About Me

Glasgow, United Kingdom
My name is Lynsay, and I've decided to start blogging about the books I've been reading, so that I have reviews that I can look back on about the range of books and genres that I have read. I was very lucky to receive a Sony eReader for my birthday, and since then, I've been reading even more!! I read anything and everything, happy to give any style or genre a try!

Monday, 6 June 2011

The Sherlockian, by Graham Moore

To start with... I'm a big Sherlock Holmes fan. MASSIVE! I've read all the short stories and books, multiple times, and still go back to reread them fairly regularly. They were my first introduction to one of my favourite genres, and I still think that they stand up as much today as when they were first printed, which says a lot about any story. I've also even visited the museum!

With that said, you can guess that I was very intrigued by the premise of the Sherlockian. I haven't really read much about Sherlock Holmes apart from the official canon, so I was interested to see how I would find this tale of a man called Harold White, who is inducted into the Baker Street Irregulars, which is the one of the most famous Sherlockian society in the world, renowned for meeting every January for a weekend of study and celebration of Sherlock Holmes and the stories that made him famous.

Anyone with even a passing interest in Sir Arthur Conan Doyle or Sherlock Holmes will remember that Sherlock Holmes was infamously killed off by Conan Doyle, who was tired of writing Holmes stories, and longed to write something with more substance and gravitas. This mourning period lasted for eight years, during which time Conan Doyle received death threats from Holmes devotees, who could not believe that their favourite detective had been cut down in his prime.

After the 'Great Hiatus', Conan Doyle wrote The Hound of the Baskervilles, arguably one of the best, and best-known Holmes stories. However, it has never been explained what caused Conan Doyle to finally crumble after eight years of resistance and start writing Holmes stories again - its one of the great mysteries surrounding the legend of Sherlock. What adds to this though, is the true fact that the diary of Conan Doyle which would cover this period has always been missing, and unless the diary is found, no one will ever know Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's reasons for resurrecting the character he had so decisively killed off.

In The Sherlockian, Harold White is the newest inductee into the Baker Street Irregulars, but the big interest of that weekend is centered around another member, Alex Cale, who has announced that he has discovered the long lost diary, and intends to unveil it to the world at the conference. However, before he can do so, he is mysteriously murdered, and Harold White takes it upon himself to discover the murderer and the missing diary, which was stolen from the room of the murdered man.

The book follows an interesting structure, with the chapters alternating between the modern day story of Harold White investigating the murder and the missing diary, and flipping back to the start of the century to show Sir Arthur Conan Doyle investigating a series of murders which strike close to home for him, with the help of none other than Bram Stoker.

I think the premise of this story was absolutely fantastic, but there's something about it that just fell a bit short for me. I wasn't that keen on the ending, as I feel it was a bit of an anti-climax, after a fair amount of twists and turns throughout the novel. I didn't really connect that closely with Harold White either, which may have been a part of the problem.

I actually think that this book may serve as a good introduction to the genre and the world of Sherlock Holmes, and I enjoyed reading a bit more about the background of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, along with the modern day fans of Sherlock Holmes, and it certainly made me want to find out more and seek out more non-fiction concerning them. However, I doubt I would ever re-read this book, which is unusual for me, as i re-read frequently. I think if the premise intrigues anyone, they should definitely give it a try, but I was definitely left with a wee sense of disappointment at the end.

Three stars from me, which is a generous score, purely based on the very clever premise - I just wish it had been executed slightly better!

Monday, 23 May 2011

The Lincoln Lawyer, by Michael Connolly

Its been a while... I've had a very busy couple of months, but I'll be posting regularly again from now on! The book i'm going to blog about just now is probably familiar, as the film adaptation of this novel was recently released, starring Matthew McConaughey, Marisa Tomei, Ryan Philippe and William H Macy. I always want to read a book before I see its film version, and this was no different. I love a good courtroom drama and was keen to see the film, so I made a point of picking the book up beforehand.

I had previously read one of Michael Connolly's books, The Brass Verdict, which is actually the sequel to The Lincoln Lawyer, and features many of the same characters. I had enjoyed it, but just didn't get round to picking up any of his other novels until now.

