Wednesday 26 February 2020

Read in 2020 - 4, 5

# 4: Clouded Rainbow
by Jonathan Sturak

I'm afraid there is no nice way to say it: This was the worst book I have read in a long time.
Not the story as such; it had potential. But the writing was not only badly edited (I suspect: not at all), but clumsy and weird from the start.

For instance, people were constantly "widening their eyes", even if they were just looking at their car's dashboard while driving, with nothing truly remarkable to see. Or a particularly beautiful sight was "massaging their eyes". Massaging one's eyes? Huh? I rub my eyes when they are tired or itching after staring at the computer screen for too long.

At first, I thought I'd be able to enjoy the story regardless of the peculiarities of the author's chosen style. But after a while, I just kept rushing through the book, watching the status bar at the bottom of my kindle advance and waiting for the inevitable showdown at the end of the book.

So, what's actually happening? A loving couple are headed downtown one evening to celebrate their anniversary with a nice meal at a posh restaurant. Their drive coincides with a huge thunderstorm, and as they cross a bridge, a mass accident results in the wife being hurled out of the car and into the river, while her husband is saved from burning in the wrecked car by a hair's breadth.

Both end up in different hospitals. As any ID the woman may have carried in her handbag is lost in the river, nobody knows who she is and how to find her nearest relatives.

The husband, in a confused state after his accident and suffering from various injuries himself, is determined to find her at all cost - ending up considered dangerous and the most sought-after criminal in the city.

Will he find his wife before the police find him, and will she wake up from her coma?

As I said, the story had potential, but it was so badly executed I honestly can not recommend this book to anyone. Good job the ebook had been for free! Strangely enough, J. Sturak is apparently a rather accomplished author; his website is here if you're interested.

# 5: The Girl In Between
by Laekan Zea Kemp

What a difference to my previous read! Another free ebook, but this one was not only a fascinating story, but well written and edited.

17-year-old Bryn suffers from Kleine-Levin Syndrome, a rare disease that has patients fall asleep unctrolloably - but unlike narcolepsy, KLS means the person may be asleep for days, weeks or even months on end. Bryn tries her best to catch up on life, which has gone on while she has been asleep; doing loads of home work while at the same time wanting nothing more than leading a normal life with all the things teenage girls usually enjoy.

During her episodes, Bryn lives in an alternative reality her mind has created out of all her memories: Every place she's ever visited or lived at is there, every item she has ever owned or seen, even events such as snowfall or a particularly beautiful sunset she remembers from a camping trip is in that world. But she has always been entirely alone there, until she finds a nearly drowned boy washed up on the beach.

Where did he come from? She has never seen him before, so he can not be part of her memories. Is he just a figmet of her imagination, or a person in real life who has somehow ended up in Bryn's world?  

With his arrival, something else has changed in that world; while it had always felt safe, now there is something dark lurking in the shadows, something that follows Bryn even to the real world when she is awake, something that wants her.

Will she find out who the boy is, and is the Darkness a real danger?

I really enjoyed this book. There is a lot going on, also in Bryn's home life; the story is well paced and the characters are credible. Apparently, it is the first book of a series about Bryn, so maybe I will download the next one, too.

KLS is a real illness. I knew nothing about it until this book. You can learn more about it on wikipedia. The author has her own website here.

Wednesday 19 February 2020

A Weekend Up North

The weekend before last, one of my friends celebrated her 50th birthday. She used to live in our area until about 11 years ago, when she moved to Northern Germany to be with the man she loves.

Seven of us made the trip together, similar to 10 years ago, when we were there for her 40th birthday, and 4 1/2 years ago, when we spent a very summery weekend there in July 2015. I blogged about that weekend here and here - if you like, you can compare those summer pictures with those I took from the same place now.

The 800 km trip involved once again four different trains and seven hours of travel time. We arrived at the small train sation of Mölln mid-afternoon, walked the 10 minutes or so to our hotel and checked in. There was still some daylight left by then, making the decision easy about what to do until the party would begin in a few hours. O.K. and I both felt the need for some exercise after so many hours sitting on more or less comfortable trains, and went for a walk down to the lake and a little exploring of the historic town centre.

