Book Review: The Last Night by Cesca Major

The Last Night by Cesca Major #BookReview

In a quiet coastal village, Irina spends her days restoring furniture, passing the time in peace and hiding away from the world. A family secret, long held and never discussed, casts a dark shadow and Irina chooses to withdraw into her work. When an antique bureau is sent to her workshop, the owner anonymous, Irina senses a history to the object that makes her uneasy. As Irina begins to investigate the origins of the piece, she unearths the secrets it holds within.

Decades earlier, another young woman kept secrets. Her name was Abigail. over the course of one summer, she fell in love, and dreamed of the future. But Abigail could not know that a catastrophe loomed, and this event would change the course of many lives for ever..

The Last Night was received from the publisher (Corvus Books) in exchange for a review. I have read this author’s debut novel The Silent Hours and the review can be found here

This story has a dual timeline, and is apparently inspired by real events. In the modern day Irina is a furniture restorer,  who keeps her secrets very close, hiding behind layers, even when she strips the varnish off the furniture she looks after to find the secrets hiding within.

Irina’s face carries scars, a daily reminder of an accident that happened years before, damaging her face as well as her relationship with those around her (from her mother to her now-ex-boyfriend Andrew and, for most of the book, us too). An unnamed client sends a bureau to Irina for repair, and during repairs she begins to feel a presence.  Strange things begin to happen. She hears and sees things that make her doubt herself and her sanity. She becomes obsessed with discovering more about the history of this piece of furniture. The culmination for her is to confront the past in conjunction with her mother – both of whom have been avoiding the subject for years, carrying their own form of grief with them.

Meanwhile, back in the 1950s, young Abigail’s mother has died and she has to leave her family home, and her friend Mary,  to live with her sister Connie and Connie’s husband. As children, Abigail and her sister were close, but have drifted apart over the years (we get an inkling as to how and why) and Abigail is surprised by the luxury they live in. She’s also surprised by the actions of her brother-in-law Larry, and spends as much time away from the house as possible. She meets and falls in love with a local fisherman called Richard and finds comfort with Richard and his father that she is not feeling in her sister’s house.  The 1950s story culminates with a tragic series of events that changes Abigail’s and Richard’s lives forever.

The relationship between Abigail and Larry is suitably disturbing (especially bearing in mind Abigail is a naive 1950s girl with a sister who has learnt how to protect herself, even if it means not protecting Abigail).

Whilst Irina has some history of seeing things that aren’t there (she has been known to see her dead brother in a crowd – even though it can’t be really), the images she sees are real to her at the time, and obviously puts her off staying in her flat and driving her car etc.

It’s a slow paced book with a slow build up of the tension and pressures for both women. This is a good use of the two time periods, with both main women confronting issues that are seemingly out of their control and their comfort zones.  I have read a debut and second novel from another author and was disappointed when it appeared that the writer had written essentially the same story twice. However, I can categorically say that Major has not done this here, and has sucessfully pulled off the dangerous “second novel”.

 

 

 

Inspector Montalbano: The goldfish and the Cat, Collection 2, Episode 6

montalbano-2

On the way to church, Mrs Todaro gets mugged, has her handbag taken, and a revolver is fired at close range but somehow misses.

Mimi comes in to pick up some papers, reminds Salvo re the wedding date and that he needs to pick up the rings, something Salvo has clearly forgotten, again. Meanwhile headquarters are sending cover for the month Mimi is off.

We cut to a priest climbing steps to his church (oh so many steps!) where another parishioner gets mugged. There are great views down to the town, showing how great Sicily looks, even with all those hills.

Mimi and Salvo meet for lunch and Mimi is wondering whether to rent his house out after the wedding. Obviously he still has cold feet and is thinking of a bolt hole. However lunch gets interrupted by commissioner, Bonetti Alderighi, who wants to see Salvo ASAP about the muggings. Since he is getting pressure from the church, Alderighi threatens to hand over to someone else.

Meanwhile there is a madman destroying things at Vigata A&E, and with everyone else out Salvo goes to find out what’s happening. He finds that the man, now sedated, went ballistic when he finds out that his daughter Marluccia is pregnant, giving Fazio a black eye in the process. They meet a Father Vassallo who runs a rehab centre outside Vigata and is sitting with Marluccia who is in shock.

