Cannonball 7, Book 3: Dying Light by Stuart MacBride

12735048Year of Crime, Book 3

This is the 2nd book in the DS Logan McRae series. The first one I read prior to being a Cannonball Reader, but to summarise, it’s a grim, bleak and cold book set in Aberdeen and dealing with the gruesome murder of children. Fun times. The rest of the series ended up as a Kindle Daily Deal and so here we are. The second book opens with McRae disgraced by a botched operation which ended with a policeman on life support. Assigned to the “Screw Up Squad”, McRae has to work his way back out.

The cases which McRae sees as his opportunity to return back to his former glory start with the murder of prostitutes and later a serial arson case. Also thrown in is a missing persons case which of course ends up being not all that it seems. Or more than it seems…..

MacBride really doesn’t shy away from unpleasant scenes. If you’re tender of heart and stomach, he is not the writer for you. A journalist, poor Colin Miller, finds himself on the wrong end of some truly gruesome torture that made even my cast iron stomach lurch. And they’re all the more difficult to read because the characters are so well drawn and relatable and poor Colin seems like such a nice chap. Some characters aren’t quite so finely tuned and the broad caricature of McRae’s inept boss is a little hard to swallow.

The tying up of all the plot strands is also very well done. But unless I missed it, there is one arson murder which didn’t fit with the end explanation and the book seems to just stop rather than properly end. It’ll be interesting to see if that is picked back up in the next book or not. Certainly, the gruff and likeable McRae is an interesting enough guy to keep me reading, so watch this space.

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Cannonball Read 7, Book 1: A Tap at the Window by Linwood Barclay

18681902Year of Crime Book 1

As we all know, Linwood and I, we go back a bit. Lately, things have been a ¬†little rocky between us, with a duff novel followed up by an absolute rip roaring one. So when it came to this one, I was all “which camp will it fall into?” As it turns out, it fell smack dab between those two stools.

Our protagonist hero is Cal Weaver, a private investigator whose life is looking pretty bleak. His marriage is failing following the drug related accidental death of his teenage son. One night, he picks up a school friend of his dead son’s outside a bar and that seemingly innocuous event ends up sending his life into even more disarray. He is pulled into a murky plot involving police corruption and murder.

It’s an intriguing, interesting and fairly layered plot and Cal is a sympathetic protagonist that a reader can really get behind. His obsession with finding out who supplied the drugs which ended up in his son’s system the night he died is an understandable one, and it’s not a spoiler to say that said plot strand will end up intertwining with all the rest. A big issue I had with the book though is that the rest of the strands are all so broadly drawn and full of caricatures that I found them a little hard to swallow.

Clunky elements or not, Barclay is still a writer worth reading and while I’d put a huge majority of the endgame together before we got there, there were some stings in the tail I didn’t see coming. All in all, this is by no means a failure, but I have enjoyed other books of his a lot more.

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 ūüôā

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 54: It by Stephen King

644173I have long held the opinion that¬†It¬†is King’s masterpiece. I read it when I was 13 years old and then read it many more times during my teens. But it occurred to me recently that I haven’t read it for a long time. Then I gave it some more thought and realised it’s getting on for twenty years since I read it. Twenty motherfucking years. This caused me to think a) fucking hell I am getting old and b) I wonder if it holds up, twenty years later?

Even more frightening, it’s closing in on thirty years since the book was first published. And even more frightening than THAT, it’s the 13th book in his career. King has been publishing books for most of my life. Sweet mother of God. ANYWAY, so¬†It.¬†As we all know, it tells the story of Derry, Maine and the dark, malevolent, child murdering force which inhabits it. Every 27 or so years, it re-surfaces and murders some children to feed itself, then hibernates for a generation. That is until seven teenagers, The Losers Club, are drawn together and try to fight It in 1958. They win, but swear a pact that if It comes back, they’ll come back and fight It to the death.

Naturally, they didn’t defeat It (if they did, it would be a much shorter book than the 1376 pages of the current paperback edition). The book jumps between 1958 and 1985 and the action is interspersed with chapters detailing the fictional history of Derry. Several of my friends are huge fans and dislike him being called a horror writer. One of them believes he is our generation’s Tom Sawyer, another goes even further and calls him our generation’s Charles Dickens. This book is probably the best example to show what a phenomenal storyteller King is. Juggling seven main characters is no easy feat, and they are each fully realised and fleshed out. They’re also relatable (as a fat kid (and adult, let’s face it), I was always Team Hanscom). While the psychotic bully of Henry Bowers might be a little broadly drawn, he is more plot device than anything else.

