Books Read in 2015 35. Death of a Pirate King – Josh Radnor (Contains spoilers)

Genre: LGBT, Detective

Narrative Style: First person, chronologicalUnknown-1

Rating: 4/5

Published: 2008

Format: Kindle

Synopsis: Now that Jake has married and Adrien feels he can no longer keep seeing him, he has tried to put their relationship behind him and even has a new boyfriend, Guy. However, when there is a murder at a Hollywood party that Adrien is attending, their paths cross again as Adrien is once again a suspect in a murder.

In some ways, there isn’t a lot I can say about this book that I haven’t said in previous reviews. That is not a bad things. All the things that make this series enjoyable are there – Adrien poking his nose in where he shouldn’t, the sexual tension between Jake and himself, the relationship between Adrien and his family. All these factors make these books so much more than mere detective fiction.

There were a couple of niggles. I actually felt quite sorry for Jake – Adrien was incredibly mean to him – so I felt anyway. Perhaps I was just impatient for them to finally get it together. And it was worth it when at the end Jake decides to leave the force and come out of the closet. (Although it did seem a bit too fairy tale to really be true.)

Also, I was never really convinced by the killer, Paul Kane. He was too much the charicature of a Hollywood actor. And it didn’t really make sense that he and Jake would be so close although it did provide added tension in Jake’s relationship with Adrien.

That said, I still found this hard to put down and the ending was suitably satisfying. I’m a bit sad that I am almost at the end of this series but I can see how with Jake out of the closet, there may not be much further to take the series.

Books Read in 2015 – 14. The Miniaturist – Jessie Burton (contains spoilers)

Genre: Historical Fiction

Narrative Style: third person, chronologicalUnknown

Rating: 2.5/5

Published: 2014

Format: Kindle

Synopsis: Nella Oortman arrives in Amsterdam to begin her new life as wife to wealthy merchant, Johannes Brandt. Immediately, she notices that things are not what they should be. Johannes is distant and does not come to her bed. His sister is difficult and she and Nella are locked in battle almost immediately. But it is when Johannes buys his wife a cabinet version of their house, to be filled with miniature furniture and figures that things start to fall apart. 

The story at the heart of The Miniaturist is an interesting one and the atmosphere of Amsterdam in the late 1600s is convincingly suffocating, however, I found that I had little interest in reading on and it was a real struggle at times to get it finished.

The story focuses on Nella and her attempts to understand the secrets of those around her. She is young and a country girl and she often misinterprets events. As such, the reader has to try and work out the actual truth, separating it from Nella and her servant, Cornelia’s imaginings. This was quite an easy task and was one of the reasons I felt the novel lacked tension. There were no real surprises.

When the miniaturist starts to send unasked for models that seem to predict events, Nella becomes unsettled. This was interesting and suitably creepy. It was hard to tell whether it was all just in Nella’s head or if the miniaturist really was some sort of witch. This wasn’t resolved which I found a little disappointing.

Finally, the characters were stereotypical and unconvincing. I was intrigued by the story of Johannes and Jack but as the details unfolded it seemed just a bit too familiar. Johannes, the rich merchant with his unholy (at the time) passion for other men and Jack, the whore who would sell out anybody for money were two-dimensional and I felt little for either of them. When Nella first sees Johannes and Jack together, she faints and then wants to report him. But in no time at all, she is supportive of him and so very understanding. There is little sense of why she might have had such a profound change of heart and again it felt a little unconvincing. Similarly, the relationship between Marin, Johannes sister and the negro servant seems too much like a cliche to really involve the reader.

So, for me, the whole thing fell a little flat. Maybe it would have been more interesting if there was more of the other character’s perspectives. Perhaps then they would have been fleshed out a bit more. It left me feeling more than a little empty.

Books Read in 2015. 6. The Hell You Say – Josh Lanyon

Genre: Crime, GLBT

Narrative Style: First Person, Chronologicalhell_you_say_2011

Rating: 4/5

Published: 2006

Format: Kindle

Synopsis: This is the third book in the Adrien English series. Angus, Adrien’s assistant at his bookstore has been receiving threatening phone calls. Adrien foolishly loans him the money to disappear for a while. Foolish because it soon becomes apparent that Angus is involved in some sort of demonic cult and, as usual, Adrien feels compelled to investigate, getting himself into all sorts of trouble as a consequence. Adrien is still sort of involved with closeted cop Jake Riordan. Even Adrien isn’t exactly sure whether to call it a relationship and Jake certainly doesn’t. That word is reserved for the woman he is also involved with.

