Wednesday, 28 September 2011

The Burning Soul (A Charlie Parker Thriller) by John Connolly

"And I told him that I believed in God because I had seen His opposite.  I had seen all that He was not, and been touched by it, and so I could no more deny the possibility of an ultimate goodness to set against such depravity than I could deny that daylight followed darkness, and night the day." - Chapter 15, The Burning Soul (2011)

Review by The Book Reporter.

The author's official website.

The Charlie Parker thriller series and other books.

My take:  I have been waiting for this instalment for ages.  Verdict: excellent, excellent, and as scary as the first nine.  I thought the denouement is a touch hastily put together or abrupt, but otherwise, it is another superb read.  I look forward to another Charlie Parker thriller.

Avoid reading it at night if possible.  

Rating:  5/5

Tuesday, 27 September 2011

The Careful Use Of Compliments (Isabel Dalhousie series, Book 4) by Alexander McCall Smith

Hardback blurb:  For kind, curious, philosophically minded Isabel Dalhousie, editor of the Review of Applied Ethics, getting through life with a clear conscience requires careful thought.

And with the arrival of baby Charlie, not to mention a passionate relationship with his father Jamie, fourteen years her junior, Isabel enters deeper and rougher waters.

Late motherhood, however, is not the only challenge facing Isabel.  Even as she negotiates a truce with her furiously disapproving niece Cat, and struggles for authority over her son with her formidable housekeeper Grace, Isabel finds herself drawn into the story of a painter's mysterious death off the island of Jura.

And perhaps most seriously of all, as she wrestles with these complications, Isabel's professional existence and that of her beloved Review come under attack from the machiavellian and suspiciously handsome Professor Dove.

A master storyteller whether he is debating ethics in Edinburgh or pursuing lady detectives in Africa, Alexander McCall Smith shows himself here to be as witty and wise as his irresistibly spirited heroines.

First published in 2007.

Rating:  3/5

Thursday, 22 September 2011

The Tall Man: Death And Life On Palm Island by Chloe Hooper

Favourite quote from the book:  "We have to use our freedoms and privileges to see what respite we can give to those less equipped to deal with their challenges." - Andrew Boe, Brisbane criminal lawyer.

About the story:  Palm Island may be the most beautiful tropical island in Australia, but its name is synonymous with violence.

It is home to one of the country's largest Aboriginal communities, descendants of people torn from their own lands, their clans and their families in the era of the Stolen Generation.

In 2004, Cameron Doomadgee, a 36-year-old resident of the island, was arrested for swearing at a white police officer and locked in the cells.  Within forty minutes he was dead.

The police claimed he'd tripped on a step, but his injuries were consistent with a car or plane crash.

The community rioted and burnt down the police station.

The main suspect was Senior Sergeant Christopher Hurley, a tall, handsome, charismatic cop with long experience in Aboriginal communities and decorations for his work.

Chloe Hooper's The Tall Man: Death and Life on Palm Island recounts this story with the pace of a thriller.

Following Hurley's trail to some of the wildest and most remote parts of Australia, she explores Aboriginal myths and history and uncovers buried secrets of white mischief.

Atmospheric, gritty and original, The Tall Man is an absorbing and moving account of the lives of the people of Palm Island, of the Doomadgee family as they struggle to understand what happened to their brother, and of the complex, enigmatic Hurley as he fights the charge of manslaughter.

Hooper combines reportage with a novelist's command of character to tell a story that takes readers not only inside the courtroom and the notorious Queensland police force, but into Australia's indigenous communities - and to the heart of a struggle for power, revenge and justice.

About the author:  Chloe Hooper was born in 1973.  Her highly praised first novel, A Child's Book of True Crime (2002), was shortlisted for the Orange Prize.  Her Observer article about the Doomadgee case, "Island of Lost Souls", was shortlisted for the Amnesty International Media Awards.

