July Book Round-Up

Summer is a great time for reading. Whether you’re relaxing at the beach, the park, or a cabin in the woods, life just feels a little more low key. I like to keep my reading low key as well, light and easy and quick. I want to feel like I’m in control of the book, the book’s not in control of me. I’ll keep the heavy tomes for winter fireside reading. I made the mistake of reading Gone With the Wind last summer and while I loved the book, it felt like it dominated several of my summer weekends. This July my reading has a distinct, mystery/crime focus, although I wouldn’t call all of them light.

The Girl in the Spider’s Web

The latest addition to the Millenium Series was the first not to be authored by Stieg Larsson, the original author. This book is written by David Lagercrantz a Swedish author and journalist. Initially I had assumed  that this book was based on notes or plot developed by Stieg Larsson but it turns out that the material all belongs to Lagercrantz. Apparently it has been slightly controversial as Larsson’s estate is controlled by his father and brother who okayed the project, while Larsson’s long-time partner was against the idea. Additionally she possesses a partially completed fourth book in the series. Obviously the success of the series meant that there was significant motivation to continue the books. It is clear though that Lagercrantz, while staying true to the characters, didn’t attempt to simply mimic Larsson’s style, which may or may not have been successful. He imparted his own style onto the book and while good, to me it was not as good as the originals (that may just be nostalgia talking though). 

This book introduces several new characters and brings others to the forefront. We meet Frans Balder, a tech genius who has recently returned to Sweden from Silicon Valley to re-kindle a relationship with his autistic son, August. Lisbeth has an intellectual relationship with Balder and quickly becomes involved when he is feared to be in danger. Blomkvist, meanwhile is embroiled in Millenium magazine funding drama when one of their financial backers demands content change, to become more mainstream and profitable. He is therefore very eager for distraction when Salander drops a little tidbit for him. As the book progresses we jump further into Salander’s history when the shadow of her twin sister begins to re-emerge. The plot, twists and turns with Salander and Blomkvist on the hunt and Camilla, the twin, proving to be a worthy adversary. 

Themes throughout the book range from the dangers of artificial intelligence and technology, hacking and NSA spying, to autism and savants, and the honour of journalism. While highly entertaining and fast-paced, I found the book to go off on odd tangents at times. Lagercrantz tried to tie up the loose ends but sometimes it felt a little soft. Ed the Ned for example, I never totally got his purpose in the book, it felt like he was just added to have an additional story line. And let’s be honest, you don’t have to do too much to paint the NSA as the big bad wolf. Overall, I liked the book, and found it quite entertaining, if another one written by Lagercrantz came out, I would probably read it. I did like that he made both Lisbeth and Blomkvist into more realistic heroes, rather than the somewhat over the top characters in the initial books. I also found Larsson to be a bit over the top in his portrayal of all the female characters as amazing while most of the men were quite flawed. I get where he was trying to go with it but it was a bit too much sometimes, I like that Lagercrantz was able to tone it down just enough. One of the best aspects of Girl with the Dragon Tattoo for me, was its originality. Lisbeth Salander was a great anti-hero, she was in your face and unapologetic. With this fourth book, it’s not so original any more, this book follows a lot of the same themes and pace from previous books. I give it a 3.5 out of 5, worth a read, but nothing revolutionary.

The Girl on the Train

This debut novel from Paula Hawkins has been on the top of of many must-read lists and often called the *next* Gone Girl. I actually received this book as a Christmas present but never got around to reading it until now. I have a tendency to avoid super popular books because the hype usually ruins it for me. You go into it with exceptionally high expectations that the book usually doesn’t meet. This one though, surprised me. I even featured it in my Top Ten Tuesday post of books set outside the US.

I suppose you could categorize this book as a mystery/thriller but it definitely doesn’t follow the pattern of a typical procedural. I think that’s what I really like about this book, it follows a very different pattern and tempo and it doesn’t end anything like you expect. Not to mention that the main character, Rachel, is so painful and cringe-worthy that you absolutely have to root for her. Although apparently not everyone, my grandmother read this book in her book club and informed me that she hated it. To each their own I guess. To me, Rachel is the sort of character that most people can identify with, she drinks too much, is a bit too overweight and is significantly affected by what people think of her. She knows what she should do, and yet, doesn’t seem to do what would make her life better. And she knows what she shouldn’t, pry into the mysterious disappearance of Megan Hipwell. 

Rachel takes the same commuter train into London everyday, in the same seat, and stops in front of the same house. Megan and Scott’s house. Or as Rachel calls them, Jason and Jess. Rachel has created an imaginary life for Jason and Jess through the little snippets of their life that she’s seen, and is shocked one day when she sees Jess kissing another man in their back yard. And then Jess goes missing. Rachel, lacking direction in her own life, becomes obsessed with finding out what happened to Jess. Jess turns out to be Megan Hipwell, and *coincidentally* lives a few doors down from Rachel’s old house. The house that Rachel’s ex-husband still lives in, with his new wife Anna, and their daughter. Rachel comes to believe that she was there the night of Megan’s disappearance, if she can only remember beyond her drunken stupor. Rachel is an unreliable narrator and incredibly flawed. But, you want her to find herself, to improve her life, as we hear more about its unravelling. You’re dragged along by Rachel on a road that you’re not really sure you want to go down. 

