I finished another 15 books during October (a couple of reviews still to come). Although I didn’t have any 5-star reads it was a high quality month with nothing rating below a 3. My pick of the month has to be Jo Nesbø’s The Redbreast, a novel I abandoned on my first reading last year but picked up again after you all told me to and fell in love with the book’s protagonist, Harry Hole.
There are a veritable treasure trove of honourable mentions which I simply cannot separate. They include trips to Scotland, Iceland, Ghana, America, England, 1850′s Australia and Japan.
Since buying my eReader I have curtailed my acquisition of printed books quite dramatically (good for the trees) but have been busy stocking up eBooks and audio downloads (bad for the bank balance). Included among my new acquisitions are the latest Belinda Lawrence mystery, a Harry Bosch novel (Maxine made me give Connelly another go), a flash fiction anthology of stories that involve a mythical ‘Mega Mart’, the second novel in Karin Fossum’s Inspector Sejer series (yes I know I’m behind) and a historical work that blends fact with fiction in what promises to be an interesting fashion.
It’s a good thing I had a whole year to complete the Global Reading Challenge as it looks like it will take me that long to finish it. This month I read another two books to bring my total to 19 of 21. Both Villain and Wife of the Gods made it to my honourable mentions for the month.
My only other open challenge is the Canadian Book Challenge which requires me to read 13 books by July next year. I read four books that counted for this challenge in October bringing my total to 7.
Isn’t it marvellous that Canada produces enough entertaining female crime writers that I can have a smorgasboard of them without even trying? Well I am assuming Wolfe is female though of course as it’s a pseudonym I could be wrong.
Reading Now and Next
I’m keen to finish the global challenge now that I only have 2 books to go so have started Southwesterly Wind which is set in Brazil and I’ll probably read my wildcard historical fiction straight after that. Then it might be time for my second Elly Griffiths novel I think. I’ve just started a new audio book, C J Box’s Three Weeks to Say Goodbye, which I am already enjoying and have no plans for what will come after that in audio format.
Chart of the month
So far this year I have finished 129 books which seemed like a statistically significant enough number to look at where they all come from. As you can see I buy most of my books in one form or another. Wonder what this will look like next year? Will I have a giant chunk of pie for pirated eBooks ( and if I do how will I hide it to avoid going to prison)?
What about you? What was your favourite book for October? Or your most exciting acquisition? Or is there something coming up for you in November that you can’t wait to get to?
David Harwood is a journalist for a small paper in upper New York State and is working hard on a story about corrupt local government officials taking bribes to approve the establishment of a privately run prison in the area. On top of this pressure, for several weeks his wife Jan has been exhibiting signs of depression, to the point even of reporting suicidal thoughts to her husband and he is very concerned. In an attempt to lighten the family’s mood the couple take their four year old son Ethan to a local amusement park for the day which is when their lives fall apart.
Never Look Away incorporates a compelling mix of nail-biting tension and normal people behaving credibly despite extraordinary situations. David Harwood is a great character for a thriller, being the sort of person with whom we can all identify. I really liked the fact he didn’t suddenly develop any inexplicable superhuman skills (which tends to happen in thrillers) but stumbled his way through a series of pretty astonishing events in a very believable way. His reaction as he learned that people around him might have lied was particularly credible in the way it showed his willingness to entertain the most bizarre theories rather than the notion he had been deceived. His parents are also wonderfully normal characters and even his wife Jan, though a less orthodox character, has a credibility about her.
I read this book because Maxine at Petrona told me to it and while it didn’t make me miss my bus stop as she suggested that’s only because I walk to work. On two successive mornings I walked an extra long way around to get to my office just to hear a little more. Funnily enough the big plot twists were telegraphed but I didn’t find that detracted from the story terribly much as I was more interested in how the various players would cope with unfolding events than the play-by-play, though the strait narrative was very sold too.
I like thrillers that have an air of normality about them and don’t go too over the top with explosions and other silliness and Never Look Away fits that bill well. At its heart it’s a story of a family where all is not what it seems and plays on the sorts of fears that all of us might face at some time. Top thrills indeed.
What about the audio book?
