Full House Reading Challenge: The Short Drop – Matthew Fitzsimmons (Contains Spoilers)

Genre: Thriller

Narrative Style: Third Person from various viewpoints.

Rating: 2/5

Published: 2015

Format: Kindle

Synopsis: Ten Years ago, senator’s daughter Suzanne Lombard disappeared. She has never been found. Gibson Vaughn, childhood friend of Suzanne is still finding her disappearance difficult to deal with so when he is approached by old nemesis, George Abe, who has a new lead, he is torn between wanting to find the truth and his dislike of Abe. When he agrees, he has no idea of the tangled web into which he will be pulled.

Reading Challenges: Full House Reading Challenge – Genre – Debut Novel. 

People really seem to like this book. There are barely any reviews on Goodreads that are less than 4 stars. I really don’t understand this as I found this book to be ordinary at best.

It started well. Gibson Vaughn was painted as a loner, a man haunted by his past and by Suzanne’s disappearance and that sounded interesting. The fact that he was being observed by a mysterious group that might be FBI added to the tension straightaway. Quickly Vaughn is pulled into an attempt at finding Suzanne’s abductor. So far so good: pacy, interesting characters, plenty of clues and insinuations.

However, for me it quickly went down hill. Various events stretched my willingness to suspend my disbelief to breaking point. It started when Jenn Charles and her ex-cop partner, following Abe’s orders, despatch some Guantanamo Bay style torture on the suspect they have captured. Then there is the psychopath Fred Tinsley, who is following the gang, waiting for the instruction to start bumping them off. And the security heavies Cold Harbour, who are controlled by Lombard’s father who is determined that nothing will spoil his presidential candidacy.

This just didn’t ring true for me. I must admit that I’m not overly familiar with the genre of political thriller but it just seemed a little too much. What had seemed fast paced and interesting at the beginning, began to feel like a rollercoaster gone off the rails.

On top of that, I saw all of the twists coming and that was annoying. The ending was unsatisfying. While Lombard resigns his candidacy, it seems like more should happen to him, that the terrible truth of what he has done should be revealed. Vaughn takes possession of Suzanne’s daughter without anyone so much as blinking and the girl herself is remarkably calm and unconcerned about what is going on.

Still, it seems I am in the minority. Most people love this book. Maybe it is just another genre that doesn’t really suit me.

Full House Reading Challenge – The Immoralist – Andre Gide

Genre: Classics, Translated Literature, Philosophical

Narrative Style: First person narrative 

Rating: 4/5

Format: Kindle

Published: 1902

Synopsis: Gide presents us with the confession of Michel, a man who seeks to live by his own desires. Having married to please his aged father, Michel soon discovers beauty in the shape of an Arab boy and is changed irrevocably. He starts to live by his own desires. He becomes restless and despite his wives ill health, travels constantly until at the end he arrives back at the place where he first discovered beauty. 

Reading Challenges: Full House Reading Challenge: European author.

This is not an easy read. Not because Michel abandons his wife and social convention to follow his own desires. In fact, it is still possible to like Michel even though he behaves badly towards Marceline. His questioning of moral constraints and his longing for a freedom that is meaningful mean that the reader is able to understand his behaviour.

The unease comes from Michel’s fascination with the male children that he meets. He sees the beauty in them and begins to spend all of his waking hours with them, leaving his wife to her own devices to be with them. The oldest of these children is 15. It is important to note that everything is innocent but still it makes for uncomfortable reading. Michel is fascinted by them and longs to follow his desires. So begins his journey towards becoming an immoralist.

Michel’s striving for freedom makes him restless and he cannot settle to anything, He becomes fascinated by the farm workers on his estate, with criminal lowlife and allows himself to become involved with poaching his own estate. Towards the end, he needs to keep moving, despite the fact that his wife is dying. This restlessness relates to his homosexuality which, in the end, he acknowledges with the last line of the novel when he says that he prefers the brother of the girl who has been looking after him. Earlier, he has the opportunity to take his freedom, through his friendship with Menalque but instead stays with his wife, who is representative of all  that society expects from Michel.

