The Angel’s Game ~ Carlos Ruiz Zafon

The Angel's Game (The Cemetery of Forgotten Books, #2)The Angel’s Game by Carlos Ruiz Zafón
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The Angel’s Game in the second novel in The Cemetary of Forgotten Books series by Carlos Ruiz Zafon. Technically the novel is a prequel (in a way) to Zafon’s Shadow of the Wind– Sempere & Son who dominate Shadow of the Wind are featured in The Angel’s Game, but as side characters. I very much enjoyed “visiting” with the Semperes again, but that was where my enjoyment ended.

I can’t help but compare this novel to Shadow of the Wind, especially since I just finished a re-read of it and then followed it with closely with The Angel’s Game. Both are gothic historical fiction. Both are tinged with romance and mystery. Zafon desperately tries to recreate the milieu of SofW, but fails in The Angel’s Game.

First, the novel opens with the protagonist Daniel Martin, a young and poor man, working at a newspaper agency as an errand boy and eventually writer. The book is divided into three parts–the first sets the scene, the second spins the tale (and is the most boring part, in my opinion) and the third wraps up loose ties (sort of).

We discover that Martin has had a tragic upbringing with a mother who does love not him and a father who dies tragically at a young age. He finds himself mentored by a rich friend and falls in love with said friend’s chauffeur’s daughter–and we know that romance is inevitably doomed.

Trying to pull himself up out of poverty, Martin signs a deal with a couple of shady guys who enlist him to write campy and dramatic serials for their press. Eventually, unhappy with his career choice and wanting more money, Martin decides to seal a deal with a strange man who offers him obscene amounts of money to “write a book that invents a religion”.

From that point, it just gets confusing and devolves into a lackluster series of philosophical conversations between Martin and the stranger Corelli. They attempt to explore the possibility of creating a religion and a belief system that bewilders the reader. Corelli denies the existence of God and the supernatural, but it is clear from the ecclesiastical descriptions of him that he might possibly be *gasp* the devil himself.

Even though one might not think it possible, the story continues to meander along, to the point where I was forcing myself to pick it up and keep reading. Eventually as the book entered into part three, the pace of it gained momentum and I found it much more interesting. Unfortunately, from there to the end of the novel, we don’t receive a full explanation of what exactly was going down through most of the preceding parts.

It seems as though Zafon entirely clouded his writing with symbolism and analogies. We’re left guessing what has *really* happened. The novel lacks any cheerful tone or happiness and in the end, Martin is condemned to a life…well really, if I managed to suffer through most of it to reach the end, I expect you to do so without being simply told the ending.

3/5 stars… But even though I was left disappointed, I will still be attempting the next novel The Prisoner of Heaven.

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The Time in Between ~ Maria Duenas

The Time in BetweenThe Time in Between by María Dueñas
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I have discovered that I primarily give 3 star ratings when I review novels. I blame Goodreads for not having a 1/2 star rating system, in which case I would give The Time in Between 2 1/2 stars. I am forced to drop this down to 2 stars though.

The blurb on the back of the book is promising enough. Sira Quiroga is a young seamstress growing up in Madrid. Spain is facing a civil war, the citizens are beginning to suffer. She follows a lover to Morocco where she is abandoned and left with debt incurred looming over her head. Slowly she pulls herself out of the gutter and lifts herself up into a more promising position. In the description, as WWII commences and Spain finds itself caught between the Allies and the Third Reich, Sira begins a harrowing stint as a spy.

First off, the novel is 600+ pages and 69 chapters long. Divided into three parts, the novel felt like it was never going to end. Sira doesn’t even begin her delving into the spy world until chapter 36. 36. Imagine, 35 chapters of her backstory that is interminably dull.

The character of Sira herself is as interesting as a shoe or doorknob. She survives through many horrible situations, but yet I found myself barely able to keep myself interested in her saga. There was minimal dialogue, mostly just long paragraphs about what Sira was thinking, which incidentally, was dull as dishwater. For someone who supposedly triumphed even though odds were against her, it was awfully tepid.

