Cannonball Read 7, Book 5: The Point of Rescue by Sophie Hannah

2980614Normally, when I post a review of Hannah’s books on here and tweet the link, I’ll include her twitter handle. She gives good chat on there and also reads the reviews (she commented on something specific in one of mine, so it’s not like she was just all “oh thanks” about it). I won’t be doing it on this one, because holy fucking shit I thought this book was absolutely terrible.

Admittedly, I’ve read the books out of sequence, which doesn’t help matters. I started with book 5 in the series, went back and read books 1 and 2, jumped ahead and read books 7 and 8 and now am back here at book number 3. It’s very clear, given how much more I enjoyed the later books, that Hannah has, improved greatly as a writer. It also doesn’t help that I watched the TV adaptation of this a few years back and the TV writers really smoothed over a hell of a lot of cracks in the book.

The premise is a bloody good one though. Sally Thorne is a mother of two with a high stress job. She uses a cancelled work conference as an excuse to escape for a week from her life. She pretends to her husband it’s not cancelled and has a week in a spa hotel, where she ends up having a shagtastic time with a bloke called Mark Bretherick. The next time she hears that name is when his wife and daughter are found dead at home. Only, the Mark Bretherick on the news is not the man Sally Thorne spent her dirty week with…..

From there, the book goes somewhat off a cliff. Firstly, the characters are mostly ridiculous. I know a few mums, all of whom are juggling work and home life, none of whom seem to find it as impossibly difficult as Sally Thorne does. Her hysterically over the top reactions to pretty much everything to do with her job and her home life become very tiresome very quickly. There are too many police characters and expert witnesses, all of whom are a parade of stereotypes and caricatures. The only ones in any kind of focus are the main pair, Simon Waterhouse and Charlie Zailer. And their relationship is maddening, nonsensical.

The reveal of whodunnit and why is protracted, repetitive, tiresome and wholly unconvincing. Having spent a VERY LONG TIME waffling on about all kinds of boring twaddle, a race to find a missing witness is rushed and fumbled. All in all, this book is an unholy mess and you’re well advised to skip it if you’ve started reading the series. Nothing happens to any recurring characters that is of any import. Life is too short.

Cannonball Read 7, Book 4: In the Morning, I’ll Be Gone by Adrian McKinty

17187220I may have mentioned before that McKinty was something of a wild card discovery. I read the first in the Sean Duffy series, The Cold Cold Ground, purely as there was a gay element to it (shallow, moi?) and very much enjoyed it. So here we are at the third entry into the series, which sees McKinty essentially using the framework of the IRA bombing of the Brighton Tory Party Conference in 1984 to write about something that he is clearly more fascinated with: a locked room mystery.

Dermott McCann has escaped from the Maze prison. Duffy was friends with him in school, so is brought back from his disgraced exile he gets himself into in the opening pages to track him down. He hits brick wall after brick wall until McCann’s former mother-in-law contacts him and offers him a trade. Her youngest daughter, Lizzie, died a few years back and the death was ruled accidental. Mary Fitzgerald is convinced otherwise and tells Duffy that she knows where McCann is and if he can prove Lizzie was murdered and hand over the killer, she’ll reveal McCann’s location to him.

And so here we are at the real meat of the story, the locked room. Lizzie died in a pub locked from the inside and nobody else was there. Duffy takes his time to be convinced that Mary has any basis for her theory other than grief, but keeps plugging away as it’s his only lead to find McCann. That Lizzie was indeed murdered is not a spoiler (it would be a massive cheaty load of nonsense if she really DID die in an accident) and McKinty’s freewheeling storytelling style draws you in to the mystery very well. The machinations of living in 80’s Ireland are also fascinating, but some of them are mentioned far too often. I got to the point where I REALLY didn’t need to be told Duffy was checking under his car for bombs.

The end section, dealing with the tracking down of McCann and the realisation of where the bomb has been placed makes for some very gripping and occasionally unpleasant reading too. And while the epilogue may overegg the pudding a touch, it’s still good to know that plans to make this a trilogy were abandoned and a forth Duffy instalment was published earlier this year.