Whilst feeling uncomfortable with the object of Michel’s desire, it is still possible to empathise with his struggle. In fact, it is this aspect that is so difficult. Michel is not evil. He is conflicted and selfish and longs to be free of society’s constraints but in the end, he is recognisably human.

Full House Reading Challenge – American Gods by Neil Gaiman

Genre: Urban Fantasy

Narrative Style: Third Person

Rating: 5/5

Published: 2001

Format: Kindle

Synopsis: Shadow is looking forward to getting out of prison and seeing his wife again. However, on the day of his release he receives the news that his wife has been killed in a car crash. Then on the plane home, a strange man asks him to work for him. He knows things about Shadow he can’t possibly know and when he tries to escape him, he finds he can’t. This is only the beginning of the oddness that will now occupy Shadow’s life. The Gods are going to war and who knows what will be left afterwards.

Reading challenges: Full House Reading Challenge: Genre Two word title. 

I was hooked from the very beginning of this book. Shadow was intriguing from the very start. On the plane on the way to his wife’s funeral, he meets Wednesday who knows an awful lot about Shadow for a stranger. He wants Shadow to work for him. Shadow wants no such thing but finds it is impossible to escape his fate.

Shadow meets a lot of Gods along the way. Some were more obvious than others, perhaps due to my familiarity with certain legends over others – I’m much more familiar with Norse and Egyptian legends than I am with Native American for example. All of them are well drawn and recognisable even in their human form.

The old Gods are all dying out, due to lack of belief. Having been dragged to America from their native lands, they are finding survival in the modern world difficult. New Gods such as media and technology are trying to take over. Wednesday wants to take on this new world. He takes Shadow on a journey, trying to persaude other Gods to join forces and fight.

Of course, all is not what it seems and Gaiman carefully plants clues to the truth of Wednesday’s plan and Shadow’s place in it from the very start. There is a lot of talk of cons and sleight of hand so it should be no surprise that as an author, that is exactly what Gaiman does to the the reader. Not that it feels like a cheat. It certainly doesn’t. More like the satisfaction of watching a master pull of an impressive trick. Why didn’t I see that coming?

Gaiman is also a master at melding fantasy and reality. This tale of gods and myths takes place very firmly in modern America. The myth and the truth are not two separate things. It is easy to accept the magic because it feels like an everyday thing.

Full House Reading Challenge – Big Brother by Lionel Shriver – Contains spoilers

Genre: Literary Fiction, Family

Narrative Style: First person narrative

Rating: 4/5

Published: 2013

Format: Paperback

Synopsis: When Pandora goes to pick up her big brother, Edison, from the airport, she doesn’t recognise him. He has become a literal big brother, that is he is extremely fat. Pandora’s husband is a health nut and when Edison starts to cook extremely unhealthy meals for everybody, things become tense. Then Pandora decides that something drastic needs to be done and moves in with Edison to help him shed the pounds. 

Reading Challenges – Full House Reading Challenge – Size word in title.

There is a lot that is good about this book. I always enjoy Shriver’s novels and the way she tackles big themes. Here, the thoughts on obesity and the way society eats its problems are dealt with in an interesting and emotional way. The characters of Pandora and Edison are complicated and realistically drawn. I did get fed up with Edison’s constant jazz talk but it was consistent with his character. It would annoy me in real life so it was nothing to do with Shriver’s writing.

The story starts when Pandora goes to pick Edison up from the airport to stay with them as he has nowhere else to go. There is already tension between Pandora and her health nut husband, Fletcher, about the visit. So when Edison arrives and he is 200 pounds heavier, you know there are going to be sparks flying.

The first section of the novel details this stay in all its gory detail. As Edison pours his heart into making massive, unhealthy meals, Fletcher becomes more and more controlling of his own intake.  No one discusses Edison’s obesity but ignore the problem so he becomes a literal elephant in the room. Fairly soon, things reach a breaking point.

