The Prisoner Of Heaven by Carlos Ruiz Zafon

There are books that we read and enjoy, then there are book that we read and instantly fall in love with. Enchanted from the first page and forever unable to forget them. The Shadow Of The Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon is one such book for me, so it was with extreme excitement that I began reading his new novel, The Prisoner Of Heaven.

The novel opens by rejoining Zafon’s cast of eccentric and unforgettable characters. Daniel Sempere has married the love of his life Bea and is now the father of his first son Julian. His father still runs his beloved bookshop, Sempere & Son. And Fermin, against the odds, is soon to marry his fiancé.

Life seems peaceful and contented, however this is a Carlos Ruiz Zafon novel and it’s not long before he is cranking up the pace and tension of the book. When Daniel receives a strange and ominous customer at the bookshop it’s clear that the troubles of the past have not being completely banished. The eerie and sardonic customer appears requesting to buy one of the most expensive books that Sempere & Son’s stock, Daniel is reluctant to sell to this unusual and unsettling man, however the stranger produces an irrefutable amount of money. After purchasing the book and scribbling a note in its front page, the stranger leaves, without taking his purchase. Inside is written:

For Fermin Romero De Torres, who returned from among the dead and who has the key to the future.

Daniel is torn, should he tell his good friend of this strange occurrence, or should he try to solve the mystery himself? Upon closer inspection Daniel realises that Fermin’s past is even  more dark and complex than he had ever imagined. From Fermin’s time imprisoned in Montjuic Castle, to his desperate attempts to restart his life. He has lived a turbulent and often tragic existence. But even more startlingly Daniel will come to realise just how intricately his own life links to Fermin’s; opening painful wounds that Daniel would rather forget and causing him to become fuelled by jealousy and the need for revenge.

From people who have read and loved Zafon’s work, to those new to his stories, readers of this book are bound to be hooked. From the magical opening to the climatic and dramatic ending, this story is intoxicating. Like a Russian Doll with many layers to discover, Zafon packs story upon story into one super story, the effect of which left me reeling with excitement.

But with all this undulated praise I have to say the book, for me, wasn’t without fault. Frustratingly the female characters of Zafon’s book seemed even more one-dimensional than in The Shadow Of The Wind. Zafon, a man of irrefutable imagination, seems incapable of presenting anymore than two types of women. There’s the good, virginal woman like Bea. And then there is the alluring, dangerous tempest who turns good men to bad acts.

I can’t deny that this element of the book didn’t annoy me, or baffle me for that matter. How could such an insightful writer lack such vision in this one area?

Maybe there is room for improvement though, I’m certain Zafon geared up this story for another follow-up book. I can’t tell you how much I hope this is the case, not only am I well and truly addicted to Zafon’s writing, he also left some tantalizing questions unanswered.

Interestingly this is now the third in a series of book, The Prisoner Of Heaven relates to The Shadow Of The Wind and The Angles Game. Zafon explains at the beginning of the book that all three books are connected, however do not need to be read in a particular order. I like this idea. First time readers of his need not be daunted by a trilogy of books but could start anywhere.

I’m yet to read The Angels Game but it’s top of my list. Has anyone else read it? And if so is it as good as his other stuff? Has anyone else read this book? Do you plan too? What is your favorite Zafon book so far? I’d love to know your thoughts.

Still here…..honest

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You’d be forgiven for thinking I’d dropped off the face of the earth, so quiet has I hug my books being of late. I feel like a tumble weed should be drifting across the screen.

But I’m still here, honest! Despite some brilliant reading this month, every time I sit down to write I keep getting distracted by this little guy….

Meet PedroThis little monster is Pedro, my new kitten and he does not take kindly to being ignored. Whenever I try to read or type a review I’m reprimanded with a loud meow or a playful paw.

Time just seems to have eluded me this past month and days turn into weeks and weeks month. Before I knew it nearly a whole month had passed and not a peep out  of me on here! So I’m rectifying my slack ways and will be back to my regular blogging asap. It’s my June resolution.

I’ve got some great books to tell you all about and I want to hear what everyone else has being reading/doing?

Thanks everyone for your patience during this quiet month and I hope you enjoy the up and coming reviews soon to be published.

Happy Reading!

Twenty becomes Six With The Unveiling Of The Orange Shortlist 2012

Love it or loath The Orange Prize for Fiction have today announced the shortlist for their 2012 prize. Each year the original long list is whittled down to just six titles which overnight seem to fill the windows of all major bookshops and become inescapable in the general buzz and excitment of this much talked about Prize. So much so that for the next few months at least you can expect to hear and see a lot from the below titles:

Half Blood Blues by Esi Edugyan

The Forgotten Waltz by Anne Enright

Painter of Silence by Georgina Harding

The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller

Foreign Bodies by Cynthia Ozick

State of Wonder by Ann Patchett

 I usually try and keep up with the prize, reading as many titles before the final winner is announced but this year I’ve being considering if Too Much Praise Can Spoil a Book? And I’ve generally decided that as much as I personally love most of the titles that the Orange prize invariably throws up, I wont be such a keen partaker this year. It’s not that I no longer care for the award or that I’m disinterested in the list, it’s just that I no longer feel the need to read each book at a specific time simply because every bookseller and enthusiast is telling me too.

