Publisher: St. Martin's Griffin

Landline by Rainbow Rowell

Posted September 11, 2014 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Chick Lit / 0 Comments

Landline by Rainbow RowellTitle: Landline (Goodreads)
Author: Rainbow Rowell
Narrator: Rebecca Lowman
Published: St. Martin's Griffin, 2014
Pages: 320
Genres: Chick Lit
My Copy: Audiobook

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Georgie McCool is on the verge of getting her big break in TV. She and her writing partner, Seth have received the opportunity to pitch their show to a TV station, but this means there is a lot of writing to do in preparation for the meeting. Only problem is, she was about to fly to Omaha to spend Christmas with her husband, Neal’s parents. Their marriage is in trouble, not from the lack of love but from continuous tension and distance. Now her family is in a different state and things take a weird turn when Georgie picks up the landline and is able to talk to Neal, from before they were married.

First of all I must admit that I’m never going to be the target audience for a book like Landline and I don’t think I can ever enjoy a book like this. It just feels predictable and I know that Georgie and Neal will work things out before even starting the book. Being a literary explorer, I still feel the need to read book in the chick-lit genre and sometimes they surprise me. However for something like Landline, I felt the urge to yell at the characters to “use your words!” during the entire novel.

This is my first Rainbow Rowell book but I think I should have started with something nerdy like Eleanor & Park or Fangirl. I like the idea of nostalgic and nerdy references throughout a novel and while Landline did offer this, I was just too annoyed with the characters. The whole subject of relationships falling apart due to lack of communication doesn’t interest me too much; I just find myself getting frustrated with the characters and expect the plot to do something new and interesting. Landline didn’t give me anything I wanted.

This isn’t to say Landline was a bad novel; in fact it was entertaining, I just prefer some complexity. However this does bring up an interesting moral issue; there is a scene within the book where Georgie and past Neal are talking about her writing partner Seth. Georgie asks Neal not to make her choose between him and Seth, which brings up a fundamental problem in the relationship, she acknowledges that he is causing unease in the relationship but she is not willing to make an effort to solve the problem.

The idea of talking to Neal from fifteen years ago is an interesting plot device, it adds a little magical realism or science fiction into the novel but it does something more. This concept of holding onto the past seems to be a major problem, they don’t seem to understand people change over fifteen years and you have to evolve with them. It is also a really creepy plot device. Also the fact that Georgie has to try calling the landline because Neal is ignoring every call to his mobile from her is a whole other issue.

One last moral issue I found in the novel involved the relationship between Georgie and Seth. There was a point in Landline where I thought they should get together, they seem to be an easier more logical fit but then I realised what I was thinking. I would never want something like this to happen in real life; why would I want to characters in a novel to make this choice. This got me thinking about morality. As humans we expect people to do the right thing but in books, movies and TV we don’t have the same reaction when a character makes the wrong choice. We do react but I think we prefer to explore infidelity, murder and immorality via a work of fiction than in real life, but does this say something about humanity?

As soon as I finished the book I was angry and wanted to give the book a low rating but then I began thinking more about Landline. I don’t think it is a bad book, it has a nice and happy ending but I don’t think the underlining problems in Georgie and Neal’s marriage was actually solved. My initial impression to rate the novel with 2 stars ended up being the correct choice. Now I need to find a book in the chick-lit genre that I like; any suggestions?

And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie

Posted December 29, 2013 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Book of the Month, Classic, Crime / 2 Comments

And Then There Were None by Agatha ChristieTitle: And Then They Were None (Goodreads)
Author: Agatha Christie
Published: St. Martin's Griffin, 1939
Pages: 264
Genres: Classic, Crime
My Copy: Audiobook

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Ten people have been invited to have a holiday on Soldier Island; when they arrived they thought they had nothing in common. Soon they find out all of them have become complacent with the death (or deaths) of other human beings. One by one they all die, but who is the one that is there to seek revenge on the others?

And Then There Were None was originally titled Ten Little (I would rather not say) after the British nursery rhyme. The US edition used this title (which is also the last line of the rhyme) as well as changing the song to Ten Little Indians. Once again the novel was revived and now the song title has been changed to Ten Little Soldiers. Apart from the offensive name of the book originally, this novel was wildly successful and introduced a very common crime trope into the world. Ten people trapped in a house on an island trying to work out who is killing them off one by one. I’m sure you can think of many films, shows and books that have paid homage to this theme.