When it becomes apparent that Edison has no prospects at all, Pandora decides to help him lose weight and they move in together, much to the annoyance of Fletcher. (If truth be told, it was hard to understand what Pandora saw in Fletcher. He could have done with a little rounding out, character wise.) They then embark on a miraculous diet which eventually sees Edison losing the required amount of weight. This section was interesting as it started to explore the reasons behind Edison’s weight gain. Edison becomes livelier and more like the brother that Pandora remembered from her youth as he loses weight. He becomes a metaphor for the way that society views fat people as not quite human. His humanity returns with his slimmed down body.

At the end of this section, they throw a huge party to celebrate Edison’s weight loss. All is going well until Edison realises that Pandora will return to Fletcher and he will be on his own. He begins to overeat again and quickly regains the weight. All through the novel, the nature of the sibling relationship is examined and compared with that of a married couple. In the end, Pandora realises that her relationship with Edison is unhealthy and returns to Fletcher.

This is where it all goes a bit wrong. Suddenly, Pandora begins offering different possibilities for Edison. Maybe he did this, maybe he did that and then we are into the final section of the book. Pandora then confesses that she didn’t move in with Edison and that none of that section was true. I know on some level it is stupid to complain about a writer selling you a lie but I find this particular narrative trick incredibly annoying. It’s a cheap trick. I can see the point Shriver was trying to make – Pandora feels guilty that she did nothing to help Edison so she concocts the fantasy to make herself feel better after his death. Also, it is a more realistic ending than the miraculous weight loss. Still, it had the feeling of being led up the garden path.

It’s a shame because I had been really enjoying this book. I couldn’t put it down but now all I am left with is the feeling of having been cheated.

 

Full House Reading Challenge – Troubles by J. G. Farrell

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Genre: Irish Fiction, Historical Fiction

Narrative Style: Third personmfoudi1m_jcgjux-pirkv2w

Rating: 3/5

Published: 1970

Format: Paperback

Synopsis: The Major Brendan Archer arrives at the Majestic Hotel after fighting in the Great War. He may be engaged to the owner’s daughter,  Angela, but the details are hazy. This is not helped when Angela is evasive and the Major is too polite to force the issue. The hotel itself is starting to fall apart and its inhabitants too have seen better days. The hotel is a metaphor for the Irish question and the privilege of the Anglo-Irish. 

Reading Challenges: The Full House Reading Challenge – Prize Winner – The Lost Booker Prize 2010

I’m not sure what I was expecting from this book. Maybe more action. Or perhaps being more directly involved with the ‘troubles’. Anyway, it did not grab me. It was a slog to get through it. Don’t get me wrong, it was very well written, but nothing happened.

At first, I thought that it was just the fact that the book was older and so didn’t have the modern tendancy to start the story immediately. I kept thinking, it’ll start soon but it never did. There are a lot of clever set pieces but they don’t really lead anywhere. There is no narrative arc as such. More just a straight line.

The shambolic hotel and its owner, Edward Spencer are clearly meant to represent the English position in Ireland at this time. By the end, the hotel is falling apart and Spencer appears to be going mad. There is Padraig with his love of dressing up in women’s clothes who is humiliated by the British soldiers. There are run ins with Sinn Feiners and hints at the violence of the colonial world but again, it doesn’t quite add up to a story. Everytime, it seemed that an interesting plot line was going to get going, it instead disappeared.

It took me nearly a month to read this book. At times, I didn’t even want to pick it up. I’ve rated it 3/5 because it was well written and it was clever but it just wasn’t to my taste.

