Thursday, 29 September 2016

Book Review Make Me by Lee Child (2015)

Make Me (Jack Reacher)

This review will be biased.  I am a Jack Reacher fan.  I’ve read most of the series.  Only a couple of books have evaded me…but not forever.

For anyone who hasn’t read any of the series, Jack Reacher is ex -Military Police, hence his detective skills and army training.  Built like a tank, handy with weapons…he’s a formidable force. Some of the books recall his army days but most follow him as he drifts from one place to another, carrying nothing much more than a toothbrush.  Bad luck and trouble seem to follow him everywhere but that’s just as well, as we wouldn’t have any adventures otherwise.

This story is no exception. Reacher heads for a small town called Mothers Rest on whim.  He expects to see some sort of memorial or a small museum which explains the odd name.  What he does find is a Private Eye called Chang, looking for her partner who has disappeared after checking into the motel.

The story has a long, slow build up. The only lead is a scribbled note about 200 deaths and a name.  As usual, Reacher checks out the town - I  really hope it is a stereotype - there are a lot of shifty, unfriendly folks about in this small farming community…and they are none to keen on having Reacher and his new friend Chang hang around. 

Now most Reacher fans will know there’s a kind of formula so I won't be giving this plot away if I say  you can expect some gun action, fights, tracking down leads across a few states, “the plan” and the execution of said plan.  What might be a little different in this story is that Reacher isn’t as invincible as he once was. He’s getting a bit older, there are a few changes.  The other thing that struck me was that there seemed to be less “internal chatter”.  The stuff I first loved about Jack Reacher  - how he described things, how he calculated the odds and could read a situation. I don’t know whether it's because each Reacher book is now a possible film option, but there seems to be less thinking and more descriptive action.

Good….but different and generally a much slower pace than some of the other books. 

As to the plot, all I will say is that truth is often stranger than fiction and this left a nasty stink that clung to me after I finished the book….I hope it was just the vivid olfactory-laden descriptions of the countryside….and not something more about human nature that I was picking up.

The next Jack Reacher book - Night School - due out November 7 2016

Monday, 26 September 2016

Page Presence and the humble bookmark

Have you ever borrowed a book or bought a second hand one?

If so, you might have come across all sorts of weird and wonderful things that appear to double as bookmarks.  I've had several plane tickets flutter out, one dry cleaning receipt and even a very sturdy card tag for a new shoe insole of all things.

What on earth has sparked this ramble? Well, I couldn't help but notice a huge box of assorted cards on the front desk at my local library.  I thought they were having some sort of charity sale.  However, on closer inspection, it transpired it was a "bookmark amnesty box".  Apparently they "find" all sorts of things...although I could tell from the expression that there are some things that you might not want to find in a book. They even come across money sometimes.  I'm usually parting with it when I get a new book but obviously, despite the financial climate, some people must have enough spare cash that they can afford to it use as a bookmark. Clearly the nice librarians here had gathered a collection of local bookmarks together and hoped to reunite them with their owners.  From my quick glance there seemed to be a colourful assortment of cards and homemade bookmarkers amongst more professionallly produced items.

My bookmark of preference is a little metal gecko.  I bought it as a souvenir on holiday, years ago.  I've nearly lost it a couple of times (it's black, not a good colour on dark carpets) and I love it.  It doesn't bend or break or damage the book. Ideal.

Anyway I found a little survey to see what people like to use as a bookmark, clearly some people are not too fussy:

How do you find your page again?

Thursday, 22 September 2016

Book Review : Only to Die Again by Patrick Lee

Only to Die Again (Sam Dryden)

Dazed, yes, that’s the word.

I had to sit and pause for a moment after I'd finished Patrick Lee’s “Only to Die Again”.  John Connor meets Jack Reacher in this mind-blowing action thriller in the shape of new guy on the scene, Sam Dryden. 

