Tuesday, 28 April 2009

Souls of Angels

Title: Souls of Angels

Author: Thomas Eidson

Number of Pages: 263

Date started: 25 April 2009

Date finished: 28 April 2009

Opening words:

It was late, sometime past three in the morning. She was making her way through the darkness shrouding the old plaza, following the main brick pathway that twisted and turned through overgrown oleanders and scrub oaks and mountains of Castilian roses. The town was silent, the sky deep ebony without a moon, the landscape only faintly illuminated by the glow of the new gas lamps that fringed the hundred-year-old gardens like amber beads on a necklace. Storm clouds were coming in from the north. Somewhere in the distance, a dog howled and a coyote yipped an answer, and she shivered in the cool air and walked faster.


A classic tale of love, redemption and revenge from the bestselling author of St Agnes Stand Sister Ria made a promise on her mother's deathbed that she would care for her wayward father. And, when he is charged with the murder of a prostitute, she is called upon to act on her word. Reluctantly she returns to the town of her childhood, and to her father's home hoping to reconcile herself with her past and to prove his innocence. But, with only eight days until his execution, she finds herself being hunted by a shadowy figure, a sinister person who has killed before and is capable of doing so again. She must draw on her faith and appeal to God to protect her and aid her in her quest for answers. Beautifully drawn and cleverly realised, 'Souls of Angels' is a book to savour.

What I thought:

This book was ok, but there was nothing very striking about it. I have read Eidson’s other books and really enjoyed those, but this one lacked something. It was readable and had some moments of foreboding, but it was missing something.

Saturday, 25 April 2009

The Plot Against America

Title: The Plot Against America

Author: Philip Roth

Number of Pages: 591

Date started:20 April 2009

Date finished: 25 April 2009

Opening words:

Fear presides over these memories, a perpetual fear. Of course no childhood is without its terrors, yet I wonder if I would have been a less frightened boy if Lindbergh hadn't been president or if I hadn't been the offspring of Jews.

When the first shock came in June of 1940—the nomination for the presidency of Charles A. Lindbergh, America's international aviation hero, by the Republican Convention at Philadelphia—my father was thirty-nine, an insurance agent with a grade school education, earning a little under fifty dollars a week, enough for the basic bills to be paid on time but for little more. My mother—who'd wanted to go to teachers' college but couldn't because of the expense, who'd lived at home working as an office secretary after finishing high school, who'd kept us from feeling poor during the worst of the Depression by budgeting the earnings my father turned over to her each Friday as efficiently as she ran the household—was thirty-six. My brother, Sandy, a seventh-grader with a prodigy's talent for drawing, was twelve, and I, a third-grader a term ahead of himself—and an embryonic stamp collector inspired like millions of kids by the country's foremost philatelist, President Roosevelt—was seven.

Read the first chapter here.


In 1940, Franklin D. Roosevelt sought and won an unprecedented third presidential term. Britain was already under German attack and the U.S. had not entered the war. While in office, Roosevelt continued to support Great Britain, and after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor and Germany's declaration of war, American neutrality was no longer sustainable.

In Philip Roth's new novel, things turn out very differently. The Plot Against America imagines what might have happened if flying ace and staunch isolationist Charles Lindbergh defeated Roosevelt in 1940. Instead of going to war, an anti-Semitic Lindbergh signs a peace pact with Germany and Japan, and his policies create an atmosphere of religious hatred.

What I thought:

In some ways I really liked this book, the plot was a clever idea and it was possible to see echoes of it throughout different times in society. But there was a part of me that felt I endured rather than enjoyed this book. I am not sure it needed to be quite as long as it was and at points it seemed to drag, but the book was a warning against complacency about those we elect into office.

Monday, 20 April 2009

Invisible Cities

Title: Invisible Cities

Author: Italo Calvino

Number of pages: 165

Started: 19 April 2009

Finished: 20 April 2009

Opening words:

"Kublai Khan does not necessarily believe everything Marco Polo says when he describes the cities visited on his expeditions, but the emperor of the Tartars does continue listening to the young Venetian with greater attention and curiosity than he shows any other messenger or explorer of his."

