Day 1054: Room

Cover for RoomReviews and even the book blurb have made no secret of a major plot point of Room, that it is about five-year-old Jack and his Ma, who has been kept captive in a small room for 10 years. Perhaps Donaghue meant this to be a surprise, simply presenting us at first with a strange situation that is difficult to understand, but there has been too much publicity about this novel to keep this plot point hidden.

Donaghue is clever to make the novel be from Jack’s point of view, because this is the only world he has known. His Ma has told him that the world presented in grainy black and white on their TV is all made up.

But an incident with Old Nick, their captor, makes Ma realize that they could be left locked in their shed to die. So, she begins making plans for their escape, plans that require Jack to leave Room by himself.

This novel is certainly compelling. I read it in one day last October despite spending a great deal of time preparing for our move. At times, though, I didn’t believe Jack’s voice. Yes, he is often childlishly naive, but sometimes Donaghue gives him insights that a five-year-old wouldn’t have. I’m not talking about his almost telepathic sense of what his Ma is feeling, but of other times when he has some rather sophisticated thoughts.

So, I think this novel has been a little over-rated, but it is still certainly worth reading.

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Day 1032: Strangers in Company

Cover for Strangers in CompanyWhen I was in my teens, I loved reading Jane Aiken Hodge’s historical romantic suspense novels, so when a novel I hadn’t read became available on Netgalley, I thought I’d see if I still enjoyed her. Strangers in Company, unlike the Hodge novels I read when I was young, is set in the time it was written, the early 1970’s.

Marian Frenche married a famous rock star when she was very young, but he deserted her when he learned she was pregnant with twins. Now that the twins are 18, they have in turn deserted her to go live with their father. Mark Frenche has abruptly stopped paying support, so when a tour company contacts her with a job offer, she takes it. All she has to do is accompany Stella Marten on a tour of Greece. Her doctor thinks this is a good idea, because she has been feeling nervous lately, as if someone is watching her. She is warned that Stella may be difficult.

Stella certainly seems to have an uneven temper, but Marian finds they get along most of the time. But almost immediately, things begin to go wrong with the tour. The originally scheduled courier is injured, so they get a history teacher with no experience. On the first expedition, a Mrs. Hilton complains that someone was following her and a boulder nearly hits Marian.

Later, another member of the tour is almost run over by the tour bus, and Mrs. Hilton is killed in a fall. Two schoolteachers fall ill, and one is injured in a fall.

Stella is behaving oddly, too. When Marian finally gets her to confide in her, she is shocked at what she hears.

link to NetgalleyThe novel is set against the backdrop of a recent Greek revolution, during which the country apparently underwent a military coup. I was not really familiar with these events, but not very much was explained.

This novel is clearly an homage to some of the work of Mary Stewart. It has resemblances in its plot line to My Brother Michael, which Marian just happens to be reading. I still much prefer Stewart, but Strangers in Company made an enjoyable light read.

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Day 1022: The Girl Who Played with Fire

Cover for The Girl Who Played with FireHaving started this series with the last book, I am finally finishing it with the second. As with the original Larsson trilogy, this graphic novel begins to get into the conspiracy by SAPO to criminalize Lisbeth Salander.

Lisbeth is on vacation on a tropical island after the events of the first novel. Mikael Blomkvist and his magazine are working on an issue about human trafficking with Dag Svensson. Meanwhile, Mr. Bjurman, Lisbeth’s guardian, is trying to figure out a way to control her.

Lisbeth has returned home when Dag Svensson and his girlfriend are found murdered. Also dead is Bjurman, and evidence links Lisbeth to the murders. Lisbeth realizes that all this is pointing back to her past, and she must follow clues while a huge manhunt is going on for her.

Despite being the transitional second novel, this one is engaging, with a lot going on. The art is just excellent. Even though the graphic novels are taken from a hefty series, these writers and artists have managed to condense the Millenium trilogy into an effective series.

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Day 1018: The Beautiful Dead

Cover for The Beautiful DeadEve Singer is a crime reporter. Although her boss is horrible, Eve is desperate to keep her job, because she is supporting her father, who is deep in the grip of dementia.

Eve is on the way home from reporting on a murder when she hears a man approaching her. Sure she is going to be attacked in the dark street, by instinct she turns to him and asks him to walk her home. What she doesn’t know is that the murder she has just reported on, of a woman just feet away from a busy street, is the latest in a string of serial killings. The man who walks her home is the murderer.

The trust Eve shows him hypnotizes the murderer, so he begins calling her to lure her into cooperating with him. At first, she doesn’t and turns to the police, agreeing to keep some clues secret. But later, a fear for her job makes her broadcast details about the crimes that she promised to hide.

link to NetgalleyAfter the killer lures her and another news team to the death of one of her rivals, Eve gets a police bodyguard. But when the killer kidnaps her father, she realizes she is going to have to think like a serial killer.

