returns to journalism after years battling drinking abuse. The Art beat is strange but Qwilleran soon finds himself in the middle of a trio of murders where KoKo seems to know all about.

Short and so much better than maybe the last 10 titles published in the series.

Turkish Gambit17. Turkish Gambit by Boris Akunin

My rating: 3 of 5 stars
Second title in Akunin’s Erast Fandorin series. We find Fandorin again after the tragic ending of his first real case. He’s become more detached, older despite his very young age. Less vain, less social. Which is the perfect backdrop for this tail of life, intrigue and heroism in the War between Russian and Turkey in the 1887. Fandorin is not much there, except for the high points of the mystery. We see life with the army, on the edge of the battlefield through the eyes of Varya. A young Russian woman who followed her fiancé to the army camp and the Press. This is something Akunin does really really well, using the press of the time, the journalists and making them the every day man or woman to whom the reader can identify.

The historical background is interesting. I had almost no knowledge of that war at the edge of Bulgaria, Roumania and Turkey. The spy/mystery plot is more obvious and I guessed who was the villain early on but it didn’t impact my enjoyment of the story.

Le Lièvre de Vatanen18. Le Lièvre de Vatanen by Arto Paasilinna

My rating: 3 of 5 stars
Short, amusing, quirky tale of a man who finds an hare, hurt on the side of the road and leaves his life behind and become somewhat of a marginal. We follow Vatanen and his hare in his quest for life throughout Finland. It’s sometimes funny, sometimes absurd, sometimes deep and sometimes completely off the wall. You can even imagine that all of his adventures are a fiction of his mind while he wanders in the forest pursuing the hurt hare on that faithful afternoon of June.
I liked it a lot.

The Cat Who Ate Danish Modern (Cat Who..., #2)19. The Cat Who Ate Danish Modern by Lilian Jackson Braun

My rating: 3 of 5 stars
Reread. This is where Yum Yum is introduced and where KoKo really becomes a sleuthing cat. This is fluff mystery. Not brain surgery but entertaining fluff.

February 22, 2009

A to Z Challenge : N

Filed under: 1001 books challenge,atozchallenge,february books — Chantal @ 3:40 pm

Neuromancer by William Gibson.
Almost 5 stars. I can’t imagine what it would have been liked to read it in 1984. Reading it now, the setting is not alien, it’s familiar but man, it’s really vivid and I just dove in and went along for the ride.

I like Gibson. No question. I like the way he constructs his characters, the way he built the world his characters live, move and die in.

I loved Molly. Strong, dedicated, whole Molly. Case, the broken but ultimately resilient and heroic is the perfect character for the reader to follow the story with to the end. The details of the world Gibson is building, the spacial constructs is something you have to wrap your mind around but well worth it.

Very glad I finally read it.

A to Z Challenge : J

Filed under: atozchallenge,february books — Chantal @ 3:39 pm

The Janissary Tree by Jason Goodwin.
The first offering in this detective series set in Istambul in the 1830’s. Yashim is on the trail of a conspirary of former soldiers “The Janissaries” while trying to solve the murder of a woman in the Sultan’s harem and the theft of the Sultan’s mother precious jewels given to her by Napoleon’s wife Josephine. The setting is exotic, the plot is intriguing. Yashim is endearing. Those are the pluses.

But… this book suffers from what I’ve nicknamed the “Dan Brown syndrome” 132 chapters for 300 pages amounts to 2 and 1/4 pages by chapters. It’s annoying, it’s very, very annoying. I don’t have the attention span of a gerbil thank you very much. The pace of the action, the way the plot is managed suffer greatly from this choice. Luckyly, the short span chapter temper off in the last third of the book saving it for me.

The details on the way people live, the city, the seraglios, Yashim’s particular situation (he’s an eunuch) the “war” the Europeans are waging in the area with the “Great Game” between Russia, the Germans, the British and the French in the background make the plot and action interesting and keep your reading.

February 13, 2009

February books

Filed under: Books 2009,february books — Chantal @ 11:20 pm

13. The Sign of The Four by Arthur Conan Doyle.
This is the one where Watson meets Mary and we meet depressed and addict Holmes. Said like that it doesn’t sound too interesting but it is.

In this second adventure, Holmes is on the trail of a murderer, a thief and a lost treasure, we get a hot pursuit on the Thames and a chase with a dog that ends where it should logically end. This is the story where the famous : “when you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth”. If only for that it’s worth reading.

14. Land of Marvelsby Barry Unsworth.
Slow and mellow with a big bang at the end. This illustrates how obsession and believing in one’s lies can be a very dangerous to your health. Two men, one a scholar by choice, who is seeking self validation and is riddled with doubts, the other a man with no education but skills, self made, in love with a dream and obsessed with a woman. Both destinies tied together and for both to achieve their dreams both must succeed or die trying.

