Kate Philo and her expedition of scientists, technicians, divers, and one reporter are looking for icebergs in the Arctic that could potentially conta...moreKate Philo and her expedition of scientists, technicians, divers, and one reporter are looking for icebergs in the Arctic that could potentially contain frozen small creatures like shrimp, plankton, krill. These scientists work in a private research lab headed by Erastus Carthage, who has managed to successfully bring back to life such frozen creatures, though they managed to live only for a few minutes. During this particular expedition, however, they find a human body in one such berg. Nobody believes they will be able to animate such a large and complicated specimen, but science prevails and our frozen man is alive again, more than a 100 years after he was presumed dead.
But Carthage doesn't care much about the social or ethical aspects of bringing such a person back into this world. He wants to see if the man can be made to live longer than the projected time based on past experiments (21 days), and also whether he can use this project to get as much private funding as possible. The reporter, Dixon, is thrilled to be the only media person to have exclusive rights to the project. While these two people remain focused on furthering their career ambitions, Kate and the frozen guy begin to bond.
The Curiosity was a very interesting book with a fascinating premise, though not without a fault. It is narrated by four protagonists - Dr. Kate Philo, who is not only scientifically invested in the project but also personally; Dixon, our news reporter who callously basks in his exclusive rights to watch and report on the project; Dr. Erasthus Carthage, the self-absorbed arrogant conceited scientist who focuses only on what can make himself tick; and our frozen man, lost for 100 years at sea, and suddenly awakened in a lab that is futuristic to his time.
I've often been fascinated by how much our world has changed in the last decade but I probably did not delve too deep into that because watching the world through our frozen man's eyes was a treat. During his heyday, the idea of landing on the moon was not even an idea much less a laughable one. There hadn't been a world war yet, no computers, no food industry. And when this guy comes along and sees the world, he is overwhelmed by the sheer magnitude by which it has changed. His chapters were, therefore, the most enjoyable ones for me.
While this past vs present comparison was very well done by the author, his character developments left much to be desired. All four characters struck me as highly one-dimensional shallow people. Dixon is too whiny and has zero respect for women. Carthage is egocentric and focused only on money and fame. Kate is too considerate and empathetic. Our frozen man is too just and gentlemanly. Nobody seems to have an other characteristic and that made the narrative very predictable and boring. Dixon annoyed me the most, though probably because of how many thoughts of his revolved around women (all sordid). Even Carthage's malevolence was a pleasure to read, in comparison.
There were a few things that were very unbelievable to me. For instance, the frozen guy's ancestry is never properly studied. The press of today will go crazy trying to scrounge as much as they can about this man, and there doesn't seem to be any of that in the book. When one reporter belches out that the whole thing is a scam, a lot other news agencies buy the story, when pretty much every evidence pointed the other way. Sure, people like to believe only what sounds reasonable to them. Not the press, though. I also did not enjoy any of the romance between Kate and our frozen guy. I did think that they were very companionable but when it was being taken further, it just left me very annoyed.
The Curiosity was also a very long read. I got the impression that the whole story could have been told just as well in half the book size. The book being too long, however, clearly established the amount of the time that passes between the beginning and the end, and also what that time did to the characters within the pages. I do think that if this book had been shorter, some of that sense of time and place would have been lost, but there were a lot of pages we could have done without. Kiernan, however, writes a beautiful hand and for that reason, I would love to read more of his works. I don't know if it was because at the same time, I was myself pondering the idea of writing more, but I enjoyed a lot of his literary devices and language expressions.
Poor character portrayals aside, this book is a complicated book, especially since it is a hotbed of ethics, morality, and decency. When Kiernan wrote about reanimation, I almost believed that such a technology existed. I was surprised to learn that it did not. Yet. He also raised several ethical questions - would the man even want to be alive again? How should he be cared for afterwards? The most fascinating question for me was about his freedom. The man was born in a free America and is now brought back alive in a free America. Yet, he has no rights, he is locked in a room in a lab, and he is not free to do or eat as he wishes. These were the intriguing aspects of this book, and which Kiernan investigated well. If only the characters had more depth, and the book a little less words and romance.(less)
If you wanted to buy only one bouquet for 25 bucks but had to pay 3 bucks extra for using your credit card (because you don't have cash on you), would...moreIf you wanted to buy only one bouquet for 25 bucks but had to pay 3 bucks extra for using your credit card (because you don't have cash on you), wouldn't you just pay 28 bucks for the whole thing? If you were Ove, you would be so angered by the idea of paying the extra 3 bucks that you would buy an extra bouquet you don't want, for a total of 50 bucks, simply on principle.