The Tall Man was awarded the

1)  2008 Western Australia's Premier Book Awards, Overall Prize Winner, Non-fiction category

2)  2009 New South Wales Premier's Literary Awards - Douglas Stewart Prize, Non-fiction category

3)  2009 Victorian Premier's Literary Award - Nettie Palmer Prize, Non-fiction category

4)  2009 Indie Book Awards, shortlisted

A reader's review of The Tall Man.

"The book is everything it should be: a sad, beautiful, frightening account of one man's pointless death, interwoven with the brutal history of Palm Island and a golden thread of Aboriginal mythology.  Every sentence is weighty, considered, even, restrained.  Every character is explored for their contradictions, every situation observed for its nuances, every easy judgement suspended...  It is The Tall Man's triumph that Hooper finds the common humanity in the accused and the accuser, the police officer and the street drinker, the living and the dead." - Mark Dapin, Good Weekend Magazine, Sydney Morning Herald/Age

As this is a book of reportage, there will be no rating.

Wednesday, 21 September 2011

Before The Poison by Peter Robinson

1 January 1953.  Kilnsgate House, Kilnsgarthdale, District of Richmond, Yorkshire.  Grace Elizabeth Fox, an ex-nurse, supposedly poisoned her GP husband, Dr Ernest Arthur Fox.  He died.

20 January 1953.  Grace Fox was arrested and formally charged with the murder of her husband.

21 January 1953.  Grace Fox appeared before the magistrate and was remanded into custody.

16 March 1953.  The trial began at Leeds Crown Court.

Jury returned with a verdict of guilty and a pronouncement of a death sentence.

23 April 1953.  Grace Fox was sentenced to death by hanging at HM Prison, Leeds.

(Fast forward to) October 2010.  Christopher Lowndes, a film composer, moved back to Yorkshire after a stint in America following the death of his beloved wife, Laura.  He bought Kilnsgate House in the hope that it would give him the space to come to terms with his grief and the quiet to allow him to work.

But something about the isolated house, miles away from its neighbours, bothered him - you could say it was a feeling, or the atmosphere, or even a tingling sensation in his spine.  You could say that this was what got him interested in the first place, otherwise what reason would he have, over a woman who had been dead for nearly sixty years and had no family connection with him whatsoever?  Or was it to assuage a personal guilt?

When he found out that a man had died there sixty years ago and his wife the murderer, he wanted to know what actually took place all those years ago in the house which now belonged to him.

You see, hanging a woman was rare then.  And as Chris was naturally curious, he wanted to find out what had pushed Grace over the edge, so much so that she felt compelled to murder her husband.  Was it a way out for her?  Or was it a spur-of-the-moment act?  What was she thinking, what were her thoughts?  Did she even commit the act at all or was she just unlucky?  Had an innocent woman been hanged?

Chris set out on a quest to find out more about the mystery surrounding this femme fatale but what he was not prepared for was a connection between him and the woman who has hanged.

About the author:  Peter Robinson grew up in Yorkshire, and now divides his time between Richmond and Canada.  Before The Poison (2011) is his third standalone novel.  He has also written two collections of short stories, and nineteen books in his bestselling Inspector Banks series which is now showing on ITV1.  The critically acclaimed crime novels have won numerous awards in Britain, the United States, Canada and Europe, and are published in translation all over the world.

Visit his website at

Robinson talking about his book on BBC Breakfast on 19 August 2011:

The trailer with a beautiful orchestral background:

A couple of the songs mentioned in the book, "When I am laid in earth" (Dido's lament) from Dido and Aeneas, sung by Alison Moyet:

And "What's Going On" by Marvin Gaye:

Can't resist this one, "I Remember" by Judith Sephuma:

This is the author's first departure from the Banks series in over twenty years and is a poignant exploration of guilt, self-sacrifice and redemption and a novel of unsettling psychological suspense.

A remarkable, absorbing and haunting story.  One of the more intelligent books I have read this year.  I reckon Before the Poison has all the ingredients of a bestseller and it is a delight to read about a character who has a classical musical background as it is one of my interests.  I look forward to more from Robinson.  Gripping and very much recommended.

The Independent Review on 14 September 2011.

