“Deep down we’ve never been who we think we once were, and we only remember what never happened.”

Carlos Ruiz Zafón is a Spanish novelist. Born in Barcelona in 1964, he has lived in Los Angeles since 1994, and might possibly be the most popular author in Europe.

This is the third in the Cemetery of Forgotten Books cycle.  The other two, The Shadow of the Wind, and The Angel’s Game, I talked about here, and here.   In this continuation, as it were, of  the story of Daniel Sempere, the bookseller’s son, he is married to his childhood sweetheart, has a small son, and his BFF is Fermin, the scrawny fellow we first met in The Shadow of the Wind.  We learn more about Fermin, in a long section devoted to his time in prison, and his eventual escape.

It is Barcelona, 1957.  Fermin is about to marry!  Wow, the confirmed bachelor is going to get married?  But it is marred by the appearance of a mysterious, dangerous-seeming individual who comes to the bookshop looking for Fermin.  When Fermin learns this guy is on his tail, he freaks.  That is when we learn about Fermin’s past and just how he came to be in the lives of the Semperes.

It is melodrama.  Somehow, melodrama set in mid-20th century Europe seems so much niftier than just plain old ordinary melodrama.  Those dark days of Franco’s reign were referred to as the heart of darkness,  which phrase continually popped up as well in  Arundhati Roy’s The God of Small Things.  I love it when synchronicity happens like that. I leave you with a quote about stories of difficult times:

Once the last page is turned, the poison of its words will drag them [the readers] slowly but inexorably towards the heart of darkness.

Franco, dictator of Spain, and you-know-who.



A LONG LINE OF DEAD MEN by Lawrence Block

Still working my way through the Matt Scudder, quasi-P.I. detective series.  This is number sebendy-lebendy.  (Actually it is book twelve.  Have I really read twelve of these?  Holy patoly.)

This one had a very interesting premise. A secret gentlemen’s Club of 31 men are assembled for the purpose of …. OK, this is hard to explain ….. they meet once a year, read off the names of any member who has died in the course of the year, until the club is down to only one man, whose job it is to assemble another group of 30 (31 including himself), and at their first meeting  he reads off the list of the previous 30, and destroys the list, and the new group begin the process anew.  This Club has been in existence for, apparently, centuries. It is supposed to be an offshoot of Freemasonry, possibly mentioned in the Hammurabi Code. There is only a $1,000 initiation fee, and nothing else, the last man standing receives nothing, the club seemingly has no purpose.  They meet simply to mark the passage of time.

Well.  This current group in the club seem to be suffering an unusually high rate of mortality.  Four murders, four or five suicides, a bunch of accidents, one guy killed in Viet Nam, a heart attack, a cancer victim.  But right now, there are only 14 left, and one member is starting to get the idea that the death rate of the group is higher than average, and is referred to Matt to ask him to look into the matter.

Really good mystery, one of the more interesting I have read.

Well, our boy is still sober, ten years now, still seeing the fair Eileen, but still occasionally bonking the willing widow from the last book.  However, in spite of that, he asks his long time lady friend to tie the knot, she accepts, and so they do, with her assuring him that nothing had to change, he would keep his hotel room as his office, and they would still have their own interests.  I don’t know about that.  Hmmm.   So I like him less, and yeah yeah yeah, flawed is flawed, but self-serving infidelity does kind of grate, you know what I mean?

The mystery is solved, and taken care of in a way I really disapprove of, and it is done for all the wrong reasons, according to my lights. and yeah, it’s fiction.  But still ….

As to the title, the phrase must have grabbed the author, as phrases are often wont to do, and it appears several times in the book, the most poignant being when Scudder’s friend tells about his trip to Washington, DC to see the Vietnam Memorial.  And he says that after finding the name he wanted to see, he found himself walking along, continuing to read names.  “A long line of dead men.  That was a long line of dead men.  Thousands of names in no particular order, and only one name among them that meant a thing to me, so why was I reading the others?… I was there for hours.  How many names did I read?  I could not hope to tell you.”


Arundhati Roy has the ability to tell a riveting story, but one that has a dark undertone.   I talk about The Ministry of Utmost Happiness  here.   

This story is not so complex and sprawling as The Ministry..  It is more contained, tighter.  It is about twins, two-egg twins, Dizygotic.  A male and a female.  And their single parent mother, the mother’s brother, and the poisonous ex-nun aunt, sister of the grandmother of the twins.  And of the beautiful  irreplaceable untouchable caste man.

“They all crossed into forbidden territory.  They all tampered with the laws that lay down who should be loved and how.  And how much.”  The mother loved an inappropriate man;  the untouchable loved hopelessly a woman who could not be his; the twins loved each other; the ex-nun loved a priest; a pedophile loved all little boys;  the mother’s brother loved a woman who found she couldn’t love him and so divorced him.

