Summer of Night

Summer of Night by Dan Simmons

Paperback Edition, 498 pages

Originally published 1991

“Old Central School still stood upright, holding its secrets and silences firmly within…  

Another new year and once again i’m commencing my reading journey with Dan Simmons. Last year it was the superb ‘The Terror’ and now i’ve delved into his horror trilogy with ‘Summer of Night’.

Unlike the unique plots usually found in Dan Simmons books, such as Hyperion and Ilium to name a couple, Summer of Night is a fairly simple horror story, which has been regurgitated time and time again. The start was slow but promising – Old Central School has reached the end of its usefulness and will be closed forever but on the last day of term one student makes the mistake of investigating the lower levels of the haunting structure and is never seen again. Thus commences a whole series of ghastly goings on, which causes five friends to investigate the hidden history of the school and its current faculty roster.

I much preferred the first half of the book when the children are investigating the dark past of the school and researching the Borgia Bell. The second half turns into a monster story, which progresses without much surprise or intrigue with an ending all too familiar in these types of stories. I wasn’t a fan of the children but this is probably because I’ve read many Stephen King novels with better developed child characters.

This has by no means put me off Dan Simmons. More like it has soured my taste for the horror genre.

My score is 2/5 

Advertisements

1Q84: Book 3

1Q84: Book 3 by Hakuri Murakami 

Paperback Edition, 471 pages

Published 2nd August 2012 by Vintage

If you haven’t read Book 1 or Book 2 and don’t wish for the plot to be spoiled then look away now.

Aomame is now in hiding after killing ‘Leader’ and realises the only way for her life to be complete is to find Tengo and leave the parallel world of 1Q84. Tengo is still in ‘cat town’ visiting his comatose father whilst keeping in touch with the bizarre Fuka-eri who, unfortunately, barely features in Book 3. On their trail is the aesthetically unfortunate Ushikawa hired by the cult to find Leader’s killer.

Unlike Books 1 and 2, Book 3 alternates chapters between Aomame, Tengo and Ushikawa; the additional view point of a third character is a welcome addition after so much time spent with the main duo. The majority of the book is spent waiting for some major event or cataclysmic confrontation to take place and after so much time investment in this monster book I was expecting the ending to be mind blowing but it kind of just petered out into a feeling of averageness.

You know that feeling you get when you reach the brink of sleep and resist long enough for it to pass making it very difficult to reclaim that drowsy feeling? I’m not sure of the scientific term but this is how I felt mid way through the final instalment of 1Q84; it had the opportunity to put the plot to bed and bring this mammoth story to a conclusion but the chance was missed and another 200 pages followed. With my interest peaked I couldn’t regain my enthusiasm for Murakami’s magnum opus.

The writing is still beautiful but that will only go so far. At some point the plot had to come to the forefront but it failed. I will definitely read more Murakami but sadly 1Q84 was a disappointment.

My score is 3/5

The Girl Who Played with Fire

The Girl Who Played With Fire by Steig Larsson

Paperback Edition, 569 pages

Published 9th July 2009 by Macelhose Press

“She lay on her back fastened by leather straps to a narrow bed with a steel frame…” 

The genius badass Lisbeth Salander returns in another depraved story that delves into the darkest heart of Scandinavia. This time we’re on the subject of sex trafficking. Although the plot isn’t as intriguing as book one it still hooks you in from the very first sentence of the creepy prologue.

Since her shunning of Mikael Blomkvist, Lisbeth has been travelling the world on the stolen fortune of the scum bag Wennerstrom and whilst I enjoyed reading about Lisbeth on her lonesome self-exile I felt more at ease with the book as soon as she returns to Sweden.

Blomkvists career has been on the rise ever since his expose of the above mentioned criminal and has transformed Millennium Magazine into a profitable tour-de-force whose next assignment is an investigation into the true face of the sex trafficking trade in Sweden but all isn’t as it seems as the two main investigators end up dead and Lisbeth Salander is revealed as the prime suspect.

