Inferno

Well it’s done! Finally finished Dan Brown’s new bestseller Inferno. I read this 463 page book in three days.  17305367Yeah I know I’m on holiday, so I won’t brag too much about that.  I thought that reading this book in Italy would help me get into it even more. Well it did but not for the reasons you’re probably thinking.  First of all, I wished I was vacationing in Florence because that would have been perfect, being able to see all those fantastic places with a twist.  Even though, the thing I loved was all the Italian spoken in the book.  I could practically hear myself saying the lines in Italian with a great accent.

Brown has a way of constructing an interesting story, while touching on some relevant topics, which introduces the reader to secret societies and all rolled up in dark suspense with a dash of art and architecture.  His books are becoming the new travel guide.  Robert Langdon is still the loveable intellectual professor of symbolism who has gotten himself into another mess.  We can’t help but love him.  Isn’t this cover stunning?  Love it!  It’ the UK hardcover edition.

Inferno is basically fuelled by the real Inferno by Dante, which is the first book in his Divine Comedy.  It is followed by Purgatorio and Paradiso. Now somehow I got out of university as an English literature major without having to read The Divine Comedy and I’m just a little ashamed to admit it.  After reading Inferno, I suddenly found myself being more interested about his work.  The mystery behind Dante and his life are explained in-depth and you will definitely be tempted to read The Divine Comedy too or at least to visit Florence.  So, does it sound like I’m over the moon about this book?  Well not really.  I gave it a modest three stars on Goodreads.  It’s very predictable in places, writing style isn’t stellar(reads like a movie script), similar format to all of his other books (i.e. short chapters and info/history/fact followed by suspense.  Does this mean I’m going to stop reading Dan Brown’s books?  No, absolutely not.  For some reason I can’t resist the way he mixes intrigue with secret societies, symbolism, architecture, and fabulous cities like Florence.  Read it if you want a good escape.  It’s perfect for that!

Dan Brown became famous after the release of The Da Vinci Code in 2003.  He is an American thriller fiction writer who has had two of his books adapted to film – The Da Vinci Code and Angels and Demons.  Brown had a brief career in the music industry and self-produced SynthAnimals, which was a children’s cassette.  His sudden interest in writing thriller novels came after reading and enjoying The Doomsday Conspiracy by Sidney Sheldon.  Digital Fortress was his first thriller novel set in Seville and it was published in 1998.  I haven’t read this one yet.  I remember reading the description and it didn’t grab me.  Subsequently, Angels and Demons and Deception Point were published consecutively in 2000 and 2001.  The character of Robert Langdon was first introduced in Angels and Demons and continued on in a series of books called The Da Vinci Code, The Lost Symbol, and finally Inferno.  Brown is most noted for his acute sense of detail because he researches extensively the places, secret societies, architecture, and art that he includes in his novels.  The description of some of the places and cities that he writes about are the most appealing aspects of his novels.  I’m sure this isn’t the last we’ll see of Robert Langdon.  So will you be picking this up or giving it a miss?  If you’ve already read it drop me a line below and tell me what you thought.  No spoilers please. 🙂

The Case of the Missing Servant

8471656I’m no expert when it comes to detective novels but when I read a good one I’m really happy about it and I just have to tell you guys about it.  The Case of the Missing Servant ignited some kind of desire to read more detective novels, especially of its kind.  What kind you may ask? Those that contain larger than life characters placed in the modern-day back drop of hustling and bustling India.  All the elements for a captivating intrigue are present; starting with Vish Puri.  He is the managing director of Most Private Investigators Ltd.  He’s a tall big Punjabi man who’s passionate about his work and takes it very seriously.  He’s striking, intelligent, and loves his food.  Looking at the cover one would have a tendency to compare him to a Hercule Poirot type character but that’s farther from the truth.  He’s an original of his own kind – a hands on detective that uses the oldest methods around to solve crimes, mainly disguise.  His talented team uses disguises and their knowledge of where they need to go to get the information they’re seeking.

The highlights of this novel are all the information surrounding India, its regions, different dialects, food, violence, culture, etc.  One major warning is this book will make you hungry for Indian food and I’m in Italy at the moment.  Those are all the things I loved about The Case of the Missing Servant.  When Vish was eating I was too in my mind.  The Case of the Missing Servant will teach you about India and entertain you with a mystery.  As I was reading along I had no problem picturing the scenes or the characters.  Some of the characters aren’t described physically at all but for some reason I quickly imagined what they might look like with no problem.  I could see this book being adapted to television or to the cinema with no problem, i.e. fantastic scenery, characters, plot, and costumes.  This series will bring to mind The No°1 Ladies Detective Agency by Alexander McCall Smith, which I haven’t read yet.  Although, I think the only similarities are that these series are written by Brits who have set their stories in a foreign country where they’ve lived and that they know well. This is what makes The Case of the Missing Servant so real.  It’s clear Hall knows Delhi very well because of the quality of the descriptions and cultural references.  Nothing is forced and everything feels authentic and flows.  The writing style and the extra India facts are like icing on the cake.  The only thing that bugged me was having to flip to the back of the book to the glossary to check the meaning of the different phrases and vocabulary in Hindu (sometimes 3 times on the same page).  I would have preferred having the glossary footnoted at the bottom of the pages.  I would have finished reading it much quicker, and footnotes would have aided in improving my reading flow.  Overall, I love reading fiction set in India, especially when the details seem to be realistic and the plot is engaging.