Plot summary:

The most beautiful of his books throws up ideas, allusions, and breathtaking imaginative insights on almost every page. Each time he returns from his travels, Marco Polo is invited by Kublai Khan to describe the cities he has visited...Although he makes Marco Polo summon up many cities for the Khan's imagination to feed on, Calvino is describing only one city in this book. Venice, that decaying heap of incomparable splendour, still stands as substantial evidence of man's ability to create something perfect out of chaos

What I thought:

I was not a fan of this book at all. It was far too ‘poetic’ for my liking and really seemed like a series of disconnected excerpts. Not my cup of tea at all.

Saturday, 18 April 2009

All Quiet on the Western Front

Title: All Quiet on the Western Front

Author: Erich Maria Remarque

Number of pages: 215

Started: 16 April 2009

Finished: 18 April 2009

Opening words:

“This book is intended neither as an accusation nor as a confession, but simply as an attempt to give an account of a generation that was destroyed by the war - even those who survived the shelling.”

'We are in camp five miles behind the line. Yesterday our relieve arrived; now our bellies are full of bully beef and beans, we've had enough to eat and we're well satisfied. We were even able to fill up a mess-tin for later, every one of us, and there are double rations of sausage and bread as well ' that will keep us going.'

Plot summary:

Paul Baumer enlisted with his classmates in the German army of World War I. Youthful, enthusiastic, they become soldiers. But despite what they have learned, they break into pieces under the first bombardment in the trenches. And as horrible war plods on year after year, Paul holds fast to a single vow: to fight against the principles of hate that meaninglessly pits young men of the same generation but different uniforms against each other--if only he can come out of the war alive.

What I thought:

This was an excellent book. I wasn’t actually sure that I wanted to read it, as I thought it might be a bit morbid. In reality it was an incredibly readable book that gave an account of the First World War from the perspective of a German soldier. It showed his humanity and how similar those in the trenches were, regardless of which side they were fighting on. It was a simple (but sometimes horrifying) read with a very powerful message behind it. Well worth reading.

Friday, 17 April 2009

Travels in the Scriptorium

Title: Travels in the Scriptorium

Author: Paul Auster

Number of pages: 130

Started: 14 April 2009

Finished: 17 April 2009

Opening words:

“The old man sits on the edge of the narrow bed, palms spread out of his knees, head down, staring at the floor…His mind is elsewhere, stranded among the figments in his head as he searches for an answer to the question that haunts him.
Who is he? What is he doing here? When did he arrive and how long will he remain?”

Plot summary:

An old man sits in a room, with a single door and window, a bed, a desk and a chair. Each day he awakes with no memory, unsure of whether or not he is locked into the room. Attached to the few objects around him are one-word, hand-written labels and on the desk is a series of vaguely familiar black-and-white photographs and four piles of paper. Then a middle-aged woman called Anna enters and talks of pills and treatment, but also of love and promises. Who is this ‘Mr Blank’, and what is his fate? What does Anna represent from his past - and will he have enough time to ever make sense of the clues that arise?

What I thought:

I am a big fan of Paul Auster’s books and, whilst this was not one of his best, this was still a good book. It was a book that specifically told you not to draw any premature conclusions as the story unfolded.

It was a good, short read and raised interesting questions. I have read better books by Auster, but this was a decent read.

Wednesday, 15 April 2009

The Reader

Title: The Reader

Author: Bernhard Schlink

Number of pages: 216

Started: 13 April 2009

Finished: 15 April 2009

Opening words:

When I was fifteen, I got hepatitis. It started in the fall and lasted until spring. As the old year darkened and turned colder, I got weaker and weaker. Things didn't start to improve until the new year. January was warm, and my mother moved my bed out onto the balcony. I saw sky, sun, clouds, and heard the voices of children playing in the courtyard. As dusk came one evening in February, there was the sound of a blackbird singing.