There is a third case for the team with the disappearance of Doctor Saverio Landolino, who had gone out fishing the night before and not come back home. Nothing has been stolen and no signs of struggle, so doesn’t look like robbery or kidnapping.

Example dialogue:
Salvo: What’s happening?
Fazio: Did Caterella not explain?
Salvo: Yes he did, that’s why I’m asking

Mimi’s replacement turns up, an attractive woman called Barbera Bellini, who Salvo hasn’t seen in 12 years.

The following morning, the doctor has still not been found, Fazio meets Barbera and is instantly smitten. Meanwhile Angela lo Porto, the Doctor’s nurse, turns up for questioning. She believes he has been murdered by Ignazio Coglitore, the father who beat up Fazio in A&E, on the grounds that the Doctor got the daughter pregnant. She tells a tale that the girl had turned up a year before, the Doctor had instigated a sexual relationship and an excuse to see her every 2 weeks. Finally she turns up, pregnant, wanting to tell her father. Doctor puts her off, saying he needed to get a divorce and she last came round 5 days previously.

The Coglitores belong to religious cult, with the Marluccia’s aunt is the guru. Coglitore has taken the girl home from hospital and doesn’t let Salvo see her when he visits.

Salvo is buying rings when he hears a gunshot from outside, a woman has been mugged and actually hit with a bullet this time. Forensics have confirmed that the previously muggings have been firing blanks – the question is why?

Salvo returns to the police station to find Mimi flirting with Barbera. Mimi asks Salvo to find someone to rent his house. Salvo rents it out to Barbera, but asks her to go on job first….she gets sent to see the guru, who tells her to make choice between older man she’s known for years (Salvo) and younger man who is yet to make a move (Fazio). She leaves, whilst clocking who else was there including the harpies in the corner, knitting away and taking donations in silence……

She looks for and finds Marluccia, persuades her to escape, to where Salvo and Fazio are sitting with the car, having overheard everything. Girl gets taken to priest’s safe house, with Barbera plans to stay the night, Salvo makes Fazio stay too……

Following day, Mrs Jopollo gets mugged and shot properly…..she’s the sister to the deputy minister Biondiolilo so there’s political pressure almost immediately to get the murder sorted. Commissioner tells Salvo that he’s hanging case over to Limeo from the flying squad. Naturally, Salvo not impressed and walks out, but predicts that another woman will be mugged, with blanks being fired again….

Meanwhile, the Doctor’s wife has withdrawn €2000000 from the bank account of the husband…..Salvo goes to visit Mrs Landolino, only to find she’s left previously, and that the priest has been visiting daily.  Salvo goes to the airport to find the missing doctor and his wife in the check-in queue to leave the country. Salvo makes sure he’s seen but leaves without saying anything. Goes to see the priest who confirms hypothetical story, including how Dr has left priest a chunk of money. Salvo promises that he make up some story for the press.

Another woman gets mugged, but this time she manages to injure the mugger, so there’s a search at the hospitals for someone with a cut hand.

It’s 3am and Salvo gets woken by Beba calling….Mimi is missing. Salvo knows exactly where he is, and goes to the batcheor pad to find Barbera in a towel and Mimi fast asleep. He’s tried to get Barbera drunk to have sex, but failed. Salvo sends him home. Meanwhile Barbera has realised that the dead woman, Mrs Jopollo, had visited the guru, leaving a large wad of cash behind. Mrs Panebianco (the next door neighbour) confirms the story, saying Mrs Jopollo had left in a hurry, believing that her husband was in a critical condition in hospital, leaving her pets behind.

During the interview, Fazio confirms that they’ve found the mugger, who has previous, and was defended…..by Mr Jopollo. Salvo goes to visit Mr Jopollo and puts his theory to him…Jopollo killed his wife over money being given to the Guru every time she visits, but he had forgotten about the cat and goldfish. Jopollo thinks there is no evidence until Salvo points out that they have the accomplice who has confessed.  The other muggings were to hide the fact there was a specific target, and Jopollo picked a petty criminal who he had defended previously.

