Wednesday, August 31, 2016

“The Angel's Game” by Carlos Ruiz Zafon – The Forgotten Books' Connection

The Angel's Game by Carlos Ruiz Zafon - book cover
While the modern man may seem to be shifting from the literary medium to the visual one, there is no doubt that books will continue to play a very powerful role in the lives of billions of people in the coming decades, if not centuries. As a matter of fact, their impact is so important and palpable that it often becomes the subject of a magnificent story, as is the case with The Angel's Game by Carlos Ruiz Zafon.

Taking us back to his dark and Gothic version of Barcelona, Zafon presents us with a pulp writer by the name of David Martin. He spends his days in his abandoned (and relatively haunted) mansion in the heart of the city, churning out one story after the next. As one might expect from someone living in those circumstances, things could certainly be better for him, especially as his frustrations begin piling up one on top of the other, slowly leading him into desperation. However, a bright light shines on him in the form of a mysterious stranger offering him a publishing deal... one that seems almost too good to be true. Being in no condition to refuse, Martin relishes the chance and jumps straight to work. However, he eventually comes to realize there is a connection between the books he writes and the darkness surrounding his mansion, and that the mysterious publisher is certainly not who he seems.

Monday, August 29, 2016

“Before the Fall” by Noah Hawley – The Ties that Bind Us

Before the Fall by Noah Hawley - book cover
It feels counter-intuitive, but it seems to be commonly-accepted knowledge that air travel is safer than any other method, with the ratio of plane crashes to successful flights being negligibly low. As a matter of fact, when it the unthinkable does happen, we're often quicker to think of human error or some conspiracy rather than lay the blame on technical malfunctions. However, that doesn't stop many of us from having the very rational fear of hoisting ourselves in a metal box kilometres above the sky, where a slight problem could spell doom for everyone. Noah Hawley seems to know that quite well, with a desolating plane crash setting the stage for his latest novel, Before the Fall.

The story begins as we are introduced to a group of eleven (ten of them part of the elite, one a regular painter) people departing on a private jet towards New York. A few minutes into their flight, something goes terribly awry and the plane descends straight into the ocean, leaving no survivors save the painter, Scott Burroughs, and a four-year-old child who is destined to be the last heir to unimaginably wealthy family. As we get to learn more about the aftermath of the crash and the people that were on board that plane, things start taking a turn for the weird as alarming coincidences point to the possibility of a conspiracy. After all, could it really be a simple mistake or malfunction that led to the end of so many influential people?

Friday, August 26, 2016

“The Twelve” by Justin Cronin – Salvation by the Dozen

The Twelve by Justin Cronin - book cover
A world falling apart is generally a rather complex issue, one that deserves to be explored from multiple angles... after all, world-changing events such as the apocalypse can give rise to many interesting scenarios. With the second book in The Passage trilogy, The Twelve, Justin Cronin continues to weave his ginormous web of narrative threads, both looking back at the beginning from a different angle and pursuing the stories unfinished in the first novel.

Just a note of warning, you pretty much have to read the first book in the trilogy in order to enjoy this one. Otherwise, get ready to spend half your reading time on Google trying to make sense of everything you're reading.

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

“A Streetcar Named Desire” by Tennessee Williams – The Primitive Man Inside

Since the days when we crawled out of our caves to create larger societies we have striven to become more and more civilized... that is, to abandon the urges considered primitive in favour of intellectual pursuits, effectively transcending the inner caveman. Of course, the world is far from being an ideal place, with practice often heavily differing from theory. Virtually all of us have to contend with the so-called inner caveman, the manifestation of base desires that often come into contradiction with what society has been teaching us. In his Pulitzer Prize-winning play A Streetcar Named Desire, Tennessee Williams illustrates that struggle perfectly through the troubled life of a very flawed woman.

Sunday, August 21, 2016

“It Ends with Us” by Colleen Hoover – The Love Triangle of Broken Souls

It Ends with Us by Colleen Hoover - book cover
While it is true that virtually all of us have or will at some point experience some turbulence when it comes to romantic relationships, most can rejoice for never experiencing something more emotionally-taxing than an angry break-up. However, as you might expect, there are those for whom questions regarding relationships get infinitely more complex and nuanced, as is the case with all the characters involved in Colleen Hoover's It Ends with Us.