A Man Called Ove is the story of an angry grumpy irritable yet very lovable man. He doesn't like people or technology. He will let you know immediately if you ignore or violate a rule, and you will not hear the end of it. All he wants to do is die, that's such a simple thing. Except someone always keeps interrupting his plans. Either they want his help or his opinion. Most of the time, these interruptions come in the guise of his new neighbors, the pregnant foreigner and her lanky husband who cannot reverse a trailer. Pretty soon, his former good friend's wife joins in because said former good friend now has Alzheimer's and the city is talking about taking him to a home. As if that is not enough, there is a cat that frequently hangs around near him and guilt trips him into helping it. Ove doesn't even like cats, so it's very infuriating to be bossed around by a cat. Still, he is persistent to die in his nice jacket. Tomorrow is the day he will manage to do it, for sure.
If you liked The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry, you will adore this book. If you didn't like it, you will still adore this book. Ove is such a gem of a character. The kind of person who can annoy you with his old man grumpiness but you will get charmed reading about. I don't even want to compare Ove to Harold Fry because the latter's book was quite somber while A Man Called Ove is the most delightful book I've read since Where'd You Go, Bernadette. So if you liked the Bernadette book, you'll love this one.
I am not even sure how to coherently phrase this review, because really I want you all to just get your hands on this book. So forgive me if I sound a little like a bumbling stammering person. I promise you, it's awe for this book that's causing it.
Ove is very eccentric. He hates Japanese cars. He also hates American cars and French cars. In fact, the only car he approves of is the Saab. He has never owned any other car. Whenever he sold his current car, it was always to buy another Saab. He moans that people don't even make cars like that. A good friend of his used to drive a Volvo. But when he bought a BMW one day, that was it. Ove did not talk to him again. According to Ove, there was no coming back from that. Every morning, he had a routine. Even if he was going to die that day, the routine never changed. He went around his neighborhood making sure that bikes were in the shed (if they were not, he put them there), cars were in the garages, dumpster bins were in order, and that everything was exactly the same everyday, just as it should be.
Ove was also a Mr. Fixit. He pretty much did everything by himself, including building his own home. He has zero respect for today's generation that does not know anything about bleeding radiators or driving a real car. But he is a person who values souvenirs. He is not a materialistic person but give him a squiggly drawing made by your child and he will pin it to his refrigerator. All his eccentricities are funny to read about, but Ove has a reason for each. Why he loves Saab, why he hates white collar people. He is a very righteous man who has had his share of hard times, but he has come back a stronger person because of it.
A Man Called Ove is probably my favorite book this year. It's funny, charming, heartfelt, and moving, not to mention a very nicely paced readable book. It has a very unmixable mix of characters who somehow come together really well. Each chapter title begins with "A Man Called Ove..." and it's fascinating how the author has managed to say so much about this man who initially appears as if he couldn't have any backstory. Most importantly, this book is like someone you can hang out with just to have a really good time.(less)
The Girl with all the Gifts starts with a very intriguing and scandalous premise. A bunch of kids are waiting in their individual cells for something....moreThe Girl with all the Gifts starts with a very intriguing and scandalous premise. A bunch of kids are waiting in their individual cells for something. Pretty soon, some soldiers walk in to each kid's cell, with one pointing his gun at the kid's head, and couple of other soldiers strapping the kid to a chair. Hands strapped, legs strapped, even the kid's neck is strapped so tight that there is no room for movement in any direction. Once everyone is happy with the arrangement, the kid is wheeled into a classroom, into which more kids will be brought soon, using the same routine. Then class starts.
That was just the weirdest beginning to a book I had read in recent times and I had to know what the deal was with all the mystery and security. There is some hinting of a breakdown that happened a few years back and the current location having some scientists who are busy trying to do some research. There is also plenty of mention of zombie-like creatures, called hungry in this book, because of their insane appetite for humans. (Seriously, that sounds just like zombie to me, and the word hungry took a lot of getting used to.) But the full picture isn't revealed immediately - the story is slowly told in layers, leaving enough mystery to have you reading through to the end.
About a quarter of my way in, I did start comparing this to other zombie novels. There is only so much variety in this department, just like in many of the paranormal books. I was quite bugged by it. I am not one for reading the same kind of books - I like my books to be fun, quirky, and innovative, not steeped in conventions. Luckily, a little after that, things started becoming more obviously different. The titular girl in this book is one of the cell-girls, Melanie. She has quite an inquisitive mind and absorbs a lot of what happens around her. She doesn't quite question why she is being imprisoned though - having grown up like that, she has just taken it for granted. But something happens shortly that soon sends her into denial.
Very early on, I knew what Melanie was. But what intrigued me more was how she could be so different from others of her kind. Now that's where this story takes a completely less treaded path. You don't really learn much about it, until the very end but there is enough suspense to go on till then.