Mickey Haller is the Lincoln Lawyer of the title, a lawyer who defends small time clients ranging from prostitutes to con artists, drug dealers and drink drivers, disillusioned and working purely for the money. He operates from the backseat of his Lincoln Town Car, staying mobile and moving from court to court to pick up whatever clients he can find, until one day, a veritable goldmine falls into his lap.

Louis Roulet, a Beverly Hills estate agent from a well-to-do, well-respected family, is arrested for the brutal beating and attempted murder of a girl. He's a franchise client, which means that he can afford to pay for his defence costs, which is rare with the type of clientele Mickey's used to having. He requests Mickey Haller specifically, protesting his innocence, and Mickey believes that he may finally have that elusive catch amongst criminal defence lawyers - an innocent client. This is difficult for Haller, as he was taught by his father that one of the most difficult clients is an innocent man, due to the fact that if they end up being imprisoned, it will remain on the lawyer's conscience. He quotes his father as saying;

"There is no client as scary as an innocent man."

However, as time goes on, Mickey starts finding holes in the case, and a disturbing similarity to a previous case that he has dealt with, and he has to decide whether or not he has a client that he can trust... or one that is guilty of the most heinous crime, and has been manipulating the situation all along?

I thought this book was fantastic! Tightly plotted, this book pulls you through all its twists and turns until you can't wait to find out what happens next and how it all works out. Interestingly, Mickey Haller is not the most sympathetic of characters. He is not shown in a favourable light throughout the novel, making many selfish and foolish decisions, but I like that he wasn't fallible, or perfect. After all, who is? He's shown throughout the book to be looking out for his own interests before others, including vulnerable clients of his, but he's also shown to have a heart, and he does his best to do the right thing. I'm looking forward to re-reading the sequel, as I think i'll view it in a different light with the backstory from this book to add to it, although I believe that all of the novels can be read as standalone books.

A good summer read, if you like a solid courtroom drama, then this is definitely worth a look. I did go and see the film after reading the book, and also enjoyed that. Its one of the best book-to-film adaptations I think I've ever seen, following the book quite faithfully, without butchering the story to a shadow of its former self. Three stars from me - I think this is setting the scene for a strong series of novels, and will stand up to later re-reading.

Monday, 21 March 2011

Secrets of Eden, by Chris Bohjalian

If you've had a look at the list of blogs/podcasts that I follow, you'll see that one of the list is Books on the Nightstand (which is my absolute favourite!). BOTNS is run by Ann and Michael, who both work for Random House, and create a weekly podcast to talk about books they'd like to recommend, new books to watch out for and back catalogue books that they've just loved so much they want to share them with people. This year, they are also organising the BOTNS retreat, which will be a gathering of podcast listeners, blog followers and BOTNS-favourite authors. Unfortunately, I won't be making it to the retreat, but I wanted to read work from some of the authors who are going to attend.

The first book I picked up was Secrets of Eden, by Chris Bohjalian - the story of a murder-suicide that takes place in Vermont. I found this story absolutely compelling. The narrator changes several times, to allow us to experience different points of view in the story, and through the whole tale there's a creeping sense of dread, and an undercurrent of things just not being quite right...

Alice Hayward is a battered wife. This isn't really a secret in her town, and is known by people including her fifteen year old daughter, Katie; her best friend Ginny, and her pastor, Stephen Drew. Alice decides to get baptised, and after it's complete, she goes about her day like any other Sunday, little realising that within 12 hours, her husband will have strangled her, and then shot himself in the head. Although as time passes in the town, rumours and theories start to spread that the circumstances may not be as clear cut as originally thought.

The story starts off being told by Reverend Stephen Drew, the man who baptises Alice on the day of her death. The narrative role switches between several different characters, allowing an insight into how the deaths of Alice and her husband George have rippled out to affect other people, not only their own daughter but people that they had never even known. As the pastor states early on however;

“Believe no one. Trust no one. Assume all of our stories are suspect.”

