May 28, 2011

THE PRINCE OF MIST by Carlos Ruiz Zafron

taken from

In 2004, the Spanish author Carlos Ruiz Zafon earned international success and acclaim with his breakthrough novel The Shadow Of The Wind. His books have since sold over 15 million copies worldwide.

But before he wrote this bestselling debut novel for adults, he had already published four books in Spanish for younger readers. The first of these, The Prince Of Mist, has just been translated into English for the first time.

The Prince Of Mist is set in Spain during the Second World War and is the story of 13-year-old Max Carver and his family, who move from the city to the countryside to get away from the war.

But from the moment Max steps off the train, he has a creepy feeling about the seaside town. The clock in the old train station appears to be moving backwards and the house Max and his family move into has been boarded up for years because of its sad history. The overgrown garden is populated by stone statues that appear more lifelike than they should, and a secret stash of homemade films reveal even darker secrets. Then there is the malevolent cat who seems to be stalking the family.

When Max and his older sister Alicia meet a local boy, Roland, whose grandfather Victor Kray has run the lighthouse for 25 years, they discover the wreck of an old ship beneath the sea and the story of the prince of mist slowly begins to unravel. Soon Max discovers that the prince, a magician known only as Cain, is still in their midst and just waiting for his opportunity to settle an old score.

This first book by Carlos Ruiz Zafon is a chilling adventure and skips along at a fantastic pace. It's probably a little too scary for very young readers but older fans of Zafon's other work will certainly enjoy this novel.
All the familiar themes of his later books are here.

He writes fondly of father-and-son relationships, as well as of the importance of older male mentors to young men, along with the themes of coming of age, burgeoning romance, loss of innocence, and the ultimate battle of good versus evil.

Any young reader will enjoy The Prince Of Mist, but it is particularly enjoyable for fans of Zafon, as it gives an insight into the early ideas and preoccupations that eventually led to his most successful novel, The Shadow Of The Wind.

May 23, 2011

SWAN PEAK by James Lee Burke

taken from The Guardian by Matthew Lewin

After the devastating events of hurricane Katrina in New Orleans, Cajun police detective Dave Robicheaux and his unpredictable ex-partner Clete Purcel have headed for the achingly beautiful landscape of the Bitterroot Valley in Montana to fish. But Burke cannot allow these two characters to exist in a peaceful world, and it's not long before they are embroiled in an investigation into the brutal killing of two young students a stone's throw from their holiday cabins. As always, Clete Purcel is a natural magnet for trouble, and it comes in increasingly powerful waves. Burke has cunningly woven a thread through the various loops in the plot, and when he begins to draw it all in, the compression raises the temperature to almost unbearable levels. The last 30 pages had me gripped with tension. This, together with Burke's ability to place you vicariously in the haunting landscapes he describes with such love and passion, again confirms his position as one of the finest American writers.

May 22, 2011


taken from Book Forum by Ross Benjamin

Writers have long used a child’s perspective to relate fictional accounts of historical catastrophe, notably Günter Grass in The Tin Drum and Imre Kertész in Fatelessness. Bosnian-born German author Sasa Stanisic offers the latest installment in this tradition with his 2006 debut novel, How the Soldier Repairs the Gramophone, a sensation in Germany, now skillfully translated by Anthea Bell. Through the eyes of the fourteen-year-old narrator, Aleksandar Krsmanovi, we witness a massacre perpetrated by Bosnian Serbs against their Muslim neighbors in the town of Višegrad in 1992. The outlines of the plot are autobiographical: The protagonist’s escape to Germany from the attack on Višegrad parallels the author’s own at the same age. But rather than rendering a direct account, Stanisic refracts these events through his young narrator’s wildly imaginative storytelling. A hyperactive fabulist, Aleksandar embarks on madcap flights of invention and comic exaggeration, which clash movingly with the painfully real chronicle of terror, loss, and exile at the story’s heart.

His tall tales contain many wonders: a magic wand that can “revolutionize all sorts of things, just so long as they’re in line with Tito’s ideas and the statutes of the Communist League of Yugoslavia”; a catfish wearing glasses; a river that talks and is ticklish. The headings that precede each chapter playfully mimic Cervantes and Grimmelshausen by providing brief, tantalizingly eccentric synopses: “How long a heart attack takes over a hundred meters, how heavy a spider’s life weighs, why a sad man writes to the cruel river, and what magic the comrade-in-chief of the unfinished can work.”

