Force of Habit by James Scott Bell – A book Review

It’s been a while since Lyn last posted, and as it’s about books, a reblog is definitely in order.

The Call of the Pen

“A vigilante nun cleans up the streets of Los Angeles. Sinners beware.” So says the description of the first of the Force of Habit series.

James Scott Bell has written four Force of Habit tales and each one of them will have you choking on your coffee (or your Fritos.)
Force of Habit
Force of Habit 2 – And Then There Were Nuns
Force of Habit 3 – Nun the Wiser
Force of Habit 4 – The Nun also Rises

Larger than life people need to have a proper introduction, and you need to know Sister Justicia Marie – or Sister J as she is affectionately known by those outside of the Benedictine Order she belongs to. Force of Habit is a book you’ll read in one sitting. I did, and promptly downloaded the rest.

Sister J is former child star Brooke Bailey — who went the way of many child…

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Patty Lou Cutting: The Clive Cussler Conundrum

As we all know, odd little facts about a story can stay with the reader for years, so after last week’s team success in finding a book I had sought for years, I thought I would throw another wider ranging mystery your way to capture your imaginations.

I touched on this a few years ago in another aged post, along with some other various things. It comes from the book Inca Gold, a book of action, adventure, and a lost treasure, which always adds something thrilling to a story.

Towards the end of the book, protagonist Dirk Pitt comes across the grave of 10-year-old girl, Patty Lou Cutting, in the Sonoran Desert, Mexico, upon which the are the words:

The dark night some stars shine through.

The dullest morn a radiant brew.

And where dusk comes, God’s hand to you.

The significance of which is never expanded upon, it just hangs there cryptically, tantalisingly challenging the reader with its nebulous presence. Continue reading “Patty Lou Cutting: The Clive Cussler Conundrum”

The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle – Haruki Murakami

In a Tokyo suburb, a young man named Toru Okada searches for his wife’s missing cat – and then for his wife as well – in a netherworld beneath the city’s placid surface.  As these searches intersect, he encounters a bizarre group of allies and antagonists.

Reading this novel is certainly an arresting experience. There is a cold aspect to the writing, a sense of detachment, which makes it nonetheless strangely compelling.   The relaxed tone of the narrator makes this a novel of normality and functionality of life, which heavily contrasts with the extraordinary and the imaginative (or is it supernatural?) rabbit hole it soon encompasses.

Murakami doesn’t always join the dots, or at least not in an obvious way. I like that.  Instead he encourages the reader to consider the bigger themes. It’s a thought-provoking piece of literature in many ways, crammed full with lots of symbolism and elusive connections, and one exceptionally gory scene which was a bit much, when it came to the details.

There is a rare insight into the Japanese people and their history, regarding the occupation of Northern China and the Manchurian campaigns of World War II.  The themes of how different types of power and pain that can drive a person, and how different spaces can affect the mind are a constant companion, the book is about the physical as much as the psychological. Continue reading “The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle – Haruki Murakami”

Ironweed – William Kennedy

Francis Phelan, ex-ballplayer, part-time gravedigger full-time drunk, has hit bottom.  Years ago he left Albany in a hurry after killing a scab during a trolley workers’ strike; he ran away after accidentally – and fatally – dropping his infant son.  Now, in 1938, Francis is back in town, roaming the old familiar streets with his hobo pal Helen, trying to make peace with the ghosts of the past and the present.

Having never heard of this melancholy tale before, it now seems like a bit of a travesty on my part to have gone so long without doing so.  Although it’s the third book in the Albany Cycle, it can be read as a stand alone (as I read it), and will probably be followed by a wish to read the rest.

A (pleasing) mention of the infamous H.G. Wells radio broadcast of The War of the Worlds sets the time of the novel in late 1938,  a few years before America would enter the soon to start World War II.  A time when opportunity would present itself in an unprecedented scale, the irony of which will not be lost on the reader.

Likeable Francis, a drifter returning home, is the central focus of a story that encapsulates, poverty, the failure of the American dream, guilt and the consequences of his actions.  Francis undergoes an unlayering of personality – almost archaeologically so – throughout the book,  as circumstance teases out his recollected memories of both his high and low points. Continue reading “Ironweed – William Kennedy”

A Suitable Boy – Vikram Seth (Part Two)

This is a remarkable book, and big, so big in fact, that I am taking up a second post for all my remaining remarks. Starting with a quote that I really love:

“She paused by the science shelves, not because she understood much science, but, rather because she did not. Whenever she opened a scientific book and saw whole paragraphs of incomprehensible words and symbols, she felt a sense of wonder at the great territories of learning that lay beyond her – the sum of so many noble and purposive attempts to make objective sense of the world.”