In this book we are first introduced to Lily, a woman who never exactly had it easy in life, but nevertheless managed to power on through, graduating from college and starting her own business. The only thing missing from her life is true love, and she believes she may have found it with the magnificent neurosurgeon Ryle Kincaid. While the latter may certainly be an enticing catch, especially with his soft spot for Lily, he isn't exactly all he appears to be: as it turns out, Kincaid has an irrational aversion to relationships, and even dating in general. Even though he does start to break that last rule for Lily, she can't help but wonder what on Earth could have led him down such a lonely and secretive path. This new relationship she got into begins to overwhelm her, at which point her first love and protector suddenly returns, putting all Lily has worked for in jeopardy. And so, these three imperfect people find themselves entangled in a complex triangle that will test and teach them more than they could have ever expected.

Friday, August 19, 2016

“A Clockwork Orange” by Anthony Burgess – Taming the Ultra-Violence

A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess-book cover
The idea of separating society into criminals and law-abiding citizens has taken hold in virtually every country, and it certainly makes a lot of sense: either you break the law and cause harm, or you don't and stay out of trouble. Of course, in practice things often turn out to be different, with lawbreakers escaping consequences while law-abiding citizens suffer unjust harm. While incarceration is an effective form of punishment used throughout the world, its ultimate goal is rehabilitation and reintegration into society, provided of course the crimes aren't too severe... but then comes the question: how far can we push our limits for the sake of redemption and freedom?

Many years ago Anthony Burgess pondered on such questions, writing his timeless classic also made into a movie of the same name, A Clockwork Orange. Written back in 1963, it introduces us to a dystopian sort of future, one where criminals like Alex, the main character, take over the city at night and make it their playground. As Alex and his gang escalate their acts of violence further and further, they find it difficult to escape the ire of the government, who then sets out to reform and redeem Alex from his base urges... but are the results really worth all the side effects and methods used? Is there really some kind of redemption to be found for him, or can there only be punishment for the grief he inflicted?

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

“The Passage” by Justin Cronin – An Experimental Apocalypse

The Passage by Justin Cronin - book cover
In the world of post-apocalyptic novels one would be hard-pressed to find a scenario that hasn't been covered yet. It seems that throughout the centuries we've managed to come dangerously close to exhausting all the possibilities for our specie's demise, and that's forcing authors to dig deeper and deeper into their creative genius to put new twists on things. Justin Cronin is one such author, and his efforts have brought us The Passage trilogy, with the first book being appropriately-titled The Passage.

The epic three-book journey begins as we are acquainted with Amy, a young girl whose life is marked by devastation as she kidnapped and forced to participate in a governmental experiment at the fragile age of six, all while a valiant lawman, special agent Brad Wolgast, does his best to track her down and save her... and he does so, but not before the experiment goes awfully wrong and precipitates the collapse of human society. Decades later, small patches of survivors live in a world ravaged by a virus that turns people into blood-lusting vampires, leaving no hope for those who have the misfortune of being alive. However, hope still lives on as Amy may be holding a trump card up her sleeve, one that could potentially shift the tides.

Saturday, August 13, 2016

“The Cardinal of the Kremlin” by Tom Clancy – Infiltrating the Red Bear's Cave

The Cardinal of the Kremlin by Tom Clancy - book cover
There is a time many of us are too young to remember, while those who do see it as a distant past... but just over twenty-five years ago, the Soviet Union was still alive, and a few years earlier was still prospering well enough. There was a sense of balance between the two superpowers of the world, and while their presence certainly did serve to keep the other in check, it also set the stage for an era of advanced espionage where information was the most valuable commodity. Tom Clancy often uses this setting as a backdrop for his celebrated novels, as he did for perhaps one of his more overlooked masterpieces, The Cardinal of the Kremlin.

It is the third book in the Jack Ryan series, and while it does fill in some blanks left by the other books and ties certain events together, it is by no means necessary to read the novels in order. You'll be able to quickly get into it and there will never be a moment when you'll feel as if you're missing out because of something you haven't read elsewhere in the series. And so without further ado, let us get on with the show.

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

“NYPD Red 4” by James Patterson and Marshall Karp - Blood on the Silver Screen

NYPD Red 4 by James Patterson and Marshall Karp-book cover
We get small glimpses into their lives through cameras and newspapers, and what we see often furthers our belief that they really are different from us. We constantly yearn for what they have, yet at the same time we have no idea of what sacrifices that entails. Indeed, celebrities are somewhat of a mystery for many of us, almost seeming to live in an entire world apart, one reserved for a higher class of humans. But then there are always events reminding us that these are mortal people, with a head, two arms and two legs just like everyone else... events like murder, as it happens in NYDP Red 4 by James Patterson and Marshall Karp.

