Combined book review #8

Combined book review #8

The time of year I read the most books? Fall. Hands down. As the days become darker and the temperatures start to fall, I love snuggling up on the couch (or the train, because that’s where I do most of my reading to be honest) with a book. That is why it’s only been 2 months since the last combined book review went online. And to be quite frank, I could have entered two more books in this review, as I already finished two books on top of this. However, I felt that would make for too long a blog post, so I will be writing about those next time I do one of these.

As you can see there is a little bit of everything here. Each book I read can easily be put in a different category. I started off this round with a detective novel set in Victorian times, followed by a very a-typical chicklit read. I then decided to move on to something heftier and invested time in a seriously captivating literary thriller. I then wanted to read something a bit more ‘serious’ so I read modern classic To Kill a Mocking Bird. And after a bit of literature, I usually crave something nice and easy, and so I delved into the delectably easy read of a young adult novel. Here are my thoughts.

Alex Grecian – The Black Country

Detective Walter Day and Constable Nevil Hammersmith are sent out of London to solve the mysterious disappearance of a mother, father and their child. Are they dead? Have they disappeared? Or did the killer of local folklore claim them for his cause? Day and Hammersmith find themselves facing rural superstitions as well as general opposition from a not so willing small mining town out in the Black Country. And who is the mysterious lodger that they share the inn with who disappear into the night? And what is making everyone in the town so sick?

This book is the follow up to The Yard which I reviewed last time. Black Country takes the main characters out of London and I think that is a smart move when it comes to character development in the series. Day is pictured as a doting father-to-be whereas Hammersmith is a full hardened single man devoted to his job. The flow of this book, like its predecessor, is fast paced and you keep on reading more and more. Black Country mixes up different storylines from different perspectives as did the first book and where a narrative set up like that might come across as too artificial it works for the purpose of the plot and it feeds the reader little pieces of information at the time, and you get to solve the puzzle along with the policemen.

Christina Hopkinson – The Pile of Stuff at the Bottom of the Stairs

Mary and Joel lead perfectly ordinary lives. He works full time, she works part time and takes care of their two boys. Mary however, is far from satisfied. She feels that Joel isn’t all that helpful around the house leaving her to clean up not only after her kids, but also after him. She decides to design a spreadsheets of spreadsheets in which she minutely keeps track of every infraction her husband makes. In the end, star charts work for both her sons, so why not for her husband?

The premise of this book is a quirky, funny and endearing story of domestic life. To me this book was a drag. Mary is a character who sees flaws in everyone else, except her meticulous self. She blames her mistakes on others. It’s always her husband, her kids and her fabulous friend Mitzy who are to blame and never her own reasoning of way of thought. I didn’t find this funny, but rather annoying: it takes 2/3 of the book of Mary bitching and moaning about her husband and everything he does wrong, while she never wonders how on earth he can know about his wrongdoing if she never talks about it. In the end, she realizes this, which made this book bearable but not the fun take on being organized I had hoped. Perhaps if I’d had a husband and kids I would understand, but the only thing I could think of while reading this was: woman, get your head out of the sand and do something about it.

Marisha Pessl – Night Film

Scott McGrath is an investigative journalist with quite some successes to his name. He set up his own downfall though by going after Stanislas Cordova: enigmatic horror movie maker extraordinaire. But that was years ago. When Cordova’s daughter Ashley is found after having jumped down to her death in an elevator shaft, McGrath cannot help but take up his old investigation. At the start of his investigation he meets Hopper and Nora: two strangers with their own stories and reasons for wanting to find out what happened to Ashley Cordova. As the story unravels, McGrath is sucked into the director’s dark world that threats a very thin line between fantasy and reality. And all the while the question is: how much are you willing to lose to find the truth?

When I started reading this book it was slow going at first. It takes quite a few pages for the investigation to get going and the characters to be introduced. It never truly picks up pace, but is very much like the Cordova movies that form the heart of the narrative: it is a dark novel that leaves you wondering what will be next, but never fully discloses what of why anything happens. The story arch builds up slowly, antagonizingly so, but once you are riding that wave there is hardly any stopping. This novel may not be packed with action, but it still packs a punch. Because just when you think it is all over, there is just a little bit more to find. An eerily and well-constructed page turner, that keeps you coming back for more.

Harper Lee – To Kill a Mocking Bird

After thrillers and chicklits, I found it time to read something a bit more substantial again. I decided to pick up Harper Lee’s classic To Kill a Mocking Bird. Scout and her brother Jem grow up in small town Alabama in the 1930s. The highlight of their year is when Dill stays over for the summer and they try to get their reclusive neighbor Boo Radley to come out. Their lives are all fine and dandy until their father Atticus takes on the case as defense attorney for Tom: a black man accused of raping a white girl. The story is told from Scout’s perspective and she has a lot to say about adult decisions being made, with the sole explanation: ‘ah but you’re too little to understand’.

This book had been on my to read list for a long time. It is an interesting critique of the ways of adults and how we rationalize our way into thinking we are doing the right thing. The atmosphere is set just right and from what I can tell it is a good portrayal of small town America before WWII. The story is based on Harper Lee’s own life and that brings a different nuance to the story I guess. The fact that the perspective is that of a child’s makes the observations in the story all the more striking and I liked this book. From the subject matter to the way it is written: this is a well-written story that provides some good insight into a very particular time and place in American culture.

Lee Bross – Tangled Webs

Arista is a thief by day, blackmailer by night. Owned by the cruel Bones, her and her partner in crime Nic dress up for the night to carry out his business as Lady A and her bodyguard on masquerade balls. Having known no other life, Arista only knows that she wants to get out, but how? Then she bumps into a highway man during one of the balls she attends as Lady A. He promises her travels to the East and she falls in love immediately. Only then she comes home to find out Nic has betrayed her and the only way to keep herself and her friend Becky afloat is by making a deal with a new devil in the shape of Jonathan Wild. Will Arista ever find her freedom?

This tale of love and treachery twists and turns more than the average snake like characters in the story. it is a young adult novel and I knew that going into this. I had also read that this wasn’t necessarily the best example of YA novels. And I agree, the characters are rather flat and the action, though set in 1782 according to the blurp, did not feel authentic and more Victorian than Georgian. Nevertheless I enjoyed this book as an easy breezy read that made me root for Arista nonetheless.

What books have you been reading?

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8 thoughts on “Combined book review #8

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