Friday, April 29, 2011

A Blog Hop and Murakami

 I haven't joined the Crazy-For-Books blog hop for ages so I thought I'd partake today. Jennifer's question is:

"What 2011 summer release are you most looking forward to?"

I had a quick answer to this question however it's not really a summer release but an autumn one. October 25th to be exact. The cool thing is I can pre-order a Kindle edition and have it delivered on the exact date.  Hands down, the book to look forward to this year is IQ84 by Haruki Murakami. Hailed as the author's magnum opus and already a big hit in his native Japan, the trilogy will be published as a 1000-page volume, translated by Harvard professor Jay Rubin. Will Murakami finally win the Nobel Prize with this novel?

From the Guardian UK:

True to form, the story features a surreal narrative and enigmatic characters, including Aomame, a 30-year-old woman whose name means "Green Bean". Aomame – who wanders into a form of parallel reality early in the novel, which she detects by observing minute differences in the physical world around her – commits a series of murders for reasons that are at first obscure. She reflects on this violence in the book with a humorous blandness, visible in a quotation from the Japan Times review:

"If I had not been born with this last name, I wonder if my life would have taken a different shape. For example, if I had a common name like Sato, Tanaka or Suzuki, I might lead a bit more of a relaxed life and look upon the world with a bit more of a magnanimous eye."

Exploring the themes of cult religions, family ties, writing and love, 1Q84 is said to be the story of two characters, a man and a woman, in search of one another. The narrative moves between Aomame's story and that of Tengo, a mathematics tutor with – typically for male characters in Murakami novels – a generally unsuccessful life. Tengo gets involved in an agreement to rewrite on the sly an imperfect novel about a community of little people entered by a teenager for a literary prize. But as the project advances, Tengo realises the dyslexic young girl has not written the novel at all. Growing increasingly uneasy, he finds out more about her past and her childhood days in the commune of Takashima.

October seems a long way away but meanwhile Murakami fans can finally watch a film version of one of his best books.Norwegian Wood was released in Japan last March. I'd love to reread this book though before seeing the film. You can see the trailer (with subtitles) here:

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

The Mathew Shardlake Books

Gosh, I realize I haven't been attentive to my blog lately but as many of you know I have a very good excuse. Baby Benjamin  is doing great and growing fast. He's turning three months on May 3rd. How time flies! However, I haven't been reading as much as I usually do. When last I checked, I've only read ten books this year. My book club has been assigned a door stopper of a novel, a Japanese classic, Musashi by Eiji Yoshikawa. While it does seem like an interesting story, the weight of the book in its hardbound edition is just not conducive to bedside reading so I've been trying to read a few pages here and there during the day. At night, I prefer to snuggle up with the Mathew Shardlake mysteries on my Kindle.

Ah yes, I'm completely enamored of my Kindle. Where has it been all my life? I never thought I'd be an e-reader but it's just so easy to read on it and somehow to have several books in one device is just a comforting thought. I can even fill it up with past favorites so I can dip into them whenever I want to and wherever I want to. I like the highlighting feature, which is great if you're a bookblogger and let's not forget, the dictionary, which is also fantastic.

But ok, back to what I've been reading. Besides my Kindle, I'm hooked on the Mathew Shardlake mysteries by C.J.Sansom. These are books I've seen in every bookstore piled up on the display tables or shelves but I never gave them a second look. Based on the covers, I thought they were something a la Robert Harris or Dan Brown which are both definitely not my cup of tea. However, when a friend mentioned she was a fan of the Shardlake books, I had to check it out. Mathew Shardlake is a hunchback solicitor during the Tudor era who solves mysteries much in the same vein as Umberto Eco's The Name of The Rose minus the Latin. The books are in chronological order so it's best if you read them starting with the first book Dissolution and move on from there. So far there are five books in the series, the last of which, Heartstone, is currently on the longlist for an Edgar award.

Dissolution involves murders in a monastery. It's rich in period detail with the English Reformation in full swing and Thomas Cromwell as the vicar-general, at the helm of King Henry VIII's monarchy. Cromwell dispatches Shardlake to investigate the murders. As more murders ensue and the story unfolds, Shardlake find himself growing increasingly doubtful of the reformation he once staunchly believed in. Dark Fire, the second Shardlake book, begins a few years after Dissolution ends, with Shardlake engaged to defend a young girl accused of  murdering her young cousin.  The girl refuses to speak and, under English law, unless she offers a plea in court she will be crushed to death. Cromwell offers the girl a two-week reprieve if Shardlake agrees to undertake a secret mission involving a formula for dark fire, a powerful weapon.

Both books are brilliantly plotted by Sansom who holds a PhD in History. The books are amazingly rich in historical flavor up to the miscroscopic details...London in the 16th century in all its squalid and stinking glory;  the citizens and monks affected by the reformation and the major upheaval in their lives. It's interesting  how much research Sansom put into these books. Definitely try them if you love historical fiction and mysteries plus Shardlake is a wonderful character. My new hero. I just read that Kenneth Branagh might play him for a BBC series that's in the works but I'm thinking maybe Viggo Mortensen fits the part better. He'd still be attractive even as a hunchbank.

Well, we'll just have to wait and see but I'm sure it will translate to the small screen very well. Now on to the third book in the series, Sovereign. Exciting!

Friday, April 8, 2011

Major Pettigrew's Last Stand

Here's a charming one for you- Major Pettigrew's Last Stand by Helen Simonson. This is a lovely novel  about a classic English gentleman, Major Pettigrew, a widower in his late sixties who unexpectedly falls in love with the beautiful Mrs.Ali, a Pakistani widow who runs a village shop. Their backgrounds couldn't be more different but they discover they actually have many things in common and they slowly fall in love much to the shock of  their family and friends.

"It surprised him that his grief was sharper than in the past few days. He had forgotten that grief does not decline in a straight line or along a slow curve like a graph in a child's math book. Instead, it was almost as if his body contained a big pile of garden rubbish full both of heavy lumps of dirt and of sharp thorny brush that would stab him when he least expected it."

"You are a wise man, Major, and I will consider your advice with great care--and humility." He finished his tea and rose from the table to go to his room. "But I must ask you, do you really understand what it means to be in love with an unsuitable woman?"
"My dear boy," said the Major. "Is there really any other kind?"

"The world is full of small ignorances. We must all do our best to ignore them and thereby keep them small, don't you think?"
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