Six Degrees of Separation: from The Outsiders to In Cold Blood

It has been a while since I last did a Six Degrees chain. Life got a lot busy over the summer, and I haven’t been reading as many books as usual, never mind keeping up with my fellow bloggers. But here I am, only five days late (what do you mean, more like four months late?), and to celebrate, I’m going to do things properly this time, and not count the first book in the chain as part of my six. Hooray!

The Outsiders by S E Hinton is the start of this month’s Six Degrees book chain. I’ve never read it or seen the film, so let’s see where I end up. Continue reading

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Mr Norris Changes Trains

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Read 25/09/2018-04/10/2018

Rating: 4 stars

This time two years ago I read Goodbye to Berlin, Christopher Isherwood’s collection of short stories that describe life in Berlin in the years leading up to Hitler seizing power. Mr Norris Changes Trains is an earlier novel that deals with the same period. It’s part comedy of manners, part espionage thriller. Continue reading

The Susan Effect

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Read 16/09/2018-25/09/2018

Rating: 5 stars

Read for the Reader’s Room European Backpacking Challenge.

Years ago my friend Sharon lent me Peter Høeg’s novel Miss Smilla’s Feeling for Snow. I loved it.

I read Borderliners as well. I didn’t love it as much as Miss Smilla but it was still good.

I haven’t read anything by Peter Høeg since then. I needed a book set in Denmark or written by someone Danish for the reading challenge I’ve been doing this summer. Looking around online I discovered that Høeg’s latest book was out in paperback. I read the blurb and it sounded like fun. Continue reading

The Girl Who Played with Fire

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Read 11/08/2018-08/09/2018

Rating: 4 stars

Read for the Reader’s Room European Backpacking Challenge

The Girl Who Played with Fire is the second book in the Millennium Trilogy (shut up, that ghost written fourth book and its followup is not part of the series) by Stieg Larsson. After my forays into Yrsa Sigurdardóttir’s and Jo Nesbø’s writing, it was a relief to be back in Larsson’s safe hands. Continue reading

Last Rituals

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Read 15/07/2028-24/07/2018

Rating: 2 stars

The first in Yrsa Sigurdardóttir’s Thóra Gudmundsdóttir series of crime novels, Last Rituals is an exploration of modern witchcraft set in Iceland. I’ve wanted to start this series for a while, but held off because I have so many other books to read. The Reader’s Room European Backpacking Challenge gave me the opportunity, as I skipped from Scotland to Iceland, to borrow Last Rituals from the library.

The story begins on 31 October 2005. Hallowe’en. Or, as it’s also known in our house, my birthday. It also begins with a bit of thinly veiled anti-immigration bigotry from the head caretaker of an Icelandic university who likens his workplace to Bangkok. That’s not the kind of thing I want to read about on my virtual past birthday. There’s more than enough of that in the news at present.

I’d picked up on Yrsa Sigurdardóttir as an Icelandic crime writer after I completed the Detective Erlandur series by Arnaldur Indridason. Bernard Scudder, who translated the fourth Detective Erlandur novel, Silence of the Grave, also translated Last Rituals. This made me think that I’d enjoy the Thóra Gudmundsdóttir books.

Shame, then, that Sigurdardóttir writes almost exclusively in clichés. I don’t mind a cliché here and there, crime as a genre is built on clichés after all, but when they are unhelpful clichés then I get annoyed. Sigurdardóttir, as well as the anti-immigration bigotry which doesn’t take long to look at itself honestly in the mirror and accept that it’s racism, also likes to define women by their appearance. Thóra Gudmundsdóttir is a lawyer. She doesn’t wear makeup, just moisturiser and mascara, apart from those times when she needed to feel confident. Then she puts on lipstick. She doesn’t like to judge people on their appearance, because character is what matters, and yet her inner monologue fat shames her secretary and she prides herself on always keeping herself slim.

Internally she endlessly cursed their secretarial problems. They had doubtless cost their firm business. Thóra could not think of any customer who had not complained about the girl. She was not only rude but also exceptionally unattractive. It was not being in the super-heavyweight bracket that was the big issue, but her general carelessness about her appearance.

It made me feel tired. And this was after less than twenty pages. I ploughed on regardless.

In terms of the story, about a group of university friends who form an interest in occult ritual (hello, The Secret History), it got better. There was a decent plot that unfolded gradually, keeping me engaged if not exactly guessing. The writing, though, continued to be mediocre. I don’t know any Icelandic people, so maybe they do speak the way Sigurdardóttir suggests, with lots of frost and a bleak kind of joy, but her dialogue wasn’t convincing nor the characters sympathetic. I read all of the Erlandur series and felt the humanity of the characters and didn’t notice anything stilted about their communication. One thing in particular irritated me about the dialogue in this book, and that was the way Sigurdardóttir used conversation to fill in backstory. I have never begun a conversation with someone by reminding them of a previous encounter first, because I don’t feel the need to provide people with their own backstory. Sigurdardóttir’s characters do.

Another thing that irritated me was the Mills and Boon style romantic undercurrent. Don’t get me wrong, I like a good Mills and Boon romance. I just don’t like it when a crime thriller tries to turn into a romantic pot boiler.

There were moments that could have been funny. Sigurdardóttir demonstrates flashes of dark wit. Unfortunately, that wit gets drowned out by the clunkiness of her writing.

The subject matter interested me. Ancient folklore and the clash of superstition with the rapidly modernising world of the 16th and 17th centuries are fascinating subjects. I’d hazard that a fair amount of research went into the plot and its historical details. There were glimpses of a much better book if Sigurdardóttir had found the courage to cut away the dross. I like most things set on a university campus that involves ancient manuscripts and researchers who get a bit carried away with their topic, and Last Rituals could have risen to a similar standard to Inspector Morse (I’ve only seen the TV adaptations, haven’t read any of the books yet). It’s a shame that it didn’t quite make it.

The Hate U Give

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Read 05/05/2018-08/05/2018

Rating: 3 stars

Angie Thomas’s teen drama The Hate U Give hadn’t crossed my radar until it was included in the Reader’s Room March Madness Reading Challenge. When we were voting on which books we thought we’d be likely to read, I scored it low because I’m not big on reading Young Adult literature. A couple of bookish friends recommended it, though, after I finished Sing, Unburied, Sing.

I feel a little mean, only rating it 3 stars. It’s a good book, but there were things about it that annoyed me, because I’m not a teenager and no longer care about the things that matter to teenagers. I’m glad that I read it, though. Continue reading