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. 

Sunday, 26 June 2011

Missed You All

I have been gone from here much longer than I expected, my dear Gentle Blogging friends.  I thought I was handling this year quite well, coping with my knee injury and the death of my friend David.  Then my son was hospitalized at the end of April for a skin infection, and I found myself doing what I always do when I am under severe stress:  I start reading voraciously.  I plunged headlong into so many good books over the past two months, and slowly, as it always does with me, all the emotions I was putting off feeling, started to surface.  I'm not sure why it works this way with me, I have just always been so very glad that I can read, and have this outlet. I think reading has kept me sane for many, many times through my life, and this was one more added to the tally.  Thank you, books!

So I have been busy reading.  I've also been busy in my garden, a tremendous relief and another healing sanctuary for me.  I love growing flowers, and spend many happy hours in my garden in our growing months up here in Canada.  I was tremendously worried with my torn knee cartilage if I would get in the  garden at all this year, and I am thrilled to say I can.  It's not always graceful since I can't kneel yet, but I can sort of half lower myself closer to the ground so I can dig holes for planting, and weed. So between my garden and my books, and my family, I am starting to feel much less overwhelmed with everything. 
A fairy in my garden. 

I was really unable to do anything for about two months, and looking back, I see what a shock it was to me to suddenly be so helpless.  I don't do helpless very well.  I like being independent and not needing any help, and it was so hard to only be able to go to work and come home by car.  No bus. No shopping for groceries or anything else we needed.  It forced me to really feel shut in and shut down while I waited for my knee to heal. 

What I did find was that I suddenly wanted to read all the good books I'd been saving, now.  No more waiting and doling them out to myself once in a while.  I decided to read all the latest by my favourite authors, if I had the books already.  And since I've been able to take the bus again, since the end of May, a month now, I've been on one long book-buying spree.  Every week I've been picking up books.  I love it!  I feel set free!  I can't carry very much, and my knee is nothing like strong enough yet, but it is getting better.  I can even do my walks again, and am up to a mile and a half every morning.  I love being in nature, and hearing the morning sounds and seeing the green light of day and just being where it's quiet and me alone, is tremendously powerful and healing for me.  In every way I can, I've been taking care of me during this horribly long spring, and my family have been wonderful and helping, even the kids, to pick up their belongings since I can't really get to the floor all the time.

I've missed you all.  I want to thank you for waiting so patiently for me to come back here.  I really want to thank you for all the books you talk about on your blogs, because over the past three months, I've either read or picked up books because you read them first and loved them:

Bybee, because of your post last year - OMG, I just checked, it was 3 years ago!! - because of your post three years ago about this book, I finally, finally found a copy just this week, and picked it up:  my very own copy of The Greatest Thing Since Sliced Bread by Don Robertson.  ***It helped that there was a little blurb that Stephen King named him one of his important influences on him. ****It does look really good.

Mariel,(***I think it's you.) because you said once that I should check out this series: Alison Croggan's The Books of Pellinor Series, I now have all four books, having found the last two earlier this week.  ***just discovered that Andi at Andilit has read the first one, here.

Kay at Home Girl's Book Blog:  because you said that Louise Penny's The Brutal Telling was better than The Murder Stone, for my birthday I read The Brutal Telling.  You were right.  It was far better than The Murder Stone.  Dark, really dark and disturbing and mournful mystery.  Thank you!

Kerrie at Mysteries in Paradise, thank you for talking about Peter Temple.  I read The Broken Shore last week, and it was amazing.  I ran out and bought the sequel, The Truth, halfway through reading The Broken Shore.  I also have to thank you for talking about The Skeleton Hill by Peter Lovesey last year, because of that post I have started reading the Peter Diamond series from the beginning.  I really enjoy this series. I just bought Skeleton Hill, which I think I will have to read out of sequence since I can only get two books in the middle from the library. 

I will be reviewing these and others read over the past 7 weeks of silence from me. Someone read Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi  - Nymeth? why do I think it's you? here, or Bybee, here, or Chris, here -  in the past year or so ****2008!  three years ago!  See?  mention books, and sooner or later we find them..... and maybe all of you convinced me I could try it, and I finally did during this month of awesome books I read.  It was.  Awesome.  It made me cry, and laugh, and look at my Turkish and Iranian neighbors in a new light.  A Companion To Wolves (amazing! brilliant! and I've felt like a wolf ever since), The Janus Stone (creepy, why does Ruth keep going to the site at dusk and putting herself in danger?  love that she's unwed and pregnant), and so many others.

I'm not quite at my count for 50 books half-way through this year, but I'm close - at 45, and trying to convince myself I can read a book a day over the next week so I can catch up.  I am going to get to 100 books this year!

Here's hoping that all of your springs has been good to you.  I will be coming to visit many of you over the next few weeks to catch up, and say hi.  It's good to be back, and talking with you about books.