The Girl who Played with Fire had a tough predecessor to live up to and just about matches book one in its brilliance. The writing is sharp and intelligent, the mathematical references were a nice addition even if I occasionally struggled to grasp what the hell he was talking about and as with book one Lisbeth isn’t overly used with more appearances by Mikael. There is also a return of Nils Bjurman, Lisbeths sadistic tormenter from book one, which is well received as I was intrigued to know what happened after his unfortunate tattoo. The story was complex enough to hold my attention and at no point did I consider this book a chore.

The only reason this is a notch below The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is because I wanted more on the sex trafficking business. Not in a perverted way but more to do with the workings/logistics of and impact on the victims but the subject isn’t delved into enough; there’s a couple of pages of the how, why and where but I wanted more especially as it’s the main theme of the book. This is forgivable, though, as everything else about this sequel is superb.

My score is 4/5 

The Spy Who Came in from Cold

The Spy Who Came in from the Cold by John le Carre

Paperback Edition, 229 pages

Published 1999 by Sceptre

“This is war. It’s graphic and unpleasant because it’s fought on a tiny scale, at close range…  

It’s always exciting reading a classic, especially one that supposedly changed the face of spy novels forever after and is on several lists of top 100 fiction books of all time. The title is pretty awesome and the premise of the story seemed attractive. Alec Leamus, veteran spy of Berlin, witnesses the assassination of one of his agents and returns home under a cloud of failure but rather than calling it a day he accepts one last mission

Of course accompanying a classic fiction novel are very high expectations and on this occasion they didn’t even come close to being met. One of my gripes is the main character – Alec Leamus. In a story of this type, the classic good vs evil, I believe the protagonist has to be likeable unless you’re going for the anti-hero vibe, such as Frank Castle, who’s a bit of a douche but a badass you can cheer for. Alec Leamus is just an unlikeable dick with no redeeming qualities and if that’s the way John le Carre wrote the character then I’ve completely missed the point. My other gripe, bizarrely enough, is the length. It’s a fairly complex plot which isn’t given the time it deserves at a little over 200 pages. The story seems rushed but because I hated the main character an increase in the length wouldn’t have salvaged this ‘classic’. Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy is far superior.

My score is 2/5 

Underworld

Underworld by Don DeLillo

Paperback Edition, 827 pages

Published 1999 by Picador

“He speaks in your voice, American, and there’s a shine in his eyes that’s halfway hopeful…  

It’s not an easy synopsis to write but i’ll give it a go. Underworld opens with a 60 page prologue centered around a famous baseball game in 1951 with a home-run dubbed ‘the shot heard around the world’. In the crowd there’s the likes of J Edgar Hoover, a couple of over zealous commentators and a young boy who ends up with the winning baseball. We then jump forward in time to 1992 and are introduced to the two characters that feature most prominently in the proceeding chapters: Nick Shay and Klara Sax. There are many many others, with a cast of characters to rival a Malazan book but these two are at the crux of the story. After 1992 we are taken on a journey back through time via the 80’s, 70’s, 60’s and finally right back to where started – 1951. In each decade we are given a glimpse into a significant event of that era with the Cuban Missile Crisis, Vietnam and the Texas Highway Killer to name a few.

This was my first Don DeLillo outing so it took me the long prologue and part of chapter one to adjust to his writing style but once i did the rewards were endless. As soon as i was settled i knew i was reading something unique, genius and worthy of all the critical acclaim it received at time of release. There isn’t a main plot or story line in Underworld. It’s about the passing of time and where we end up compared to where we started. Most of all it’s about ordinary life. You may think that 827 dense pages is a slog, especially as there’s no definitive plot and admittedly starting was an intimidating prospect but the writing, the prose and the dialogue is absolutely top draw. 