This classic crime novel looks at the idea of administrating justice; who has the right to judge others, and what happens when the law fails. I’m going to try to avoid spoilers and tell you who the killer is but most people would have read this and probably remember who the perpetrator was. The killer believes the others are complacent and in most facts while they deny being guilty publically are living tormented lives. Not everyone, but it was interesting to see that kind of turmoil and I was a little upset to see that wasn’t explored in greater detail. Having said that, I think the torment played out more in the symbolism and motifs. I’m thinking about the dreams and hallucinations (the guilty consciences of the victims are explored here) or the storm; a symbol of violence that cuts them off from the world.

The killer has set out to commit the perfect crime and it looks good on paper but I never really bought into it. While reading this novel I had a feeling that the cosy crime approach is playing against the story. If you think about the mess made from the violent murders, wouldn’t help the police work out what happened in the end? I’m sure they wouldn’t rely on the handwritten accounts, the evidence would be inconsistent. Making this far from a perfect crime (sorry this is hard to explain without spoilers).

This was my first Agatha Christie novel and while I enjoyed it there is one thing that frustrated me. I hate crime novels that hold back important pieces of evidence and expect the reader to work out what happened. I always feel like the author is trying to be smug but really it is just poorly executed writing. It wasn’t so bad in this novel but I get the feeling it is a common occurrence in all her novels and I can’t stand that. You have to make a great protagonist to make up for the withholding of information. It works better as a first person narrative; the unreliable narrator is more likely to forget to tell you important clues.

I will read some more Christie, I hope I’m mistaken about the withholding of clues. And Then There Were None had no real protagonist but maybe a Hercule Poirot, Miss Jane Marple or Tommy and Tuppence mystery hide this a little better. I suspect Murder on the Orient Express will be my next Agatha Christie read but who knows. I prefer my detectives a little more Hard-Boiled so it might be awhile between Christie novels.

Snow White Must Die by Nele Neuhaus

Posted March 28, 2013 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Crime / 0 Comments

Snow White Must Die by Nele NeuhausTitle: Snow White Must Die (Goodreads)
Author: Nele Neuhaus
Translator: Steven T. Murray
Series: Bodenstein & Kirchhoff #4
Published: Minotaur Books, 2013
Pages: 384
Genres: Crime
My Copy: Library Book

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Skin as white as snow, hair as black as ebony and lips as red as blood… Snow White Must Die is far from a fairy Tale. In a small German town, after serving 10 years for the murder of two 17 year old girls, Tobias Sartorius is released. The town is not happy with his return and when another pretty girl goes missing the suspicion obviously is put on him. As the police race to find the missing girl they start to discover things are not as black and white and maybe Tobias isn’t the killer they all thought he was.

Snow White Must Die is my first German crime novel and I was very impressed with the way this book played out. You start off with a suspicion and slowly through the complex twists you discover that this is just a huge web of lies. The book starts off with Tobias return and the whole town angry toward him, it reminded me a little of We Need to Talk about Kevin with the author exploring the psychology of trying to live in a town where everyone hates you.

Then you discover all the evidence that convicted Tobias was circumstantial and that’s when the questions start. I spent a lot of time trying to understand the motivations of each of the characters, always suspecting they are hiding something. Nele Neuhaus plays with the reader really well, always hinting but never showing her hand too early. The complexity of this case grows but Neuhaus beautifully handles it all without going overboard.

I love the way Nele Neuhaus starts off the story with Tobias as the lead and then when things start getting more centred around the crime it shifts focus toward the detectives working the case. I think this was masterfully done and left it open to kill off lead characters if she wished without throwing the story out. As the corruption and the conspiracy within this town begins to be uncovered, no one is safe and this leaves the reader with an anxiety when they put the book down.

I don’t remember the last time I’ve read a police procedural that I’ve enjoyed this much, I’ve noticed this is book four in a series but it reads like a standalone book. I really hope they translate more of Nele Neuhaus novels because I’m really impressed with her style and would love the chance to enjoy more of her books.

Snow White Must Die is a well crafted thriller that while brutal and violent, it still remains accessible. I would have liked this book to be a little darker but it was still a brilliant book of lies, greed and corruption. I would love to read some more German novels, crime ones in particular if anyone has some good recommendations. Nele Neuhaus showed real skill when she wrote Snow White Must Die and it was a real pleasure to experience it. I wish I could read German to enjoy this book in its original text.

Gangster Squad by Paul Lieberman

Posted March 19, 2013 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Non-Fiction / 0 Comments

Gangster Squad by Paul LiebermanTitle: Gangster Squad (Goodreads)
Author: Paul Lieberman
Published: St. Martin's Griffin, 2012
Pages: 560
Genres: Non-Fiction
My Copy: Personal Copy

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Gangster Squad chronicles the true story of the secret police unit that was assembled to wage war against Mickey Cohen and any other hoodlums in Los Angeles. In 1946 the LAPD created this squad to take down Cohen and clean up the streets by any means necessary. Lasting about four years this war lead to an aftermath that shocks both the LA mob and the police department but ultimately ensuring the mob will never have a foot hold on this city ever again.

