Monday, 30 June 2014

Book #29

The Silkworm by Robert Galbraith

When novelist Owen Quine goes missing, his wife calls in private detective Cormoran Strike. At first, she just thinks he has gone off by himself for a few days - as he has done before - and she wants Strike to find him and bring him home. But as Strike investigates, it becomes clear that there is more to Quine's disappearance than his wife realises. The novelist has just completed a manuscript featuring poisonous pen-portraits of almost everyone he knows. If the novel were published it would ruin lives - so there are a lot of people who might want to silence him. And when Quine is found brutally murdered in bizarre circumstances, it becomes a race against time to understand the motivation of a ruthless killer, a killer unlike any he has encountered before.

Rowling nails it again. I imagine you all expected this opinion from fangirl numero uno, however I'll go on to tell you why this story was amazing. 

I was fascinated by the plot. It was about writing. It was set in the busy and bitchy career lives of people in publishing. The bloody murder took place after Owen Quine writes a pretty scathing novel about his well-known colleagues in the literary circle. The book was never published, but everyone who was tarred within it managed to have a read of the manuscript - making them all suspects. Delicious. 

The pace was close to perfect, with small deviations from the main case showing us some new sides to the static characters. Seeing Strike and Robin's relationship develop further was lovely, and it was great to see the minor character of Matthew get some more emotion behind him as well, even though I found him loathsome. These small strayings from the plot were timed well, and built good suspense before launching back into the murder case.

Cormoran Strike is a wonderful character, with thousands of layers. His military past, his lack of a limb, his complex relationship history, and his rise from the ashes, are all factors that make him a fascinating man. He's an excellent detective, with an almost Sherlock ability to read underneath the surface of other people's actions and words, to come to the right conclusion. Despite this, he seems to be very confused about his own reasoning and desires. He's incredibly flawed, fantastically interesting, and worryingly fanciable.

My only disappointment was that I knew who the killer was pretty early on. Having read The Cuckoo's Calling, I tried to talk myself out of this, thinking it was too obvious, and pinning my hopes on the killer being one of the characters who couldn't possibly have done it unless Galbraith had passed over into crazy land. There's a subtle(ish) hint early on the story which I picked up on. I'm not sure whether the hint was too obvious, or whether I'm some sort of Robin Ellacott in the making.

I'd love to read more Strike novels. This one was in the process of being edited before it's publication when Rowling was unmasked as Galbraith, so I really hope she has plans to further the story. Wonderfully executed, gripping, and entirely binding, I'd recommend this to anyone. The only prerequisite is to read A Cuckoo's Calling first to truly appreciate the development of Strike and Robin. Gorgeous. 

Saturday, 21 June 2014

Book #28

White Teeth by Zadie Smith

On New Year's morning, 1975, Archie Jones sits in his car on a London road and waits for the exhaust fumes to fill his Cavalier Musketeer station wagon. Archie—working-class, ordinary, a failed marriage under his belt—is calling it quits, the deciding factor being the flip of a 20-pence coin. When the owner of a nearby halal butcher shop (annoyed that Archie's car is blocking his delivery area) comes out and bangs on the window, he gives Archie another chance at life and sets the novel in motion.

White Teeth is a big book. It's a long, detailed study into the lives of two families, and how their cultures and relationships interlink. It's beautifully written, and really captures the social message Smith is trying to portray. The pace and tone is wonderful, with Smith writing dialogue and colloquialisms like a truly well-travelled multicultularist.

Archie Jones and Samad Iqbal's children (one Jamaican-English, and two Bangladeshi-English twins) grow up in a subconscious state of uncertainty between tradition and home. Their parents lament over their identity and loyalty to their roots, and their actions show their own uncertainties, fears and hopes.

There are many storylines going on at once within the novel, some even spanning 100 years into the past. This was a great technique in showing us family history, and the reasons behind the characters' personalities and quirks. My issue here was that the novel began with the scene noted in the blurb above - the attempted suicide of Archie Jones. The book ends with another major incident in Archie's life, yet in between these two events, Archie barely makes his presence known throughout the novel. Oh, he's there all right, speaking to other characters, and mentioned within the plot, however he says and does nothing to make him memorable. Why is this? It can't be because he's a solid man in the background, the last man in every situation - he was a pathetic wimp of a man. Was it because he was a pathetic wimp of a man that Smith felt she should give him some sort of glory? I couldn't understand it, found it a real shame, and felt that the novel could've ended better had Archie been more of a monolith, or if it had ended with one of the further developed characters.