Rating:  5/5

Tuesday, 20 September 2011

Alwaleed: Businessman Billionaire Prince by Riz Khan

Hardback blurb:  There are few individuals as unique, enigmatic, and colourful as Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal Bin Abdulaziz Alsaud.

This biography of the world's fifth-richest man - worth around $24 billion - tells the story of a businessman who started out with a relatively modest bank loan and built an empire that embraces the best-known brands, from Citigroup and Disney to Apple Computers and the Four Seasons Hotel.

Alwaleed, as he's known to most in the Middle East, is the largest single foreign investor in the US economy, with interests in almost everything that touches the Western lifestyle.  Like investment guru Warren Buffet, Alwaleed became hugely successful through consecutive strategic high-profile investments, earning him the respect of Wall Street.

In this fascinating and uniquely insightful authorized biography, international journalist and broadcaster Riz Khan offers a revealing insider's view of this provocative business genius, focusing on issues including:

  • his unique family history
  • the origins of his powerful drive to succeed
  • his phenomenal success in rescuing beleaguered companies such as America's giant Citigroup
  • his investments in top brands including Four Seasons Hotels, Saks Fifth Avenue and NewsCorp
  • his unique approach to investing - and some of his most lucrative strategies
Beyond the billionaire, jet-set lifestyle, Prince Alwaleed has a close and emotional relationship with the desert and its people.  His identity sits on the fence separating the Arab world on one side, with tents, camels and rifle-toting Bedouins . . . and the fast-paced, hungry, pinstripe world of Wall Street, with limousines and designer labels.  

Brilliant, charming and extraordinarily hardworking, this billionaire's personal story unfolds in gripping detail, based on in-depth interviews with the Prince's family, entourage and closest business associates - including top names such as Sandy Weill, Rupert Murdoch and Jimmy Carter.

Alwaleed (2005) is a revealing portrait of an unusual individual whose presence in the global economy is unmatched; a twenty-first-century ambassador who could be the ultimate bridge to connect the Middle East and the West.

About the author:  Riz Khan is a well-known independent broadcaster and journalist.  He worked at CNN International for eight years, where he hosted the flagship program Q&A with Riz Khan.  On this popular show, he interviewed a long list of world leaders and newsmakers including Nelson Mandela, the Dalai Lama, Hillary Clinton, Kofi Annan, Tom Clancy, Richard Gere and many others.  Prior to his years at CNN, he was a top broadcaster with BBC World TV.  As an international journalist, he has been involved in a wide range of documentaries with a strong focus on the Middle East.

My take:  Brilliantly written.  Unputdownable.  A most inspiring and positive biography.  If you have even a fleeting interest in royalty, then this is the book for you.  Includes DVD documentary.  As this is a biography, I will not give it a rating.  

Monday, 19 September 2011

Jane and Prudence by Barbara Pym

When the Times Literary Supplement asked critics to name the most underrated authors of the past 75 years, only one was mentioned twice:  Barbara Pym (1913-1980).

The Telegraph (2 December 2007): Jane and Prudence (1953) by Jilly Cooper

Other books by Barbara Pym.

A timeless book.  Absolutely a joy to read.  Chuckle, chuckle...

Rating:  5/5

Saturday, 17 September 2011

The Right Attitude to Rain (Isabel Dalhousie series, Book 3) by Alexander McCall Smith

Hardback blurb:  The key to contentment in the Scottish climate is the right attitude to rain - just as in life they key to happiness lies in making the best of what you have.

But in her plain-speaking housekeeper Grace's opinion, Isabel Dalhousie - wealthy, attractive, kind and lonely - does not make the best of what she has;  in Isabel's life there is too much thought and not enough action.

Bruised early in love by her faithless Irish husband, Isabel Dalhousie is a connoisseur of intimate moral issues;  she edits a philosophical journal and spends a great deal of her time considering how to improve the lives of those around her.  There is Grace, whose future she must secure;  Isabel's niece Cat, embarking on a new relationship with a dubious workaholic mummy's boy;  and even an American couple newly arrived in Edinburgh on a tour - gentle, cultured millionaire Tom, and Angie, his young, pretty troublemaker of a fiancee.

