Tuesday, January 26, 2016

No Second Chance, by Harlan Coben

10/100 Yay, double figures at last! Today's author is another American, Harlan Coben. I've read some of his books starring his most famous (I think) character, called Myron Bolitar. Myron, however, doesn't make an appearance today. 
Today's book is "No Second Chance", and believe me when I say that I finished it in a breathless rush - and I only started reading it sometime yesterday morning. It would have taken me much less time to read it had I only had a few uninterrupted hours to devote to it, but work and cooking and things like that got in the way rather. Lunch time at work simply flew by today. I didn't lift up my head even once for the entire hour, partly because I didn't want to catch anyone's eye and be forced to make conversation - but mainly because I just wanted to be left alone to read the book! (Yes, it's my friendly winning ways such as this that have gained me such a wiiiiiiiide circle of friends.)
Let me now come to the book. Dr Marc Seidman comes to in the Intensive Care Unit, having almost died of gunshot wounds, to discover that, in the 12 days that he was unconscious in hospital, his wife Monica had died (also of gunshot wounds) and his 6-month-old baby daughter, Tara, was missing. And nobody has a clue what happened to her, or who shot him and his wife, although the police entertain the theory that his drug addict sister was the culprit. A few days later Dr Seidman gets a ransom note asking him to bring 2 million dollars to a specified place, with the usual warning not to contact the police or he'll never see Tara again. But of course - reluctantly - he does...and inevitably things go wrong, the kidnappers getting away with the money. With no way of contacting them or finding out where Tara is, Dr Seidman is left with no choice but to get on with his life as best he can.
But then, a year and a half later, the kidnappers contact him again, with the same conditions. This time he doesn't tell the police, but his ex-girlfriend, an ex-FBI agent, is there to provide some help. Once again, things go wrong and yet again the kidnappers get away with the money... but this time around Dr Seidman is much more determined to find out the fate of his daughter, hoping against hope that she IS alive, and he's willing, if not actually to break the law, to at least bend it out of shape to get the information he's seeking from the people who are keeping secrets from him. The story has a powerful mix of emotions - love, loyalty, loss, the bonds of friendship and the all-consuming love of a father for his child. It's a really good read, although there is one thing I wasn't happy with - the baddies didn't get as much coming to them as I wanted, so it was not particularly the best sort of ending for me. I like my threads tied up in pretty bows at the end of a novel. Open ended does nothing for me (and this is not an admission of how THIS book ends). 


Monday, January 25, 2016

A Tap On The Window, by Linwood Barclay

9/100 My gosh, this list is progressing really slowly. Anyway, better slowly than never, so today's book is by an American author called Linwood Barclay. I've been reading his books for a while (chanced upon one in - where else - my library, and never looked back from there). This book is called "A Tap On The Window", and it's a bloody good read, like all the books by this author.
Set in a small town, the story starts with private investigator Cal Weaver making the mistake of giving a teenage girl a lift in his car late at night. His intention was to question her about the suicide of his teenage son but it doesn't quite pan out as intended. When the girl is found dead the next morning, naturally the police suspect him of the worst, especially as another teenage girl is missing. The pace is exciting as Cal tries to solve the puzzle, which seems to involve most of the town. And then there's the mystery of his son's suicide, too...
I guess Linwood Barclay's books are the literary equivalent of junk food - addictive like it, greatly enjoyable, and delivering what's needed when you crave it. I believe I couldn't recommend this author more! ‪#‎100bookpact‬,

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Bittersweet, by Colleen McCullough