Aleksandar learns the answer to the first in this series of conundrums when his Grandpa Slavko suffers cardiac arrest in the same 9.86 seconds in which Carl Lewis breaks the world record for the hundred meters; the race is playing on Slavko’s television. Unwilling to accept his grandfather’s death, Aleksandar recalls Slavko’s gift to him of a magician’s hat and wand that “work magic exclusively along Party lines.” But even though he believes that the resurrec-tion of such a devoted Socialist would surely receive Tito’s blessing, he proves powerless to bring Slavko back to life. Defiantly proclaiming himself opposed to death and all endings, he resolves to become “Comrade-in-Chief of going on and on,” to think up stories that never end, and to draw pictures of unfinished things. His “unfinished” subjects are among the novelist’s idiosyncratic strokes: “plums without stones,” “Tito in a T-shirt,” “books with no dust on them.”      read more....

May 20, 2011


taken from

"It's about a suspicious death that might be violent, might not be, that is, might be murder, might not be. Brunetti follows the trail and finds old people with secrets from long ago. It's not bad.
(© Donna Leon, August 13, 2010)

In the opening pages of a debut novel nearly two decades ago, a nasty conductor was poisoned during intermission at the famous La Fenice opera house in Venice. The Questura sent a man to investigate, and readers first met Commissario Guido Brunetti.

Since 1992’s Death at La Fenice, Donna Leon and her shrewd, sophisticated, and compassionate investigator have been delighting readers around the world. For her millions of fans, Leon’s novels have opened a window into the private Venice of her citizens, a world of incomparable beauty, family intimacy, shocking crime, and insidious corruption. This internationally acclaimed, best-selling series is widely considered one of the best ever written. Atlantic Monthly Press is thrilled to be publishing Drawing Conclusions, the 20th installment, in Spring 2011.

Late one night, Brunetti is suffering through a dinner with Vice Questore Patta and his nasty Lieutenant Scarpa when his telefonino rings. A old woman’s body has been found in a Spartan apartment on Campo San Giacomo dell’Orio. Her neighbor discovered it when she went to pick up her mail, after having been away in Palermo. Brunetti sees some signs of force on the old woman—the obvious wound on her head, what could be a bruise near her collarbone—but they could just as easily have been from the radiator near where she fell. When the medical examiner rules that the woman died of a heart attack, it seems there is nothing for Brunetti to investigate. But he can’t shake the feeling that something may have created conditions that led to her heart attack, that perhaps the woman was threatened.

Brunetti meets with the woman’s son, called into the city from the mainland to identify the body, her upstairs neighbor, and the nun in charge of the old age home where she volunteered. None of these quiet his suspicions. If anything, the son’s distraught, perhaps cagey behavior, a scene witnessed by the neighbor, and the nun’s reluctance to tell anything, as well as her comments about the deceased’s “terrible honesty,” only heighten Brunetti’s notion.

With the help of Inspector Lorenzo Vianello and the ever-resourceful Signorina Elettra Zorzi, perhaps Brunetti can get to the truth, and find some measure of justice.

Like the best of her beloved novels, Drawing Conclusions is insightful and emotionally powerful, and it reaffirms her status as one of the masters of literary crime fiction.
(© Atlantic Monthly Press)

May 18, 2011

THE JANUS STONE by Elly Griffiths

taken from EURO CRIME

I have been really looking forward to this, the second in a series featuring Ruth Galloway, a forensic archaeologist, based in East Anglia. The first book, THE CROSSING PLACES, was a delight and I have to say I wasn't disappointed with this one.

Ruth is called in when builders, demolishing an old house in Norwich, find the bones of a child beneath a doorway. The skull is missing, so is it a ritual sacrifice or just plain murder? DCI Harry Nelson needs to know. When it turns out that the house was once a children's home everyone begins to wonder what went on there. Nelson tracks down the priest who ran the home and finds that two children did go missing there years ago.

Harry and Ruth have to find out how old the bones are and trawl through the old files to find out who was involved in a crime that happened many years before. However it seems that not everyone wants the truth to come out and someone is trying to frighten Ruth off.