It is a good thing that the story was very intriguing. Because the writing wasn't. The author started off very well, but much of the last three-quarters of the book could have done with a thorough editing. There is a lot of repetition and focus on irrelevant stuff. I also thought that a single narrator would have worked better for this book. The different narrators were focused on with different levels on intimacy - some talked mostly about what they were doing, some others talked mostly about what they were thinking. This inconsistency meant that by the end, I didn't really know anyone well.
If you read a book without knowing who the author was, would you be able to guess the gender of the author? I had no idea who M. R. Carey was and learned later that it is a pen name for Mike Carey. But even without knowing that, I could have told you that this book was written by a male. There is plenty of sex talk in the narratives of the male characters and zilch of that when female protagonists take the floor. There are also lots and lots of military talk in here, which is to be expected considering one of the main characters is a soldier. I don't want to say that's how males write, and females write something opposite, but I like to think that there are some things men like to focus on, and other things women like to focus on. There is also a lot of biology talk in here, and funnily, that is where I generally began to get a little queasy. If you have read the book, you will probably understand what I mean.
Ultimately, when I read books like this, it is the ending I am most interested in. This is a dystopian world after all, and how the author chooses to end is as important as how the author builds the world. Does it end positively? Does it reverse the dystopia? Does it end up revealing something laughably funny just to end the story? Or does it send the world into more dystopia? I thought it was a mix of positive ending and more dystopia, with a little bit of that silly big reveal at the end. It's hard to explain, and it does make some sense, but I did wish for a different ending.
Ultimately, this book is worth reading for the ride and the suspense. The writing isn't great, but it doesn't ruin the reading experience. You can glaze over some of the technical stuff - you will get the gist of it. And while some parts of the book did leave me a bit meh, the sum of it all left a positive feel in my head.(less)
Didi was going through her sons' old clothes when some stranger woman stopped by to tell her that her husband (called Masterji through the entire book...moreDidi was going through her sons' old clothes when some stranger woman stopped by to tell her that her husband (called Masterji through the entire book because he tutors students) has been cheating on her, and now has another wife and son living in the city. This is news to Didi but it doesn't seem to inspire in her the kind of reaction you would expect from scorned women. Earlier, the Masterji had sent her a letter saying that he will not be visiting her this year as he is quite busy (Masterji lives in the city while Didi stays in their native village with their two sons). Didi packs up her bags and arrives at the Masterji's city apartment with their two sons in tow, surprising her husband and leaving him no way to pretty his situation, in anticipation of her arrival.
Very soon, his other wife, Apsara, and their (maybe three- or four-year old) son, Tarun, arrive home, only to find that their sleeping arrangements have shifted a little. The two half-families do manage to somehow live together for a while though, before Apsara finally gives up and moves away, mainly on account of the Masterji's cowardice and lack of spine in asserting any sort of control or assurance of protection in the house. Although Didi hates Apsara, she has taken an intense fascination towards Tarun. She lavishes a lot of attention on him, feeds him anything he wants to eat, and shows him a lot more love than she does her other two sons. Didi is also very impulsive. Even a minor hint of being ignored by Tarun can make her feel venomous. Tarun also begins to love Didi more than anyone else. He has scant respect for his own mother, who is after all way too bitter and stuck with her own demons. But this attachment with Didi is preventing Tarun from socializing well with friends his age or expressing any interest in girls.
The City Son is what I would consider an explosive book. The author wastes no time getting into the story - there is no meaningless digressions or descriptions of the trees and the clouds and a person's complexion or similar, no pages of history before the main story starts - nothing that can divert the reader's attention. Instead he begins the story where it should (the revelation of Masterji's adultery) and proceeds to reveal the consequences. And what consequences they were!
At the core, The City Son deals with a taboo subject. Something very disgraceful and disgusting; something that destroys a lot of people in the process. That's about all I will say about it, but if you are curious to know what the topic was, comment below (or email me) and I'll email you. I wondered if I would have read the book if I knew what the taboo subject was, but I guess I probably would still, except I would be reading it with a sick feeling in my gut because I know it's coming. I'd love to spare you that anticipation (especially if you're planning to read this). Some books work because we know nothing about them.
I found it shocking that the taboo thing went on for years without anyone suspecting it. There are people who lost love because of it, people who lost confidence, and then there were people who suspected something vague and did not have the guts to save matters. The thing about reading such a book is that it keeps you at the edge of your seat. You want things out in the open, but there are people you care about caught in the webs, people you don't want to see hurt more than they already are. The author certainly had my attention throughout - it was really hard to put this book down. I finished reading this 245-page book in under 4 hours, and let me put that number in perspective - it generally takes me about 4 evenings to finish a book that size.
