16

Batch Reviews: Crime Fiction

Once you decide that crime fiction is going to be a genre you love, there are so many reading options.

You could go for roller coaster thrill rides with Linwood Barclay or country house weekend style with Agatha Christie. Camilla Lackberg could send you to small town Sweden where you would be shocked at the deprave things people get up to. Ian Rankin is all about the seedy underbelly of Edinburgh while Jo Nesbo prefers Oslo. Alexander McCall Smith’s Isabel Dalhousie series likes a balance of philosophy and mystery, while Mo Hayder just likes to get right to the blood and guts.

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There’s an entire section of the library devoted to mysteries! Sometimes it just feels impossible to hone in on a good one.

I’m here to help.

If you’re looking for something quick to get your skin crawling, I would recommend The Grownup for Gillian Flynn. Just 64 pages but it packs a big punch. Her narrator, a former sex worker turned “psychic”, starts right off talking about hand jobs and carpal tunnel so it’s probably not for everyone. But if you can get past that, I found it to be an expertly crafted little story. Susan Burke comes for help after moving to a new neighbourhood. Her stepson starts acting strange (more like a little psycho) and her house seems like it’s haunted. Our narrator decides to help, planning to spend hours in the library reading instead.

I was totally creeped out, completely taken in by Flynn’s misdirection and thoroughly enjoyed how it ended. Flynn shows just how good she is with this pocket sized tome and I am now more impatient than ever for her to give us something new.

If you were a fan of the show The Killing, might I suggest David Hewson’s Pieter Vos series? There are just two books so far (The Doll House and The Wrong Girl) but they are deeply enjoyable. One of the things that you really notice about these books is Hewson’s ability to get a place right. Apparently he spends lots of time in the cities he chooses to feature and he gets Amsterdam just right in these.

I think if you’re going to feature a city so prominently, you have to understand it’s people and way of life and Hewson nails it on both counts. In The Wrong Girl, a little girl, Natalya, is abducted at the Sinterklaas parade. Her mother is a sex worker, an illegal in Amsterdam from Georgia (the country) where they lost everything. On the day of the parade Natalya wears a new pink jacket that her mother got for her. She doesn’t like it much but it’s the warmest thing she owns. Across town, another little girl, Saskia, wears the same jacket. She’s the girl that is meant to be taken but it’s Natalya that they get. Now Vos has to find Natalya while he has the equivalent of Homeland Security on his ass because they’ve been working on this terror cell that is potentially in the Netherlands.

Oh yes, I enjoyed this one. I first wanted to read them because they were the only mysteries I knew of that took place in Amsterdam. But once I started reading them realized that they were actually really well done. Now I’m just hoping that Hewson is working on a third one.

Do you like your mystery fiction to take place in another time? Perhaps The Taxidermist’s Daughter by Kate Mosse will fit the bill.

It’s 1912 and about 10 years earlier Connie Gifford fell from a great height and hit her head. Her whole life until that day disappeared. Recently she’s started seeing a strange woman in town that looks vaguely familiar but she can’t tell why. When a woman’s body is found in the creek behind her house, it’s the beginning of a series of strange things happening, including the disappearance of a number of men in the area.

This was a strange one but it was decent. Connie has learned how to taxidermy birds from her father who was once a “bird stuffer” of some renown. Chapters are marked with excerpts from a book that teaches taxidermy, as well as a letter to Connie from someone mysterious talking about why certain things had to be done. There are loads of sketchy characters, stormy weather that hampers travel, and the hint of a love story. I will say that there were some taxidermy elements that were so gruesome I had to skip them…

The one big thing that I really had an issue with in this one is why do we keep having to refer to the main characters in books as someone’s wife or daughter? This one could have been called Constantia or The Corvidae Club or any number of other things. Her father barely features in it except as a drunk she has to make sure doesn’t off himself. Let’s make a deal to stop doing this.

After all that fiction, it’s probably time to take another stab at non-fiction…

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9

Paperback Princess Loves New Paperbacks!

I really do. I’m not sure when I started holding out in favour of paperbacks (probably around the time when I realized that being an adult is expensive!) but that’s my general MO these days.

