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Review: The Crossroads, Niccolo Ammaniti

Cristiano’s life with his father may not be the best, but he’s not prepared to  give it up.  At thirteen, he knows he’s leaving school to work with his father, and all that’s important is keeping his social worker happy so that he doesn’t get taken away.  Cristiano’s father, Rino, and his two friends Quattro Formaggi and Danilo Aprea are not as happy with their lives, especially when their manual labor jobs are given over to foreign workers.  So Danilo decides to launch the perfect crime, and on one stormy night, the men attempt to put the plan into action.  None of them foresee the consequences.

At first, I will admit that I wasn’t as drawn into this book as I was with I’m Not Scared. At one point Cristiano writes an essay about how Hitler was good and how foreigners are bad, and I wasn’t sure at all I was going to like this book.  That, however, soon ended, and about halfway through the crime was attempted, and then I couldn’t put this book down.  What happened after that was completely unpredictable and totally gripping, and I had to read on to see what happened.

Despite Cristiano’s and Rino’s attitudes, too, I could see the bitterness that drove them.  They’re not educated enough to understand why certain things are wrong, so even though I didn’t always like them or agree with them at all, at least I knew where they were coming from and how they came to have the wrong ideas.  I could blame the system, rather than the people, for their ignorant and terrifying attitudes.  And the father-son relationship was incredibly heartwarming and realistic.  They don’t always know what they’re doing or why they’re doing it, but they really love each other in the midst of all their hardships.

Really, this book is all about the failure of “the system”.  Hardworking respectable men are unable to work because foreigners will work for less, and of course the companies don’t care if they have to lay off the men they’ve employed for 20 years.  Mentally ill people get poor care and aren’t acknowledged at all, given no help despite the fact that they’ve become incapable of work.  The social worker in the book doesn’t even look at Cristiano’s bedroom, and when he does, he’s beyond caring.  I don’t think that he should have separated Cristiano from his father, although perhaps others would disagree, but the facade these two are capable of putting on for him, plus what he thinks makes a family, is almost laughable.

So, once again, Ammaniti has delivered a thriller that really causes his readers to think.  His writing is crude at times – he spares no details in certain matters – and often violent, but he’s talented nonetheless.  I do feel that I have to warn readers that a sexual crime is attempted in this book and it made me very uncomfortable, so it may do the same to you.  Regardless, though, The Crossroads is a great read, and I can definitely recommend it as an addictive, thrilling book that will keep you up all night just to finish it.

I am an Amazon Associate. I received this book for free from the publisher for review.

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Review: The Strain, Guillermo del Toro and Chuck Hogan

On September 24, 2010, a plane lands at JFK airport in New York City.  Immediately on landing, the plane goes dark, all of the window blinds pulled down, and the doors completely locked.  Ephraim Goodweather has been spending time with his son, Zack, in the lead-up to a custody battle, but he is called away from his weekend off work to investigate the plane.  On arrival, he and his partner Nora realize that it is full of dead people, bar four very ill exceptions.  The dead people are unusual, though, in that they appear to be full of a strange white liquid, not blood, and their bodies haven’t deteriorated at all.  Eph is mystified until an old man, Abraham Setrakian, approaches him with an extraordinary tale and an urgent mission.

At times, The Strain reads like a movie on paper.  Everything is very visual, from the descriptions of the scenes to the alteration between chapters to the way it cuts across the perspectives of the characters.  It’s easy to imagine this on a big screen, a difficult feat for someone like me.  I rarely envision what I’m reading as I go along, but I couldn’t avoid imagine these pictures.  While that’s not necessarily a fault, the book had a startling amount of gory descriptions and action scenes, so I don’t think this book is for the squeamish.  It had my stomach rolling at times because I could for once picture all the nastiness associated with the vampires.

What does work without a doubt is the intense, ceaseless suspense and quick pace of the novel.  It only takes place over a few days, but so much happens in those days as the mystery is established, solved, and the characters set out to save the world.  The timescale never feels unrealistic, especially because we don’t stay with the few main characters all the time.  We’re also given viewpoint perspective for a few of the victims and their families, which really drives the emotional impact of the entire situation.  The authors are very good at establishing sympathetic characters in a very small number of words, which definitely impressed me.  Of course, the main characters, especially Eph, are easy to care about as well.  Eph in particular virtually lives for his son, but his chances of winning custody are slimmed even further when he has to save the human race.  His priorities break his heart, and they break ours too.

While The Strain is not for the faint hearted, it is certainly an exciting ride, and is meant to be the first in the trilogy.  I know I will be looking forward to seeing what happens next!

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Review: The Angel’s Game, Carlos Ruiz Zafon

David Martin is an aspiring writer of suspenseful stories in early twentieth century Barcelona.  When opportunities to write professionally present themselves, he quickly seizes them, the desire to be published overriding everything, including his common sense.  With his earnings, Martin moves into a tower house, abandoned for decades, but with the sentimental value of a place he’s passed every day on his way to success.  But when Martin receives an unusual offer and begins to learn more about his strange abode, he realizes that he is playing a far deeper game than he’d ever imagined.