Of course, as I pointed out earlier, the pacing of the book is real fast. I wouldn't really call this entirely a plot-oriented book, as it's really a long progression from cause to effect. As for the character development, some were fleshed out much better than the others. There were a few characters who I wished had their own chapters - it would have been nice to know what they thought. But I wouldn't say there was anything major in the character development department. The book starts off from Didi's perspective, then transitions to Tarun's, and finally to a woman named Rukma. The transitions between characters seemed like a big gray area, where every relevant character seemed to talk at once. I never quite enjoyed these in-between paragraphs because I wasn't quite sure which narrator to focus at.
Note: I read the ARC edition, and it had plenty of Nepali phrases that were not explained. I hope the final edition straightened out that issue.(less)
Darling spends most of her time playing with her friends - they go to richer neighborhoods to steal guavas, they invent a lot of games and play them....moreDarling spends most of her time playing with her friends - they go to richer neighborhoods to steal guavas, they invent a lot of games and play them. Their schools were shut down recently so they don't have to study anymore, but Darling is not happy about it - she desperately wants to go to school and study. They don't have any money though. Their houses are destroyed and the government doesn't care about them. But Darling has a chance to change it all - she could go and stay with her aunt in the United States. She could go there and live the life of her dreams, and visit home occasionally. But it's not as easy as that - she learns belatedly.
We Need New Names is one of those wonderful books written with such an authentic voice that the reader becomes the narrator. We don't have many books like that - at least not many English books set outside the English-speaking countries. We Need New Names not only expresses Darling's Zimbabwean English well, it also chronicles her language improvement over the course of the book. When we begin, she had just had a few years of schooling and her English was rusty, but definitely better than that of all her friends. But later, when she moves to the United States and starts studying there - her English had improved so much that you could mistake her for a native US citizen. I loved this writing and transformation so much, it inspired this post.
Language aside, Darling's character is well-felt throughout the novel. Only ten years old, but she had already seen enough tragedy around her that it doesn't horrify or sadden her terribly. When she and her friends see a dead woman hanging from a tree, they talk about taking her shoes so that they can buy some bread. When Darling's grandmother's church's self-proclaimed priest treats a woman obscenely in order to cure her of something, she is initially uneasy but then shrugs it off and spends the rest of the service just having a conversation with her friend. When Darling's father returns home sick (and diagnosed as having AIDS by her people, since that's the only disease they really knew about), she feels sick of his presence and wishes him dead occasionally. Later, when they happen to be present at a neighborhood where white people (even Zimbabwe-born) were being forcefully evicted from their homes, Darling and her friends wander through the houses just vacated and stare amazed at all the riches around them, not feeling bothered at all by the violence they just saw.
These are kids who grew up seeing violence around them. Even their games are based on violent events. They'd kill each other as part of the game and cheer or cry as if they were bystanders to the actual death. They have not yet known peace and as far as they are concerned, it's not something that they will see in their lifetimes. They feel heavily when they see too much of violence - they just have a huge tolerance level. They are resourceful, but if they are cornered in a threatening situation, they will cry. Yet, they all have dreams - they want to go to America, and South Africa, and Dubai, and other well-off countries and live happy lives. And when they do, this innocence of childhood is what they want to return to. These friends are who they yearn to be with.
We Need New Names addresses a lot of issues that people from war-strewn countries face, but from the eyes of kids. When the adults wax poetic about the secure lives they had led before war, that means nothing to the kids. The adults get wasted. The kids watch that and get wasted too. Once they move to a new place, where freedom is the order of the day, what kind of life will be normal to them? Do they get used to the new life and forget the violence of the past? Or do they eye all the freedom with distaste and suspicion? This book also reminded me again that illegal immigration is not a black or white matter. The people who could get deported are humans who came here for a better life - a life that was denied to them just because of the randomness of birth. Shuttling them away rarely solves anyone's problems.
One big realization I had for the umpteenth time - Like many folks I knew, I have had days as a kid when I just didn't want to go to school. All that studying, maintaining grades, play time lost, sleepy weekdays, etc. Darling just wanted to go to school. It's terribly disappointing that there are kids in this world who have no school to go to, and kids who can go complaining about it.(less)
Sometimes it takes a drastic event to put things in perspective.
President Idi Amin has just decreed that all foreign Indians must be "weeded" out of U...moreSometimes it takes a drastic event to put things in perspective.
President Idi Amin has just decreed that all foreign Indians must be "weeded" out of Uganda within 90 days. Fifteen-year old Sabine suddenly finds her world upturned. While her father reassures her and her family that they are not foreign since they were all born in Uganda, Sabine secretly shares the same worries as her mother. It doesn't help that wherever she goes, she sees animosity from other Ugandans. But for now, she tries to put the 90-day countdown to the back of her mind. All she really wants to do is get through her classes daily and practice dance with her best friend, Zena.