And then there is Jamie, Cat's ex-boyfriend, a handsome, gifted musician fourteen years Isabel's junior, with whom she is slowly and hopelessly falling in love.

Tender and wise, intensely thoughtful and consistently entertaining, The Right Attitude to Rain (2006) is shot through with the compassion and unassuming intelligence that have made Alexander McCall Smith's work so beloved and indispensable across the world.

I cannot resist McCall Smith's novels and novel series and urge you to read this series right from the beginning.  His books make you think sensibly about a lot of things in life.  I will be reading a lot of McCall Smith in the near future.  Happy reading!

The interview for The Right Attitude to Rain:

Rating:  3/5

Friday, 16 September 2011

Friends, Lovers, Chocolate (Isabel Dalhousie series, Book 2) by Alexander McCall Smith

Paperback blurb:  Isabel Dalhousie thinks often of friends, sometimes of lovers, and on occasion of chocolate.

As an Edinburgh philosopher she is certain of where she stands.  She can review a book called In Praise of Sin with panache and conviction, but real life is . . . well, perhaps a bit more challenging - particularly when it comes to her feelings for Jamie, a younger man who should have married her niece Cat.

And more disturbance is in store.  When Cat takes a break in Italy, Isabel agrees to run her delicatessen.  One of the customers, she discovers, has recently had a heart transplant and is now being plagued by memories that cannot be rationally explained and which he feels do not belong to him.

Isabel is intrigued.  So intrigued that she finds herself plunging headlong into another risky investigation . . .

My take:  Less of a mystery book than a book about matters of the heart, friendship and the moral struggle of this life.  Only one reference to chocolate but that hardly matters since I am not a fan of chocolates.  Some of the issues raised provide intellectual nourishment.  It is an extremely satisfying read, much like one feels after a good hearty home-cooked meal.  Recommended.

This book was first published in 2005.

Rating:  3/5

Thursday, 15 September 2011

The Sunday Philosophy Club (Isabel Dalhousie series, Book 1) by Alexander McCall Smith

Paperback blurb:  Behind Edinburgh's regimented Georgian facades, its moral compasses are spinning with greed, dishonesty, lust and murderous intent.

Isabel Dalhousie knows this.  Isabel, in fact, rather relishes it.  An accomplished philosopher and editor of the Review of Applied Ethics, she knows all about the difference between good and bad.  Which is probably why, by instinct, she is an amateur sleuth.

And instinct tells her the man who tumbled to his death in front of her eyes after a concert in the Usher Hall didn't fall.  He was pushed...

The Sunday Philosophy Club (published 2004) marks new territory - but familiar moral ground.  With Isabel Dalhousie, Alexander McCall Smith introduces a new and waspish female sleuth to tackle murder, mayhem - and the mysteries of life.

The author tells you about his new character, Isabel Dalhousie in The Sunday Philosophy Club:

My take:  I am somewhat surprised to read about The Really Terrible Orchestra at the midpoint of the book when the author introduces a real-life character, Peter Stevenson, as himself, in the book.  At first, I thought it was a figment of the author's imagination but out of curiosity, googled it and found that The Really Terrible Orchestra does in fact exist!  In actual fact, The Really Terrible Orchestra was founded by both Stevenson and McCall Smith in 1995.

To my delight, they have performed in public, more notably in London, New York and Utrecht and even broadcasted on radio stations around the world!  According to newspaper reports, they are an immediate hit!  How have they affected the more serious and professionally competent musicians I wonder.  I personally think it is a phenomenon and will see whether I can attend one of their concerts one of these days.  Kudos to McCall Smith.

Below, McCall Smith introduces his phenomenon:

Unfortunately, I did not enjoy this series as much as The No 1 Ladies' Detective Agency series or The Corduroy Mansions series.  The character does not appeal to me in the least.  She hasn't got a role for herself in the beginning so to speak, after all, she is a part-time editor of a philosophical journal, leads a quiet unassuming life in a large house, lives on inherited money and in all appearances, does not do much.  It isn't until she stumbles upon a suspicious death at a concert which she attended one evening that she feels it is within her moral obligations to involve herself in these matters.  Why? Because she is curious and wants to know why things happened.  After all, she is an accomplished philosopher.  Sadly, I did not warm to her even when the plot evolves and reaches its conclusion.

