I am back at my parents’ home this weekend. I started reading a book that I brought with me, but I couldn’t get into it at all, so I started mooching around for a book from my parents’ book collection. My Mum reads a lot of crime fiction, and we had been chatting about how much I’d liked The Cuckoo’s Calling, so my Mum suggested I read this one, Case Histories by Kate Atkinson. Crime fiction is a bit out of my comfort zone, but I do read it now and again, so I was prepared to give it a shot. I ended up devouring the book in two sittings, as I really enjoyed it.
The book is the first in a series of novels starring private investigator Jackson Brodie, a former military policeman (parallels there with the Galbraith book I have just realised). He is called upon to investigate three old cases, the disappearance of a young girl, the murder of a teenager, and to search for the daughter whose family lost touch with her after her mother killed her father. The narrative shifts between the point of view of Jackson Brodie, and the various figures involved in his cases. The three cases and their participants end up interconnecting with Jackson’s own life.
As I said, I really enjoyed the book. It may not be my usual cup of tea, but nonetheless I thought it was very well written, with a suspensful plot and complex characters. I was thoroughly caught up in the story, and I couldn’t put it down. I suppose this is proof that sometimes it is nice to step outside your usual boundaries and explore something new, and I may well read the next book in the series the next time I am home to visit my parents.
I finished reading 1Q84 by Haruki Murakami. I’m counting this as two books towards my reading goal for the year, since I have two volumes - Books 1 and 2 in the first volume and Book 3 in the second volume. It’s all rather confusing! I’ve actually owned these books since 2011 when I received them as a Christmas gift. I have been meaning to read them since then, since I do generally love Haruki Murakami, but for some reason I never got around to it until now. To begin with I was really enjoying the book, and I was glad that I had finally started reading it. But as it went on my enthusiasm waned. There are a lot of good things about the book, but the problem I found is that it is far too long and repetitive. If it had been cut down to half the length then I think I would have enjoyed it a lot more. It was also a lot darker than some of Murakami’s other novels, more weird and twisted in a way, which I also didn’t like as much. Overall the book was okay, and I am glad that I read it, but it wasn’t one of Murakami’s best efforts in my opinion.
I recently finished reading Doomsday Book by Connie Willis. I had previously read this before, about 6 or 7 years ago, and I remembered that I really liked it, so I was happy to read it again now for my book group.
It’s a time travel novel, set in the same universe as Willis’ more recent novels Blackout and All Clear. In this world time travel exists and is regularly used by historians to travel back in time and observe the past. Kivrin is a young Oxford student who has been given permission to go back to the dangerous 14th century. James Dunworthy is her tutor, who disagrees with the plan to let her go back to this period, as he feels the risks are too great. As he fears, something goes wrong and Kivrin finds herself arriving right in the middle of the black plague. However Mr Dunworthy has his own problems to deal with, as events in the present day parallel history when an epidemic hits Oxford.
As before, I still really enjoyed this book. I love a good time travel story, and this is a classic. As with Connie Willis’ other novels that I’ve read, it does have a few flaws, particularly the abundance of Americanisms in a book set in Britain. But that really doesn’t matter because it had a great, gripping plot, and fantastic characters. The setting is also wonderful, both the future present of the book, and the historical past. I love the time travel aspects of it, but it has so much more too. Overall it’s just a really good book.
This past week my book group read The Golem and the Djinni by Helene Wecker. The book is set in New York in 1899. The golem, a woman made of clay, was created by a disgraced rabbi in Europe and woken on a steamship to New York, only for her husband and master to die. This leaves her vulnerable to the desires and influences of everyone she meets, until she is taken into the care of a more benevolent rabbi when she arrives in New York. Meanwhile the djinni is a creature of fire from the Syrian desert who had been trapped in a flask by an evil wizard hundreds of years ago, only to be released accidentally by a Syrian immigrant tinsmith in New York. He is free from the flask but ultimately still a prisoner, forced to take human form. As they each try to find a place for themselves in the world of humans, they meet and strike up an unusual friendship, as two creatures of such different natures.
Overall I really loved the book, which is well written and features marvellous characters. Ultimately it is a brilliant exploration of what it means to be human, and how to find a place amongst strangers. I’d really recommend this one, especially to people who like the particular sort of fantasy books by Neil Gaiman, Susannah Clarke’s Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell or The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern. I’m not quite sure how to describe it, but if you know what I mean then you should probably read this book!
