Amy Nelson-Mille has read two novels by Robert Karjel

Amy Nelson-Mile reads non-stop, mostly mysteries but also SF, literary works, YA, and cookbooks. When she isn’t reading and experimenting with new recipes, she works as an administrator, listens to almost all types of music, and hangs out with her husband and their two dogs and two cats in Regina, Saskatchewan.

Amy and I originally met online when she organized a speaking engagement for me that I gave via Skype. Since then, it’s our mutual love of crime fiction, mysteries and reading in general that keep us in regular contact.

The Swede (Ernest Grip #1)

After the Monsoon (Ernest Grip #2)

Recently I devoured the first two novels in Robert Karjel’s Ernst Grip series, The Swede and After The Monsoon. I’d discovered them after a fellow mystery-lover had shared a review in the New York Times of the second book in the series,  “Nordic Noir, In the Horn of Africa.”

Although the review focuses on the second book, I read them in order of publication, which I always do with a series. I’m glad I did, because so much of Grip’s backstory unfolds there, backstory that is necessary for a full appreciation of the continuing development of his personal storyline in the second book.

I flew through both books over the course of a few days. In the first book, the sub-plot originally started out as an independent storyline but was connected to the main plot partway through the book. Then, at the end of the book, I was left breathless with shock by the final, unexpected connection. The impact stayed with me for several days and I couldn’t wait to read the second in the series.

I enjoyed the second book as well, although it didn’t have the same punch at the end. Still, there were moments throughout the book that linger with me; Karjel has a genius for the smaller, telling details.

Karjel has been called a part of the “Nordic Noir” genre. Although the protagonist and some of the minor characters in each are Swedish, both of these novels are primarily set outside of Scandinavia (Thailand and Africa figure prominently), unlike many other novels in the genre.

However, one shared technique that I’ve seen with all of them is a sense of emotional distance between the main character and the reader. This could simply be a side effect of the difficulties of translation, but in Karjel’s case I think it’s deliberate. Grip is a fan of the artist Edward Hopper, especially Nighthawks, and the solitude, even loneliness, shown in that painting reflects the tone of the books.

I’m absolutely looking forward to the next Karjel novel and hope that it will be one in the Grip series.

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Susan Toy has read “The Overstory”

In a year during which I’ve already read so many good books – so many in fact I haven’t been able to keep up with posting about them here to this blog … I had to begin writing about this book I’ve just finished reading today that I am happy to say I found to be great! One of the best books I’ve read in my lifetime of reading! On a scale of 1-5, I would give this book an 8!

The Overstory
by Richard Powers

Listen. There’s something you need to hear. p.4

As I’ve been reading The Overstory, the latest novel by Richard Powers, I’ve also been telling good reading friends, individually, about the book, recommending that they too read it because I know it will appeal to them on so many levels: the writing is so very good; the story is seamlessly well-crafted and well-told; it’s about trees.

The very best literature not only excels because of the quality of the writing and the perfection of the story and the way the characters are drawn/depicted, but also in the way it can sway a reader to think, to see the book’s subject in a different way, and maybe even change that one reader’s mind or perspective – all without proselytizing or manipulation of the reader’s emotions.

The best arguments in the world won’t change a person’s mind. The only thing that can do that is a good story. p.488

The Overstory has done all of that for me. One long-time reading pal I wrote to about this book earlier in the week immediately told me she had heard only a day or two before from another friend who said the book had been “life-changing.” Now that I have finished reading, I have to agree. I certainly see trees and forests – and the future of the world – in a different way and, just as with the characters in the book, I feel a call to action to protect them, and to bring attention to what has been done to trees in the name of the advancement of mankind … and to amass more money for some.

This is not a book I recommend lightly to everyone to read. It’s a long novel at 502 pages, and it’s not genre fiction (which too many readers tend block themselves with into a reading box they can’t seem to escape). This book does require patience and thought, plus maybe some bit of a social conscience. Writers will appreciate the sheer mastery of the way Powers strings words together (I found myself shouting “Wow!” at sentences and descriptions that surprised and delighted me) and at the way the story itself is constructed. Readers will also understand (I hope!) most of the references made throughout to other books and authors. Gardeners will especially love that this is, ultimately, a novel about trees. I’m sure that nothing Powers says in this book about trees and their importance will surprise any of the gardeners reading it, but it was an eye-opener for me.

I read (and was a sales rep for) Richard Powers’ previous novel, Generosity, which was about a writing class. I enjoyed his writing of that very much and have wanted to read Orfeo, a more recent novel, but have just not had time. Now I plan to make the time, for reading and rereading everything Powers has written. Richard Powers has previously won major awards for his writing. I predict that this book will win even more for him. And, even if it isn’t judged the same way by others, I will not think any the less of it. When I finished reading the last page this morning, I wanted to begin reading the book all over again, it’s that good. My reading friend I mentioned above has always agreed with me on what we called, “Books that make us weep” – these are not books that make us cry because they are sad or emotional, but that make us weep out of sheer joy for the writing, the story, the characters, and how the book makes us think about its subject. Plus, when we got to the end, we wanted to begin reading all over again. That’s definitely true of The Overstory, Judy!