Her supposed romance with a character isn’t even delved into or truly fleshed out. She claims to have missed this person dreadfully during their separation, at which I went, “Eh, did she even truly and deeply care about him?” As a protagonist, Sira’s character is shockingly lacking in being fleshed out or in any way dimensional.

Part three (from chapter 36 on) was much more interesting than the beginning stages of the novel. I did manage to read through that section at a much quicker pace. That being said, was it worth struggling through an huge portion of the novel in order to enjoy the last little bit of it?

There are other much more compelling novels about Spain in the civil war and their involvement in WWII. If you want to read a novel about spies, check into anything written by Ken Follett.

Pass by this novel though, unless you are into a long boring read with little pay off.

2/5 stars.

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The Shadow of the Wind ~ Carlos Ruiz Zafon

The Shadow of the Wind (The Cemetery of Forgotten Books,  #1)The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafón
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I first read this novel a couple years ago on the emphatic suggestion of a worker at the local Chapters. I gave it 4/5 stars initially. I managed to snag a used copy of another Carlos Ruiz Zafón novel and decided I would re-read The Shadow of the Wind before starting this next novel.

Upon completion, I have decided to bump the rating up to 5/5, because I finished it with no complaint and I would not have changed anything about the novel. Although I had read it once, I couldn’t put it down…again.

The novel is a story within a story. Daniel Sempere, our young protagonist, finds a novel called “The Shadow of the Wind” by a Julian Carax within a book cemetery, deep in the heart of war torn Barcelona. I have read very few books on the civil war within the Spanish borders and the ensuing chaos, so it was refreshing to read about a period of history in a country other than the usual England/France/etc.

It becomes clear to Daniel that there is something strange about the author and his novels. He discovers that someone has been systematically finding and destroying all of Carax’ novels with fire.

The story is complex but easy to read. It would be impossible for me to explain the novel in a book review; I would not do it justice. Suffice to say, the novel is well written. The characters grasp you and the dialogue is not stilted or boring. Even though the story is fantastical, it never struck me as reaching. There are many twists and turns that will leave you guessing and wondering, right up until the last chapter.

My favourite quote in the book was as follows:

Bea says that the art of reading is slowly dying, that it’s an intimate ritual, that a book is a mirror that offers us only what we already carry inside of us, that when we read, we do it with all our heart and mind, and great readers are becoming more scarce by the day.

Honestly, from that quote itself, doesn’t the book sound magical?

5/5 for one of my favourite books. I cannot wait to read his next novel!

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Any Known Blood ~ Lawrence Hill

Any Known BloodAny Known Blood by Lawrence Hill

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

After reading The Book of Negroes and more recently The Illegal, I decided to give Lawrence Hill’s older novel Any Known Blood a try.

Truly, Hill does not disappoint. I found Book of Negroes engrossing and just the right amount of uncomfortable to read. The Illegal was a completely different pace (a slow burn) but I also enjoyed it. Once again, Any Known Blood keeps the bar high.

The novel’s protagonist Langston Cane the Fifth decides he is not tethered in this world because he knows nothing of his family’s background. He travels from Oakville, ON to Baltimore, Maryland in an effort to dig into his family’s past. He leaves behind a father who he feels is constantly disappointed in him.

Jumping through all the Langston Canes from 1 to 5, there isn’t any predictability to the book in terms of form. Hill does not opt to write about the Canes down the family tree from senior to junior, but rather dances from one character to the next. We slowly discover all the choices that the Cane’s have made that have bound them together and created their future.

To be honest, the novel isn’t full a huge climax. There isn’t one big AHA moment that is revealed. Rather, we watched as Langston Cane V slowly finds his way in the world as he unveils the secrets his family has hidden over time.

Hill writes about many deep rooted issues that African-Americans are facing today in a way that includes white people in the dialogue but in a non-accusatory manner. I assume this is partially Hill speaking from his own experience of being a mixed race. Either way, it was enlightening to read and understand why or how people feel a certain way.

4/5 for more excellent work from Hill and holding my breath for more.

(Incidentally, he lives in the same city I do and I once saw him shopping at our local grocery store. Must…not…stalk him.)

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