Friday, 17 January 2020

Book #03

Solving Cadence Moore by Gregory Sterner

Ten years ago, famous young singer Cadence Moore disappeared without a trace on a remote highway in western Pennsylvania. To this day her fate remains unknown. Was she kidnapped or murdered? Or did she simply run away in search of a new life, leaving behind the abuse and heartbreak that haunted her?

Charlie Marx, host of the popular conspiracy radio show Underground Broadcast, is obsessed with Cadence. Desperate to find her after deceiving his boss to save his job, he launches an investigation of his own, digging deep into the missing woman's past and uncovering her darkest secrets. Working feverishly for weeks, he claims to have solved the mystery and promises to reveal Cadence's fate at the end of a groundbreaking podcast series and live radio special.
But is it all a lie? As years of twisted details slowly unravel, Charlie races to solve the biggest mystery of the decade. If he succeeds, it will mean closure for Cadence. If he fails, his entire world will come crashing down live on air--and the truth may be lost forever.

I bloody love a podcast, and I particularly love a true crime podcast. This story fascinated me, particularly as I noticed some similarities to real cases I’ve heard of.

Charlie Marx is a radio host who is releasing a series of podcasts culminating in a live radio special. These offerings will explore the mystery of Cadence Moore, a young woman who went missing more than a decade ago. Marx claims he has solved this crime and listeners can tune in to the radio special finale to find out exactly what happened to this woman many years ago.

I’d just like to begin by saying if someone actually did this, I’d gobble it up. As mentioned above, I’m a true crime fanatic, and have a few unsolved mysteries under my podcast listening belt. If someone claimed to have solved one of these and released something similar to Charlie Marx, I would be living.

Both Sterner’s writing style and choice of format are excellent - we are narrated to mostly via Marx’s podcasts, as he explains the story of Cadence, and his journey in discovering the truth. I did find the pace to be quite inconsistent; when Sterner drives the plot, he really can drive it, an example of which is the story of Cadence, and the last night she was seen. This was all-consuming, a podcast on paper, and I inhaled every word. In contrast, Sterner then chooses to include superfluous details of conversations and situations Charlie Marx becomes embroiled in, which I felt either had little relevance, or could have been shortened considerably.

This truly was enthralling, just with a bit of drag to it in certain areas. Sterner’s talent is clear, and I enjoyed his plot and characters; I’d just have liked it to be snappier, with a bit more drive. 

Saturday, 11 January 2020

Book #02

Matilda by Mary Shelley

Mary Shelley's dark story of a bereaved man's disturbing passion for his daughter was suppressed by her own father, and not published for over a century.

Matilda’s mother dies shortly after giving birth to her, and her father flees in grief, leaving her to be raised by a cold aunt. Upon his return sixteen years later, and after an initially joyful reunion, Matilda’s father confesses he is in love with her. Holy Gothic Drama.

This sounds insane for nineteenth century literature, and was in fact so insane that Shelley’s father prohibited the book from being published at the time. That said, the plot is less shocking in action as it is in emotion. Much of the prose is devoted to the father’s strange behaviour as he comes to terms with his sinful feelings, and subsequently focuses on Matilda’s mental state having heard his confession. Very little happens; Shelley is examining the idea of sin being committed through only feelings rather than action.

Her narrative is beautiful and wonderfully written, as we would expect from Shelley, but despite the gorgeous way it’s weaved together, the story itself is pretty dull. Confessions, dark thoughts, death, and a hell of a lot of angst. 

I felt disappointed when I finished the story, but on reflection, there’s a lot to process and consider. For example, how her father’s feelings obliterated both of them, not only him, and how Matilda’s prolonged grief suggested concerning undertones of his unnatural love being reciprocated.

This is a strange one which will probably stick with me for some time. 

Friday, 10 January 2020

Book #01

The Starless Sea by Erin Morgenstern

Zachary Ezra Rawlins discovers a mysterious book hidden in the stacks. As he turns the pages, entranced by tales of lovelorn prisoners, key collectors, and nameless acolytes, he reads something strange: a story from his own childhood. Bewildered by this inexplicable book and desperate to make sense of how his own life came to be recorded, Zachary uncovers a series of clues -- a bee, a key, and a sword -- that lead him to a masquerade party in New York, to a secret club, and through a doorway to an ancient library, hidden far below the surface of the earth.

After becoming desperately in love with The Night Circus in 2013, I was fizzing with excitement to read this. I can’t honestly say what I was expecting, but it certainly wasn’t this.

Morgenstern plunges us into her subterranean world using the much-loved style and language debuted in her first novel. Everything is dreamy, beautiful, and worded to perfection. Setting, dialogue, clothes, character; everything just has this dazzling, other-worldly feel to it, her prose peppered with symbols and metaphors, her characters fogged in mystery and intrigue. Cats, keys, bees, crowns, wine, honey, swords, books. I was very much on board.