Overall, it is an enjoyable book to read and I enjoy reading about the discussions and thoughts on philosophy, the numerous references to poets and painters, the introduction to The Really Terrible Orchestra, and the setting in a historic city.  My only contention is I did not warm to the character.

I will, however, move on to Book 2 to see whether the character will grow into me.  After all, everyone, both those close to us and fictional, deserves a second chance.

Rating:  3/5

Tuesday, 13 September 2011

Mildred Pierce by James M Cain

Backcover blurb:  Mildred Pierce is the story of a determined and ambitious woman who, after her feckless husband abandons her, by hard work and sacrifice builds a successful business to ensure the future of her pampered and selfish daughter.  But Mildred is completely unprepared for the intrigues and devastating betrayals of those closest to her.  Memorably filmed, with Joan Crawford in the title role, this is James M Cain's most substantial novel, a classic of the Depression years in California.

The original Mildred Pierce trailer starring Joan Crawford (1945):

On the making of Mildred Pierce, the five-part HBO television miniseries starring Kate Winslet, premiered in March of this year:

About the author:  James M Cain (1892-1977) was born in Annapolis, Maryland.  He served in the US Army in World War I, worked as a journalist in Baltimore and New York in the 1920s and spent the 1930s and 1940s as a screenwriter.  His novels include The Postman Always Rings Twice (1934), Double Indemnity (1943) and Serenade (1937).  Mildred Pierce was first published in the USA in 1941 and in Great Britain in 2002.

An article on the author by The Atlantic magazine.

A review of the book by The Los Angeles Times.

My take:  Superb read.  Unique.  My first foray into Cain's novels.  The first half of the book is well-constructed step by step but I thought the second half is rushed right through to the conclusion to my disappointment.  There is no shooting scene as depicted in the Joan Crawford film as expected so it is never a good idea to watch the trailer first before reading the book!  However, it would be interesting to get ahold of both the old and new films to watch their versions of it.

This story has two lines:  it tells of an ambitious and self-reliant woman who makes some success out of her life and on the other hand, it also tells of a mother-daughter relationship which is fraught with some difficulties.  The woman's daughter is not likeable and is quite precocious from a young age.  If I were Mildred Pierce, I would think it very difficult to handle such a stubborn and dare I say evil daughter.  Mildred Pierce did the best she could in her own way and I admire her for it but it is true when it is said that her only crime as a mother is that she had loved her daughter too well.  Other thought-provoking issues are raised in this book which might make this book a good one for a book club.

Written more than three decades before I was born, this book still resonates today.  Writers do not write like this anymore.  It is a true gem.  Do read it because there is no cause for regrets if you do.

Rating:  4/5

Saturday, 10 September 2011

Free To Trade by Michael Ridpath

Hardcover blurb:  When the world's top publishers fight to get hold of a new author's first novel, you know it must be something special.  And Free to Trade (published 1994) certainly is outstanding - an exemplary thriller, an exceedingly good story, it is a superb debut for Michael Ridpath and the publishing event of the decade.

Paul Murray is a junior bond trader.  He runs to keep fit, he hates the office coffee machine and he's forgotten what it's like to have a girlfriend.  He loves his job though and he's keen to make a good impression - but how keen does he have to be?

When the vivacious Debbie Chater, a colleague of Paul's, is found dead, floating in the Thames, his life is turned upside-down.  Paul's search for an explanation becomes a crusade as he uncovers a web of deception, fraud and murder.

Everywhere he looks he finds only more questions:  What is "Uncle Sam's Money Machine"?  What is the connection between Irwin Piper, an American entrepreneur with much to hide, and an aristocratic English lawyer?  Where does Cash Callaghan, the honesty-free bond salesman fit in?  And why is Cash's assistant, Cathy Lasenby, once so standoffish, now so keen to help?