Later, Salvo and Mimi are out on the evening before his marriage. They meet Fazio and Barbera who are out dancing, and Mimi wants to go for a drink with all the pretty girls, but Salvo sends him home. He almost goes to the bar, but finally decides to go home too……

Shelf Stacking

TBR Shelf 1

My books are currently all in one room, but there are too many just to be on the bookshelves. One of my objectives this year is to rearrange my shelves. They were originally split into “keep” and “let go” but after the last few years the two sets seemed to have got muddled up together. The “let go” books are sandwiched betewen the Crafting “keep” reference books and the Graphic Novel “keeps”.   I can’t even claim to have a “Read” and “Not Read” section any more either!

It doesn’t help that two shelves also include DVDs (I am at a loss as to where to put them otherwise), and whilst I have some of the hardbacks I know I won’t read for a while packed high away, there are books in the series that I have yet to read. Since these latter books are currently in easy reach and I still haven’t read them, what is the chance of reading them if I pack them out of reach?! Perhaps there is a theory there that perhaps tidiness is better than ease in these situations, so perhaps I should bite the bullet?

“Let it go, let it go!”

There is a plastic bin in one corner that holds the books that will ultimately leave the flat.  This bin was overflowing at one point last year, when one of the cafes where we have our bookcrossing shelves closed down for refurb. Rather than lose access to so many books, we spent several weeks removing the books to various parts across the city. This included me taking rather a large number home myself. Thankfully I was able to disseminate a number to others in our extended group, primarily via the bookcrossing uncon that was held in Birmingham last year, and also to other shelves across town. It has  allowed me to visit some places I hadn’t been for a while….much has changed, especially considering some of these places used to be my regular haunts!  I must start visiting places again, and I think this is actually one of my resolutions this year. I must also find out if and when our previous cafe will be opening again and taking books….another set of people I’ve not been in regular contact with.

Book Embargo

I do have some kind of embargo on books coming into the flat, and that held for much of last year. However, I got given a number of books over Christmas and New Year, and I also picked up a large pile of books at a recent bookcrossing event as I didn’t want a collection of books to be broken up.  I also went to a bookstore event and since I had been given a number of book tokens, again over Christmas, I managed to pick up some more books there. Whoops!  I managed to find somewhere to put them, but it certainly didnt help with keeping the place book free!

Do you have books stacked in every room of your house or are you strictly a believer that books belong on bookshelves?

An Evening With Loch Lomand Group (part 1)

I’ve decided to make a little diversion into something different, this time talking about one of the events outside of reading and books.

The Birmingham Whisky Club held a session at The Wellington on Friday February 10th 2016, titled “An Evening With Loch Lomond Group (Part 1)” where we got to learn about their delicious whiskies, the history of the brands and taste through a selection of their delectable drams.loch-lomand

The Loch Lomond Group is an independent distiller and blender of of some of the finest and rarest Scotch whiskies in the world. Their heritage is amongst the oldest in the industry. They have in three distilleries in locations steeped in whisky history. A malt and grain distillery at Alexandria on the banks of the iconic Loch Lomond; and a malt distillery in the historic ‘capital of whisky’, Campbeltown.

Since 1814, the Loch Lomond Distillery has been producing the finest single malt and single grain whisky. Situated on the banks of Loch Lomond, it takes its name from this most picturesque of all Scotland’s lochs. In the Victorian age, Cambeltown was known as the whisky captial of the world and one of the five distinct malt producing regions of Scotland. Only three distilleries have maintained production from those heady days of the 1830’s. One of the finest is Glen Scotia.  This evening concentrated on a selection of Loch Lomond and Glen Scotia whiskies (Part 2 is in a few weeks, concentrating on other whiskys)

The evening was lead by Ibon Mendiguren, whisky expert and Brand Development Manager for Loch Lomond Group where the following drams were tasted:

  • Glen Scotia Double Cask :: 46% ABV
  • Glen Scotia 15yo :: 46% ABV
  • Glen Scotia Victoriana:: 51.5% ABV
  • Loch Lomond 12yo :: 46% ABV
  • Loch Lomond 18yo :: 43% ABV
  • Glen Scotia Single Cask

I’d just like to mention two things in my defense: I came straight from work, so was tasting on an empty stomach, and I’m just coming out of a cold, so my sinuses were a little clogged. By about the 4th tasting, I was struggling to pick up all the smells being mentioned (I’m usually pretty good). Whilst there wasn’t much in each dram – good thing too! – it did go straight to my head, so I was rather tiddly at the end!brummie-whisky

However, it was an enjoyable evening – I met some people I’ve met before, some new people, and after the main tasting was finished there was the chance to do some mingling with other attendees. Some people were there in couples, some in small groups, and then others like me who were solo visitors who sat on the “big table”. Picture to the right is post tasting-finishing-of-bottles and checking of phones!

