The Angel’s Game – Straight from the Shelves Friday

I’m really glad I’ve been able to keep up with my reading for the last weeks and managed to write a review for Friday.

So, Monday evening I finished reading „The Angel’s Game” (German title: Das Spiel des Engels) by Carlos Ruiz Zafón. I really liked “The shadow of the wind” which I received a s a present some years ago but somehow never managed to get a hold of “The Angel’s Game” until last week.

I read the German translation since the original is written in Spanish (which I don’t speak) and I really liked it.

Lots of reviews called ‘The Angel’s Game’ a page-turner and I have to agree – after the first chapters the story keeps you reading and I finished it in only two sittings over the weekend. I think the story is a really good mixture of mystery, romance and a some creepy bits. Set in pre-civil war Barcelona and told by the protagonist, David Martín himself ”The Angel’s Game’ takes the reader from the first years of Martín’s life as an unsuccessful journalist over his career as an author of pulp fiction to a fateful meeting with a mysterious French publisher who wants him to write a special book for him. There’s a faint hint of Faust in all this and I found the story both intriguing and exciting. I’ve checked two of Zafón’s earlier publications out from the library I’m looking forward to reading them!

Miss Marple with a passion for poisons – Straight from the shelf Friday

It’s Friday again which means it’s time for ‘Straight from the shelf’ which can be taken literally because one of today’s featured books comes straight from my ‘Off the shelf’-challenge list. One down, 29 to go!

Apart from reviewing the book in this Friday’s edition I will talk a bit about German translations and English originals, book titles and cover designs.

‘The Weed that strings the Hangman’s bag’ ist the second novel in Alan Bradley’s Flavia de Luce series. I came to read the first book (The sweetness at the bottom of the pie) because the cover of the German translation caught my eye while browsing a bookstore. Usually, I like the covers of the English originals better but the depiction of Flavia was quite noticeable in it’s slightly gaudy, gothic look.

There’s an interesting difference between the German and the original cover; the picture and design of the German translation puts it quite distinctly into the young adults / children’s section which is, in fact, where I stumbled about the first volume of this series. While the original book cover and design illustrates elements of the story as well as the German translation, the design is much more neutral and caters to a wider audience. I looked at two local bookstores with a reasonably big assortment of English books and found both titles in the general fiction or mystery & crime section.

Another difference lays in the choice of titles. The original titles ”The sweetness of the bottom of the pie’ and ‘The weed that strings the hangman’s bag’ stem from quotes – Sir Walter Raleigh for the second, William King for the first. Both German titles lose this connection for obvious reasons but again, the translated titles suggest a topic more suited for a younger audience.

This restriction to a smaller audience is a pity because – and with that I finally come to the real review – both books were a pleasure to read and the fact that the stories are told through the eyes and voice of 10-year-old protagonist Flavia de Luce doesn’t make this into a children’s book.

Both books have the makeup of a classical English whodunnit and are situated in an English village a few years after World War II. The de Luces are a family of four, with an often absentminded father who collects stamps and is overall painted as a stuffy widowed Englishman living in their ancestral home in a small village. Flavia is the youngest of three sisters and very interested in chemistry. She’s always thinking and talking about poisons and chemical reactions and puttering about a laboratory installed in the crumbling family manor by an ancestor. Her relationship with her older sisters is difficult and Flavia reacts to some of their verbal attacks with the use of some lower level poisons and other concoctions. While Flavia as a character is highly unrealistic her pragmatic and unorthodox views are entertaining and enable her to solve the central mystery of the murder.

The makeup of the novels is very reminiscent of Agatha Christie’s Miss Marple series with Flavia as a child’s version of Miss Marple. Both characters solve murder cases with the application of unorthodox methods and Flavia’s Inspector Hewitt shows the same grudging approval to her findings as Inspector Slack in Christie’s Miss Marple novels. Even Flavia’s speech about how she ‘solved the case’ and leaving the Inspector stumped seems to come straight out of a Agatha Christie whodunnit with both Miss Marple and Poirot indulging themselves in the same fashion.