I plan to read many books from both the long and short list but in my own good time when they take my fancy and not before. After all none of these books are going anywhere anytime soon, so what’s the rush.

 But the book I am pleased to see and will probably read sooner rather than later is State Of Wonder by Ann Patchett, perhaps it’s premature for me to be so excited about it’s arrival on the shortlist as I haven’t yet read the book but she’s one of my favourite writers so I’m generally thrilled to see her new novel on there.

I’m not at all surprised to see The Forgotten Waltz on the list, it’s already a much talked about book this year and one that people seem to adore, a strong contender for the final prize perhaps?

 I’m a little shocked that The Night Circus didn’t make the cut, again this is another book that people everywhere seem to love, I thought it was dead cert that it would make the short list.

 The only book I’ve actually tried on the list so far is The Lord of Misrule, I got about 100 pages into it then picked up something else, it wasn’t that I didn’t like the book but I did struggle with some of the colloquial dialect and equestrian terms. I’m determined to finish it though so expect my thoughts soon and please don’t judge the book from these short words, I’m still holding out on my own final opinion.

 So that’s the final short list but what does everyone think? Or you happy with the final six titles, is there something your frustrated to see didn’t make the grade or perhaps you simply don’t care and have an opinion on the award in general? I’d love to hear all your thoughts so please get in touch.

Can too much praise spoil a book?

Surely every writer aspires for recognition and praise? From award nominations to swooping up the biggest prizes and critical acclaim. Isn’t that what all writers secretly dream off? Acknowledgment for a book well written, Promotion in an increasingly tough industry? Surely excessive praise can only be a good thing?  But recently I’ve being wondering, can too much praise spoil a book?

Praise leads to hype, hype leads to inflated expectations and inflated expectations can lead to disappointment and big feelings of being let down. When a book has being shortlisted for more awards than you can remember it’s easy to get carried away and expect brilliant things. It’s no wonder then that so many books fall short of our expectations. So perhaps praise isn’t always such a good thing?

Too much praise also seems to cheapen some books, categorizing them as flash in the pan novels that are having their heyday. But does this kind of hype pigeon-hole certain books?

Two books that really come to mind are Room by Emma Donoghue and Before I Go To Sleep by S.J. Watson. Both books have spine tingling plot lines and with their release came much eager buzz in the literary world with people either recommending them or anticipating their release. A nice steady sense of excitement seemed to gradually build but then over night it was as if you couldn’t escape either book. Suddenly no short list was free of Room and every magazine, newspaper, blogger and bookstore was talking about both books. Expectations suddenly sky rocketed and if you’ve seen my review of Before I Go To Sleep you will know that a few of my book group members felt let down by the book. In this case too much hype definitely spoiled the book.

When Room was nominated for The Orange Prize for fiction in 2011 I read many comments and articles from people tired of seeing this book everywhere and anyway, people were ready for fresh material. They  disregarded the book, exclaimed that it’d had it’s moment and it was time to move over.

And yet both books are brilliant in their own right. Off course the media attention they got wouldn’t hurt sales and I’m sure both writers are pleased with the attention their books got, but I wonder if too much praise spoiled their books? Both books seems to have being pigeon-holed as ‘best-sellers’ well surely that isn’t a bad thing….or is it?

Amongst serious literature loves this phrase can have real negative connotations. Do you want to read a book that every reader out there is reading? What is so special about it? Does the book lose a certain elite charm? become mainstream? too easily accessible and therefore cheapened? Being nominate for the big name awards is great but what about when less revered and respected prizes are associated with your book? Perhaps I’m wrong and some writers would gladly welcome all praise for the simple appreciation it offers, but I will admit that I myself have toyed with reading certain novels because they have become recommended by extremely mainstream critics or awards.

It would seem that too much praise really can ruin a book, altering it from serious literature to a throw away paper back that will soon be clogging up every second-hand book shop.

So what does everyone else think? Would you agree with the points I’ve raised or would you completely disagree? Perhaps find yourself stuck somewhere in the middle? I’d love to know what you all think.

Moby Dick by Herman Melville – A Book Group’s Reaction

I’ll admit that I was a little daunted when Moby Dick was picked for last months book group. Six hundred pages of 19th century fiction? Eek! Not to be putt off I threw myself into Moby Dick determined no to be one of those readers completely lost and disheartened by the book. A few chapters in and my resolve began to wane.