I’m going to have to back-track and find the first Sam Dryden novel “Runner”,  not because this story doesn’t stand alone, but because we have another great character with a past, just hinted at in this book.  He’s probably got a lot more future too, if this is just the second novel featuring Sam Dryden. Sam flips houses for a living now and is in pretty good shape as a result (sound vaguely familiar?). His Special Forces training and skills are going to be pretty handy when it comes to dealing with bad guys and guns.

Its quite hard to give a snapshot of the story without giving the plot away but basically my new “hero” Sam, gets a call for help from one of his friends from his military days (also sound a little familiar?) . A machine with a new piece of technology has fallen into the wrong hands. However the plot goes off in a unexpected direction that has just enough scientific fact about it to scare you.

My bet is that this book will have you speed reading forward through the deliberately short chapters, watching the clock in that familiar kind of format that certain writers use but you’ll be flicking back a few times too….in a good kind of way…trying to get your brain around Sam’s situation and solution. 

This is not a cat and mouse thriller but as one of the characters describes it “ a four dimensional chess game”.  Trust me - it hurts your head !

Have any books have left your head spinning ?

Sunday, 18 September 2016

Book Review : The Wind off the Sea by Charlotte Bingham

The Wind Off the Sea

When Waldo, a dashing and charismatic American, arrives in a small fishing port in post-war England,  he is like a breath of fresh air. The locals are still struggling with the aftermath of the war. Rationing is ongoing, supplies are short, men and women’s roles are changing and it’s the worst winter ever.  Waldo gradually works a kind of magic with several members of the community - Rusty, who just lost a baby,  single mother Mattie, Judy who is struggling to reconnect with her husband back from the war and Meggie, who is struggling for cash.  I could go on with a few more of the characters but I was struggling to keep track initially so I won’t confuse you further.

It’s a "pleasant" read but also an irritating one.  I got the impression that all the inhabitants of Bexham were either “high society“, living in the 1920s or very fond of drink and cigarettes.  So many pages seemed to revolve around cocktail parties or fixing a pink gin or whisky. Even more references were around  lighting up a cigarette, smoking it, putting it out, ash, using a holder, brand of cigarette, smokers coughs,  Doctors smoking, the benefits of tobacco. I could go on…and on but the author already did that.  I realise smoking was much more common and social in the 1940s but I got so distracted by all the smoking commentary that it began to irritate me.  There was also a very long section describing  games of bridge.  Unless you understand the game and associated terminology you will find your eyes glazing over or your fingers skipping quite a few pages of this strangely long and detailed section.

The storyline itself is enchanting in some ways, with several sides stories as Waldo weaves his magic around the connected community.  There were some interesting characters along the way (so long as you could remember who was who initially) and amongst the stories are a few interesting “life lessons” for the taking.

Would I recommend it…probably not. I won’t be seeking out any more Charlotte Bingham stories for myself as a result of reading this, despite the line “to be continued in The Moon at Midnight " at the end of the story. (Apparently it started in “The Chestnut Tree “but I hadn’t been aware of that). However if you enjoy gentle romance and a bit of nostalgia, you might find it more enjoyable than I did.

The Chestnut Tree
The Prequel
The Moon at Midnight: The Bexham Trilogy Book 3
The Sequel

Thursday, 15 September 2016

Origins, Definitions and the Mass Market Overseas

Well its been a rather disturbing week in the book world. Apparently there’s a crisis in New Zealand literature.  Headlines appeared on social media and in The Listener stating that adults are not reading NZ fiction books (there’s been a survey).

Initially I was a bit puzzled as to what exactly constitutes NZ literature.

Is it that the author is born and bred in New Zealand?
Does that Kiwi author have to reside in New Zealand?
Can an author of another nationality who lives in New Zealand write NZ literature? (I’m thinking Nicky Pellegrino)
Does the story have to be based in New Zealand….Or does throwing a bit of kiwi culture and history into it count?
Can it be a combination of all the above or are there a minimum of points required?
Is there a certain standard of writing, number of awards or nominations required for it to be called “literature“?

