Wednesday, 29 June 2011

Some book reviews and some more garden fairies

So, what are some of the fabulous books I read the past two months?

The Broken Shore - Peter Temple.  Winner of the Duncan Lawrie Dagger from the UK for foreign crime fiction, it is set in rural Australia, far from the lights of Sydney.  Peter Cashin has taken a post near the seaside where he grew up, on semi-permanent leave from the Homicide Squad after getting a colleague killed and almost dying himself in a stake-out that went horribly wrong.  The book opens in Port Munroe, the seaside town where nothing happens, except the background racism of 'accidental' beatings and deaths of the nearby Aborigine community.  Joe's broken heart haunts this book; he is unable to move comfortably, almost permanently disfigured by the accident in a back injury.  Then an old rich man, the richest man in town, is found unconscious in a robbery gone wrong, and the seedy side of Australian life is exposed.  Countering this are two new people entering Joe's life, and he comes to recognize that he can feel, and live again.  Wonderful characters, superb setting, solid mystery that is sad and haunting when the truth is finally revealed.  Worth every word of acclaim it has gotten. 5/5

The Ghosts of Belfast - Stuart Neville.  I finally ordered this book  a few weeks ago when I looked and looked and couldn't find it.  It was worth the effort.  Set in Northern Ireland for once, in Belfast, it is the story of an IRA killer who is seeing the ghosts of the people he killed.  Twelve ghosts haunt him day and night.  One day he can't bear it, and sets in motion the events of the book by telling the mother of one of his victims where the body is buried.  Gerry Fegan is a fascinating character.  As the story unfolds, we see how he has discovered in jail remorse, that he has always carried guilt for the victims of his crimes.  He sets out to kill the men who gave him the orders - this is what the ghosts request over and over - like Ireland is trying to wipe the slate clean by not talking about what happened during the Wars.  What happened then, happened then, is the attitude, though plenty of people in the novel are benefitting from the new peace in Stormont.  Neville shows how unstable the peace process always is between Ireland and Northern Ireland, and how the new 'war' is the money coming in to line the same pockets as those who got rich during the War years. All this is shown in counterpoint to Gerry's eliminating those who ordered him to kill.  It is another haunting mystery, one that presents the people of N Ireland as the real victims, always, of those in power.  I really enjoyed the ghosts also, as well as Gerry discovering that he can feel again, after all, although he doesn't feel like he deserves to.  Highly recommended mystery. 5/5
Read for the Ireland reading Challenge

Crime Machine - Giles Blunt.  The fifth John Cardinal mystery, it takes place a year after John's wife has died.  This is quite an interesting mystery, not the least of which is because part of the book is about the crime machine itself, a 'family' of criminals who are bizarre and scary and very very violent.  The book opens with things being quiet in Algonquin Bay, and the police team are given old cold cases to work on. ATM's start being robbed, then the beheading of two people in an empty house starts the real mystery in the book.  Who killed them?  There is one witness, and her story - she is aboriginal, young, and very foolish - gives the heart to this mystery.  Her freshness is counterpoint to the very different life led by the killers, the hardness, violence and manipulation masking as love - it's all very dark, very noir, and very very good.  John is in the grips of recovering from his wife's death, and I enjoyed seeing how he was coping with the changes in his life.  I really enjoy this mystery series, it's one of my favourites, and I'm glad to see John back after a two year wait. 4.7 /5
Read for the Canadian Book Challenge.