Underworld won’t be for everyone. If you crave a book fueled by a whodunnit plot or an international terrorist incident you’ll probably last 200 pages before you give up. Underworld is like nothing you’ll ever read and deserves a patient mind that appreciates good writing. 

It’s difficult to sum up the overall feeling of the novel but the one word that comes to mind now is ‘poignant’. A wide range of lifes issues are covered including adultery, death, birth, illness, shame, regret and in general all things sombre, with little room left over for happiness; but i’m glad. It’s the books miserable tone that makes it a such a compelling piece of literary art.  

My score is 4/5 

To have scored Underworld 5/5 would be to declare it faultless but it isn’t. I was not a fan of part 4 – ‘Cocksucker Blues’ so could not give full marks. It was close though.

Top Ten Series: Stephen King

7. Hearts In Atlantis

Paperback Edition, 622 pages

Published 20th July 2000 by New English Library

“Hearts can break. Yes, hearts can break. Sometimes I think it would be better if we died when they did, but we don’t.” 

I’ve had this on my shelf for many months. It was one of the Stephen King books i was less bothered about reading because of a very stupid reason: the Anthony Hopkins film. A film i have never even seen but there’s something about the ridiculous movie poster with a wizened Hopkins holding his palm out that put me off. Shallow me. Turns out the book is one of the best Stephen Kings I’ve read. 

The first story is the longest and has a connection to the dark tower. I felt a nerdy shiver of joy envelop my spine when i read the phrases ‘all things serve the beam’ and ‘other worlds than these’. The story is about a beam breaker who has escaped from Algul Siento and is now being hunted by the low men (or Can-Toi to the initiated). He moves into the apartment above Bobby Garfield and befriends him.

The second story is a weird combination of the card game Hearts and the Vietnam war. I guess it’s a coming of age story with a couple of links to story one. The other stories are a lot shorter but are more heavily linked to story one. ‘Blind Willie’ and ‘Why we’re in Vietnam’ tackle PTSD and the last story is a superb finale. I’ve read a couple of reviews that comment on the loose links between each story but i would have to disagree. The book is one complete story split into five sections over a forty year period.

A great book and i didn’t even hesitate giving five stars. Who cares if it isn’t a horror story, Stephen King is just a great story teller. The best.

 

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Steig Larsson

Paperback Edition, 539 pages

Published 14th June 2008 by Quercus

“It happened every year, was almost a ritual. And this was his eighty-second birthday…  

I believe i have subconsciously avoided this series for a long time due to its popularity. This may sound a little like a paradox; a book raved about and read by millions must be good and worthy of my time but i remember when The Girl on the Train was the next big thing and millions jumped on the bandwagon singing its praises. I personally didn’t rate it very highly and now tend to stay clear of what i call ‘Supermarket Books’.

I recently saw The Girl in the Spiders Web, which was a pretty decent film so i thought i’d finally give the main series ago and found all three of the Larsson books in a charity shop. I can confirm it isn’t your average James Patterson thriller, all title and zero substance. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is in a class of its own.

Mikael Blomkvist, recently disgraced in court by a libel charge, is hired by the head of the great Vanger Family, Henrik Vanger (who i imagined as Donald Sutherland in his John Paul Getty role) to investigate the disappearance of his niece several decades before. It’s a cold case but Henrik has faith that Mikael will uncover something meaningful.  Lisbeth Salander, our tattooed heroine, is a computer hacker supreme with the mindset of a vigilante and when she isn’t being completely bad ass she works as a private investigator. One of her assignments is Mikael Blomkvist, who she inevitably teams up with.

As a whodunnit mystery it’s fantastic. The pacing of the investigation is brilliant, with just enough snippets of information gradually uncovered to keep you hooked and guessing until the end. Even though she is the title character Lisbeth isn’t overly used and appears less than Mikael. This keeps her character fresh and when she does show up you pay attention. A bit too much sex for my literary tastes but the majority of the characters are sleazy so it’s expected. 

My score is 4/5