Notes by Nectar

Your destiny lies in your own hands

Review: Naked in Death

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Before I went on holiday, I couldn’t decide which books, if any, to take with me. A couple of Tweeps recommended Naked in Death by JD Robb so I decided to read something different and downloaded it to my iPad. I also took a Tarot book with me in case I felt like reading something heavier… It turns out I needn’t have worried about what to read on holiday because I ended up not reading anything! I started reading this on the flight home.

Naked in Death is not the kind of book I would have found and bought on my own. It’s a crime novel set in 2050. Crime I can deal with, but sci-fi really isn’t my thing – I was pleasantly surprised to find that the book isn’t very sci-fi-like at all – although cars do fly. In this futuristic world, only the rich can afford real coffee, guns are prohibited, books belong in museums and the death penalty has been abolished for decades. Chapter 1 was intriguing and by chapter 3 I was hooked.

A senator’s grand-daughter is murdered and Lieutenant Eve Dallas is in charge of the investigation. She has to find the killer before he strikes again – he’s threatened to murder five more women. 

While I enjoyed the suspense in the novel, I found the romance between Eve and Rourke (the very rich and sophisticated suspect in the investigation) quite unbelievable – I felt like I was reading a Mills & Boon at times and it became irritating.

The In Death series is dauntingly long. This first book was published in 1995 and the latest one published earlier this year is #33 in the series. That’s a lot of books! Will I read the next one? Yes, probably, but I think I’ll need to read a couple of other books first.

And that’s number 14 of my 20 books in 2011. Six to go…

 

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Review: The Immortals of Meluha

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Since the beginning of 2011, all I’ve heard from people I know is how *amazing* The Immortals of Meluha is. One of my cousins sent me a copy earlier this year and it sat on my bookshelf for months and months. Finally in August I got round to reading it.

The book tells the tale of how Shiva attained the status of a God – how he gets to Meluha, learns about their ways, and helps them fight the Suryavanshis while falling in love with Princess Sati. He’s portrayed as a weed-smoking, foul-mouthed average guy who finds it hard to accept his true destiny.

From a reader’s point of view, it’s a new take on an old story and you do want to know what happens next. However, from an editor’s point of view, the inconsistencies were just too distracting. I came across one page which had crossing-house spelled differently three times. Either hyphenate it or don’t, capitalise it or don’t, but it should be the same throughout. 

While I liked the concept of the book, I didn’t enjoy Tripathi’s style of writing at all. It is filled with cliches and I found myself cringing each time Shiva winked or tried to hit on Sati or tried to deny who he really was yet again.

The book ends on a cliffhanger – I believe the second book will be published soon – but I doubt I’ll read it. I heard a movie about the book is also being made. I always say that books are better than their movies, but I think this book might be an exception to the rule… 

So that’s 13 of my 20 books in 2011 challenge. I have some reading to do!

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Review: When God Was a Rabbit

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I’d just finished reading Freedom and wasn’t sure what to read next when a friend lent me this book by Sarah Winman. This is a novel about relationships – siblings, parents, friends – and good times, bad times – all those things that make life interesting. I’ve always said that we need to experience bad times so we can appreciate the good times when they arrive. It’s like the Wheel of Fortune tarot card.

The first half of the novel starts in 1968, where we’re introduced to Elly (at her birth) and her brother Joe (5 years older than her). Their childhood seems simple and uncomplicated on the surface, but there is a recurring theme of violence in the background – Elly’s grandparents are killed in an accident, various forms of abuse, the death of John Lennon. The second half starts in 1995 and goes through to 2001. And there’s more background violence – more abuse, the death of Princess Diana, 9/11. I found the second half quite distressing to read – perhaps because I’m more familiar with those events than the earlier ones.

Joe and Elly know all each other’s childhood secrets – and this continues as they move into adulthood. Even though they do separate and lead their own lives (one in London/Cornwall and the other in New York), they remain close. As well as having each other, they each have a best friend: Jenny Penny and Charlie. Their friendships are not conventional at all, to say the least. It’s difficult to know how much to say about them – as I don’t want to ruin it for others who might read the book!

