Category Archives: Carlos Ruiz Zafon

Mini Review Madness Part II; Ruiz Zafon, Kelly, Harris, & Le Guin

So as Christmas is now less than a week away (eek) it means that New Year is less than a fortnight away and in an attempt to try and have written about nearly all the books I have read this year I thought  would write a couple of catch up mini-review posts. I would love to give them all a full review but I am running out of days to do that and all of the books have been featured on one of the three podcasts I co-host or host so links for more on them are available below, so really you get even more out of these than you would a normal review, sort of…

Marina by Carlos Ruiz Zafon (Weidenfeld & Nicolson, hardback, 2013, YA fiction, 296 pages, kindly sent by the publisher)

I am a huge fan of The Shadow of the Wind and having read Marina, which was published in Spain before it but has only recently come out here in the UK, I am really keen to read it all over again (and indeed might next year) because all the best bits of Ruiz Zafon’s last YA novel made me think of it. Initially this is the story of Oscar and how he finds the mysterious Marina on one of his escapades from the school gates on the edges of Barcelona where he boards. However a mild mystery of a woman in black and an unmarked grave, which Marina instigates they try and find out about, leads them to a much darker mystery and takes them through and under the streets of Barcelona. Sounds good doesn’t it and often it is. There are some wonderful ‘monsters’ and dark chilling moments yet I found myself rather distant and often uninterested in the tale of Oscar and Marina and much more so in the one involving a dark love story from the past. Ideal if you love Ruiz Zafon, or if you have a younger reader who might not be ready for The Shadow of the Wind and so could do with something in the interim.

You can hear myself, Kate, Rob and Gavin discussing this in more detail on the third episode of Hear… Read This

The Burning Air by Erin Kelly (Hodder, paperback, 2013, fiction, 355 pages, kindly sent by the publisher)

Possibly one of the best psychological thrillers that I have read this year and one that I didn’t, and won’t write about in too much depth for the fear of spoiling a chilling tale with a nasty twist and sting (or two or three) in its tail. Opening with a letter telling of a deep family secret which we soon learn is written by a woman recently dead, Lydia, we then join her bereaved family as they meet for Bonfire Night, as is tradition, along with spreading Lydia’s ashes. Sophie is recovering from a huge shock to her marriage and also having recently had a baby, a baby who is soon abducted by Sophie’s brother’s new girlfriend Kerry. I won’t spoil the plot any further (though that happens quite quickly on) other than simply saying that if you want a book about deep seated revenge and the darkness it can create then you should read this, as should you if you like a good thriller as this is a marvellous one – surprises will lie in store and you will be gripped to the end.

You can hear Erin and myself in discussion about the book on You Wrote The Book here.

Peaches for Monsieur Le Cure by Joanne Harris (Black Swan, paperback, 2013, fiction, 541 pages, kindly sent by the publisher)

After having utterly adored Chocolat (I love the film but the book is so much better) earlier in the year, I was ready to read everything and anything by Joanne Harris. Instead of reading one of her thrillers, ghostly tales or even The Lollipop Shoes I decided to go with my gut (quite literally as they are my favourite fruit of them all) and read Peaches for Monsieur Le Cure which finds Vianne heading back to Lansquenet-sous-Tannes, eight years after she opened her sumptuous chocolate shop, despite herself. Here she finds quite a different town from the one she left and an old adversary who of all things may actually need her help. Once again Harris vividly captures a town that has fallen ill at ease and out of sync with itself and indeed the world around it. Themes of race and racism, and generally being different, lie at the heart of a book which from the outside seems sweet but has much more going on darkly below the surface. I enjoyed returning to Lansquenet-sous-Tannes and was spellbound (see what I did there) by a tale of Vianne once more.

You can hear myself and Joanne discussing the book on You Wrote the Book here.