 

Inspector Montalbano: Turning Point, Collection 3, Episode 1

montalbano-fazioI cant tell which book this comes from – it’s certainly not known under this name anyway – so cant do a “compare and contrast”.  Salvo turns up to station to find workers getting rid of graffiti. He tries to keep Caterella’s spirits up, but when he goes through the eerily empty station, he decides to call the commissioner (who is out of the office). Mimi overhears the conversation, and realises that Salvo plans to resign after recent raids on the police.  Mimi rails against him, telling him that he may feel betrayed, but his resignation would be a betrayal of those who actually work for and respect him.

Salvo goes swimming, comes across a body floating face down in sea. He manages to pull it ashore, where he gets attacked by an old couple, the Bausans, who have been watching him and think he’s a murderer. They shoot a gun into the air then knock him unconcious with her walking stick, just as Fazio arrives.

Pasquano believes the man was dead before thrown in water about a week previously. Cuts on his body tell that he was tied up before hand and attacked by crabs after death. Salvo continues to be in the mood to quit as he visits Commissioner’s office again, only to find he’s still away.

Salvo visits an immigrant camp, where they are being rounded up. A young man runs away, but Salvo persuades him to returns to his mother. The whole situation is cvery reminiscent of Francois.

Salvo goes to visit Ciccio, a fisherman, who takes look at the corpse and disputes how long he’s been in water and where he was dumped. The fisherman thinks the body had been kept somewhere secluded for a bit, then dumped in sea to give the impression that it’s come from far away.

Salvo goes to the local hospital looking for refugee with the 3 kids he saw the day before, but whilst she made it to the ambulance she never made it to be treated. He sees the ambulance crew as he leaves, who swear they dropped her off, but didn’t take her in as they returned to the site.  Over lunch with Niccolo, they expand theories, and TVs reporter suggests they’ve all been played where she fakes an injury in order to be taken to A&E, which are not monitored,mind vanishes in order to join her husband.

Niccolo then asks favour, a journalist friend called Sozio Melato wants to meet Salvo as he’s doing a piece on immigrants. Salvo talks to Livia and tries to get perspective on why the boy would run away from his mother.

Caterella thinks he’s identified the dead man, but Mimi is not sure. Salvo calls Inspector Vattiato from another town as the dead man might be one Ernesto Errera. Unfortunately for Salvo and Caterella, Errera has been dead and buried a year.

Talking to Mimi, Salvo hears a young boy has been killed in a hit and run….it’s the immigrant boy. Leaving the morgue he gets stopped by a nurse who had worked A&E the day the immigrants came in, saw the woman and the boys be picked up by a car, with the boy tried to run away again,

Salvo talks to the farmer who reported the hit and run, and it sounds like the child was run over on purpose. Fazio has found out that Marzilla, the ambulance nurse, and his wife are heavily in debt, especially after their shot burnt down the previous year. Marzilla comes round to Salvo’s house and admits that he’s so in debt, the loan shark has him transport illegal children to the hospital in exchange for a reduction in interest payments. He is scared now the child is dead as he dosnt know what’s going to happen next.

Some anonomous post comes to the station implying that the body buried in Errera’s grave was so mangled, there is doubt as to who could be buried there. Ingrid comes round for dinner, and recognises photo of the dead man as Mini Lococo, one of her brief lovers. They used to meet at the old tuna factory, which had a couple of rooms converted. Lococo used to talk in Arabic and Italian using both satellite phones and radio. Ingrid dumped him because there was something she didn’t feel happy with…Lococo was extremely paranoid.ingrid

She stays the night and Salvo sleeps on sofa. Marzilla stops by to say multiple boats are due in in the next few days, but that he has a job that evening. Salvo gets Ingrid to come round that evening as he wants to use her driving skills.