The Brutal Telling - Louise Penny.  This is the darkest mystery yet from Three Pines and Chief Inspector Armand Gamache.  Louise Penny is beginning to develop a theme of exploring the darkness that lies in human hearts and what it drives people to do.  She is specializing in the darkness at the heart of families, and this mystery deepens this theme.  It is gripping, and very difficult to put down. An unknown man who is a hermit living in the woods behind Three Pines is found murdered in Olivier's Bistro, the wonderful bistro which is filled with Gabri's fabulous cooking.  Yum!  I always find myself drooling over the food that Penny describes so lovingly.  I want to eat there.  Despite all the murders, I want to live in Three Pines too.  Ok, back to the mystery:  I find it hard to write about because this mystery involves one of the central characters, and something is revealed that literally pulls the mask off to reveal what can lie hidden in a person.  I really enjoyed this mystery.  I liked what the Brutal Telling was about, the wood carvings, Gamache's search out to the Queen Charlotte Islands where the wood comes from that the victim carved, to meeting some more of the people who live in and around Three Pines. The Brutal Telling is the story that the murdered man told his killer, and carved in pieces of wood, which eventually reveals why he was killed.  This is another mystery that you really won't want to put down until you know it all.  we have more of Gamache and his wonderful idiosyncratic police team.  Inspector Beauvoir, the impeccably dressed fastidious man, is central to this story.  He is given lines of poetry, which when he finally puts them together, has an effect on him that shows what effect words can have on a person, whether in the form of a story or poem. I'm really happy I already have the next one already lined up to read.  This series is addictive, and I think it's the place of Three Pines that really pulls me in.  Wonderful mystery.  5/5 
Read for The Canadian book Challenge

The Janus Stone - Elly Griffiths.  I couldn't wait to get to this one.  I'd been waiting for it to come out in paperback for almost a year.  The Crossing Places was evocative and gripping and I was hoping this one would be too.  It is.  The Janus Stone is about the discovery of a child's skeleton under the doorway of a Children's home that is being demolished to make way for new condos.  Two children disappeared many years ago, and one of the children was the same age as the skeleton.  Ruth Galloway is the forensic archaeologist called in to examine the bones.  The Janus Stone is the stone set in the archway over the doorway,  Janus the Roman God of looking forwards and backwards in time. This mystery is about that, discovering the history of the land beneath the Children's home, the story of the people who lived there before, and of madness.  While the mystery is quite good, the best part for me is Ruth herself, her lovely home by the saltmarshes in Norfolk, and her growing pregnancy, the result of a one-night stand with DCI Nelson during the previous book.  It's fun watching Nelson and Ruth dance around the truth, and to see how Ruth copes with it all.  The secondary characters are well-done, from Shona the friend who is gorgeous and irresistably drawn to married men, to the various weird characters Ruth gathers around herself, especially Cathbad the Druid. I really like this series - I want to live where Ruth is living!  Maybe I could divide my time between Three Pines and Norfolk England? - and am trying to talk myself into the buying the hardcover of the next book in the series, The House at Sea's End, since I'm not sure I can wait until it comes out in paperback.
Delightful series, 4.7/5.

The last book I am going to review tonight is not a mystery.  It is a horror book.  I have been reading more horror this spring, I'm not exactly certain why, although it has been a long-time interest of mine.  I'd been waiting for The Passage to come out in softcover ever since Stephen King mentioned it last year in his Entertainment Weekly column that it was a must-read for 2010.  So at last, it came out in paperback:

The Passage - Justin Cronin. Everything Uncle Stevie said it would be.  I read it in less than two days.  I could not literally put this book down.  It is the story of what happens when a bat is discovered that supposedly can cure illness.....only it's really wanted for secret experimentation that goes horribly, terribly wrong, and wipes out most of the world's population, turning the victims into vampires.  This is an incredibly cool book.  Not because of Stephanie Myers and Twilight, not even because of Buffy (I'm a Slayer girl from way back!), or even Dracula.  This is dystopian end of the world is here, and what happens to the enclaves that are left behind, the survivors who didn't turn.  What would the world look like 100 years after this devastation?  Who would be left?  How would history be transferred?  How would society evolve in these enclaves?  This is a terrifically imagined story.  It's also the story of the Girl Who lived - who survived the vaccine that turned the other victims of the experiment into monsters.  Who she is, and the people who try to help her, makes a fantastic ride.  This was fun, and enjoyable to read, and it was creepy and nightmarish in many places, and sad, too.  One of my favourite reads of the year, and really, most of these books might end up on that list, they are all so very, very good. 5/5

So that's some of what I read while I lost myself in books these past few months.  More reviews will be forthcoming, because there are some more excellent books that I read.  What have been some of your favourite reads of the year so far? Have you lost yourself in some books too?