Although this was a really good read, it has probably been my least favourite so far. The main reason for this is that the romance between Adrien and Jake came to a dead end when Jake announces he had got his girlfriend pregnant. Maybe this is a good thing for Adrien in the long run but I was hoping that it would run the other way and he would realise that Adrien was who he really wanted. Of course, I am sure that Jake will still be involved in future books in the series but it would seem unlikely that his and Adrien’s relationship will ever be anything other than on again, off again which is a bit depressing.

The thriller elements were all in place and, as usual, Lanyon walks between sending up typical genre expectations and using them to fool the reader. There are a suitable number of red herrings and blind alleys and Adrien is always flying of on a whim which makes him an interesting narrator. The tension between the cold unemotional detecting of Jake and the police and Adrien’s more hysterical, intuitive style adds another element of tension to both the mystery and their romance.

Adrien is a sympathetic narrator. His voice is warm and funny as he sends himself up and over-dramatisises. He is easy to relate to and feel concerned for. As well as everything else he has to deal with, his mother announces that she is getting re-married and the descriptions of Adrien’s encounters with his three new step-sisters and ultra masculine new father are extremely amusing.

It was tempting, as always, to go to read the next instalment straightaway but I have a lot of other things to read for challenges. And I don’t want to hurry through them too quickly because then I’ll be at the end of the series. Besides, I need to have some books in reserve that I know are going to be good so that I can turn to them when I’ve read something not so great.

Books Read in 2014 – 56. Barracuda – Christos Tsiolkas

Genre: Australian Fiction, Sport, GLBTbarracuda

Narrative Style: First person moving back through events, third person moving forward through events. 

Rating: 5/5

Published: 2013

Format: Kindle

Synopsis: Danny Kelly has one desire – to win olympic gold. His whole life is focused around swimming, racing and training. When he loses for the first time, he feels the world come crashing down on his head. He almost doesn’t recover. 

At the beginning of the novel, the grown up, present day Danny Kelly is clearly in a bad place in his life. He is out of place – both literally and metaphorically – and unclear where his life is going. You know something has gone badly wrong for him. This is reinforced in the third person sections of the text which describe Danny starting a fee-paying school on a swimming scholarship and his many racing successes. The reader is immediately drawn in. What on earth could have gone wrong?

Clues are slowly revealed such as the fact that Danny has been in prison. The first person narrative moves back in time and presents such a startling contrast to the third person that at times it is hard to believe that this is the same Danny Kelly. The two narratives converge on the same moments in time in roughly the middle of the novel. It was nerve-wracking reading up to this point as it becomes more and more apparent what is going to happen. I wished so hard to be able to stop the inevitable but Danny could not be stopped from hitting the very bottom.

After this, the pace changes, the first person narrative is now the one that is filled with the joy of swimming as it relives Danny’s early years and the third person narrative shows Danny slowly becoming a new person after his spell in prison. There is still a contrast between the two narratives but it is less jarring than in the first half of the book and I began to hope that Danny would find some sort of contentment.

One of the reviews that I read of this book suggested that it was ridiculous that Danny would fall apart after just one race but I think that actually Tsiolkas describes his downfall well. It is all tied up with the fact that Danny is working class in an essentially middle/upper class environment. When he fails, it is only the inevitable catching up with him. Even his father seemed to believe that failure was just there waiting for him. There is no sense in trying again as he there would only be more of the inevitable. Tsiolkas offers a strong commentary on class and the meaning of success in this novel. I particularly enjoyed his critique of the Sydney Olympics which was close to how I felt in 2012.

Danny is gay but this is just an accepted fact and causes him no problems. The problem for Danny is his class not his sexuality. It was very pleasing to read a novel where sexuality was just taken as a given, not as an issue in and of itself. Definitely one of my reads of the year.

 

Books Read in 2014 – 39. A Son Called Gabriel – Damian McNicholl

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Genre: GLBT, Irish Fiction

Narrative Style: First Person Narrative, Chronological

Rating: 5/5

Published: 2004
Format: Kindle

Synopsis: As if it wasn’t hard enough growing up Catholic in Northern Island in the 1970s, Gabriel starts to suspect that he isn’t like other boys. Add to this the pressure of getting into grammar school, a turbulent relationship with his father and the strange secret of Uncle Brendan’s leaving and you have a compelling tale of teenage confusions.