Melato visits station, tells Salvo about illegal smuggling of children for begging, sex trade or for organ harvest. Has come because Baddar Gafsa has been seen in Vigata. A Tunisian, he is the leader of the organisation running the smuggling and is in Vigata cos that’s where the processing centre is for the bigger stake immigrants. Used to be run by an Italian, who got too big for his boots so was killed. Salvo takes this to be Lococo.

They set up to raid the tuna factory, with Mimi and Fazio leading the two teams, and Salvo on his own. Instead of waiting for the team to cover him, Salvo goes in on his own, and ends up getting shot, but not before shooting Gafsa dead.

To recover from being shot, Fazio drives Salvo into the mountains to an isolated house that doesn’t have a phone, and is told to come back in a week, having told no one where Salvo is. The house is one where Salvo’s father went to to get away from things and his business partner,
Pasterfilipi, lives nearby and has kept the house as it was before Salvo’s father died

Bookcrossing – How does it work then?

I know I have talked about Bookcrossing before, but I just thought I’d cover some details of how it can work on a local basis.

First of all: to define Bookcrossing (from the website itself)bannerlogo_world-library

BookCrossing is the act of releasing your books “into the wild” for a stranger to find, or via “controlled release” to another BookCrossing member, and tracking where they go via journal entries from around the world.

The website itself was set up in the US in the early 2000s, and I joined early 2003 when I was living in Ireland.

The basic principal is as follows:

  • A user registers a book on the site, which provides an automatically generated number, that the user adds to the book.
  • The book is “released” (more later), hopefully to be found by someone else.
  • If the book is found, the new owner can go back to the site, enter the unique number and say what they thought about it and/or say what they are doing with it. This is optional, and it is frequently happens that books are found years later in unexpected countries, which then begs the question what happened in the meantime.
  • The book then gets passed on etc.

Here’s a shortish video, made a few years ago now, that could help:

Releasing.

It is a good idea not to leave a Bookcrossing book, even if clearly labelled, in a number of areas. These include airports (security reasons), bookshops (offering a free book in a place that sells books? Hey give a man a break and don’t undermine a bookseller from making a living), anywhere where common sense says not to leave.

  • For security reasons, books were rarely left in train stations, specifically places like the London Underground. However it seems there has been a certain relaxation of security (I.e. No longer Taking Everything Left Behind and blowing it up), so this unwritten rule has been relaxed slightly.
  • The true spirit of bookcrossing is to leave in wild to be found by someone else. A park bench. A bus seat. A train station. The luggage rack in public transport. On a cafe table. A themed release…”How to be Good” on the pastry shelf in Tescos (yes this has happened). An art book on bench opposite a related picture/art piece. It can be fun being creative as to where a book can be left and therefore found.
  • With wild releasing however there comes a low “catch rate”. Books are collected by staff who don’t understand or don’t care. Books are picked up by people who will pass on, and pass on, but never tell you what happened.
  • The guys in the local train station have been trained that I am now “mad book lady” and that any books found in the station are to be set aside for me and I will take care of them…..
  • Relatively Closed communities. Donate books to homeless shelter, domestic violence, YMCA. You may just provide someone with the book that changes everything.
  • Pass onto friends. We want to share wih family and friends dont we?
  • Wish lists – people can build up their own wishlist on the site and users can search wishlists to see who is interested in reading a specific books. A book can be passed on to a specific, single user Random Act of Bookcrossing Kindness (RABACK)
  • Rings/Rays
    • A ring is where a book is passed through a number of people, ultimately to return to the person who started the ring, collecting Journal Entries along the way.
    • Rays are similar to Rings, but the book doesnt return to the originator.
    • The rules for Rings and Rays are determined by the originator of the book.  Whether this is National or International. The timelimit allowed for reading the book. The general order of people (not all people can take the book at the time determined for instance so can opt out). There is a level of trust that people will observe the rules, and pass the book on in good time.