This is a powerful statement to make in the opening chapters of the book, but I liked it, and it stayed with me throughout. As the tale winds on through the aftermath of Alice and George's death, we start to realise that this earlier statement is, and was very significant to the tone of the entire tale and something that should be kept in mind, not only in terms of the story but in terms of real life. People can hide behind half truths, or lie by omission, and no one can ever really be sure they're being told the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. I feel that I haven't went too in-depth into the actual ins and outs of the story, but I feel that if I write much more it could possibly ruin the story - some books just have to be read!

I wanted to blog my review for this book as i finished it weeks ago, I've read several books in the meantime, and I'm still thinking about this! I have went in search of other works by Chris Bohjalian (Midwives will be my next read from him), and I'll be listening eagerly to the reports from the BOTNS retreat to learn about possible upcoming works!

This book gets a solid four stars from me, and I highly recommend you check it out (along with Books on the Nightstand!)

Wednesday, 9 March 2011

Jane Eyre, by Charlotte Bronte

As someone who reads consistently, I was quite ashamed to say that this was a book I hadn't read. I have a vague memory of attempted to start it when I was about fifteen, and giving up after about six pages, full of impatience. However, I picked it up again on the recommendation of my friend, and it's one of the best reading discoveries I've had for a while - I'm starting to see a theme with why 'classics' are classics!

Jane Eyre starts by describing Jane's childhood, spend with her aunt, uncle and cousins, as she has been orphaned. When her uncle is on his deathbed, he makes his wife promise to treat Jane as one of her own family, and its a promise that she bitterly regrets making, as she greatly dislikes Jane and favours her own children, to the point where she ends up sending Jane to boarding school, as she no longer wants her at home.

We follow Jane through her time at Lowood, where she has a rough beginning, but grows to love the school as it becomes the home she never had, due to a particular teacher. However, when that teacher leaves, Jane feels that it is time to move on, and applies to be a governess, which is when we start getting to the heart of the story...

Jane describes herself in fairly derogatory terms, although her narration of the story shows the wit and intelligence that lies within the character, along with the goodness of her personality. Always self-deprecating, she tries her best to be honest with people, which sometimes leads to a lack of tact, as shown in one of the first scenes when she meets Mr Rochester and describes him as being ugly - to his face.

Mr Edward Fairfax Rochester, of course, is Jane's new boss, and the owner of Thornfield Hall, as well as starting off as a thoroughly mysterious character. However, as time goes on, the pair become closer and closer, and Jane thrives in Thornfield Hall, despite some strange happenings that occur. They enjoy teasing each other, which leads on to a proposal that sound absolutely horrific when taken out of context without reading the book;

You-- you strange, you almost unearthly thing!--I love as my own flesh. You--poor and obscure, and small and plain as you are--I entreat to accept me as a husband."

Believe it or not, this is actually a romantic speech, but it is much longer and is really best understood in the context of the whole book. I found it interesting as I had seen that snippet before, and enjoyed reading it in the context, as it made much better sense!

Needless to say, there are plenty of twists and turns that still lie ahead of Jane at this point, involving arson, a suicide, homelessness, a new family, another wedding proposal and a reunion with an unexpected character.... but you should go and read that for yourself!

I've also seen that there is a prequel of sorts to Jane Eyre, which is Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys, which deals more with the world of the original Mrs Rochester, but I haven't been so tempted to pick that up yet. If anyone has read it and would recommend it, please let me know!

As for Jane Eyre, this classic definitely stands the test of time - three stars!!

Wednesday, 23 February 2011

Dracula, by Bram Stoker

Finally I've come to read Dracula... the vampire classic that has never been out of print since it was first published in 1897, the flagship book that has spawned countless contributions to vampire lore, up to the present day with the popularity of Twilight and the Vampire Diaries, the age-old story that everyone is familiar with.

Not quite. I settled down to read Dracula, with the thought that I would probably fly through the book, as I felt I know the story so well, but i was very mistaken!! Surprisingly, for a book that is so vivid in people's consciousness, the book is actually a very different tale to the one I though I knew.

The book is set out as a series of letters and journal entries by various characters, detailing what happens throughout the story and how their individual actions end up bringing their stories together and affecting the final outcome. The first character we are introduced to is Jonathan Harker, a solicitor who is travelling to the castle home of Count Dracula of Transylvania, in order to assist him with the legal issues involved with the purchase of real estate in England. At first, everything appears to be in order and Mr Harker and the Count get on amicably, until Mr Harker realizes that he is a prisoner in the castle, causing things to take a dark turn.

