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Miriam (Netherlands)

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A Whole Life
A Whole Life
by Robert Seethaler
Edition: Paperback
Price: £5.59

5.0 out of 5 stars About a Man, Work and a Mountain, 4 Aug. 2016
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
This review is from: A Whole Life (Paperback)
This is a beautiful book, not for what it says, but for what it tells. The prose didn’t hit me, the main character did. Again, not for what he says or thinks, but for his silence and resilience. In our time of constant (psycho)babble and analyses of every emotion it’s a relief to read about a man who just gets on with life. He is born on a mountain, he works on the mountain, he lives on the mountain, he wars on another mountain, he works a lot more on his mountain and he dies there. He doesn’t have many other choices but with what he has been given he works. That that isn’t always a bad thing I found beautifully illustrated by the following quote:

“One clear autumn, when a roll of sandpaper slipped out of his hand and sprang down the slope like an impetuous young goat before eventually siling out over a spur of rock and vanishing in the depths, Egger paused for the first time in years (after his wives death) and contemplated his surroundings. The sun was low, and even the distant mountaintops stood out so clearly that it was as if someone had just finished painting them onto the sky.”

Years and years he saw nothing, he worked, ate and slept and worked a lot more and then he sees something again for the first time in years. The strength of a small life is once more put brilliantly when the author describes what happens when Andreas Egger sees Grace Kelly on the small screen. He is overwhelmed with so much beauty, it confuses him. He never watches television again.

The sturdiness, the quietness and the resilience of Andreas Egger stayed with me. I’ve never met a person like him. Well you can’t find a man like that in the city that’s for sure. How we city people miss out.

The Long Way Home (Chief Inspector Gamache)
The Long Way Home (Chief Inspector Gamache)
by Louise Penny
Edition: Paperback
Price: £5.99

4.0 out of 5 stars Imagining Peter, 4 May 2016
This book is a different kind of thriller in that it doesn’t deal with the riddle of who murdered whom. The main question that this book deals with is: Where is Peter? The search starts when Peter doesn’t show up at the appointed time to meet his estranged wife Clara. What follows is the immersion into Peter’s mind by the usual suspects (Beauvoir, Gamache, Clara, Reine-Marie and Mirna) through the bread crumbs he has left.

This book deals for the most part with the question: who is Peter. Through previous books we have met him as a gifted, loyal but also insecure and egotistical artist with a frail sense of self. The rising star of his wife in the art world shakes him to the core. A clash is born between the artist whose art is mostly a demonstration of craftsmanship and rational thought and the artist whose art comes from richness of spirit and imaginative thought. A battle that is lost by Peter not for lack of will, but for lack of self.

I found the journey of our fantastic five through the mind and art of Peter an interesting one. I’ve always been intrigued by him. How could such an man be such a snob in his view of art and at the same time be such a loyal friend and husband? Well he could not be both as it turned out. In his search Peter realises that there are other things than rational thought and deliberation that make for great art. What they are would spoil the fun. But a loyal reader of Penny would be really dim if the fight between thought and emotion would not appear on that horizon.

Any criticism? I’ve read this book and listened to it and I had the strange experience that I read a great book and I listened to less great book. Penny is always exuberant in her descriptions and leaves little to the imagination. Sentimentality is always trying to get hold of the pages, in vain for the most part of the books. But now the search for goodness is hammered home too much. The Marilyn Robinson quote for example: ‘A brave man in a brave country’ is impressive heard once. After that it becomes annoying. And what about the opinion of the source of all good art. I don’t know anything about art but must there be such a chasm between thought and emotion?

But all in all I found this book really enjoyable.

Career of Evil (Cormoran Strike)
Career of Evil (Cormoran Strike)
by Robert Galbraith
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £9.00

0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars There is (no) Poetry in Darkness, 5 Nov. 2015
This installment is undeniably a ‘Galbraith’: people are drenched in evil (read egoism/ egotism, selfishness, opportunism, greed, a plain love of torture and an overall lack of any form of kindness). In this pool of awfulness there are two people trying to save those notions of: kindness, goodness, friendship and the protection of those who can’t protect themselves. Even if they don’t always know what is more important protection or friendship. A struggle that especially Strike has to overcome.