But let’s not lose focus of the fact that King IS a horror writer too. And he knows more about frightening his Constant Readers than anyone. And It¬†is terrifying, no doubt about it. It’s the biggest failing of every circus in the world that they think clowns are fun and funny. No, fuck off, they’re terrifying and nobody likes them. King knows this and so It’s most common form is Pennywise The Clown. It can take the form of your deepest fears and turn them into a terrifying reality. The sequences where the children are terrorised and murdered found their way into my dreams when I first read the book, and not in a fun way. I can pay the book no higher compliment.

However, there is one thing that has evaded King many MANY times over his career (and has been mentioned before) and that is the properly satisfying conclusion. This is where I remember¬†It¬†falling down when I read it in my teens, and it still falls down and falls down hard when I re-read it as a nearly 40 year old. While I appreciate King’s “pull no punches” attitude to killing off characters, the final showdown and aftermath just feels lame, especially when everything that came before has set the bar so very high. It’s a fumble, but a fumble I can forgive, oddly enough. The less said about the teenage gang bang as a way to escape from the sewers in the 1958 sequence though, the better.

So, is it a great book? Yes. Is it flawed? Oh yes. Does it still hold up? Most definitely.

 

Cannonball Read 6, Book 53: The Girl On The Train by Paula Hawkins

21840310This should have been my Cannonball. One of the joys of becoming a Cannonball Reader and starting this blog has been occasionally managing to get my hands on an advance reading copy of an upcoming novel. And this one, which is published mid January 2015, is a real treat. It’s being touted as the next¬†Gone Girl¬†and the first must read book of 2015. SJ Watson, who made a huge splash with his own debut novel a few years back, is quoted on the cover. And for once, the book lives up to the hype.

 

To everyone else in this carriage I must look normal; I’m doing exactly what they do: commuting to work, making appointments, ticking things off lists.

Just goes to show.”

Rachel takes the same train to work every day. And every day, the train stops at a red signal where Rachel can see into the house of a seemingly perfect couple. She observes them doing nauseating Perfect Couple things and she creates names and narratives for them in her mind. Then one day, Rachel sees something she shouldn’t and when one half of said Perfect Couple is then reported missing, Rachel is pulled into a mystery, one that becomes more dangerous with every turn. And Rachel has secrets of her own….

Hawkins clearly owes a debt to Hitchcock and to Christie with the set up of her debut. And with a central character who can’t recall a pivotal event along with a shady member of the medical profession who may or may not be involved, it also owes a slight debt to SJ Watson. And I was reminded of the long forgotten 80s Jane Fonda film,¬†The Morning After.¬†So that’s a lot of influences and homages, but Hawkins uses all of that as a framework to hang a very identifiable character on. Rachel is wholly three dimensional, deeply flawed, hugely frustrating, but you want her to succeed in finding out what happened to her Perfect Couple as much as you want to smack her upside the head and shout “GET A GRIP, LADY”.

Hawkins has written what can only really be described as an accomplished debut. It pulls you in right from the start and she handles the shift in narrative voices very well. They’re all easily distinguished (and if any reader doesn’t want to knife the awful smug new mother who pops up, then more power to you) and well crafted. I couldn’t put it down and burned through it in a matter of days. I had a couple of issues with the ending. Having set everything up so meticulously, Hawkins does make a bit of a mess when she knocks it all down. But the mess isn’t so awful that you can’t forgive it. It’s more a new puppy peeing on the rug than your awful ex spilling a glass of red wine on your cream carpet.

Essentially, it’s a great book and if you love twisty little thrillers, then 2015 is going to start very well for you.

 

Cannonball Read 6, Book 52: Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell

16068905Last year, my Cannonball book was a crashing disappointment. A one star disaster that I HATED. I didn’t want to repeat the same problem this year. I wanted book 52 to be a treat, a rave review, a delight. A book I tore through in a day because I couldn’t put it down. After loving¬†Eleanor & Park¬†so hard, I bought¬†Fangirl¬†so this was the obvious logical choice to take centre stage as book 52 this year. An obvious shoo in for a gushing and effusive review. Alas, it’s not to be. While it’s miles better than last year’s crap out,¬†Fangirl¬†still really disappointed me.

Again, I know I’m not the demographic Rowell is shooting for, but I also know I don’t believe in limiting my book consumption based on something as arbitrary as that. So we have twins Cath and Wren (their mother didn’t want one child, let alone two, so when she had twins, she took the one name, Catherine, and split it in half. Already, I’m like “oh fuck off”), who have been abandoned by their mother and raised by their bipolar father. They both love Simon Snow (a painfully obvious stand in for Harry Potter) and Cath writes Simon Snow fan fiction. They’re about to go to college, the same college. Wren decides not to share a dorm with Cath because it’s time to put away the childish things but Cath won’t let go of her Simon Snow obsession, her fan fiction and her huge online following. Cue much angsty hand wringing as twins separate from each other.