What a fantastic book this is. The characters of Ruth and Harry are so clear and believable. Ruth in particular is extremely engaging, full of self-doubt but battling on regardless. Harry is a most unusual fictional detective, not given to talking much, a man with a heart. I love the relationship between these two. But the secondary characters here are no stereotypes either, from the wonderful Cathbad to the saintly Father Hennessey all the supporting cast are finely drawn.

Plot-wise it will keep you guessing, and the use of present tense throughout means that the action is very immediate. You feel as though you're right there with them. The tension never falls and it builds to a fantastically gripping climax. This is a real tour-de-force and I just can't wait for more.

May 16, 2011

ON THE BLACK HILL By Bruce Chatwin

taken from The New York Times

BRUCE CHATWIN'S highly praised travel book, ''In Patagonia'' (1977), established the writer as, among other things, a connoisseur of human oddity as it flourishes in isolation. His displaced Scottish sheep farmers and Welsh hymn singers, left stranded by the receding tide of economic colonialism, are depicted as turned in upon themselves, rendered queer by their desperate clinging - in the remote wastes of the Argentinian far-south - to obsolete modes and attitudes transplanted a century ago from ''Home.'' Even more bizarre are the descendants of Dom Francisco da Silva, a Brazilian slave trader, who - as Mr. Chatwin tells us in his semihistorical fantasy, ''The Viceroy of Ouidah'' (1980) -founded a mulatto dynasty in the bloodthirsty kingdom of Dahomey. In both works the human peculiarities are set against landscapes poetically evoked with exceptional vividness and exactitude.

The step from such nonfiction to Bruce Chatwin's first novel is not so great as might be imagined. ''On the Black Hill'' also chronicles the lives of odd folk living in relative isolation; it too paints a landscape which, as in the novels of Thomas Hardy, is at least as animate and moody as its inhabitants. But there the resemblance to Mr. Chatwin's earlier books ends. In its imaginative reach, ''On the Black Hill'' is very much a work of fiction. Nothing in Mr. Chatwin's previous work quite prepares us for the dramatic intensity with which scene after scene of the novel is brought to life. Despite the eccentricity of many of the characters, we soon realize that ''On the Black Hill'' belongs not to the literature of exoticism but to a valued, essentially British tradition that stretches back to the closing decades of the 18th century - a tradition of writing about homely, country things with an enraptured attention that causes them to glow with an almost visionary light.     read more....

May 13, 2011

WHEN YOU REACH ME by Rebecca Stead

taken from the guardian

The first thing I can say about this book is that I actually didn't know what it was about until right at the end. That definitely wasn't a bad thing though, as it kept me in suspense until the very last page. When You Reach Me has been one of those books, that even though they're fiction, and could probably never happen, the way its written was so believable. I felt like the main character, Miranda, was real, and that she was really writing this story from her own experience. I found that this book was one of the ones where it's almost like you forgot you're reading the book, but instead, living in the story.

The first part of the book I read was the blurb, and a couple of lines caught my eye:

And then a mysterious note arrives:

I am coming to save your friend's life, and my own.
I ask two favours. First, you must write me a letter.

Each message brings her closer to believing that only she can prevent a tragic death. Until the final note makes her think she's too late.

It was then I decided that I would not rest until I found out who the letter was from, why they sent it, and whether Miranda's friend survives. So, for the next few days, apart from school, I read the book through and through. Although, it's not a particularly thick book, the author still manages to cram so much in, and it all works. There are so many genres in it, like mystery, suspense and even a bit of science fiction. I've never really been a huge fan of science fiction books, but that didn't stop me from liking this book, as you don't even need to like any particular genre to fully appreciate how good this book is. I love the way that the reader gets to solve the mystery of the letters along with Miranda, and we're only able to figure it out when she does.

I thoroughly believe this book deserved its title of the Winner of the Newbery Medal 2010. Even though there were some points when I wasn't really sure what was going on, it was easy to pick up, and the ending really makes it worth it. I would recommend this book to young adults, as some parts are a little confusing, and especially to those who enjoy mysteries. The book also deals with many morals, and actually taught me some things I hadn't thought of before. When You Reach Me is a book full of twists and turns, and if you're looking for a book that will keep you on your toes the whole way through, this is definitely for you.

