The last three books of 2013

The Road Home – Rose Tremain

While I was reading the Acknowledgements page of The Observations I came upon a familiar name – Rose Tremain. It didn’t take long to see I had a book by this author, so I decided this was going to be my next read.

TRH This is the story of Lev, a man from Eastern Europe who is on his way to London to find a better life and send money back home to his village. If one would only change the names, this would be the classic immigrant story. The promise of a better life and the reminder that his 5 year old daughter and elderly mother are dependent on him manage to shake Lev from the depression he’d fallen into after the death of his wife, Marina, and with hope in his heart and vodka bottles in his traveling bag, he sets out for London.

On the bus that takes him to London, Lev meets Lydia, a former English teacher who is on her way to the same city hoping to find work as a translator. Throughout the book, their paths will come together at intervals, as both of them struggle to find their place in a new city teeming with immigrants.

It is a roller-coaster of events, the good mixed with the bad, and it feels a lot like a test. Will Lev be able to drag himself from the past and the memory of his dead wife, to the fast changing present or is he doomed to a never-ending circle of fleeting happiness and hard disappointment? The slightly dark story runs over undercurrents of humor, as Lev’s friend from home is mentioned, and heart-wrenching moments from a past life are played in the mind of a man who feeds on dreams. And it is one of these dreams that will ultimately turn Lev’s life around and force him to face the present and take advantage of the changing times.
The best way to describe this book: heart-warming.

Here’s the first chapter, free, have a look.

Blood Meridian – Cormac McCarthy

I came upon this book after reading an online list of “the ten horrifying novels that will scare you to death” or something of that sort, and I thought okay, let’s see what the author of The Road and No Country for Old Men is up to.

BM The story loosely follows the adventures of “the kid”, a teenager who runs away from home and ends up in a group of outlaws traveling the American Wild West in the mid and late 1800’s. It is probably the most violent book I have read, not only because it depicts amazing acts of cruelty towards people and animals (to the point when I began to cringe every time a horse or a dog came up in the story), but also because the characters seem like a band of devils in disguise sent on earth to punish others and they take pleasure in doing it. Scalping, rape, murder, mutilation, and the list goes on. By the middle of the book I considered abandoning the story because just the thought of going on made me depressed. Ultimately I decided to stick with it for a few reasons: because the writing is strikingly beautiful, in spite of the long winding sentences and an almost stubborn absence of commas; there are no quotation marks to make the dialogue stand out and this lends another strange beauty to the book and doesn’t hinder its narrative in any way, and the “redeeming” little scenes that I paused at like a thirsty traveler at a well of water in the desert.

The best way to describe this book: highly disturbing, but if you want to see how violence and beautiful writing work together, give it a try.

Here’s one of those redeeming little scenes:

“The kid rose and looked about at this desolate scene and then he saw alone and upright in a small niche in the rocks and old woman kneeling in a faded rebozo with her eyes cast down. He made his way among the corpses and stood before her. She was very old and her face was gray and leathery and sand had collected in the folds of her clothing. She did not look up.
He spoke to her in a low voice. He told her that he was an American and that he was a long way from the country of his birth and that he had no family and that he had traveled much and seen many things and had been at war and endured hardships. He told her that he would convey her to a safe place, some party of her countrypeople who would welcome her and that she should join them for he could not leave her in this place or she would surely die.
He knelt on one knee, resting the rifle before him like a staff. Abuelita, he said, No puedes escucharme?
He reached into the little cove and touched her arm. She moved slightly, her whole body, light and rigid. She weighed nothing. She was just a dried shell and she had been dead in that place for years.”

Blackbirds – Chuck Wendig

One of the blogs I visit is Chuck Wendig’s and on one of such visits I discovered that his book, Blackbirds, was free for download until the end of this month (you can follow the link to download it). I finished reading it today and can say that it has been an exciting adventure.

