Friday, August 27, 2010

Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins

Too often a sequel to a very popular book is merely a retelling of the first book. There are notable exceptions like J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter books and most definitely the The Hunger Games trilogy. Collins continues the saga of KatnissEverdeen in Catching Fire and it is every bit a compelling read as the previous book.
Home after the Hunger Games, Kat and Peeta have returned home to District 12, richer for their winnings. Kat is determined that Gale and his family will not do without and so she has taken it upon her self to provide for them. But life will never be the same for the two champions. Kat's rebellious act at the end of The Hunger Games has sparked uprisings in a number of the districts and so President Snow comes to visit. He is adamant that she needs to squash the rebellions and the victory tour will see to this. Readers know that Kat will not give up her defiant spirit and speaks accordingly.
In a strange twist of events precipitated by the uprisings and Panem's desire to put Kat in her place the Quarterly Quell is announced. It will send all living victors of The Hunger Games back to the arena. Kat and Peeta will compete again as affianced lovers. Kat has one goal - to protect Peeta at any cost.
To reveal anything else about this book would destroy the plot's twists, turns, and eventual resolution. Suffice it to say, it is a page-turner, although I thought some of the time spent in the arena was a bit prolonged. Maybe it was because I was being impatient and wanting to get to the end. I anxiously await reading, when I can get my hands on a copy, the last in the trilogy - Mockingjay. Collins has hit the mark with this series for those who aren't taken by the plethora of vampire books on the market.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

The Postmistress by Sarah Blake

The novel opens with the question, "What would you think of a postmistress who chose not to deliver the mail?" It is question that engages the reader and gives pause for thought. At first I was incensed that someone would do this, but then I realized that there must be a reasonable back story. Set in the small village of Franklin on Cape Cod, London and other venues in Europe, The Postmistress is the story of Frankie Bard, a reporter who works with Edward R. Murrow in London, Emma Fitch, newly wed wife of Franklin's doctor, and Iris James, the postmistress and how their lives become intertwined.

The strength of the novel is in the character development, the way Blake creates independent individuals who are also products of their time. I can picture Iris in her uniform carefully sorting and delivering mail. How is it that she didn't carry out her duty? Emma is so quiet, so innocent. She keeps to herself after Will has gone to London to regain the confidence and put off the guilt he feels after a devastating tragedy. She endures the day to day life opening herself to few who look to support her. Frankie is adventurous and outspoken. Her radio broadcasts are filled with human interest at the same time urging those to listen and be aware of the world situation even though a listener might not be directly affected. Her call to action against the Germans falls, for the most part, on deaf ears. As she travels throughout Germany, France, and Spain she interviews and records voices of refugees and Jews who are being forced to relocate. Their stories are deeply touching, but we still turned away from help.

There is also a quiet to the book, a poignancy that allows the reader to contemplate the action that happens. Whether it is Iris dealing with a moral dilemma, Emma waiting for letters from Will or Frankie comforting a young child, the reader is deeply affected. As the seasons and pages turned, the realization that war is horrible on so many fronts stands out to the reader and becomes the real message of the book.

Monday, August 2, 2010

The Rembrandt Affair by Daniel Silva

Daniel Silva is a master of the intelligent thriller, spy novel. His latest, The Rembrandt Affair will not disappoint the millions of his fans. It is the next in the series about Gabriel Allon, Israeli intelligence agent and professional art restorer. Silva takes us back to Cornwall, England ( I will get there in my lifetime) where Allon is living a quiet life with his wife Chiara, also a former Israeli operative. The action begins immediately and Silva has his reader hooked. A friend and fellow art restorer has been working on a mysterious Rembrandt painting. He is murdered and the canvas stolen, the action that sets the stage for the novel.

At first Gabriel becomes involved as a favor to Julian Isherwood, Allon's friend and proprietor of a sometimes profitable art gallery in London. However, as the action escalates, Allon becomes immersed with the history of the painting that takes him to Amsterdam and secrets of the Holocaust.
The Rembrandt Affair is somewhat a departure from the usual Silva novel. Evidenced by his interview with a "hidden child", there are many poignant moments in the book. Allon is on the move and he or his colleagues travel to Glastonbury, London, Buenos Aires, Paris, Lake Geneva, and of course Jerusalem. A familiar team is assembled with the likes of Shamron, Uzi Navot, archaeologist, and Eli Lavon. Add to the mix a very attractive British journalist, Zoe Reed, CIA operatives from Langley, British M16 personnel, and you have a group of agents who will search for the painting and in the process encounter nefarious and ruthless business magnates who are willing to undermine world peace for in exchange for amassing wealth.

There is not as much violence in this novel as in the previous Allon books, nor the arms descriptions that the reader has come to expect. Instead we are treated to an array of electronic devices and the tasks that they can accomplish. It was enough to send the best technophile into overdrive. In an interview with Matt Lauer on the Today Show, Silva responds to 3 disturbing accusations about defiling the art world, his writing process, and putting his marriage in jeopardy. In The Rembrandt Affair we also get an insight into some of Silva's political beliefs - his support of Israel, skepticism about global warming, and the ineffectiveness of the Homeland Security department. Silva's writing is accomplished and polished, his characters are more than believable and the reader needs to remember that this is really fiction, and the plot moves more quickly than the reader can turn the page. And now we have to wait at least another year before we are treated to the next Allon installment. Not FAIR!