Sunday 26 January 2014

The Abominable - Dan Simmons

   It must be me.  I really thought that there was a supernatural element to The Abominable.  A horror that stalks the main characters on Everest.  It was me.  I read the blurb on the inside cover and misinterpreted it because of The Terror and Drood.  "Deep in Tibet and high on Everest, the three climbers - joined by the missing boy's female cousin - find themselves being pursued by someone, or something, in a nightmare that becomes a matter of life and death at 28,000 feet.  What is chasing them?......As they fight their way to the top of the world, the friends uncover a secret far more abominable than any mythical creature could ever be."  It does go on to say, and this is important:  "A pulse-pounding story of adventure and suspense, The Abominable is Dan Simmons at his spine-chilling best."

   It is.  The Abominable is a pulse-pounding adventure story, and filled with suspense. I loved it.  I could not put it down.  But it does not have the 'something' from a nightmare, the creature I was hoping - and kind of expect in a Dan Simmons novel.  Despite my dismay that there is not much of a supernatural element to the novel, it is a thriller, and very well done.

I have struggled with what to say in my review, because I don't want to give away what the plot is about, because that would give away what this story is about, and it's a story that is truly enjoyable to read.

The main character is Jake Perry, who recounts his story in a series of journals to the writer Dan Simmons, who meets him while looking for stories about adventures in the Arctic Circle (for his eventual novel The Terror).  Jake Perry writes the journals from the perspective of someone in the 1990's, looking back to when he was very young in the 1920's, in between the two world wars.  At this time, in 1924, two men disappeared while climbing Mount Everest - George Mallory, and Sandy Irvine.  Along with them, but not part of the same group, a young man named Lord Percival - Percival Bromley - has also disappeared, presumably dying in an avalanche a German following the party claims to have seen. 

Jake is a mountain climber, climbing with Richard Deacon and a French guide, Jean-Claude, when they receive the news that the attempt on Mount Everest has ended in the tragedy.  Lord Percival's mother is grieving and wants the three men to try to recover her son's body on Mount Everest, if it can be found.

The real story for me is their climb on Mount Everest.  Dan Simmons did his research well, intertwining a real-life story of George Mallory and Sandy Irvine, who did disappear on Mount Everest in 1924, with the fake climb of this novel of Jake and his climbing friends.  There is much more to this story - the background of WW 1 and the lasting effects on everyone in Europe; Jake and Deacon and Jean-Claude themselves, as they outfit for the climb, which is being done in secret since Deacon was thrown out of the National Geographical Society (who  funds the early expeditions to climb Mount Everest, and gets the required permissions from Tibet, and Nepal for the climbers).

The main body of the book takes place on Mount Everest, as they begin their climb towards the summit, and the growing realization that they are not alone.  Being a mountain climber, the risks involved, are described in detail.  The love of climbing, the desire to get to the peak, runs through this book.  And the descriptions of what it is like to face a challenge - an overreaching rock, pure ice, crevasses in the snow - and surmounting them, make this a gripping read.  I really enjoyed how they climbed, and the description of the cold, and the natural dangers they faced.  I loved it, in the end.

What I didn't like so much was who was chasing them, and why.  I will say that this turns out to be a secret mission in more ways than one, and that there is climax, and a resolution, that is  resolved in a satisfying manner. What I loved was the thrill of the climb.  Could they reach the top? Would the mountain defeat them?

It led me to looking at actual accounts of climbing Mount Everest, and the discovery that Mallory and Irvine are real people who did attempt to climb Mount Everest then.  They were not discovered until much later, in the 1950's.   I read about some of the recent attempts on Mount Everest, and was dismayed to read at how commercial it has become.  There are lineups to get to the summit!  I don't know why I am shocked and saddened by this, but I am. And still the mountain claims victims, every year.
 I am now looking for a copy of Into Thin Air by Jon Krakauer, (Amazon review here), based on the true life 1996 incident when 8 people died in one day in an attempt on the summit.

 That led me to other books I am looking for now, The Climb by Anatoli Boukreev, another point of view from that same attempt on Mount Everest, Amazon review here. And to find videos of Mount Everest to watch.  I'm also fascinated by K2, which is an even more dangerous mountain that Mount Everest.  