8/100 When we were in college, my best friend Laksh Guda and I were voracious readers and had plenty of warm discussions about the merits of various books. "Gone With The Wind" was one of them - she was a huge admirer of Scarlett o'Hara and I thought her (Scarlett, I mean) a spoilt selfish b*tch (I have since altered my opinion somewhat - she's a spoilt selfish b*tch with unlimited courage and when it counts). Similarly with "Thornbirds", by Colleen McCullough. I thought it was a good read, but not in the class of Gone With The Wind - and of course Lakshmi had to consider both books to be on a par. Not that we ever fell out over a book, though.
So, all that rambling was merely the build-up to my opinion of another book by Colleen McCullough that I read recently, called "Bittersweet". Once again, it was not a bad read - the book is set in Australia during the Depression, and it charts the story of four sisters (two sets of twins born to different mothers). Each of them has a distinct personality - Edda is the oldest and the strongest, the most opinionated and ambitious; Grace is dreamy and unpractical (at first, anyway); Tufts is pragmatic and ; and Kitty, the youngest and the most beautiful, the apple of her mother Maude's eye, is disturbed and oversensitive because she feels (rightly) that everyone just sees her as a beautiful woman but doesn't bother to get to know the real her. The girls leave home to train as nurses at the local hospital, which turns out to be the fire in which their iron of their character is forged. I liked that the author inserted bits of the history and the politics of those times along with descriptions of society from the perspective of both the haves and the have-nots. That said, I can't say that I found the narrative to be flowing, as it were...there's lots of "masala" but it doesn't quite gel (pardon the sloppy metaphor). Also, the men in the novel seemed one-dimensional, almost caricatures - either overbearing and judgmental or needy, or just weak. The girls' father, the Rector, is the character I liked best - non-judgmental, strong, loving, accepting... an excellent specimen of fatherhood and manhood.
NB: I meant to only write about books I really loved...but that would probably make the ‪#‎100bookpact‬ a lifetime project. I didn't really want that, plus I thought I might as well write about books that are meh or downright awful, so that other people can avoid them!
PS. A review on the book's front cover said "...think of Scarlett o'Hara and multiply by four". Ha! In their dreams! It's not within light years of "Gone With The Wind", never mind four times as feisty!

Monday, January 18, 2016

Married to Adventure, by Jule Mannix

7/100 Chances are that this book will be very difficult to source in a library and may generally be difficult to get anywhere, because it was a "find" in my favourite bookshop in Much Wenlock. I love to browse the books there, mainly the old and out-of-print ones, because while there are modern books and contemporary authors too, I can get those anywhere. It's not often that I manage to come away with any purchases, because I don't always strike the happy median where I can afford to buy the books I want to read! This one, though, fit the bill nicely (or maybe it was the bill that fit me nicely - heh!)
Anyway, this book is called "Married to Adventure", and it was written by Jule Mannix. She and her husband Dan must have been contemporaries of Gerald Durrell, and did more or less what he did - which is travel to exotic places to photograph exotic wild animals in their natural habitat (and keep some as pets in a good way ). While Durrell's aim was mainly animal conservation, this couple took photos and made films of their adventures with wild animals, mainly for the lecture circuit. Jule Mannix's book is set in the mid-1930s or thereabouts, and she writes with a genuine enthusiasm for the adventures and the animals she and her husband came across - the bonus is that she's also funny. Not as funny as ol' Gerald, and she doesn't have a madcap family or friends like he did... but there was enough humour to keep me entertained and smiling. I would definitely recommend sourcing this book if possible, as it's a genuinely lovely - and lively - read. If not, you know where you can get this copy, right? 

Sunday, January 17, 2016

The Paris Architect, by Charles Belfoure

6/100 I just love it when I borrow a book from the library on a whim and it turns out to be a cracking read - and I'm happy to say that "The Paris Architect" by Charles Belfoure falls very much into that category. The book is set in Paris of 1942, and the (reluctant) hero is Lucien Bernard, an architect who takes on a commission from a rich French industrialist to build a secret invisible hiding place in an apartment. He does it at first purely for the money, then for the sheer challenge of it (even though he's terrified of being caught by the Germans) and, finally - when something goes very wrong with one of his constructions and people die - because he suddenly realises that the Jews who have been hiding are actual people, not vermin to be wiped out. The tension ratchets up for the reader, with the Gestapo getting ever closer to catching up with Lucien, even as Lucien himself changes from a selfish, self-centred, self-serving coward to someone who helps others from the goodness of his heart despite the danger. It's a lovely book, so go read it, go, go!

Saturday, January 16, 2016

The Penguin Lessons, by Tom Michell

5/100 Still only on book#5. It's not that I haven't been reading, but while I liked most of the books I've read since my previous post, I couldn't honestly say that I truly loved any of them - not enough to write about, at any rate. Until this gorgeous little book by Tom Michell, called "The Penguin Lessons", It's not a novel, it's all true and that makes the story even more wonderful! The book is about a little penguin, rescued by the author from an awful death by oil slick in Argentina. He names the bird Juan Salvador (John Saviour) - sometimes called Juan Salvado (John Saved) - and the book is basically about how the bird brings laughter, wonder and love to those he comes across. I just loved this book. Totally worth reading, 