It was 1969 in India, the time of Marxism and the Communists.  The family had a pickling business, and the village had communists and trade unionists.  And touchables and untouchables.  It moves back and forth from the childhood of the twins, to the present day, telling the story of their lives, and how many relations are not permitted.

The book is cleverly constructed, and the writing is almost poetic in many places.  The weaving of the older story with the current story, the stories of the various characters intertwining — just masterful, so compelling you cannot stop reading.

The god of small things is also referred to as the god of loss in the book. It seems to refer to Velutha, the untouchable man.

This book was the winner of the Booker Prize in 1997.  Yeah, I know.  I just got around to reading it.

One funny quote for you, just because I liked it.

Comrade Pillai’s arms were crossed over his chest, and he clasped his own armpits possessively, as though someone has asked to borrow them and he had just refused.

The quality of the writing style, of the construction of the plot, so far exceeds the shopworn topic of forbidden love and prudery as to make the reader forget that those well-worn themes are the bones of the book.



A charming story of a young woman who left Iowa in 1865 for the Colorado Territory as the new wife of a homesteader.  It is built around the idea that a woman  in current times is helping her elderly neighbor lady clean out her home prior to moving to assisted living.  In a trunk, she finds an old diary, hidden in the lid lining. It turns out to be the diary of the grandmother of the elderly neighbor.  The  helpful neighbor types it out so the fading writing can be read and the brittle paper can be preserved.

It is a lovely story, but it is a basic chic lit theme.  The young husband has been courting another gal for years, and suddenly, asks Mattie to wed, and a month later, they are on their way.  Of course, she learns that he only asked her because the other chick was too smart to agree to go live in a soddy on the prairie with all the hardships involved.

It is filled with details of life on the trail and then on the plains, with nary a tree in sight, daily life including the hardships of childbirth in remote areas.  The characters are finely drawn, and Mattie herself makes us modern day lasses ashamed of our wimpy, self-indulgent ways when we compare our lives of indoor plumbing and one-touch pizza delivery to her daily grind.

It is curious;  it is not a new plot — I’ve read it hundreds of times; it’s not the setting of mid-19th century America, the trek west and frontier life — Jessamyn West probably has the corner on that;  it isn’t that s.o.b. cheating husband – that trope  fairly litters chic lit;  and that diary style narrative – getting old and rusty.  But all together, it was a wonderful read and I loved it.

This is an accomplished author who has written a number of books.  I think I might look around and see what else I can find of hers for those times when a chic-lit kind of story is just the ticket.

THE WORLD WALKER by Ian Sainsbury

I am not sure what to say about this book.  I sot of liked it.  I didn’t like it.  It was strangely weird.  It was  properly strange.  Let me explain.  If I can.

Roswell, NM.  1947.  What seems to be an extraterrestrial  spaceship crashes in the desert.  A being is found, and whisked away to an unmarked secret facility, where it does absolutely nothing.  Until now, when it seems to wake up and just walk through the walls and leave.

A young man, faced with a cancer death sentence, walks out into the desert where he plans to kill himself.  Slashes wrist, is bleeding out on the ground.  Mysterious being approaches, heals him.

A magician in Australia finds he can manifest real elephants in his shows.

A pretty much secret international group of people who can work magic.  With a k.  Magick.  But they call it manna.  Using manna.  Another secret society using manna is the Sons of Satan.  OK, that’s not the name.  I forget the exact name, but something like that.  Nasty bunch.  Headed by a woman, who requires the unwilling services of young men hung upside down on Xs on pentagrams bleeding to death so she can do her spells.

A secret terribly powerful paramilitary organization with an awful lot of pricey high tech weaponry and equipment and helicopters.  Run by a guy who nobody has seen.

The young man in the desert now finds himself with massive superpowers, and the secretary military force is after him, and that Satan lady is after him because she wants to use him as her final sacrifice, and the young man, Seb,  also finds that with his superpowers comes himself divided into three parts, (Omnia Gallia in tres partes divisa est), one part of which claims to be his subconscious and acts like a whole separate person, and which I took to represent the ego, the id and the superego.  meh.

He now finds through his mentor that he has unlimited capacity for sex with no debilitating effects.  With multiple partners.  At the same time.  Sounds like every teenage boy’s wet dream.

OK, so we have a mash-up of aliens, alien technology, magic, violence, gratuitous violence, military stuff, Freudian psychology, lite porn, and ….  so’s we don’t leave out the ladies, …  a romance between Seb and a gal he knows, although why she would want him now since he is banging everything in sight is beyond me, but since it is written by a male writer, I can see why he would think so.