I would possibly have cared more about Cath’s awkward social behaviour or Wren’s journey off the rails by way of too much drinking if either of them were likeable. But Wren is a shallow little mean bitch, so we’re supposed to side with Cath. Poor sweet awkward Simon Snow loving Cath. Problem there is Cath is a TOTAL FUCKING DRIP. She’s so wet and lame and boring and OH MY GOD you just want to smack her in the face. When her roommate’s ex-boyfriend falls for her, Cath is so intensely, well, Cath about it that I was rooting for Levi (for it is he) to give up on her and go find someone who doesn’t hyperventilate when you mention touching her boobies. Levi is the sole decent character. He’s ace, and Rowell clearly has a hard on for him, and so she should. He’s the only reason, pretty much, that I slogged on to the end.

The biggest problem with the book though is Simon Snow. Each chapter is prefaced with an excerpt from either one of the official Snow books, or Cath’s fan fiction. After reading one or two of them, I found them so eye gougingly awful that I skipped them. I love Harry Potter books so much, that for someone to try and emulate them, and to then have fan fiction of that emulation, it’s like trying to read a photocopy of a photocopy. We are treated to whole chapters of Cath’s fan fiction later in the book, which I simply couldn’t bear to read. She has Simon Snow and the bad vampire boy go gay for each other and the thought of someone as messed up as Cath trying to portray that, I just couldn’t bear to find out how awful it was. And then, as if I didn’t already want to smack her enough, when Levi asks her to read him some more when he’s at his fraternity, Cath replies something like “I don’t think I can read this to you with actual gay people in the house”. Oh wow just FUCK OFF.

It’s saved, just about, by a nice last chapter and some actual non-fan fiction from Cath (who spent the whole book being told what a great writer she is and whining about how she didn’t want to write anything other than Simon Snow. Fuck off.). But all in all, after the dizzy and gorgeous heights of¬†Eleanor & Park,¬†this was a disappointment, to say the least.

Cannonball Read 6, Book 51: The Vacationers by Emma Straub

18641982I thoroughly enjoyed Straub’s debut novel,¬†Laura Lamont’s Life in Pictures,¬†and feel we should gloss over the embarrassingly long time it took me to clock that she is daughter of Peter Straub. So when¬†The Vacationers¬†came along and seemed to be setting itself up to be everything¬†Seating Arrangements¬†should have been but wasn’t, I was sold. The blurb tells you it’s “an irresistible, deftly observed novel about the secrets, joys, and jealousies that rise to the surface over the course of an American family‚Äôs two-week stay in Mallorca” and for once, it doesn’t oversell things.

The Post’s are the family in question. Franny and Jim are marking their 35th wedding anniversary by taking their extended family to a sprawling Mallorcan villa. I say marking rather than celebrating because Jim has just been fired from the magazine where he’s worked forever, for screwing the very young intern. Their youngest daughter, Sylvia, just graduated high school and is headed to college, but she’s eager to arrive there unburdened by her virginity, so it’s lucky her fussy mother has arranged a tutor to give her Spanish lessons, and said tutor is young and HOT. Her older brother Bobby, who fled to Florida from his New York upbringing, is there with his much older personal trainer girlfriend Carmen. Bobby has issues which will naturally come to the fore as well. Then we have Frannie’s best friend Charles and his husband Lawrence, along for the ride even though they’re in the midst of trying to adopt a baby.

With this many characters driving the story, with that much baggage, Straub doesn’t really need a plot. Each chapter covers one day of the holiday as tensions rise and fall, secrets are uncovered, tennis legends are harassed, children are embarrassed and so on. The writing is pin sharp, the characterisation flawless. When Frannie thinks of her future unfolding, she notes that “she was six years away from a senior discount at the movies. Six years of looking at Jim in the kitchen and wanting to plunge an ice pick in between his eyes”. And Straub sure has a way with words, when Jim grossly reminisces about sex with the intern which caused his downfall we get “he’d been surprised the first time he’d reached his hand inside her skirt and felt her pussy, waxed and cool, as smooth as a hotel pillowcase”. I’m not ashamed to say I laughed out loud at that particular simile.

If you want a book that has a big plot and a lot of forward motion with a neat ending, this is not the book for you. If you want to read a character driven novel with some richly drawn people being delightfully awful to themselves and others, this is the book for you. Unlike others of its kind, Straub manages to balance making them unlikeable without making you hate them. The Posts and their friends delighted, disgusted and fascinated me, but they never bored or offended me. Good stuff.