OBCZs

Shelves in public access places where books can be left, stored safely, and picked up by visitors. Usually cafes or pubs, where its traditional to buy a coffee, lemonade, cake, greet staff etc for the staff to see benefit. We have Official BookCrossing Zones around the city and they are:

Meetings.

Thankfully, Birmingham is large enough to have a regular meet, but there are areas that don’t have enough active members to make local meets productive. The style of the group often depends on how it was set up originally – Birmingham meets for coffee on a Saturday afternoon, the Dublin one was/is held on a Thursday night in the pub as I set it up cos I wanted someone to go out drinking with….There are a number of groups on Facebook, including Bookcrossing Official Facebook GroupBookcrossing UK Facebook Group,

(Un)Conventions

There is an annual Convention, held in various locations around the world (April 2017 will be in Oslo). Representatives from the US site often attend. There are also Unconventions (i.e. “not the Convention”), the last one held in Birmingham in 2016, the next one in Loughbrough.

Anyone have any questions? Want to know more? Leave a comment below or come to a meeting!

Book Review: The Long Earth by Terry Pratchett, Stephen Baxter

The Long Earth Book Review

The Silence was very faint here. Almost drowned out by the sounds of the mundane world. Did people in this polished building understand how noisy it was? The roar of air conditioners and computer fans, the susurration of many voices heard but not decipherable…. This was the office of the transEarth Institute, an arm of the Black Corporation. The faceless office, all plasterboard and chrome, was dominated by a huge logo, a chesspiece knight. This wasn’t Joshua’s world. None of it was his world. In fact, when you got right down to it, he didn’t have a world; he had all of them.

ALL OF THE LONG EARTH.

This is a Terry Pratchett, who is/was one of the few authors I generally buy their books in hardback. It’s been a while since he did a collaboration, but it was around the time that this series was announced it was also announced that Pratchett had early onset Alzheimer’s, which he subsequently died from. There are 5 books in the series, and this is the first, where the whole thing gets started.

It turns out that the Earth we live on isn’t the only version of this world….it seems that there are many other versions, at various stages of development, that can be reached by “stepping” either east or west. Some can do this naturally, some can do it with the use of a little stepping device that is powered by a potato, and some can’t step at all. There is a certain level of resentment in the latter group, especially  rest of their family leave for what they see as a better life and Leave them behind.

We are introduced to a number of main characters through whose eyes we see this new world.

  • Labsong who is a Tibetan consciousness associated with the Black corporation, and it is his money, tools etc that set up finding out more about the non datum earths.
  • Joshua is a natural “stepper” and Labsong gives Joshua the tools to get away from Datum Earth and investigate the other possibilities.
  • In the latter part of the book we are joined by Sally, a natural stepper, who is the daughter of the man who invented the stepping device. Rumour has it that daddy is dead, but there is some foreshadowing that he might turn up in a following book.

This is a relatively slow book, where Labsong, Sally and Joshua are generally left alone to do their own thing. Occasionally they get to investigate new creatures, some benign, some not, and this allows the authors to muse on what earth may have looked like had evolution taken a little detour from what happened on our version of earth.

Finally they come across a massive beast that seems to be the source of Joshua’s unease and Labsong sacrifices his ambulatory unit, if not his consciousness, to be absorbed by the alien in order to find out more.

The focus on the Long Earth for the story made it a bit disconcerting when very late in the book they introduce the idea of the long Mars. Either I was not paying attention in the rest of the book….always a possibility….or this was a very late entry of the idea of alternate other worlds. The fact there is a whole novel dedicated to the long Mars makes me wonder…..

I actually read this book in late 2016, but it’s taken me this long to write a review. It wasnt *bad*, it’s just been really difficult to know what to say about it. In reading other reviews, it seems I’m not the only one. Whilst overall people like/love the book, there are a number of things said that I tend to agree with:

  • It seems more of a number of short stories on a theme, rather than a comprehensive joined up narrative.
  • Whilst there are some amusing scenes that bring a wry smile on occasion, it’s missing the sharp wit of Pratchett that brings up dodgy looks on the bus when you laugh out loud.
  • Labsong and Sally are reasonably well defined and memorable, but Joshua (as the character the human outsider should be able to relate to the most) is the least memorable – it took me ages to remember what his name was!