Tuesday, 30 June 2015

Book Review: Mr Mercedes by Stephen King

Mr MercedesMr Mercedes by Stephen King
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I've been a massive fan of Stephen King ever since I picked up a collection of his short stories. His novels can be epic, small, focused on two characters or feature a town full of people. Every single one is different and he seems to write them quicker than I can read them!
Mr Mercedes is a break from his normal supernatural and fantasy stories. This one is pure crime/cop caper and we are introduced to two main characters, retired Detective Bill Hodges and Brady Hartsfield. No attempt is made to disguise the fact that Hartsfield committed the horrific crime in the novel, instead this story is more cat and mouse.
King is a solid writer. It normally takes me a couple of chapters and I'm in. This book was a little different. It took me a lot longer to get going. I think the problem with this book is that the characters were so predictable. Detective Hodges is overweight, contemplates suicide, watches tonnes of day time TV, eats too much fried food and even wears a fedora. Since retiring he's blatantly bored and a letter from the killer is just what he's been waiting for.
Hartsield obviously took Psychopath 101. He is a loner, hates everyone, lives in his basement and has a dysfunctional relationship with his mother. These are characters we have seen before countless times before. I expected more from King.
There are several sidekicks who all have roles to play in catching Hartsfield, namely Jerome, a black seventeen year old who runs errands for Hodges and Holly, a forty year old who lives off cigarettes and medication.
Once the plot picked up I had no problem getting engrossed in the novel but the characters just seemed to leap to conclusions with no obvious way of reaching it and the ending was just as I expected. I gather that this was about the journey, not the conclusion but it was a bit of a let down compared to King's other works.

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Tuesday, 16 June 2015

Book Review: Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel

Station ElevenStation Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The blurb for Station Eleven had me hooked, Shakespeare, apocalypse, deadly disease. What's not to love?
The story spans approximately fifty years and focuses on five key people. Arthur Leander, an actor playing King Lear who dies on stage; his first wife Miranda, an artist and businesswoman; Jeevan, a trainee paramedic who tries to save him; Kirsten, a child in Leander's King Lear; and Clark, Arthur's oldest friend.
The storyline jumps to before, during and after the onset of the dangerous Georgia Flu which claims it's victims in a mere couple of weeks. As Arthur collapses on stage, the virus is spreading around the world.
The timeline is all over the place but I enjoyed the sporadic nature of it. For some characters we find out what has happened to them from Day One (of the flu), for others, such as Miranda, Arthur and Clark we get more of a back story, a history into their relationships. The next time we meet Kirsten is Year 20, when she is travelling with the Symphony, a band of actors and musicians who travel and perform in small towns.
What I really loved about this was that there wasn't focus on the vomiting and disease, the focus was on civilization. The things that people missed. How society has changed and developed. Kirsten and her friends are interesting and well developed characters. Each of them has a back story and individual flaws. We only see glimpses into Kirsten's past but it doesn't feel like anything is missing. The Symphony is a lovely touch, a highlight in a bleak world. It's nice to believe that there are those that carry on when there is nothing else left. As the Symphony travel it gives us a great insight into how towns have been formed. During their travels they meet The Prophet. A head strong, all believing 'saviour' who thinks it's necessary to have several teenage brides.
After being introduced to Jeevan at the beginning we don't hear about his character until at least halfway into the novel. As he our first narrator I warmed to him and wanted to find out his fate.
Clark's story is also interesting. We meet him through Arthur and Miranda but he really comes into his own in the last quarter of the book when left stranded at an airport with other passengers. Rather than looking at the bigger picture, this story focuses on the individuals, the humans, how they are coping with life as it is now and how everybody is linked.
I recommend this novel to everyone, it is pure brilliance and not only did it have me hooked from the start but I found the characters and stories compelling. Emily St. John Mandel didn't wrap everything into a nice neat bow so I would like another novel just to see how the characters progress. However, I can't wait for anything that she writes, I'll be grabbing it with both hands.

