Friday, 31 July 2015

Murder at the Vicarage (Miss Marple #1) – Agatha Christie // Book Review

Murder at the Vicarage // Agatha Christie

It's odd that it took me to the age of 22 to finally read my first Agatha Christie novel, considering how much I like the genre. I think I was probably just intimidated by the sheer number of novels she'd written and had no idea where to start. It was a writing competition that called for a Miss Marple inspired story that started me off – even though I probably won't actually enter anything into that competition now, it gave me a place to start, as it made sense to start out with the first Miss Marple novel. 

I think one of the things I liked most about this was just the humour and the variety within all the characters. One of my favourite lines, though I can't remember which character said it, was that the murder victim 'didn't seem the type to be murdered', which completely cracked me up.

Another thing that I've come to recognise in my tastes is that as much as I usually try my hardest to figure out the mystery at the heart of the novel, I always prefer to be proven completely wrong, which is exactly what happened here. It also didn't feel like I was being cheated, either – when Miss Marple took all the evidence and gave her reasoning as to how it all pieced together and who it pointed to, it all made sense to me and made me wonder how I could have missed it.

The plot is fairly self explanatory given the title – someone is murdered in the vicarage – and there's plenty of twists and surprises in the investigation. It helps, of course, that almost everyone in the village is nosy and loves a gossip – and what better a source of gossip than a murder with as many suspects as this.

I was a little surprised that Miss Marple wasn't quite as central a character in the beginning as I'd expected. The vicar is the narrator, and often he seemed more the amateur detective than Miss Marple. The lady herself doesn't do much legwork or questioning of people in the way that the vicar does; instead she just absorbs all the information and actually understands what it all means.

I'll probably go on to read more Miss Marple books soon, and I hope that in the future ones Miss Marple is a bit more involved in the action than she was in this one!

Monday, 27 July 2015

Her – Harriet Lane // Book Review

Her // Harriet Lane

I'm really quite addicted to more thrilling books lately... I'm all about crime and/or suspense and/or mystery. This book wasn't what I thought it would be exactly, and in some senses it was disappointing to me, but I wouldn't say it truly let itself down either. If anything, it became the kind of novel that you sit thinking about afterwards, reassessing your own understanding and interpretation of what you thought as you read now that you know how it ends.

My main criticism would have to be that it was a little bit slow and repetitive. The novel alternates between the perspectives of the main characters, Nina and Emma – as the novel progresses this causes a considerable overlap in plot between the two chapters as the two women spend more time with each other.

I also felt that the 'revelation' of why Nina is going after Emma was a bit of a let down, and I wasn't happy with the nature of the ending – it's hard to say much more than that without spoiling things – because it left me a little bit confused and actually lurched me out of the story before I'd really processed it. I imagine that the abruptness of the ending was intentional, but it just left me feeling a bit stranded.

However, as my rating shows, I did still like this book. It was oddly addictive – I say oddly as I can't really explain what was so compelling about it. I had my ideas and suspicions about Nina's old resentment, but that wasn't really the primary drive of the story. There were tiny hints at the past, but if anything I think I was strangely charmed by Nina. I didn't sympathise with her in the slightest for whatever grievance she felt Emma had caused her, and I didn't really sympathise with Emma either.

Perhaps the pull of the story was that the two women were just interesting – with realistic flaws and imperfections and human characteristics – and that I was being pulled in by the way they interacted with each other. 

Friday, 17 July 2015

Still Alice – Lisa Genova // Book Review

Still Alice
Lisa Genova

I'm not sure how I first heard about this book, but upon seeing that there was a film being made of it starring Julianne Moore, my interest was definitely piqued. It might have already been on my 'to read' list before that – I can't remember now, because a lot of the time that list just exists in my head – but there's something about books that are made into films that makes me want to read it even more. It also helped that this was available through the library ebook service, so when I was looking for a new book to read I decided on this one. 

I have two major goals with my choices in books now; read more books by women than by men, because usually the ratio is more like 2:1 of male:female authors; read more books about subjects that I'm not familiar with/don't know much about but that I'm interested in. This book fulfilled both of those goals. As far as I'm aware, I've only ever read one other book about dementia/Alzheimer's Disease – Emma Healey's Elizabeth is Missing. I enjoyed it, although did have a little bit of trouble because it wasn't what I expected it to be. One of the best elements of that novel, however, was how it portrayed the mind of the person with dementia. Healey successfully showed how dementia affects a person as well as how the sufferer sees the way people react to them and their illness. 

The hook, if you like, of Still Alice is the fact that unlike Healey's main character, Alice Howland is only fifty years old when her problems with dementia start and she is diagnosed with early onset Alzheimer's disease. The novel follows the degeneration of Alice's memory and how her Alzheimer's impacts not only on her own life and her career as a professor, but how it changes her relationships and how it influences and impacts the lives of the people around her. Although I didn't love the book, it made for an interesting read and perspective on a condition that only seems to be increasing amongst the older generations – with little hope as yet of a cure or even a successful treatment to reverse some of the effects – and I would probably recommend it to anyone, whether they were interested in the condition or not.


Friday, 10 July 2015

The Silkworm – Robert Galbraith // Book Review

The Silkworm
Robert Galbraith (aka JK Rowling)

It took me a while to get around to reading this one, and I can't really say why it took me so long. I loved the first book, The Cuckoo's Calling, and I was excited about this one when it became available to pre-order. I kept thinking about pre-ordering it, but never did, and then it fell into the hole of being one of those books that I kept meaning to buy but never actually did. By the time I did get around to it, it was out in paperback, which is a bit disappointing since it won't match my hardback of Cuckoo... but I also want to avoid hardbacks (too expensive, take up too much space) until I get to the much anticipated day where I have all the space I need for perfectly organised bookshelves that aren't sagging in the middle and double stacked as they are now!

Anyway, on to the book itself. It was kind of a given that I'd love this one, really. I will admit that I wasn't quite as enamoured by The Casual Vacancy when I first read it, but there's just something about Cormoran and Robin that really appeals to me. I could honestly read a book full of them sitting in pubs just talking about life. The characterisation, then, is definitely my favourite thing about this book, and I personally think that it's probably the best thing about it. 

As with the previous Strike novel, the main plot of the novel is a case that Strike is working on. Following his success in the Lula Landry case from The Cuckoo's Calling, Strike is pretty busy and fully booked with clients; rich people with rich people problems, basically, and Strike is evidently rather fed up and bored with it all. When a woman comes into his office because her husband, a writer, has disappeared, he takes the case even without the guarantee of a pay check at the end. It's difficult to say much about the book without spoiling the progression of the case, although the blurb gives away the fact that the writer, Owen Quine, is found murdered. 

One of my favourite things about this book was its connections to the novel Orlando by Virginia Woolf. The novel at the centre of this book, 'Bombyx Mori', pays a kind of homage to Orlando: they're both Roman a clef novels, full of references to real people and real events embedded into the fiction that can only be recognised by people who know enough about said people/events to see through the thin veil of the fiction. If that wasn't enough, Quine's daughter is even called Orlando, like the eponymous main character of Woolf's novel. Finding connections to classic literature is always something I appreciate in modern fiction, or even just modern media in general (eg. all the references in Archer). 

I don't know if I'll do it this year, but I would definitely like to re-read this one again during winter (namely in December) as that's when the novel is set and I feel like I'd enjoy reading it even more with the appropriate weather, since I was reading it during the heat of summer which didn't quite match the wintry setting of the story.