Monthly Archives: January 2008

Unseen – Mari Jungstedt

I have been really getting into crime novels in the past year and was perusing Wimbledon’s Waterstones when I found several copies of this on their ‘Waterstones Recommends’ shelves in the crime section and I thought ‘why not’ it was also double points and that always helps, plus the quotes and the blurb sounded really good. I have just realised I am prime marketing fodder, I take it all in and buy, buy, buy!

Mari Jungstedt is a name not known over here though in her homeland of Sweden (I so hope I have got that right) she is big news and extremely successful. Now her books are being translated and coming over to the British market. Currently we have ‘Unseen’ shortly ‘Unspoken’ will be following and then ‘The Inner Circle’. All feature Inspector Anders Knutas who, this being the first instalment, is introduced in this novel and is a straight forward ambitious detective. All novels also feature reporter Johan Berg who I found a much more complex interesting character and who falls in love with a possible future victim who is married, all this makes the book that much more real.

The setting is Gotland a picturesque island used in the summer as a very popular tourist resort. Jungstedt knows her territory very well as she actually has a summer house there so the pictures she sets are perfect and painted with precision. The body of a mutilated dog is found which leads to the discovery of the body, pretty soon there is a row of murders and Knutas realises that they may just have a serial killer on their hands.

Jungstedt is a good writer and this novel is very believable like a lot of authors she not only gets us into the mind of the killer she also creates victims with a background, I do feel that authors like Kate Atkinson and Susan Hill are at the top of the game for this and Jungstedt isn’t quite there yet. She lays on the gore, which I know some people aren’t fans of (I don’t mind a good bit of gore) but not to extremes. I do really look forward to eventually reading ‘Unspoken’ however it will be from the library not from the bookshop next time.

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Filed under Mari Jungstedt, Review, Transworld Publishing

A Concise Chinese-English Dictionary for Lovers – Xiaolu Guo

I know from reading reviews that people have either loved of loathed this book there don’t seem to be many reviews where people simply aren’t bothered. I am in the love category. Xiaolu Guo wrote this novel after herself first coming to England. She found that her language was inconsistent and that she would make people laugh, sometimes at here rather than against her, and decided that this would make a great story. She was right. From the opening line ‘sorry for my english’ to the final page I was completely hooked.

The story is of Zhuang, or ‘Z’ as she likes to be called, who arrives in London to spend a year learning English and you also get the feeling that she is here to be free from the constraints of her parents and to find more of herself. The book chronicles her times mainly in England but also as she takes a trip around Europe. It also chronicles the man she meets who remains nameless throughout the novel and the affair that they embark on, one which isn’t very healthy, she becomes very dependent on someone who is quite cold.

I loved this book for the lead character of ‘Z’, I also loved how it looked at the linguistics of English and both poked fun at us and at tourists who come in from other parts of the world. I also found I laughed out loud at several different intervals like when Z confuses a vibrator with an electric toothbrush, when she first finds out that her lover is actually a bisexual, whilst also being wholeheartedly disturbed by the incident when she is one her travels in Europe and the reaction from her lover when she comes back.

Z is a great heroine as she isn’t perfect, I always like someone to have a flaw it makes them more real, she needs love in a new strange place that hasn’t turned out to be quite what you would expect and sadly finds the wrong man, she also doesn’t seem interested in friends which I found unusual. Does she find a happy ending? Read the book, it comes highly recommended from me. Xiaolu Guo is a name that I think we should definately be looking out for in the future, I have just been spending a while on Amazon mulling over buying her new Hardback ’20 Fragments of a Ravenous Youth’ I dont like hardbacks, but it is very, very tempting.

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Filed under Books of 2008, Review, Vintage Books, Xiaolu Guo

The Savage Garden – Mark Mills

Does a book that’s been recommended to you ever make you change your mind about someone? Polly, who you will have possibly read about and will be sure to read more about in the future, told me that I simply must read this book, she had really enjoyed it and was raving about it. I always respond well to passionate ravings about a book as it is something that I quite often do myself, and anyone who is passionate about a book and tells me I must read it normally gets my vote and read of said novel. Polly’s been right about many a book and indeed has bought me many a book, however having bought The Savage Garden by Mark Mills and having heard so much from Polly about how fabulous it was it had high expectations to meet. Let me also add that Polly is very well read and we generally like similar books. It has also been a Richard & Judy Summer Read, sadly I am someone who currently thinks that Amanda Ross’s choices of books are generally good ones too, another person who’s job I would kill for.