This, to me, is what writing and reading should be about, folks! A book so good, so GREAT!, that I want to tell everyone about it … and I do apologize to the librarian I spoke to at (perhaps) more length than I should have about it yesterday, but then she did mention how attractive she’d found the cover to be when she first unpacked the book. I do believe she already has a hold on the book though. 🙂

I’m going outside now to sit next to a tree …

An explanation: It has not gone unnoticed that I’ve read a book about saving trees in its hardcover print edition … although I did borrow this copy from the library. It’s interesting that one of the characters in the book also makes mention of the irony of her having written a bestselling book about trees (in pre-eBook days, too) and is concerned over all the trees that will be destroyed in printing it.

Darlene Foster is reading “In the Shadow of 10,000 Hills”

Darlene Foster is a Canadian author who has previously been featured on Reading Recommendations. She has recently published Amanda in New Mexico – Ghosts in the Wind in her Amanda Travels series. The book she is now reading is already on my TBR list!

In The Shadow of 10,000 Hills
by Jennifer Haupt

I found out about this book via NetGalley. It is published by my publisher and will be released April 1. It takes place in Rwanda and you know how I enjoy reading about other places. The story is told through the eyes of 5 different people, only one of who is from Rwanda. I am enjoying it, even though a few parts are disturbing. The story takes place after the genocide but there are flashbacks and of course the after-effects of such a terrible time. The well-developed characters grow on you. I am hoping for a satisfying ending as everyone comes to grips with their own story.

Darlene Foster
For more about Darlene and her books see her website.

Cheryl Schenk has read “By Gaslight”

Cheryl Schenk is the first reader-friend to answer my request to provide information on a current reading favourite for this blog! I’ve recently begun reading an eBook copy I borrowed from the library as a result of Cheryl telling me about it on Facebook. Thanks, Cheryl, for your contribution.

By Gaslight
by Stephen Price

I heard Steven Price speak at our local library during the annual Starfest event. I was not familiar with his writing, and until that night, had not heard about this book. I was taken not only by the author, but enjoyed the stories he told, and the story of how this particular book began.

The fictional story is set in 19th Century London, England, with several back-stories of the Pinkerton’s lives set earlier in America. William Pinkerton has set himself the task for pursuing a man his father had relentlessly, but unsuccessfully, pursued for many years.

It took me a long time to read this book, not only because of its lengthy 731 pages, but because I started it at a very busy time in my own life. However, the main story and all of the sub-stories, captured me from the very first moment, and I never doubted that I would read to the very end.

I found Mr. Price to be a vivid writer, so much so, that I could almost hear and smell the sounds and scents of Old England, much of which was extremely unpleasant. His main characters came to life quickly, as does the story and intrigue. The streets, the alley ways, the fog, and of course the gaslight all take on a character of their own.

I will most certainly watch for more by this author.

Susan Toy was reading “Setting Free the Kites”

I say “was” instead of “is” in the title of this post, because I read this book in less than 2 days and didn’t want to stop long enough to write about it on this blog … it was that good!!

I first heard about the book from Will Schwalbe, who you may remember as the inspiration for beginning this blog in the first place … Will had posted on Facebook a few weeks ago a link to Alex George’s novel when it was released in paperback, saying he “loved” it – and that was enough recommendation for me! I was able to borrow the eBook from the library and began reading on Tuesday morning this week, finishing it up last night. And … WOW!!! was all I could say at the time.

Setting Free the Kites
by Alex George

To say I LOVED this novel is an understatement! It definitely fulfilled all the requirements for me: Great writing/ characters/ story line/ a few plot twists I did not anticipate. I could go on listing more of this book’s qualities, but I think it’s important for other readers to discover this book for themselves. Suffice it to say it’s going on my list of “favourite books of all time”! Right up there with All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr, published in 2014, another book I LOVED for all the same reasons.

What stands out, more than anything for me with both these books is the high quality of the writing. If it were only the writing I judged, I would have been a happy reader. But there were so many other elements that were equally outstanding – Oh, just read Setting Free the Kites and you’ll understand what I mean!! I cried at the end, and I’m not ashamed to tell you that! I wept, mainly because the book had ended, and I wanted to go right back to the beginning and start reading all over again. But I experienced so many other emotions while reading (joy, surprise, sadness, grief, happiness, and out-and-out hilarity that had me laughing a full and complete belly laugh so loud I felt it necessary to apologize to my neighbour for the noise – then recommend that she read this book, as well!) that by the end I felt as though I had lived a complete life alongside the main character, his family and friends.