So it delights me to be able to bring you all a list of fabulous books that have recently been turned into ready-to-love paperbacks. You know, so that you can start filling up your beach bags and lake totes with great books. So that when you are planning a picnic, you will have a list of books that you can stash in your basket.

I’ve been tricked before by news that the paperback version of Gone Girl was going to be released shortly. But now I’ve seen it with my own two eyes so it’s official. Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl is finally in paperback. Just in time for those of you that still haven’t read it to get to it before the movie’s release this fall. Seriously though, read this book.

The follow up to the JK Rowling-as-Robert-Galbraith penned The Cuckoo’s Calling is coming out this June. For those of you that can’t read The Silkworm until you’ve been introduced to Cormoran Strike properly, get thee to a bookstore for a copy of the freshly printed paperback!

The other day I waxed poetic about the perfection of the Paris: The Novel paperback and mentioned that Edward Rutherfurd’s previous city novels didn’t share this flawlessness. But then I went to the bookstore and lo and behold! Perfect paperbacks of London, New York and Russka. So if you’re in the market for that most perfect paperback but didn’t think Paris was your style? Now you have no excuse.

Remember how I loved The Circle by Dave Eggers? I thought it was a most excellent imagining of what could happen to the world if we’re not careful with the direction that social media is taking. It was a big ol’ beast of a book though so I can’t blame you if you wanted to wait for a more portable edition. Your time has come.

Finally, Harper Collins has done us the massive favour of publishing Jonas Jonasson’s brand new book, The Girl Who Saved the King of Sweden in paperback right off the bat. I loved his debut novel The 100 Year Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared (so did millions of others around the world) and I’m so very excited to crack this baby. Even though technically I’m on a book buying ban, my other half wasn’t there to see me so it totally doesn’t count.

There you go! A list of paperbacks to inspire some book cravings; you know you want to.

12

The Answer to Your Gone Girl Withdrawal

I’m staring five days of book-reading freedom in the face. We’re heading out of town and I made sure to bring plenty of reading material to keep me occupied. Forget making sure I have weather appropriate clothing (even though the West Coast is the best coast, there’s some tricky weather this time of year. But not snow so this is not a complaint), I need to ensure appropriate reading material at the lake. After careful consideration (priorities guys) I decided to bring along: Fangirl (Rainbow Rowell), The Murder of Roger Ackroyd (Agatha Christie), Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets (JK Rowling) and Paris: A Novel (Edward Rutherford).

Then, since I’m almost done The Remains of the Day, I snuck John Green’s The Fault in Our Stars in my bag at the last minute.

My intention is not to actually rub this freedom in your faces – presumably you have a long weekend ahead of you as well. I came here today to tell you about a book I read last week: Reconstructing Amelia by Kimberly McCreight.

You guys. This book. Delicious. Unexpected. Terrific. So many feelings.

Kate Baron is a single mom working in a fancy law firm. She’s working through a high profile case when she gets a call from her daughter’s school: her daughter, Amelia, has been caught cheating on an English essay and has been suspended for three days. Kate needs to come pick her up immediately.

Kate ends up getting caught in midtown traffic and it takes her over an hour to reach the school. When she does, there are police cars and firetrucks all over the place and she is told that her daughter committed suicide. She jumped off the roof of the building.

Weeks later she receives a text message: Amelia didn’t kill herself.

This text drives Kate to find out what actually happened. Does it have anything to do with the texts she’s been receiving about Amelia’s father? What is the deal with the student newsletter? Amelia would never cheat on an English essay, what happened?

This book has been compared to Gone Girl a lot. If you liked Gone Girl, I’m pretty sure you will enjoy Reconstructing Amelia. Like in Gone Girl, the narrative changes back and forth: in one section you are following Kate as she works through the last days of Amelia’s life, drawing all kinds of conclusions. In the next, you are with Amelia as her last days actually unfold.

My immediate reaction when I was reading the Amelia section was that those of you that loved Gossip Girl would love this book. The student newsletter reads like an opening of Gossip Girl. The story follows a bunch of very privileged teenagers with way too much time on their hands. But in the middle of all of their teenaged crap, they are struggling to fit in, to conform, to be equal to their peers. McCreight does an incredible job of channeling their teenaged voices.

