Saturday, 18 December 2010

Three short book reviews

As is often the case these days I'm behind with reviews so this is yet another catch-up post with three short reviews. It's the perfect weather for getting on with this sort of thing as outside the garden is covered in six inches of snow. For us in the south west of England this is quite unusual though this is the third winter in a row now where we've had some but this is serious snow! Here're a couple of photos I took first thing *before* we had yet another heavy snowfall, adding an inch or two more...

Looking down onto the garden from the bedroom window.

Our trees.

The town in the distance.

Anyway, enough about the weather (well I am English!) on to books. Starting with The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafón.

When he is ten years old Daniel Sampere's father takes him to the Cemetery of Forgotten Books; Daniel's father owns a bookshop and Daniel has been brought up with books. The Cemetery turns out to be a huge labyrinthine library, a wonderful place, and Daniel is told to choose a book for which he will be responsible for the rest of his life. He chooses The Shadow of the Wind by Julian Carax, takes it home and reads it. From that moment on Daniel is obsessed. It seems all books by this author have steadily been destroyed. But by whom? People show an inordinate interest in Daniel's book, not least a strange man whose face Daniel cannot see. It becomes Daniel's mission to find out more about the author's life and in this time and place - Barcelona just after the Spanish civil war - this turns out to be a lot more dangerous than he had ever bargained for.

I've had this one on my tbr pile for a couple of years and it probably would have remained there if Pat at Here, There and Everywhere hadn't read it for her R.I.P. challenge and piqued my interest. It's an amazing piece of work, quite frankly. Not an easy read, quite a complicated plot with a very gothicky feel to it. (Reminded me of a ghost story that I can't now remember the title of or the author but which was also set in a huge gothicky city of towers and churches.) Thus there is a huge amount of atmosphere here, the city is a character in itself and the dark times add to the feeling of oppressive fear and secrecy. This is not a cheery read but if you're looking for something dark and atmospheric and beautifully plotted you could do a lot worse.

Next up, In the Shadow of the Glacier by Vicki Delany.

Molly Smith is a rookie police woman in the small town of Trafalgar, British Columbia. She finds a body in an alley one night and to her surprise finds herself assisting DS John Winters in the investigation. Winters is a veteran cop and has little patience with Molly's rookie enthusiam or her mistakes. The dead man is Reg Montgomery, a property magnate type who was planning to build a holiday resort outside the town - something which many of the townspeople do not want. The situation is further complicated by plans to build a memorial in the town to American draft dodgers from the Vietnam war, something which Molly's hippy mother is supporting. Suspects for the murder are many and Molly and Winters have their work cut out to solve the mystery and keep the peace.

I liked this a lot! The BC 'mountain' setting is delightful and made me wish I had the chance to go to the Kootenay region of the Rockies. I liked the two main characters, Molly and John Winters - an unlikely police pairing if ever there was one. Winters was wonderfully grumpy and middle-aged with no patience whatsoever. And Molly so terribly excited about her first proper case that she blundered about all over the place driving her boss mad. The plot was pacey, I didn't guess who done the deed, and all in all I found this an excellent new (to me) crime series. Annoyingly, my county library catalogue has no books whatsoever by Vicki Delany so if I want to read more I will have to buy the series... which I doubtless will at some stage.

Lastly: The Comfort of Saturdays by Alexander McCall Smith.

Isabel Dalhousie is asked to help in the case of an emminent doctor whose reputation has been ruined over a new drug he supported but which turned out to be dangerous. Ever concerned about miscarriages of justice Isabel 'interferes' as her family and friends call it. At the same time Cat, her niece, asks her to run the deli for her while she goes to Sri Lanka and there is what Isabel sees as rival for Jamie's affections in the shape of an orchestrial conductor. With a small son to look after, Isabel's insecurities about the ten year age gap between her and Jamie come to the fore and Isabel does much mental agonising before her problems are solved.

Wonderful. Loved it. This is book five in the Sunday Philosophy Club series and I hope it goes on and on. Isabel is so real with her agonising and worrying and changing her mind constantly about decisions. I always think that Alexander McCall Smith writes women better than any male author I know apart from possibly Terry Pratchett. Most don't get us at all but he clearly does and his books are a joy to read providing you're not looking for hard hitting or gritty plots with blood and gore. 'Gentle' is McCall Smith's forté and long may it continue to be so.


Ana S. said...

Part of me is sorry to be missing all the snowy fun, but I'm also very glad I made it home for Christmas before it all started! And now I'm worried about my brother, who's still over there and is only flying home next week.

Also, I seriously need to read more Alexander McCall Smith.

DesLily said...

utoh.. it doesn't sound like Shadow of the Wind was as good as you had hoped? Sorry about that!

the snow pictures are absolutely beautiful!! I never had such gorgeous views to photograph!!! the trees are gorgeous and the town shot ..well I do get to see more of where you live now!