I have finished reading the Mistborn series by Brandon Sanderson. I absolutely loved this series, so much so that I am having trouble writing a review of it, because I just want to gush about how good these books were, and as I result I am not really saying anything sensible! I’m realistically not going to be able to write a summary that does this series justice - if you want more details then you can look up the Wikipedia pages - but I will just say that this is a completely brilliant fantasy series. The setting is excellent, with a really original magic system unlike anything I’ve read before, and wonderfully well developed. The plot is really good, and I liked how each book had a slightly different focus whilst all being part of one big story. The characters are brilliant, all of them are wonderfully developed, even relatively minor characters. Overall I was just utterly caught up in the story from beginning to end, and it has been a long time since I was this enthralled by a series of books. So not the most coherent of reviews, but the take home message is that I entirely loved these books and I would heartily recommend them.
I recently read One Summer: America 1927 by Bill Bryson. Bryson’s earlier book, A Short History of Nearly Everything is one of my favourite non-fiction books. I really like his style of narrative non-fiction, and I think he manages to write books which are both interesting and entertaining. When I read non-fiction these days I’m not looking for a serious academic text, so this sort of thing is exactly what I want. I picked up this book because I was in the mood to read some non-fiction and I thought that Bryson would be a safe bet, even if the topic was not something I was familiar with. This is a history book, covering various events in American history all around the summer of 1927. The book starts with a focus on Charles Lindbergh and his solo flight across the Atlantic, and brings in other figures from the period such as baseball star Babe Ruth, President Calvin Coolidge, and topics such as Prohibition and the stock market. As I said, it wasn’t really anything that I was familiar with, but it was fascinating reading. It definitely fulfilled my requirement of being both entertaining and interesting, and my only complaint is that it trailed off a bit towards the end, with no real conclusion. But overall I really enjoyed reading it.
Recently I read Allegiant by Veronica Roth, the final book in her Divergent trilogy, and like many people I was upset by the death of the main character at the end of the book. Some other fans of the series have criticised those who have been upset by the ending of the book, including John Green who is also a writer and a person I usually have a great deal of respect for. Green’s opinion was that readers have no right to expect a happy ending and that is just wish fulfilment. My argument was that the death of the character was not the only thing flawed about the book, and my anger and disappointment wasn’t that the character died but that it was so badly done.
Now I am reading the Mistborn series by Brandon Sanderson, which I am thoroughly enjoying. I have just finished the first book, The Final Empire, and I am about to start on book two. Towards the end of this book, one of the main characters is killed. As with the death of Tris in Allegiant, I was upset by the death of the character Kelsier, who as a reader I had grown to like, and whose story I was invested in. In fact it affected me far more than the death of Tris, as I have become much more caught up in the Mistborn series. But while I am emotionally affected by it, I am not disappointed or angry that the author killed off his character. Unlike the death of Tris in Allegiant, this death was actually well written and made sense within the context of the story. John Green is right that the author does not owe the reader a happy ending, but I think the author does owe the reader a well written one, and that really does make all the difference.
I started reading The Final Empire by Brandson Sanderson, the first book in his Mistborn trilogy. I picked this book because I was in the mood for a big fantasy trilogy, and this one was highly recommended by my book group friends. After about 100 pages I stopped, went online and ordered books two and three. I am almost finished this one and I hope the next two arrive soon because I am really hooked!
Last year I read and really liked Divergent by Veronica Roth. I decided to hold off on reading the second book in the series, Insurgent, until the trilogy was completed. The final instalment, entitled Allegiant, was released last week so I read all three books in quick succession.
Firstly, I will reiterate what I had said in my previous review of Divergent, which is that I really liked it. It’s got an interesting setting, a good plot, and a very compelling main character. If you like this sort of dystopian YA fiction, then you really can’t go wrong with this book. Rereading it now, I think I liked it even more than I did previously.
The second in the series, Insurgent, was also a very good sequel. It took the premise of the first book and expanded it. We get to see more of the world, and get a better understanding of the setting, the factions of society and the city they live in, even as the plot means that the society as it once was is being destroyed. The character development continues, especially the relationship between main characters Tris and Tobias.
That aspect of the book it one that was a bit less impressive. In the first book the romance was handled well, but in the second book it became a bit frustratingly repetitive as we got argument after argument. It’s nice to see something other than fairytale romance, but still a bit annoying at times.
