All The Books I Can Read

1 girl….2 many books!

Cold Granite – Stuart MacBride

I’m developing a real appreciation for procedurals. I’m not sure if it’s the growing number of them on TV…the reading of all the Kathy Reichs books I’ve one lately…or some other reason. But lately, I’ve been pretty happy to curl up with a good crime mystery. And this one is no exception.

This is Stuart MacBride’s first novel and as debuts go, it’s pretty tightly done. Detective Sargeant Logan McRae is back reporting for duty after a year off on sick leave. He was stabbed, multiple times (23, apparently) in the abdomen by a murderer nicknamed the “Mastrick Monster”. It took seven hours for a surgeon to sew DS McRae’s inside’s back together and he bears hideous scars and suffers from searing pain.

But the book is not really about that. Instead it’s about the case he catches on his first day back on the job. The body of missing 3yo toddler David Reid is found in a ditch. He’s been strangled. Mutilated. As the mother of a 22 month old toddler myself, I did find parts of the novel a hard slog, but not because the novel is extremely graphic: it isn’t. In fact most of the details are revealed in a clinical, dispassionate way and are the true definition of less is more. You aren’t shown in verbal diarrhea by one of the characters what has happened to this poor child (and later, others). You’re given the basic facts and left to imagine it yourself. And that is far, far worse. It was all I could do not to scoop up my little boy and hug him during various stages of this novel.

The child has been missing three months and was probably in the ditch for a good portion of that time. Forensic evidence is minimal and leads aren’t really in abundance. The media is howling for a result, a matter complicated by the fact that one of the journalists obviously has inside information. That leaves Logan’s superiors looking at him – if he isn’t the leak then he’d better find who is and fix it. Quickly!

Then the dead kids start piling up.

The cops are stumped. There is no clear pattern. Confidential information is still being leaked to the media. Every suspect they question doesn’t provide them with the answers they want to hear. DS McRae knows that time is running out to crack this case and put away this depraved individual. He’s dealing with other issues too – his ex-girlfriend, the cool-as-ice pathologist Isobel MacAlister. They were dating when the Mastrick Monster took her. And when Logan saved her and suffered at the hands of the killer. Why they are not dating now is not clearly explained but there’s definitely some unresolved issues there. They’re not getting resolved any time soon by the looks of things and seemingly ready to move on, Logan turns his eye to his assisting WPC Jacky Watson. The characters are believable and likable. Logan isn’t some cool, calm and sardonic cop. Nor is he a nutter slamming back alcohol just to function. He’s embarrassed about his “Police Hero” tag. Actually I think he blushes more in this novel the I’ve ever known a male main character to blush before. He makes mistakes. Errors in judgement. It was very refreshing to see his awkwardness and his lack of comfort and self confidence at times.

Woven into the storyline, adding to the gloom is the description of the city. The novel is set in Aberdeen, Scotland and I don’t think it stops raining for the entire novel (which spans about 11-12 days, set in November). There is snow, and sleet as well. Despite Scotland being somewhat the motherland of my family (albeit quite a few generations back now) I’m no expert so I googled Aberdeen. Days average less than 7hrs in length in winter, in December. That lengthens to about 8hrs in January. A lot of the buildings are constructed from granite – all in all, it paints a pretty bleak picture! A perfect setting for this sort of miserable crime.

This novel isn’t something I would’ve normally chosen to read. I picked it up off Booktopia during one of their clearance sales for $3.98, along with a half dozen other books. I figured that for $4, it wouldn’t be hard to get my money’s worth. Having read it, I’d say I’d have got my money’s worth even if I paid full price. It was a well written, well thought out, intricate little story with strength of characters and plot. The DS Logan McRae series is due to span 8 books (of which 6 are already published). I will definitely be buying the second book and if it’s as good as this one, I’ll keep going.

8/10

(Book #36 of my 50 Book Challenge)

The Medium Challenge
Read two novels from each of these continents in the course of 2010:
Africa
Asia
Australasia
Europe: #1: Cold Granite, by Stuart MacBride. Set in Aberdeen, Scotland.
North America (incl Central America)
South America
Try to find novels from twelve different countries or states.

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Dead In The Family – Charlaine Harris

I am a recent convert to the Southern Vampire Mysteries. I bought the 8 book boxset off fishpond.com.au because it was $45. I’d never really even heard of them. I just thought that 8 books for that price sounded pretty good to me. Even if I didn’t really love them, I wasn’t that much out of pocket, given they retailed individually in most stores for $24-29. Well, after I got the boxset, I read all 8 in four days. And #9 was out, so I snapped that up not long later. And then I had just a few months to wait until this one, #10 Dead In The Family was released just a few days ago.

So it arrived in the mail today. I packed my 20 month old son off to bed for his afternoon nap. Made myself lunch. Told my fiance that it was ‘quiet time now’ and settled in on the couch to read. There’s nothing better than having a book that you’ve been looking forward to and nothing but time, peace and quiet to read it. And that’s what I did today.

After the heavy, macabre, fast paced, depressing last book, this one was a bit of a welcome scaling back. I didn’t mind the day-to-day details because I think you run a risk if every book has to be torture and death (well don’t worry, there’s still a body count at the end of the day when it’s all said and done) and sickening moments. This one was a lot of day to day life and Sookie healing, both physically and mentally. There was a lot of her relationship with Eric, and it’s ups and downs after the fae war. Then there’s the arrival of Eric’s sire, Appius Livius Ocella and Eric’s younger ‘brother’ Alexei.

