21 October 2010

Holiday Reading - Five Book Reviews

As one who writes, I enjoy a good read.  I get the best opportunity to read when on holiday and do little else, actually.  My beloved is the same.  We spent two fabulous weeks on Kefalonia in June and got through a serious amount of reading between us, pausing only to grunt at each other occasionally in an effort to decide whose turn it was to get the beers.  In September, we had a week in a cottage in Ireland which was a bit more active in that we had my in-laws to entertain.  Nevertheless, I managed to read another book.

I thought I would share my thoughts on what I read.  These reviews are, of course, personal opinions.  You will no doubt be able to find other reviews that totally contradict my views; there is no accounting for taste...

The Butcher's Theatre - Jonathan Kellerman

I bought this book on the recommendation of the shop assistant.  It is a long read, probably three times the length of your average paperback, but with two weeks in front of me that in itself was no disincentive.  I had never read anything by this author before, so it was quite a risk to take on such a huge volume as an introduction.  I was not disappointed.

This psychological thriller is about the search for a serial killer in and around Jerusalem. The book is well-plotted with excellent characterisations.  The bad guy is despicable and could, if you are at all squeamish, put you off finishing the book.  The good guys are utterly believable, flawed human characters.  The writing itself is excellent with a clear style and flowing easily, what you would call a 'smooth read'.

Assuming the facts were well-researched, the book is also very informative about its setting.  Certainly, as someone who has spent a couple of weeks in Jerusalem, nothing jarred with me.

There is a particular scene near the end of the book that really fired my imagination.  Kellerman describes a fight between two of the characters with staccato phrasing that is anything but smooth: it captures the frantic desperation of a hand-to-hand battle that can only end with a death; it sucks you in and keeps you reading.

Conclusion: this was a thoroughly satisfying read, with red herrings and twists along the way, culminating in a thoroughly satisfying ending.

American Wife - Curtis Sittenfeld

This is a work of literary fiction based around the life of a real American First Lady.  The story is told in autobiographical form, and falls into three parts: the first about her growing up through various traumas and tragedies, the second about her relationship and life with her man and his family, the third about their time in Office.  The first part I found delightful, the second less so - but then, once you realise which President it relates to, that is no surprise.  The third part I found less satisfying but still interesting.  It was very well written throughout - but then you would expect that in this genre.

Conclusion: well worth a read, if literary fiction is your thing.

Acid Row - Minette Walters

I sometimes wonder about the excerpts from reviews that get printed on book covers.  'Breathtaking' this one said.  Er, no; except in the same way that manually loading a piano on the back of an elephant is.  The book reads like a screenplay for a second rate television drama, which may be what the author is pitching for.  Actually, it would not be a bad second rate television drama but, for a novel, I found the plot about paedophiles and riots contrived and the characterisation poor and underdeveloped.

Conclusion: I started, so I finished.  I doubt I will start another by this author.

The Bourne Sanction - Eric Van Lustbader

This one I picked up from the bookshelves in the resort by way of exchange for American Wife the day before we were due to travel home.  I really enjoyed the Bourne Trilogy films so thought I might enjoy this book.  Wrong.  Cliche upon cliche.  I started but could not be bothered to finish it.

I have never read any of the books that the films were based on so I cannot judge how well this one compares.  Since it is written by someone other than Robert Ludlum, the author of the original Bourne books, it may not reflect Mr Ludlum's talent at its best, although I presume whoever is running the franchise must have approved of what was written.

Conclusion: glad I hadn't paid for it.

True Detectives - Jonathan Kellerman

I bought this book in the airport to read in Ireland on the strength of my enjoyment of The Butcher's Theatre.  I was really looking forward to getting my teeth into another good read but I was disappointed.

It was nowhere near as good in any sense as the other book.  I found the characters two-dimensional, the plot about two feuding step-brothers involved in the same investigation into the disappearance of young woman somewhat thin, the red herrings floundering and the resolution pedestrian.  The setting (LA) appears to have infected the writing style and not just the dialogue, the whole book seeming to be written in cop-speak.

Clearly, Mr Kellerman is capable of excellent writing, and I will give him the benefit of the doubt with this one and try again.  I wonder if the pressure from publishing houses for authors to produce is not counter-productive when it comes to capturing a following...

Conclusion: all-in-all, very middle of the road. 

16 October 2010

Felicitaciones a Chile: Misión cumplida!

I sat up quite late on Tuesday night watching the BBC news channel's coverage of the unfolding drama in Chile.  It reminded me of the night I sat up on the occasion of the first moon landing, and I am unsure which of these momentous dramas is the more gripping.