The trouble is, Paul has no idea who is out to get him, let alone what it is they want to hide, and in a business where there's most definitely a killing to be made, he has every reason to feel paranoid.

My take:  This is Ridpath's debut (quite some time now) and also his very first financial thriller.  To date, he has written a total of eight financial thrillers before veering off the financial path to write crime thrillers set in Iceland.  His reasons are stated here.

I like stories that tell of an innocent man used as a scapegoat for someone else's gain or of an unsuspecting man wrongly accused of some misdemeanour which he did not commit.  Usually, that man has to fight and fight hard against unseen foes and the force of time to exonerate his name and catch the real perpetrators.  In this case, it is made harder among all the wheelin' and dealin' going on in a cut-throat world of finance, wrought with people who routinely lie and cheat to make a killin'.  Fortunately, he has some friends who help him along the route to justice and a few minor storylines to add intrigue to the main plot.

All in all, not a bad read, but nothing to shout about for yours truly, who does not know what some of the wheeling and dealing is about and the financial jargon can be from Mars for all I know.  Hard to warm to the characters, though, for they do not stand out.  I think the story makes the characters rather than the characters make the story.

For a debut, I thought it was a very good story and would go on to read the next one because the financial world intrigues me.  And, after all, good stories are best written by authors who know what they are writing about.

Here are the other seven financial thrillers:

Trading Reality (1996)
The Marketmaker (1998)
Final Venture (2000)
The Predator (2001)
Fatal Error (2003)

Alex Calder series:

On The Edge (2005)
See No Evil (2006)

Michael Ridpath's official website.

Rating:  3/5

Wednesday, 7 September 2011

The Leopard (Harry Hole series, Book 8) by Jo Nesbo

Are you looking for the 'best big crime novel' you could ever hope to get your hands on this year?  Look no further.  It is Jo Nesbo's The Leopard.

Paperback blurb:  In the depths of winter a killer stalks the city streets.  Two women are found drowned in their own blood.  A third woman is hanged from a diving board.

You are allowing this killing to go on.

The crime scenes offer no clues, the media is reaching fever pitch, and the police are running out of options.

It's time this was stopped...

There is only one man who can help them catch the killer.  But Inspector Harry hole doesn't want to be found.

...because I have appointed the next victim.

Latest video of the bestselling author talking about The Leopard at the Edinburgh International Book Festival 2011.

Official trailer for The Leopard:

My take:  This book has been translated into the English by Don Bartlett who lives in Norfolk and works as a freelance translator of Scandinavian literature.  He has translated, or co-translated, Norwegian novels by Lars Saabye Christensen, Roy Jacobsen, Ingvar Ambjornsen, Kjell Ola Dahl, Gunnar Staalesen and Pernille Rygg.

The Leopard (2011) is the sixth of Nesbo's novels to be translated into English and was awarded The Danish Academy of Crime Writers' Award (Palle Rosenkrantz Prisen) in 2009 for Best Crime Novel of the Year.

It also went to the top (No 1) of the official UK hardcover fiction chart in January 2011, its first week of publication.

Nesbo, apart from being an author, is also a musician, songwriter and economist.

This is an outstandingly pain-filled thriller by a master at work.  It is a complicated story with a complicated ending but which starts off with the simple story of a woman caught between two men.  Jealousy abounds.

From that one single destructive emotion sparks a myriad of uncontrollable emotions just waiting in the wings for the perfect opportunity to rear its ugly head and when that perfect opportunity presents itself, the offended party takes revenge in a series of unaccountable murders until, in the end, after feeling as if one has been put through the highest cycle of a washing machine, one person's guts and intuition solves the case.

Apart from the extraordinary story, I would say there is a lesson to be learned here if you look out for it.  It is not just an excellent story, I honestly think the author has given us something to think about and wisely.

