Monday, March 25, 2013

Everybody Really Does Have a Story

A Week in Winter by Maeve Binchy

On the rugged west coast of Ireland, overlooking the Atlantic Ocean, a large, old stone house is given new life when Irish ex-patriot Chicky Starr and the aging Miss Queenie collaborate to turn the old house into a restful holiday retreat.  As is Binchy's trademark, the book brings together a delightful cast of characters -- each one with a story.

With each character, the reader gets a glimpse into an ordinary life with all its ups and downs, frustrations and victories, sorrows and joys.  All too often, the thing we think will bring joy brings defeat and more than we realize, our defeats can often bring our greatest joys.  Binchy's great gift was that she knew this truth and she knew how to share it.

In her later books, Binchy used re-used many characters and locations.  Each book stood alone but minor characters from one book reappeared as main characters in a later book.  With great skill, she wove characters and plot lines  in and out from one book to the next.  For a reader, it was great fun.  (My favorite was Evening Class and I think that was my introduction to this writer.)

In the grand scheme of things, A Week in Winter is probably not as strong as her other works.  Binchy died in July, 2012, and this book was published posthumously.  She can be forgiven if it lacks some of the cohesion and careful plotting that made her previous work sparkle.

It is, nevertheless, a very good book and I enjoyed reading it.  If you are a Maeve Binchy fan, you will enjoy it.  If you are not a fan, you can become one.   The great thing about writers is that they leave their legacy for us to enjoy when they are gone.  Just begin with one of her other books.

Friday, March 15, 2013

Life Is Like a Bottle of Vodka!

The 100-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared

  • Jonas Jonasson

  • This book is an international best seller and I put off reading it because I expected some cross between The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat (Oliver Sachs) and Tuesdays with Morrie (Mitch Albom).  It was neither.

  • Allan Karlsson, the 100 year old man, is the ultimate opportunist in the very best sense of the word.  He is a simple man, open to everything life puts in front of him.  Like other reviewers, I could not help thinking of Forrest Gump as I read of his encounters with virtually every leader of the late 20th century including Truman, Stalin, Mao, Nixon, and others.

  • Told in flashbacks, his adventures take him around the globe from Paris to Tibet to the Philippines.  Intertwined with all that, his current adventure begins with his leap out the window followed by the theft of a gangster's suitcase full of money.  He hooks up with a hot dog vendor, makes friends with an elephant and...well, you have to read the book.

  • This is a witty, funny romp that is a joy to read.  Once you start, you really can't put it down.  Do yourself a favor and start today!
  • Friday, March 1, 2013

    The Big Exit: An Excellent Second Novel

    The Big Exit by David Carnoy

    David Carnoy has done two extraordinary things.  The first extraordinary thing he did was write a very good, complex, and entertaining mystery called Knife Music. The second extraordinary thing he did was follow up that novel with an even better one called The Big Exit.

    Too many good first novels are followed by disappointing second novels that read like "first tries" hauled out of some dusty file and spruced up to meet some new demand.  In The Big Exit, all the things that made Knife Music a good read are back and Carnoy does a better job with each element.

    The characters are well-drawn and interesting.  Richie Forman is a recently released parolee who earns a living of sorts by impersonating Frank Sinatra.  Beth Hill, his former fiancee, is now married to Richie's ex-friend, a man Richie believes framed him for the crime that sent him to prison.  Carolyn Dupuy, the prosecutor at Richie's trial, is now Beth's attorney, and Hank Madden is back as the investigating officer.

    As the story opens, Mark, the ex-friend, is found in his garage horribly hacked to death and Richie quickly becomes the prime suspect.

    What follows is a plot full of surprises and terrific twists.  Twice, I thought I had cleverly spotted the hidden clue to the real killer's identity only to be sent  scuttling in an entirely different direction.

    If you missed Knife Music, I suggest you read that one first because this is a series that could become seriously addicting.  And, remember to come back and read The Big Exit.  It is an excellent second novel.