Saturday, September 24, 2011

Thief of Todays and Tomorrows - by Susan Wells Bennett

This book came to me in an “odd” way. Months ago I won a few books through a contest and “Thief of Todays and Tomorrows” was one of the titles I could choose from. I found the unusual title intriguing, and another thing that caught my attention was the fact that it told the story of an Irish woman and her Italian husband… I’m Italian, and my companion is Irish.
It took me a while to get to read it, but once I began I could not put it down. No, this is not the whole truth… I had to put it down, from time to time, because the story was so full of emotion, so tender and sad and true that I found it almost overwhelming.
I have no limits of genre in my choice of books, so I read almost anything, from mainstream to fantasy to thrillers. But I find it difficult to say at what genre this book could belong. In my opinion, as most really good books do, it goes beyond genres and classifications, and reaches that wider, tragic stage that is real life.
Once more, Susan Bennet gives us characters so well defined and with such a strong  personality that they impress themselves in the mind of the reader, to stay there forever. And this is true not only for the main characters, such as Kate or Francis, but also for all the other people that surround them and that for the good or the bad influence their life.
Another thing that I truly loved of the book is the picture it gives of how life was in the US between the end of the Second World War and the Sixties. With a truly masterly hand, Susan Bennet paints a picture of the society of the period, and we could almost consider it another silent character, that slowly evolves and changes throughout the book, creating on one hand the stage on which the personal drama of the characters unfolds, and on the other lending to the book a feeling of “historical” novel, even if it is a rather recent history.
Thief of Todays and Tomorrows is a little masterpiece that carries the reader away to another time and another way of life, not very far removed from our present life but, under some aspects, light years away from it.
Definitely, a book worth reading, that fully deserves a five stars evaluation

The Lonely Mile - By Allen Leverone

I’m a sort of bookworm, so I have many favorite genres and authors, of the past and of the present. To mention a couple, just to stay with The Lonely Mile genre, Alistair McLean and David Baldacci.
This novel was a very nice surprise to me, because it reaches those same levels of tension and has the same fast pace, hooking the reader from the very beginning and managing in just a short chapter to create an atmosphere of anguish, terror and suspense that will underlie the whole story.
As it often happens in both McLean’s and Baldacci’s novels, the main character, Bill Ferguson, is not some superhuman secret agent or detective, he is just a normal man, with a normal family and a normal life, who suddenly finds himself dragged in a nightmarish situation just because he simply could not let a young girl to be kidnapped under his nose without doing anything.
In many ways, he is much more of a hero than all those very qualified agents and detectives we find elsewhere, just because he never expected to become one.
And his enemy, his nemesis, whose plans he has thwarted, is in its own right a much more original “bad guy” than those we usually find in thrillers.
There isn’t much more I can say without spoiling the story. I can add, however, that Leverone ability emerges not only in the way he depicts his character, but also in his building of the plot, apparently very simple but very much misleading in its simplicity, just as in the best McLean novels.
Definitely, in my opinion, a five star novel no lover of the genre can bypass without reading.

Wild life - By Susan Wells Bennett

Wild life is a book that intrigued me from the very beginning, starting with its title. Usually the title of a book would give away a little of its “soul”, tell the reader what to expect… all I could glean from this one was that the book had something to do with animals. And since I love animals, I set to reading it with enthusiasm.
Just to discover that Wild Life became more intriguing by the minute. Every time I thought I had it pegged down to one genre, the story would have some new twist that would somewhat change it, always keeping me on a razor edge about how it would end.
There are so many things I loved about it that I’m finding it difficult to list them all.
First and foremost, the style in which the book is written, clean, flowing, at times downright ironical and amusing, at times meditative or even sad, but always in tone with the events.
Then the characters… they come to life, page after page, making you feel like you’ve always known them, and making you feel for them and with them. Claire and Sondra are very different from each other, and yet each is so vivid and “true” to the last detail. And while being a middle aged man, Milo is also the sort of “hero” a reader will find it difficult to forget. And behind all of them, in the background but always very much present, there are the zoo animals that give the book its title.
A zoo is an unusual setting for a book, and yet even if it is a little startling in the beginning, it soon becomes the natural stage for the characters to move on, even Sondra, who’s clearly more at ease in a bar than in a zoo.
And last but not least, the blending of genres. At the beginning, I thought I was reading a romance, very well written and very unusual, but a romance nonetheless, so I expected the book to develop on the lines of a romance… what I did not foresee nor expect was that what I was discovering about the personal life of the main character would lead to a blending of romance and mystery, brought into being with the utmost ability, with no hanging leads and while maintaining coherence to the whole story.
Definitely, this is a very good novel, which I would set at the same level with the works of the best authors of both genres I have read, and that I highly recommend reading.

The Midnight Eye 1: The Amulet - By William Meikle

The Amulet is a very peculiar book, in which several different elements meet and mix an a very original way. At first you find yourself immersed in a typical "Marlowe" atmosphere, and you think you are reading a classic mystery. Even when you realize the artifact the main character is looking for is not simply a very old, and therefore valuable, object, you aren't prepared for the sudden twist in the story, with the blending of the practical, everyday investigation with a sudden trip in the world of magic and even nightmare, with that good dollop of horror that gives a much different taste to the story, but is artfully added one drop at a time, until the nightmare explodes to its fullest.
Another thing to fully enjoy are the artful descriptions of Glasgow, of its rainy streets and pubs and life.
And, of course, the writing style of the author himself, clean, essential and yet powerful where it needs to be

Wheezer and the Painted Frog - By Kitty Sutton

I approached this book with happy trepidation, because it was carrying me back to a genre I had loved as a child and as a teenager, the one I had grown up with and then I had been forced to leave behind because there weren’t any good western books to read any more.
And it did not fail me.
I realize, however, that defining it just a “western” is highly reductive, for “Wheezer” is much more than that, and can be read on different levels, by people with different interest.
It is, first and foremost, a historical book,  looking into one of the most sorrowful pages of the Native Americans’ history, the “Trail where They Cried”, the forced migration of the Cherokee tribe from their native land to the arid Territory of Oklahoma.  Kitty Sutton has manage to paint the odissey, the agony of a people with just a few words here and there, never getting boring (as historical books could be) and always touching the heart of the reader.
Then there is Wheezer himself… any reader who loves animals in general and dogs in particular cannot help but being captivated by this small, extremely clever dog, who’s a sort of “deus ex machina” throughout the novel. He’s so cute, so brave, so clever, you’ll never have enough of him, you’ll wish to read more about him.
And the other characters, from Jackson Halley to the little, brave Cherokee girl Sasa, to all the other minor characters, are unforgettable too. Kitty has a way of making them come to life with her words so that the reader can actually “see” them and share their emotions, their despair, their pride, their happiness.
And then there is the “western atmosphere” proper, the landscape, the wide spaces, the forest and the arid plains, all brought to life in such way the reader cannot help but feel transported in another land and in another time.
As I said at the beginning, this book brought me back to the love of my childhood and youth,  and I must say that reading Wheezer’s story, the Cherokee people story, Sasa’s story, captivated me as much as the best novels by Zane Grey and Louis L’Amour  managed to do so many years ago.
I definitely recommend reading this book. You’ll feel the richer for

Kiwi in Cat City - By Vickie Johnstone

I must confess that I approached this book with a few misgivings, because I had not read anything meant for children in ages.
But after just a few pages I had already forgotten it was a book for children, or at least I found out that I did not mind it at all. While simple enough that children can understand and enjoy it, the narration is flowing and the style elegant, clean and amusing.
And the plot hooks you from the very start. The idea of children turning into cats and following their own (supposedly) domestic cat to a strange land and toward adventure is quite original in its own right, and the whole story develops with a steady rhythm, in the best mystery style, with a few surprises here and there.
It was a very enjoyable reading, so much so that I’m now looking forward to reading the next volume of Kiwi’s adventures (a few threads are left hanging in the end, but the story is self-conclusive).

Land of Nod: the Artifact - By Gary Hoover

I’ve just finished reading Land of Nod, and I must say it left me with the same feeling most good readings do… a sense of regret that here wasn’t more to read, and a wish for the sequel to come out soon.
It’s been a long time since I read a sci-fi book that appealed so much to me… light enough on the scientific side not to get boring for somebody who, like me, doesn’t like techology and science very much, and yet really powerful on the adventure side and with a very good, enthralling plot. I only wish the psychology of some character had been further explored, but since most of them are seen mostly through Jeff’s eyes, I realize that would have been rather difficult.
All considered, The Land of Nod makes a very good and pleasant reading.