Tuesday, August 31, 2010

The Help by Karin Stockett

So, I finally got around to read The Help by Karin Stockett, and I really liked this book. It has just been released in Denmark in Danish, and I know that there are great expectations that it will become a bestseller in Denmark as it is in USA.

We are in the beginning of the 1960'es in Mississippi. Society is segregated between colored (NB! I use the word colored here because that is the word used in the book) and white people. We follow two colored women, Aibileen and Minny and one white woman, Miss Skeeter. Many colored women back then were, if they were lucky to have a job, maids in white familie's households. Only in their maid-uniforms could they shop in white supermarkets for instance.

Aibileen works for Miss Elizabeth, one of Miss Skeeter's friends. Minny works for Miss Walters who are the mother of the third friend Miss Hilly. The three friends are in their early 20'es, Aibileen is 50+ and Minny around 40.

Elizabeth and Hilly are married with children, while Skeeter is more concerned with getting started on a career in journalism and writing. When Skeeter comes back to her parent's plantation after college, she discovers, that her family's beloved maid of almost 40 years, Constantine, has gone. Her mother, who is more interested in finding a suitable man for Skeeter, refuse to tell her what has happened to Constantine. This troubles Skeeter a great deal.

The three friends meet once a week to play bridge, and it is at one of those bridge-sessions that Skeeter hears Hilly say, that the colored help should have their own toilet and not use the white family's since it is well know that colored people carry diseases dangerous to white people. Something about this doesn't sit well with Skeeter, who has not really thought about the segregation before, and as Hilly's talk over time becomes more and more racist (something Hilly is not aware of herself), Skeeter begins to withdraw from her friends, at least mentally. She begins to develop some kind of friendship with Aibileen, although this is dangerous for both of them. No white woman has any business with a colored help, unless they the one is employed by the other.

Inspired by something Aibileen has said about her son, Skeeter has a dangerous plan. But she can not do it alone, she needs the help of Aibileen and later also Minny. As the story unfolds and the plan is set in motion, we also follow all the women (colored and white) in their daily life with husbands, children or the lack hereof in the segregated society of Southern USA in the early 1960'es. This is as exotic to me as it would've been if the book had taken place in Japan or the African jungle since I am Danish and live in Denmark (and wasn't born back then). But is is worth thinking about the fact that those things happened less than 50 years ago.

I am the last one to deny that the main thematics in this book unfortunately are something that still holds true in one way or the other, also in Denmark, in our day and age. And there is no way I would ever feel indifferent to this particluar period of the American history. I do believe that this is not just America's history, it is also the rest of the world's history. All that said, it IS America's history, and while we all can learn, I am not sure the book will have the same impact and bestseller nature in Denmark, even though it has just been translated. The Danish title is, byt the way, "Niceville" with the under title (translated to): three women, two worlds, one story. And I thought you should se the Danish cover of the book. Personally I think the cover spells "female lit" - somthing which will not make any men thinking of picking this book up. A shame, if you ask me. However, having called the book the Danish equivalent of The Help would not had made any sense in Danish.

Anyway, if you haven't read this book, do it. It was a fantastic story.

Monday, August 30, 2010

All the Colours of Darkness by Peter Robinson

All the Colours of Darkness is Inspector Banks-book # 18. If you've been following this blog, you know that I came into this series rather late, and just read the books in no particular order. I still have a bunch of the earliest ones that I haven't read yet, whereas I am pretty much up-to-date with the later ones.

This one was sort of not so good. It is well written as all Robinson's Inspector Banks books, but the plots were just...I don't know...too unbelievable maybe? It was also 100 pages too long, keeping the somewhat weak plotlines in mind.

A gay man working for the local theatre is found hanging, and obvious suicide, and nothing points the other way. He really did commit suicide. When his partner is found murdered in a very brutal way, the case seem crystal clear: a row between lovers which ended in a violent way with a murder and a suicide.