I really loved the first two thirds of the novel as we explored the characters' lives, roots, and personalities. I like multiple narrative, and I like seeing things from the perspective of more than one character, however I felt the tail end of the story became incredibly chaotic, unnecessary, and even a bit dull. All characters turned into caricatures of themselves, and those I had loved became ghosts of their former selves. I definitely closed the book last night with an air of disappointment. It was a hard slog to get through, and I once again I'm left knowing that just because lots of people like a book, doesn't mean it's actually good.

This is a very short review for a very long book, however I really don't have much else left to say. The plot bounced from place to place without warning, and came to a standstill out of nowhere. There are still lots of loose ends untied, however my complete disenchantment with the characters means it doesn't matter at all.   

Monday, 2 June 2014

Book #27

Laika in Lisan by Maron Anrow

Laika Roen has always been strangely attracted to Lisan, a mysterious and isolated country where the citizens worship their despotic leader. When Laika suddenly receives an invitation to travel to Lisan as a visiting scholar, she abandons her career as a private tutor to pursue adventure in Lisan. But Laika gets more than she bargained for when her trip is disrupted by violence and she's forced to set out on her own. As she journeys through forbidden sections of the foreign country, Laika discovers horrible truths about the relationship between Lisan's leader and his people. Can a simple scholar change the course of an entire country? And even if she can, should she? The distinction between right and wrong blurs as Laika explores not only Lisan, but her own conscience.

Maron Anrow contacted me to ask if I would review her book. I was more than happy to do so at the time, but now I feel entirely honoured to have been asked. This book is wonderful, and I absolutely loved it. 

The world Anrow shows us is very believable, very terrifying, yet completely fascinating. Set some years in the past, Lisan is a dystopian country run by a complete tyrant, with his son and heir, rumoured to be even worse than his father, waiting to take the reigns. It's out and out totalitarianism, with dashes of communism, very much akin to the way some countries are run in our world to this day. The way the people in Lisan are treated is shocking; forced from a young age to love and respect their leader, who drinks imported wine whilst the populace starves. Although it's difficult to believe this could happen in our world, the plot is similar to that of something you could see on the news today.

Laika is a gorgeous protagonist. She's intelligent, brave, and driven, but shows us her softer side at the best of times. We often see female, young adult narrators as incredibly strong-willed, but who will fall apart when a male comes on the scene to seduce them. Laika is smooth and subtle around her love interest, but shows us her emotion when it comes to grittier parts of the novel. This makes her entirely endearing, and completely believable. Most of us girls can work our way around a charming man without batting an eyelid, but overthrowing a government might be a little challenging.

The decisions Laika has to make over the course of the novel give a good message about the notion of right and wrong, particularly in relation to war. Is there anything you wouldn't do for the greater good? Should you be willing to do awful things for the greater good? Or is your own life and morals more important? What happens when the plan backfires? Anrow explores all of these issues, and summons up some great points of debate.

I loved reading about the cultural differences between Trea and Lisan. I liked entering Lisan with Laika and seeing how they did things in contrast with Trea. I would've loved a bit more cultural exploration, and would've liked to have heard more about the Lisan towns, and their quirks and industries. I particularly loved the idea of the 'labour gardens' - prisons with a fluffy name.

It was clear Anrow either did a lot of research into politics, economics, and foreign relations, or she's just as intelligent as her protagonist. I'm an amateur when it comes to these things, so seeing a despotic leader, his constituents, and learning how it all came to be, thrilled me.

Laika in Lisan is an compelling read which examines some important themes. Laika's story is addictive, the characters vibrant, and the shape of things to come so dismal, that you can't help but become engrossed. I'm so grateful to the author for sending me this, and only hope she will keep me in mind should she (fingers crossed) come to publish a sequel.

This book made me realise I should read more indie authors, and put more energy into getting their books recognised. This was truly wonderful, and it makes me angry that there are some truly dreadful but famous books out there, when this one is brilliant, and desperate to be read.