2015: The Year of Crime

fletcherAs I mentioned in my review there, 2015 is going to be very crime focussed because I have so many books on my Kindle waiting to be read which fall into that genre. And here they are:

A Tap On The Window by Linwood Barclay (currently reading, will be review 1 in Cannonball Read 7)

Agatha Raisin: There Goes The Bride by M.C.Beaton

Agatha Raisin: As The Pig Turns by M.C. Beaton

Agatha Raisin & The Busy Body by M.C. Beaton

Agatha Raisin; Hiss & Hers by M.C. Beaton

Agatha Raisin: Kissing Christmas Goodbye by M.C. Beaton

Agatha Raisin & The Deadly Dance by M.C. Beaton

Agatha Raisin & The Perfect Paragon by M.C. Beaton

Agatha Raisin: Love, Lies & Liquor by M.C. Beaton

Agatha Raisin: A Spoonful of Poison by M.C. Beaton

In my defence there, all the Raisin books were on offer for 85p each 🙂

Good As Dead by Mark Billingham

Faithful Place by Tana French

The Silkworm by Robert Galbraith

The White Lie by Andrea Gillies

The Point of Rescue by Sophie Hannah

Burial Rites by Hannah Kent

Blind Eye by Stuart MacBride

Dark Blood by Stuart MacBride

Close To The Bone by Stuart MacBride

Birthdays for the Dead by Stuart MacBride

Dying Light by Stuart MacBride

Flesh House by Stuart MacBride

Broken Skin by Stuart MacBride

Shatter The Bones by Stuart MacBride

Again, all those MacBride books were a Kindle Advent offer last December (!) and were all 99p.  I couldn’t resist

In The Morning I’ll Be Gone by Adrian McKinty

Dissolution by C.J. Sansom

Gorky Park by Martin Cruz Smith

The Farm by Tom Rob Smith

Derby Day by D.J. Taylor

 

Cannonball Read 6, Book 55: Revival by Stephen King

19196719Yes, I know I know. I should just re-title my blog “I Read A Lot of Stephen King”. But he’s been my go-to author for nearly thirty years and given that he had a brush with death fifteen years ago now and toyed with retiring twelve years ago, so any new book from him is a cause for me to skip about and click my heels. That this is his second book of the year and there is another on the horizon already for next year, well, hallelujah. And I have said over and over again that a really satisfying ending is the one thing that eludes his work more often than not, so the jacket copy promising that Revival has “the most terrifying conclusion King has ever written” inspires excitement and nervousness from me, in roughly equal measure.

Our hero is Jamie Morton, a vaguely successful musician and an incredibly successful heroin addict (no surprise there). Casting a shadow over his entire life is Reverend Jacobs. When Jamie is a young boy, the Jacobs family move in down the road and the Rev has a profound effect on Jamie and his family. Rev Jacobs is obsessed with electricity and experimenting with its restorative uses. Everything is ticking along nicely until a tragedy strikes the Reverend and he then ends up being fired from his job after giving what comes to be known as “The Terrible Sermon” (and it’s one of the most brilliantly awful parts of the book when it happens).

The Reverend vanishes but re-appears at key moments of Jamie’s life, having re-invented himself as a carny show healer who would make Jim Bakker look restrained and unimaginative. His experiments with electricity sees him performing real healings, with some fake ones thrown in for show. He has harnessed electricity to cure things conventional medicine cannot. He cures Jamie of his heroin addiction, for starters. There are side effects though, unpleasant ones and never will the banality of the phrase “something happened” seem so gruesome.

As they both grow older, Jacobs obsession with electricity grows exponentially, his grip on sanity loosens and his claws sink ever deeper into Jamie’s life as we head towards the apparently terrifying conclusion. And I am going to give nothing further away about the story or its conclusion than that. Whether or not you find it terrifying is up to you, but what I will say is that it seems King has found his showdown mojo. His latest two or three works have all had final chapters which range from chilling to heartbreaking, but are all richly satisfying. And this is most definitely satisfying. And after the grand finale, there’s an epilogue to really hammer things home. Up until the final portion, when King goes full on Frankenstein’s Monster, this is an intriguing and well crafted novel. Thereafter, it’s a demonstration of how lame American Horror Story really is and an abject lesson in how reading something can scare you into sleeping with the lights on.

Cannonball Read 6, Book 41: Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell

17322949I know. I’m arriving late to the Rainbow Rowell party. I don’t know why but there was something about her books that didn’t make me fall over myself to read them. Maybe it was the pastel covers, the cute titles, I don’t know. Maybe it’s that her first name is Rainbow, for sobbing out loud. Whatever it was, I was not actively campaigning against her books, I was just not that interested. And the Cannonball Read people LOVE her too. Despite all this evidence that I should really get over myself and indulge my YA loving book geek in some Rowell goodness, it took my housemate reading this book to make me see the light. She finished it, handed it to me and said “you need to read this. You HAVE to read this.”

