Friday, 1 March 2013

The Longest Way Home

Title: The Longest Way Home

Author: Andrew McCarthy

Number of pages: 288

Started: 20 February 2013

Finished: 1 March 2013

Opening words:

“Are you awake?” Something in the tone of the voice cut through to my sleeping brain.
“Coming,” I called back.
“What time is it? D murmured.
“Four fifteen.  We’re late.”  The night was still black.  The canvas flapped in a dry breeze.  I grabbed our bags, pulled at the zipper, and we were out.  We slashed along a path through the dry bush lit by a waning moon, loaded into the jeep, and were gone in minutes.  Occasionally at the edges of the beam of light cast by the single working headlamp, a pair of shining red eyes was briefly lit in the darkness.  We bounced on over the dirt track and after half an hour we came to a locked gate.  From somewhere in the night a man appeared and opened it, and we drove into the Chitengo compound.  A few limp fluorescent lights lit the area.  A small young man grabbed our bags and threw them into the back of a decrepit minivan – the kind that are the lifeblood of Africa.  He jumped behind the wheel; we climbed into the backseat.

Plot summary:

Andrew McCarthy explores the tumultuous, complicated, and circuitous route he's travelled to finally settle down with one woman, whom he married last August. Telling this story through the lens of a series of seven exotic trips he's recently taken all over the world (Patagonia, the Amazon, Costa Rica, Baltimore, Vienna, Kilimanjaro, Galway), he'll write about his wanderlust-and other lusts-and connect his obsession with travel with his phobia of commitment. The story will culminate with one of the most momentous-and terrifying-days of his life: his wedding day. A thoughtfully observant writer, McCarthy touches on his personal life, his acting career, and his fascination with travel in a truly captivating manner. Genuine and spirited, The Longest Way Home is the fascinating story of how one man's insight into his relationships with both the people closest to him and the places very new to him allowed him to fully commit to another person.

What I thought:

In my youth, I was a big fan of Andrew McCarthy.  I was therefore really pleased to see that he had written a book.  It sort of falls into the biography genre, but is not a retelling of his Brat Pack days or stardom.  Instead, it primarily focusses around his world travels and his relationship with his partner – where these two things came together and where they diverged. 

I found the book very readable and I liked his reflections on the past and the present.  In many ways, it was quite a gentle book, but it was also quite insightful.

This is not a book about glitz and glamour, but is instead about facing our demons and finding our place in the world.  A good book.

Tuesday, 19 February 2013

The House of Silk

Title: The House of Silk

Author: Anthony Horowitz

Number of pages: 416

Started: 13 February 2013

Finished: 19 February 2013

Opening words:

I have often reflected on the strange series of circumstances that led me to my long association with one of the most singular and remarkable figures of my age.  If I were of a philosophical frame of mind I might wonder to what extent any one of is in control of our own destiny, or if indeed we can ever predict the far-reaching consequences of actions which, at the time, may seem entirely trivial.

Plot summary:

It is November 1890 and London is gripped by a merciless winter. Sherlock Holmes and Dr Watson are enjoying tea by the fire when an agitated gentleman arrives unannounced at 221b Baker Street. He begs Holmes for help, telling the unnerving story of a scar-faced man with piercing eyes who has stalked him in recent weeks.
Intrigued, Holmes and Watson find themselves swiftly drawn into a series of puzzling and sinister events, stretching from the gas-lit streets of London to the teeming criminal underworld of Boston and the mysterious 'House of Silk' . . .

What I thought:

I have read a number of Sherlock Holmes stories and so was interested to read a new novel carrying on the tale.  It was a good story and there was something quite comforting about sinking into Dr Watson’s narrative of his friend’s detective skills.  It has been some time since I have read any of the stories by Conan Doyle, so I can’t remember enough to directly compare whether this story was a credible continuation.  However, it seemed to fit within the style of the previous books.  Readable and a decent continuation of the series.

Tuesday, 12 February 2013

Forgive Me

Title: Forgive Me

Author: Lesley Pearse

Number of pages: 487

Started: 7 February 2013

Finished: 12 February 2013

Opening words:

Cheltenham, 29 March 1991
Flora kicked off her shoes, pulled her dress over her head and tossed it on to the bed. She was about to remove her underwear too, when a glance in the gilt-framed cheval mirror stopped her.
Dressed, she still looked quite trim for a woman of forty-eight, but naked she was flabby and her skin pale. She couldn't bear the thought of anyone seeing her like that. Not even in death.
She opened a drawer, took out the ivory silk slip which matched her bra and knickers and put it on. 'That's better,' she murmured.
Removing the band holding her hair back, she ran her fingers through it till it tumbled down over her bare shoulders. Her Titian-red wavy hair had always been her best feature, and even now, as desperate as she felt, she was proud of it.

Plot summary:

When Eva Patterson returns home from work one day, a devastating scene awaits. Her mother, Flora, lies dead in the bath. Beside her is a note saying: 'Forgive Me'.
Eva had always believed her family life to be secure, but the suicide changes everything. And when Eva discovers that Flora has left her an artist's studio in London, she realizes just how little she knows about her mother.
Eva moves to London and meets Phil, her knight in shining armour, who agrees to help restore the now derelict studio, as well as offering the friendship she so badly needs. It seems that in the 1960s her mother was a successful artist, and in the studio's attic Eva finds a collection of Flora's paintings and diaries, purposely left for her. A hunt for answers leads Eva to a psychic, who warns her to beware of a 'sleeping serpent' . . . referring to a shocking crime committed by Flora.
Will discovering the truth about her mother destroy Eva's belief in everything she holds dear? And who will stand by her when the journey leads her – and those she loves – into certain danger?