It was hard to watch the story unravel seeing, like Kate and Amelia couldn’t, how close each actually was to taking a different path. How many times each wanted to come clean with the other and didn’t, setting them both down this path that leads to so much grief.

If you’re looking for a long weekend read, or you’re starting to mine for beach reads, Reconstructing Amelia. Do it.

3

The 2012 Review

This is the time of year when everyone looks back on the past 12 months and looks at the best and worst of etc.

I’d like to pretend like I’m different, but I’m not.

This was a big reading year for me.

I’m working through my Top 5 or other arbitrary number list in my head, but in the meantime I thought I’d look back at my reading trends and feelings this year.

Up for it? It’s happening, you don’t actually have a choice.

Like I said – big reading year for me. I make a goal for myself each year. In the past it’s been a bit lofty and I’ve handicapped myself by having to choose books that I think will get me to my goal. At the same time if I choose a goal that’s too low, it’s not going to be any kind of a challenge. This year I settled on 50. Left me room to play around with bigger books but also, 50 books is a lot.

I surpassed my goal. By a lot. As of today I’m working on finishing my 81st book. Which is the most I’ve ever read since I started keeping track of the books I read each year. And let’s face it, probably ever.

This year I discovered the delights of Agatha Christie. I never thought I was a murder mystery kind of reader but I am. I really really am. Aside from Agatha Christie, I devoured works by Gillian Flynn (Gone Girl) and Camilla Lackberg (The Ice Princess, The Preacher, The Stonecutter, The Stranger). I even read a real life crime book about a serial killer in Paris during World War II. That book was a lot more difficult to read. Like terrifying.

My failure to read Les Miserables in time for the movie’s release notwithstanding, I did seem to be drawn to books about the French Revolution. Charles Dickens and I came to an understanding when I fell in love with A Tale of Two Cities and I gave Michelle Moran a chance to wow me (she did) when I picked up Madame Tussaud despite the awful cover. While I was fascinated by the French, I became enamoured of Russian Royals, learning all about Catherine the Great thanks to the incredible biography by Robert K. Massie. That turned into a bit of an obsession with Nicholas and Alexandra and I just picked up a book about Royal Russian women by Julia P. Gelardi (which I’m really excited about because she wrote one of my very favourite royal biographies about the five granddaughters of Queen Victoria who each became a Queen in her own right).

My book club had a big impact on my reading choices this year. Our selections ranged from so-so to downright scandalous once we started on the Fifty Shades phenomenon. I was also on the hunt for anything that might have something to do with Downton Abbey and I finished off all of the available Song of Ice and Fire books. I caved and read The Hunger Games books (which I loved), and tried my best to read War and Peace, but was ultimately foiled when my copy was missing a sizeable chunk of pages. I still haven’t managed to sort that out – when I took a copy out of the library to read the missing pages, it was a completely different version.

It was a pretty low key year for non-fiction, something I plan to work on in the New Year. I did manage to continue my love affair with Malcolm Gladwell (he kind of changed my life with Outliers this year) and was completely fascinated by the lives of the Kennedy Women (Lawrence Leamer) and members of The President’s Club.

This was also a year when I made a lot of book mistakes, which was kind of a first for me. There were a number of books that I read that I just didn’t care for. A couple that I abandoned altogether (Catch-22, Little Shadows, The Vampire Lestat) and others that I struggled through that I wanted to abandon (The Stranger’s Child, The Prague Cemetery, Bride of New France, The Firefly Cloak).

But in the end, I read almost 81 books. And that’s pretty badass.

9

Gone Girl

I finally broke down and bought the book everyone was proclaiming to be the ‘book of the summer.’ Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn did not disappoint.

Let’s run through the basic plot points.

Amy and Nick have been married for five years and are currently weathering a bit of a rough patch. They’ve relocated to Nick’s hometown to care for his parents and both have recently lost their jobs. Nick has managed to find a new job but Amy spends her days trying to keep busy as everything she has ever known and taken for granted to be true, is gone.