May 11, 2011

AN EVIL EYE by Jason Goodwin

taken from the TURKISH FORUM review by Steve Donoghue

Raymond Chandler, who knew a thing or two about the fictional detective, famously wrote that he must be “the best man in his world and a good enough man for any world.” Consciously or not, Jason Goodwin has thoroughly absorbed that precept; his own fictional detective, Yashim, might have considered Philip Marlowe a bit uncouth (all that smoking and drinking surely show a lack of self-control), but they are cut from the same cloth when it comes to righting the wrongs of the world.

In “An Evil Eye,” Goodwin’s fourth novel, Yashim’s world is the decaying Ottoman Empire of the early 19th century. The year is 1839, and a new sultan, Abdulmecid, has replaced the old one in Istanbul. In the novel’s most atmospheric, least realized subplot, this change in monarchs occasions a corresponding change in the monarch’s harem. In an echo of Goodwin’s first book, “The Janissary Tree” (2006), the sultan’s harem also contains a mystery that will eventually involve our detective. But in “An Evil Eye,” the more immediate puzzle is posed by a dead body found on the island of Chalki in the well of the monastery. The dead man in the well is marked with a totenkopf — or skull symbol — and when Yashim is dispatched to investigate, it doesn’t take him long to surmise that the dead man might have been Russian.

Goodwin is an author of many strengths — the books in this series can be read independently of each other, and they just keep getting better — and the discovery of a Russian corpse in a Christian well in the heart of a Muslim land allows him to play to the best of those strengths: his remarkable ability to clarify the muddle of that decaying empire. “The Ottomans were not a nation [but] a caste, almost a family,” we learn. “Just as the sultan, as head of the family, maintained his pashas and his odalisques, so the Ottomans maintained their retinues in turn.” Yashim’s effort to restore some semblance of harmony to that family is made all the more complicated by the implication of Fevzi Ahmet Pasha, his old mentor in the service of the former sultan.

The complicated plot that unfolds is deftly controlled throughout, with dangers, chases, intrigues and frequent trips back to the harem. Goodwin’s prose is sharp and surprising (about that dead Russian we’re told, “His skin had wrinkled in the long immersion under water, soft and ridged like the white brains of sheep laid out for sale in the butcher’s market”), and the best part of the entertainment is none other than Yashim, a redoubtable, philosophical hero who finds himself in a dirty, battered world yet still holds out hope: “I think there is always a little gap somewhere, however hard you try to fit everything together. A small space, for something like grace, or mercy.”

There is precious little mercy in the cutthroat world Goodwin portrays here. Yashim is caught between the merciless cunning of his old teacher and the innocence of that teacher’s little daughter, between the politics of the sultanate and the equally twisted politics of the harem. The standout joy of these books is readers’ confidence that we’ve got the right hero, that the calm Yashim will prevail. “In the end,” he tells an exasperated colleague, “it isn’t about people, or sultans, or corruption. It’s about the truth.”

If there were only more such men, Chandler tells us, “the world would be a very safe place to live in.” And maybe the poor old Ottoman Empire would have lasted a bit longer if it had had more Yashims to call upon. As it is, we must hope the original has many, many more adventures.


May 9, 2011


The Girl Who Fell from the Skytaken from HEIDIWDURROW.COM

"[A] breathless telling of a tale we've never heard before. Haunting and lovely, pitch-perfect, this book could not be more timely."-Barbara Kingsolver 

Chosen by Barbara Kingsolver as the winner of the Bellwether Prize for best fiction manuscript addressing issues of social justice, The Girl Who Fell From the Sky has garnered rave reviews since its February 2010 publication. The Washington Post calls it "an auspicious debut" and named it one of the Best Novels of 2010.   The Miami Herald says: "Durrow's powerful novel is poised to take a place among classics of the American experience." The Oregonian hails it as a Top 10 Book of 2010. The Girl Who Fell From the Sky is already a book club favorite, a New York Times Bestseller, a LA Times Bestseller List, an Indie Next Pick, a Pennie's Pick at Costco, and is now in its 5th printing in paperback.