There was also a whole back story of his time as a orphan in an orphanage.  There was a whole lot of a whole lot. It felt like the Trope of the Week book, which my Dearly Beloved liked very much and I found annoying.  I was likin’ the whole alien thing, and then everything became about magic, and OK, are we going the fantasy route?  I can dig that.  But then we had the whole tearjerking orphan back story, and just when I was getting into that, we had the paramilitary, which while I didn’t love it, I could deal with it, when Enter Stage Left come the Satanists and their carnage.

It sort of all came together in the end, but really, superpowers?  And there are several more volumes to this?  The Dearly Beloved downloaded the next in the series, The Unmaking Engine,  which I am not sure I will bother reading.   I am not a big fan of gratuitous violence, being of the gamboling through the daisy-filled hillsides kind of a chick.

He wakes up and finds he has superpowers?  Sounds like every second-rate YA book ever written.


May the road rise to meet you.  May the wind be always at your back.  May you be in heaven and hour before the Devil knows you’re dead. – Irish blessing. 

The next in the Matt Scudder, quasi-private detective series.  In this story, Matt is still sober, his ex-girlfriend, Jan, is suffering from non-treatable pancreatic cancer (this was written in 1993) and wants Matt to get her a gun so she can make her exist on her own terms,  he and his current girlfriend finally decide to get married, and he has a pretty interesting case about a seemingly decent guy, a lawyer, with a job in a publishing house, and a nifty if small condo with a heck of a view, who becomes just another statistic, gunned down in a phone booth on Eleventh Avenue. When the cartridge casings of the fatal shots turn up on a local Vietnam vet street person,  the whole of the Big Apple knows it’s an open and shut case. But not Scudder.  When the brother of the vet contacts Matt to investigate,  Scudder finds that the Yuppie dead guy has skeletons in his closet and Matt can hear them rattling.

Scudder does the horizontal hula with the grieving widow which makes his declarations of love to Elaine, his current squeeze, seem less believable, but what do I know.  I am just an old broad who is jaded and cynical.

Some more information was offered as to the structure and workings of the AA organization, which I found interesting.

There are several different formats for AA meetings.  There are speaker meetings and discussion meetings, and there are formats which combine the two elements.  There are step meetings, which center each week upon one of the program’s twelve steps, and tradition meetings, which do the same for AA’s twelve traditions.  Promise meetings focus on the benefits of recovery, which are presumably assured to everyone who follows the directions.  (There are twelve promises, too.  If Moses had been an alcoholic, I’ve heard it said, we’d be stuck with twelve commandments instead of ten.)  At a Big Book meeting, members typically take turns reading a couple of paragraphs of the sacred text.  When the week’s designated chapter has been completed, the rest of the hour is given over to a discussion of what was read, with people relating what they heard to their own personal histories and current situations.

The Big Book is the oldest and most important piece of AA literature, written by the first members over fifty years ago, [seventy-five years ago at this blog writing].  Its opening chapters explain the program’s principles, and the rest of the book consists of members telling their personal stories, much as we tell them now when we speak at meetings, telling what our lives used to be like, what happened, and what it’s like now.

Another good mystery, although I did figure out that the dead guy had some secrets, because what was he doing using a public phone booth at night in a dicey neighborhood when he had a perfectly good phone at home in his condo?

Commentaries are beginning to appear by the characters as to the lack of public phones in the city, how so many of them do not accept coins but only calling cards, how there are few if any of the booth style, they are all open half boxes attached to telephone poles, and how they no longer have the number on them so you can call the person back.  This to counteract the drug dealers, and the phone card phones because of the rate of coin theft.  Persistent thieves had gone so far as to attach the phone boxes to cars and pulled right off the poles … all for a few quarters!  So we readers can track the history of the decline of the public phone booth through the story line of the Scudder series.




THE SUMMER BOOK by Tove Jansson

What a sweet book!  It was written in 1972, in Finnish, and we are fortunate to have a translation.  It is about a little girl whose mother has died, her paternal grandmother and her father, and their summers on a very small one-house island in the Bay of Finland, off the coast of ….. oh, crumb. I don’t remember.  Somewhere.  It is about nature, and the relationship between the somewhat elderly grandmother and the girl, with references to the father, although he really does not play a large part.  It is fiction, but reads like memoir, based as it is on some of the author’s own childhood memories.

It has that Annie Dillard feel to it,  you know, Pilgrim at Tinker Creek?,  but less sanctimonious.  It is just a lovely read.

Tove Jansson was born and died in Helsinki, Finland. As a Finnish citizen whose mother tongue was Swedish, she was part of the Swedish-speaking Finns minority. All her books were originally written in Swedish.