July 22, 2016

Career of Evil - Robert Galbraith

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Title: Career of Evil, Cormoran Strike #3
Author: Robert Galbraith (J.K. Rowling)
Publisher: Sphere
Release date: 2015 
Pages: 494


* This, he thought as he smoked his first cigarette of the day, was London: you started in a quiet, symmetrical Nash terrace that resembled a sculpture vanilla ice-cream. Elin's pin-striped Russia neighbour had been getting into his Audi, and Strike had received a curt nod in response to his 'Morning'. A short walk past the silhouettes of Sherlock Holmes at Baker Street station and he was sitting on a grimy Tube train surrounded by chattering Polish workmen, fresh and businesslike at 7 a.m. Then bustling Paddington, forcing a path trhough commuters and coffee shops, holdall over shoulder. Finally a few stops on the Heathrow Connect, accompanied by a large West Country family who were already dressed for Florida in spite of the early morning chill.*

When a mysterious package is delivered to Robin Ellacott, she is horrified to discover that it contains a woman's severed leg. Her boss, private detective Cormoran Strike, is less suprised but no less alarmed. There are four people from his past who he thinks could be responsible - and Strike knows that any of them is capable of sustained and unspeakable brutality. With the police focusing on the one suspect Strike is increasingly sure is not the perpetrator, he and Robin take matters into their own hands and delve into the dark and twisted worlds of the other three men. But as more horrendous acts occur, time is running out for the two of them...

After Robin is sent a severed leg, Strike is losing his clients and business becomes difficult; it is quite understandable after all: who would want to hire a detective who is sent body parts by post? Robin and Strike start their investigation, but the truth will not be easy to uncover.
As we are once more taken to London looking for anything leading to the potential killer, we get to know our protagonists a little more. As it becomes clear that this act is intended as personal revenge against Strike, we learn about his childhood and his years in the SIB. Robin plays a more important role in the investigation this time and we discover elements of her past which explain her personality better as well as her relationship with Matthew. True to themselves, Robin and Strike are both still as attaching as they were in the previous books.
As the plot develops, we are given more and more insight in the killer’s head. We discover fragments of his life and his motivation. His psychology is elaborated and these short chapters help build up the tension as we understand his ultimate objective.
The case itself is enthralling. As usual, the author has thought every detail through and uses suspense with talent. The colourful language, be it for the descriptions or the familiar conversation between the various characters, will allow for a pleasant reading. Robin and Strike quickly have a list of three suspects, but it could be any of them… or anyone else. The readers will make their own assumptions, but they cannot be sure until the very end.
Talking about the end, it is a real cliffhanger. I could not believe the author was playing with us that much. It will be a long wait until the next book is released!


* In short * 
Crime at its best

Back to London for a new case in the company of Robin and Strike: offering the reader glimpses of their past and of the killer’s psychology as well as an enthralling plot, Robert Galbraith writes once again a masterpiece.

June 22, 2016

Alice's Adventures in Wonderland - Lewis Carroll

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Title: Alice's Adventures in Wonderland
Author: Lewis Carroll
Publisher: Penguin Books
Release date: 2008 (first published in 1865)
Pages: 176


* "Well! I've often seen a cat without a grin," thought Alice; "but a grin without a cat! It's the most curious thing I ever saw in all my life!".*

On an ordinary summer's afternoon, Alice tumbles down a hole and an extraordinary adventure begins. In a strange world with even stranger characters, she meets a rabbit with a pocket watch, joins a Mad Hatter's Tea Party, and plays croquet with the Queen! Lost in this fantasy land, Alice finds herself growing more and more curious by the minute . . .