Anyway only thirty pages in I was thinking ‘am I reading the same book?’…I was. Set in post war Tuscany behind a grand villa lies and enchanting and mystical garden. A garden that in fact holds secrets, dark secrets with clues all around that someone needs to decipher. That person turns out to be Adam Strickland, a young scholar who visits the town and falls in love with the garden, its house and its family the Docci’s. The family themselves seem to have their own dark secrets and skeletons, could the garden and the house hold mysteries of murder, love and betrayal. Well I am not going to give that away, all I will say is by page 100 I couldn’t care less but felt obligated to finish the novel as I had promised Polly.

Mills is an author whom, for me personally, over describes everything. He doesn’t just describe the house exterior, he describes every window, every column almost every ivy leaf that grows up the side. Boring. As a reader yes I want hints as to what things look like, what characters sound like etc, I don’t need to be told intricate details that delay the story but also force my brain to depict things to the nth degree, this is an author who seriously wants control of what his reader is taking in and all power to him, it just doesn’t work for me. I have heard some of my favourite authors say ‘once a book is written it’s the readers, they imagine the characters, their voices and actions, its no longer mine though I have the story and characters in my head, that’s the point though you write something people respond to and take into their own brains and hopefully hearts’ well something along those lines anyways.

I have to say I will not be recommending this to anyone. In fact I dont think I will be reading another Mark Mills, I could eat my own words, it would have to take something seriously amazing for me to change my mind after reading this. Has it changed my opinion of Polly? No, as if, not after 22 years of friendship, I may be more wary of her choices from now on after all she recommended London Fields, my most hated book of all time, but she has also recommended me some gems. I’ll make sure I blog her next recommendation.

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Filed under Book Thoughts, Mark Mills, Review, Richard and Judy

Tooth & Nail – Ian Rankin

I was introduced to Ian Rankin last year thanks to my mother and my Gran’s neighbour Bernie, my Gran herself doesn’t like Ian Rankin and the Rebus stories. Before I read his work I decided to read about him and found the fact he based the first book sort of around ‘Dr Jekyll & Mr Hyde’ fascinating and decided I had to give him ago, as always I had to do this in the order of the series, so while everyone is now on Exit Music I am trundling along slowly behind. From book one ‘Knots and Crosses’ I was hooked, I love the setting, the writing and I am obviously becoming a big crime novel fan.

This, the third instalment, was originally named ‘Wolfman’ after the murderer in the novel, aptly named as they bite their victim and also as the first body is found in Wolf Street in London’s East End, a brilliant setting for a body finding very Jack the Ripper. This is the major change from the earlier Rebus novels which so far have all been set in Edinburgh, one of my favourite cities, however Rebus was still dealing with the same issues of family, work and women (a new female psychologist in particular) only in the city I live in which I quite enjoyed seeing him in. It adds an edge of unevenness to Rebus as he’s not on his home turf. It also sees him reporting to Scotland Yard and has that added bit of pressure.

This is my favourite of the Rebus novels so far with a much darker feel again from its predecessor and with a few more twists, turns and thrills. If they keep getting better and better then I can’t wait until I get to Exit Music, though I do have quite a few books to get through first, and that’s only the Rankin ones let alone all the others!

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Filed under Ian Rankin, Orion Publishing, Review

Blogger With A One Tracked Mind

It shows how you can have a plan that you are going to read something and then suddenly that plan changes. I had decide that after Agatha Raisin I would go for a good old crime book, after having seen a show on Channel 4 about bloggers who have become authors and in particular women who have chosen to write about their sex lives I decided that I would give Abbi Lee’s a go.

