Wednesday, March 27, 2013

The Andalucian Friend

The Andalucian Friend
Author: Alexander Söderberg
Crown Publishers, 2013
446 pages

OK, I'll admit it: I was attracted to this book because of its title. It just sounds cool, doesn't it? Especially when you imagine Antonio Banderas saying it. Go on. Imagine that. The book is set in Stockholm, though . . . at least for the most part.

As The Andalucian Friend opens, a Swedish nurse named Sophie has befriended one of her hospital patients, a man named Hector Guzman. We soon learn that Hector is the head of an organized crime family who's in a sort of war with a rival organization based in Germany. One by one, we meet some of the people involved on both sides including Aron (who works for Hector and the Spaniards) and Mikhail (who works for the Germans.) And then there's the mysterious independent Jens, an old friend of Sophie's who sort of gets caught between the two groups.

The plot thickens with the introduction of the police investigators: Lars, who develops a creepy fascination with Sophie; the mysterious Anders; and Gunilla, their leader. These are not your typical civil servants. And that's all I'm gonna say about that.

Are you still with me? Because there are a LOT of characters, and it takes some effort on the part of the reader to keep them all straight. Söderberg does a great job of getting us into their heads. Even when we might not want to go there. The focus is on the characters, not on a specific crime. That makes The Andalucian Friend, well, unique.

The Andalucian Friend didn't end like I was expecting, and it wasn't clear to me if the plan is for this to be a standalone or the first in a series. Know what? I kinda like the not-knowing. I'm keeping my eye on this author, though. You can count on that. :)

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Safe House

Safe House
Author: Chris Ewan
Minotaur Books, 2012
448 pages

Safe House has been #1 in the Crime, Thrillers & Mystery category at Amazon UK for quite some time now. It takes place on the Isle of Man. For my geography-challenged friends, that's an island in the Irish sea between Ireland and Great Britain. It was one of the six Celtic nations. It's where Manx cats come from. And it has a very interesting-looking flag. :)

It became very clear to me within just a few pages as to why this book has been at the top of the UK charts: IT'S REALLY GOOD. I was hooked from the get-go when main character Rob wakes up in the hospital after a motorcycle accident. When he asks about the condition of his companion rider, no one seems to know who or what he's talking about. They blame it on his head injury.

But Rob knows he was with someone. Her name was Lena. They hadn't known each other long. In fact, they'd only just met as a result of Rob's work. Now there's no proof that Lena exists, except in Rob's mind.

I don't want to say more, because the plot quickly adds another mystery and more intriguing layers and characters. To say more about it would give too much away. Let's just say this book is quite the ride. Sure, it's over 400 pages long, but those pages fly by quickly.

I'm not sure if this is going to be the first in a series, or if it's a standalone. If it is to be a series, then I can't wait to read the others. Bottom line: If you're a fan of the crime thriller genre, I'm pretty sure you'll love Safe House as much as I did.

Monday, March 11, 2013

The Home

The Home
Author: Scott Nicholson
Haunted Computer Books, 2012
333 pages

Somewhere up in the mountains of North Carolina lives an author who's living the dream. Even though we live in the same state, it took a random browse on Amazon UK for me to discover Scott Nicholson. Turns out he's written numerous books. I decided to start with The Home.

It's set in a world in the not too distant future where religion has taken over the state and secret organizations do nasty things behind closed doors. The protagonist is Freeman Mills, the pre-teen son of an abusive, mad scientist who's in jail for murdering the boy's mother a few years back. Freeman's now an experienced ward of the state, having been in and out of several unsuccessful foster situations. He's gifted with the occasional ability to "triptrap" or read the thoughts of others, and he has a wicked sense of humor.

As the book opens, Freeman's being transferred to a group home in the Blue Ridge mountains called Wendover. There, he'll meet the creepy director of the facility, a man who thinks his brand of religion is the solution to every problem. Other characters include a researcher who thinks he's smarter than everyone else; a therapist with big faith and a big heart; the resident bully; and a girl who just may give Freeman a run for his money.

Then things start to get weird. No spoilers from me. Let's just say that The Home is probably best categorized as a paranormal thriller. It was an easy read, and the Kindle version is in Amazon's Top 40 bargain books as of this writing. (I bought it several months ago for $2.99.)

I'm ready to get back to an international crime thriller now. The question is: where will I go next?  So many books. So little time.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

The Geography of Bliss

The Geography of Bliss
Author: Eric Weiner
Twelve, 2009
368 pages

I'm a geography geek. I've been one for as long as I remember. If you want to get my attention, show me a map, or start talking about your travels. I'm also interested in happiness (and the pursuit of it), so when I learned this book is subtitled One Grump's Search For The Happiest Places in the World, well, you could say it had me from the title.

Eric Weiner is an NPR correspondent who's lived in many interesting global locations and done a great deal of travel. For this project, he visited several countries and talked to lots of people to find out who's happy, who's not, and why. First up: the Netherlands, home of an academic researcher who studies happiness. The Netherlands is also known for its freedom and tolerance. Is that what makes people happy?

Other "happy" countries highlighted in The Geography of Bliss include Iceland, where people have a sort of freedom to fail (is that what makes them happy?) and Bhutan, which actually has a Gross Happiness Index (is happiness required?) Weiner also visited the world's wealthiest country (Qatar) to find out if money makes people happy (does it?) For contrast, he visits the world's unhappiest country (Moldova). These are just a few of the countries visited and questions asked.

Along the way, Weiner has all sorts of adventures: Caffeine withdrawal at an ashram followed by a death-defying motorbike ride in India. The purchase of a ridiculously expensive pen in Qatar. Interesting accommodations in Moldova. Pub time in Great Britain. He also meets all sorts of interesting people  . . . and reveals a very personal addiction (I won't say what it is, but Eric, if you're reading this, you're not alone, my friend).

So what makes people happy? You didn't think I was going to tell you the answer in this entry, did you?! Get the book. That is, if you enjoy reading about travel, psychology, and other cultures. Or if you're a geography geek. Like me.