Most people seem to know this story whether they’ve read the book or not. The tale of Captain Ahab and his descent into insanity following a battle with the infamous Moby Dick leaves him bereft of one leg and all of his dignity.

He sets of on a crazed mission to track down the giant sperm whale convinced that the attack was a malicious one.

Embroiling his crew upon his mission he tricks them into thinking it’s just a normal expedition and then later reveals his plans.

On paper the book sounds fascinating, I love books that intimately explore human psychology and the extreme sides and consequences of our desires.

However anyone who has previously read or attempted to read this book might agree that surrounding Ahab’s fascinating descent is a book heavily burdened by tiresome details and facts that seem wholly unnecessary.

Is it really compelling reading to devote so many pages to agonizingly detailed descriptions of each type of whale, it’s habits and appearance? Or the different types of knots used by sailors? However I tried to remain patient. The book was written a long time ago and such information might not have as readily being available as it is today. Perhaps Melville thought his readers would appreciate such extensive information.

But still the whole book seems confused, is it a factual reference for whale fanatics or is it a fictional novel? I couldn’t help thinking ‘please make your mind up’.

When first published the book received criticism along the same lines, however in modern days the book is hailed by many as a genius work of fiction. So what was I missing?

I had hoped out of the other four book group members someone might have caught the meaning and soul of the book where I had failed. Sadly this wasn’t the case.

For a record first time no one managed to complete the book and not from lack of trying, we all tried to get into the book and even postponed the book group meet to give us more time but still the book evaded us.

But opinions weren’t completely one-sided. Some of us felt that although the book was tiring and difficult at times, we did also have moments of pleasure when the threads of the story came together and the more interesting aspects of the book shone through. I loved the parts were Ishmael charted Ahab’s growing madness and I also enjoyed the character descriptions and depictions of life during the 19th century.

Others had similar experiences and only grew frustrated with the book when Melville went right of course and digressed back into more factual writings.

A few of us agreed that we would one day try to finish the book as we’d got so far. Others were honest and admitted they never intended to.

So where did it all go wrong? As a book group that always finishes the books and tries the best to appreciate a novel why was this so difficult?

What does everyone else think of Moby Dick? Have you read ir or attempted it? If so do you like or loath it? Maybe you can point out where w all went wrong? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Russian Winter by Daphne Kalotav

I’m often guilty of having a TBR list twice my own size I rarely find myself reaching the end of a book desperate for it to never end. In fact on the contrary, I’m usually itching to start my next book. So there must be something very special and magical about Daphne Kalotav’s Russian Winter which even at the very last word had me deep with in it’s grasp and desperate not to finish.

Russian Winter is the story of Nina Revskaya, once a beautiful ballerina she is now confined to a wheelchair, crippled with arthritis, betrayed by the very body she has so devotedly perfected. When she decides to donate her entire jewellery collection to Beller auction house and give the proceeds to a ballet school Nina is suddenly flooded with a barrage of inescapable memories. The life she had tried so desperately to escape and leave behind threatens to haunt her once again. Despite her defiance that she will not return to long suppressed memories she is persistently quizzed by Drew Brooks who is leading the auction and whose own curiosity leaves her desperate to know the true origins and history of Nina’s fascinating collection.

Although meeting a wall of cold refusal from the former dancer she is given another window of hope when Professor Grigori Solodin donates a beautiful amber necklace which seems to be part of a set, the two other pieces of which Nina owns but will soon be losing to the auction. What has caused her to giver up these magnificent and valuable pieces? Why is she so secretive about their origins? And what is the connection between the pieces in her collection and Grigori’s necklace?

And so the novel is told back and forth in split time frames. In the modern day Nina tries to fight her memories  and escape from her looming past. Whilst Drew and Grigori forge a friendship trying to unravel the insurmountable obscurity of this jewellery collection, Nina’s  anonymous past and Grigori’s own possible connection to her.

In the past we are given small but delectable snippets of Nina’s charming and fascinating life as a young ballerina in love, surrounded by wonderful and gifted friends in the height of her career. Yet even in the innocence of youth her life is far from simple; set to backdrop of Stalin’s rule in the 1940’s the novel is very often harrowing and painful to read. Daphne displays in accurate and heartbreaking detail an image of life under unimaginable tyranny.

I must admit I had a preference for the parts of the story set in the past. There was something so utterly absorbing in reading about Nina’s life on and off stage; a life that is at times intoxicatingly glamorous and at other stiflingly oppressive.

I’ve read very few books set in this time and didn’t realise the book would so heavily feature this portrayal of communist Russia but these sections of the book actually made up some of my favourite moments in the story. I was shocked to learn so much about the secrecy and lies that haunted this time. How the constant concealment of truth could build a rift between even some of the greatest and most genuine loves.