The story starts when Robin is send a severed leg. Cormoran thinks the leg is related to his actions with some perverse men in his past. So he surmises that there are four possible suspects. Because the police is on the wrong track, he and Robin are compelled to do the sleuthing themselves. The suspects are all very unsavory people. Mostly they hate women a Lot. There are chapters written from the murderers point of view. It wasn’t easy reading. I thought about the necessity of that point of view. What did it contribute to the story; well a lot of filth and gore. I didn’t think it was necessary to understand the murderer. The actions spoke for themselves, loudly. Perversity spelled out just make you gag. Perversity shown by actions adds all kinds of emotions; fear, empathy for the victim, guessing at the motives of the murderer.

I liked this book a lot. Galbraith writes with gusto. Everything, every description is rich and bold and larger than life. As always there is the emphasis on the shortcomings of so many people, that makes me wonder about my own motives and my behavior to others. Speaking about good people, I must say something about Shanker (don’t know the spelling got the audio book). Every time he was on, it was great fun. Just like Orlando in the previous book, he is the person who makes you smile. If you need a ride he is there with a car even if it seems to be stolen.

In the book one of the dark creatures says that there is poetry in darkness. This book makes it pretty clear: there is not.

The Ghost Fields (Unabridged Audiobook)
The Ghost Fields (Unabridged Audiobook)
by Elly Griffiths
Edition: Audio CD
Price: £20.41

5.0 out of 5 stars Great Sense of Fun, 5 Nov. 2015
I got this book as an audio deal and what a deal it was! This book is great fun. Ruth, a forensic archaeologist, consults on the finding of a body in a WWII fighter plane. The man seems to have ties with the inhabitants of the local manor. Mystery follows.

What makes this book great is the cast of characters. Ruth is a welcome addition to the pantheon of female thriller protagonists. She is not neurotic ( doing a happy dance), seems to inhabit a world wider than her family, she actually likes her job, she seems to talk about things that bother her and she makes decisions when necessary. It’s sad to say, but that is refreshing.

The other great thing about this book is the sense of fun. Griffiths is a master in describing the ridiculous of everyday life; who doesn’t know a person who thinks his house conspires with the gods of chaos to give the house back to it’ s own chaotic devices (phones in cellars and bathrooms, never where they are supposed to be). Also there is a quiet humour in the interaction between the main characters.

So five stars for this book for it’s plain sense of fun.

To Dwell in Darkness (Duncan Kincaid/Gemma James Novels (Paperback))
To Dwell in Darkness (Duncan Kincaid/Gemma James Novels (Paperback))
by Deborah Crombie
Edition: Paperback
Price: £10.72

3.0 out of 5 stars Scratching Darkness, 5 Nov. 2015
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
I have always been a great fan of Deborah Crombie. I never warmed very much to her main characters Kincaid and James. They were too one dimensionally nice for me. But her cast of ever changing murder bystanders has always been spot on. Maybe it’s because they are captured in very stressful periods in their lives: everything that lay dormant behind the facade of everyday life comes to the surface when a murder touches it. Nobody can write more sensitive about the incredible frailty that is a human being in distress. Nobody can show better what that frailty can do with a person: good and bad. A baddy never is just an evil person. He or she is always so much more; and that makes them kind of scary because they could be you. The good people often are lonely, vulnerable and a bit odd or weird or detached as if they are the only people on earth. What separates them from the bad people is that there is something in them they hold on to: some experience that gave them hope, however short or insignificant that experience was. Those characters are the reason I always pre-order Crombies books.

But lately I’m less and less impressed with her books. I think it has something to do with the ever increasing circle of friends that surround James and Kincaid. All these people have to have some kind of screen time and that doesn’t do the plot much good. It all feels a bit lacklustre: a bomb explodes, a protest group seems to be involved, a man disappears. Was he the bomber? The murder mystery could have been great because all the ingredients were there: great characters with ties in the corporate and the protest world, a mysteriously disappeared stranger with a more mysterious personality than even God. But the execution feels lazy and only scratches the surface of the dilemma’s that if treated with a little more care would have been so much more exciting. But as it is, it is an OK story, nicely told, nicely written.