I am not going to review the book as though she has sold an absolute bucket load of them and a negative or ‘not bothered’ review is sure not to affect her sales, I dont have much to say about it. I didnt hate it, I didnt think it was brilliant, I just read it. It does what it says on the tin though sadly doesnt have any depth to it. It is interesting though the level of books that have become blogs and sold in their thousands. Belle Du Jour is probably the best well known one, and is now a TV show with the delightful actress Billie Piper. I wonder what the next big blog craze will be, I am hoping that books will be the ‘new sex blogs’ hahahahaha not that that quite works. I think its great for those who get a deal out of it, and a little envy ha, but if this is the new way we are getting authors like ‘Wife in the North’ etc then all power to them.

This blog was a bit of random waffle. Sorry. A proper review of the next book will come soon, now I just don’t know what to read next, any suggestions?

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Agatha Raisin & The Terrible Tourist – M.C. Beaton

So now I reveal to you one of my guilty pleasure reads… the Agatha Raisin mysteries. I cannot remember how I got into them in the first place, I am sure it was a case of seeing the colourful spines in Waterstones and then seeing one in Cancer Research in Balham which was the second in the series and then decided that as with most books I should read them in order.

Agatha Raisin I believe is the modern updated and comical version of Miss Marple. By comical I don’t mean that it takes the mickey out of Miss Marple or Agatha Christie far from it – I do wonder if the name is in act paying homage to the mistress of mystery and murder? Agatha leaves London after selling her business in book one of the series ‘Agatha Raisin & the Quiche of Death’ to the small idyllic village of Carsely where she is most unpopular and murders start. She is a tough cookie to crack arriving with a rather mountainous chip on her shoulder, and a tongue as sharp as knives. She is fabulous and gives the whole village a bit of a shake up while making some friends and several enemies along the way.

Agatha is now in her sixth instalment which sees her on her travels, for reasons I can’t really go into without spoiling the first five books (and which proves you should read them in order) which will make this an interesting review. Agatha Raisin has ended up abroad far from Carsely and in Cyprus in pursuit of the man she loves and occasionally stalks. Like the mayhem and murder magnet that she is homicide soon happens in this holiday resort and she decides to do some more detective work, making new friends and causing chaos along the way.

I won’t gain credibility for being an Agatha Raisin fan, in fact I am sure some ‘literary’ people will have switched off and barred this blog by now, I care not, everyone is entitled to their guilty pleasure and this is indeed mine. It was another sit down and read in a few hours job, I might try something longer next though I am still in the mood for some more murder.

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Filed under Agatha Raisin, M.C. Beaton, Review, Robinson Publishing

The Man in the Picture – Susan Hill

Susan Hill wrote one of my favourite ‘ghost stories’ and in fact one of my favourite novels The Woman in Black a book that I recommend to anyone and everyone. So after quite a while since her last ghost story Mist in the Mirror now here is The Man in the Picture and I read it in one go, I simply devoured the whole thing. I did wait until it was dark and the curtains were drawn just to get the perfect atmosphere. You can’t read a ghost story in daylight or on the tube, it doesn’t work.

The tale is told on a winters night before the fire (a perfect time and place to read this book if you can) Theo a Cambridge don, is telling his former student Oliver the strange history of the picture that he has on his wall. What may appear to be a beautiful Venetian scene of partying and masks in the street has much deeper secrets and scares in its frame. Poor Oliver is unaware that having been told the tale it will change everything for him and soon the painting will be taking its effect on his own life. This painting is no ordinary painting for it has the power not only to imitate life but also to take it, forever. And the reason it does this? Well without giving anything away its revenge, simple bitter revenge. Revenge for what or whom you will have to read to find out.

Susan Hill is a superb writer who can turn her hand to anything; her crime novels are wonderful, it is however her ghost stories that I love the most. The way she sets the scene so simplistically and builds the tension so easily before you know it your spine is tingling and the hairs on your back and neck are rising. They have that gothic or Victorian feel to them that harks back to the classic era of ghost telling. Sadly I didn’t have a fire as I would have given anything for the sound and warmth of wood crackling while I was turning the pages and getting the chills.

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Filed under Books of 2008, Profile Books, Review, Susan Hill