Saturday, 31 October 2015

Book #44

Career of Evil by Robert Galbraith

When a mysterious package is delivered to Robin Ellacott, she is horrified to discover that it contains a woman’s severed leg. Her boss, private detective Cormoran Strike, is less surprised but no less alarmed. There are four people from his past who he thinks could be responsible – and Strike knows that any one of them is capable of sustained and unspeakable brutality. With the police focusing on the one suspect Strike is increasingly sure is not the perpetrator, he and Robin take matters into their own hands, and delve into the dark and twisted worlds of the other three men. But as more horrendous acts occur, time is running out for the two of them.

Here I am, Rowling's crazed disciple, here to tell you how she's managed to smash it out the fucking park yet again.

I am of the opinion this is her best Strike novel yet. It wasn't like Cuckoo's Calling where we're getting to know Strike and Robin, exploring the Lula Landry case and being welcomed into the world of the detective. It wasn't like Silkworm, which felt like a masquerade of Rowling's feelings on the publishing industry (and where I guessed the culprit, and was gutted about it). This time, the mystery is far more personal, with a woman's leg being sent to Robin, and Strike knowing it was sent by one of three men from his past.

The leg is a perfect tool to finally nail down the fact that Robin is the renegade I had always suspected her to be. We get so much more Robin than in previous books, we read her backstory, and we understand her a thousand times more. I am in love with this woman; I'm in love with her ambition, her constant appetite for growth; I'm in love with her strength, her commitment, and her massive heart. In a novel centred around misogyny and violence against women, Robin Ellacott stands out like a beacon; restless, relentless Robin. What a woman.

With Robin's confidence and determination peaking, Strike is forced to recognise how valuable she is to him as a colleague. His slow realisation of her worth, and his attachment to her, is beautiful, and seeing him really feel for once is glorious. Unfortunately, we have to contend with the pain in the arse that is MATTHEW. I have hated him throughout the series, however he does himself no favours here. Robin's backstory explains why she's been with him for so long, but circumstances reveal him to be a BIG SHIT. I was so angry with him; my aforementioned love for Robin had me screaming DUMP HIM into the pages. If only the killer had targeted Matthew to get to Robin, that would've solved everything. Total arsehole.

One notable difference here is information being drip-fed to us by chapters written from the killer's perspective. This is a new style for the Strike novels, and I felt it was done well. Nothing was given away to confirm the killer's identity; one of the main things he conveyed was his absolute rage, sadism and bloodlust. This really added to the sense of danger brewing, and the suspense created was unreal.

So, no criticisms here, as though there would be. I'm excited to read the next one; although we didn't end on typical type of cliffhanger, it was frustrating and impactful in so many ways. Bring it on, JK.

Wednesday, 21 October 2015

Book #43

Persona non Grata with Diabetes by Paul Cathcart

A self-portrait of the diabetic condition, understood as a state-of-being rather than its medical definition. A comedy of frustration! High blood sugar and mood swings? Confirming diabetic emotions.

I bought this book in a new attempt to better understand and take control of my disease. I was looking for confirmation of there being others out there who go what I go through, who experience the same kinds of set backs and lows as I do. I found this in PNGWD; I just wasn't expecting it to be so hilarious.

Fifty-three million diabetics in Europe alone and all we are offered in public is Diet Coke. They will know when the diabetic uprising occurs, when the cake shops burn and Fanta Zero pours from every tap.

I fully expected this to be a non-fiction work of statistics and fact, and was delighted to see it was more of a life story. More importantly, it was filled with colloquialisms and places I know from Glasgow; this made it even more comfortable to relate to since we've both spewed in the same places with blood sugar above the 19 mark.

Cathcart's memoirs of his life and condition are written with honesty and exasperation. We see his diagnosis at a young age, wander through his early twenties with him as he tries to make sense of insulin versus alcohol, and later sit uncomfortably as his disease impacts his career. This was all too familiar to me as I remembered sitting back at eleven years old as my friends all scoffed Haribo at sleepovers, getting sick of it at nineteen and necking raspberry vodka slushies in the ABC (later waking up paralysed and dealing with a 45 minute panic before I could move just enough to reach a Toffee Crisp), and finally dealing with the ignorant and myopic "just try harder" lecturers of my adulthood. It's both a relief and an irritant to see this happening to someone else.

I really enjoyed reading of Cathcart's helpless conversations with medical professionals who know better. I'm sure we've all had days where we realise these people are not diabetic, and they're giving advice based on scripted methods and teachings, rather than considering us as people with different, varying lifestyles.

We've simply got the numpties who think they know about diabetes in the same way that all big sisters think they know how to cut their little brother's hair.

His comments on the industry of diabetes, however, are ones I have never taken the time to think of. He's right, of course, that it's a profitable business; of course companies make money from the thousand of test strips we go through a day. I'm probably keeping Lucozade afloat single-handedly, never mind the rest of our hypo army. No wonder we haven't been cured yet.

This is an excellent read for a type one diabetic, whether recently diagnosed, or an old veteran like myself. I look forward to the next one.

