Archive for July, 2008

This book has some terrific writing, but a storyline that does not match up to it.

To be fair, when I started reading this book I was quickly hooked, and felt that it might even become one of my absolute favourites.  Unfortunately, the ending felt rushed, was pretty predictable and let down the book. 

Still, it was a worthwhile read.  The main character – and the narrator – is William Wilson, a down-on-his-luck conjuror from Glasgow.  Hoping to make his fortune, he takes a job in Berlin and ends up recruiting a mysterious American girl named Sylvie as his assistant.  The story flicks back and forth between Berlin and Glasgow, as it slowly reveals the dark events that took place in Berlin, and how they have brought William to his present state of despair.  To say much more would be to give too much of the story away.  However, one minor gripe is that there was a seemingly unnecessary sub-plot regarding a decades old disappearance of a lady, which Wilson ends up becoming embroiled in.  The loss of this particular storyline would have not affected the book in any way, although it was in itself not an unenjoyable diversion from the main story.

William was well developed as a character – a man who has fallen on hard times, and hopes that his intelligence and cunning will be able to get him out of it.  The other characters were also well developed, even if the story was sometimes a little too incredible to be easily believable.

The real beauty of this book was in the elegant and wonderfully descriptive writing, which was worth taking time to savour.

Overall, while I did feel that the ending was something of an anti climax, this book did raise my interest enough to make me seek out more work by this author.


(Author’s website can be found here.)

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In 1987, a young girl is found in dead on a ranch in the Kansas town of Small Plains, on a night when the town is facing a terrible blizzard.  That same night, young Mitch Newquist disappears suddenly and without warning from the town, leaving his devastated girlfriend Abbey heartbroken and confused.

Never identified, the dead girl is buried in a grave, and she quickly inspires a legend – that she is able to perform miracles, such as healing the sick and helping the needy.  

In 2004, the town is struck by another terrible blizzard, and three prominent families in the village are drawn back into the events of 17 years earlier – events that many of them want to keep secret.  And when Mitch Newquist returns to the town, it stirs up turmoil and anguish for these families, until eventually the truth is revealed.

Unfortunately, the trite and cliched writing let this book down – a shame, because the story itself is very gripping, even if there were a few too many convenient coincidences to move the story along.  The characters were hardly developed and for the most part were unsympathetic.

I did predict some of the things that happened, but others I did not see coming. The story itself was enough to keep me reading, but the writing was amateurish, and there was an excruciatingly bad sex scene!  

So then, a case of good story, bad execution.  There was definitely potential here, but I’m not sure that it would inspire me to pick up anything else by this author.

(Author’s website can be found here.)

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This is the second book in the Big Stone Gap series.  I really really liked it, just as I liked the first one. This book picks up 8 years after Big Stone Gap ended. Ave Maria and Jack Mac have been married for 8 years, and their daughter Etta (a delightful character) is growing up fast! However, it’s clear that the years between this book and the last one have brought tragedy and grief to Ave and Jack, which has had an effect on their marriage. Ave finds herself growing nervous when a predatorial woman comes to town, with her sights set firmly on Jack, and it isn’t long before rumours are flying around the small town of Big Stone Gap, where everyone knows everyone else’s business. Etta struggles to decide what she wants out of life and marriage, and ends up going to Italy for the summer to see her Italian family. However, events in Italy take an unforeseen turn…

As before, the book is populated with eccentric and lovable characters. However, I think less time is focused on the supporting characters than in the first book of the series. This book does not suffer for that – Ave is a flawed but very likable character, and it is difficult not to root for her.  Jack and Eva are also entirely believable, and even at this stage of the series, the characters start to feel like old friends.

A lovely read – ideal for curling up with on a cosy Sunday afternoon!

(Author’s website can be found here.)

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This is a very interesting book, which inspires the reader into thinking about the subjects talked about. It is less a novel than a collection of essays, which use four main characters – the womanising Tomas, his devoted wife Tereza, his mistress Sabina and her lover Franz – to illustrate the points made. 

The reader is often reminded that these are not characters to believe in – more, they are devices necessary to explain the author’s writings. This may put off some readers, and it is certainly unusual; for that reason maybe I found it hard to engage with the characters.  It never felt as though they were really brought to life, due to the fact that the author reminds us that they are merely plot devices.  However, this is in keeping with the general theme of the story…

The book questions the point of life; of ‘being’, and asks such questions as, if we have this life and no other, is there any point to this life – and if we do indeed have future lives (i.e., reincarnation) where we continue to make the same mistakes and follow the same paths as we followed in our first life, again – is there any point to that life? We are also given to question the difference between love and sex, and how the two can co-exist apart from each other, yet within the same person. It also gives an interesting insight to life in the former Czechoslovakia under the Communist regime. 

All in all, an insightful and intelligent book – not always the easiest or lightest read, but worth investing the time in.

(For more information about the author, please click here.)

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This is a nice book – not ground breaking, not life changing, just nice. The main character is Barnaby Gaitlin, a 30 year old man who is divorced, has a tentative relationship with his nine year old daughter (the problem being that he doesn’t really know her, or have the opportunity to really get to know her). In his youth he got into trouble for burglary, causing his parents much embarrassment, and he now has an unskilled job which is another source of embarrassment for his mother (what she fails to realise is the good that he does in his job – he works at ‘Rent a Back’, a company that hires people out to mainly pensioners, to do any work around the house and garden which they themselves are unable to do). All this has led to Barnaby being the black sheep of the affluent Gaitlin family.

His mother in particular is an unsympathetic and dislikeable character. However, when Barnaby meets Sophia, his life starts to change for the better, and he begins to turn things around.

The truth is that not a lot actually happens in this book – the storyline clearly takes second place to the characters, who are all very well fleshed out and extremely well developed.  It was impossible not to care about Barnaby, and not to hope for a happy ending for him…as for whether he gets his happy ending – I’m not telling you!  But I would recommend reading the book to find out!

This is the first book by Anne Tyler which I have ever read, but I have a few more of hers on my to-be-read pile, which I look forward to reading.

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