Friday, December 31, 2010

Mysteries in 2011

Along with several other challenges I'll be participating in the Mystery and Suspense Reading Challenge. Mysteries I've collected at library book sales remain stacked on a "to be read" shelf. Challenges are a motivation to thin out some of those stacks while still reading the books on library shelves.

Challenges afford me the luxury of discovering new authors without too much hard work—although I do love picking up a book and scanning the contents. I read a page here and there to get a feel for the author's style and pace.

Scroll down my blog to see the challenges on the right. If you're interested in participating—simply click the picture and a link will connect you to the page describing the challenge and how you can participate.

The Mystery and Suspense Challenge is hosted by Book Chick City. 'Tis a British Blog.

Monday, December 27, 2010

The Library of Shadows by Mikkel Birkegaard

The Library of Shadows is both a fantasy, a science fiction parable, and a good read. Birkegaard sets his book in an antiquarian bookstore run by a man whose whole family had owned the store for several generations. When Luka, the owner of the store dies, the store and its contents pass on to Jon, Luka's son.

Jon, a successful lawyer, is not in the least interested in pursing a career as a bookseller. At the moment he's involved with an important client. When the client pursues wanting to buy the bookstores for one of his clients, the story rushes headfirst and breathlessly into the machinations of an intricate plot.

We find out that there are two types of readers—transmitters and receivers. Not everyone possesses these abilities. The ability remains latent until an individual is activated.

Jon is eventually activated and his powers as a transmitter of the story's content are enormous—so strong that he must learn to control them because unexpected and virulent results may occur during his readings. Transmitters are capable of enhancing the enjoyment of a story by increasing the intensity of visual images and creating a scene that transcends the narrative.

Receivers are capable of manipulating people and changing their ways of thinking about something that they are reading. The receiver must be cognizant of what they're doing and not use this power for nefarious means.

The plot, like the slithering asp,reveals layers of intrigue. Both Jon's father and mother appear to have been murdered by a Shadow Organization. Both transmitters and receivers once belonged to the same Society of Book Lovers—however, an argument twenty years before Luka's death split the group in two. Both sides are suspicious of the "other".

Jon refuses to sell and is eventually kidnapped by the leader of the Shadow Organization. In a series of rather far fetched events Jon is spirited off to Egypt where he is drugged and manipulated. In that state he repudiates what he thought and who he trusted prior to the kidnapping. There's a tumultuous ending at the rebuilt Library of Alexandria.

There's even a love story entwined in the story. This is the author's first novel and I expect that his next novel will resolve some of the issues evident in this novel—a plot that doesn't always hold together and often seems to plummet ahead without any warning and characters that are lacking in real depth. Having said that I found the initial kernel of an idea fascinating and worth the read.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Finished the Scandinavian Challenge

—the books read and the links to my reviews for each book—

Out Stealing Horses by Per Petterson

Astrid and Veronika by Linda Olsson

Blood Split by Asa Larsson

When the Devil Holds the Candle by Karen Fossum

Silence of the Grave by Arnaldur Indridason

I Curse the River of Time by Per Petterson

To Siberia by Per Petterson

Monday, December 6, 2010

River House by Sarahlee Lawrence

River House is a captivating memoir. How many people grow up in an area and realize after leaving that what they want is to establish roots where they grew up?

Sarahlee grows up in Central Oregon on her parent's ranch, a ranch that is loved by her mother and barely tolerated by her father.

Her dream, when she's in college, is to travel and to explore her passion--running the rivers of the world. She receives a fellowship after college and sets off for some of the most difficult rivers.

While she's in Peru and the Tambopata River she reads Thoreau's
Walden and instantly feels that tug to return to Oregon. She recalls the log home her parents built and wants, with her father's help, to build a log home.

Along with her father who assists, but does not take control, they complete the foundation. Reading the many passages of notching logs, setting logs in place, working in freezing winter temperatures, I felt as if I was looking over their shoulders. I could even hear the chain saw!

Their working together brings out the conflicts her father has with his time on the ranch. While he's lived in the same place for twenty-eight years he's an isolate and has no ties with the other ranch owners or farmers and now he's tired of the work and the cold.

His passion has always been surfing and every year he manages at least one trip to the ocean, but that's no longer sufficient. He's burnt out and his lifelong reliance on marijuana has altered his personality. The only thing he wants is to leave and go live in Mexico where he can surf, play the guitar and smoke pot.

Sarahlee doesn't immediately settle down. She returns to the academic world for an advanced degree and continues running rivers. Each year she returns to the land and to the people

Over the next decade the house is completed and she returns to farm the land. Her father had left years ago for Mexico, but her mother remains on the land.

This is a memoir that isn't afraid to deal with some difficult memories and many ecstatic moments.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

I Am One of You Forever by Fred Chappell

This is a book about a time that has passed. I want to say a simpler time, but perhaps it was a time when rural America and urban America were further apart. It certainly was an era when time moved at a slower pace.

This story takes place on an isolated mountain farm in Western North Carolina just before and during World War II. Jess lives with his parents, his grandmother and Johnson Gibbs, an orphaned teenager, who is living with his family.

The story on one level is a coming of age story, but it is far more than that—it is also a story of a particular time. It is the story of Jess's relationship with his father and with Johnson.

Jess's father is fun loving and up for some wild pranks while his mother is conservative and rather prim.

The humor is delicious. A number of Jess's uncles visit the family, usually as uninvited guests. There's Uncle Luden who loves and chases after women. Uncle Gurton who manages to disappear and appear without anyone seeing him enter or exit. His flowing beard has never been trimmed; he tucks what must be an incredibly long beard inside his overalls. The length of the beard challenges Jess's youthful curiosity. In one laugh out loud scene, Jess succumbs to that curiosity and sneaks into his Uncle's room. His uncle is asleep and Jess releases the beard from the overalls.

Uncle Zeno tells stories—an endless supply of tales. My favorite uncle is Runkin. He travels everywhere with his coffin and sleeps in it rather than using a bed.

While the humor, dialogue, and specificity of details create a strong book, it is the intrusion of the world beyond that isolated mountain farm that reminds us of the fragility of life.

The historical context of the war intrudes and leaves its imprint on this family just the way the quirky uncles, the escapades, and the love of family leaves its imprint on the reader.