 * Oh dear, what nonsense I'm talking!*

* Twinkle, twinkle, little bat! How are wonder what you're at! *

There is no denying that most children –and adults– have heard of Alice’s adventures in Wonderland; that the Cheshire cat and its grin are familiar to many children; that many have attended a Mad Tea Party, be it from near of far. There is however quite a difference between watching one of the many film adaptations or seeing the play performed on stage and reading the original novel.
In fact, I would argue that Lewis Carroll’s prose is part of the extraordinary universe he created. Readers who find any sense of normality in the first few pages will soon be proved wrong, as everything quickly turns absurd. Alice grows and shrinks continuously; she meets strange animals and characters and witnesses unexplainable events. And the concise and comic writing style adds to the strange atmosphere of the story. There are no lengthy descriptions or innumerable details, which means the scenes are mostly left to the reader’s imagination. However, the brilliant wordplays and puns will no doubt guide their interpretation.
I must admit I wondered a few times while reading if the book was really intended for children. I finally reached the conclusion that it can be read on different levels, much like most children’s literature. Children will enjoy the strange universe and the funny characters, as well as Alice’s personality and her adventures, while adults will focus more on the prose and the underlying philosophical questions. Although the book was written 1865, the language is precise and friendly and still perfectly understandable nowadays.
Alice is the typical example of a little girl who wants to grow up and her perspective on the events can be hilarious at times, while annoying at others. She tries to use what she has learned at school during her adventure, but she sometimes associates ideas that do not go together, which results in a comical effect… even more so because everything is rather queer. She does not like being told what to do, but she does not always think before she expresses her ideas, which often offends some of the characters (especially when she speaks about them being eaten). She sometimes behaves like a child and sometimes like an adult and it is therefore difficult to define how old she is.
The characters all have their own personality and I enjoyed the fact that the author did not use the common stereotypes which often come up in children’s literature. Of course, I love the Cheshire cat for its grin and its magical appearances, but my favourite scene is when the Mock-Turtle discusses school; an utterly funny moment. I was laughing so much that the man sitting opposite me on the train ended up asking me what I was reading.
Although Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland is very popular in contemporary culture, I would recommend discovering this strange universe with the original book. It is a quick read, but everything is perfectly balanced, depicting a nonsensical wonderland while letting the readers imagine the details how they please. An immensely enjoyable story which will appeal for readers of all ages, children and adults alike.


* In short * 
Did you say absurd?

Although Alice's Adventures in Wonderland is familiar to most of us, it is worth discovering the original source of inspiration of this extraordinarily absurd universe. Lewis Carroll’s funny prose, full of puns and wordplays, adds to the depth of the various characters – humans, animals or… An immensely enjoyable story which will appeal for readers of all ages, children and adults alike.

February 10, 2015

The Silkworm - Robert Galbraith

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Title: The Silkworm, Cormoran Strike #2
Author: Robert Galbraith (J.K. Rowling)
Publisher: Sphere
Release date: 2014
Pages: 455


* Writers are a savage breed, Mr. Strike. If you want life-long friendship and selfless camaraderie, join the army and learn to kill. If you want a lifetime of temporary alliances with peers who will glory in your every failure, write novels*

  When novelist Owen Quine goes missing, his wife calls in private detective Cormoran Strike. At first, she just thinks he has gone off by himself for a few days - as he has done before - and she wants Strike to find him and bring him home.
But as Strike investigates, it becomes clear that there is more to Quine's disappearance than his wife realises. The novelist has just completed a manuscript featuring poisonous pen-portraits of almost everyone he knows. If the novel is published it will ruin lives - so there are a lot of people who might want to silence him.
And when Quine is found brutally murdered in bizarre circumstances, it becomes a race against time to understand the motivation of a ruthless killer, a killer unlike any Strike has encountered before...
 * Strike was used to standing for hours in the cold, watching darkened windows, following faceless strangers; to unanswered phones and doors, blank faces, clueless bystanders; to enforced, frustrated inaction. What was different and distracting on this occasion was the small whine of anxiety that formed a backdrop to everything he did.*

After the Cuckoo’s calling, we are back in London, this time in the world of publishers. When Leonora Quine asks Strike to look for her husband, author Owen Quine, everything tells him to refuse. Despite other people’s advice and his own doubts, he starts looking for him and soon finds out that there is more to the story than the childish tantrum of a temperamental novelist. Everything seems to revolve around Owen’s unpublished manuscript, in which he attacks about anybody he knew. As the police get interested in the case, Strike understands he needs to solve the case in order to prove Leonora innocent. Fortunately, he can count on Robin more than ever.
As you can expect with the second book of a series, the writing style remains the same and the main characters too. Some time has elapsed since Robin and Strike solved Lula Landry’s murder and it is a pleasure to find them unchanged. However, their relationship will evolve a lot with the Quine case and take a welcome unexpected turn. These two unconventional and original detective characters are no doubt the greatest strength of the book!
The plot itself is well thought and the author paid attention to every detail, which make the complicated story realistic in the point of view of the reader. However, I found the first part of the book rather complicated to follow. It might have been due to the many new characters introduced to us without much background information (which made it difficult for me to distinguish between them at first), to the numerous leads that Strike or the police have to follow or to the often changing point of view. This resulted in a great confusion, which fortunately disappeared as the story went on.
In The Silkworm, the author gives a harsh description of the publishing milieu which, given her background, can probably be rather accurate and maybe even personal. Nobody seems sincere and most characters are self-centred and opportunistic. There is no doubt that this contributes to building suspense because it is impossible to know which characters are telling the truth and which ones are trying to keep their secrets. For Strike, who does not know a lot about this world, it is also difficult to understand the relation between Owen’s unpublished work and his death.
The Silkworm is a good crime novel which will live up to the expectations of the fans of the Cormoran Strike’s series. I personally did not like is as much as the first book, because the beginning was too confusing, but we find our beloved characters again and the familiar writing style of the author!