Although The Beautiful Dead belongs with the usual dark thrillers that Bauer usually writes, she is experimenting with throwing in the lightest touch of romance and more likable secondary characters. This is a good move for Bauer, as it lightens up what would be an extremely dark book and gives her more to work with. I think I enjoyed this novel more than the last few as a result.

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Day 1006: The Vanishing

Cover for The VanishingJulia Bishop is a recent widow whose husband bilked people out of millions of dollars before killing himself. Now Julia finds herself in a difficult position. Her friends have all dropped her, assuming she knew what her husband was doing, and some of his victims have threatened to sue her.

Adrian Sinclair comes to her with a solution. He would like to hire her as a companion for his mother, who lives on a secluded estate near Lake Superior. She would disappear completely, and if she wanted to emerge later, he would provide her with a new identity. Julia accepts his offer and finds as an added attraction that his mother is Amaris Sinclair, the famous horror writer, long thought dead.

Julia feels at home at Havenwood from the moment of arriving, but something odd is going on. The figures in the paintings seem to move, and she hears childish singing in some of the rooms. Also, someone seems to have followed her there.

I read this book because it promised to be a page-turning ghost story, but I found myself disappointed. For one thing, Julia’s reactions to things seem all wrong. First, she accepts a plan to disappear without a trace from a man she’s never met before. Then, there’s a whole lot of chuckling going on, even at the most inopportune moments. I confess to having seldom heard anyone chuckle, and yet someone does so on almost every page. Julia is oddly undisturbed by the most fantastic occurrences.

The writing is hackneyed and the dialogue is downright dull. There is no sparkling wit in this novel. And let’s face it, the scary parts aren’t scary.

There are a couple of clever twists at the end of the novel, but the more I thought about the last one, the less sense it made. On the one hand, it seemed a master stroke, creating doubt about everything that came before. On the other hand, it was impossible.

I know that Webb’s first novel was very popular. Maybe it was better. I, for one, won’t be finding out.

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Day 969: Woman with a Secret

Cover for Woman with a SecretNicki Clements is a woman with a secret that involves an embarrassing incident with a policeman. So, when she sees him stopping cars along the road on her route to take her son’s forgotten gym bag to school, she turns around and goes another way. Unfortunately, the police are investigating a murder, and her behavior makes her look suspicious.

Nicki knows nothing about the murder, but she does know the victim, Damon Blundy, a controversial columnist. Or at least, she thought she knew him until recently. That is part of the labyrinth of secrets Nicki is keeping.

Detective Simon Waterhouse is back in form, assisted on occasion by his wife ex-CID officer Charlie Zailer. This murder is an odd one, appearing as it does to leave clues for the police, but Simon is just odd enough himself to figure them out.

Sophie Hannah is up to her usual with this novel, presenting us with a complicated crime plotted and carried out by a very twisted individual. All of Hannah’s characters tend to be peculiar, including Waterhouse. We get deeply involved, especially with Nicki, whose painful past is pursuing her even now.

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Day 964: The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest

Cover for The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's NestI did an odd thing here. I saw that the third book of the Millennium Series was out in a graphic novel by Denise Mina, the terrific Scottish mystery writer, so I ordered it without looking for the other two (which I have since bought). So, I am reading and reviewing them out of order.

Thrust like this into the last volume and having not read the original books for several years, I had difficulty at first getting oriented. I especially had some problems with the multitude of characters, not realizing a cast of minor characters appears at the end. I remembered the general plot but not all the subplots. Still, this is not a problem for those who have read the series from the beginning.

Of course, the plot is the finale of the story of Lisbeth Salander, unjustly accused of murder of three people and of attempted murder of her own father, Zala. It is up to Mikael Blomkvist and the staff of Millennium Magazine as well as her other friends to try to help gather the evidence for her trial. In the meantime, the police are searching for her half-brother Niedermann, the scary murderer who can feel no pain.

The art and story line of this graphic novel are really fine, getting a bulky novel right down to its essence. This is the first time I’ve read the graphic novel for a book I’m already familiar with, and it made me contrast the two. I think the one thing a graphic novel loses is all sense of the original’s climactic moments. In particular, I’m thinking of two scenes: the one during the trial when Lisbeth finally speaks and the fight in the factory. The fight boils down several pages of suspenseful writing into a couple of frames. There’s no way to build up suspense similar to that of the novel. Still, my dabbling in this genre has made me feel it is an interesting one as long as I stay away from super heroes, which really bore me.

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