B Miriam Black is in her twenties, a drifter, and she has a special gift: by simply touching another person (skin-on-skin) she can see when and how that person dies. The scene is played in her mind with vivid accuracy, and up until she meets Louis, a gentle-giant of a trucker, she thinks there is nothing she can do to change fate. The story goes back and forth in time, leaving behind little cliffhangers – glimpses into Miriam’s past, and is nothing short of a crazy ride in a roller-coaster, packed with tough-girl dialogue, plenty of profanity and lots of punches. Think Jack Reacher in female form with a foul mouth. They would actually make an interesting couple.

The best way to describe this book: fast, violent and entertaining.

Many thanks to Chuck for making this available for free online. It’s one of those very few times I managed to read a book on a screen without any glitches. It went by quite fast.

*Read in December, 2013

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10 Responses to The last three books of 2013

  1. Brian Joseph says:

    I read Blood Meridian a few years ago and it was one of the first books that I blogged about. I though that it was powerful, very disturbing and a great work. I have not read anything else by Cormac McCarthy. I kind of want to read The Road but I fear that it will be too disturbing.

    Interesting how you almost gave up on it. I remember reading harold Bloom’s commentary on the book. He considers it one of the greatest American Novels ever written yet I believe he made four attempts before he could get through it as he was sickened by the violence.

    • Delia says:

      Hi Brian,

      Were it not for the writing, I would have given up on finishing this book. There’s a limit to how much blood and hacked bodies I can take. Normally violence here and there in a book doesn’t bother me – I find it gives a sort of raw quality to the work, but in this case… I also liked “the kid”, if there was somebody with a soul left in that bunch of people, it was probably him.
      I haven’t read The Road but watched the movie and liked it a lot. I think there’s a different kind of despair and violence in this one, but just as powerful.

  2. I am really attracted to the covers for Wendig’s books (one made it on to my Favorites list for 2013) but the description of the violence has kept me away from actually reading any of them. I understand some people want that kind of stuff, but the older I get the less tolerant I feel about excessive violence.

    • Delia says:

      I wouldn’t say it’s excessive violence – it’s actually quite tolerable, like watching an action movie and knowing in a corner of your mind that it’s not real but feeling totally engrossed. The profanity is a bit over the top but then again, even this is not that bad. Now Blood Meridian on the other hand, was extremely violent, the kind that makes you cringe. A lot.

  3. Vishy says:

    Wonderful reviews, Delia! Love the cover of Rose Tremain’s book and your description of it as heart-warming. I will look for it. I haven’t read a Cormac McCarthy book yet. I want to read ‘All the Pretty Horses’ sometime. ‘Blood Meridian’ looks interesting. The basic theme of the story – a group of outlaws in the American Wild West – is quite fascinating, but I don’t think I can take the violence in the story. In recent years, I have shied away from books which have violent scenes and occasionally when I read one which unsuspectingly contains a nasty, violent scene, I cringe. So, I think I will keep away from ‘Blood Meridian’. It is interesting that Harold Bloom considers it as one of the greatest American novels ever written. Well, not for me 🙂 ‘Black Birds’ sounds like a wonderful book. If the heroine is Jack Reacher’s feminine counterpart, then she would be a cool character and it will be fun to follow her adventures. Thanks for writing about this book.

    Happy New Year, Delia! Hope you have a wonderful year filled with lots of wonderful new books and writers and many beautiful reading moments! Looking forward to reading your post on your favourite books of 2013.

    • Delia says:

      I’d like to read “All the Pretty Horses” as well, Vishy, but maybe not just right now.
      “Blood Meridian” (a perfect name) was difficult to read but in the end it was worth it. His writing is beautiful and cruel, yes, that’s the word, “cruel”.
      “Blackbirds” was a fun read, a thriller, a chocolate chip cookie of a book. Does that make sense? 🙂 There are three books in the series so far – it would probably make for an entertaining movie.
      There’s also a Linkin Park song called “Black Birds” – it’s got a nice beat, you can find it on YouTube.
      I hope you get to read “The Road Home”, it’s a great book, I’m surprised it’s not more popular.

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