Margaret said...

We haven't had any more snow - it's all down your end of the country this time. But the last lot hasn't gone yet - it's very crisp and even and well below freezing.

I read Shadow of the Wind a few years ago. I thought it began really well, but got less compelling as I got further into the book.

I don't know In the Shadow of the Glacier - it sounds good.

I loved The Comfort of Saturdays - McCall Smith writes so beautifully! Definitely a joy to read.

Anonymous said...

Lovely pictures of your snow, Cath. We get very, very little winter weather here in my part of Texas (more in the northern regions). Every few years we get some ice or snow and the whole region grinds to a stop. Doesn't look promising for this year. We seem to be back in our "no rain" cycle.

I'm going to try SHADOW OF THE WIND because one of my book club members recommended it this last week. We'll see how it goes. I love Vicki Delany's BC series. Glad this one worked for you. I'm sorry they will be hard to get in your area, but the series does continue to be appealing in my opinion.

Lastly, wishing you and your family a very happy holiday season! I haven't been around much lately to comment on blogs, but I'm hoping to be a little more present in the next little while.

Anonymous said...

Now you've gone and done it. Added three books to my list. These all sound like engrossing winter wonderland reads. Shadow of the Wind is particularly intriguing, though I do love Alexander McCall Smith.

Your weather seems much like ours here and appears so from your pictures. More snow is expected to fall upon Chicagoland tomorrow.

I really appreciated getting your three reviews this morning.

Cath said...

Nymeth: I'm so glad you got home safely for Christmas. I do hope your brother is able to get there too. It's crazy here at the moment.

Pat: Not at all, Shadow of the Wind was excellent but I felt quite down while I was ill and did wonder if I should be reading something a little more cheerful. lol.

Glad you liked the photos. I took them before the sun came up and they turned out rather pinky.

Margaret: Our snow is still here and where my husband cleared a path down the drive it's quite icey. A day to stay indoors. I'm trying to do a snowy jigsaw but there's so much snow on the conservatory roof that I can't see the pieces properly!

For me Shadow of the Wind was the opposite, the last 150 pages were the most compelling.

I'm really happy that AMcS is so prolific because it means I have plenty of his books still to read.

Kay: It's more or less the same here... we get a proper winter and the country grinds to a halt. We're stuck here for a few days as conditions are treacherous outside. Luckily, we're well stocked up with provisions.

I'd love to hear how you get on with Shadow of the Wind. It's an intriguing book, that's for sure.

I will certainly be buying the next Vicki Delany books. I've been a bit stricter with myself about book buying for the last 6 months so I think I might let that go a bit next year. Authors and publishers have to make a living after all.

Happy Holidays to you and yours too, Kay. I haven't been around as much as usual myself because of the flu but am hoping to catch up with e.mail and so forth in the new year.

lifeonthecutoff: Oooops, sorry! But they are all great books. :-)

I suspect your winters are harsher than ours, although we're not even really into our coldest months of the year yet - January and February. Heaven only knows what those will bring...

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(Diane) Bibliophile By the Sea said...

Th snow covered photos are lovely. We are still waiting for snow here, hopefully for Christmas.

Cath said...

Diane: Glad you like the photos. I think we'll be getting the first proper white Christmas that I can remember and I'm in my late fifties! I hope you get some for Christmas too.

Danielle said...

What lovely photos, but isn't snow sort of awful! We've been lucky and not had much, though we are due to have a white Christmas (nowhere near as much as you guys have gotten, though). I had a hard time getting through the Zafon as well, though I did like it. I've yet to read McCall Smith, but I have a feeling I will like his books when I get to them. And I think I need to add the Delany to my list--I love a good detective story. Have a really great Holiday!

Cath said...

Danielle: I used to think snow was lovely and I still think it's very pretty but it's made life so awkward, not just for us but for many others, that now I wish it gone and do not wish for more. We have 3 or 4 inches (from 10!) still left in the garden but a thaw has set in thank goodness!

You're right, the Zafon was hard going but worth it. As to McCall Smith people seem to either love him or they don't get it at all. I would be interested to see which you are. :-)

Jodie Robson said...

Glad to hear your snow is going too - the thaw can't happen fast enough for me.

I was looking for Canadian crime series a while ago, saw the Vicky Delany series and thought they sounded good, so I was pleased to see you like this one. I'm still trying not to buy books, so I guess I'll have to wait, unless I can persuade the library to acquire some :)

Cath said...

GeraniumCat: We had rain all night and the vast amjority of the snow has gone, just patches here and there left. I'm not sorry. It was pretty to look out on, especially Christmas day, but lethal to go anywhere in. I'm still sore from falling over on the ice.

My library has nothing by Vicki Delany either! Louise Penny is another very good Canadian crime writer but I expect you've tried her.