The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula Le Guin (Orbit Books, 1969 (2009 edition), paperback, 273 pages, borrowed from the library)

Hmmm. This is a tricky one to talk about as in terms of plot I am not sure I really understood the full premise the whole way through as there is so much confusing jargon about why Genly Ai finds himself on the planet Winter where the inhabitants have no gender apart from when them go into heat, or kemmer, and could become male or female. Suffice to say he does end up there and becomes part of a political conundrum that almost verges on war though Winter has never seen a war as its inhabitants are not want to fight either. Thematically the book, once you have worked your way through it, is inspired. The way it discusses political issues, possibly based around the cold war, are relevant now as are the themes of gender and sexuality. I just ended up thinking that whilst it was probably ground breaking in its time, whilst as I said it is still relevant now it would probably be more potent as a short story. It needs to hit you over the head, not have you trudging through snow for page after page after page. I also struggled to find a single beautifully written paragraph. So overall I loved the themes and discussions it raised, sadly though I didn’t love the execution of it.

You can hear myself, Gavin, Rob and Kate talking about The Left hand of Darkness on the latest episode of Hear… Read This

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So that is my second and final mini-review madness of the week and indeed the year. Let me know if you have read any of these books, or any of these authors other works and what you thought of them? Also let me know your thoughts on what you think about mini-review posts like these, is it nice to get a quick glimpse of some other reads every now and again or do you prefer the longer (and they are getting longer) fuller reviews?

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Filed under Carlos Ruiz Zafon, Erin Kelly, Joanne Harris, Mini Reviews, Ursula Le Guin, You Wrote The Book!

The Prince of Mist – Carlos Ruiz Zafon

I don’t know about you but I loved ‘The Shadow of the Wind’ by Carlos Ruiz Zafon. In fact if you haven’t read it please go to a bookstore/library and get your hands on a copy if you do nothing else today. I know it became one of those books that got incredibly hyped and you saw every Tom, Dick or Harry reading but sometimes (here ‘The Book Thief’ springs to mind) the rave reviews are just and all those people reading the book before you are spot on. So when I was offered an advance copy of his cross over book  ‘The Prince of Mist’ I had to say yes (I know, I know I did the same with The Angels Game and haven’t read it yet – that book is much bigger, ha) though naturally, as you may know my thoughts on cross over books, I was worried this might not really work for me. The fact that in Spain this was a best seller for two years, yes two whole years, made me think I just had to try it.

In thinking of how to write about this book I was drawn to two of the tag lines that I have seen for ‘The Prince of Mist’ one is ‘for the young, and the young at heart’ and the other is ‘nothing is more powerful than a promise’. These do actually really some up the book here and I could say ‘well the job is done then’ and stop here as if you want a book review in two lines I would borrow those. However I think I will flesh it out a little more than that for you.

In the summer of 1943 thirteen year old Max Carver and the rest of the family are rather surprised when Maximillian Carver (Max’s father) decides to relocate his family. Leaving the city is not something the family want to do, however as the war gets nearer a life by the sea seems to be the ideal solution. As the family arrive at the town instantly Zafon starts to let a slight unease build in the story in the forms of the train station clock, which goes backwards, and a rather over friendly large cat (never trust a cat that’s too friendly) who seems intent on befriending them.

Things get steadily creepier as the family are told of the history of the house previously owned by a couple whose child drowned at sea with no explanation. The house itself seems to hold secrets, you never feel alone, and there is that strange cemetery at the bottom of the garden which houses a rather evil looking mausoleum to a clown. As something awful happens to one of Max’s sisters Irina in the house, Max, his sister Alicia and their new friend Roland are drawn into the legend of ‘The Prince of Mist’ and are soon to discover that if you make a promise you have to keep it, no matter what the consequences are.

It’s hard to not get over excited and share too much with a book like this. It does indeed appeal to the young adult in you as you read along. From pretty much the very first page until the last sentence Zafon takes you on a fairly non stop adventure involving secrets, legends, mausoleums, ship wrecks, murder and magic. Whilst all this is going on there is a good dash of emotional drama going on, the upheaval of a family, those dreaded teenage hormones, young love and occasionally the sense of dread of the war in the background, such as when Roland mentions he may have to enrol soon. In fact this was the only teeny tiny thing that stopped this book being a bigger hit for me, I did from time to time think there was almost too much going on, but then isn’t that just what makes for great escapism and a great page turner?