The irony is that I am afraid of heights.  Worse, I suffer from severe vertigo at a mere 10 stories high.  There is no possible way I could climb those or any other mountain.  The only real mountain I have been close to the top of, Silver Star Mountain in British Columbia, is only 6,000 feet high.  Long ago, once I was at the top of their then highest ski run (1976, we are talking about here.  Long ago.).  I saw the view as I got off the T-bar, saw the mountains all around and that we were higher than anyone, and thought I was going to fall off the top of the world. I sat down and skied on my bum until about half-way down the mountain, where our usual runs began, and stood up and skied the rest of the way down.  I never went back up again.  And yet, or possibly because I am so terrified of heights, I am fascinated by these mountains and the life and death challenge of climbing them, and of getting back down again.  The Abominable woke that desire to know more, in me.  From the armchair, of course.

It is not the book - supernatural terror haunting them - that I thought it would be.  It is a very good adventure thriller.  Superb tension, suspense, fun characters, and fabulous descriptions of climbing and the thrill of it.  Just don't look for monsters - they are there, just not supernatural ones.

Oh - there is one tiny incident.  Possibly.  With something other than people on the mountain.  I leave it up to you to decide if it is indeed the famous Yeti, which is supposed by the Tibetans to live on Mount Everest. The yeti is referred to in the book, so I'm not giving much away here.  Just -  let me know in the comments what you think, when/if you read the book.  I really hope you do read it. It is fun, and an exciting thrill ride.

Highly recommended, especially if you want a book to take you away from everything for a weekend.    4.7/5  (because darn it, I wanted there to be something supernatural there!)

Read Scotland 2014 challenge, and some quick notes

    There I was, thinking I might be able to go a year without joining a challenge.  I thought to myself, is this my year to not join any?  Do I be free and just read whatever takes my fancy?  Can I organize myself to read all the non-fiction I start and never finish?  I really thought this was the year of no challenges for me, except for Carl's Once Upon a Time and RIP annual challenges.  And then Geranium Cat put up her post here for Read Scotland 2014.


Which after some time to think about it, I realized I do want to do.  It's easy - any book set in Scotland, or written by a Scottish writer, counts.  Fiction or non-fiction.  Peggy Ann at Peggy Ann's Post is hosting it, and her blog post is here. 

It's easy because I look for books set in Scotland to read, naturally.  There is something about the setting and the people that I really enjoy.   I possibly have some Scottish heritage myself - my father is adopted, and the story goes that his father (and mother?) was from Scotland.  My grandmother (the person who ended up adopting my father) knew my father's natural mother, who was very young and unmarried, and - you know the rest, the usual for that time and place in history.  This is the story that we've all been told.  So Scotland is a place of deep interest for me.  A place I might be from.  And heck, for a tiny country, they have produced some great writers - Robert Louis Stevenson. Sir Walter Scott. Robbie Burns.  And some really good novels have been set there: Outlander, for one of the most popular series for the past 20 years.  And one of my favourite mystery writers, Ian Rankin.  So I am going to join.  My first challenge of 2014!!

I am going to do the level Highlander, which is 5 - 8 books. 

Some of the authors and titles (if I know them at this time) that I am considering are:
- Saints of the Shadow Bible - Ian Rankin
- any number of M.C Beaton's Hamish McBeth series.  I have recently decided to start reading this series in order.  This is a future post, so stay tuned.
- The Lewis Man - Peter May (Book 2 in his Lewis trilogy)
- The Chessman  - Peter May (Book 3)
- The Glass Guardian - Linda Gillard (e-book)
-  Robbie Burns poetry
 - The Lore of Scotland

More titles will follow. 

January Blahs:
I still have some posts to finish - my wrap-up books read last year, and best books of the year, and what I've been reading.....but January has started for my family the way December was, with plenty of winter-like flu and coughs and colds. I am currently going through a bout of bronchitis.  So I'm hoping to have enough energy to do some posts this week, before January is done.  It's also been very very cold here - we are now in the midst of our coldest winter since 1981.  It's so cold I don't want to step outside.  I am very grateful for central heating, and if I could hide out at home all winter, I would. I'd be a hibernating bear, and come out in the spring, in March.  Maybe. We sometimes get snowstorms then too.  Maybe April.....