I think the Harry Hole series is not only worth reading but is one of those series that you need to read in your lifetime if you are an avid reader.  Yes, Nesbo has come a long way since his first Harry Hole book, The Bat Man (unavailable in the UK at the moment), came out in Norway in 1997.  Book 9 in the series, The Phantom, will be available from April 2012.

A reader's excellent review of The Leopard.

Check out Jo Nesbo's official website now for more information.

Nesbo talks about his flawed character, Harry Hole:

Rating:  5/5

Sunday, 4 September 2011

The Dog Who Came In From The Cold (Corduroy Mansions series, Book 2) by Alexander McCall Smith

Hardcover blurb:  This was the mission upon which Freddie de la Hay now embarked.  Wearing his new collar, in which a small transmitter had been expertly concealed, the obliging and urbane Pimlico terrier was put on a lead and taken downstairs. . . .  Freddie's new career had begun.  He was now officially in the service of his country, enlisted as a secret agent by MI6 to spy upon suspect Russian businessmen.

Barbara Ragg, fearless literary agent, succumbs to romance and the charms of the Scottish Highlands whilst her colleague and rival Rupert Porter tracks a mysterious author through the halls of Fortnum & Mason.

Dee, vitamin evangelist and retailer, hits upon a miracle cure with her Sudoku remedy while the loveable Terence Moongrove, exponent of sacred dance, is saved from financial ruin through timely intervention by The Green Man.

Very pleased to find The Telegraph's podcast of The Dog Who Came In From The Cold (published May 2010) online read by Andrew Sachs (Chapter 1-47 out of 78 chapters):

1. What Our Furniture Says About Us etc

10. 'How Dim Can You Get?' etc

20. The Open Society and Its Enemies etc

30. The Sleeper Train etc

40. Morphic Resonance etc

Another immensely entertaining read liberally sprinkled with gentle humour by a storyteller par excellence and the master of the serial novel form, and his accurate observations and commentaries on the idiosyncrasies and quirks of human nature are all too disconcertingly true.

Favourite character?  Definitely Terence Moongrove.  He is hilarious.  Andrew Sachs' interpretation of him is spot-on.

If there is such a thing as a perfect book, this would be the one.

I look forward to the third book in the Corduroy Mansions series called A Conspiracy of Friends (2011) available now.

Happy weekend reading.

Rating:  5/5

Saturday, 3 September 2011

Lovely day, lovely day...

Everyone tells me I must go to the Bukit Bintang area when in Kuala Lumpur where you can shop till you drop or eat till your heart's content.  The Bukit Bintang area is where more than a few popular shopping malls, cafes, restaurants, markets, hotels and hawker centres cluster together within walking distance of each other.  It is simply a retail haven.  And so I went.

The first shopping mall I went to was the Pavilion Kuala Lumpur or simply known as the Pavilion.  It is a high-end designer mall stocked with world-wide fashion and luxury brand names and a gourmet emporium on the ground floor where you can put on more calories than you can burn in a session.  This year alone, it won the "Outstanding Achievement Award" in the Shopping Mall Category at the Kuala Lumpur Mayor's Tourism Awards 2011 as well as the "2011 VIVA Best-of-the-Best Award Honoree" in the Design and Development category.

It so happened that on that particular day when I woke up in my five-star two-bedroom residence, I had already decided I would spend the whole day in a bookshop or any bookshop that I could find.  I had no desire to do anything else.  The bookshop was the only place I wanted to go.

I found the Times bookstore.  (Other branches of this bookstore throughout Malaysia can be found on this page if you happen to find yourself outside KL.)  As you can see from the photos below, the two sections I was particularly interested in were 1) Crime/Mystery and Thriller and 2) Asian Literature.

What I like about this bookstore is that there is a cafe tucked cosily to one side very appealingly called The Huckleberry Cafe.  It is rather small but cosy, homely, alluringly decorated.  Everything is well-placed. 

There is a big wide sofa with cushions where you can sink into with a favourite book or you can sit on a chair-table combination with a brew and read.  

Delectable food such as macaroons, whoopie pies, a variety of cakes and quiches, as well as thirst-quenching hot and cold drinks are sold here.  