And so I did. And what an unadulterated delight it turned out to be. A delight which made me well up with joy and sadness on more than one occasion. Eleanor is the new girl at school, she wears mismatched clothes, she has hair like Ronald McDonald, she’s a big girl with a big presence who only wants to go unnoticed. Park is the half Korean kid who sits at the back of the bus lost in music and looking too cool for school. On her first day, Park saves Eleanor from herself when she can’t decide where to sit on the bus to school. From there, slowly, they build a friendship, founded on mix tapes and comic books, and then they fall for each other. And if their falling doesn’t make you melt just a little bit, doesn’t take you back to what that first love was like, then I don’t know what to tell you. You may well be dead.

As soon as he said it, she broke into a smile. And when Eleanor smiled, something broke inside of him.  

Something always did. 

How can you not read a line like that and not melt? It’s always said that you should write what you know and it’s pretty clear that Rowell knows what it’s like to be an awkward teen falling in love for the first time. Everything about the two of them and how they are with each other felt so gloriously, gorgeously, painfully real, that I was texting a quote from pretty much every other page to my housemate with an “I can’t even fucking deal with this” after it.

Poking about on the interwebs after I finished it, I discovered some hilarious ranting about the book. People went after it for its racism (which misses the point of the racist content so massively, I actually could not believe what I was reading), its historical inauthenticity (it’s set in 1986, not 1886, for heavens sakes) and the ending, my GOD do some people loathe that final sentence. While I may concur a little that the plot device used to set the ending in motion feels a little rushed and unclear, the last line of this wonderful, beautiful book is pretty much perfect. It’s stayed with me since I finished it, along with many achingly memorable exchanges between the titular couple. I don’t care how old you are, what race, creed, colour or sexual orientation you are, you should read Eleanor & Park. You’ll feel better for it.

Cannonball Read 6, Book 38: Bellman & Black by Diane Setterfield

17726082I really enjoyed Setterfield’s debut novel, The Thirteenth Tale. It was a book as much about the love of books as it was the dark tale it was telling, and telling it with an unreliable narrator to boot. It left a lasting impression and when I spotted her follow up, a ghost story no less, on the shelf in Foyles, I had to buy it. I bloody love ghost stories. I love being scared when I’m reading or watching something, it’s the best. I haven’t had a book send shivers down my spine since Sarah Waters’ The Little Stranger (there’s one scene in that book so tense and frightening, it nearly caused a panic attack. High praise indeed). So I was properly excited to read this one. And that’s where it all goes wrong.

It doesn’t help that the marketing for the novel has this to say about it: “Bellman & Black is a heart-thumpingly perfect ghost story, beautifully and irresistibly written, its ratcheting tension exquisitely calibrated line by line”. I spent the whole book waiting for there to be anything approaching tension, but I couldn’t find it among the long rambling descriptions of mundane day to day workings of mills and funeral emporiums. So, our hero is William Bellman. At the age of 11, he has the best catapult and is the envy of all his friends. He kills a rook with it one day, which apparently will be important later. He grows up and leads a charmed life, until people around him begin to die. At every funeral William attends, a stranger is present, dressed in black and smiling at him. After losing his wife and all but one of his children to illness, William is almost insane with grief and at his wife’s grave, he encounters the stranger again. This time, they talk and the stranger makes a proposition.

From that proposition, William builds a successful funeral emporium, the titular Bellman & Black. The first half of the novel is focussed so much on William’s work at the family mill, it’s mostly quite dull. The second half focuses on the building of this new venture and is even more dull, because people stop dying. Nothing ratchets up line by line, apart from maybe my impatience for something to actually happen, for Setterfield to pay off Bellman’s obsession with rooks, why people died around him, something, anything. But when it comes, the payoff is a crushing, boring, and very much not scary disappointment.

If you don’t believe the hype, and don’t know this is supposed to be heart thumping, perfect and tense or whatever, then there’s something quite absorbing about the earlier parts of the book. William is a charming rogue of a character, and the happiness he finds with his family being so comprehensively shattered makes for some bleak reading. But nothing can save the second half, where William is cold, closed off and occasionally barking mad, monomaniacally focussed on his business. Such a disappointment.