The ending didn’t go quite as I expected and perhaps quite as I would have liked it to, but this is a book that for me had it’s strengths in the journey on a whole and not in it’s destination.

I didn’t have too many expectations when picking up this book, I love the ballet so hoped that aspect would hold my attention but what I discovered inside of those pages was so much more. Thrilling, captivating, glamorous and at times frightening. Russian Winter blends shocking historical detail with a tragic but beautiful tale of love.

A must read this year.

I read this book as part of a blog tour organised by TLC Book Tours. I’ve enjoyed reading the thoughts from the other people on this tour, and look forward to the others. You can check them out here:

Monday, February 6th: She Reads

Wednesday, February 8th: Reading With Tea

Thursday, February 9th: Fleur Fisher In Her World

Tuesday, February 14th: DizzyC’s Little Book Blog – autoher interview

Wednesday, February 15th: Pining For The West

Thursday, February 16th: Chuck’s Miscellany

Monday, February 20th: One More Page

Tuesday, February 21st: I hug My Books

Wednesday, February 22th: The Sweet Bookshelf

Thursday, February 2rd: A Book Sanctuary

Goodbye August…Hello September

Yes believe it or not it’s that time again. The time to say adious August and welcome in another month which as always will hopefully be filled with many bookish delights. But before I get too excited about the month ahead and all the books I can’t wait to read, it’s time to look back on the books that made August for me.

Sadly this month was a slow one for me, probably because I did something I never do and re read a book, well half a book actually…I will explain. You may remeber that last month I read The God Of Small Things by Arundhati Roy and had a very mixed reaction to it. Whilst on the one hand I was able to appreciate the intelligence and effort that went into this novel I was on the other hand left bereft at my lack of ability to connect with the book. I felt strangely detached from all that happened in the book, slightly defeated by the fact that I had not had the same awe inspiring reaction to it as so many other readers seemed to have had.

When reading the first half of the book I took pain staking time to make sure I fully absorbed every sentence and detail. About half way through though I really gave up and forced myself to fly through the story which is something I never do.

So with this in mind I endevored to read the second half and the result was still a little disapointing. Sadly I didn’t finish the book a true convert to the novel, nor did I feel that I could honeslty say I had discovered the magic of Roy’s work. However I did manage to relax a little, take my time and appreciate certain events and messages within the book that previously had evaded me. I won’t be compltely changing my opinions on this book but I can say the ending was more touching the second time round and for that reason slightly more enjoyable.

So after this slow and rather frustrating read I moved onto something far more uplifting, Witch Light. A story of the atrocious witch hunts in the Seventeenth century and one womans story of survival. The novel was quite unlike anything I usually read and made for a pleasurable story. Especially given that this book describes beautifully the world of Glencoe and all of the majesticy of the natural world. A refreshing change to the rainy days I have been spending in Manchester.

Next up was the wonderful Before I Go To Sleep which I will be reading as part of a  book group tonight…I can’t wait. Until then I will hold back on my thoughts and share them with you in the next few days. I can’t wait to see what everyone else though though and report back to you all.

So what about September, well thankfully I will be enjoying a much needed holiday this month and whislt it might mean a fairly quiet blogging month, for which I apologise in advance, it will hopefully give me the space to catch up on some much needed reading time.

What do you think of my reading choices, I’ve selected Never Look away by Linwood Barclay, I became a fan after reading No Time For Goodbye earlier in the year. A good crime thriller should, fingers crossed, be the perfecr partner for afternoon’s spent by a pool enjoying the sunshine.

I’m also contemplating The Girls by Lori Lansen’s which is the story of conjoined twins. The book comes highly recommended and it seems like a sad but inspiring story so this may well find it’s way into my suitcase. Has anyone else read this book?

I also picked up Rebecca by Daphne Du Maurier at a steal of a price from a second hand bookshop. Whilst this might not make it to Spain with me I do hope it makes it onto my reading list in September as I finally have a copy and can’t wait to read it.

And last but not least I picked up a book by an author that I hadn’t even heard of till I saw it’s attractive silver and pink cover. It’s called White Mice and is written Manchester born writer Nicholas Blincoe which I admit also added to the novels appeal. It seems completley different to the type of literature I usually go for and for that reason it’s top of the TBR list.

So that is August summed up for me and thats my plans for September. So what about everyone else? What are you reading and what did you discover in August? What do you think of my selection? Are there any books on there that you have already read or plan to read? I’d love to hear what reading you have been getting up to?

Also if anyone can recommend some great books suitable for a book group then they would be greatly apprecaited. Tonight is our third meet and as of yet I have no suggestions. Any thoughts?

Happy reading everyone, I hope September brings many treasures your way.