But as the countdown continues, her favorite uncle, Zully, goes missing, Indian-owned or -operated shops are plundered, her mother's friend is almost arrested by soldiers one day, and Zena begins to behave strangely. To add to the confusion, President Amin has insisted that even Uganda-born Indians have to leave the country. At this point, Sabine has had enough. She did not believe that they will not be tortured or arrested, and did not want to find out what could happen if they stayed behind.
Child of Dandelions is set against the backdrop of the expulsion of Indians and Pakistanis in 1972. Part of the motivation for the expulsion was that the Indians in Uganda were apparently richer and had more wealth than the African populace. Child of Dandelions portrays that prominently in the book, especially in the friendship between Sabine and Zena. Sabine's family is very well-off, living in a big house, and not having much worry for money. Zena, on the other hand, wasn't that lucky. Sabine and her father are however not willing to believe that money could be the reason for this expulsion. After all, the Ugandan economy will collapse without the Indian corporations to hold it up. But at one point, towards the end of her morale level, Sabine makes a trip to a place where the indigenous African population lived and was shocked by the poverty that stared back at her.
When I was looking for an African read, I came across Shenaaz Nanji's Child of Dandelions. Being Indian, I was bothered by the premise of this book - expulsion of Indians from Uganda. It would be harrowing enough to be expelled from any country for any reason. It's worse if that was the only home you ever knew, as it was for Sabine's family. When I found this book on Audible, I grabbed it immediately.
Child of Dandelions is a coming of age story amidst terror, tragedy, confusion, and death. Sabine's distress at being disowned by her country of birth and her conquering of her challenges is very humbling to read about. She had gone from reverence towards her President to complete disgust at him. Although she is only fifteen, she definitely has the spine of a courageous adult. Many a time, her wit has helped rescue people around her from soldiers. Child of Dandelions is really a story of one family's fight against the injustice and politics of war and power, while still keeping her head high and her pride intact. Sabine is a heroine I loved to read about.
That said, occasionally Sabine acted like a ten-year old. Maybe it was not such a big deal - after all, even adults are known to behave like whining kids in many situations. Still, it bothered me because the author had established Sabine as a very capable character, that her voice occasionally felt very immature to me. It could also just be the narrator's fault - maybe she was overdoing some of the tones and inflections. Still, despite this issue, this is a book worth reading.(less)
I loved Frangipani. It took me weeks to finish it because I haven't exactly been in a reading mood. But books I read during such phases usually end up...moreI loved Frangipani. It took me weeks to finish it because I haven't exactly been in a reading mood. But books I read during such phases usually end up getting tossed because they don't hold my attention long enough. But Frangipani was always a delight to come back to. It felt very authentic and Tahitian, with adorable characters, and a very easy-going narrative style.
Frangipani is mostly told from Materena Mahi's perspective. When the book begins, Materena is moaning her partner, Pito's, negligence with money. They already have a little baby boy and Materena just found out that she was pregnant with a second baby. She wants Pito to let her collect his pay but that is out of the question because then he will be made the laughing stock by his friends. He will not see the end of questions like "Who's the man and who's the woman between you and your woman? Who's the noodle? Who wears the pants? Who wears the dress?" if he lets Materena collect his pay. But she does anyway and then doesn't see him at all for a long time, he having decided to leave her.
They reunite weeks later under very humorous circumstances but Materena goes on to take a job as a professional cleaner (very different from just a cleaner, as she reminds us often) to get some extra money. However, her hands are soon going to be tied down once her daughter, Leilani, is born. (She knew it was a girl because she did the needle trick). Much of Frangipani focuses on this mother-daughter relationship and I like to say that the author, Célestine Vaite, got it right. As a child, Leilani worships her mother, but as she steps into her teen years, there is much animosity directed at her mother. Through the years, their relationship evolves, but the sentiments expressed may as well be universal.
There is a lot of Tahitian delight sprinkled through the book. Did you know that Tahiti is not a country but one among many islands part of French Polynesia, and part of France? The people there speak French and Tahitian. Materena says that a woman and a man should not marry until they have been together for a long long time and have had kids together. She also happens to have a very large family, including immediate family and all the many cousins she has. They all live very close to each other so any time she has to go to the Chinese store to buy something, she is sure to meet quite a few of her relatives on the way. As you read the book, you get the feeling that you are meeting almost everyone in Tahiti and they all know each other. It takes only about 2 hours to drive around the island; of course, with traffic that can be more. The "public bus" in Tahiti is called a truck and that's what most of the people there use for transport.