Just for Chris, and Cath, and the other gardeners out there, here are some more of the fairies etc who fill odd corners and under leaves in my garden.  My new header is from my garden also. 


Kerry said...

Oooh, I like the new header.

The Broken Shore sounds really interesting and I've sent a sample to my Kindle. I've already got The Crossing Places sample waiting for me to want it too.

The others don't sound so much like my thing, but I'm glad you enjoyed them. Books can generally make things at least a little better.

Gavin said...

What a great group of books! I didn't know that there was a fifth Cardinal book out. Hope my library has it!

chrisa511 said...

Susan, I am SERIOUSLY in love with your garden!! OMG I have to see it before I die :p

Cath said...

Great book reviews, Susan. Loved The Janus Stone too - waiting for The House at Sea's End to come back to the library. I think The Brutal Telling should be my next Louise Penny but am not sure. Very interested in The Passage... sounds unusual but probably my sort of thing. You might like Clockwork Angels by Cassandra Clare which I've just finished.

My favourite reads this year. Hmm. Well there's a crime book meme I saw that I'll do over the weekend so that'll answer part of that question. Other than those I got lost in The Warden by Anthony Trollope and the Thrush Green books by Miss Read. Tell the truth though, I've enjoyed most of what I've read this year.

I love your garden! Cute fairy. :-) I have one for you too that I saw in a garden in Cardiff. Pics soon.

JaneGS said...

The Ghosts of Belfast sounds excellent and fits in well with my personal project to educate myself on Ireland. I love your garden fairies. Virtually all my houseplants have a flower fairy guardian--maybe I'll see if I can capture them by camera, they're pretty shy!

Kailana said...

I enjoy your new header!

Looks like you have read lots of great books lately!

DesLily said...

Wow! I thought I clicked the wrong blog! lol love the new header! You have been a busy reader this summer!

Name of the Wind and Wise mans Fear was good and of cours my book 5 by michael scott of the Nicholas Flamel series!

Abby Brandon said...

If I follow your blog will u please follow mine?

Susan said...

Kerry: thanks! the new header is a photo from my garden. I love the little frog prince. I hope you like The Broken Shore and The Crossing Places!

Did you get any snow when it snowed there earlier this week?

Gavin: Yes, there is!! I didn't know you had read the other four....they are very good books, and I keep giving the first one away to people to get them to read him! lol

Chris: You can come visit us, any time!! Just remember my garden only looks good from May to Sept - but, me and my books are here year round! lol My roses are blooming now so I'll try to post them shortly.

Cath: I have to come see your pictures of Cardiff! Your pictures always make me wish I could be taking a trip right away...I'm like you too, I've really enjoyed most of what i've read this year. I haven't come across a clunker yet.

Susan said...

Jane: Ooh yes, please see if your fairies will come out and play!

What are you reading on your personal Ireland reading project? I have to say I've not been good at reading Ulysses, to which I am a little ashamed. I hope you enjoy Ghosts of Belfast, there is a sequel out now, COllusion. Another hard cover I'm trying to wait until is in softcover!

Kailana: Thank you! and I have read some really good books this year. It's been kind of fun to read this many really good books.

Pat: thank you! I'd love to do what you do though and get some great shots of the herons especially that you have. I love my garden, it's my retreat and so good for my soul.

You liked Name of the Wind that much, that's fantastic! I have to read the sequel, again, too big a hardcover for me to carry around.

Abby: of course! I will come find you now. Thanks so much for letting me know you read my blog!

Kerry said...

No, no snow for us. It would have to be abnormally cold for us to get snow up here. Our longitude actually falls about the same place as somewhere between Sydney and Melbourne so we're futher north than people imagine.