Tris sort of reminds me of another character that I really like, Korra from Avatar: The Legend of Korra. She’s another brilliant but flawed young female protagonist. Both of them can be incredibly brilliant at times, but both can also be frustrating when they make incredibly stupid choices. It’s great that they are both characters who are not perfect and do have realistic personalities. But like people in real life, this can also be annoying when you can see that what they are about to do is just a bad decision. So in a way, the fact that Tris is written like this actually made me like the book more, even when she was annoying me!
Then we come to Allegiant, the final book. Spoilers! Basically, I was incredibly disappointed with this book and the conclusion to the series. The plot here moves beyond the city into the outside world, and the secret of the city and the factions in society is revealed. However this explanation is wholly nonsensical, and the book altogether seems to suffer from many plot holes and pacing issues compared to the previous books.
The narration is also a problem. The previous two books are told from Tris’ point of view, but this one alternates between Tris and Tobias’ narration. However Tobias’ narration is not distinct enough from Tris, and this new perspective also makes his character a less compelling one, as he seems to have undergone a drastic personality change from the previous books.
Finally, the ending. Tris dies, something which has received a lot of criticism from fans of the books (and people voicing such criticism have also in turn been criticizing for not being “true fans” by others who approved of the ending, which is frankly a ridiculous fight to pick). I think there is nothing wrong in principle with an author killing off the main character of the series. There is also nothing wrong with fans being upset by this and wanting a happier ending. My issue is that the death is so senseless and inconsistent with the character development that had been ongoing in the rest of the book. It seems to be added more for shock value, and it is the dissatisfying culmination of an altogether troubled and disappointing plot.
Overall, I am conflicted, because I really liked the first book, which is excellent, and the second one too is a book that I really enjoyed. However I can’t help but think that it came off the rails a bit with the final book in the trilogy, and overall it is a disappointing end to an otherwise excellent series. Would I still recommend it? Probably. The first book really is excellent, and there is much to praise in the series overall. But it’s just such a perplexingly bad ending, and I just can’t fathom where it went wrong.
A short round up of a few other books that I’ve recently finished.
I read The Lightning Thief by Rick Riordan because I was looking for something along the lines of Harry Potter. It didn’t quite tick the boxes I was looking for, but I did enjoy it. I do really like all the Greek mythology.
The Falconer by Elizabeth May was something I read with my book group. It’s about a teenager girl in 19th century Edinburgh who hunts faeries. It could have been good, but I feel that it just wasn’t a very well developed world (even though steampunk Edinburgh is nonetheless a cool setting). I didn’t like the main character either. Plus it had a very abrupt cliffhanger ending. Overall it was not well done despite the potential it had, so I was disappointed.
I Wear The Black Hat by Chuck Klosterman is a non-fiction book about villains, and what makes a villain, and why popular culture is seemingly obsessed with villainous characters. It was interesting enough, and a good topic, but not as good as Klosterman’s other non-fiction essay collections which I have read.
Not a great bunch of books, but I am reading a couple of good ones at the moment, so hopefully I can write some longer reviews soon.
Recently I was unexpectedly give some money as a gift, which of course I used to buy books. Whenever I am buying books as a gift to myself (when someone gives me money like this or a gift certificate) I always try to buy at least one thing that is a bit different from what I would usually read, something that I wouldn’t necessarily take a risk on if it was “my” money I was spending. This time around I went for Forgive Me, Leonard Peacock by Matthew Quick.
The book is about a boy, the titular Leonard Peacock, who on his 18th birthday takes a gun to school with the intention of killing his former best friend and then committing suicide. Before that he wants to deliver gifts to the few people who matter to him. Interspersed with that story are letters written to Leonard from the future, which is revealed to be a writing exercise assigned to Leonard by one of his teachers, in an attempt to give him hope to live for the future.
I had a mixed response to the book. On one hand I think it tackles quite dark and taboo subjects in an insightful and interesting way, with an overall message of hope for the future. On the other hand, I really disliked the style of the book (first person present tense just never works well for me) and I found it really hard to like or empathise with the main character. I also thought the book had a very abrupt, unresolved ending, but I suppose that’s because life doesn’t have neat conclusions.
Overall I did like the book, but I wouldn’t rave about it.