This debut novel tells the story of Rachel, the daughter of a Danish mother and a black G.I. who becomes the sole survivor of a family tragedy.

With her strict African American grandmother as her new guardian, Rachel moves to a mostly black community, where her light brown skin, blue eyes, and beauty bring mixed attention her way. Growing up in the 1980s, she learns to swallow her overwhelming grief and confronts her identity as a biracial young woman in a world that wants to see her as either black or white.

Meanwhile, a mystery unfolds, revealing the terrible truth about Rachel's last morning on a Chicago rooftop. Interwoven are the voices of Jamie, a neighborhood boy who witnessed the events, and Laronne, a friend of Rachel's mother. Inspired by a true story of a mother's twisted love, The Girl Who Fell from the Sky reveals an unfathomable past and explores issues of identity at a time when many people are asking "Must race confine us and define us?"

In the tradition of Jamaica Kincaid's Annie John,Toni Morrison's The Bluest Eye and Sandra Cisneros' House on Mango Street, here is a portrait of a young girl—and society's ideas of race, class, and beauty.

May 8, 2011


taken from Sarah Tuttle's blog by Sarah Tuttle

Where the Mountain Meets the Moon, by Massachusetts author Grace Lin, follows a young Chinese girl on a quest to find good fortune for her family. Minli leaves home on the instructions of a talking goldfish to find the Old Man of the Moon, who she hopes will give her the information she needs to make her family happy and prosperous. In the course of her quest, Minli comes across magical creatures and characters right out of legends, including a flightless dragon and a village where the sky rains seeds.

Lin’s enchanting storytelling voice gives Where the Mountain Meets the Moon the feel of a classic fantasy tale. While Minli’s journey follows a the quest format of traditional fantasy writing, Lin adds her own twist by telling “stories within the story.” She alternates chapters on Minli with chapters of folktales that are told by characters that Minli meets. Lin weaves the folktales into Minli’s own quest, adding layers of plot and tension. The text of Where the Mountain Meets the Moon is enhanced by Lin’s paintings and the monochromatic illustrations at the start of each chapter.

As someone who adores folktales and classic fantasy stories, I am perhaps predisposed to love Where the Mountain Meets the Moon. However, I’m not the only one gushing about how wonderful it is! Where the Mountain Meets the Moon is a Newbery Honor Book for 2010, and has become a best seller.  If you haven’t had a chance to read it yet, I hope you will.

May 7, 2011

TAIL OF BLUE BIRD by Nii Ayikwei

taken from THE INDEPENDENT reviewed by Jonathan Gibbs

Here is a delightful book that combines the basic tug of the whodunnit with the more elegant pleasures of the literary novel. Like the best detective stories, it has a questing hero, and a vivid sense of locale. Kayo Odamtten is a young Ghanaian returned home after studying in the UK. He is happy enough working as a forensic pathologist in Accra. But when a strange crime is discovered in a remote forest village – by the horrified girlfriend of the Transport Minister, no less – Kayo is dragged into the investigation by corrupt police Inspector PJ Donker, whose idea of recruitment is the threat of imprisonment on conspiracy charges.

Insp. Donker sends Kayo off with the warning, "Don't return until you have a good scientific theory and report – CSI-style." Kayo finds the "evil" evidence: unidentified fleshy remains, crawling with maggots, in the corner of a hut belonging to a cocoa farmer who hasn't been seen for a month. He does his CSI best – taking samples for DNA testing, using hi-tech "blue merge" goggles to spot patches of urine on the floor, creating a digital model of the crime scene on his laptop. More importantly, he listens to the locals, especially the old hunter Opanyin Poku.

The hunter shares some of the book's narrative, giving Kayo clues in the form of rambling tales of village history as they sit around drinking palm wine laced with the medicine man's own potions. Kayo may be "caught in a void between instinct and knowledge", but his courtesy and respect for non-Western wisdom mean that there is no real danger of his not getting to the bottom of the mystery.

Tail of the Blue Bird is not overly ambitious, but everything it sets out to do, it does admirably. Nii Ayikwei Parkes surely knows the effect the Ghanaian dialogue will have; he doesn't translate or explain, and this additional layer of mystery (for the average British reader) only adds to the strength of its lyricism and insight.