Cannonball Read 6, Book 25: NOS4R2 by Joe Hill

17202851I mentioned in my review of Horns last year that if I had Stephen King for a father, I wouldn’t have been a writer for love nor money. The shadow he casts is impressive, to say the least (and Mr Mercedes is imminent, about which I am very excited). So if it were me, the prospect would have been too daunting to undertake. But Hill dropped his family name and tried for as long as possible to keep his origins out of the press. It wasn’t that long, since he basically looks EXACTLY LIKE HIS DAD. And it turns out, with this creepy epic, that the family resemblance doesn’t stop there.

The A of the US title has been swapped for an R here in the UK (presumably in the US it really is pronounced Nosfer-ay-tu) but that is by the by. Victoria McQueen, aka “The Brat”, discovers one summer that she has a special talent. If she needs to find something, all she has to do is cross the Shorter Way Bridge and she finds it. Never mind that the Bridge was torn down years before and that bridges can’t move. Whenever she needs it, the Bridge is there. But then her “gift” causes her to cross paths with the hideously evil child murder, Charles Talent Manx.  She becomes the only child to ever escape him and he ends up in prison. The rest of the children Manx took are trapped forever in Christmasland, where it’s Christmas every day, but nobody is having any fun.

I really struggled to sum up the plot of this one, as you can probably tell. Not only is it epic and sprawling, it is also twisted and evil. In the best ways. Hill takes his time to set things up, creating fully rounded characters for us to care about as he does so. And then he pulls the rug and puts the reader into a full tilt thriller that manages to be both chilling and hugely exciting at the same time. The section where Vic encounters Manx for the first time and escapes him is up there in terms of making your palms sweat with anxiety with the breakout sequence in Emma Donoghue’s Room. 

The chilling and the creepiness isn’t retained to the supernatural elements of the book either. With Bing Partridge, Manx’s educationally subnormal and increasingly unhinged helper, Hill has given us one of the most memorably unpleasant characters in recent years. Between him and Manx and the horrors of Christmasland, I would recommend reading this book in broad daylight. And you’ll probably feel like you need to take a shower afterwards. Believe it or not, that is really high praise. Oh and special mention for the brief mention of the True Knot, a neat little crossover from Doctor Sleep. King is forever self-referencing (the pinnacle of which has to be 11.22.63), and now Hill seems to be blending his and his father’s fictional worlds, so in about five books time, it will all be so meta my brain may well implode.

Cannonball Read 6, Book 16: Agatha Raisin & The Day The Floods Came by M.C. Beaton

8537775So here we are. After the mind numbing banality and apparently endless pages of The Kills, I needed something to decompress. Something easy, something short, something that I can take my brain out for and still enjoy. Who better fulfils that remit that Miss Marple by way of Midsomer Murders? As some of you may be aware, I’ve read a fair few of these books and this instalment is number 12 in the still ongoing series. Not bad when you consider the author is knocking on 80 years old.

When we last left our hapless heroine and amateur sleuth, she was abandoned by her husband and hunky handsome neighbour James, who lost his mind and decided to enter a monastery. To mend her broken heart, Agatha takes herself off to a remote South Pacific island for some sun and relaxation. Naturally, the bride in a honeymooning couple ends up dead, apparently drowned by her husband. Back home, the weather causes rivers to flood and amid all the burst bank craziness, a dead body in a wedding gown comes floating along. Initially it’s ruled a suicide, but Agatha remembers the drowning on her holiday and has other ideas…..

And so of course, it’s business as usual, with Agatha getting in the way, being snappish with people she interviews, flirting with the new neighbour, suffering crippling bouts of low self-esteem and stumbling on the answer by chance rather than skill. Beaton is smart enough to realise Raisin’s sharp edges need a foil to blunt them, but to give us another handsome writer as the new neighbour is a little repetitive. Also on the repetition front is Beaton’s language (Agatha howls at people fairly often and more than one person is truculent) and a far-fetched, ultimately unsatisfying and entirely daft conclusion.

In addition to being utterly ridiculous, the finale also leaves several plot strands hanging unresolved. The initial murder on the island seems to be a Maguffin (I’m being very kind there) and another sub-plot with someone trying to murder Agatha is either resolved very haphazardly or not resolved at all, I couldn’t really tell which. And yet somehow for some reason, I forgive all the faults and carry on reading. I have no clue why. Maybe I’m waiting for them to suddenly become amazing. It’s likelier that I enjoy losing myself in harmless mindless nonsense.