Yes, Flavia has a striking resemblance to Miss Marple, if the old lady had had a passion for poison and had been known for zipping through the countryside on her trusty bicycle called ‘Gladis’.

Despite this not very creative construction, both books were an entertaining and funny read.Since Agatha Christie’s mysteries are among my favourite books the familiar setting and the similarities between Flavia and Miss Marple made for an interesting read. I’m looking forward to the third volume of the series!

Straight from the shelf – Friday Book Club

A lot of the new blogs I’ve read this week assign topics to particular days of the week.  I really like this idea and so I thought I’d add a regular book review on Friday. Since my reading lists for my PhD have become bigger and bigger I find myself reading a lot less just for fun. As a result I won’t have enough new books to talk about here every week but I have read tons of interesting stuff over the last 26 years. So, I’ll choose three books with a fixed topic each week. Since I’ve been up north at the coast last weekend, this week’s topic will be ‘The Sea’! (all links from goodreads!)

 

1. Underwater to get out of the rain by Trevor Norton

I’m not an avid reader of non-fiction books but over the last two years there have been a few (not work-related) I really liked. ‘

‘Underwater to get out of the rain’ is a highly entertaining  volume of connected essays in which the author – a renowned marine-biologist – tells about his love of the sea and the shores and waters he visited to pursue his interest and studies. Norton takes the reader from Wales to Scotland, from Spain to North America, from Asia to North Africa and back to Britain, all the while mixing  anecdotes and descriptions  of life near and beneath the waves with interesting scientific facts about jellyfish, limpets, the tide and people connected to the oceans.

My favourite place has always been the coast of the North Sea and nearly all the vacations of my childhood were spent either at the North Sea or the Baltic Sea. Since then I’ve been to the coasts of Scotland during winter, followed the coastline of Brittany for a short week in summer and spent a horrible but nonetheless memorable week on Sylt one extremely stormy september.

Norton does a good job to share his passion about the sea with this book and I’ll be looking for his other works for sure!

 

2. The rider on the white horse (original: Der Schimmelreiter) by Theodor Storm

‘Der Schimmelreiter’ was first published in 1888 and is one of the best known works of Theodor Storm.  It is basically a ghost story set in North Frisia (Germany) and tells the tale of Hauke Haien, a former  local dykereeve, whose unfortunate decisions and obsession compared with nature’s forces ultimately lead to fatal events during one terrible storm flood. Tortured by his past, the ghost of Haien is known to haunt the dyke riding his white horse.

Nearly all of Storm’s novellas and poetry are set in North Frisia and he is a master of capturing the bleakness and harshness of that landscape.  ‘Der Schimmelreiter’ is a dark tale of  men’s arrogance and ultimately his  helplessness in the face of nature’s overwhelming forces as well as the tragic story of a person driven to ruin by his obsession.

I was lucky I didn’t read this book in school (it’s a favourite school reading in Germany) as one tends to dislike a lot of books read in school (I still can’t stand Thomas Mann). Years ago I spent a stormy week in late September on Germany’s northernmost island, Sylt. Lying in my bed with the wind howling around the building after watching the sea swallow up a sizable beach during high tide made reading this book an intense experience. When I later went for a walk at the shore I could imagine seeing Hauke Haien’s ghost on his white horse riding on the crest of the dyke… So, if you haven’t already read it, save this one for a stormy autumn or winter evening!

 

3. The celtic ring by Björn Larsson

‘The celtic Ring’ is, above all, a thriller. There’s a murder, secret societies, conspiracies and two men from Sweden sailing across the North Sea mid-winter. But apart from the very gripping plot, Larsson lets his narrator express an encompassing awe and respect for the sea. Ulf, the first-person-narrator lives on his sailing-boat  and throughout the story experiences both the liberating and the dangerous face of the ocean, the open horizon and the destroying force of the water. Overall, both an exciting and poetic book!

 

Have you read any of the books above? Did you like them? Do you have a favourite book about the sea?

Please leave a comment!