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Sunday, 14 June 2015

Book Review: Shatter The Bones by Stuart MacBride (Logan McRae #7)

Shatter The Bones (Logan McRae, #7)Shatter The Bones by Stuart MacBride
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I've always been a massive fan of Stuart MacBride but when reading the blurb for this novel I wasn't as excited as I normally am diving into Logan McRae's Aberdeen.
In Shatter the Bones Alison and Jenny McGregor, the main attraction of the latest reality show 'Britain's Next Big Star', have been kidnapped. McRae and team are doing their best to find out who did it but they keep meeting dead ends. Meanwhile Trisha Brown and her partner Shuggie Webster keep getting into all kinds of trouble.
There are several things I loved about Shatter the Bones. The characters are always brilliant, the most well rounded, well loved bunch of fictional people I've ever come across and the dialogue between them zings. I particularly enjoyed the introduction of Green, in fact I found myself infuriated with him most of the time and that proves to me just how excellent the author is at creating characters with depth and all sort of different nuances.
MacBride also keeps up a speedy pace ensuring the reader never gets bored and there's always something new to be revealed. I also enjoyed the take on reality television and the lengths people will go to for fame and fortune. With every weekend being taken over by The X Factor, Britain's Got Talent and The Voice, this book illustrated the madness of it all, being plucked from obscurity and plunged into the limelight with no safety net.
What I struggled with in this particular novel is the amount of suspects and characters. At points I wasn't entirely sure who they were talking about and would have to skip back a couple of pages and check. There were also some unnecessary characters. I understand that MacBride wants to portray a realistic police service and therefore certain officers would be used for certain roles, but it got a bit much for me. I was also a bit disappointed with the ending. It wasn't the huge twist I was hoping for (and normally expect) and it all seemed a bit hurried.
So overall, three out of five stars for Shatter the Bones. I will definitely read more of MacBride's work in the future. This one just wasn't my cup of tea.

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Thursday, 4 June 2015

Book Review: Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell by Susanna Clarke

Jonathan Strange and Mr NorrellJonathan Strange and Mr Norrell by Susanna Clarke
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Before I'd even heard of the book I saw the enigmatic trailer for Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell. I heard Vincent Franklin's grand introduction of 'MR NORRELLLLLLLL!' before I even laid one eye on the novel.
It wasn't long before I purchased the book and dived in head first. The main error I made was trying to read it while on a sightseeing holiday in Amsterdam. I was so tired that I couldn't really concentrate and this is what this book requires. But that's not a bad thing.
The first characters you meet are Segundus and Honeyfoot, two theoretical magicians who live in York and want to know why magic isn't performed any more. Introduce the suspicious little man that is Mr Norrell.
The first third of the book centres around Norrell, his developments as a magician and his progress in London with the government. Then enters Jonathan Strange and their relationship soon blossoms.
One of the first things any reader realises is that this is not simply a story, or a novel, it is a world. Susanna Clarke has created this wonderful environment, with intertwining, exciting lands all closely linked with British history. It's almost as if this book is real, with its footnotes and explanations and that somehow the magic has been hidden from us.
Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell is an epic, sprawling book, full of eccentric characters, including the titular ones. In the Author's Note Susanna Clarke said that she didn't particularly like either of her main characters. Although I found Norrell awkward and grumpy, there were moments when I found him endearing. And I particularly liked Strange, although in the third quarter of the book I did find myself rolling my eyes at some of his antics.
The gentlemen is a particularly interesting character, as is Stephen Black. All of the narrative surrounding them was gripping as their relationship changed and developed throughout the story. The women also play a vital role with Arabella and Lady Pole providing strong females in a time dominated by men. Without giving too much away, Lady Pole's degeneration throughout the novel is astounding and again, another thing to keep you hooked.
I felt that when Strange goes to Venice, the book loses momentum a little bit. I wasn't as gripped as I had been before and the Greysteels turned up, characters that I found a little pointless if I'm honest. However in the last two hundred pages the action picked back up again.
To sum it all up, this novel took me almost a month to read, but I enjoyed dipping into the pages, I relished it and enjoyed the fact that it was a slow read for me. This is like nothing I have ever read before and while Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell is still on TV, I don't feel like I've finished it. In fact, there could have been another novel to follow this one, to explore what has happened since. I'll have a breather from novels over 600 pages, but I definitely want to explore Susanna Clarke's other works.

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