Wednesday, 23 May 2018

Book #34

I Am Pilgrim by Terry Hayes

A breakneck race against time...and an implacable enemy. An anonymous young woman murdered in a run-down hotel, all identifying characteristics dissolved by acid. A father publicly beheaded in the blistering heat of a Saudi Arabian public square. A notorious Syrian biotech expert found eyeless in a Damascus junkyard. Smoldering human remains on a remote mountainside in Afghanistan. A flawless plot to commit an appalling crime against humanity. One path links them all, and only one man can make the journey. Pilgrim.

I thought I’d had enough of fast-paced crime this year, but this one was recommended to me by a work colleague. In previous months I have dabbled into small-time UK-based gangs and murders; here, I was transported into the world of American intelligence and faced with a far more terrifying and affecting crime.

At almost 900 pages, it’s a mammoth tome, yet the plot is so intricate, and with so many twisting alleys, that the length is important, yet doesn’t feel overwhelming. Hayes introduces a number of plotlines which all converge together, linking the murder of a young woman in a New York hotel room to a plot to murder the entire population of the United States. It’s not literature, but it’s definitely engrossing.

Pilgrim himself was a considerably bland character. He was construed as the best at everything, a superhero of intelligence, yet didn’t pack much of a punch in terms of back story or personal development. Everything was in his brainpower and abilities (which actually ended up to be quite questionable), rather than who he was as a person. I wondered if there was some nod here to him having had so many different names and stories throughout his life that he ended up a magnolia hybrid of every single one.

The big problem here is the whole premise of American – good, Muslim – bad. I’m not saying there should never be books about Muslim terrorists, but the novel was desperately missing something to enforce the fact that not all Muslims are radicalised, anti-Western killers. I really don’t want to pick at this, but there were a few other sections of text which made me feel uncomfortable and which could have done with some serious sensitivity reading.

A definite gripper for those of us who thrive on thrills, murders, mysteries, and the dark secret world of US intelligence. 

Saturday, 12 May 2018

Book #33

Lips Too Chilled by Matsuo Basho

A selection of Basho's most magical haiku.

I was confused to begin with here - they are not haiku! The syllables are all wrong! I soon realised that translating haiku is no mean feat; a choice has to be made between committing to the original meaning and feel of the haiku, or ensuring the words fit the structure. The former was chosen, and it was absolutely the right thing to do.

Basho, in such a tiny number of words, conveys seasons, nature, and feeling beautifully. It was amazing what can actually be evoked in such concise little verses. Being a novice, it could very well be the case that I’ve misinterpreted some, if not all, or sometime important has completely swung over me, however I found them beautiful in their simplicity.

Come, let’s go
till we’re buried.

Friday, 11 May 2018

Book #32

Catharine by Jane Austen

Catharine, an orphan living with her maiden aunt in Devon and sorely missing her absent friends Cecilia and Mary Wynne, is delighted by the visit of her cousin Camilla Stanley, a spirited if somewhat silly young woman. The Stanleys bring a taste of high society, but the arrival of their unreliable son Edward introduces company of a different kind.

As Austen stories go, short or otherwise, this one didn’t quite hit the mark for me. I can make exceptions for this being a very early work, and also an unfinished one, but the only real joy here is seeing the workings of Austen’s young mind.

Catharine’s story is very similar to those of women in Austen’s later works. A naive, innocent heroine becomes caught up in society life before a young gentleman enters and throws her world into a spin. Although we will never get to hear whether or not their lives tangled up together enough that it led to marriage, we can assume by the well-known Austen formula that she got her man in the end.

I found this difficult for a few reasons, mainly due to Austen’s inexperienced punctuation and general errors. There was a distinct lack of paragraph breaks which meant reading overwhelming walls of text without relief.

Having said all that, it’s amazing what Austen has accomplished with this at a mere seventeen years of age. Her mark is all over it - the beautiful character building, the little hints at the ridiculousness of societal customs, and yes another nineteenth century fuckboy. I would have loved to discover what happened next, but I imagine there are parts of both Catharine and Edward littered throughout some of Austen’s more well known characters.

This is a worthwhile investment in your time if you’re an Austen fangirl as I am. On it’s own, however, it’s a bit disappointing unless you’re going in with the knowledge of its incomplete state. 

