Hi all:

As you know apart from writing and translating (when I have time!) I read books and review in a variety of places. And every so often I bring them here for your information. Today I have a varied selection. See if you find something of interest:

The Great Zoo of China by Matthew Reilly

The Great Zoo of China by Matthew Reilly

The Great Zoo of China by Matthew Reilly. Non-stop action and dragons in China.

Thanks to Net Galley I got a pre-release copy of this novel. It’s still in pre-order, so you can read about it before it comes out.

The Great Zoo of China is a good romp, a fabulous ride and a fast-paced adventure/thriller book. You have to be prepared to suspend disbelief and to not mind if situations are stretched a bit far, but if you are happy to do that…you’ll have a fun read.

The book reminded me of Jurassic Park and reading the interview with the author at the end (that I recommend to readers and writers alike) I was not surprised to discover it was one of his favourite books.  The main differences are the setting and the creatures. If Jurassic Park could be seen as a criticism of capitalism’s lack of scruples, one has to wonder, what would be crueller and hungrier, capitalism run amok or communism desperate to become the biggest power by hijacking the world’s attention? While you might have your own opinion on how likely a scenario this is, the possible reasons provided as background don’t interfere greatly with the enjoyment of the story, unless you take them too seriously.

The Great Zoo of China (hardback cover)

The Great Zoo of China (hardback cover)

The similarities with Jurassic Park go from the pseudo-scientific details (although this book’s premise is more fanciful if you like myths and dragons you’ll enjoy the thought), to the size of the creatures, little children, and families, the action-packed episodes and our wondering who (if anybody) will make it out live.

I liked the female hero although we get but a few glimpses of her previous life and there is little psychological depth, but she has guts aplenty. It’s easy to root for her.

To begin with, the book made me think of a huge action movie, later of an adventure computer game where the main character is always looking for a new weapon to fight the big menace (here really enormous). It also reminded me of horror movies with the scary monster who refuses to die and always keeps coming at you. And of the old movies by instalments where you would go from one nail-biting cliff-hanger to the next without time to catch your breath.

The book is a quick and easy read and a page turner. It made me very aware that there are only so many ways one can say big, huge, enormous…

If you’ve read many books in this genre I don’t think it will break new ground or be utterly surprising but it achieves its aims successfully and it is big. If you want escapism, a read that will make you jump and keep you entertained, this novel more than fits the bill.

This is the pre-order link:

http://www.amazon.com/Great-Zoo-China-Matthew-Reilly-ebook/dp/B00MENIERC/

The Serpent Papers by Jessica Cornwell

The Serpent Papers by Jessica Cornwell

The Serpent Papers by Jessica Cornwell. Alchemy, codices and witches in Barcelona

I requested a free copy of this novel from Net Galley when I read the description and saw this was a book about a quest for knowledge, the search for an old manuscript, and the action took place in part in Barcelona. Being from Barcelona and having loved books and reading all my life, it was difficult to resist.

The Serpent Papers is the story of the search for an old illuminated manuscript (a palimpsest to be precise) that has been hidden for years to prevent its destruction. The links of this manuscript with alchemy, an enigmatic figure (Rex Illuminatus confused  at times with the historical figure of Ramon Llull), immortality, witches, and women’s murders make for a complex story. At the heart of the novel there’s a scholar/detective/expert, Anna Verco, who might or might not have some paranormal powers (that might instead be due to organic reasons). Like in many of these books, the search for meaning also becomes an inquiry into the main character and what she stands for.

Cornwell (granddaughter of John le Carré) builds up a complex structure to tell her story. Letters from different periods, accounts of previous attempts at investigating Rex Illuminatus by other experts, interviews of people who knew the victims, dreams and hallucinations…All of them sound and read real, showing a breadth of knowledge and characterization rich and convincing. The language can go from the poetic and lyrical to the mundane and down-to-earth, changing registers with ease.

I loved the little snippets of folk story and legends of the city of Barcelona, the descriptions of the landscape of the island of Mallorca, and the challenges the story poses. It is not an easy read and it can be demanding, both of one’s attention and also of knowledge and deductive capacities. I wondered if a cast of characters for the different eras with some brief descriptions might not make the reading experience easier.

Men using their power and violence to silence women, women being cast as witches as a way of shutting them up, and centuries of attempts at keeping secrets under wraps are not new ideas (at times it made me think of Lars von Trier’s Antichrist although the novel is more complex) but that does not detract from a solid novel that I kept imagining in a big screen near us. I can see actresses fighting over the main character and Barcelona and Mallorca looking very handsome indeed in the adaptation.

I understand this is the first in an ‘alchemical thriller’ trilogy. The appeal and the pull on the imagination of the subject would keep readers coming back for more. Readers who like books about intrigues in a historical setting and with conspiracy theory backgrounds will enjoy it, although I suspect it might be slightly more demanding than previous titles that have become very popular.

In a separate note, I wasn’t sure about the Catalan sentences. There were a number of typos and I couldn’t work out if it was phonetically recorded rather than intended as orthographically correct. More consistency in that aspect would have made the book more seamless for me (that would not be a problem for people not familiar with Catalan).

Just in case you want to check what others have said, here is the Guardian:

http://www.theguardian.com/books/2015/jan/21/the-serpent-papers-jessica-cornwell-review

Here the link to the actual book:

http://www.amazon.com/The-Serpent-Papers-Trilogy-ebook/dp/B00MELZJM2

 

Alex Haley's Roots. An Author's Odyssey by Adam Henig

Alex Haley’s Roots. An Author’s Odyssey by Adam Henig

Alex Haley’s Roots: An Author’s Odyssey by Adam Henig. Shining some light on the Roots controversy.

This is an informative account of the period of time in Alex Haley’s life following the publication of roots and the TV series but it is not a complete conventional biography. Although it does not delve deep into the author’s motives (it is not a deep psychological portrait), it does a great job of reviewing existing sources and even on occasions adding new material from interviews. I was aware of some of the controversy surrounding ‘Roots’ but not of the evidence and details that unfolded. This is a must for people interested in Roots and Haley, and considering its length, it offers a good summary of the sources. I’d love to see and read more of the extensive sources the author explored to produce this work, as there seems to exist much untapped potential.

A well-written and compelling account of a fascinating work (however we might choose to define it) that changed people’s perception of African-American history and stories.

As an author, I also enjoyed the collection of blogs chartering the journey of Adam Henig to, first research, and finally self-publish the book. I hope more books will follow.

http://www.amazon.com/Alex-Haleys-Roots-Authors-Odyssey-ebook/dp/B00HRN891A/

Thanks to all the authors for their books and special thanks to all of you for reading. Please, like, comment, share, CLICK and above all, keep reading!

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