I hope that the next book will be back with hauntingly beautiful prose and characters with more secrets than the average bank manager and more layers than a tormented poet.

The Humans
The Humans
by Matt Haig
Edition: Paperback
Price: £6.29

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars ‘On how to be human’ (By an alien), 14 Sept. 2015
This review is from: The Humans (Paperback)
An alien appears on earth with just one single mission: to destroy all the proof of a great mathematical scientific discovery, that means all the physical evidence: digital as well as human. To be near his objects he clothes himself with the body of Andrew Martin, the man who made the discovery. And that is when things start to become complicated because human hard drives are different from digital hard drives in that they have all kinds of other properties and idiosyncrasies. Not only that, those character trades influence him in ways he could not have imagined. There is a neglected wife who can’t stop worrying, there is a very unhappy son with a preference for train tracks and roofs that are much too high and finally there is a clairvoyant dog. What seems to be a very easy job becomes the hardest thing he has ever done. And there is one question that starts to be the hardest one he ever faced: what is it in him that makes him doubt his mission?

That is the core question of this book. How is it that he values the life of a teenager much more than the safety of the universe? The alien has no idea. But this alien is smart and has a feeling in his gut. On his quest he discovers that there are worse things than pain and death. The value of the paradox is another thing he finds worthwhile: an eternal life lived in comfort can be very short when remembered. The meaning of a short: ‘How was your day?’, can stretch endlessly.

This is a beautiful book that makes you think about what is really important in life (peanut butter is of much more importance than the solution to the Riemann hypothesis). What I found the cleverest thing of the book was that the man from another world felt more and more human as the story progressed. That’s just plain good writing. What I also found very impressive: Haig showed us how beautiful mathematics can be, that prime numbers can be a source happiness as well as madness and that Emily Dickinson is the answer to (almost) anything.

Finally a quote from the great man himself:
'She laughed some more. Laughter, I realised, was the reverberating sound of a truth hitting a lie. Humans existed inside their own delusions and laughing was a way out - the only possible bridge they had between each other. That, and love.'

The Girl on the Train
The Girl on the Train
by Paula Hawkins
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £3.85

3.0 out of 5 stars Basic Instinct, 21 May 2015
This review is from: The Girl on the Train (Hardcover)
Lots of people have summed up the content of the book, so I will confine myself to the things that struck me.
This book is compared to ‘Gone Girl’. The books are both situated in the domestic sphere and the characters are at best flawed and at worst deeply unlikable and amoral. But the differences are much more poignant: whereas in ‘Gone Girl’ there is a great brain at work, someone who reflects and deals accordingly, the actions of the characters in this book are entirely defined by instinct. That gives the book it’s claustrophobic feel. There is hardly anything that make the characters reach beyond themselves, it is as if they are bend into themselves. There is just instinct and that makes the women manipulative and petulant mothers and the men selfish and egotistical alpha males.

I have to admit I warmed to Rachel. She made stupid decisions all the time, but she was stubborn as well and eager to know the truth. There was something there, she wanted to reach out.

Sugar and Spice (Little Black Dress)
Sugar and Spice (Little Black Dress)
Price: £2.99

2.0 out of 5 stars Sugar and Spice: if only that were the case, 12 May 2015
I read the writers' second book first and that is a much better book than this. This book has all the flaws of a debut: the plot meanders boringly along: divorcee gets fired from her high powered job and decides to open a cake shop. Lots of chicklit heroines open cake shops, nothing wrong with that. It's about the way it is handled. That is not very good in this case. It takes a long time to take off. Maybe it has something to do with the bleakness of the heroine. Even an indecisive heroine can be interesting as long as we are in the characters’ head. Maddy is not interesting in that way. It was hard for me to imagine a woman who worked in the city could be so weak and indecisive. She wines a lot and cries a lot and in the mean time she bakes cakes. Although it is a tale of discovering your strengths (which she does I must say) Maddy stays a cardboard figure for me, so were the other characters in the book, bleak and not very well drawn. This book is a pale shadow of it's successor. So read that one instead; it has a strong plot and well drawn characters. The title: A Date in your Diary.

