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Book reviews V to Z


Jules Verne
Among The Cannibals
528 pages
The content of a shark’s stomach contains a bottle that holds notes written in three different languages. Much of the notes are indecipherable; however, together they may reveal the location of the whereabouts of Captain Harry Grant, whose ship the Britannia was lost over two years ago. While the latitude of Grant is known from the note, the longitude is a mystery.

Clues from the notes point to the South American coast as the probable location of the shipwreck. Lord Glenarvan makes it his quest to find Grant; together with his wife, Harry Grant's children (Mary and Robert) and the crew of his yacht the Duncan they set off on the chase. An unexpected passenger in the form of French geographer Jacques Paganel joins the search.

I got hold of an late 19th century edition, which is rather amazing. It makes reading this book rather special to realize that this book's been in print for over a 100 years. Which implies that it must be a pretty compelling read. Whilst it is a bit dated, and somewhat predictable with regards to certain elements, overall it's still inventive and surprising enough to be worth reading.

Recommended therefore!
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Per Wahloo
The Steel Spring
190 pages
Police Commisionar Jensen falls ill and gets send abroad to recover, just when a series of mysterious deaths occur.

When he tries to get back he gets refused access, and he finds out that the government has been overturned and the country's borders have been shut.

The government in exile asks Jensen to investigate what's going on. After he finds a way into the country he slowly starts uncovering the astonishing thruth..

Wonderfull thriller with a real twist in the plot and some excellent character building.
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Mary Willis Walker
Under The Beetles Cellar
367 pages
Intrepid, wisecracking crime reporter Molly Cates is back, this time confronting wacko cult leader Samuel Mordecai, whose Austin, Texas, compound is just as bound-for-tragedy as David Koresh's. Mordecai believes the end of the world is imminent, and according to a divine vision he's received, he must sacrifice a group of purified "lambs of God" who'll serve as his ticket into Heaven. To that end, he's kidnapped a school bus driver and 11 children and kept them hostage in a buried bus for 46 days. The hostage negotiators can't make headway, and they're terrified of another disaster of Waco proportions. Enter Molly, who interviewed Mordecai months earlier and is the only person he will trust. The story moves from the gut-wrenching tension inside the hostage bus to the frustrated negotiators to Molly, who's racing against time to psych Mordecai out and rescue the children before their captor begins his final sacrifice.

Bit of a slow start, but geys rather good agyer the first half.

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Adam Williams
The Dragons Tail
545 pages
Taking us from the rise of communism to the clash of ideologies in Tiananmen Square, The Dragon's Tail is an epic sprawl. It's 1940 and Harry Airton, son of a Scottish expat, and Chen Tao, son of Harry's cook, enter into a boyhood blood-brother pact. Little thinking that their destinies will thenceforth be inextricably linked. With the onset of war, Harry is sent home and, years later, is enlisted by a suave secret service official, who sees him as the ideal candidate to infiltrate Chinese intelligence. Once in Beijing, Harry is introduced, via Chen Tao, to Peng Ziwei. Against their better judgment (the circumstances are unpropitious) the two fall in love, but disaster ensues. Harry is exiled from China in disgrace while Peng Ziwei is sent to a prison camp. Meticulously recreating the past, Williams's exploration of the effect of the cultural revolution on the Chinese psyche is gripping stuff. While the love story might be a touch stilted, this is nonetheless a compelling account of a people's ability to survive in the face of adversity.
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Carlos Ruis Zafon
The Prisoner Of Heaven
304 pages
Bookseller and bibliophile Daniel Sempere was at the heart of The Shadow of the Wind. And while there was plenty of intriguing overlap, The Angel's Game told the story of writer David Martín in an earlier timeline. The Prisoner of Heaven is the perfect bridge between these two books. It's told in two different times, and it picks up on the stories of both Daniel and David after the ends of their prior novels. And while there are many, many connections between these two men, the one at the heart of this novel is Daniel's best friend and bookstore employee, Fermín Romero de Torres.

In the present day of the novel (1958), a visit to Sempere
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Carlos Ruiz Zafon
The Shadow of the Wind
403 pages
The Shadow of the Wind is a novel about love in all its wonderfull facets. Absolutely full of stories itself this marvelous tale of intrigue, revenge, war and most of all love, captivates the reader from beginning to end. It is the story of Daniel Sempere, growing up in Barcelona just after the end of the Civil War. One day, aged ten, he is taken by his father, owner of a bookstore, to the \"Cemetery Of Forgotten Books\". It turns out to be a secret, hidden library where forgotten titles are lovingly preserved on a labyrinth of shelves. Daniel is allowed to take one book from any of the shelves, but he must swear to protect it for life. He selects \"The Shadow of the Wind\", a book by an unknown autho named Julian Carax.

That same night he reads the book from beginning to end and he finds himself spellbound. He vows track down out other titles written by Carax, but finds himself unable to do so, as it appears a mysterious stranger has already destroyed all the copies of all of his books.

Carax himself also remains a mystery. No one knows anything much about him, save for rumours that he disappeared following a duel in a cemetary in Paris. The only thing he left behind were his books.. Then a mysterious man approaches Daniel, who refuses to give him the copy of The Shadow of the Wind - which he then hides back in the Cemetery of Forgotten books.

As Daniel grows up he begins to investigate the history of Julian Carax, to discover the truth of his life and death. It is a quest that will bring him, and his friends, into grave danger...