What I thought:

I had mixed feelings about this book.  As plots go it was very readable and I did genuinely want to know what happened.  However, I was not so enamoured with the writing style of the book.  I found the author sometimes used far too many words, and that the extra words did not really add to the beauty of the prose but just spelt out a point in too much detail.  I also thought some of the way people spoke was just not natural - the phrasing was too complicated.  I probably didn't really need to know that amount of information about the installation of a kitchen either.

It was a very readable book, but no great work of literature.  I was surprised to see that the author has written a large number of books because this did not feel like the work of an experienced author.  I would be interested to read another of her books to see if it is another strange mix of decent plot and lots of superfluous words.

Wednesday, 6 February 2013

The Island

Title: The Island

Author: Victoria Hislop

Number of pages: 473

Started: 22 January 2013

Finished: 6 February 2013

Opening words:

Plaka 1953
A cold wind whipped through the narrow streets of Plaka and the chill of the autumnal air encircled the woman, paralyzing her body and mind with a numbness that almost blocked her senses but could do nothing to alleviate her grief.

As she stumbled the last few meters to the jetty she leaned heavily on her father, her gait that of an old crone for whom every step brought a stab of pain. But her pain was not physical. Her body was as strong as any young woman who had spent her life breathing the pure Cretan air, and her skin was so youthful and her eyes as intensely brown and bright as those of any girl on this island.

The little boat, unstable with its cargo of oddly shaped bundles lashed together with string, bobbed and lurched on the sea. The elderly man lowered himself in slowly, and with one hand trying to hold the craft steady reached out with the other to help his daughter. Once she was safely on board he wrapped her protectively in a blanket to shield her from the elements. The only visible indication then that she was not simply another piece of cargo, were the long strands of dark hair that flew and danced freely in the wind. He carefully released his vessel from its mooring -there was nothing more to be said or done - and their journey began. This was not the start of a short trip to deliver supplies. It was the beginning of a one-way journey to start a new life. Life on a leper colony. Life on Spinaloga

Plot summary:

On the brink of a life-changing decision, Alexis Fielding longs to find out about her mother's past. But Sofia has never spoken of it. All she admits to is growing up in a small Cretan village before moving to London. When Alexis decides to visit Crete, however, Sofia gives her daughter a letter to take to an old friend, and promises that through her she will learn more.

Arriving in Plaka, Alexis is astonished to see that it lies a stone's throw from the tiny, deserted island of Spinalonga - Greece's former leper colony. Then she finds Fotini, and at last hears the story that Sofia has buried all her life: the tale of her great-grandmother Eleni and her daughters and a family rent by tragedy, war and passion. She discovers how intimately she is connected with the island, and how secrecy holds them all in its powerful grip...

What I thought:

This was a well written book, which transported the reader into the story.  This might be seen as a touch unfortunate given that part of it was set in a leper colony.  It was a family tale that unfolded as a woman finally found out her mother’s true story.

It was also a book that helped to break down some of the mythology around leprosy, the stigma around the disease being a significant part of the story.

It was a sad and moving tale, but also one about loyalty and family relationships.  A good read, well told and with some poignant moments.

Monday, 21 January 2013

My Soul To Take

Title: My Soul to Take

Author: Yrsa Sigurdardottir

Number of pages: 456

Started: 17 January 2013

Finished: 21 January 2013

Opening words:

February 1945

The child felt the cold creeping up her legs and back, and she tried to sit up straight in the front seat to get a better view. She peered into the white snow surrounding the car, but could not make out any farm animals. It’s too cold for the animals outside, she thought, wishing she could leave the car and go back inside the house, but she didn’t dare say a word. A tear crept down her cheek as the man beside her struggled to start the engine. Pursing her lips, she turned her face away from him so that he wouldn’t notice. He’d be so angry. She looked at the house where the car was parked and looked for the other girl, but the only living creature in sight was the farm dog, Rover, sleeping on the front steps. Suddenly he lifted his head and stared at her. She sent him a weak smile, but he stretched out again and closed his eyes.

Plot summary:

If I die before I wake . . .

A grisly murder is committed at a health resort situated in a recently renovated farmhouse, which turns out to be notorious for being haunted. Attorney Thora Gudmundsdottir is called upon by the owner of the resort -  the prime suspect in the case -  to represent him. Her investigations uncover some very disturbing occurrences at the farm decades earlier - things that have never before seen the light of day . . .

What I thought:

Yet another book where the jury is out.  This book was perfectly readable, and in some ways I enjoyed it, although that was probably partly influenced by reading immediately after returning from Iceland, where the book is set.

It was a book that relied rather on a supernatural element, which might seem odd to some, but actually having learned a bit about Iceland while I was there, it actually didn’t seem very strange.  The “little people” are a part of their lives.  But ultimately the resolution to the crime, which clearly I can’t really comment on here, was somewhat crude and relied on coincidence that was somewhat annoying.  I would read another book in the series though, in the hope that it picks up.