This grabbed me from the very start. Gabriel was a funny and honest narrator who details his life from his first day of school until he is ready for university. From the very first, Gabriel is sensitive and doesn’t like many of the things it is considered normal for boys to like. At school he is bullied, at home his father is always on his back about not being masculine enough. Added to this is the constant presence of the Catholic church and his mother’s horror of what the neighbours might say and you get some impression of the pressure that Gabriel is under.

The conflict between Gabriel’s growing knowledge of his homosexuality and the ideas of the Catholic church is sensitively handled. Gabriel tries desperately to pray his way out of homosexuality and his strategies for dealing with his feelings are both funny and painfully touching.

When Uncle Brendan’s secret was revealed I was surprised although the clues had actually been obvious enough. It was pleasing to have not spotted them though and to be surprised for once. The ending itself was ambiguous in as much that Gabriel tells his mother his homosexual phase is over. However, the reader suspects that this is wishful thinking on his part.

My only complaint about this book is that it had to end. I could happily have gone on reading about Gabriel’s university years. Very enjoyable.

Books Read in 2014 26. A Dangerous Thing – Josh Lanyon

Genre: Crime, GLBT

Narrative Style: First person, chronological

Rating: 4/517608680

Format: Kindle

Published: 2002

Synopsis: Fed up with his in the closet, not even sure if he should call him a boyfriend and suffering from writer’s block, Adrien English takes off to his house in the country. On arrival, he almost runs over a dead body which has disappeared into the night by the time the local cops arrive. What has Adrien stumbled into this time.

I was looking forward to reading this as I enjoyed the first in the series and had been tempted to read it straightaway. (I was tempted at the end of this one to read the third straightaway but I am rationing myself because I really don’t want to come to the end of the series.) I wasn’t disappointed and if anything I enjoyed this one more perhaps because I had more invested in the main characters this time.

Lanyon is well aware of the cliches of detective stories and sends up some of the worse excesses of the genre. Adrien is given to ridiculous flights of fancy and always puts himself in danger which could seem cliched if it wasn’t done with such self-deprecating good humour. There are a suitable amount of red herrings to keep the reader guessing and Adrien himself changes his mind about the culprits quite regularly.

As well as the action, there is the romance between Adrien and his closeted policeman friend, Jake. This also was convincing in the details. Both Jake’s unease with his sexuality and Adrien’s frustration with it were well documented. When they eventually manage to get it together, it was well handled and very sexy. However, there is still the fact that Jake casually announced that he plans to get married to a women to keep the reader interested in what happens next between them.

Overall, it was a satisfying read with the answers to the mystery being not too obvious but not too obscure either. The romance was both touching and sexy and I will definitely be reading on.

 

Books read in 2014 – 19. The Absolutist by John Boyne

Genre: Historical Fiction, War

Narrative Style: First person narration, Moves between 1919 and Tristan’s memories of the war

Rating: 5/5

Format: Paperback

Published: 2011

Synopsis: Tristan Sadler has decided to deliver letters written by Will eclecticchallenge2014_300Bancroft to his sister in Norwich. Will was shot as a coward but Tristan knows the truth of what happened and hopes to be able to tell Will’s sister his deepest secrets. 

Reading Challenges: Eclectic Reader Challenge: War. 

Having previously read The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas, I should have been more prepared for the onslaught on the emotions that this book provided. At the end, I was devastated. My mind kept playing over the details of the ending as if I could somehow change the narrative and give Will and Tristan a better ending.

The narrative begins with Tristan’s arrival in Norwich to give the letters to Will’s sister Marian. He had trained and fought with Will and it soon became apparent that he had loved him very much. Marian wants answers as to why Will died and proof that he was not a coward for laying down his arms and refusing to fight. the absolutist

At first it seems that Tristan’s great secret is his homosexuality and the physical acts that he and Will shared. Understandably at this moment in history, and in the army, this was something that both men found difficult to deal with. However, the truth of the matter was much more painful and dark. And although I had worked out exactly what Tristan had done, that didn’t lessen the trauma of actually reading about it.

The themes of this book run through many war novels – the nature of bravery, what makes a man, the effect of brutality on the psyche – but I don’t think I have ever read a novel that tackles them so directly. Before Will lays down his arms, another character, Wolf, is murdered by the other soldiers when he finally hears that he will not have to fight. The treatment of those who wished not to fight and those who could not was appalling – much worse than I’d realised. The treatment of Marian and Will’s parents is equally deplorable.

In the end, although Tristan’s behaviour was also deplorable, I had a lot of empathy for him. Boyne’s characterisation and use of historical detail is so good that it is possible to see past the terrible act he commits and see the man and the reasons behind it. Easily the best book I’ve read in an age.