Posts to come:
  I am getting some reading done, but as my children have also been sick, there has been alot of tv-watching and family movie watching going on too.  So posts will follow on The Abdominable (very interesting and a surprising impact on me), Hamish McBeth series, the ending of the Liveship Traders series, and some poetry reading.

I hope you all have been well, my Gentle Readers, and are staying healthy and warm where you are, this winter.

Friday 17 January 2014

Happy New Year! ( a little late) and new Phil Rickman mystery rocks

Happy New Year, everyone!!! 

Yes, I'm late.  We were sick with some stomach virus over New Year's again.  We had a wonderful game of Dr Who monopoly, and brought in the new year quietly at home.  It was the first time we'd been at home for several years, as we usually go to my friends' who hold an annual New Year's get-together for our group.  I'm hoping this won't be the shape of our entire year.....but so far my eldest son had a raging fever for most of this week, and yes, it's Friday, and I'm home with a sore throat and generally achy all over.  So let's hope this is it for January. 


I've already read a book that I love.  This is a good way to begin the year!!!  The Magus of Hay, by Phil Rickman.  The latest - book 12 - in the Merrily Watkins series.  In this book we end up in that loveliest of book towns, Hay-on-Wye, which everyone knows has the largest number of bookstores in any city in the world. Except in this novel, the number of bookstores has been falling due to the recent recession and the rise of Amazon and online bookstores.  A couple, Robin and Betty Thorogood, who are returning characters from an earlier book in the series, have decided to buy an empty shop that once used to be a bookstore, and turn it back into a bookstore, in Hay.  Only the shop has a very bad history, and Betty, who is a witch, gets a very bad feeling upon entering the store before buying it.  At the same time, a body is found in a pool in a river.  When DI Frannie Bliss, back from his terrible beating in the previous novel, goes to investigate what should be a routine drowning, what is discovered at the dead man's house persuades him that Merrily should be called in to provide him some advise.  Then the young constable who notified Bliss of the body, goes missing.  Who took her?  Why?  Who was helping the old man shortly before his death?  And what is the link to the shop that Betty and Robin have bought and are setting up to open?

I really enjoyed this mystery.  I especially enjoyed the moments of eerie atmosphere,  creepy sense of dabbling in the dark arts, and the return of Betty and Robin and Gwyn Arthur Jones, the detective superintendent from the same book - The Crown of Lights - who is now retired and strangely enough, has opened a bookstore in Hay. 

Lol and Jane and Gomer are off-page for much of this novel. The few times Lol phones Merrily - he is off on a tour, his first one, to promote his new material - I am reminded of how much I like his character, and like him with Merrily.  It was good to see Merrily on her own for once, too, and how difficult she finds it, with Jane gone with Eiron on a dig in Wales.  Huw Owen is back, and he is such a fun character also!  I really like him!

As always, there is a rational explanation for much of what happens, and always the sense that there is an undercurrent of the uncanny, the unseen, and malevolent forces that exist side by side in the world with the rational.  There is the beginnings of a new story thread too, with Merrily and the new reverend who comes in to 'replace' her temporarily as she is supposed to be on vacation, which I expect will be part of the next book or two.  It will be interesting, because Merrily might be forced out of the diocese and her job if she is not careful, and meanwhile something that is not holy and right, is trying to get in through her church and the replacement reverend.......

Excellent series, fabulous and well-drawn characters, and lovely creepy sometimes scary atmosphere of hauntings, eerie happenings, and ghostly manifestations.  Highly recommended.

I hope you have had a healthy start to your 2014, and have been reading some good books too. I have to catch up with all of your new blog posts.  Oh, and do my final books of the year post.  I haven't forgotten.

Next up:  The Abominable by Dan Simmons finally came into the library for me.  Last night, before I began feeling really ill, I managed to get there to pick it up. This weekend, in between napping, I will be reading this much-anticipated adventure to Mount Everest, just before our dreadfully cold weather (and this means -24c at night) returns mid-next week.  Who will be colder, me or the characters in the book? Brr. I hope to be deliciously scared too, as I was when I read The Terror by him, which I loved.