The other characters of interest are their parents (who suddenly decide to move the family to Cornwall and open a B&B), their father’s sister Nancy (a lesbian who’s in love with their mother), their gay tenant Arthur, and his best friend Ginger.

I laughed out loud in parts and teared up in others (yes, on the bus again – still embarrassing). It wasn’t the best book I’ve ever read, but the author’s descriptive style of writing and quirky, eccentric characters make the book worth reading. 

So that’s number 12 of my 20 books in 2011 – still on track!

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Review: Freedom

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A friend lent this to me and told me I must read it because she loved it. I didn’t ask her why. I didn’t ask her anything about the book. I just read it.

I have to say, I didn’t love it. It’s a good read, but I wouldn’t list it as one of my favourite books.

It’s a bleak tale about family life. None of the characters have any redeeming qualities, right down to Bobby the cat (who appears for only a few pages). I can’t think of one character I empathised with. And yet I kept on reading. I wanted to know what happened to these dysfunctional, despicable, materialistic characters – hoping to find a glimpse of why they turned out that way. 

Franzen mentions the word ‘freedom’ several times throughout the novel, but it made me ask myself – how many of us are really free? Free to make decisions without worrying about consequences? Emotionally free? Financially free? We all end up in prisons of our own making while training to attain ‘freedom’.

Having said all that I’m glad I read it. Franzen’s beautiful writing makes up for his loathsome characters. And I even shed a tear at the last sentence (on the bus – very embarrassing).

That’s number 11 of my 20 books in 2011. I’m still on track!

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Review: The Leopard

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(I couldn’t find a good English cover.)

By the same author as The Snowman, this book is the sixth book to feature the alcoholic detective Harry Hole. The Leopard picks up soon after The Snowman ended – it starts off in the alleys of Hong Kong, where an opium-addicted Harry is found and brought back to Norway to help investigate a series of murders involving a Leopold’s Apple: an apparently fictional spherical device which is placed in the victim’s mouth – it contains 24 sharp spikes which shoot outward when activated. The investigation takes Harry through avalanches in Norway, volcanoes in the Congo, and a new love interest, all while his father is battling cancer in hospital…

This book is as gripping as The Snowman and Harry comes across as a more complex and pensive character than he did in the previous book (I have to admit I haven’t read the others – yet). I didn’t find it as frightening as The Snowman (I could read this at night!) but there were some parts I found disturbing, particularly the descriptions of the Congo and its victims of war. There are some images I just can’t get out of my head which really have nothing to do with the main plot… It’s a very well-researched thriller.

I recommended The Snowman to my friend Kiran – you can read her review here… And I’m recommending she read this one too…

The next book in the Harry Hole series will be published in Spring 2012 – I hope to have caught up with the other four by then!

So that’s 10 books done so far in 2011 – 10 to go.
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Review: Jenny Lopez Has a Bad Week

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I didn’t realise this was a short story when I downloaded it. I read it on the flight from London to Stockholm – I think it probably took me about 90 minutes – because I also managed to read the business magazine, entertainment magazine and the duty free catalogue! I realised about halfway through that it was a short story because I was getting through it pretty quickly and I know that even I don’t read that fast!

So, Jenny Lopez moves back to New York after a stint in LA – she’s unemployed, has no boyfriend and is looking for a roommate – but isn’t it amazing how things fall into place so quickly (especially for a short story!). All her loose ends were conveniently tied up by the end of the tale leaving no room for questions. I have to admit I do like the ambiguity of some endings to short stories, but in this case I’m glad there wasn’t any! The two dates that she does go on did make me smile – I’m sure we’ve *all* had dates like that!! 

I’d recommend it if you have an hour or two to kill (e.g. plane journeys) and don’t want to think too much – but if you’re looking for something with a bit more substance I’d give it a miss…
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20 books in 2011

This year I’m aiming to read 20 books – we’re already in June and I still have 12 to go.