I had to give up my wait because I had to go to work on Wednesday.  As it turned out, this was the right decision since the first miner did not emerge from the 'bowels of the mountain' (to quote President Pinera) until 4 a.m. UK time.  I did watch the report on Wednesday morning before going to work, and allowed myself to be late enough to see a live rescue.

Throughout the rescue, the world watched on and saw the same sequence of events repeated faultlessly 33 times.  I saw only a few of them live but each one brought a shot of joy as each man rose to freedom.  I know that, had I been able to watch all 33 in real time, not one of the events would have seemed in the slightest déjà vu.  The world has been glued to its global television set.  The events have filled our news bulletins.  We have found it compulsive viewing and I wonder why?  What made it so special?

Chile has broadcast around the world a message of hope and faith.  It has declared, 'People count!' and spared no effort to demonstrate that truth.  For once in this sorry human world, we have seen something positive and uplifting, and it has done us good.

I rejoice with each of the miners at their release and reuniting with their loved ones.  I also salute those incredibly brave members of the rescue team who went down the shaft without the certain guarantee of recovery to assess and support those being rescued.  I shall remember for some time the image of them standing in the mine when all the miners had gone, holding up a banner bearing the words 'Misión cumplida':  mission accomplished.  The surge of emotion I felt on seeing that almost had me in tears.

Well done Chile!  You have inspired the world.

(and thank you Google for the following translation - y gracias a Google por la siguiente traducción)

Me incorporé muy tarde la noche del martes viendo la cobertura del canal de noticias de la BBC del drama que se desarrolla en Chile. Me recordó a la noche me senté con motivo del primer alunizaje, y estoy seguro de cuál de estos dramas trascendental es la más apasionante.

Tuve que renunciar a mi esperar porque tenía que ir a trabajar el miércoles. Como resultado, esta era la decisión correcta desde el minero principio no salir de la 'entrañas de la montaña "(para citar al Presidente Piñera) hasta las 4 am hora del Reino Unido. Hice ver el informe en la mañana del miércoles antes de ir a trabajar, y me permití ser lo suficientemente tarde como para ver un rescate en vivo.

A lo largo del rescate, el mundo observó y vio en la misma secuencia de eventos repetidos 33 veces sin fallos. Sólo vi a algunos de ellos en vivo, pero cada uno traía un tiro de alegría, ya que cada hombre se levantó a la libertad. Sé que, si hubiera sido capaz de ver los 33 en tiempo real, no uno de los acontecimientos habría parecido en el déjà vu menor. El mundo se ha pegado a la televisión mundial. Los acontecimientos han llenado nuestros boletines de noticias. Lo hemos encontrado ver compulsiva y me pregunto ¿por qué? Lo que hizo tan especial?

Chile ha difundido en todo el mundo un mensaje de esperanza y fe. Se ha declarado, "contar con gente!" y no escatimó esfuerzos para demostrar que la verdad. Por una vez en este mundo de los humanos sentimos, hemos visto algo positivo y estimulante, y nos ha hecho bien.

Me alegro con cada uno de los mineros de su liberación y el reencuentro con sus seres queridos. También saludo a los miembros de la increíblemente valiente del equipo de rescate que fue por el hueco sin cierta garantía de recuperación para evaluar y apoyar los que están siendo rescatados. Yo recuerdo hace algún tiempo la imagen de ellos de pie en la mina cuando todos los mineros se habían ido, sosteniendo una pancarta con "Misión Cumplida" las palabras: misión cumplida. La oleada de emoción que sentí al ver que casi me hizo llorar.

Bien hecho Chile! Que han inspirado al mundo.

12 October 2010

The Rescue of the Chilean Miners

My thoughts and prayers today are with the 33 men trapped underground in the Chilean mine and with their rescuers.

I can only imagine the intensity of the conflict between anxiety and excitement they and their families must be feeling on this, the day on which the rescue shaft will be put to its intended use.  I am thankful that it has been made ready well in advance of the original estimate of Christmas.

I can only imagine the unbounded joy and profound relief they will experience on being re-united with their loved ones. 

I wish them all well with the imminent rescue, and in coming to terms with normality after what must surely have been a life-changing ordeal.  I am sure it will be difficult, having lived in this horror, to re-adjust to life among those who have not lived there with them.

May this rescue be successful without loss and without problems along the way.  May the men and their families be given all the help they need to find resolution of the past and direction for the future.