Full House Reading Challenge – The Falls – Ian Rankin

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Genre: Detective

Narrative Style: Third person from a variety of points of view

Rating: 4/5

Published: 2001unknown-1

Format: Kindle

Synopsis: A student disappears and the obvious target is her boyfriend. But isn’t that a bit too obvious? Rebus thinks so. The mystery deepens when it appears that she was playing an online game which lead her to the place where she died. When a strange doll in a coffin shows up near the home of the missing girl, Rebus becomes obsessed with finding other coffins that have appeared in the past. Is this case linked to other disappearances some 20 years ago? 

Reading Challenges: The Full House Reading Challenge: Genre Page Turner

This was a bit of a catch up read. The first Rebus book I read was right in the middle of the series and at first I just read whichever books I could get my hands on. Although I have read the first six in order, I have also read the last three. So rather than read the whole lot in order again, I am now in the process of plugging gaps. Of which this is one. I rationed myself a bit – I read the previous book – Set in Darkness  – before Christmas and deliberately did not let myself read this straightaway. As a result I was excited about reading it.

It did not disappoint. John Rebus is an interesting character who never tires in his efforts of self-sabotage. He becomes so obsessed with an old case where strange coffins containing dolls appeared shortly after the disappearance of a young woman that he misses more obvious clues to who the murderer was in his current case.

Siobhan was also playing lone wolf this time, showing that it may be true that she spends to much time with Rebus. It is interesting that there seem to be few options for her – she can either play the male game like Gill Templar and gain promotion or she can be an outsider like Rebus. As with Rebus, her keeping her information to herself could have gone badly wrong. However, it is not like things work out all that much better for characters who do toe the line such as Grant Hood.

The history of Edinburgh is one again used to good effect. The discussion of Burke and Hare and the strange Arthor’s Seat dolls gave the novel a macabre aspect which was very enjoyable. It is this element, as well as Rankin’s clear love for the geoegraphy of Scotland, that raises this series above the usual.

In the end, there were some cliches. The last minute rescue of Rebus’ girlfriend, the evil pathologist and the revelation of the murderer were all overused tropes. Having said that, this book was first published in 2001 and it is quite feasible that they weren’t so tired then. There is a proliferation of detective stories these days, both in print and on TV so it is bound to feel as if some stories have been told before. And even if they were already cliches at the time, I am willing to let Rankin off the hook because the writing was exceptional.

Full House Reading Challenge – Gateway to Fourline – Pam Brondos

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Genre: Fantasy, 

Narrative Style: Third person, chronological

Rating: 3/5

Published: 2015unknown

Format: Kindle

Synopsis: Natalie is studying at university while her family are in financial difficulty. She starts a job at a costume shop but soon discovers that there is more to the shop than meets the eye. Soon she finds herself in an alternative world, trying to help save it from disaster.

Reading Challenges: Full House Reading Challenge: Genre – Not for me

This was a Kindle First book. It’s not a genre I normally read but it was the most interesting out of that month’s choices. As such, it has sat on my Kindle for quite a long time. I knew it was not really going to suit me.

As I don’t really get on with this genre, it has to be something special if I am going to enjoy it. Unfortunately, this is really quite ordinary and I didn’t feel compelled to read on in the series.

The first problem was the plot. The opening chapter is set entirely in Fourline and it did grab me. I was interested in how the politics were going to be set up. There were hints at problems to come, people to save and so on. I thought maybe I’d been wrong. However, the book then swings into this world and the life of Natalie and it is a while before we get back into what is going on in Fourline. By then, I had lost interest.

Although written in the third person, the book is written from Natalie’s point of view. Because she doesn’t understand what is going on, the reader doesn’t get much of a picture of the situation in Fourline. I can see why this might be done but for me, I would have liked more information about the situation there and the terrible things that were happening. It all felt as if it was at one remove and I was detached from it all.

There were lots of hints at interesting stories and characters but because of the focus on Natalie they were underdeveloped. I was unconvinced that Natalie would have been so keen to risk her life for a world she knew nothing about. I think I might have liked it more if I could have learned more about Fourline and maybe this will happen in the next books but I haven’t got the patience to find out. I have to conclude that this was not for me.