While we are slowly being introduced to Count Dracula and his possible dark intentions, the story cuts between Jonathan Harker's narrative and that of Mina Murray, who is Jonathan Harker's fiancée, and her friend Lucy Westenra.The two girls are close friends who correspond frequently, and we get a fair insight into their lives through their letters to each other, and later the diary entries of Mina Murray, after she moves to spend an extended visit with Lucy, who mysteriously starts to waste away.

Another narrative strand is dictated by Dr John Seward, a suitor of Lucy's who is in charge of the local lunatic asylum, which features heavily in his sections of the story. As he becomes more alarmed about Lucy's health, Dr Seward calls for the aid of his trusted mentor, Professor Abraham Van Helsing of Amsterdam. Realizing what is behind Lucy's health issues, the Professor at first attempts to help Lucy without telling anyone of his suspicions, for fear of others disbelief.

At this point, the stage is set... all the characters are in place, we are privy to their innermost thoughts and wishes, and the sense of impending doom has already crept up on us! The sheer level of tension in the book is a masterpiece, as it rises and rises with each page, through hints and implications that are revealed by each character, often before they have managed to piece their own thoughts together and realize what is actually happening. I was always a bit wary of epistolary novels, thinking that there would be too much jumping about and the story would be too fractured, but Bram Stoker weaves each narrative thread together with skill and grace which has to be seen (read?) to be believed. After reading this, I can completely understand why it has remained in print for over 110 years, which is a fantastic achievement for a book which is basically a retelling of a popular folklore. The success of the story is absolutely unbelieveable, and its a success many authors pray that that can emulate today. The basic story has spawned its own genre, and you can see its influence in things as diverse as Sesame Street, through to the Rocky Horror Picture Show.

This book is a solid five stars from me - I'm reluctant to award full marks to anything, but if anything deserves it, this does! A true classic which stands up to repeated re-reads, I plan on buying the annotated version for my next re-read, to get a bit more depth to the story. So switch off Vampire Diaries, and put down the Twilight saga, and go back to basics with the book that started it all. All thoughts, feelings and opinions welcome!!

Tuesday, 8 February 2011

Mr Peanut, by Adam Ross

According to WWW.dictionary.com, a Mobius strip is 'a continuous, one-sided surface formed by twisting one end of a rectangular strip through 180 degrees about the longitudinal axis of the strip and attaching this end to the other.' This creates a never-ending, twisting strip that on closer inspection, is much more complex that it first appears. This links in to the story of Mr Peanut, by Adam Ross, in several different ways... by being referencing in the book, by having a character known as only as Mobius, and by having a tangled, twisty, hard to follow tale!

Mr Peanut is one of the biggest books of 2010, and after hearing about it frequently, most notably on the Bookrageous podcast, where it has been mentioned in nearly every episode, I was intrigued enough to pick it up, and what a book it turned out to be!

The book has a complex story and structure, jumping between characters and their stories, both in the present time and each character's backstory. The story initially seems to be about Alice and David Pepin, a married couple living in New York. The police are called to investigate the suspicious death of Alice, who has died after eating peanuts, which she has a life-threatening allergy to, but did she eat them or did her husband force them down her throat? That is the question facing the two detectives sent to investigate the case, each of whom have complex marital relations of their own. Ward Hastroll's wife has taken to her bed and not left it for five months, and will not reveal why, despite Detective Hastroll's best efforts to bully, threaten and cajole her. Sam Sheppard was implicated in his wife's murder, years earlier, and the book revisits his tale, trying to solve the mystery of who actually killed Detective Sheppard's wife Marion.