Now I know its meant to be a ghost/horror story for younger people but I have to say it is actually properly scary too, I even jumped reading one bit, something I think books rarely make you do physically. I am very glad that we have another three in this series to look forward to over the next three years. I am almost tempted to go and learn Spanish just so I can read them all in their original form ASAP as I am not sure I can wait a year between each one. 8/10

Have you read any Zafon? Have you read ‘The Shadow of the Wind’ and did you think it was superb or not? Which other cross over books would you recommend (no mentioning The Hunger Games, I tried and… well I didn’t get on with it) as after Neil Gaiman and now this I am beginning to get fonder of books that appeal to my twelve year old self? Do you like cross over fiction or do you avoid it like the plague?

Savidge suggests some perfect prose partners:

The Graveyard Book – Neil Gaiman (this is much scarier though but just as much fun)
The Shadow of the Wind – Carlos Ruiz Zafon (because its excellent and has the tension this one does)
The Woman in Black – Susan Hill (a fantastic adult ghost story)

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Filed under Carlos Ruiz Zafon, Orion Publishing, Review

What Books Are You Excited About Right Now?

I thought I would do this post today as I am literally about 100 pages from the end of the latest and utterly wonderful book by Andrea Levy ‘The Long Song’ which I think out of all the great books I have read recently has probably made me the most excited about reading again. Consider the fact that I was only about 20 pages in when I finished work in the shattered state I did yesterday that is quite a read, she had me hooked. I already know it will be a hard act to follow, but I do have a few recent arrivals that I am hoping hold some promise of being just as good. 

So I thought that I would share with you that selection of books, recently incoming, that I am hoping have the same effect on me over the next few weeks as Levy’s book has. Which effect would that be? The effect of making me almost unable to put a book down, Novel Insights did a wonderful post on the effect this can have and the ‘bookish hangover’ it can leave. So the six I am very hopeful about are…

 

The Prince of Mist by Carlos Ruiz Zafon – This isn’t actually out until the end of May so gives me time to read ‘The Angel’s Game’ first which I have been meaning to do for ages.
Small Wars by Sadie Jones – I haven’t read ‘The Outcast’ but heard wonderful things and with its recent (as I guessed) inclusion on the Orange Longlist I am going to give this book my attention first.
Even The Dogs by Jon McGregor – I wasn’t sure about this one having not been completely won over by ‘If Nobody Speaks of Remarkable Things’ yet the premise of the book fascinates me and I have been seeing rave reviews left right and centre.
Mr Rosenblum’s List by Natasha Solomons – I have had a proof for ages on the TBR but have held back to read nearer its publishing date and now the actual article that will be in the shops has arrived and it’s a cover of beauty seriously.
The Weed That Strings The Hangman’s Bag by Alan Bradley – The latest Flavia de Luce novel. I was utterly charmed by Flavia when I read a review copy of ‘The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie’ over a year ago and have been waiting far too long for this, but now its here – hoorah!
Blueeyedboy by Joanne Harris – I am a fan of well known well loved authors doing something a bit different and this thriller is told through blog posts and comments which is an interesting way of writing a book. I wonder if the new style though was what stopped this getting on the Orange Longlist?

Naturally I am trying not to get too excited about any of them too much as then the book might not live up to the hype I create in my head. We have all done that haven’t we, wanted to read a book so badly we do and its not quite what we expected? What was that last book that happened to you with? Has it ever happened to you with a favourite author?

What books are you excited about this week, old or new, fiction or non?

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Filed under Alan Bradley, Carlos Ruiz Zafon, Natasha Solomons

Books to Watch Out for in 2010

Last year I did a post on the books that I was looking forward to in 2009. This year I thought, along with my new slightly though not very much more minimal TBR, I would go with a more simplistic look at books I am looking forward to, rather than what might just be a big book everyone reads because its ‘the big book’ though if some of these are ‘the big book’ thats wonderful. I am just not sure if I will obtain or read them with this no buying malarkey (already its slightly vexing me and we are on day five) but you can run out and get them you lucky so and so’s. I digress. They might be big hits they might not, I am just really, really excited about these particular forthcoming books in 2010…