Frangipani is actually book one in a three-book series, all focusing on Materena. I cannot wait to read books two and three now. The narrative style of Frangipani is a little unique - it read more like a chronological series of essays than a continuous narration of a story. It worked well for this book because of its very quirky narration and humorous tone. The author has definitely drawn the picture of her hometown very well - it is hard not to picture the characters or their circumstances in your head. It has scored all the points in my book - storytelling, story, characters, voice, and culture authenticity.(less)
Holy crap! What took me so long to read a Nesbø book? Oh yeah, I thought the suspense was going to be the everyday run-of-the-mill type which ends up...moreHoly crap! What took me so long to read a Nesbø book? Oh yeah, I thought the suspense was going to be the everyday run-of-the-mill type which ends up either being so far-fetched that the mystery focuses on Alan, Becky, and Charlie, and then ends saying that Zooey, the cleaner in Chapter 1 was the murderer. Or, it would be so obvious from page 1 who the bad guy was. Or, it would be the mix of both - the author would play hard at making it look like Alan was the bad guy, so hard that it would be obvious Alan was not the bad guy.
So although I have been hearing plenty of praise about Jo Nesbø's books, I didn't really TBR any of them until I had to pick an audiobook for a road trip. Into my car stereo, I popped The Snowman and waited until the moment I was going to feel justified. Nada. Never happened. Nesbø had me right from the page one. It was really hard to stop the audio each time I reached my destination.
The Snowman starts off with a suspenseful premise. A boy and his mother stop at a house on their way back to home. The first snow of the season has fallen. The woman tells her son to wait in the car for a few minutes. The few minutes turn into more than an hour as the woman is actually meeting her secret lover. At one point, she and her lover see a snowman glaring into their bedroom. When she finally gets back to the car, clandestine actions over, she finds that her son has been sitting in a freezing car. They drive off, but her son is suddenly very worried. He thinks that they are going to die.
I have read that Nesbø's books usually start with a prologue that he eventually ties in with the plot, towards the ending. So I was curious to see what role this incident had to play. When it finally came, it was just jaw-dropping. How the same scene can be played from multiple perspectives! I'm a big fan of writers who can play that trick well - everyone doesn't see the same thing when they look at a picture. It is amazing to see how different people can project their bias and baggage onto a picture and form opposite conclusions.
In The Snowman, women have been getting murdered or going missing and a snowman seems to always be at the scene. The killer thus gets the moniker of The Snowman. To the reader, there is a hint of a connection between these women, but to Harry Hole, the detective, there is none. The eventual conclusion isn't arrived at easily. There are a lot of things to figure out before getting there, and Nesbø takes his time, planting clues, snatching them away, and turning the picture around. By the end of the second disc, I thought I had the scenario fully figured out, but that scenario morphed a lot before the killer was revealed (who wasn't anyone I guessed but not so much of a non-entity that it was improbable).
The detective, Harry Hole, is clearly brilliant. But he is missing his ex-girlfriend, Rakel, who had just started seeing a doctor, and her son, with whom he shares an excellent relationship. That doesn't stop them from having an affair, though. The murdered victims described in the book have obviously been through a very torturous experience, but what is a crime thriller without some gory scenes. Harry Hole works on the murder cases with another inspector, Katrine Bratt, who seems to be a mystery - her actions and her private life do not seem to go in sync, but it takes a while before any of it comes to light. There are several other minor characters in the book whose presence I enjoyed and a few that gave me the creeps.
This is apparently the seventh book in the Harry Hole series, but I had no trouble reading it nor did I feel as if I missed any references. Knowing that there are 10 books in this series so far thrills me to bits, more so because I don't really like reading thriller novels and when I find one that I enjoyed, it's great to anticipate more such books. I listened to this audiobook and the narrator, Robin Sachs, does a fabulous job of narrating the story. He places all the right pauses, inflections, and stresses that it sounded very genuine to me.(less)
Miss Renshaw suggests to her class of eleven schoolgirls that they are going on an excursion to the gardens to think about death. The kids, however, t...moreMiss Renshaw suggests to her class of eleven schoolgirls that they are going on an excursion to the gardens to think about death. The kids, however, think that their teacher just wants to meet Morgan, the gardener who takes care of the plants in the garden and who, according to Miss Renshaw, writes a lot of poems. At the park, Morgan mentions the ancient caves where the aborigines carved a lot of paintings. Even though some kids don't want to go to the cave, their teacher insists that they all visit the cave. Once inside the dark cave, the girls panic and scramble their way out of the cave. Miss Renshaw asks them to wait but they are too panicky to listen. Outside, they sit and wait for their teacher; only she doesn't come out. They wonder if she is lost, or if they should go back in and look for her, but they are too scared to do so. Some of the girls want to head back to their classes, because it's snack time soon, but most of them wonder if it is appropriate for them to return to class after losing their teacher. Whoever heard of students losing their teacher?