Tarquin Hall was born in London but has lived abroad most of his life in various countries, including India, Pakistan, Turkey, the United States, and Kenya.  He is a successful journalist and has written over seven books and many articles which have appeared in top British newspapers.  His first book was published in 1994.  From there he continued to write other novels like, To the Elephant Graveyard (2000), which has been deemed a classic and Salaam Brick Lane (2005), which is a non-fiction book written about his return to live and rediscover life in London and in particular Brick Lane with his Indian-born American fiancée.  I’m really interested in checking this one out since I need to read more non-fiction.  I’m also curious to compare it with Brick Lane by Monica Ali.  I would like to see how accurate the setting and feel of Brick Lane was in comparison to Hall’s real account.  Subsequently, Hall then ventured into writing detective novels by creating the dedicated, clever, and proud Punjabi detective Vish Puri, beginning with The Case of the Missing Servant (2008), The Case of the Man who Died Laughing (2010), and The Case of the Deadly Butter Chicken (2012).  The fourth novel, The Case of the Love Commandos will be out this year at the beginning of October.  Look forward to more reviews on this series.  I can’t wait until The Case of the Man who Died Laughing shows up in my mailbox.  So, if you’re looking for a detective novel with a special twist check it out.

Sexy

12523Good looking.  Fine.  Cute. Hunky.  Sexy.  Hot.  The word sexy can best be defined as being sexually suggestive, stimulating, or appealing.  However equivocal the word, since it can be used to describe how one feels and how one is perceived, that is the main focal point of the Young Adult novel by Joyce Carol Oates.  The novel begins with an intriguing first line which sucked me in immediately.  “Soon as he turned sixteen, put on weight and began to get attention for his looks, things began to turn weird.” (Sexy, p. 1)  That first chapter then continues on with descriptions of how good-looking, shy and sexy Darren Flynn is. Of course these are the opinions of the way he is perceived, spoken by the narrator.  Narrated in the third person with peppered dialogue here and there, we get to the crux of sexy and other issues that are floating around in Darren’s head and the other character’s too.

Darren Flynn is tallish light-haired and built like a swimmer/diver – broad shoulders, slim waist.  We are introduced to the two most import parts of his world, which are his home and school life.  These are the two places that an adolescent has to fit.  It seems that fitting in at home can prove to be just as difficult as fitting in at school.  Once these worlds are constructed for us along with the important characters the story takes off into directions you won’t believe.  Oates took the word sexy and exploited it to the max and that’s what I admired about the writing and the plot.  Sexy is not a typical Young Adult novel.  It has typical physical characteristics of a Young Adult novel because the chapters are fairly short, the typography is large, and the pages have wide margins.  However, Sexy has a literary style of writing and isn’t just a plot with typical characters that you’ve seen before and the plot is not predictable.  Some of the main themes of Sexy are coming of age, budding sexuality, friendship and trust, loyalty and its importance, how rumours get spread and can poison the innocent.  It’s worth the read and the 4 stars I gave it on Goodreads.

 Joyce Carol Oates is known for having written over 40 novels, plays, short stories, poetry, novellas, and non-fiction work.   Sexy is her fourth Young Adult novel published in 2005.  Some school libraries have attempted to ban Sexy because of its mature themes and strong language, although I don’t think it’s any worse than what adolescents hear and see daily on television or the internet. It’s for that reason I’d love to hear what adolescents have to say about it.  Some of her other Young Adult novels are Big Mouth & Ugly Girl (2002), Small Avalanches and Other Stories (2003), After the Wreck, I Picked Myself Up, Spread My Wings, and Flew Away (2006), Two or Three Things I forgot to Tell You (2012) and Freaky Green Eyes, which was critically acclaimed while being designated as one of the best children’s books of 2003. If you’ve read Sexy please comment below and tell me what you thought of it, especially if you’re an adolescent.