I recently saw the very loosely based movie adaptation of this true crime novel and it left me curious to know more about this squad and the life of Mickey Cohen. So I went out and read the book; while it was very story driven, the novel did get rather dry about half way through. I love books about organised crime and I was happy to learn more about the infamous Jewish mobster and his downfall.

I’m not too sure how accurate this book is; I took it was a huge grain of salt but I found out afterwards this was compiled but interviews of the gangster squad and others involved in this operation, so maybe there is some truth to it. But with all true crime and non-fiction books, I remain sceptical of the research. I always read these books and wonder just how much is researched and how much is just pure speculation, I think in this aspect I prefer the fictionalised novels of true events; that way I know for sure it is just their take on the events.

I loved the movie; it was an enjoyable Hollywood butchering of what really happened and I’m fine with that, it was entertaining. As for the book, it read like a novel at the beginning but then I think the author realised we was writing True Crime and tried to over correct himself because it became really dry and clinical. I wish he didn’t shift gears because when he tried to stick to the facts I found myself getting lost with all the people mentioned; I wasn’t sure if I’m meant to know who they all where but the cast was big and there was no point of reference for them all.

It starts off with a pulp feel to it but then it changes so drastically, I’m very interested in learning more about organised crime in America through true crime and novels but this book didn’t really teach me anything. I think the book just got so jammed pack with names that I was confused and I didn’t learn anything that I didn’t already know. Finally verdict; watch the movie, it’s very entertaining and will give you some idea of what actually happened. As for the book, it didn’t really work, I like how they explored all aspects, including their failed operations but in the end Gangster Squad didn’t work as well as I was hoping.

If You Find Me by Emily Murdoch

Posted March 12, 2013 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Young Adult / 6 Comments

If You Find Me by Emily MurdochTitle: If You Find Me (Goodreads)
Author: Emily Murdoch
Published: St. Martin's Griffin, 2013
Pages: 304
Genres: Young Adult
My Copy: ARC from Author

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In a broken down camper, hidden in the forest, is where you will find Casey and Jenessa. Abducted by their bi-polar meth addicted mother ten years ago, the girls have learnt to survive on their own. Until one day their mother disappears for good and two strangers turn up. Suddenly the girls are expected to reintegrate into normal society. If You Find Me is part psychological thriller part Young Adult fiction.

I don’t think I’ve read a YA novel like this before, the survival aspects are handled really well and the whole concept of trying to live a normal life again after being taken away from society were handled really well. The best part; it’s a Young Adult novel that handles these topics that doesn’t have dystopian theme. I really enjoyed the psychological themes throughout this book and thought they were managed really well for a debut author like Emily Murdoch.

There are some parts of this book that I didn’t like, I personally felt like elements of Casey’s life were glossed over; there are mentions of sexual abuse that would be fairly traumatic but I didn’t think it was really explored. Also adorable little Jenessa has a major breakthrough in the book but it was predictable and I could see it coming for miles but then I never felt like it was explored enough; it happened and they all moved on like it never happened.

The concept and the plot are great and I think there are a lot of elements to love about this book. I might be one of the few people that probably thought there were parts that needed to be explored more and other parts that needed to be stripped back. Everything just ended up being unrealistically neat; I would have liked to see some more of the psychological, just to make sure everything isn’t too tidy.

If You Find Me is a great little young adult book from a fantastic new up-and-comer in this genre. I love that this book doesn’t feel like it has been done before. There are some real serious issues explored and for the most of it, it worked really well. For fans of Young Adult fiction, this is a must read for you and I hope this book ends up being a huge success.

Z: A Novel of Zelda Fitzgerald by Therese Anne Fowler

Posted February 22, 2013 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Historical Fiction / 0 Comments

Z: A Novel of Zelda Fitzgerald by Therese Anne FowlerTitle: Z: A Novel of Zelda Fitzgerald (Goodreads)
Author: Therese Anne Fowler
Published: St. Martin's Griffin, 2013
Pages: 384
Genres: Historical Fiction
My Copy: ARC from Netgalley

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The beautiful and reckless Southern belle Zelda Sayre first met Lieutenant Francis Scott Key Fitzgerald at an Alabama country club dance in 1918; she was seventeen at the time. Scott had a big dream, to be a rich writer and he wanted Zelda to join him on this ride of a lifetime. Taking a chance on him, their life soon became a whirlwind of glamour and fame. Z is a fictionalised account of Zelda Fitzgerald and her life with the dashing F. Scott Fitzgerald who everyone wants to meet.