Cannonball Read 6, Book 6: The Lowland by Jhumpa Lahiri

18269724I don’t quite know why I’m doing the Booker Longlist Challenge, since it’s really become a forced march of books I haven’t really enjoyed reading that much. I had high hopes for The Lowland, since the synopsis sounds aces, but it just didn’t do it for me. I found it a mostly frustrating read, difficult characters and an odd blank style don’t really mesh for me.

Subhash and Udayan Mitra are brothers growing up in Calcutta, born just fifteen months apart. It’s the politically tumultuous 1960s, and as they grow up, their lives take different paths. Subhash is a dedicated student who ends up studying in America, Udayan becomes heavily involved in the Naxalbari political movement before becoming even more radical. He rejects cultural traditions and marries the girl he loves into the bargain. He and Subhash occasionally write to each other until one day, Subhash receives the telegram simply stating “Udayan killed. Come if you can”.

Subhash returns to India to try and heal the wounds Udayan’s death has left behind, a healing which eventually takes him and Udayan’s widow, Guari, back to the USA. As Guari is pregnant by Udayan, Subhash does the only thing he thinks he can do, which is marry her and raise the child, Bela, as their own. I don’t think you need me to tell you it doesn’t end happily ever after for anyone, do I? By this point, we’re barely 100 pages in, so there’s still so far for all of them to go.

What I really took from it is this is a novel of people searching for their identity and for their place in their world, for somewhere to belong. It’s not an easy read, mostly because it’s so relentlessly downbeat and populated with miserable characters (Gauri in particular is vexing. I found myself wanting to reach into the pages and slap her upside the head on more than one occasion), but Lahiri doesn’t really thrill me as a writer either. It mostly feels like a blank, boring, straightforward read, which just meant I found it quite difficult to tune in when I was reading it. Often I’d get to the end of a paragraph and realise I hadn’t taken in a single word.

To make matters more perplexing, there are sections where Lahiri does seem to care about her characters (mostly the sections dealing with the Mitra boys parents) and some flashes of brilliance in her writing. When Gauri is taking stock of how wrong she went with a situation, she notes “with her own hand she’d painted herself into a corner, and then out of the picture altogether”. Later in the novel, there’s a beautiful moment with her otherwise painfully worthy daughter Bela, as she unburdens herself “finally she told him about Udayan. That though she’d been created by two people who’d loved one another, she’d been raised by two who never did”.

So for all that promise, all those moments of brilliance, I was left with an overwhelming sense of “and?” when I finally trawled to the end of this one.

Cannonball Read 6, Book 5: The Marrying of Chani Kaufman by Eve Harris

18224489It occurred to me while I was reading this book that I have been trying (and failing) to read the whole Booker Prize long list for a really long time now. The first time I attempted it was back in 2004, and I think the reason I have never succeeded in reading the full Booker’s Dozen of 13 books is that some of them I found to be incredibly boring. For every absolute gem (Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell, I’ll Go To Bed At Noon, The Emperor’s Children, Mother’s Milk) there have been some absolute stinkers. Some have gone on to be winners (The Inheritance Of Loss bored me too much to read past 50 pages). So it’s a crapshoot is what I’m saying. The 2013 list has so far been mostly brought to you by the letters M, E and H. Alas, Chani’s titular nuptials don’t do much to alter that.

In the opening chapter, we meet Chani as she’s about to marry Baruch. She’s only nineteen, and as an Orthodox Jew, she has not touched Baruch and only had a handful of dates with him. After that chapter, we then flash back to how their courtship came about, as well as subplots (if you can call them that) with Baruch’s family as well as the wife of the rabbi who will be overseeing what the title of the book spells out. There’s a lot of detail on how difficult it is to observe the Orthodox faith in modern society and the initial setup of the Rebbetzin’s storyline is unflinching, to say the least. But as it all plods along, I couldn’t help get the feeling that this could have been a much shorter book.

There are chapters which go back to the 1980’s, to cover the early courtship of the rabbi and his wife. It’s not every interesting and it’s entirely superfluous. A far more key plot point to their early life is shoehorned in much later, which explains an awful lot and might have had more resonance if placed earlier in the novel. It feels quite drawn out and the jacket copy states as a final line “not to mention what happens on the wedding night”. We don’t get to that until the penultimate chapter, some 300 pages after we first read about the wedding itself. And when you get there, you know what? Not that interesting. The whole novel is obviously well researched and as a slice of modern Jewish life, to anyone who has no idea of that religion or culture, there will be a certain level of curiosity. But for me, that didn’t extend to the actual machinations of Chani Kaufman getting married.