There are a whole slew of characters to meet in A Suitable Boy, yet I didn’t feel confused with them at any point.  Partly this is due to my reading a little each day, retaining the thread of who is who, but the four family trees provided, and side characters who are easily associated with certain characters or places helped, and I was rarely troubled placing a character  who was returning after 200 pages in the wilderness.

Seth is a big fan of poetry and his playful rhyming couplets are seen throughout, most noticably describing each chapter, and then through the incessant creations of the Chatterji family.  There are also myriad references to various Indian mythological works which encourages a deeper reading into Indian mythology.  Sprinkled throughout are bits of the local language which was a nice touch, especially when I started to recognise what was being referred to, or which familial names were used to denote relationships.

The plot is unhurried and slowly expands to include all of life and society, it really allows the world to be shown in richness and depth.  Whether the reader thinks this much detail is relevant or not, it is certainly worth the exploration and gives the book a much more authentic feel.

There is plenty of conflict, whether it be class, religious and political divides, or generational.  Everybody has a prejudice of some sort, whether conscious of it or not.  Seth explores all sides of these, offering plenty of insight which has the capacity to bring out both sympathy or revulsion at various times. Continue reading “A Suitable Boy – Vikram Seth (Part Two)”

A Suitable Boy – Vikram Seth (Part One)

Vikram Seth’s novel is, at its core, a love story: the tale of Lata – and her mother’s – attempts to find her a suitable husband, through love or through exacting maternal appraisal. At the same time, it is the story of India, newly independent and struggling through a time of crisis as a sixth of the world’s population faces its first great general election and the chance to map its own destiny.

When faced with a wall of paper such as this (1474 pages), a choice inevitably presents itself.  Will it be worth the time and effort taken to read this, or would it be more productive to read a few shorter books in the same time span? Luckily choosing this Indian epic was the right option, and the time spent savouring this novel was well worth it.

When reading, I loved how it harked back in style to works of earlier ages. It was easy to draw comparisons with the Russian epics, and War and Peace in particular, as well as Moby Dick for the sheer level of detail that the reader never realised they wanted to know.

Although the story takes place in less than two years, and with its vast array of characters, it is very much in the spirit of those classics, treating the reader to a glimpse of life in post independence India. With the upheaval of the partition with Pakistan as a backdrop, social and religious tensions are explored but at the heart of the story its the family spirit, and myriad connections that gives the book its flow. An India, and a young generation trying to find its own way. Continue reading “A Suitable Boy – Vikram Seth (Part One)”

The Lyons Legacy – Charlie King

Last year I reviewed The Lyons Orphanage, of which this is the follow-up so it is best to start with that book, if you haven’t already.  If the odd minor spoiler doesn’t bother you though,  then read on for the review of book two.

Ten years on from the events that took place inside The Lyons Orphanage, Sam is still no closer to finding his parents.
Sam takes a job at the Crown Prosecution Service to find clues about the identity of his parents by investigating the case against Howard Lyons, who was sectioned as a result of his actions.
Nicholas Lyons, stricken with illness, pleads with Sam to visit his brother and have him transferred to a prison for his crimes, to save Howard from the indignity of life in a psychiatric hospital.
This sets Sam on a path to learn all he can about the case but clean-cut Sam knows he’ll have to break a few rules to get to the bottom of it.

 Despite my physical copy of the earlier book being a couple oceans away, I found myself falling back in with the story, and the returning characters easily.  With ten years of back story and circumstances to catch up on, both are quickly and succinctly dealt with straight away.

I really enjoyed the first book, and was very much looking forward to this second instalment. The cover is themed similarly to the first but feels like a sexy, modern upgrade which fits very well with the placing of the book, being set a decade after the original.

I didn’t have as much fun with this entry into the series. The Lyons Orphanage was propelled along by mysteries and it was that which drove the reader onward in the quest to seek answers, as well as to be joyfully misdirected as to where the plot was going (at least this intrepid reader was). As such, with most of the key plot points having been revealed already, there is noticeable dissipation of tensions, and questions needing an answer. Continue reading “The Lyons Legacy – Charlie King”