Absolutely and positively HIGHLY recommended!!!

(All the way through reading, I had this nagging feeling that, in some ways, this book reminded me of the writing of John Irving, specifically The World According to Garp, which I had always enjoyed. I must go back and reread that novel to see if I’m right. But then I remembered that one of Irving’s early novels was titled Setting Free the Bears … perhaps that’s where the subliminal comparison came from.)

 

Susan Toy is reading “Fire and Fury”

Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House
by Michael Wolff

It’s a good thing I read The Book of Joy before this book … I keep casting my thoughts back, longingly, to that lovely book. This one I’m talking about today is such a contrast to that, but it’s an important book to read, nonetheless.

Dennis is reading it at the same time, but is almost finished. I’m lagging back, wanting to read it all, but finding it difficult, only because THERE’S SO MUCH IN HERE THAT WILL TOTALLY BOGGLE ANY SANE THINKING PERSON’S MIND!!! (And remember, I was prepared for reading this one by reading Fantasyland first. Still … I shudder.)

As I explained to friends … If we’d been told this book was fiction, it would have been hilarious, one of the funniest novels ever! Unfortunately, as it’s non-fiction, it’s absolutely, gobsmackingly frightening! It could never be fiction anyway, because you just can’t possibly make up shit like this!!! (And, coincidentally, after I wrote that last line, I read that Sean Spicer’s personal mantra had become, “You can’t make this shit up!”)

In a way, it’s kind of like seeing a massive train wreck happen right in front of you, one with large numbers of casualties and destruction … you can’t do anything yourself to stop it happening or to help survivors, but you can’t take your eyes away from the horror of it – all you can do is keep watching in shock, repugnance, and disbelief.

So, I persist … But it is an excellent synopsis of this past year – the only problem being that the year has been much, much worse in many ways than we ever realized. I’m only at February, 2017. Dennis keeps saying, “Every new chapter is more astonishing than the previous one!”

It’s definitely an important book, and not to be dismissed – especially by those who think that all it covers is gossip and “fake news” about Trump … when they haven’t bothered to read the book themselves. (The worst type of book censors, in my mind!!!)

Just one quote from the book:

This became a staff goal–to create situations in which he was comfortable, to construct something of a bubble, to wall him off from a mean-spirited world. Indeed, they carefully sought to replicate this formula: Trump in the Oval Office or in a larger West Wing ceremonial room presiding in front of a receptive audience, with a photo opportunity. Trump was often his own stage manager at these events, directing people in and out of the picture.

And now – I’m just about to begin reading the chapter titled, “Russia”.

But what frightens me most is that the last page of the book will read: TO BE CONTINUED …

(By the way, Michael Wolff’s writing is excellent!)

Susan Toy is reading “The Book of Joy”

The Book of Joy: Lasting Happiness in a Changing World
by Dalai Lama XIV, Desmond Tutu, Douglas Carlton Abrams

I can guarantee that reading this book will definitely make you feel joyful!

While it was first published in 2016, I only just learned of the book when it popped up on the library’s page of recommended titles. I thought it looked interesting and decided to borrow it. The book is a series of conversations between two very inspiring and wise men- and both Nobel Prize recipients – the Dalai Lama and Archbishop Desmond Tutu. Douglas Abrams brought the two together on the occasion of the Dalai Lama’s 80th birthday, and all three discussed the topic of “Joy” – what it is, how to acquire joy, and why the world needs more of it.

This is not a religious book, nor is it even spiritual in intent, but it is philosophical in providing and discussing the idea as to how we can all live a more joyful life. And how to spread that joy to others intentionally.

What I loved about this book, and the conversation between these men, was that it was so very joyful to read, making me smile throughout. I wrote down many passages in my “commonplace book” and will definitely go back to reread those quotes. Difficult to narrow it down to just a very few … but I think these will give you an idea of what the book is about:

Too much self-centered thinking is the source of suffering. A compassionate concern for others’ well-being is the source of happiness. ~ Dalai Lama

… we must include in formal education of our youth some teaching of compassion and basic ethics, not on the basis of religious belief but on the basis of scientific findings and our common sense and our universal experience. ~ Dalai Lama

It is when without thinking about it you help someone who is less well off, when you are kind to someone else and do these things that raise others up, you end up being joyful. ~ Desmond Tutu

We must teach people, especially our youth, the source of happiness and satisfaction. We must teach them that the ultimate source of happiness is within themselves. Not Machine. Not technology. Not money. Not power.
… our book is part of this important process to help spread the message that love, kindness, and affection are the source of joy and happiness.
~ Dalai Lama

To get a better sense of exactly why I was so impressed with this book, have a look at the dedicated website and the brief video there. The joy these two men exude is palpable and the video, but even more so the book, will have you grinning from ear to ear!