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A Delicate Truth

A Delicate Truth

25th August 2014

It’s taken me a while to get round to reading A Delicate Truth - I’m still slightly intimidated by John le Carré, having the idea that as he’s such a well known author that his books will be too literary and hard to get into. This is of course not at all the case, and as with his previous novel I was hooked straight away.

The story follows a couple of characters who were involved (tangentially) in a minor undercover operation as they try to piece together what actually happened. It’s a captivating plot that feels very engaging, though on reflection manages to do surprisingly well at suspending the reader’s disbelief and makes the events feel completely plausible.

It’s easy to sympathise with both main characters - probably too easy, as a bit more depth and shade would have made them and their motivations more interesting. In fact, they are probably too similar - there’s not a massive amount beyond age to differentiate them.

One aspect I really enjoyed was the structure of the novel. It’s split into just seven chapters, alternating in point of view between the two characters, and staying with them for many pages. This helps the pace to keep flowing and builds tension as we’re away from each of them for considerable amounts of time.

I really enjoyed reading this novel, and must learn not to think of le Carré as intimidating. It’s a very approachable ‘spy’ novel and one I’d definitely recommend.

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Gardens of the Moon

Gardens of the Moon

24th August 2014

The first book in what looks to be a vast series of novels by two authors, Gardens of the Moon’s introduction suggests that it’s not a book for everyone, and that many people drop out at the start. The author’s position is that he has thrown the reader straight in without introduction, and that in doing so some readers are alienated. If you get to page 250, he says, you’ll be hooked forever.

Sadly, I’m one of the group who didn’t reach page 250. I got just past page 200 before deciding, reluctantly, that I didn’t have enough motivation to continue reading, and realising that the dread of this specific novel was putting me off reading in general.

I disagree however with the author’s suggestion that being thrown into the deep end of the plot was the problem. I didn’t feel that this novel threw plot straight at me any more than any other I’ve read. What I felt was missing was any sort of connection with the characters. The characters that seemed there to develop into starring roles came across as blank - empty of personality and just there for the plot to happen to. I thought that the story entered at the right point - it didn’t explain a load of background (but what novel does?) - instead allowing the reader to pick things up as the characters encountered them.

I can’t say it’s a bad book - clearly it’s a popular series and the story is well built, but I didn’t engage with the characters and couldn’t bring myself to continue reading something I wasn’t enjoying at the expense of time with other books. As such, it’s really hard to attribute a star rating to the book.

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XO

XO

10th August 2014

This is the fourth Jeffrey Deaver novel I've read, and is the third in his Kathryn Dance series, about a California Bureau of Investigation agent with a speciality in reading body language. I was quite dubious going in, and held off buying the book for a long time after publication, as I wasn't a particular fan of the earlier novels in the series.

I'm pleased to say that the things that niggled me about the previous novels seem to have been improved. The characters are generally more rounded, I'm able to suspend my disbelief without problem, the narration is much smoother and less (though not fully) impartial, and everything adds to the plot.

I was particularly impressed by Deaver's ability to create the universe of the story, with a focus on folk music, that includes writing an entire albums-worth of song lyrics that are presented as an appendix. Having that available throughout actually helped me engage with the story and made the world feel much more authentic.

I was frustrated though by what seems to be Deaver's thing of continual twists to the point of irritation, particularly in the latter half of the book - I don't think it's a spoiler to say that every time you think something's been wrapped up nicely then he throws in a new spanner. I just found it a little absurd how many times this can happen, and it leaves me with less and less faith each time that at the very end they got anything right.

Overall though, I enjoyed reading this much more than I expected, and hope that Deaver is able to extend the Kathryn Dance series further - I certainly won't be as reticent about picking up the next book.

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Buy book: UK
How to Build a Girl

How to Build a Girl

10th August 2014

Over the past few years I've seen a lot of references to Caitlin Moran on the social media feeds of some friends, and when I saw she had a novel out I was intrigued. Would this be a feminist manifesto that would improve my understanding of how my friends see the world? Well no - it's not a manifesto, but it's certainly an interesting look at the life of a teenage girl that does nothing to gloss over reality.

The narrative is reminiscent of Adrian Mole in many ways - although not a diary, the narrative is presented in the first person and presents an unfiltered view of a naive teenager, and the dynamic of the family around her. It feels honest, authentic, and although in some places uncomfortably graphic it doesn't seem like it is setting out to shock. There is one image in particular though that I worry will stay with me for some time.

I'll admit that I found the first few chapters quite hard-going, and had to really force myself to focus to get through them - I'm not really sure why, and it may have been my misplaced perception going in which was making me think I really needed to ensure I took everything in. Once I got past the early chapters though I fell completely into the rhythm of the story and flowed through the rest of the book.

What I loved the most was the subtle humour that the narration was able to add at the expense of her younger self. There's one running joke that had me giggling throughout which I really appreciated.

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Promise Me

Promise Me

10th August 2014

In Promise Me, Harlan Coben returns to his recurring character Myron Bollitar for an eighth adventure. A considerable number of years have passed since the last novel, and it's interesting to see how Coben has changed the universe to make this clear. The narrative is also different - this is far more similar to some of Coben's more serious works than the light-hearted 'grown-up Hardy Boys' of the early Bollitar novels.

The themes of this book are similar to many of Coben's novels - focussing this time on a promise that Bollitar made to protect someone and whether he is able to deliver on this. It uses the character well in a serious way, building on several of the earlier plots to build the character in a new direction that fits well with the relaunch of the series.

The plot is strong and sufficiently complicated to make for an interesting mystery that Coben continues to spin out when you think things are wrapping up - unlike other authors, he makes the twists feel natural and they flow into one another rather than leaping into your face unexpectedly. I really enjoyed returning to the Bollitar world, and look forward to reading the later books.

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Buy book: UK
Deadly Intent

Deadly Intent

10th August 2014

Anna Travis returns for a fourth adventure, in which a surprisingly high body count emerges following a shooting at a drug squat. The case is incredibly complex, and after so many different theories that the characters go over throughout the novel I’m left baffled about what actually happened, and indeed who did it.

The secondary aspect of the story though, that of Anna's personal life, is presented much better in this novel than the previous entries in the series, and feels like a fully natural part of the plot rather than dominating and seeming in the way of the actual detective work.

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Terra's World

Terra's World

10th August 2014

Terra, the delightful title-character of Mitch Benn's first novel, which I absolutely adored, returns for a second outing in this novel, where someone is out to get her. While the narrative retains a lot of the humour, food for thought, and science fiction of the first story, it didn't quite manage to grip me in the same way.

This book introduces a lot of new characters, and I felt one of its drawbacks was that we didn't focus on any specific one, but that the attention was shared so that we got some of each character rather than an in depth look at one or two. This may however have been necessary to deliver the plot, which is quite a good science fiction adventure, and introduces some interesting and unexpected twists.

I really liked how the story grows out of the events of the first novel, and doesn't feel like it had been done purely for the sake of a sequel. As a whole, the book makes for a good strong sequel, though I didn't think it had quite the magic of the first book.

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