This is a wonderfull tale, resonating with the love of books and of literature. There is a feeling of magic with every turn of the page, and every sentence.. It is full of mystery, and enchanting, intriguing characters. The descriptions are wonderful, lush and delicious

It is not a book without humour and wit, either, and there are some brilliant one-liners. Overall this is sure to be a future classic, a story about loneliness and hate, revenge and sadness, and most of all about love. Anyone who has ever experienced love will surely fall in love with this story.
Definite Winner!
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Richard Zimler
The Night Watchman
457 pages
Chief Inspector Henrique Monroe of the Lisbon Police Department is not your usual cop. Eccentric, elliptical - and stunningly observant - his peculiar behavior at crime scenes is legendary. But his colleagues put up with it because, in the end, Monroe's the best of the best. But he has a double-sided secret. And when he's called to investigate the brutal slaying of well-connected Portuguese businessman Pedro Coutinho, it's not just the murder case that will unravel - but his own identity, too.

As Monroe's investigations lead him deep into a torrid world of shady political corruption and sexual violence, the details of the case trigger memories from his childhood in rural Colorado - memories he has travelled far, and worked hard, to hide. His behavior becomes even more upsetting and inappropriate than usual, and even his family - his wife, his brother and his two young boys - start to fear for the man they thought they knew.

Henrique struggles to move his investigation forward whilst keeping the walls of his identity from crumbling. And then, another violent crime changes his life forever, destroying any chance he has of continuing to keep his secret
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Sofka Zinovieff
Eurydice Street
276 pages
Sofka Zinovieff is an English writer who lives in Athens, on the street for which her book is named. Eurydice Street is not in the centre where the tourists, but in the suburbs by the sea. Zinovieff loves Greece, but is not so sure that all this Olympic success will happen. Nor is she sure that she wants it to happen. The restored Grande Bretagne Hotel is now one of the finest in the world. But she preferred it in its more faded state.

The author is an anthropologist by training, who made her first professional study of the "kamakia", the sharp-suited "harpoonists" who famously offered sexual services to Shirley Valentine tourists until AIDS and a transformation in domestic sexual mores drove them to minicabbing instead. Now she is a wife, mother, journalist and literary critic. She writes of how Athenians like herself live, of personal friendships, political frustrations and the problem of being or becoming a Greek.

Cab drivers will be an important part of most visitors Olympic experience, an Athenian breed unusually determined in their view that the businessman traveller must want a receipt for twice the fare and that the resultant profit should be shared with the man behind the wheel. Rejection of their scams truly disappoints this band just as it did when a pair of shiny black trousers and matching shades were the key to visiting females bedrooms.

Olympic visitors this summer will see much children's display at the ceremonial parts of the Games. It is hard to sit in a hotel lobby these days without the sight of nymphs and goddesses, white costumes collected at the back with black bulldog-clips, fluttering past for the latest rehearsal. Athenian schools, Zinovieff discovers, offer sound training in march and mass display. The high spot of the year is "No day", October 28, which "commemorates one of the few clearly victorious heroic moments of Greece's Second World War", the "Ochi" moment when the Italian Fascists were denied their expected easy invasion opportunity. Instead Mussolini's macaroni-eaters got a resounding "No" and a defeat in the icy Albanian mountains; and to commemorate this triumph the Zinovieff girls soon learn to march up and down in long blue skirts and red jackets -while the newspapers conduct their annual debate about whether it is still right to ban Albanian children from the parade.

What else they learn at school is also something of a worry. Vassilis, returning to his country after more than twenty years away, finds that the education system is remarkably unchanged from his own day. And while some English parents might see that as a glorious dream of corruption reversed, Zinovieff is less amused by nights spent rote-learning the names of all the country's fifty-one administrative departments. On top of a daily three-hour dose of homework, each nine-year-old with ambitious parents needs a private tutor to ensure a successful passage to the next educational stage. It all looks like a good deal for teachers who can double their pay in the black economy. But then everyone else is in the same game. The house-owner wants double the rent set out in the contract. The minor peccadilloes of the taxi drivers seem hardly worth complaining about.

Zinovieff visits the place where Greeks can sometimes successfully complain. She wants to become a Greek citizen which, since she is married to a Greek diplomat and political aide, ought to be easy enough. But it is not easy. The place where problems like this may possibly be sorted out is the "other office" of the appropriate top official or politician. The "office" is where decisions are delayed. The "other office" is where votes are committed, loyalties promised, stuffed envelopes exchanged and decisions advanced. Zinovieff just watches half anthropologist, half suppliant herself, horrified and fascinated.

This is not a judgemental book. It is generous, appreciative as well as exasperated, optimistic in that tradition which has always so motivated British philhellenes over the centuries. Sofka Zinovieff sees her adopted country with the eye both of affectionate parent and dispassionate field researcher. The book is somewhat dissapointing in the end, as it never delivers on it's promise of a "foreigners guide to living far away from home", as it turns out Sofka is more at home in Greece than many a Greek. Someone who's close friends with the son of one of greece's most influential politicians, speaks fluent greek, has already spend many a year in Greece and can seemingly get interviews with whomever she wants, can hardly claim to be representing the thousands of people who really go and live in a foreign country where nobody knows them.. Ultimately it's not really what it was made out to be.. Still an enjoyable read however!
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Running Apache