One Crazy Summer

This summer I plunged into One Crazy Summer by Rita Williams-Garcia.  Its attractive cover will definitely 13639804entice Middle Grade readers, as well as Young Adult readers to discover a crazy summer in Oakland, California in 1968.  The novel begins with Delphine, Vonetta, and Fern, threes sisters on their way to Oakland in pursuit of their mother that left them behind.  Their meeting with Cecile, their mother, alias Nzila, will lead the girls to more than who their mother is but to a better understanding of the fight for Civil Rights.

One Crazy Summer explores everyday life in the sixties, while depicting another aspect of the Black Panthers’ movement.  It’s a touching and informative lesson in Black History.  The story means even more since it’s being told through the eyes of Delphine, the oldest sister who is eleven years old and responsible for everything.  She is terribly veracious in recounting the story and her personal feelings.  You will feel attached and supportive of her.  Vonetta is the middle sister and she loves to be seen, while Fern is the youngest and follows her two big sisters and looks to them for solace.

Rita Williams-Garcia won four major awards – the Scott O’Dell Awards for Historical Fiction, the Newberry Honor Award, the Coretta Scott King Award, and was a National Book Award Finalist for One Crazy Summer along with many other literary distinctions.  The book is a lovely edition which contains Williams-Garcia’s acceptance speech for the Coretta Scott King award, a deleted chapter, and activities that could be used in schools to study this novel more in-depth.  Well worth the read and full of wonderful ideas for teachers that want to teach more African-American history. I rated One Crazy Summer 4 stars on Goodreads.  I’m very interested in discovering more of Rita Williams-Garcia’s work.  Some of her other titles include Blue Tights, Every Time a Rainbow Dies, Fast talk on a Slow Track, Jumped, Like sisters on the Homefront, and No Laughter Here.  This book seems to be a tribute to the children who lived through the vociferous times of the sixties.  …” “I had enjoyed my childhood.”  In spite of the necessary upheaval going on in the country and the world,….in spite of being reminded that tomorrow was not promised, I enjoyed my childhood.  My siblings and I indulged in now-vanishing pastimes.  We played hard.  Read books. Colored with crayons.  Rode bikes.  Spoke as children spoke.  Dreamed our childish dreams.  If our parents did anything for us at all, they gave us a place to be children and kept the adult world in its place-as best as they could.  But curious eyes and ears always latch on to something.” (One Crazy Summer, p.3 of Extras – An excerpt from Rita Williams-Garcia’s Acceptance Speech for the Coretta Scott King Author Award for One Crazy Summer)

After her father was discharged from the army, Williams-Garcia and her family moved back to New York where there was a strong presence of the Black Panther Party.  The image that she saw of them in her neighborhood didn’t at all equate to the image that was being delineated in the media.  She admits openly to members of her family being former Black Panthers and Black Nationalists.  Subsequently, this beautifully written story about the Black Panther Party’s handiwork in the black community and three little black girls discovering their mother and their civic duty is one you shouldn’t miss, not to mention it’s perfect for young readers. Click the link below to hear Rita Williams-Garcia speaking sprightly about One Crazy Summer and go to http://www.ritawg.com for more information about her work and her future upcoming events.

French Milk

After reading Warpworld, the science-fiction novel that happily surprised me, I just couldn’t decide what to pick up 1574310next.  So after having a quick look over a few of my shelves, French Milk seemed to be calling my name.  French Milk was written by Lucy Knisley and published in 2007.  Earlier this year I read Relish: My Life in the Kitchen, which was the first novel I read from Knisley, which I reviewed favourably.

What I loved about Relish I also loved about French Milk too.  French Milk recounts Lucy and her mother’s six-week stay in Paris in 2006 to highlight her mother turning 50 and Lucy turning 23.  The book is a mixture of illustration and photography.  Knisley has a brilliant style of illustrating that appeals to many.  It’s really an excellent idea to talk about Paris in this way.  She is very candid and seems to have left nothing out of her six weeks in Paris.  She talks about all of their visits, what they eat, the oddities of their 5th arrondissement apartment, and the particularities of the French.

If you live in France and/or know a bit about Paris, it will make you laugh, smile and surely nod your head in agreement on quite a lot of things.  Knisley has a very keen sense of observation during her brief stay in Paris.  Her book definitely makes for an excellent publicity praising how scrumptious French food can be too. The entire book was making we want to go out and get some foie gras and it’s not even the moment to eat foie gras. It’s too darn hot!

Needless to say, check out French Milk it’s got the list of what to do, see, and eat when you finally get to Paris for a visit.  If you already live in France it’ll make you want to re-visit some places.  The only thing I disagreed with Knisley on was the milk.  She made it sound as if there was no low-fat milk in France, when actually there is full-fat, half-fat, and low-fat.  I guess she never saw the others, but I strongly agree that the milk tastes delicious here.  It doesn’t taste a thing like what I grew up drinking in the States.  Be that as it may, this is a book that is well worth the time and not bad for lounging on the beach on holiday either.