You can get free wi-fi too and the connection is pretty good.  

What's more charming was I caught the man behind the counter reading when I walked up!

If you are not into snacks and a drink, then you can snuggle up in the reading area, also tastefully decorated like Huckleberry, around the corner from the paying counter.  Standing against a wall of this area is a long low bookshelf sparsely filled with books where you can pick one of your choice, make yourself comfortable and start reading or better yet, bring your own book in to read.  

A brief chat with one of the staff brought me to understand that you have to sign up for the Times Privilege card, where members can get discounts and other benefits, to sit in that area.  Since I was a visitor to Malaysia and had no fixed address to speak of, I could not sign up for the card but while I was making myself at home in that area, nobody shooed me away.

I did not buy any books here since I had my Kindle and a whole pile of books with me back at the hotel, and also feared that there would be no space in my luggage for anymore purchases, although, needless to say, I had marked out a few books to buy next time, particularly those I could not find back in England. 

To finish off, I must say that of all the bookshops I have been to around the world, I would award this as the most inviting, welcoming and tranquil enough to get a good chunk of reading done. 

I think it is the perfect place to spend my day and I have enjoyed every moment.  

Be back.

The Wreckage by Michael Robotham

Last paragraph of the book:  Although reality can sometimes corrupt the fairytale and alter our ambitions, some things remain unalterable.  From richest to poorest, we start and end with family.

Hardback blurb:  Baghdad - Journalist Luca Terracini is living outside the wire and investigating a series of deadly bank robberies involving tens of millions of dollars.  But in his pursuit of the truth, he's about to get in the way of clandestine agents and powerful nations who seek to bury secrets and manipulate the truth, regardless of the cost.

London - A thousand miles away, ex-cop Vincent Ruiz is drinking in a bar.  He rescues a young woman, Holly Knight, from a violent boyfriend but wakes next morning to find that she's robbed him.  It was a set-up - an elaborate scam.  Furious at himself, and at her, he sets off to find Holly.

Two seemingly unrelated stories collide in shocking and unexpected ways in this enormously ambitious, compelling thriller about money, politics and the power of the world we live in today.

Always love to hear it from the author:

My brief take:  The Wreckage is Robotham's seventh novel featuring ex-cop Vincent Ruiz and a new character journalist Luca Terracini published in June of this year.  I only got hold of this book from my local library last week as I was one in a long line of people holding it and had to wait my turn patiently.  This book gives one food for thought about the world's political and financial situations since America went to war with Iraq in 2003.  Robotham has brought up issues which are thought-provoking and eye-opening, although how much of the issues are valid leave much to be desired.

However, do not forget to enjoy the thriller as it is, a superb work of an international conspiracy thriller and one of the best books I have come across this year.  The chapters alternate between Baghdad and London.  If you have not read Robotham before, this book will make you check out his back catalogue.  This book will also appeal to people who want some serious reading this summer.  I have been a long-time Robotham fan so I cannot say much more than that.  I am now eagerly looking forward to the next one.

Do visit the author's website for more information.

The New York Times' Review.

The New Zealand Herald review.

Rating:  5/5

Thursday, 1 September 2011

Frantic (Detective Ella Marconi, Book 1) by Katherine Howell

Paperback blurb:  In one terrible moment, paramedic Sophie Phillips's life is ripped apart - her police-officer husband, Chris, is shot on their doorstep and her ten-month-old son, Lachlan, is abducted from his bed.

Suspicion surrounds Chris as he is tainted with police corruption, but Sophie believes the attack is much more personal, a consequence of her own actions.

While Chris is in hospital and the police, led by Detective Ella Marconi, mobilize to find their colleague's child, Sophie's desperation compels her to search for Lachlan herself.  She enlists her husband's partner, Angus Arendson, in the hunt for her son, but will the history they share and her raw maternal instinct lead to an even greater tragedy?

Frantic was published in Australia in 2007 and won the 2008 Sisters in Crime Davitt award and longlisted for the Ned Kelly award.

More information can be found here (the author's official website).

Rating:  4/5