I had far too many questions running through my mind…Then I noticed a rather large photo of Ben Sanders and no mention of his book “By Any Means” which I read some years ago and really enjoyed.  This is part of a gritty crime thriller trilogy with Auckland Police Detective Sean Devereaux.  Anyway it seems that our young literary hero Ben, has been “chosen” by Minotaur books and encouraged  to write American based fiction now with “American Blood” and new character Marshall. Grade, an ex-NYPD  ….Presumably this is not New Zealand literature….. or is it?

By Any Means


The book I’m currently reading clearly isn’t NZ literature : Charlotte Bingham’s  The Wind of The Sea - but more about that next week.

Does it matter to you where the author resides or where the story is based?

Monday, 12 September 2016

Book Review: Trickster’s Point by William Kent Krueger

Trickster's Point (Cork O'Connor Mystery)
Engrossing.  The kind of book you curl up with and get thoroughly absorbed in.  I bought this book mainly because it was a bargain. The cover didn’t particularly grab me and nor did the description on the back. I wasn’t aware of the author but I now know that I have missed a whole series of books featuring Cork O’Connor, ex-Sheriff of Tamarack County, Minnesota  and I'm going to have to hunt them down!

Although I had missed a lot of Cork’s history (he obviously lost a wife in violent circumstances, has children and a grandson now), this story could be read alone without difficulty.  It starts with a short prologue whereby Cork is sitting with Jubal Little, a childhood friend and is watching him die, shot through his heart with an arrow…one of Cork‘s.  Although they were hunting together, it wasn’t an accident. Cork was set up and sets out to clear himself and find the true killer.

We learn about Jubal’s character and his political ambitions to become the first Native American Governor of Minnesota mostly through Cork’s reminiscences.  The writer does an amazing job of taking you back through Cork’s memories and then dumping you right back into the present predicament with such a smooth transition it doesn’t need to rely on headings or dates etc.  He also seems to create such realistic characters that you feel you  can understand their motives and behaviours…..and in this case, understanding the motive is vital if Cork is going to track down the real killer in the story.

What I also loved about this book is the way that the landscape and culture of the Objibwe Native American Indians features so strongly and flows so naturally throughout the story.

A different type of murder mystery, set in a wonderful, natural landscape rich in culture. Highly recommended!

Have you ever stumbled upon a must-read book series that you've never heard of before?

Thursday, 8 September 2016

Travelling, literally

“The world is a book and those who do not travel read only one page.” St. Augustine

“Read many pages, travel many paths”  GreenJade

Since I read "Promising Azra", gaining an insight into the culture of a family from Pakistan living in Australia, I’ve spent some time with an Italian dynasty at Whitby Point, then travelled to the Northern Territory of Oz where I learned a little about Aborigine culture (and finally got around to signing up for an Indigenous Study course online as a result). The next book I picked up after the steamy romance in Razor Bay turns out to be immersed in Native American Indian culture. Its funny how these things go sometimes...

I’m currently reading  "Trickster's Point" by William Kent Krueger, another author I haven’t come across before and I can’t say I’ve ever read anything about native American Indian culture either. It’s shaping up pretty good so far, more about that next week.

In the meantime it reminded me just how much you can pick up and learn from different author’s experiences and their writing.  I remember reading about the Inuit in Jodie Picoult’s Tenth Circle.  I don’t really recall particularly enjoying the story itself  (sorry all you Picoult fans) but I did enjoy the experience of reading about another landscape and the perspective of the white boy in an Eskimo village. 

So back to those reasons to read…broadening the mind, learning about other places and cultures and I gather we can now add another fantastic reason to read. Apparently researchers at Yale University have discovered that people who read novels for just half an hour actually lengthened their lifespan, concluding that book readers averaged an extra two years of life!

Wow….two more years worth of books to read.  I don’t feel so bad about my growing “To Be Read pile” now.

If you are interested, here’s the abstract for the reading study: