June 24th, 2010

meditating angel, weeping angel

Books 63-64: Deadly Communion and Ratcatcher

Book 63: Deadly Communion (Liebermann Files 05) .
Author: Frank Tallis, 2010.
Genre: Historical Fiction. Mystery. Psychology. Early 20th century Vienna.
Other Details: Trade Paperback, 344 pages.

In this fifth outing for Dr. Max Liebermann, a sexual predator is at large on the streets of Vienna. Called in to assist the police by Detective Inspector Oskar Rheinhardt, Liebermann finds clear signs that the killer is no ordinary 'lust murderer' but something darker that reflects the twin preoccupations of the age: sex and death. Aside from assisting in this case Liebermann is also treating a man who is convinced that he has seen his doppelgänger and that this is a herald that he is to die soon. Througout the novel Liebermann uses dreams and a link to fairy tales to unearth the unconscious motivations of various characters.

The novel gives Tallis the chance to explore a number of Freud's key theories including dream interpretation, the Oedipus complex and the link between Eros and Thanatos. As usual, the psychoanalytical bits are written with precision reflecting the author's profession and his knowledge of Freudian theory and history. He never over-uses Freud as a character but keeps him very much in the mentor role. It is quite a dark novel with issues such as paedophilia being raised.

As always Tallis does a brilliant job of establishing historical Vienna and ensuring that details reflect historical events and places such as the innovative sets for an opera and the reform fashion movement that called for women to throw away their corsets. This was, as always, an intelligent and engaging read with many mouth-watering descriptions of the Viennese pastries that Liebermann and Rheinhardt encounter in the various cafés they frequent. I always feel a little sad when one of Tallis' novels comes to an end though remain pleased that he is continuing the series.

Book 64: Ratcatcher (Matthew Hawkwood 01) .
Author: James McGee, 2006.
Genre: Historical Fiction. Regency England. Thriller.
Other Details: Hardback. 410 pages.

Another historical series, this one set in England during the Napoleonic Wars . Matthew Hawkwood, former solider and Bow Street Runner, is assigned to investigate the murder of a naval courier in what initially appears to be a case of highway robbery. It soon is revealed the this murder links to a far larger conspiracy that threatens the security of the entire nation.

I found this a very enjoyable read with an engaging protagonist, a number of colourful supporting characters and an exciting story that moves at a cracking pace. It is very clear that McGee has a strong grasp of the history and culture of the period and the skill to weave this into a gripping story. I'll be on the lookout for more of the adventures of Hawkwood.
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51-52 (Alpha and Omega series)


51. Cry Wolf (Alpha and Omega, Book 1) - Briggs, Patricia
52. Hunting Ground (Alpha and Omega, Book 2) - Briggs, Patricia

These books are set in the same universe as the Mercy Thompson universe, and some characters overlap. I was very glad to get away from Mercy for a while, even though I don't know if the characters are all the different. Still, it was nice to get away from some of the annoying plot problems in the other series, even if Anna (the Omega) and Mercy (the coyote shapeshifter) are somewhat interchangeable.

Does anybody have a similar series of vampire or werewolf books from the male perspective? I'd really like to see a different take on this, especially to see how the female characters are portrayed when the author is male and the central character is, too.

It looks like Dark Flame, the latest in Alyson Noël's Immortals series, just came out, so I'll probably read that next.

Book 27

Title: Disgrace
Author: J.M. Coetze
Topics: Animals, Violence, Desire, Vengeance

After this novel, I'm left puzzled. I'm not exactly sure what I thought about it. This was not the best follow-up to "Say You're One of Them" since at its core Disgrace can be described as a story about violence in Africa. Two of these in a row is not something I would suggest.

Disgrace was odd, and the characters were put in heartbreaking and awkward situations, so for me it was hard to focus on the page. I think that the author managed to capture an unusual reality, but the dialogue seemed a little too contrived for my liking: I found it hard to focus on the characters when there were such bizarre things coming out of their mouths.

David reminded me a little of the protagonist in Richard Russo's Straight Man: academic on the edge of a breakdown, trapped in his need to philosophize and having difficulty coming to terms with the harsh reality of his situation, and of those around them.
books IV

11 -15

11. The World's Most Fantastic Freaks - Mike Parker (1995) 3 / 5
Describes the unfortunate individuals who have been labelled freaks, like the Elephant Man, Siamese twins, and others who have been born with a grotesque physical disadvantage. The book discusses the lives these individuals led, and the way they were treated by their contemporaries.

12. Zelda: A Biography - Nancy Milford (1970) 4 / 5
Zelda Sayre began as a Southern beauty, became an international wonder, and died by fire in a madhouse. With her husband, F. Scott Fitzgerald, she moved in a golden aura of excitement, romance, and promise. The epitome of the Jazz Age, together they rode the crest of the era: to its collapse and their own. From years of exhaustive research, Nancy Milford brings alive the tormented, elusive personality of Zelda and clarifies as never before her relationship with' Scott Fitzgerald. Zelda traces the inner disintegration of a gifted, despairing woman, torn by the clash between her husband's career and her own talent.

Zelda's relationship with Scott wasn't as simple as you would think. For years before everything ended they felt the spark was gone yet they couldn't be away from each other. Scott was possessive about his "material", their life. Zelda seemed fine with it for most of the time even though she wanted to pursue her own dreams. Illness came in the way and the heyday of their glorious days didn't last for long. Such a sad figure she was and what's even more sad is that she has been left in the shadow of Scott like he wanted. We may argue if she really was talented or was she just trying to imitate Scott in her literary pursuits but one thing is for sure: reading about her fate was depressing, shocking and full of bewilderment towards Scott's behaviour.

13. Travels with Charley: In Search of America - John Steinbeck (1962) 2 / 5
n 1960, at age 58, John Steinbeck set out with his French poodle, Charley, to rediscover the country he had been writing about for so many years. Together they crossed America from the northernmost tip of Maine to California's Monterey peninsula, stopping to smell the grass, to see the lights, and to hear the speech of the real America. Steinbeck dined with truckers, encountered bears at Yellowstone, and reflected on the American character, racial hostility, and the unexpected kindness of strangers.

14. Middlesex - Jeffrey Eugenides (2002) 1 / 5
For the first fourteen years of life, Calliope Helen Stephanides, is a coltish schoolgirl, the bright, coddled daughter of a hard-working Greek family who own a chain of hotdog stands in Detroit. But for Calliope, the transformations of puberty do not consist of the usual ripening of womanly curves, but rather the solid musculature, husky voice and nascent mustache of shocking, unsuspected manhood. Named for the muse of epics Calliope is the rarest form of hermaphrodite. "Like Tiresias," she explains, "I was first one thing and then the other."

The writing is all over the place and the story extremely superficial. No matter how hard I tried I could not find any insightful passages or hidden metaphors. Yes, the main character is a hermaphrodite. So? It's not like his/her identity is present as a continuing red thread in the whole "epic family saga" so I wouldn't be that shocked about it. Very very hollow and the ending was flat (I'm surprised I decided to go that far). Well, maybe that was a logical continuance after a flat family story.

15. Between Meals: An Appetite for Paris - A.J. Liebling (1959) 3 / 5
New Yorker writer A.J. Liebling recalls his Parisian apprenticeship in the fine art of eating in this charming memoir.

[ summaries from Barnes & Noble ]