Tuesday, August 09, 2016

“My Name is Lucy Barton” by Elizabeth Strout – A Wounded Life

My Name is Lucy Barton by Elizabeth Strout - book cover
No matter which paths we choose to take through life, there comes a time when we realize that all roads to lead to Rome, a fate none of us can escape in the end. When the time comes, we all want to be able to look back on our lives with real pride and joy, pointing out both moments of great pain and happiness alike; after all, we are the sum of our experiences, both good and bad. For some, however, the moment to look back on life comes somewhere in the middle, as is the case with the relatively traumatized titular protagonist in My Name is Lucy Barton by Elizabeth Strout.

As the novel opens up, we are presented with Lucy Barton herself, lying on a hospital bed and recovering from an operation that turned out to be more complicated than anticipated. Middle-aged, with a family and partially successful as a writer, her life seems to enjoy the kind of stability many can only dream of. However, in through the door comes walking her mother, someone she hasn't kept in touch with for many years. As they begin to talk and gossip, Lucy begins the journey into her own past, digging deeper and deeper, remembering all the moments that defined her, that turned her into the imperfect woman she is today.

Friday, August 05, 2016

“The Guest Room” by Chris Bohjalian –Mistakes that Shape Life

The Guest Room by Chris Bohjalian - book cover
Some would argue that our identities are essentially confined to our collection of memories, to the important decisions we've made in our lives, and shaped by the mistakes that stay with us until the end of time (or until we get old enough to start forgetting). In one way or another, we always learn something from the big errors we make and the catastrophes we cause, but not everyone is lucky enough to escape from their own misfortune unscathed, as is the case in The Guest Room by Chris Bohjalian.

The book begins as we are introduced to Richard and Kristin Chapman, a relatively happy couple, with the former preparing to organize a bachelor party for his brother. Without too much of a protest, Kristin agreed to take their daughter away for the evening so the men can have their fun. Though Kristin did expect a bit of debauchery, she never imagined how far they would take things, that her husband would have a defining intimate moment in the titular guest room, or that two women would stab their bodyguards to death before vanishing into the night. As the next morning comes, Kristin and Richard see their life spiral out of control as their home becomes a crime scene and Richard is put on indefinite leave by his banking firm... not to mention the infidelity Kristin probably won't forgive him for. While the Chapmans try to hold their communal life together, the dark-haired Alexandra who Richard approached at the party has her first taste of freedom in a long time... but it's soured by her now being on the run from both the police and the mafia.

Tuesday, August 02, 2016

Exploring the Literary Universe with Allen Eskens

Allen Eskens

Personal site

Allen Eskens is a writer whose first novel was The Life We Bury, with a Bachelor of Arts in Journalism from the University of Minnesota.

In 2015 he was nominated for the Edgar Award for Best First Novel by an American Author. His grand goal is to give readers novels that challenge their creative thinking with magnificent twists but also respect them with intellectual honesty and appreciation.
The art of writing is one very few (if any) can claim to have mastered completely, with even the titans of literature looking at it as a lifelong learning process. Today, we have the fantastic opportunity of looking a bit deeper into that process with reputed author Allen Eskens. He is responsible for writing the highly-acclaimed novels The Life We Bury and The Guise of Another, and is currently getting ready to release his next effort, The Heavens May Fall. Here are the words of wisdom he had to share with the rest of the world:

Q: To start at the beginning, how far back can you trace your entry into the world of books and the birth of your desire to become a writer? When did you write your first story?

AE: Honestly, I have always been a very slow reader and easily distracted. My entry into writing came after I left law school. I started college as a theater major where I developed a love of the dramatic structure. After deciding to become a lawyer, I needed a way to scratch my creative itch, so I began to study writing. Now, writing is my passion. I’ve written short stories for class assignments, but never with the intention of getting anything published. My first attempt at publication was my debut novel, The Life We Bury.

Q: Despite now being a writer you were a criminal defense attorney for approximately twenty years; what pushed you to change your path? Do you ever use that time of your life as an inspiration when writing any of your books? Has it helped you become a better writer?

AE: I am still a criminal defense attorney, although I spend more time on my writing endeavors than law these days. I don’t draw as much material from my law practice as one might expect, relying instead on my overactive imagination.