Great House
Great House
by Nicole Krauss
Edition: Paperback
Price: £8.99

5.0 out of 5 stars Finding words, 8 May 2015
This review is from: Great House (Paperback)
Sometimes you read a book you want to live in. Great House is such a book for me. You want to see and describe the world as the writer does. But after reading this book I think that seeing is describing and vice versa.

This book is about people who live with the greatest loss, people who are haunted by it. Question is: how can you live when the dead are with so many? How do you cope with being alive when voices of the dead are all around you. How do you speak when the silence of those who were but are not anymore is almost like a living being around you? How do you live with someone who is consumed by loss and refuses to talk about it except in stories so disturbing that they make you wonder about the morbidity that is part of your wife? Those are the questions this book poses. Is it possible to live after the death of your family, of your community? Is it possible to live with someone who is with so many?

Those questions are personified in this book by people who inhabit five stories. They are connected by a huge desk. Soon you understand that this monstrous desk is a metaphor for the inhuman burden the owners of the desk carry with them.

There is a writer who wonders about the source of her imagination. What she thought was her strength may well be the root of her loneliness. What is she without her writing?

Then there is the tale of a father and son. I found this a very poignant story, because the father has such a different voice than all the other characters in the book. All the other characters are rather introverted people, thoughtful, scholars or writers. This man has an outspoken voice, a practical man. This man has a son who feels the suffering of those around him, man or animal or country (Israel/ Palestine). It may sound soft, but it never is, because we are in the head of the father. This intense feeling makes him angry and insecure. How do you prepare such a child for life? In an ultimate attempt to toughen the boy up, he holds the boys pet turtle above the blender. That image says it all for me.

There are two siblings who are held hostage by the ruthless search of their father for his history, his family, for the things that were theirs. They are held in his web, not capable of getting loose, living now.

Finally there is the story of a wife told by her husband. This story I found the most curious, because the wife is so full of concealment. The wife, Lotte, came to England with the last Kindertransport. She is the only survivor, she never talks, she never tells, she only writes. It poses the question if it is possible to love someone who conceals the most of her. Is it love when you never ask or is it just the fear of losing the person you need the most?

`No, what I'm speaking of now, or trying to speak of, is something else, the sense that her self-sufficiency- the proof she carried within her that she could withstand unthinkable tragedy on her own, that in fact the extreme solitude she had constructed around herself, reducing herself, folding in on herself, turning a silent scream into the weight of private work, was precisely what enabled her to withstand it - made it impossible for her to ever need me as I needed her. No matter how bleak or tragic her stories were, their effort, their creation, could only ever be a form of hope, a denial of death or a howl of life in the face of it.' (p. 256)

This book is a must read, because the prose is so beautiful and poetic. Krauss describes the particular so well that only superb writers are capable of. She reminded me a lot of Etty Hillesum who in her diary describes her world so meticulously that her moods, her world becomes readers world, the readers mood.
This book is a must read because the stories are deeply moving. They ultimately made me wonder if it is possible to love another and if so if love is a nice thing. The answer to the first question is yes, I think, the answer to the second: no. When we love someone we tread around their black holes with reverence on a good day, on a bad day we try to remember the reverence and act accordingly, or we howl.

Strong as Death is Love - The Song of Songs, Ruth, Esther, Jonah, and Daniel, a Translation with Commentary
Strong as Death is Love - The Song of Songs, Ruth, Esther, Jonah, and Daniel, a Translation with Commentary
by Robert Alter
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £18.99

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Beautiful translation a must have for every vicar (and it saves 'commentary-reading-time'), 7 May 2015
Another beautiful commentary by Robert Alter. This is a commentary of some of the books that are part of the Ketuvim, the strange and wonderful books that surround Torah and Nabiim. Alter does what he does best: he translates and explains in such a way that you understand the text as a whole better. And therefore this book is a must have for every vicar. Reading a commentary can sometimes give the experience of entering a maze; the biblical text is cut into tiny pieces and the reasons for doing so can be very obscure and more prompted by modern ideas about what can be called an inconsistency than doing right by the text. Not this book though. The literary themes are clearly lined out in the preface to every book, and supported by the accurate and beautiful translation and annotation of the text. And having a clear understanding of the themes and the texts gives much clearer sermons.

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