On the morning of their fifth wedding anniversary, Nick leaves the house early after a breakfast of anniversary crepes prepared by Amy. When he returns later, there are signs of a struggle and Amy is gone.

This book is a terrifying look at marriage. Seriously. Having just read Committed and felt OK about the idea of marriage, Gone Girl scared the bejeezus out of me. After the disappearance, we follow Nick as he tries to work out what the hell has happened to his wife, all the while realizing that he’s probably not reacting the way a scared, worried husband of a missing woman should. In between the Nick chapters, are the Amy chapters where she takes us back to the beginning of their relationship and fleshes out how they got to this point.

Amy and Nick talk about the same things but tell different versions. One or both of them aren’t being completely honest.

Honestly I didn’t really like either of them. Which I think may have been the point? They were so honest about their flaws, so transparent when it came to explaining their actions, they don’t leave a lot of room for one to feel sorry for them or identify with them. At least I don’t.

But despite that, or maybe because of it, I couldn’t stop reading. I had to find out what these two people did to each other.

This book is dark and twisted. It reminded me a little of Camilla Lackberg’s books but in those books we’re always outside of the investigation, following the police side of things. In Flynn’s book, we’re a part of the crime, desperately following Nick as he tries to unravel the clues that have been left for him. This book is brilliant too. I don’t want to give away too much but this book is diabolical and it makes me wonder a little bit about how Flynn’s mind works, that she was able to pull this off.

I can see why people have been hooked on this book this summer. There is something delicious about sitting out in beautiful weather to read a deeply disturbing book. Gone Girl is deeply disturbing and filled with pure unadulterated hate.

I loved it.

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2

Put The World On Pause

I’ve come to the horrifying conclusion that there just aren’t enough hours in the day to do the things that I would like to do.

Mainly, read all the books I want to read.

I have a pretty substantial list of Books I Want To Read going. I like to think that I’m pretty selective and thoughtful when I add books to this list because I do want to actually try and read all the books on the list. Eventually. But recently I’ve started feeling overwhelmed by The List.

There are so many great (I assume) books on the list and great books (again, working on the assumption that they are great) keep being released and I just don’t have time to read them all! And how is that fair?

There are those titles on my list that have been there for ages. Things like Catch-22, Secret Daughter, Atonement, State of Wonder and The Night Circus. Then there are those that are sitting on my shelf waiting for me to choose them, titles like The Shadow of the Wind, Nicholas and Alexandra, and Lone Wolf. That’s before we even get to how War and Peace sits abandoned while I wait for a replacement copy to make its way to me!

Can we just agree to put the world on pause for a little while? Just for a few days to allow us all to catch up on some of the reading we want to do? That would really help me out. It would allow me to get on board with some of the great books I keep hearing about.

I’ve been seeing great reviews of Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn all over the place. With my current crime fiction obsession, the psychological thriller about a wife who goes missing on her fifth wedding anniversary seems like a really great fit for me right now. Chris Cleave, brilliant author of Little Bee and my favourite, Incendiary, has come out with his new book just in time for the London Olympics. Gold is the story of 2 competing Olympic cyclists who are also best friends, who ultimately have to decide what is more important: their friendship or the gold medal? With Olympic fever gearing up, it just seems like the right time to read this!

I’m already months behind with reading Let’s Pretend This Never Happened. I bought it for a friend as a gift (I’d be lying if I said there wasn’t a moment where I thought I could keep this and buy her a shirt) and I’m told it is hysterical (as if it could be anything else with Jenny Lawson aka The Bloggess behind it) but I don’t think that makes me feel any less behind on this one. When I get to borrow it (soon I’m told) I am going to read the shit out of it.

Since I’ve finished with the Fifty Shades trilogy, I’ve been feeling kind of hard up (ha) in the erotic literature department, so it was basically a godsend when I heard about Bared To You. This novel by Sylvia Day is supposed to be the answer to my Fifty Shades withdrawal. There’s a character called Eva in it for god’s sake (I choose to read her name as pronounced Ava, the Euro Way a la me). I am definitely supposed to read this.

So we’re agreed then? We’re pausing the world for a bit?

Good talk.

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