My favorite aspect of Zafon’s writing is the atmosphere he evokes with his works.  This was amazingly well done in The Shadow of the Wind, which I read before I began blogging, and I had high hopes here as well.  Zafon did not let me down.  Almost immediately, he draws us into a world of half-truths in the depths of Barcelona.  Impending tragedy always seems to hang over Martin, right from the beginning, and it’s as though the book is clogged with dark, rainy nights and suspenseful midnight meetings.  It’s hard to describe, but it’s easy to live in this world. Even Martin’s apartment is compelling and virtually a living part of the mystery.

When not writing, Martin is also obsessed with his love, Cristina, even though it takes years before she recognizes him.  This love story goes in a very peculiar direction but adds to the eerie feel of the work.  Throughout, we’re uncertain as to whether Martin’s experiences are real or imaginary, particularly as the story gets crazy.  By the halfway point, I was surprised by how tense the story was getting; I found myself reading a thriller!  The literary touch and the atmosphere, plus the added uncertainty about Martin’s mental state, are really what make this book something special.  Towards the end of the book, the plot starts to unravel to some extent, but I was still curious about it.

The Shadow of the Wind was a book for readers.  The Angel’s Game is less so; I think it’s much closer to a book for writers, but since I’m not really one, it didn’t draw me in quite the same way.  So I can’t say I really liked it more but I definitely enjoyed reading it.  I wanted to know what happened next.  The ending didn’t answer all of my questions, but that rarely happens.  I would recommend this, especially if you enjoyed The Shadow of the Wind.

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Review: The Reincarnationist, M.J. Rose

When Josh was almost killed by a bomb in Rome, it triggered a sequence of past-life memories from which he cannot escape.  He realizes that he has been reincarnated and nearly two thousand years ago, he was a priest named Julius in love with a Vestal Virgin named Sabina.  He feels a need to find her and save her, but he doesn’t know how.  On a trip to Rome, his feet land him at an archaeological site where Sabina lies buried, leading to a murder, an investigation, and a desperate search to figure out what his memories are telling him and why.

This was a racing read and I had a hard time putting it down.  I originally won it to participate in By The Chapter, so I decided I would read it over the space of the week.  That definitely did not happen because I am not a patient person.  By the time I was halfway through I just had to know the ending, so I ended up finishing it in two days instead of five.  Oops.  It’s certainly addicting.

While Josh’s version of reincarnation sounds interesting, I don’t think I’d like to experience it in the same way that he does.  It sounds painful and I certainly wouldn’t want to long for a woman who had been dead for many years, knowing that I was looking for her in every face I saw.  It was quite curious how many people had been reincarnated, but I suppose we’d have to take it as a matter of course.  Many, many people have walked this planet before.  I thought the list of sources at the back even more interesting.  I had no idea that anyone studied this, and while I don’t believe it myself, I almost want to pick up one of those books just to learn more.

I don’t want to give anything away, but I did feel let down by the ending of this book.  While some loose ends were tied up, it felt like something of a cop-out and diminished the appeal of the rest of the work.  Despite that, I’d still love to read The Memorist, which is the sequel to this book.  I think the ride to the ending mattered more to me in this case.

This book is available from Amazon and Amazon UK.

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Review: The Eight, Katherine Neville

No way I’d ever be able to summarize this chunkster, so off to Amazon we go:

“When two young women in France of 1790 discover the Montglane Chess Service in Montglane Abbey, they recognize its mystic ability to provide anyone playing it with unlimited power and desperately scatter its pieces around the world. But in 1972, computer expert Catherine “Cat” Velis is hired to recover the chess pieces–and is caught up in a nefarious, globe-spanning conspiracy.”

Yeah, sounds good, right?  That’s what I hoped.  Apparently people do like this book.  I was not one of them.

Let me first say that this is a genre that I don’t like.  I didn’t like The Da Vinci Code, although I will be honest, I liked it better than this.  The book is centered around chess, a game I don’t even understand.  The reviews assured me that would be okay.  The book also seems full of math and science, my two least favorite subjects, although I certainly recognize their importance.  Now, throw in a convoluted plot that I couldn’t keep track of, 64 characters, none of whom I liked and most of whom seemed like coincidental famous people name-dropping, a journey that is supposed to seem threatening and dangerous but never made sense to me, some mediocre writing, and a couple of unbelievable love stories, and you’ve got this book.  

I knew I’d had enough when the author suggested that a blue velvet cloth survived for 1000 years.  Let me tell you why this bothers me.  We have no evidence for velvet even existing before the 14th century and quite simply, fabric hardly ever survives this long unless in special preserved circumstances.  Somehow, I’m doubting that this velvet cloth was buried in a water-logged, oxygen free environment for most of its existence, and there’s no way such old fabric could survive in the open air without serious preservation, let alone be passed around from country to country for two hundred years.  Nitpicky, maybe, but blatantly wrong details like that just throw me out of a book completely.

This book was just not for me.  I finished it because I have the sequel for review.  It clearly is meant for someone else, probably someone who likes thrillers, chess, and science and also does not particularly know much about history or archaeology.  If that’s you, you should try this book out.  It’s certainly not me.  I can’t recommend this book.  

If you liked The Eight, I want to know, so I can link to you.  I hate posting a negative review without counterbalancing it.

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