Friday 12 August 2016

Post for the "dog days" of summer...

We’ve certainly had plenty of hot, sultry days this summer, but I believe that this week was the longest stretch of hot days with high humidity so far.  Thank goodness I have air conditioning and a huge pile of books to read!  And, to keep me busy inside when it’s been too hot to go out, I also got a couple of new bookshelves from IKEA, and have transformed one area in the spare bedroom into a wall of books - it’s like a dream come true!  I have plenty of bookshelf space now, but the challenge is trying to decide how to arrange my books - do I group them by country, by genre, or alphabetically by author?  It’s been fun working on it a bit each day and handling books that have been on my shelf for years that I’ve never read and have nearly forgotten about - I’m discovering so many great novels to read right in my own collection!  I’m also copying my list of books read from 1992-2010 into a new notebook, as my original spiral notebook is falling apart, and it’s been interesting looking at my reading choices when I was so much younger and noticing patterns and cycles.  I’m only up to January, 1998, but I have high hopes that I will finish before I go back to work.  

I’ll be away next week in the gorgeous Georgian Bay area, so I thought I should write my post now, as I have two books and an audiobook to tell you about.  The first book is The Hatching by Canadian novelist Ezekiel Boone (a pseudonym for novelist Alexi Zentner, from right here in Kitchener-Waterloo).  OK, so right from the title, this book sounds ominous, right?  Well, let me tell you, it was creepy, creepy, creepy, right to the very last page... and beyond!  (there will be a sequel, Skitter - yikes!)  This novel opens with a group of Americans on a guided eco-tour in a Peruvian National Park. The group seems to be headed by a rich, cocky fat man, multimillionaire tech guy Ted Henderson.  When he goes off into the jungle to relieve himself, the group waits patiently on the path, but the guide notices that something seems wrong in the jungle, a silence that includes even the birdsong.  Henderson comes crashing out of the jungle with a wave of black following and surrounding him.  As it nears, the guide can see that it is not a wave of black water but a giant swarm of spiders, which proceed to attack the group members and devour them.  The rest of the novel is divided into sections, with different stories involving different characters and different events taking place in different areas of the world:  a remote area in China where a nuclear bomb is dropped on a mining facility; a university in Washington where an entomologist specializing in spiders is hoping that an ancient egg sac enclosed in an insectarium, sent to her from Peru, will hatch; a Marine Corps unit in California is waiting patiently for an assignment, any assignment, but what they are assigned to do is far beyond anything they could have ever expected; in Desperation, California, people are living in houses with fully-stocked shelters attached or nearby, in preparation for the last days, but the disaster that awaits them is not what they anticipated; and on a small island in Scotland, a young couple on a romantic weekend encounter a horror beyond anything they could ever have imagined.  I’ve always enjoyed these “nature-out-of-control” stories, ever since I was a kid and would watch those scary movies about swarms of killer bees that were heading up from Mexico and were attacking people along the way, so this book about giant man-eating spiders seemed right up my alley!  And it was certainly a page-turner.  At first I found it difficult to keep all the stories straight, but once I got into the book, I could see that they were all interconnected and were meant to demonstrate that this “infestation” or attack would not be isolated but would become a worldwide catastrophe.  It was pretty gruesome, and at one point, late one evening, after reading quite a few chapters and nearing the end, I had to put it down because I was starting to feel crawling sensations on my arms, legs and head!  But I finished it in the light of day and will look forward to the sequel, where hopefully all will be resolved.  But with so much death and destruction, will Boone find a way to end on a note of hope for the future?  It was definitely well-written, not great literature, but compelling and creepy!  I’d give it a 7.5 out of 10, but would caution anyone who has a weak stomach or a fear of creepy-crawlies to steer clear of this book - I'll admit that I've been looking at all the spiders spinning their webs in our yard just a little bit differently these days!

I also read a YA novel by Canadian author Shane Peacock, The Eye of the Crow, the first in his “Boy Sherlock Holmes” series.  I have read one other book by this author and found him to be a good writer, and I have the first two books in this series in my school libraries, so I wanted to try it out.  This novel tells the story of 13-year-old Sherlock Holmes in 19th century London, a half-Jewish boy who lives in relative poverty due to his parents’ unfortunate family circumstances - his mother is from a wealthy family but was cast out when she fell in love with Wilber, a Jewish man who was training to become a professor, but whose chances were thwarted by his wife’s wealthy parents when they continued their relationship and refused to abide their demands to end their relationship.  Sherlock avoids school, preferring to be on the streets learning about people and events through observation and reason.  His real interest lies in the police reports and news he finds in the crime sheets.  When the news of a murder in Whitechapel is announced and the arrest of a villain proclaimed, he can’t resist going to observe the guilty man as he is brought to the jail.  But he sees a boy just a few years older than himself, an Arab of Egyptian descent, who appears no more guilty of the crime than Sherlock is.  When the suspect locks eyes with Sherlock and whispers that he didn’t do it, Sherlock is compelled to search for the real criminal and free the innocent man, regardless of the risks he must take to find the truth.  It all spirals out of his control, and he is caught in an underworld where all is not what it seems and trouble lurks around every corner.  It was an interesting story, and definitely made me want to read some of the Sherlock Holmes stories by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (I have several collections of stories on my new bookshelf!), but I don’t know how well this novel would hold the attention of a young adult reader.  I certainly had challenges staying interested, as there was a lot of repetition, particularly describing Sherlock’s character, his physical demeanor, and his surroundings.  I know this book was the first in a series and is meant to set the stage for future cases as much as to relate the story, but it was less engaging than I was hoping.  But I will try the next book to see if it gets better - I guess this is the first series to look at the young detective and explore what events and experiences led him to become the greatest detective in history.  I’d give it a 7 out of 10.

And I finished listening to an audiobook earlier this week, The English Assassin by Daniel Silva.  This popular and prolific American author has written numerous bestselling thrillers.  I suspected that his books might not be my normal fare, but it was narrated by John Lee, so I had to give it a try.  This novel explores the Nazi involvement in shady art dealings during WWII.  The main character, Gabriel Allon, an art restorer by trade, also works part-time for a specialized Israeli Intelligence agency.  When he is sent to Zurich to restore a painting for a prominent Swiss banker, he is shocked to find the man lying dead in front of the painting to be restored.  He flees the scene, but is caught before his train leaves the station and brought in for questioning.  He is soon released and would happily have washed his hands of the whole affair, but is requested to perform one last duty, to visit the dead man’s estranged daughter.  Reclusive Anna Rolfe is a world-renowned violinist who is living in a villa in the mountains of Portugal.  When news of her father’s murder reaches her, she becomes involved in a complex web of lies and deception, and she reluctantly accepts Gabriel’s help in tracking down the man who killed her father and stole his secret art collection, a collection of paintings that had been acquired using underhanded means during the war.  As dead bodies pile up, the situation becomes more dire, and the determination of Anna and Gabriel to get to the truth and to reveal the collaboration between Swiss bankers and the Nazis compels them to keep searching, despite the dangers they face at every turn.  This was a “page-turner”, but a bit too unbelievable and sensational for my taste.  I prefer psychological thrillers that build slowly and explore the interrelationships between characters.  It was OK, but not great - in fact, it was exactly the type of book I expected it would be, plot-driven rather than character-driven.  As such, I would give it a 7 out of 10.

OK, that's all for this week.  Stay cool and keep reading!

Bye for now…

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