(Most of these pictures are O.K.'s.) 

The water reservoir on the last two pictures was next door to our hotel, up on the hill above the town. It also features in one of my previous posts about Mölln, linked above.
The brick facades of the buildings are typical for this part of Germany, rather different from where I live.

We enjoyed our walk and had still enough time left for a bit of a rest before dressing and getting ready for the party, which was in the next village. A minibus/large taxi took us there, and we had a fun night with good food, drink, music and dancing and - most importantly - our friend.

For the next day, Sunday, storm Ciara (named Sabine in our parts) was forecast to hit in the early afternoon. We had been a bit worried beforehand about our trip home, but in the end we were so lucky in that the train we had booked anyway was one of the last long-distance ones to run that day. Shortly afterwards, all long distance trains and most flights were cancelled because of the storm.

We reached Ludwigsburg almost exactly seven hours after having set off in Mölln. Our small group of seven friends quickly dissolved; everybody just wanted to get home - which for O.K. meant another 1 1/2 hours' drive on the motorway.

It was a fun weekend, different from what our weekends are usually like, but I guess we'd all agree that we won't mind if the next such trip is in a few years!

Monday 10 February 2020

Wet Weekend

The weekend before last was unusually wet in my area. We spent it here at my place, and the wet weather did not change any of our plans.

On the Friday (31st of January), we celebrated my Dad's birthday. Because both my parents' health has not been the best, there were only the nearest and dearest, a small group of seven around the dining table. Now our Dad is 78, and we are just so happy to have him still with us after all he went through since the spring of 2018 when his worst year so far in terms of health began with a severe bout of flu.

Saturday, 1st of February, rain was forecast from the early afternoon onwards. It had been a mild week, and the sun was still out in the morning, making it feel much warmer than what you'd expect by a look at the calendar.

You have seen pictures of my parents' allotment on my blog many times; this one is a good example, as is this one, but there are many more.

Last year, my parents (mainly my Dad, as the allotment was always very much his 'baby') had to decide on what was going to become of it. Sadly, their health and our situation (my sister and I both working full time and the place being too far away from our town to allow for regular quick visits after work) makes a regular upkeep impossible, and so the allotment shall pass to someone who has the time and means to take over.

Six of us - my sister, O.K. and I plus three good friends - arranged to put in a few hours of work that day before the rain would hit.

My sister took some "before" and "after" pictures. Most gardens don't look their best this time of year, but of course it makes a difference when no regular work has been done in a long time. Together, we managed to get a lot of the overgrown shrubbery cleared, cut the roses, cleaned up the paths as best as we could and dragged much of the cut material to the front of the allotments, where the garden club has a common collecting place for shredding.

View from patio to pond before...
...and after.
Pond, before. You can just about spot its rim in the lower right quarter of the picture.
Pond, after. Surprisingly, the gold fish have survived without any regular additional food.
Flower and vegetable beds.
View from below pond to patio and hut (before)
Hector (the dog of one of our friends) came along, too.
Steps and path, with roses next to it - now cut.

We tried to get as much done as possible before the rain, but of course plenty remains to be done. We have not even touched the lower part of the allotment where the vegetable and flower beds were, nor have we started on cleaning and clearing the hut and sheds yet; all that will have to wait for another time.

For sustenance, my sister brought sandwiches for everyone. We had tea and coffee in thermos flasks as well as water and soft drinks, and biscuits for dessert.

It certainly made a change to how I usually spend my Saturdays! I don't mind physical work at all, but I am not very good at it; I tire quickly and can not lift heavy stuff, and my arms are not as strong as I would like them to be. But I really made an effort and am very glad that O.K. made up for what I couldn't do.

On the Sunday (2nd of February), O.K. and I braved the wet weather again by going for a walk. Driving to the allotment the day before, O.K. had spotted a castle high above the river Neckar, one that he'd never noticed before. I suggested we walk there, and that's what we did.