This is no easy fantasy, and what follows feels like a drug-induced dream of parallel universes, magic, and fate. Time is subjective, space is an illusion, and it’s incredibly difficult to become lost in The Starless Sea

There is no real plot to speak of. You initially think there is, but there isn’t, and I can’t decide whether Morgenstern meant for this to happen. Should stories have a beginning, a change, adaptation, and an end? I don’t think they necessarily do. Did this have a particular thread for me to follow, something for me to aspire to? No. Did I enjoy it, did I engage? Yes, very much so. Do I still remain utterly confused? Yes.

I needed much much more from Morgenstern’s characters here; I felt she sacrificed their stories and motivations in favour of her lyricism and profound dialogue. Who are these people? What do they love, loathe, dream of? How can two guys fall in love without ever really finding out who the other really is? What happened to the university librarian as I really think she was quite hot? And Zachary’s fortune telling mama was woefully underused.

Sometimes I will read a book and become incapable of putting my thoughts down about it. I loved it, but I couldn’t follow it; I was engaged, but puzzled. I wanted to be swept away in a starless sea of excitement, but instead I feel as though I’ve been swept unceremoniously from bed whilst having the strangest dream of my life. I wanted to write an excellent review, but I’m honestly just baffled, so I will stop here. 

Monday, 30 December 2019

Book #95

The Jump by Martina Cole

Donna Brunos worships her husband and is devastated when he is jailed for armed robbery. Georgio swears he's been set up and persuades Donna to help him escape.
Implementing 'the jump' takes Donna into a twilight world she never believed existed - a world of brutal sex and casual violence. Finally, she is confronted by a series of shattering revelations that threaten not only everything she believes in but also, ultimately, her own life.

I do love a bit of trashy crime fiction to break up my reading list. Usually fast-paced, and peppered with mysteries and whodunnits, I tend to speed through them on an unerring quest to the end. Having never read any of Cole’s work before, I picked this up expecting all of the above. It’s taken me ten days of apathy and groaning to get through; I almost gave up the ghost midway, and I wish I had.

Our heroine, Donna, is rich as fuck and married to a beautiful wealthy man. He has multiple businesses, and Donna has no idea what they consist of. When he’s arrested and jailed for armed robbery, she is convinced he’s innocent. When he asks her to organise his escape from prison, she nods like a good little girl and gets to work summoning bad boys and having damsel in distress fainting fits at her subsequent discoveries about her husband’s secret life.

This book is almost seven hundred pages long, and most of these are filled with Donna’s angst and mourning. She is so blind to her husband’s obvious villainy, and we’re reminded of this constantly. She’s a passive, simpering idiot, and can’t even bear hearing anyone swear, which, in a book set in London’s seedy underworld, gets very tiresome very quickly. We’re supposed to see her transformation from dutiful wife to bad ass bitch, but I could not abide her in either of these forms.

The plot drags on mercilessly. Cole seems to have no talent for hooking a chapter cliffhanger, nor adeptly setting up a mystery. Amidst action, she likes to have her characters pontificate over their lives in incredibly dull inner monologues which last so long that we’re jarred when the plot starts back up again. Dialogue is rife with cliche, and Cole is obviously desperate to paint her characters as hard as nails.

And the characters! Holy fuck, how many characters does one woman need? Each criminal involved in executing the jump was described in detail - their pasts, their families, their crimes, their motivations and desires. I don’t care to count them, but they were fucking immeasurable and entirely superfluous. I couldn’t remember them all as they bled into each other, all just big bad guys who’d done things and been through some shit. Give me strength.

Finally, blessedly, the plot is wrapped up in what seems like a incredibly rushed and predictable finale. Of course, I welcomed this swift finish, but couldn’t help feeling some of the previous shite could have been condensed to make way for a more fulfilling end.

My final book of the year, and I’m blisteringly thankful to be sending Martina packing. 

Thursday, 19 December 2019

Book #94

Daphnis and Chloe by Longus

In this beautiful Ancient Greek tale, Daphnis and Chloe are the inexperienced goatherd and shepherd who must face pirates, rivals and the confusion of their own feelings to find true love.

This was a little heartwarmer.

Daphnis and Chloe are two young things who grow up together, work together as goatherd and shepherd respectively, and ultimately fall in love whilst having absolutely no notion of what love actually is. As their feelings change and intensify, we see their confusion and their fear. It’s utterly wholesome and gorgeous to read. Only a vast catalogue of comedic and tragic events spur them into their ultimate happy ending.

I really enjoyed this, it was very engaging and comfortable. The pastoral setting went hand in hand with the love story, Pan and the Nymphs helped the two lovers along, there was a shocking and unexpected appearance of some violent pirates, and we were delivered a nice wholesome finale.

It’s nice to be reminded that the Little Black Classics range still holds some value.