So far I’ve read: 
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One Day by David Nicholls – I loved this and all the references to 80s and 90s music and culture… and then came the end (if you’ve read the book, you know what I’m talking about). I couldn’t believe the author would choose to end such a book in such a way. The story’s about two people who meet on their last day of university in Edinburgh – and each chapter is set in a different year but on that same date. Sometimes it’s written from Dexter’s point of view, sometimes from Emma’s. Sometimes they’re together, sometimes they’re barely speaking… Their relationship is so intriguing that you have to keep on reading. In spite of the end, I thoroughly enjoyed it.
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Shogun by James Clavell – This took me about six weeks to read, which is a really long time for me. I know it’s a mighty tome but because I was reading it on my Kindle it didn’t feel heavy at all. The amount of research that must have gone into writing this book fills me with awe. John Blackthorne is shipwrecked on the Japanese coast in the 16th century and he has to get used to the Japanese way of life – learn their customs and language, politics, etc. It has everything in it – action, drama, mystery, love. And I’ve heard that Clavell’s other books (Gai Jin, Noble House, etc) are very similar – they’re all on my to-read list. 
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The Case of the Missing Boyfriend by Nick Alexander – After reading the all-absorbing Shogun, I needed something light. The title is self-explanatory – a woman in her late 30s, has a good job, good friends and good lifestyle – apart from not having a boyfriend (no, I didn’t write it). I finally realised I was reading utter nonsense when CC, the main character, heads to the south of France with an older man she meets on a plane (who it turns out gets turned on by balloons – yes, really), and he tells her that she should be exhausted at 8pm because it was 1am in New York. Er. No. Would it have killed the author to do some research and figure out that New York is actually *behind* in time zones?? I can’t remember but I think this was a free download for the Kindle. Enough said. 
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The Snowman by Jo Nesbo – This was recommended to me by my colleague Laura (she has her own book review blog – it’s worth checking out as she goes into much more depth than I do). She was right – I couldn’t put this down. What is it about Scandinavia that produces such great crime/thriller writers? The only thing I’d have to say about this book is don’t read it night when you’re home alone – I was terrified. Remember that episode of Friends where Joey puts the book in the freezer because he’s so scared? That was (almost) me when I read this book. 
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Beautiful Maria of My Soul by Oscar Hijuelos – Hijuelos is one of my all-time favourite writers – he turns the life of an ordinary person into poetry. If you’ve read or seen The Mambo Kings Play Songs of Love, this novel is about the ‘Bella Maria’ that Nestor Castillo sings about in the earlier book. It was interesting – Nestor portrays her as an angel and puts her on a pedestal, but in this book the reader learns what she’s really about. I look forward to Hijuelos’ books as much as I look forward to the next Rohinton Mistry – and his books stay with you long after you’ve finished them. 
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Spying in High Heels/Killer in High Heels by Gemma Halliday – Not the usual books I would go for, but I thought I’d read something light after learning the truth about Maria. Again, I think Spying… was a free download for the Kindle. It was entertaining – and funny. The only reason I bought the second one was because I wanted to see if Maddie would hook up with the sexy cop! Anyway, I believe there’s a third and a fourth (maybe more?) in the series, but I had to draw the line after the second.
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Sugar & Spice by Saffina Desforges – I think this is only available in Kindle format but it was a gripping thriller set in the UK. A child fails to return home and turns up a few days later in a canal. The police think they’ve found the right person, but clearly they haven’t. I believe the characters are based on real-life studies – which actually makes the book very disturbing. I read a review that said ‘This is a novel that every parent should read’ – but I disagree. I think if parents want to never sleep again, then read this. 

So, 12 more books to go this year – on my list so far are:

Jenny Lopez Has a Bad Week by Lindsey Kelk – yes, I know this was going to be trashy (Update: yes, it was total trash)
Freedom by Jonathan Franzen – I’ve been promised this is amazing (Update: beautiful writing, vile characters)
Fall of Giants by Ken Follett – sitting on my shelf since November 2010 but just too heavy to carry around 
The Immortals of Meluha by Amish Tripathi (Update: disappointing)
Les Miserables by Victor Hugo – have never even seen the stage version…

Update: I only got to 19 books in 2011, but hoping for 20 in 2012. Here are some more reviews:
Naked in Death
The Help
Interpreters
Cut Short
The Reluctant Fundamentalist
Life and Laughing

Any other suggestions? What are you reading at the moment?
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