The book is very engaging and you can’t help but keep reading to find out what happens next. Paula Hawkins has done a great job in her debut, I will definitely be intrigued by any more books that she comes out with. It’s not a change your life book, but highly entertaining. I give this one 4 stars out of 5. 

The Broken Shore

This is the first book I’ve ever read by Peter Temple and to be honest I didn’t really know much about him or the book before I read it. I heard about this book in a list of the top 100 mystery novels of the last decade, the plot seemed intriguing. Sometimes you need a little push out of your comfort zone, and you’ll find something good that you wouldn’t normally read. I went in with no expectations and was pleasantly rewarded. This book was also featured in Top Ten Tuesday. 

The novel centres on Joe Cashin, a homicide detective from Melbourne who is posted in sleepy Cromarty after an on-the-job injury. He is heading up the local police department when a call comes in about a murder. A local, well-loved, wealthy businessman has been killed in his own home. It becomes apparent quickly that this won’t be a straight-up investigation, there’re too many political motives involved. The initial suspects are some aboriginal youth who pawned a watch in the city similar to one the victim owned. Clearly a hot button issue in Australia. Cashin works to solve the murder while trying to side-step the politics, and sift through the victims past, where many don’t want him to go.

The mystery plot itself is winding and tumultuous, the politics even more so. I don’t live in Australia so I obviously can’t see it from their perspective, but in Canada we have similar issues with the treatment of Aboriginals, and many of the issues can be related to what’s happening in the US right now as well.

Temple does a very good job with the dialogue and how people speak in Australia. If you don’t have experience with it though, it can seem like they’re speaking another language. It wasn’t a problem for me, but I can see how it would be a negative for some. Some of the plot lines, seem to be added in for depth. I don’t totally get Rebb’s purpose in the book, what is his addition to the plot? Is it just to illustrate personality traits of Cashin? And clearly I missed something along the way as I don’t get the reference at the end of the book to who the person was sitting in the chair in the theatre. Temple does do a good job though of developing his characters and the dynamic of the small town feels very real. His writing style is very interesting where he references things that you don’t know about yet. At some points it feels like there’s a prequel that you forgot to read first. Overall though, I quite enjoyed the book and give it 3.5 stars out of 5.

Broken Monsters

This is another book I discovered on the 100 best mysteries of the last decade list and the first book I’d read by South African Lauren Beukes. It’s definitely the darkest book on the list and it doesn’t really fit neatly within the mystery/thriller category although it does centre on a murder.

The book begins with the brutal murder of a young boy, who had been fused together with the lower half of a deer, and follows the progression and motivation of a group of characters. Detective Gabriella Versado, the lead detective, Layla, her teenage daughter, new transplant Jonno, and local homeless man about town, TK. Arguably Detroit is also a character in the book, it features quite heavily into the plot and the scenery. Unlike most mysteries you know fairly early into the book who the murderer is, you just don’t know when Detective Versado will find out. Each character has their own story ark, yet they’re all interconnected.

Social media and the internet play a fairly large role in the plot of most of the characters. Jonno is trying to find himself through internet fame, hoping it’ll help him move forward, but also recover something from his past. Layla is playing a dangerous cat and mouse with internet predators while also finding out the online history of one of her good friends. And our killer is looking to spread his message and infect people through social media. Detroit also seems very integral to the book. I went to Detroit for the first time in February of this year and found the book to be an interesting portrait of the city. I was very surprised to find out that the author was not from there as the story seems to spring from the city itself. I’m not sure in this case which came first, the idea for the plot, or Detroit as the backdrop. Detroit has a lot of powerful imagery and can represent a lot of themes.

I’m not sure exactly how I feel about this book, or if I really liked it. It was a really good, well-written book, but I’m not sure that I enjoyed reading it. Intellectually I can see its point and purpose, but from an entertainment perspective it doesn’t exactly leave you feeling warm and fuzzy, with nicely completed plot lines. In fact, I’m still feeling slightly confused about the whole hallucination aspect of it, I get the imagery of it, but why were they actually hallucinating? And I’m still wondering how a certain character actually died. I guess it depends on what you really want from a book. If you want something that’s exceptionally written and complex, that challenges you intellectually, then this book would get a 4 or 4.5 out of five. If you goal is to be entertained and to enjoy the experience then it would get around a 3. I’m going to settle with a 3.5 out of 5, right in the middle, although, as with most aspects of this book, it doesn’t really fit into the parameters neatly.

August Round-up

After my mystery heavy July content, I’m going light for August, chick lit (what really is chick lit?) and beach reads all the way. I always love a good recommendation so if you’ve got any, send them my way.

 

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