I’m unashamedly Team Eric and I think this was a pretty big book for Eric. We got a resolution as to his whereabouts in the latter stages of the previous book and how he felt about that. We got a flat out declaration of love for Sookie and several indications of that. We got emotions and some clear defined feelings – including some we haven’t really seen from him before: fear. Uncertainty. Helplessness. Some probably wouldn’t like this, preferring to see him as the always in control Sheriff of Area 5, but I enjoyed the other side, especially when it was Sookie who had to spur him into action at the end of the book. I think this book shows the healthiest relationship Sookie has ever had and I liked the dynamic between Eric and Sookie. We are introduced to his house for the first time and it’s made obvious that Sookie does visit there quite often.

I’m no big fan of Bill, and haven’t been since the second book. He was almost tolerable in this one, but with a side of his uptight sleaze – I know, a complete oxymoron there, but that’s kind of how it was. But I did like the new twist for Bill and I hope that continues through the series, mostly because it was getting a bit old to have him sniffing around Sookie again and again in his ‘gentlemanly manner’. I feel that Charlaine Harris has sort of made a resolution there. If I was Team Bill, I’d probably be crying my little eyes out now, but I’m not. So I’m not!

Actually, I think resolutions are a big theme throughout this book. A lot of things definitely get resolved and laid to rest. There’s a maturity, a development, for many characters. I think the next book will move primarily into a war for control over Area 5 and possibly greater Louisiana. It seems like Harris has tied up a lot of loose ends in order to move on and some seeds sown in this book suggest that might be where things are heading in the future. I try to avoid reading plotlines for future books of a series that I like, so I don’t know anything about what is occurring in #11 but that seems the logical conclusion for me.

8.5/10 – a really trashy but funny afternoon read. I reckon I could read this one start-to-finish over and over.

(Book #29 for my 50 Book Challenge)

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Dear John – Nicholas Sparks

Ok so Dear John is my first Nicholas Sparks novel. I know he’s written a plethora of books that have been turned into tearjerker movies (see A Walk To Remember, The Notebook, Nights in Rodanthe, The Last Song, and of course, this one, Dear John). I only really bought the book because it was ridiculously cheap on Booktopia, an Aussie based online bookstore.  And I can’t resist a $3 book, no matter what it is.

Dear John is the story of John, a deadbeat, going no where post-highschool guy who joins the Army, not the Marines, because as he puts it  ‘the Marine guy was on his lunch break when I went there and the Army guy was not’. After several years in the Army, he’s at home on leave over the summer when he meets and falls in love with Savannah Curtis, who’s spending the summer by the beach building houses for the homeless. Their romance is a short one, but intense, before John has to go back to duty. They write passionate letters to each other, dreaming of their future. John is almost out of the Army and their dreams can become reality when the unthinkable happens. September 11, 2001. John signs up again (“re-upping”) and Savannah, although proud that he wants to represent his country, is shattered that their future is pushed further away. Her letters become distant and less frequent. Until one day, John receives his very own ‘Dear John’ letter. Woven into the love story of John and Savannah, is the tale of John and his father. When John’s father dies, he is granted compassionate leave to come home and arrange things. After the funeral, he finds himself visiting Savannah, learning the choices she has made and what caused her to make them.

The first thing about Dear John, is that it’s a romance novel, written in the first person from the male’s perspective. I found that a very interesting choice that I think worked on some levels, but didn’t work on others. It worked for me because I have never read such a book from the male’s point of view before. It was refreshing to have the man’s inner dialogue and I have to say, I enjoyed John as a character. He wasn’t flawless, and he readily admitted his flaws, both as a youth/adolescent and as a man.  But because everything was from John’s point of view, I didn’t feel Savannah was as fleshed out as she could’ve been. She almost came off a bit like a Mary Sue at first, being attractive, able to surf immediately, doing a special ed degree, building houses for the homeless on her summer break. She didn’t drink, went to church, etc!  It was almost like she was a little -too- good to be true.  And because the book remains from John’s point of view all throughout the events that occur, I found it hard to get behind Savannah as a character and the decisions she made. Maybe we’re not supposed to care two hoots from her and all our liking is supposed to go to John – well if that’s the case then I wouldn’t want him to end up with Savannah anyway, because I just did not care about her. If Sparks had wanted me to care about her at all, the point of view should’ve been switched to Savannah’s partway through the book when John re-upped his service. If I could’ve seen that from her point of view, I may’ve been more sympathetic and understanding of the choices she made. Instead they just seemed childish and like she was settling.

Almost, if not more interesting than the love story, is the story of John and his father. John was raised by his father alone, a quiet, socially awkward man passionate about one thing in life – collecting coins. John remembers travelling near and far as a child, chasing and purchasing coins. Coins are the only thing his father is comfortable talking about, but eventually John grows older and less interested in the coins, and less patient for his fathers passion for them. They row and his father never mentions coins to him again. They live their life by strict routine with minimal conversation. You suspect what might be wrong with John’s father even before it is brought up in the book and the revelation causes some fireworks. I think some of the best bits in the book are scenes between or about John and his father and his declining health and the descriptions of that, really touched me. That part of the novel is beautifully written and you can see that Sparks, despite his tendency to cookie cutter or ‘phone it in’ in some of the romance moments, can really bang out a story and hit so well on a relationship. There were some lovely and some heartbreaking moments and I may or may not have been moved to tears on one or perhaps two occasions.

I won’t spoil the ending for anyone who may be reading or who will read in the future, but I feel that it wasn’t very satisfying. I like satisfying ending, I’m not one of those people who can be happy when a book has no ending, or no closure. I don’t necessarily need a happy ending, but I like a clear and definitive ending where I can be sure all the characters stories were wrapped up. I didn’t feel this was the case with Dear John and that disappointed me just a little.

Overall though I quite enjoyed the book. A lot more than I thought I would.

7 out of 10

(Book #24 for my 50 Book Challenge for 2010)

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