After Christmas 2015, my sister and I had been there on a walk; that was the last time I'd gone that way. Now the weather was very different, as you can see if you compare these pictures with the ones on this post. On the 2015 post you can also read more about the castle, if you are interested.

Our Sunday walk comprised somewhere around 12-13 km, feeling more exhausting than usual after the gardening on Saturday.

It still has not rained here as much as the land would need, but it was at least something!

Monday 3 February 2020

Read in 2020 - 1, 2, 3

My first three completed reads in 2020 happened to be mysteries, but all very different from each other. All three had in common that they kept up the suspense rather well, and had some likeable (and some less so) characters in them.

#1: A Matter of Policy
An Amy Brewster Mystery
Sam Merwin Jr.

First published in 1947, this was probably my favourite of the three here. It set my mind's cinema well in motion, depicting characters and places in a manner that I could easily imagine right out of a black-and-white movie.

The plot: A young insurance clerk all of a sudden finds himself the centre of attention when a policy is issued that entitles the beneficiary to a large sum of money after his death. 
Trouble is, the young man has no family, has been scraping by on his meagre salary for years now, and nobody seems to know who issued the policy, and why.
And who is the mysterious Tosta Kaaren, named as beneficiary?

The cast of characters ranging from an alluring nightclub singer to a private detective, gangsters, playboys and rich heiresses inlcudes Amy Brewster, a very unusual figure and one that appeared in only three novels, although I imagine her having been quite popular with readers back then.

The author must have been quite a character, too - doesn't it say something about a person if they use four different pen names? Find out more about Sam Merwin Jr. here on wikipedia, if you like.

I certainly enjoyed this book and wouldn't mind coming across more free ebooks by the same writer.

#2: The One You Love
Emma Holden Suspense Mystery Trilogy, Book 1
Paul Pilkington

On his own website, Paul Pilkington is described as "suspense mystery author known for his fast-paced thrillers and mysteries packed with suspense, twists, turns and cliffhangers."
I can definitely confirm that! Sometimes the story had me on my toes, and although more than once I found the heroine's actions hard to understand (you know you've been stalked for years by a man, and yet you go and seek him out - ON YOUR OWN?!), I suspected the true identity of the almost-murderer only about two thirds into the book.

Emma Holden is a young actress about to marry. On the night of her hen party, her husband-to-be disappears. When she returns to her flat, she finds her fiance's brother unconscious - the only person who could maybe shed some lights on the mysterious events is half dead and in a coma...

In this book, everyone is keeping secrets from everyone else, something I found a bit annoying at times. But the story is so fast-paced you just race along with it, waiting for the big revelation. The end leaves enough open for the reader to wonder, and anticipate Book 2 of this trilogy. I am not sure I am going to actively look for it, but would read it if I came across it.

#3:For Sale in Palm Springs
Henry Wright Mystery Book 1
Albert Simon

Of the three books reviewed here, I liked the principal character in this one best, but was slightly disappointed with poor editing. 

Henry Wright is a retired police chief, widowed a few years ago, who moved to Palm Springs to escape the cold, snowy winters of his hometown.

Every now and then, he helps the FBI with an investigation as a profiler, but other than that, he enjoys his retirement and beautiful house with swimming pool. He meets his friends and talks to his grown-up daughter on the phone, but there is no woman in his life since his wife died very suddenly.

Then he gets drawn into a case not far from his neighbourhood: A real estate agent is found murdered in one of the empty houses he was supposed to show a prospective buyer.

On the surface, nobody had a motive, even though some former house buyers were not perfectly happy with their purchase. The cute office manager is very helpful, and Henry begins to see her as a woman, not just as a source of information...

The story is quiet, not all that action-packed, in spite of it taking place within a week or so. Most of what happens is packed into the last 10 % or so of the book. The conclusion leaves the reader (me) satisfied, and if there was the promise of better editing, I guess I would want to read more of Henry Wright's cases.