I'll begin with one of the books I read last year, but never reviewed: The Angel's Game, by Carlos Ruiz Zafon. Here's the description from Good Reads:
In an abandoned mansion at the heart of Barcelona, a young man, David Martin, makes his living by writing sensationalist novels under a pseudonym. The survivor of a troubled childhood, he has taken refuge in the world of books and spends his nights spinning baroque tales about the city’s underworld. But perhaps his dark imaginings are not as strange as they seem, for in a locked room deep within the house lie photographs and letters hinting at the mysterious death of the previous owner.
Like a slow poison, the history of the place seeps into his bones as he struggles with an impossible love. Close to despair, David receives a letter from a reclusive French editor, Andreas Corelli, who makes him the offer of a lifetime. He is to write a book unlike anything that has ever existed — a book with the power to change hearts and minds. In return, he will receive a fortune, and perhaps more. But as David begins the work, he realizes that there is a connection between his haunting book and the shadows that surround his home.
. . . Zafon takes us into a dark, gothic universe first seen in The Shadow of the Wind and creates a breathtaking adventure of intrigue, romance, and tragedy. Through a dizzyingly constructed labyrinth of secrets, the magic of books, passion, and friendship blend into a masterful story.
First lines of the book:
A writer never forgets the first time he accepted a few coins or a word of praise in exchange for a story. He will never forget the sweet poison of vanity in his blood, and the belief that, if he succeeds in not letting anyone discover his lack of talent, the dream of literature will provide him with a roof over his head, a hot meal at the end of the day, and what he covets the most: his name printed on a miserable piece of paper that surely will outlive him. A writer is condemned to remember that moment, because from then on he is doomed and his soul has a price. (--p. 4, Chapter 1, Act One: City of the Damned)My Thoughts:
I read Zafon's first novel for adults, Shadow of the Wind, a few years ago, right after it was released, and it immediately became one of my all-time favorites. So I was very excited to receive an advance copy of his follow-up, The Angel's Game. And while I didn't love it as much as that first book, I did end up enjoying this one quite a lot. I found the first half really slow going and a bit of a disappointment, and Isabella, David's young "assistant," was so annoying she almost made me abandon the story more than once.
But the second half of the book was almost as exciting as SOTW. I think I was just a little turned off by the selling-your-soul-to-the-devil plot – seemed a little hackneyed, and just not as suspenseful as SOTW. In the last half of the story, however, the real mystery of the novel began to take shape and it was transformed into a real page-turner. As in his earlier work, the writing is absolutely beautiful, the plotting is ingenious, and the book is filled with wonderful characters. (There are also a few violent scenes that may be a little disturbing to some readers.) I'd probably give it a solid B+; not as riveting as SOTW, but still much more intriguing than most current fiction.