What I've read in English recently

The latest books I've read were not exactly my cup of tea. I'm starting to consider whether I'm losing my ability to understand the English language or if it's just a lack of concentration due to the fact that I've been reading almost exclusively on the train to the university and back. Or that the books aren't what the exctacts from the New York Times reviews promised they would be.

As a side note: I continue to love how they use rhetorical expressions, such as "hypnotic, dreamy prose" (about Twilight), "a classic for the new millennium" (about The Fire) or "Readers will be enthralled" (about The Piano Teacher). Without further ado, here are the reviews.

The Piano Teacher. Janice Y.K. Lee.

The story is about... In the 1950's, Claire Pendleton goes to live to Hong Kong because of her husband's new job in the still-British colony. There she learns to live among the rich and the famous, both British families who went there long before the war, and very rich and influent Chinese families who earned the favour of the conquerors.

Claire starts working as a piano teacher for Locket Chen, only daughter of Victor and Melody Chen, probably the most influent Chinese family in Hong Kong. While she is working, Claire meets Will, a British man who works as the Chens' chauffeur, and they end up having an affair.

However, Will has a secret of his own, and the reader is transported, through flashbacks, to the time of World War II, and gets to see the tempestuous relationship between Will and Trudy Liang, a half-Chinese, half-Portuguese exotic and fascinating woman.

Opinion... Maybe it's my fault for not having read Ian McEwan's Atonement (or anything by him except for an extract of the first pages of his novel Saturday), because according to The Piano Teacher's cover, Elle magazine claims it to be a book of the same category.

Leaving possible comparisons aside, I didn't like the book. Not because the story is not interesting, but it doesn't quite fulfill my expectations. It's also probably my fault for expecting something much more passionate or, at least, a bit more thriller-like, considering that the story is settled in the period of World War II.

As a general overview, the author fails to resolve all of the action at the end of the book. We are given almost 300 pages of information about the situation during WWII, about Claire, about Trudy, about the other aristocrats around them... The reader keeps turning the pages expecting to find out the connection between Trudy and Claire, and many other apparently relevant details we are presented with along the chapters, only to reach an ending that I, personally, didn't quite understand. I mean, I did understand the ending, what happens to everybody, but not what exactly did Claire have to do with all of the rest of the story.

The Fire. Katherine Neville.

The story is about... It's 1993. Cat Velis and Alexander Solarin, the main characters of the prequel to this book, The Eight, have a daughter, Alexandra (or Xie, for short), a precocious chess master. Now she and her father have travelled to Solarin's fatherland, Russia, so that the kid can take part in a chess competition. But before the last game, Solarin is shot dead because he has seen something that he thought long well hidden: the Black Queen of the Montglane Service.

Ten years later, Xie hasn't talked to her mother for years, so she can't hide her surprise when Cat, who never celebrates birthdays, invites her for a birthday party at her ancestral house in Colorado. The surprise is even bigger when she finds out that Cat is missing. And who are all of these people with no apparent connection to her mother?

Parallel to this story, the reader is presented with new both fictional and historical characters, such as Lord Byron, and a series of people whom we had already met in The Eight and now, thirty years after the original book, in the 1820s, the quest for the Montglane Service has begun again.

Opinion... I loved The Eight, a novel about the quest for a mysterious and dangerous set of chess pieces that is supposed to grant great power to their beholder.

It is no big secret that second parts are generally not as good as the original. I don't think The Fire is a bad thriller/mystery/adventure novel: you keep on reading, because nothing makes sense but you know that, in the very end, there is a reason for everything, and every little detail counts.

There is something about the ending that I don't quite like. It was a bit too sudden, and somehow repetitive. The author leaves the door open, just in case a new adventure should take place some 30 years later (apparently, the Montglane Service causes disaster every 30 years, if we take into consideration the dates of all the events described).

Both in The Eight and The Fire, the author mixes real historical characters with fictional characters, which make the story somehow believable. However, maybe my problem with The Fire is that I wasn't as familiar with the historical period of the 1820s as much as I was with the French Revolution, so I didn't enjoy the historical events as much (nor did my curiosity arise as much as with The Eight).

It's a to-read-in-the-train novel. Don't expect a great piece of literature, although it's well written and it's a very enjoyable story, especially if you're into DaVinci Code and such.

My conclusion: beware and fear the "Best-selling book" tag!