First up is women’s fiction and I am incredibly excited about one of my favourite authors (who is also a lovely lady) who is bringing what looks to be a wonderful Byzantine epic of a novel about an ‘actress, empress, whore’. It also happens to have what I already think is one of the most delightful book covers of 2010. I am talking about the delightful Stella Duffy and her latest novel ‘Theodora’. Its one of the books I am very excited about. Other female novelists who have big literary books out I am looking forward to are… Andrea Levy with ‘The Long Song’  which is all about the last years of slavery in Jamaica, I am hoping this leaves me as breathless as ‘Small Island’ which blew me away last year. Xiaolu Guo with ‘Lovers in the Age of Indifference’ which I think is a brilliant title and sounds like it could be a collection of tales rather than a novel.

Women also seem to be writing the crime I like the look of this year and I want to read more crime even if it’s not the latest releases ba-humbug this year. Sophie Hannah brings us her latest crime escapade with the intriguingly titled ‘A Room Swept White’. This alredy sounds like it will be another of Hannah’s brilliantly twisting plots as a TV producer is given a card sender anonymous with sixteen digits on it, and soon a woman the producer is making a documentary about is found dead with an identical card in her pocket even down to the sixteen digits.  Susan Hill’s enigmatic detective Simon Serrailler is back for his fifth outing looking at the murders of prostitutes in ‘The Shadows in the Street’s’. Finally in crime due out in autumn, which means if by luck one falls out of the sky and lands on my doorstep it’s still a long blooming wait, is another of the books I am most excited about… ‘Started Early, Took The Dog’ is the fourth instalment of my favourite series of books ever featuring Jackson Brodie by Kate Atkinson. The bonus with it being so late in the year is it won’t lead me into temptation and can go on a Christmas list of be bought in January 2011.

Now for the men of fiction. I think another of the biggest releases for me this year will be the latest Ian McEwan. I am a big fan and though no synopses are currently floating about regarding the plot of ‘Solar’ I have heard it is his ‘eco’ book so this could be very interesting. Other books to look out for are the latest Chris Cleave ‘After the End of the World’ which isn’t about an apocalypse and is in fact about a child with leukaemia. With the follow up to the Bronte brilliance of ‘The Taste of Sorrow’ Jude Morgan takes us to Regency times with ‘A Little Folly’. Carlos Ruiz Zafon releases the gothic sounding ‘The Prince of Mist’ which I am looking forward to, though I do still need to read ‘The Angels Game’ hem, hem. Another big book for 2010 looks to be the new Yann Martel book ‘Beatrice & Virgil’ all about a taxidermist.

Debut wise a book I already own though wont be reading till just before it comes out is Natasha Solomon’s ‘Mr Roseblum’s List: Or Friendly Guidance for the Aspiring Englishman’ which from the synopsis sounds hilarious. It’s all about a man trying to become the perfect English Gent. A debut I don’t own but would love to is ‘Advice for Strays’ by Justine Kilkerr all about Marnie whose father and cat (along with all the local cats) disappear and something seems to be following her, something dark an intriguing tale of loss. Erm I think that’s it… I am not going to do non fiction as I am rubbish in that area. Seriously, I know I have said I will read more but as I am not buying I haven’t been looking, so there.

Oh how could I forget. The re-release of the year for me will of course be Nancy Mitford’s ‘Highland Fling’ even if it wont be until 2011 till I can read it anything by Nancy Mitford is wonderful and must be celebrated so I am thrilled Capuchin Classics are re-publishing that. I also have everything crossed, which is becoming quite painful, for The Bloomsbury Group to release another series of books – preferably a selection that features another Joyce Dennys or three that I can lust after! That’s it for now, that’s officially all the books I am most excited about this year today. 

What are you looking forward to?

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Filed under Andrea Levy, Carlos Ruiz Zafon, Chris Cleave, Ian McEwan, Joyce Dennys, Jude Morgan, Kate Atkinson, Nancy Mitford, Natasha Solomons, Sophie Hannah, Stella Duffy, Susan Hill, Xiaolu Guo, Yann Martel