Banks is in London having a great time with his new girlfriend, and Annie Cabbott of the Eastvale police force, does not see the need to call him in on this case. But her superintendent wants Banks on the case, so he comes up from London, and it turns out it was a good thing he did. Because things are not as crystal clear as they seemed at first, and Banks, Annie and Winsome (another well know character in the series) begin investigating. No sooner have they begun digging into the past of the gay couple before they are abruptly pulled off the case.

Banks are even being ordered to resume his time off in London, so off he goes. But not because he plans on skipping the case. While Annie and Winsome investigates a stabbing in a council estate, Annie also helps out Banks on the side, digging further into the case of the gay couple, and with each little piece of the puzzle in place, a bunch of new pieces ruin the image, making the case more and more muddy.

We come around many subjects in this book, and not all of them felt like they actually had their place in this book. So I was kinda happy when it was over and things were somewhat nicely wrapped up. This book is perhaps mainly for fans of the Inspector Banks-series.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Broken by Karin Slaughter

I am not really sure if Broken by Karin Slaughter is book # 4 in her Atlanta-series or if it is an installment in the Grant County-series. Her book Undone, which came out in 2009 combined the characters from the two series for the first time, and this one does it was well. Anyway, Broken takes place in Grant County, so I guess that it is a Grant County-series book, although we have special agent Will Trent of the Atlanta-series coming down to Grant County to help out Sara Linton.

Sara is home in Grant County for the first time in 4 years. 4 years has passed since she had to move away, and she has not felt the need to come home. And she doesn't feel the need now, but it is Thanksgiving, and her pregnant sister, who is a missionary in Africa is also home for Thanksgiving. So Sara goes. Reluctantly. There are people down there whom she doesn't care about meeting at all, one of them being the detective Lena, with whom Sara share a dark history.

Sara has not been home for many minutes, before she receives a call about a young woman who has comitted suicide. Sara, who used to work a a coroner and pediatrician when she lived in Grant County, does not want to get involved in anything which has to do with the police force of Grant County, but after she receives another call, this time from Frank, one of the police officers of Grant County, she reluctantly goes to see him at the police station where Frank has a problem.

Sara senses that something is completely off, and since she just doesn't trust any of the local police force, she makes a call, and Will Trent is sent her way. Will is not welcomed by Grant County with open arms. The small community does not want to have anything to do with him, a fancy agent from Atlanta, but the case becomes more and more complicated, and it si clear to both Sara and Will that something is going on. Not just with the case, but with the police force as well.

Broken is a great mystery, although not of the cosy kind, which none of Karin Slaughter's books in the Grant County or Atlanta-series are. The characters are bruised, selfish, mean, violent and there are seldom any redeeming parts. Slaughter's books has definitely grown on me (or else I have just become used to them), because I could not stand the first ones, where especially characters such as Lena annoyed me to no end. But the series kept intriguing me, and this one is also a great read. I do suggest reading her other books before reading this one, since there are spoilers in this one about what happens in previous books.

PS. Sorry I said Grant County so many times!

Sunday, August 08, 2010

What is Mine by Anne Holt

What is Mine by Norwegian author Anne Holt is the first book about lawyer Johanne Vik and detective Adam Stubo. I have already read the other one, What Never Happens. I grabbed this in my local supermarket for a quick summer read, and I will say that Anne Holt delivers. I finished it in no time and enjoyed the plot and the dialogue and the character development.

A little girl disappears and despite her father's frantic search, she has apparently vanished without a trace. Adam Stubo is on the case, and when more children disappear it becomes clear that a serial abducter is at loose. At the same time Johanne Vik is being summoned to an old sick lady's house, where she is being told an amazing story: the old woman who is dying and used to work in the Norwegian law system has not been able to forget a case from her past, where a man was convicted of killing a young woman. She feels that the case was never solved in a satisfactory manner, and asks Johanne to investigate.

Later, Adam sees Johanne on tv (this is the book in which they actually meet), and goes to see her personally, asking her to help out with the case of the missing children. Johanne has worked with the FBI when she was young, and Adam feels that her insights into behavioural patterns may be a help in his case.