To be perfectly honest it took me a little while to ‘get into’ Jeffrey Cummings’ narration as he used a wide variety of voices and some of the ones for minor characters were a little odd-sounding. However after the first 20-30 minutes I was totally absorbed and Cummings had made the book whatever the audio equivalent is of a page turner.
One-liner: A bit superficial and predictable for me but those who like plot twists and turns should enjoy it.
♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦
Teenager Derek Cutter has a plan. He’ll hide in his next door neighbour and best friend Adam Langley’s house when Adam and his parents go on holidays. Then Derek will have a venue for hooking up with his girlfriend Penny. Things go awry when the Langley family returns home only an hour after leaving but while Derek is trying to work out how to sneak out without being discovered the entire Langley family is killed by intruders. The next morning Derek’s parents, Jim and Ellen, are shocked to learn of their neighbours’ fate and Derek says nothing about what he saw or heard the previous night. However, Jim Cutter learns some things that make him wonder if the Langley family were killed mistakenly.
I read, and thoroughly enjoyed, Barclay’s No Time for Goodbye earlier this year and what grabbed me most were the thoughtful depictions of a couple’s individual and joint struggles in a time of crisis for their family. In Too Close to Home the characters were not nearly as engaging. Jim Cutter, whose point of view occupies most of the book, is superficial and he didn’t seem to react authentically to much of what was going on in his life. His response to people he didn’t like (punching them) was juvenile and became dull (he did it four times that I can recall) and overall I was bored by him. I never bought Ellen’s character at all but I can’t really say why without giving away spoilers but I think she waited far too long in terms of the internal logic of the story to share her secret with her husband. The only person who I really thought was depicted well was their teenage son Derek but he wasn’t enough of a pivotal role to hold the book together for me.
I also struggled to maintain interest in the plot. It seemed to take forever to get going and, aside from a few minor surprises, was quite predictable. The killer was obvious to me at the moment of their introduction and, even though it had three twists too many, the end of the convoluted plagiarism thread was easy to forecast. There seemed to me to be too many ideas jammed into this one story and so nothing really got explored terribly deeply and the fact that one thread was a very (very) long and obvious red herring didn’t really work.
The book is not terrible. But, as is the way of things, if something grabs my heart in some way I forgive its flaws and when something doesn’t grab me I do admit to becoming overly picky. For tangible and intangible reasons this book just didn’t grab me and so I’ve undoubtedly gotten hot under the collar about things that don’t really matter. However if you haven’t tried Linwood Barclay yet I’d recommend No Time For Goodbye.
Publisher: Orion [originally published 2007, this edition 2008]
14-year old Cynthia Bigge woke up one morning alone in the house. At first she thought her parents and brother had all left the house normally without waking her but it soon became clear they had disappeared. She never saw them again. Twenty-five years later Cynthia is married, has an eight-year old daughter and agrees to make a television show about the disappearance to see if it stirs up any information. Eventually it does, although not perhaps what Cynthia and her family were expecting.
The plot here is intricate but well executed. The linking between past and present is well done and the various elements of Cynthia’s story are teased out at a beautiful pace. Although it’s her story, the novel is narrated by her husband Terry which makes for an interesting perspective as there are things he knows that the reader doesn’t but there are many things he learns along with the reader which makes it easier to follow than many thrillers. I have to say though that I found the last portion of the story, the big reveal if you like, a bit predictable. I might have been having a lucky guess day but I think the short chapters that were interspersed with the main story that offered transcripts of telephone conversations gave the game away a bit early. As usual though on the rare-ish occasions when I manage to work out the ending I happily read on to see if I was right.
The far more interesting component of the book for me was the character development, in particular Cynthia and Terry’s relationship and the way they individualy dealt with what was obviously a series of traumatic events. So often in thrillers this element is ignored and it was nice to see someone take the time to explore this. The characters’ reactions to the various events in the book were very natural although, paradoxically, far less predictable than the plot. I was quite taken with the couple and their daughter Grace and stayed up late more to find out if anything truly terrbile would happen to them than to discover what happened to Cynthia’s family.
This book is far more than the run-of-the-mill ‘action sequences plus pseudo-science’ thriller. It’s an engaging, credible story with troubled but likable people who could easily be your neighbours and I’m not at all surprised to see Richard and Judy chose it as a great summer read last year.