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Rain, Reading and Faraway Places

Today's morning news, with talk of flooding in London during this (so far!) strangely mild January, reminded me of the wonderful book "The Knowledge of Water" by Sarah Smith.   I decided to share the word about this book, and some of the other memorable books I've read over the past year.    book cover image"The Knowledge of Water" is set in Paris, France, during the great flood 1910 - the year the Seine overflowed its banks, causing havoc and devastation in the great city.   Against this backdrop Smith weaves the story of the mysterious, haunted Alexander and his beloved Perdita.   This is the Paris of great painters, of cafes, music, the demi-monde and the Grande Guignol.   But before you read it, read "The Vanished Child" by the same author first; these are evocative tales, with layers of mystery, family secrets, dark knowledge and guilt.   It's actually a trilogy: the final book in the series is "A Citizen of the Country".


Another faraway place - Hong Kong - is the setting for John Lanchester's novel "Fragrant Harbour."  Have you ever read a book that stays with you long after you've read it - one where you wish you could know more about the characters and what becomes of them, they seem so real?  For me, this was one of those books.  book cover image Covering most of the 20th century - up to the handover of Hong Kong to China - Lanchester tells the story of the city through four separate narratives; a young man leaving Britain in the '30s to seek his fortune in the far east, a Chinese nun, an ambitious British reporter and a young Hong Kong businessman.  This is the Hong Kong of tremendous capital growth, the triads, and the heartbreaking devastation of World War II.   After reading this book I wanted to call up a travel agent and book a trip to this wonderful, fascinating city!!   However I may have to settle for a travel guide instead ... such as "Hong Kong and Macau" from the Lonely Planet series.


Are you in the mood for a leisurely meander through some of the great cities of Europe?  What about through some of the secret places of those great cities - hidden crypts, secret libraries, long-forgotten archives?  And what if some vampire-hunting was thrown in as well?  This is the journey described in Elizabeth Kostova's first novel "The Historian".  book cover image The story begins when a young woman, living with her professor father in Amsterdam, discovers a strange, ancient book and a bundle of letters among her father's things.   These letters allude to a dark and sinister power walking the earth ... yes, it's a vampire.  The events in "The Historian" wind their way from Amsterdam to Oxford, Romania, Hungary, Turkey, France - with marvelously creepy and bizarre characters encountered along the way ... just a wonderful read for a rainy (or any!) day.   And if you develop a taste for vampire reading, here are a few more books in the same vein (pardon the pun!):  "Dracula" by Bram Stoker, "Blue Moon" by Laurell K. Hamilton and "The Damned" by L. A. Banks.