This Side of Paradise (1920)

The novel starts off with Zelda just shy of her 18th birthday, when she meets Scott, a man with big dreams and unlike all the others. The novel The Romantic Egotist was rejected multiple times and almost killed Scott’s dreams, but it was Zelda who kept pushing him to try again. Their attraction blossoms quickly and soon they find themselves engaged. Scott goes off to try and makes a life for them; Zelda doesn’t take too kindly to waiting and with a bit of pushing they are married. Just a little after This Side of Paradise is released with great success. The popularity of this novel turns them into celebrities; everyone wanted to get to know this new author and his scandalous wife.

The Beautiful and Damned (1922)

Life is good with their new found fame for this newlywed couple, but both are passionate people and slowly this started to cause issues. Firstly with the success of Sinclair Lewis’ novel Main Street, the popularity of This Side of Paradise fadeds quickly and soon this couple found themselves struggling to make ends meet. With all the short stories and  eventually the release of The Beautiful and Damned, which was largely based on their marriage, they were able to get back to living beyond their means.

The Great Gatsby (1925)

Scott began working on a new novel, which he was very passionate about. So passionate in fact that their marriage suffered again and Zelda planned on leaving. With a lot of beginning she eventually stayed and Scott continued to work on the novel that would eventually become The Great Gatsby. He was so passionate about what this novel would become, he could envision what was wrong with the drafts and what needed to be fixed to make it work, when it was released with mixed results, it really hurt him.

Save Me the Waltz (1932)

When Scott became friends with Ernest Hemingway, he started to spend most of his time with him. Scott loved truly loved Hemingway (platonically presumably) and with all the time he spent with him, Zelda and their daughter Scotty felt left out. Due to either boredom or isolation, Zelda’s behaviour became increasingly erratic and eventually she was diagnosed as a schizophrenic. Her novel Save Me the Waltz is a semi autobiographical account of her life and marriage.

Tender Is the Night (1934)

The failure of Save Me the Waltz, and her husband’s scornful criticism of her book by calling it “plagiaristic” and her a “third-rate” writer crushed her spirits and she never wrote creatively again. Scott became an increasingly heavy drinker, which caused many health problems for him as well, but while Zelda was hospitalised, he managed to write Tender is the Night, a book about the rise and fall of a promising young psychoanalyst and his wife (who was also his patient). These were the darkest years of their lives together and this was reflected in this novel.

The Love of the Last Tycoon (1941)

Zelda found out her husband had died of a heart attack from her parents, first thinking something was wrong with Scotty. His death, his legacy and her life afterwards were never really explored in this book. We do know that they were in debt when he died and most of his life insurance went towards covering those costs. His unfinished novel The Love of the Last Tycoon was completed by his friend, the literary critic, Edmund Wilson, based on the notes Scott had written but this wasn’t explored either.

I was really interested in reading about Zelda Fitzgerald after seeing Alison Pill’s brief performance of her in Midnight in Paris. I was more interested in her life than his; she seemed like a real fiery person and Z does really explore the first part of her life really well. The major problem I had was that I didn’t really find out enough about the struggles they faced from the 1930’s onwards. The bulk of the book takes place in the 1920’s and then really skips over their marriage and health issues. It completely missed life after his death all together.

I also had issues with the writing style, it just felt too modern and didn’t feel like how a person would talk in the 1920’s. To put it in perspective in the author notes at the end Therese Anne Fowler used the terms “Team Scott” and “Team Zelda” and the novel felt it was using modern phrases like this as well. While it was an interesting look at their lives, I can’t help wonder how much is actually true; fictionalised accounts of historical events are great but sometimes you need to know when creative licensing is in effect. I might have to read the biography Zelda by Nancy Milford and Save Me the Waltz to really know more about her life. I’m not sure why learning more about her life is more important than his life, but I’m just going to go with it.

Z is a great look at the quintessential “Flapper” of the Jazz Age and the Roaring Twenties but for me I wanted more of the other stuff. Glamour and Fame do have their hardships but it looks like they are nothing compared to what happened next. I really enjoyed learning about Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald; they had an interesting life and I know there was so much to cover. I know more about their lives than I thought I would and while I’m still not sure how much is true, it’s enough to make me want to continue exploring; right after I read every novel written by the Fitzgerald’s as well as Main Street by Sinclair Lewis.