The first time I ventured outside, it was to go from Blumenstrasse, where we lived on the second floor of a massive turn-of-the-century building, to Bahnhofstrasse. That's where I'd thrown up on the way home from school one day the previous October. I'd been feeling weak for days, in a way that was completely new to me. Every step was an effort. When I was faced with stairs either at home or at school, my legs would hardly carry me. I had no appetite. Even if I sat down at the table hungry, I soon felt queasy. I woke up every morning with a dry mouth and the sensation that my insides were in the wrong place and too heavy for my body. I was ashamed of being so weak. I was even more ashamed when I threw up. That was another thing that had never happened to me before. My mouth was suddenly full, I tried to swallow everything down again, and clenched my teeth with my hand in front of my mouth, but it all burst out of my mouth anyway straight through my fingers. I leaned against the wall of the building, looked down at the vomit around my feet, and retched something clear and sticky.

Plot summary:

Hailed for its coiled eroticism and the moral claims it makes upon the reader, this mesmerizing novel is a story of love and secrets, horror and compassion, unfolding against the haunted landscape of postwar Germany.

When he falls ill on his way home from school, fifteen-year-old Michael Berg is rescued by Hanna, a woman twice his age. In time she becomes his lover--then she inexplicably disappears. When Michael next sees her, he is a young law student, and she is on trial for a hideous crime. As he watches her refuse to defend her innocence, Michael gradually realizes that Hanna may be guarding a secret she considers more shameful than murder.

What I thought:

This was a very readable book that covered a range of serious issues related to Nazi Germany. I enjoyed it (despite the subject) and have actually read it before, many years ago. A good book.

Sunday, 12 April 2009

Empire of the Sun

Title: Empire of the Sun

Author: JG Ballard

Number of pages: 351

Started: 5 April 2009

Finished: 12 April 2009

Opening words:

Wars came early to Shanghai, overtaking each other like the tides that raced up the Yangtze and returned to this gaudy city all the coffins cast adrift from the funeral piers of the Chinese Bund.

Plot summary:

The heartrending story of a British boy's four-year ordeal in a Japanese prison camp during the Second World War. Based on J. G. Ballard's own childhood, this is the extraordinary account of a boy's life in Japanese-occupied wartime Shanghai - a mesmerising, hypnotically compelling novel of war, of starvation and survival, of internment camps and death marches. It blends searing honesty with an almost hallucinatory vision of a world thrown utterly out of joint. Rooted as it is in the author's own disturbing experience of war in own time, it is one of a handful of novels by which the twentieth century will be not only remembered but judged.

Read an interview with JG Ballard and some background on the book here.

What I thought:

This book was ok, but not one that I really got into. It was a fairly good story, but I don’t think I particularly liked the style in which the story was told. Perhaps it was more of a "boys story”.

Saturday, 4 April 2009

Moon Palace

Title: Moon Palace

Author: Paul Auster

Number of pages: 298

Started: 31 March 2009

Finished: 4 April 2009

Opening words:

It was the summer that men first walked on the moon. I was very young back then, but did not believe there would ever be a future. I wanted to live dangerously, to push myself as far as I could go, and then see what happened when I got there.

Plot summary:

A contemporary novel which tells the story of Marco Stanley Fogg - orphan, child of the 1960s - spanning three generations. The narrative moves from the early years of this century to the first lunar landings, from Manhattan to the landscape of the American West.

Here is a slightly odd (obsessive?) website about subjects connected with Moon Palace.

What I thought:

It is no secret that I am a big fan of Paul Auster. There is something about his books that really draw me in and really speak to me. This book was no exception. It was a well written engaging book. It was the story of MS Fogg, but was made up of a series of stories of various characters’ lives that he came into contact with, which then made up the whole.

Fogg is an aimless and drifting man who seems to stumble his way through life, starting over again and again. I thought this was a great book, really readable, very well written and a good story. If you think about the plot as a whole there is a sense that it isn’t entirely credible, but that isn’t really relevant and actually shows the parallels of the characters’ lives.

A really great book and author.