Book #31

In the Woods by Tana French

As dusk approaches a small Dublin suburb in the summer of 1984, mothers begin to call their children home. But on this warm evening, three children do not return from the dark and silent woods. When the police arrive, they find only one of the children. He is gripping a tree trunk in terror, wearing blood-filled sneakers and unable to recall a single detail of the previous hours.
Twenty years later, the found boy, Rob Ryan, is a detective on the Dublin Murder Squad and keeps his past a secret. But when a 12-year-old girl is found murdered in the same woods, he and Detective Cassie Maddox (his partner and closest friend) find themselves investigating a case chillingly similar to the previous unsolved mystery. Now, with only snippets of long-buried memories to guide him, Ryan has the chance to uncover both the mystery of the case before him and that of his own shadowy past.

This had such promise; I was gripped for the first two hundred pages. A murder detective whose two friends went missing as children, leaving him as the only survivor, is now investigating a killing which took place in the very same woods as their disappearance. The premise was delectable – is the murderer the same person who was responsible for the crime twenty years ago?

French weaves the mystery very well; her pace and tone build immeasurable tension, and her construction of characters and their relationships is as relatable as it is intricate. The first third of the novel is filled with hints, new information, and a lot of character backstory, beginning as all excellent crime novels should.

The middle third is dull, repetitive, and mostly unnecessary. At this stage, I was loathe to pick the novel up; nothing was happening other than bad decisions, red herrings (oh, I do love a red herring, but these were utterly pointless and droll), and some serious annoyances with regards to French’s characters, both in their decisions and behaviour.  I should add these mistakes are French’s, and not the characters’ own, but yet I began to hate each of them with a passion. This thing could easily have been a couple of hundred pages shorter without losing any important plot development.

Finally, the plot picks up its pace again and becomes exciting, but not entirely satisfying. For a murder mystery to be really enjoyable, it needs closure and atonement. And, guys, we need to solve the fucking mystery.

I can’t recommend this. It’s difficult to say precisely why without doing a deep dive into the spoiler sea, but I will say I feel I’ve been cheated by an excellent beginning, which morphed and dissolved into an utter waste of time. 

Wednesday, 2 May 2018

Book #30

TwoSpells by Mark Morrison

Sarah and her twin brother Jon are heirs to an ancient magical realm and its most valuable treasure, an enchanted library. The library endows readers with the supernatural means of crossing into the uncharted inner-sanctum of the second dimension, inhabited with peculiar and sometimes perilous creatures. 
The children are emboldened with a wondrous mystical gift that no other being has ever possessed. But fate intervenes and triggers a disastrous inter-dimensional war that disrupts the fabric of time and space spanning multiple universes, tearing destiny a new and savage pathway. 
The two must rescue their world from a phantom hybrid alien race controlled by a demented dark-wizard, Jeremy Sermack. They will either assimilate or be exterminated. 
Will they be the saviors the prophets spoke of, or will they retreat to the perceived safety of their distant homeland? 

When I received Mark Morrison’s email asking me to review TwoSpells, I felt as though he had been living inside my head. Magic, strange creatures, an enchanted library? The premise is strong; it felt a bit like Harry Potter meets The Pagemaster (which is, by the way, a completely underrated Macaulay Culkin classic). I had to say yes.

Morrison eases us in gently to his world, peppering strange yet small happenings throughout the initial pages accompanied by a reassuring tone implying we’ll soon get to the root of these unsettling creatures and new mysterious words we kept bumping into. There was a tension tinged with excitement – what is this place, and what am I going to be part of?

We’re dipped into small mysteries for the first half of the novel, then everything really kicks off. There was a lot going on, most of which I felt could have benefited from further explanation. A few things happened out of the blue where I felt the twins should have had more questions, instead they were quite blasé, taking things as they come, but without any inquisition, I was left in the dark. There were also characters introduced at the beginning of novel who didn’t make an appearance until towards the end, and I had forgotten their stories and where they fit in. It felt like utter chaos, and I couldn’t keep track of what was happening, or why.

The world is gorgeous and exciting, yet I feel some of the more fast-paced scenes could have been edited out to make room for either some lore or backstory. The finale is an incredibly frustrating cliffhanger, so I was pleased to learn Morrison plans to make this series – it would have been a maddening ending otherwise!

Thanks again for allowing me to read and review this.