The Golden Day is told from the perspective of eleven girls, but mostly Cubby. Kids as young as her make for an interesting observer because they see things they don't understand and sometimes cannot fathom the significance of what just happened. When Miss Renshaw fails to come out of the cave, they start worrying. They wonder if maybe Morgan and Miss Renshaw got out through another exit. Maybe they are just hiding in there. Or maybe they are lost inside the cave. But eventually, after weeks of waiting, they accept that Miss Renshaw may never come back. They haven't yet embraced the notion that maybe she is dead though the thought hangs in the air; her not coming back is a sufficiently tragic thought. The teachers sense that they are not telling the whole story of what happened, but Miss Renshaw had made them promise not to tell anything and they didn't want to break that promise, even if it meant stressing out everyday about the what-ifs.
I thought the first half of the book was slightly dragging. It was definitely a fast read though. Once Miss Renshaw goes missing, the pace picks up, with the characters wondering what could have happened. The Golden Day has a very poetic narration. There is so much atmosphere and emotions in this tiny book. Having a kid as the narrator means seeing the world a little differently - feeling captivated by colors and butterflies and lovely grass; not feeling it very odd that Miss Renshaw likes to meet Morgan very often; happily skipping away when she sends them off to write poems while she sat and spoke to him. Kids worry about different things - going back to class without their teacher worries them because how can they explain that they lost their teacher? Especially, when said teacher told them not to reveal certain things? The author shows how the little innocent things that adults don't think twice about, can upset kids.
Dubosarsky explores how ambiguity and lack of closure can weigh a person down, especially with kids. Very often, when a tragedy happens, it is easy to forget the kids who bore any kind of witness, with the adults being busy solving crimes and occasionally remarking that the kids are suffering. The author actually focuses on the kids here - their worries, fears, and behaviors. A classmate of Cubby's provides practical and sensible arguments most of the time, but when it comes to her dead mother, she prefers to believe that the mother is abroad. Another girl cries all the time at the smallest triggers.
Even for the reader the book ends ambiguously. Did Morgan murder Miss Renshaw? Did they run away together and are they still alive? Or was Miss Renshaw's plan to think about death in the park an ominous hint of a planned suicide? We will never know and the deliberate ambiguity is pretty clever - to follow that of the children's and compare our reaction to theirs. Are we just upset in not knowing what happened? What about the kids? Wouldn't they be traumatized?(less)
Leroy Kervin is an Iraq war veteran who returned from the war in a coma and had to be admitted to a group home to be taken care of. Seven years later,...moreLeroy Kervin is an Iraq war veteran who returned from the war in a coma and had to be admitted to a group home to be taken care of. Seven years later, he woke up with a clear mind. Suspicious of the clarity and believing it to be a trick, he decides to commit suicide. Freddie McCall finds him severely injured and takes him to the hospital, where he visits him often. But Freddie has issues of his own - a friend leaving for the prison has moved a marijuana garden to his basement and Freddie is worried about being found out. His routine is awfully similar day after day - work at the group home at night and a paint company at day, with just a brief two hour stop at home between jobs. Pauline Hawkins works at the hospital where Leroy is being treated, and while she takes amazing care of her patients, her own life has nothing major to look forward to. She lives alone with her rabbit Donna, and spends most nights watching TV and some days visiting her mentally ill father.
The Free is an amazing book - very fast to read, with a very engrossing plot. Even though the lives of the characters were significantly different from mine, I found myself warming up to them and really liking them. They all had very real problems - problems that are sometimes subtle and oftentimes tend to get buried under the carpet. Leroy has been in and out of coma and has returned from the war a very different man. After his attempt to commit suicide, he flits in and out of consciousness. His dreams follow a long sequence where he is running with his girlfriend from military people, who are killing people with strange green/purple marks on their body. His dreams are clearly a manifestation of the life that he has been leading post-war, in that the taints of war never leave you and leave indelible marks on your person.
On the other side, Freddie is thiscloseto losing his house, thanks to his mounting bills and two not very high paying jobs. He is dedicated, however, to his work and never once complains about his abysmal state. Every person he comes across worries about his ill health, but Freddie brushes the concerns off and is ever so helpful to them. When his friend starts to harvest marijuana in his basement, he is worried, but the money he gets for complying helps pay off his bills. His daily cause of sadness however is that he sees very little of his daughters after they were taken away by his wife when they split. Pauline has similar problems. When a girl is brought to the hospital with abscesses in her leg after heavy drug use, Pauline takes an instant fancy to the girl and helps her through the ordeal. She identifies a lot with this girl - both alone, both craving human connection but making all the wrong choices. But the girl doesn't really want to be helped. No matter how much she admits that her situation is bad, she keeps going back to it.