The story is well written - I read it in Danish and do not know how it translates into English, but if you are a mystery lover and like the Scandinavian style, I highly recommend this one. I recommend it more than the number 2 in the series (actually, don't know if it is a series, but at least there are two books) where I found some of the dialogue rather forced. In this one it flows and the plots are well thought out and tight. Great summer read.

Saturday, August 07, 2010

Plague Year by Jeff Carlson

Plague Year by Jeff Carlson is the first in a trilogy. It is a post-apocalyptic tale about nanotechnology gone wrong, wiping out most of the world's population except for those few, scattered survivors plus a crew of scientists aboard a space station, where they've been since before the nano-plague began, and they have been floating up there in space for a year. They are getting restless and want to come back to earth to begin helping out finding a cure for the plague.

It all began when scientists developed a nanotechnology which was meant to cure cancer. Somehow some technical thing went wrong, and the small nano-bots ended up eating people from the inside instead within a few days, and the nano-bots spread all overt he world. Only thing is that they cannot survive in high altitudes (10.000 ft), so atop a Califonian mountain we find a group of survivors, who, after a year of hunger and cold and bouts of cannibalism, are desperate to find a way out.

We also follow the crew on the space station, and how they try to persuade the emergency-government to be let back to earth again, where they can help finding a cure for the nano-plague.

There are several main characters in this story, and while the character descriptions and developments were not the best, and while I felt the plot was all over the place from time to time, the worst for me in this book was simply that I didn't understand half of it. That MAY be because of language barriers, but I am more inclined to think that it also had to do with all the technology- and space goobledygook there is throughout the book. I couldn't grasp it, and felt that a part of the explanations of when, why and how was lost.

That said, the story certainly picked up in the last third of book, and I am now eagerly waiting to read the next one in the trilogy.

Sunday, August 01, 2010

I Can See You by Karen Rose

I Can See You is the first novel by Karen Rose that I've read. It seems like there is a prequel to this story called Don't Tell which also has Eve Wilson as the main protagonist. I did not suspect that there was a previous book about Eve, and thought that all the happenings mentioned in this book about Eve's previous life was just an extra touch to the story. Anyway, it did not disturb the reading of this one, although I am not sure I am going to read the first one now.

Eve is a young woman, mid-twenties, living in Minneapolis, tending a bar to earn money and studying psychology during the day. She is a scarred woman, literally speaking, and has not had the easiest life. She is still coming to terms with a dramatic and traumatic past, but things are beginning to look brighter, not just because time heals all wounds, but also because Eve is working on it, reinventing herself with a determination to succeed.

She is in the middle of writing her thesis which is about online gaming and how you can train to get more selfesteem online and also make it work irl. She is a bit worried because some of her test-persons are showing addictive behaviour, being online in a virtual world (called Shadowland here, which must be an equivalent to places like Second Life etc) almost 24/7.

When one of her test subjects, Martha, is killed, the Minneapolis Hat Squad is called in (the detectives are called the Hat Squad because they wear fedoras), one of the detectives being the very handsome and sexy Noah Webster, also a troubled soul with a tragic past. Eve soon finds herself in the middle of the investigation, having access to Martha's online life. But it seems like the killer is always one step ahead of the Hat Squad and Eve.

To be honest, I have to say that I DID enjoy this book and found it well written. But I am so sorry! There were things and details which annoyed me a lot. First of all, I found both Noah and especially Eve to be too good. Eve felt one dimensional in all her goody-goody glory, even though the author has been kind enough to let Eve be able to use naughty language from time to time. The other thing that annoyed me was the badly developed and throughly boring romance developing. For Pete's sake!!! If I want hot romance, I choose a romance novel, not a mystery with a badly described love story. That said, I could easily pick up another Karen Rose thriller (although I suspect the rest of her works are developed from the same murder mystery/sexy romance formula), but would rather read something else for the time being.