The setting is wonderfully done. Mesopotamia right before WW1, archeological digs, spies uncover as scholars, military men, the end of a great empire. You can feel the sand, the heat. You feel the despair Somerville is experiencing, his nightmare of losing his dream. The sounds of the railroad approaching.

It’s a slow read, not a thriller, definitely not a spy novel but well worth reading if you like to read about how men behave under duress and how some bent, some crack and some race through it and come out stronger on the other side.

15. Le croque-mort est bon vivant (Murder in the Hearse Degree) by Tim Cockey.
The fourth book in the series was interesting enough but not as good as the first two books. Not enough Julia I think, too much Pete. Hitchcock is still interesting and puts his nose into stuff he really shouldn’t.

The case is somewhat interesting: a dead “au pair” babysitter, a cheating husband, a dubious religious organization. Lots of pieces that gel at the end into a solution that wasn’t as satisfying as it could have been. I’ve come to except better from this series.

16. Par une nuit où la lune ne s’est pas levée (Once on a Moonless Night) by Dai Sijie.
More like 3 3/4 stars, just shy of 4. The middle part lagged a little hence three stars. This is Dai Sijie third novels, his first since winning the Femina in 2003 with “Le complexe de Di”. It’s a slow and somewhat nostalgic narrative. We follow the narrator, a young French woman who studied Chinese in Beijing in the late 1970’s, fell in love with a young Chinese man with a troubled past. Both their lives are entwined in the most singular yet delightful way. Both become obsessed with a long lost silk scroll inscribed with an obscure language. Both lose themselves in this obsession. It’s almost genetic for them. The middle part could have been shorter or edited in a way that it could have been incorporated in the last part making the flow of the narration less chaotic. The ending is very much in keeping with the Chinese, Asian way of seeing and experiencing live. I’m glad I read it.

17.The Janissary Tree by Jason Goodwin.
The first offering in this detective series set in Istambul in the 1830’s. Yashim is on the trail of a conspirary of former soldiers “The Janissaries” while trying to solve the murder of a woman in the Sultan’s harem and the theft of the Sultan’s mother precious jewels given to her by Napoleon’s wife Josephine. The setting is exotic, the plot is intriguing. Yashim is endearing. Those are the pluses.

But… this book suffers from what I’ve nicknamed the “Dan Brown syndrome” 132 chapters for 300 pages amounts to 2 and 1/4 pages by chapters. It’s annoying, it’s very, very annoying. I don’t have the attention span of a gerbil thank you very much. The pace of the action, the way the plot is managed suffer greatly from this choice. Luckyly, the short span chapter temper off in the last third of the book saving it for me.

The details on the way people live, the city, the seraglios, Yashim’s particular situation (he’s an eunuch) the “war” the Europeans are waging in the area with the “Great Game” between Russia, the Germans, the British and the French in the background make the plot and action interesting and keep your reading.

18.Neuromancer by William Gibson.
Almost 5 stars. I can’t imagine what it would have been liked to read it in 1984. Reading it now, the setting is not alien, it’s familiar but man, it’s really vivid and I just dove in and went along for the ride.

I like Gibson. No question. I like the way he constructs his characters, the way he built the world his characters live, move and die in.

I loved Molly. Strong, dedicated, whole Molly. Case, the broken but ultimately resilient and heroic is the perfect character for the reader to follow the story with to the end. The details of the world Gibson is building, the spacial constructs is something you have to wrap your mind around but well worth it.

Very glad I finally read it.

19. Generation Kill : Devil Dogs, Iceman, Captain America and the New Face of American War by Evan Wright.
This is an up-close and personal account of the first days of the Iraq invasion in 2003. Wright, a journalist at Rolling Stone Magazine, gets a spot aka “embedded” with the First Recon Marine Battalion. He bargains his satellite phone and ends up with Bravo Company Second Platoon instead of the supply platoon. We get a slice of what the lives of these Marines was like. Used as bait and diversion, these highly trained, elite platoon mostly composed by late teenagers and mid twenty young men with some but not most schooling.

This one view of life in the trenches in this case in a Humvee. Not very different I guess from accounts of young men in past wars but always fascinating to me. These young men are conditioned and trained to react a certain way, to leave their brains at the door but the human brain is a wicked thing it doesn’t always do what it’s told. Like under past wars, far away leaders play with these young men like pieces of a chess game. Most are not unaware of this but all believe in the Corp, in the ties that bind these men into one unit.

Wright succeeded in making these young men human not killing machines. Of course, he has the privilege of insight now and can insert some commentary and view points for the reader about what was really going on but for these young men and this journalist living through the beginning of the invasion in late March, early April 2003, nothing made sense but still they carried on.

I liked it. More a 3 1/2 stars then 3 stars. Not sure I want to watch the mini-series based on the book, I don’t think it would live up the film I made up for myself as I read the book. In the same frame of mind, I have Tim Cook’s At the Sharp End : Canadians Fighting The Great War 1914-1916 volume 1 in my to read pile for 2009.

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