Willy Vlautin tells a great character story. There is not one place in the book where he tells what his character is feeling or worrying about. His lets his narration and his story give us a measure of his characters' emotions. The reader knows everything about the characters through their actions. This literary device worked really well because it places the reader directly in the shoes of the character and depending on the kind of person you are, you will have your own conclusions about each character. You may empathize with them or pity them. Moreover, he doesn't pass judgment on his characters' actions - they do what they can, whether it is right or wrong. Most of the times, their circumstance drives them to do certain things, but he tells it very matter-of-factly that we do not question it.
This isn't a book that masks problems and tries to give everyone a happy ending. The problems are real, no matter how profound. What I loved about this book is that the issues that the characters face could very well be faced by any number of people I see everyday. They are not the problems that get debated about in council meetings or the Congress or even in the news. These are generally the invisible problems of the world that everyone seems to have. Vlautin tells their story so profoundly in The Free that their problems become our problems too.(less)
Will Traynor is just stepping out of his hotel to start a busy day of work when he gets hit by a car, making him a quadriplegic for life. Grumpy and h...moreWill Traynor is just stepping out of his hotel to start a busy day of work when he gets hit by a car, making him a quadriplegic for life. Grumpy and hard to be with, he doesn't do anything to make the lives of people around him better. They do not call him out on his irritable actions, fearing they will upset the quadriplegic in him. After two years of living like that, he requests his mom to let him die. He wants to go to Dignitas in Switzerland, where assisted suicides are provided for terminally ill people. But he gives her six months. She seizes on that lifeline to find someone who can be a life partner to Will and help him change his mind. Louisa Clark is that person.
Louisa, having just lost her job after her boss decided to shut down the coffee shop where she worked, found about the caretaker job after searching high and low for something that she could do. She didn't initially want the job as cleaning up after old people is not something she wishes to spend her time on, not that she had any options. But after being convinced that looking after Will will not involve any of that (plus, she was going to get paid a lot), she took the job. To say that Will and Louisa got off to a great start will be a huge lie. They didn't. Will didn't try to make it easy for Louisa, and Louisa, chatty though she is, struggled to penetrate the thick bubble around Will. The description of her job however requires her to spend a lot of time with him, and slowly they get to know each other.
Ah, Jojo Moyes. Why did you have to write such a sappy boring prologue to such an incredibly amazing book? I tell ya - if I don't like the first two pages of a book, I don't bother with it. That's what happened when I picked this book to read months ago. It sounded like another sappy light romance book (the kind I enjoy watching movies about but not reading about). But couple of months back, I gave it one more try on audio. I'm very liberal with audiobooks - I reserve it for books I sort-of want to read but am not yet sold on it. Oh, and it shouldn't be very literary nor should the writing be a treat to read, because then I would rather read it. I made myself sit through the yet-again sappy prologue, but after that, I was hooked. There is so much goodness in this book that I want to rave about, but first, I do want to reiterate that this is not a sappy romantic book. In fact, there is so little romance to speak about. Yeah, I know the cover seems to sing hymns for Saint Valentine but rest assured, the book has very little of that.
Me Before You is really about a lot of things but the core theme is that of Will's desire to die. Losing your ability to do anything by yourself can be a real blow in itself, and then finding that you cannot do a decent day's job, much less work at the head of a corporate company, or that your relationship with your girlfriend is suffering and then finding her dating your colleague, can be really painful to digest. Moyes does a great job of showing Will's perspective. I started the book by saying that no way, suicide is pretty much a crime, but my thoughts were all over the place by the end. She does a great job of putting you in his head and then you would feel bad if you still believed that he shouldn't be allowed to die, especially if you still had two arms and legs and could take care of your bathroom needs.
But she also shows the other picture - the people who have invested in Will's life, the people who love him dearly and would love his company every day. Louisa does a heck of a job keeping Will's spirits up. She makes him see that he can still do a ton of things, that being bound to a wheelchair doesn't mean not being able to live and enjoy life. After all, that is her job - to make sure he sees value in living and doesn't decide to die.
I loved Me Before You because it really makes you think about how people with disabilities live. It makes you stop making judgments on other people's choices or imagining answers to the "What would I do in his situation" questions. It makes you reevaluate your blessings and be thankful for what you have and not take those for granted. Because that's what happened to Will - he was living a dream when it was snatched away from him.
But that said, there IS a lot of sappiness in this book. That is part of the reason why I couldn't get past the prologue when I first attempted it. (He smelt of the sun, as if it had seeped deep into his skin, and I found myself inhaling silently, as if he were something delicious.) Audiobooks have a way to dulling the impact of some of those eye-roll triggering lines. Which is a good thing because otherwise I may not have lasted the entirety of this book. Funny that I couldn't read the book and then I go give 5 stars to the audiobook.(less)