February 04, 2015

The Light Between Oceans - M.L. Stedman

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Title: The Light Between Oceans
Author: M.L. Stedman
Publisher: Black Swan
Release date: 2012
Pages: 461


* You could kill a bloke with rules, Tom knew that. And yet sometimes they were what stood between man and savagery, between man and monsters. The rules that said you took a prisoner rather than killed a man. The rule that said you let the stretchers cart the enemy off from no man's land as well as your own men.*

A boat washes up on the shores of a remote lighthouse keeper's island. It holds a dead man and a crying baby. The only two islanders, Tom and his wife Izzy, are about to make a devastating decision.
 * And Janus Rock, linked only by the store boat four times a year, dangled off the edge of the cloth like a loose button that might easily plummet to Antartica.*

In the Australian post-war world, life goes on. People who experienced the Great War directly or indirectly try and go on with their life although nothing will ever be the same. In Point Partageuse, situated on the western part of the continent, there are few men and the prospects are rather dull for young girls. However, when Isabel meets Tom Sherbourne, a young and handsome young man who has just come back from the battlefield, she is convinced that everything is about to change. She decides to marry him and they begin a new life together for the better and for the worse. The first part sets the background for the story and the characters relationship. It is a good introduction including historical facts, geographical details and personal information about the characters.
Tom is lighthouse keeper on Janus, so Isabel follows him, but life on Janus is lonely and harsh. Like the characters, the reader will experience mixed feelings about this place, at the same time beautiful and threatening, magical and oppressive. Page after page, we discover what it means to be a lighthouse keeper and live outside the world all year round, apart from a yearly visit on the continent. Isabel and Tom live for the Light and for their mutual love, but things do not always go as expected… and people sometimes make bad decisions. When they find a boat holding a baby and a dead man, Tom and Isabel have to make a decision which is about to change their lives forever… and that of many other people as well.
The second part of the book takes place on Janus. The rhythm is rather slow and we can feel the loneliness and the repetitiveness of the life on the small island. We also get to know the characters and the developments of their relationships, which slowly deteriorates until the ‘day of the miracle’: the day on which the boat was washed up on the shore. The moment is miraculous in Isabel’s eyes, but wretched in Tom’s eyes. They have to make a decision, but no option seems right. M.L. Stedman describes beautifully the dilemma they face and their existential thoughts: what is right? What has to be done in the baby’s interest? How to respect one’s duty without destroying someone else?
The third part takes place back on the continent after everything collapsed. Although we felt something would eventually go wrong, it is heart-rending to see it happen. The characters are kept apart and each of them has got its own way of responding to grief. For their part, the readers are torn between two sides. We want to hate the characters who caused so much harm, but we understand them so well all the same that we end up confused. Like we knew that Tom and Isabel’s decision was a bad decision, we know the story cannot have a happy-ending, but cannot help hoping for one.
The Light Between Oceans is a very moving novel which you will either love or hate. There is no in between. The plot might seem too predictable and the characters too stereotypical to be realistic, but it raises important questions which can touch just about anybody. The author’s style is fluid and precise and we can see it evolve along the pages. The first part is rather factual and descriptive and it is rather difficult to know what the characters really feel, which creates a little suspense. In the third part, however, we discover the whole range of emotions felt by the various characters… and it will be difficult not to shed a tear. I recommend this novel to those who like beautiful if sad stories and want to discover a different kind of life.

European Reading Challenge 2015

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European Reading Challenge 2015
Hosted by: Rose City Reader
From January 1st 2015 to January 31st 2016


As my first challenge for 2015, I decided to take part in this one again, as I really enjoyed it the last two years and still have many books set in European countries on my TBR shelf. 

The idea is to read books by European authors or books set in European countries (no matter where the author comes from). The books can be anything – novels, short stories, memoirs, travel guides, cookbooks, biography, poetry, or any other genre. You can participate at different levels, but each book must be by a different author and set in a different country – it's supposed to be a tour. 

There are five different levels: I chose the five-star one (Deluxe Entourage) again - Read at least five books by different European authors or books set in different European countries.

Ideas :
1) France : Flic ou caillera, de Rachid Santaki
2) United Kingdom :
   2.1) England : The Silkworm, by Robert Galbraith
3) Sweden : La Reine de la Baltique, de Viveca Sten
4) Greece : The Thread, by Victoria Hislop
5) Spain : Soudain trop tard, de Carlos Zanon

And many others...

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