Cannonball Read 6, Book 50: Just What Kind Of Mother Are You? by Paula Daly

18104711I love a good thriller. Anyone who’s been reading my reviews since I started Cannonballing will have noticed that I’m a bit partial to a Sophie Hannah here, a Val McDermid there. So this much talked about debut from Paula Daly, with its intriguing tagline of “Your friend’s child is missing. It’s your fault” seemed right up my street. So it’s a shame it ended up leaving me flat.

Our put upon heroine is Lisa Kallisto. Living in the quiet Lake District, she’s a working mother of three kids, so she’s a bit pushed busywise, is Lisa. Her best friend is posh Kate, who’s married to well to do Guy. Their children are besties with Lisa’s children. When Lisa takes her eye off the ball over a planned sleepover at her house with her teenage daughter Sally and Kate’s daughter Lucinda, then Lucinda vanishes, leaving Lisa held responsible, wracked with guilt and determined to get to the bottom of what’s happened. Lucinda isn’t the first girl in the area to go missing though, and when the first girl turns up stripped naked and shellshocked by her ordeal, Lisa goes into a desperate tailspin as she races against the clock to find Lucinda.

See how that should be quite gripping? But Daly is so hellbent on trying to show us how Lisa’s life is beset with domestic normality and working class drudgery, that whole swathes of the book are devoted to banging on about her busy life and are not that interesting. Once we get into the investigation, alternate chapters go to DC Joanna Aspinall, told in the 3rd ¬†person and again, tons of time given over to her awkward living arrangements and her pursuit of a breast reduction. It makes for fully rounded characters, yes. It also makes for some dull reading in what is supposed to be a thriller.

I would forgive that amount of extraneous faffery if the story being told was a cracking one, but this ended up falling short. All the clues as to what’s happened to Lucinda are uncovered by chance and coincidence. The mystery behind the other girls who are disappearing and then showing back up naked and abused is resolved by a tip off from the public. And when the full unpleasant truth as to where Lucinda went and why is unravelled, it’s both so lame and far-fetched as to cause much rolling of eyes and comments of “bitch, please” from the reader. Disappointing. But enough glimmers of talent shone through that I’d be willing to give her next book a try. Let’s see how it goes.

Cannonball Read 6, Book 45: Will Grayson, Will Grayson by John Green & David Levithan

18918102So this was an intriguing one. The two biggest YA superstars collaborate on a book, each writing alternate chapters, about two high school boys both named Will Grayson. John Green takes the straight Will, best friend to the biggest, gayest teen (ironically nicknamed Tiny, of course) while Levithan gives us the gay will, who is too cool to use capital letters at any point ever, but otherwise leads a tortured existence, prone to black moods and on medication to stabilise his moods. A freak turn of events sees the two Graysons intersect and their lives begin to move in different and unplanned directions.

I loved this book so hard. Both Green and Levithan capture the voices of their characters phenomenally well. It’s frequently hilarious, it punches you in the gut almost as often. I loved that Will Grayson Who Uses Caps loved to indulge in giving people the kind of nicknames that I like to give to people, when he christens a love rival “DouchePants McWaterPolo”. There is a LOT of talk about how huge Tiny is. “Imagine being hugged by a sofa. that’s what it feels like”. In terms of plot, it is both predictable and a little ridiculous. Tiny Cooper is writing a musical about his life that the school is going to put on. Of course, he and gay will end up seeing each other.

But the characters are so strong and the writing so spot on, that the inanity of the plot fades away into the background. The transition of gay will from spiky and dark to cautious romantic is beautiful and painful to read. When Tiny asks whether he minds if they hold hands, the response “the truth is, i do mind. but i know that since he’s my boyfriend, the answer should be that i don’t mind at all. he’d probably carry me to class in his arms if i asked him nicely” actually made me say “awwww”. Out loud. On public transport. I suspect how much people love this book does relate to how bearable and believable they find Tiny Cooper, but I loved that whether he was vastly ridiculous or not, he was not a caricature or a stereotype. Neither author talks down to their audience. It’s not every day you read a book where a relationship is mapped out using Schrodinger’s Cat as a template.

But the ending, the ending. Sigh. I tore through this book in no time at all and loved every page, right up to the final chapter. The final chapter is a bit of a fumble. It doesn’t end the way I wanted it to, but it also doesn’t really end in a believable or terribly satisfying way. It’s annoying in the extreme that such a wonderful novel takes a sharp turn into Blahville. I still loved it, but it ends up going just left of centre rather than nailing the bullseye.