Friday, January 15, 2016

This is Where I Leave You, by Jonathan Tropper

4/100 I can't remember if I saw the movie (IF there is a movie - I haven't bothered to check) but while I was reading Jonathan Tropper's "This Is Where I Leave You", I kept getting the feeling, on and off, that some things in the book seemed familiar in a nebulous sort of way. If it indeed has been made into a movie, and I indeed did see it at some point, suffice it to say that I won't be bothering to refresh my movie memories. Not because the book is bad, but because it isn't. Book lovers will probably find this a familiar sentiment, but if I read a book that's been made into a movie and I like the book, I don't bother to watch the movie. It's pretty much a given that it will never be as good as the book.
Anyway, I did like "This Is Where I Leave You", because it's a good mix of funny, touching, sad, shocking and entertaining all the way through. The family - dysfunctional, of course - have gathered to mourn their father's death, and the events take place over 7 days (the Jewish period of formal mourning). What I liked most is that the protagonists start out dysfunctional at the beginning of the book and stay dysfunctional throughout. I won't say that things don't get resolved, because they kinda sorta do... but the resolutions are not cut-and-dried and tied up with a pretty ribbon at the end.

Thursday, January 14, 2016

Lots of Candles, Plenty of Cake - by Anna Quindlen

3/100 Anna Quindlen is an author that I came across only very recently, and the book that I first read (a novel called "Black and Blue") I liked enough that I did what I usually do when I find an author I like - I went and chased down all her books that were available at my local library and reserved them. "Lots of Candles, Plenty of Cake" was the next book I read, purely because my reservation came through on it before any of the others - it's a collection of her essays on ageing. She has a lovely conversational prose style, eloquent, gently humorous and very, very wise. I enjoyed this book too, so I'm looking forward to the other books when they become available. Oh, and I might write about "Black and Blue" next time.

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

The Life I Left Behind, by Colette McBeth

2/100 Have you heard of Alice Sebold's "The Lovely Bones"? That's not the book I'm going to write about, but "The Life I Left Behind" by Colette McBeth has, at its very basic level, a similar premise. It's a psychological thriller, where a woman who was nearly murdered but survived, has to find the murderer of the woman who tried to find the original assailant but didn't survive the assault. The story is told by turn from the viewpoint of the woman who survived, the woman who didn't and the detective inspector who is investigating both cases. A very good read, because I lived and breathed this book for the duration - nothing short of surgery would have parted me from it till the finish!

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Never Have Your Dog Stuffed, by Alan Alda

1/100 Ever since I watched my first episode of M.A.S.H, I've been a huge fan of the series. I fell in love with practically every character on it - BJ, Trapper John, Father Mulcahy, Frank Burns...but most of all, Hawkeye Pierce, played by Alan Alda. So when I came across his book "Never Have The Dog Stuffed: And Other Things I've Learned" in the library by chance, I just GRABBED it! It was such a good read! This man is (was?)funny, intelligent, honest and loyal and a good writer to boot...I'm in love with Alan Alda and I don't care who knows it! If you're a fan of his, I would wholeheartedly recommend this book. And now I'm off to track down the other books he's written. 

The #100bookpact mini-reviews

I've been doing quick reviews of books I've read recently, and posting them on Facebook for the #100bookpact. A dear friend of mine suggested that I post them here as well, so that they are easily accessed (FB tends to be arbitrary and mysterious in how some posts disappear completely and cannot be traced, yet others from years ago suddenly resurface). Anyway, I thought her idea was a good one, because it takes some effort to write even mini-reviews and why drop the fruits of that effort into FB's giant uncaring maw? Plus it also helps to keep my blog going!

Sunday, January 03, 2016

Favourite description I've heard this year

Character in a TV drama describing a teenage boy who's been making out with her daughter: "He looks like a scruffy little hormone!"

I'm still laughing every time I think of it!

Saturday, January 02, 2016

A possible New Year's resolution

I've resolved to try and be more positive this year - or at least less cynical. Is that the same thing? Well, if it isn't, what I have resolved is to find more positive things to write about on my blog, and not just rant. It's going to be hard, because the older I get, the more easily I get pissed off. But an easy resolution isn't worth anything, so... keep your fingers crossed for me, won't you?

Friday, January 01, 2016

Happy new year 2016!

On New Years Eve, when possible and depending on the weather, my husband and I go for a midnight walk in our neighbourhood, oohing and aahing at the various fireworks popping off everywhere. Tonight was perfection, a clear, cold night with the frost only just letting up and a beautiful half-slice moon among the million of stars visible intermittently where they were not outshone by movement sensor lights and general night lights on the outside of residences. Even with all that the night was gorgeous, As Pete said, it was a symbolic walk together into the new year, which I hope will be better than this year for us and for everyone else. Happy new year 2016, dear readers!