Sunday, 11 October 2015

Book #42

On the Beach at Night Alone by Walt Whitman

A selection taken from Walt Whitman's Leaves of Grass.

I'm a self-confessed poetry dunce. I'll keep this short and sweet.

This is a good introduction to Whitman, and I enjoyed reading through his poems, albeit with the lack of knowledge and confusion akin to a child having poetry thrust upon them in school. There's a lot of emotion here, particularly love and devotion, and Whitman comes across as a pure individual describing relationships and nature with lyrical serenity.

I wish I were more intelligent to become at one with poetry; Whitman's collection particularly made me want to make this happen. Sitting, however, reading lines over and over again in a hapless attempt to understand, is frustrating; I adopted my usual coping mechanism with poetry and let the words wash over me, oblivious of their meaning. I'm definitely missing out.

Saturday, 10 October 2015

Book #41

Boldly Going Nowhere by Steven McKinnon

Shy, geeky, lonely and running full-speed in the fast lane to nowhere, Steven McKinnon is stuck in a rut. He hates getting out of bed in the morning. He hates being a burden on his friends and family. And he hates himself for letting life slip through his fingers.
‘Sounds like you need a girlfriend,’ says one of his mates one night down the pub. It proves to be the call to action Steven needs to get him into gear on the path towards happiness. But what happens when you embark on a journey of self-discovery and don’t like what you find? What happens when you beat the odds and actually make things worse? And even more terrifying – what do you do when you manage to convince someone to like you?

It's strange how books sometimes come along at exactly the right moment. As I sit here struggling with various aspects of life, I have to thank Steven (note: I can't do my usual 'refer to author by surname' here as I feel I now know Steven in depth, and calling him McKinnon would be too strange) for asking me to read his book. Despite his struggles and low points, it's great to see him deal with these logically, and come out the other end, albeit slightly scathed.

We follow Steven through a few years of his life, experiencing some of the best and worst moments a man in his early twenties can go through. Failed relationships, a career slump, and seeing friends get married as he tries to coast through life was all too familiar for me, as I'm sure it'll be for many readers.

A warm and endearing voice, Steven really had me as invested in his success, and as devastated at his setbacks as he was. It doesn't read as a moany diatribe on how the world's unfair; he's understanding of others, caring, and most importantly, sincere. I particularly liked his analysis of 'Nice Guys' - those who blame women, and only women, for their lack of a romantic partner. We all know one.

The story is littered with hilarious little anecdotes, and witty remarks; these avoid the doom and gloom corners of anxiety, and make Steven's journey so relatable, you'll feel he's an old friend by the final page.

Steven sums up his novel with the most gorgeous message of positivity; if there's something you want to do, no matter how frightening this may seem to you, go out and do it. He tells you that even the smallest of steps will make you feel better, that working towards your goals can create the best feelings of achievement you can experience. His steps to success began simply by forcing himself to take them; this is inspiring to me, and something I plan to start as soon as I can.

This is a very brave account of a man's battle with life alongside mental health. He's very open and honest about his feelings and the roots of them, and I feel more of this courage from all of us could only be beneficial to the stigma attached to these types of feelings.

Sunday, 4 October 2015

Book #40

The Devil and Miss Prym by Paulo Coelho

A community devoured by greed, cowardice and fear. A man persecuted by the ghosts of his painful past. A young woman searching for happiness. In one eventful week, each of them will face questions of life, death and power. Each of them will have to choose their own path. Will they choose good or evil?

You're surely all now aware of my disdain for Coelho and his lacklustre attempts at philosophy. If it weren't for my stubbornness and commitment to read every book I buy, you wouldn't be reading this. Yet here I am, reviewing another waste of my time, and here you are, reading up on why it doesn't deserve a chance.

In this volume, Coelho takes it upon himself to pontificate on the essence of good and evil, morality, and the human condition. Are humans inherently good or bad? Do we have good and evil battling inside us at all times? Does it have the potential to be great? Yes. Does it deliver? Shit, no.

With one-dimensional, boring characters you'll struggle to care about, a predictable plot, and too many pretentious paragraphs I'm sure are quoted in thousands of Twitter bios, it's a sad little musing that could have had a real impact. No passion, no blast of emotion to the chest, only a longing to make it to the last page.

I was disappointed, but not surprised, at seeing Coelho again patronise and discredit his female characters. Where Chantal Prym should have been written as a strong character, he continued to write her as weak-willed and lacking in ambition, with her only way out boldy highlighted as finding a husband. She slept around and was vilified for this; she really should be finding a husband. We're introduced to an older woman who was lucky enough to find a husband in the black and white days, but he's dead and that means she's so worthless that she might as well die.

Another static Coelho element here was his tendency to treat his readers as though they are utterly stupid. We aren't allowed to interpret things for ourselves; he spells everything out clearly for us as though he's the only man in the world who can understand a bit of basic philosophy. He's exasperating.

We go round in circles exploring the idea of morality, with contradictions, repetitions, and a complete air of tedium. With such an interesting and important theme, I'd expect some sort of impression to be made on me. A terrible book, and I still have one more to go.