Mr Peanut is a dark look at marriage, after the honeymoon period, when sometimes the person you have pledged your life to is the person that you can't stand the most. David Pepin is working on a novel, which at some stages appears to be the novel that you're actually reading, and its never very clear if he's writing about the way things actually happened, or the way he wishes that they would have happened. He writes about fantasizing of all the different ways his wife could die, with one notable example being Alice choking to death on a peanut... which brings us back to the start. Another thread of the tale involves Mr Pepin hiring a mysterious hit man to kill Alice, known only as Mobius, but then changing his mind and trying to prevent Mobius from completing the job. In another link back to the main story, Mobius the hitman is arrested, and will only talk to Detective Sheppard, constantly questioning him about the circumstances of his late wife Marion's death. This is a re-telling of the real life story of Sam Sheppard, who was convicted and then later acquitted of the Marion Sheppard's murder.

I found the structure of the book fairly complex, the shifts between reality and fiction can take a bit of getting used to, but I really enjoyed the book. Its one of the very few books that i wanted to re-read as soon as I had finished it, which I think says a lot about a story. The narrative thread draws you along, and ratchets up the tension until you can't wait to find out what is going to happen at the end! As you can probably tell from this review, I find this book hard to describe, but I would urge everyone to please give it a try, it may lead you into places you would never expect! I give this book four stars, as I feel this will be a regular re-read for me! If you have read it, (or if you are now planning to), please leave me a comment and tell me your thoughts!!

Monday, 31 January 2011

Brighton Rock, by Graham Greene

I've heard of this book, and of Graham Greene, quite a few times over the years, but it had never quite grabbed my interest enough to pick up and read - I've always got a long list of other books waiting to be read! However, I saw that the film adaptation was due to come out, and when discussing it with my friend, she said that she had read the book and it turned out to be one of the best books she'd ever read. That intrigued me, so I decided to read the book before the film came out... and I'm SO glad I did.

The story is set in the 30's, revolving around a cast of characters in Brighton, who are brought together as part of a larger story arc. Its very cinematic in style, changing from scene to scene very quickly, which I think will be adapted to film very well.

The story revolves around Pinkie Brown, a 17 year old who has elected himself leader of a gang in Brighton after the previous leader has been murdered, after being betrayed by a journalist called Hale. In order to take revenge, Pinkie murders Hale, and arranges an alibi to protect himself and the rest of the gang. Unfortunately for Pinkie, this murder and its consequences cause a spiral into a desperate situation, forcing him to take ever more desperate measures to cover up his original murder. Rose, an innocent young girl, is also dragged into the nightmare, as the only person who could ruin the gang's alibi. In order to prevent her from revealing anything incriminating, Pinkie is forced to marry her, as wives cannot give evidence against their husbands in a court of law. Ida Arnold is Pinkie's nemesis in this tale, slowly piecing together the circumstances of the murder and attempting to bring Pinkie to justice and save Rose from her sociopathic husband.

The story of Pinkie's struggle to keep control and how actions and their consequences can ripple out and touch the lives of many unrelated people is fascinating. In the process of setting up his gang's alibi, Pinkie and some of his men come into contact with Rose at Snow's, the restaurant where she works. Ida Arnold happened to meet Hale shortly before he is murdered by Pinkie, and is driven to seek out the truth by her utter belief that he came to harm because she didn't stay with him. After Ida realises who is behind the murder, she relentlessly pursues Pinkie, asking questions and slowly closing the net around him, which pushes him into extreme behaviour as he tries to rescue his situation.

I found the most intriguing character to be Rose. Seemingly innocent, I think she was actually very ambiguous. Its never quite clear exactly how much she knows about the murder, or if she realises how vital her knowledge of the murder is. There are several moments throughout the book that make me believe that she is much more aware than she lets on, but allows the marriage to proceed because she has truly fallen in love with Pinkie. Its also interesting as Pinkie hates her throughout the book, but I think that is due to the similarities he sees between their backgrounds and upbringing, and that Pinkie maybe sees a lot of himself in Rose. There are moments when he appears to start caring for her, but they are overshadowed by his own determination to be in absolute control at all costs.

The tension in the book in fantastic, with an ominous building and building of suspense until the shocking finale. This is a fantastic book, and can easily stand next to any contemporary writing with regards to characterisation, plot, and pacing. Its a fairly short read - it was under 200 pages on my ereader - but I thoroughly enjoyed it, and plan to re-read, and look out some more Graham Greene novels in the future! A solid four stars from me, its a very very good book, and I'm looking forward to seeking out more Graham Greene in the future.