I’m a crime and thriller junkie, so I’m always curious about the real-life effects of poisons and the like (I also own Deadly Doses: A Writer’s Guide to Poisons by Serita Stevens and Anne Klarner), so it’s par for the course that I want to learn as much as possible about the content of my favourite books.
This book is an enlightening view to the dangers of life in Victorian Britain - everything seemed to have an arsenical compound, and was therefore deadly. It’s also a lesson in exactly how dangerous life in that era was. Most surprising, to me, was the continued use of green items despite the only way to produce the colour was by using arsenical compounds. Many people died through the use of green wallpaper (the heat of the lamps used caused fumes to be emitted), green book covers (children died through spitting on a cover, then mixing it to produce green “paint” which was then absorbed through the skin) and green cake decorations (why you would use poison in icing is anyone’s guess).
It did, however, drag on exceptionally long, and in the Kindle version, the illustrations were a page or two after what they were depicting. In spite of the length and the bouncing between storylines, it was an interesting read, especially as I’d never really thought about arsenic at all before seeing this book.
I guess I should start with the fact that I am a HUGE CSI addict. I can’t get enough of watching George Eads (Nick) and Eric Szmanda (Greg), as well as the revolving door of other regulars. I recently watched every season of CSI (1-11, roughly 24 episodes a season) in a row, which took me 3 months, and in the course of that, I met the villain of this book, the infamous Sqweegel.
In law enforcement, serial killers are split into levels from 1 to 25…but Sqweegel is the only killer to exceed those levels, hence the title of the book - Level 26. To put it into perspective, this is Dr Michael Stone’s Scale of Evil, in which he explains the levels and gives an example of each: http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=129175964
I don’t think any villain has terrified me quite as much as Sqweegel, and with good reason. He wears a latex suit (black in the show, but white in this book), is double jointed, and walks like a spider. He also is basically invisible, finds out the deepest, darkest secrets of people, and then stalks them in their own home (when they’re found murdered, the CSIs find a perfect imprint of his latex-suited body, complete with zip imprint, under their beds).
In the book, the hero is Steve Dark, the only FBI agent who has ever come close to catching Sqweegel, and it drove him right to the edge of insanity. But, like all villains, Sqweegel takes an odd liking to the man pursing him and doesn’t leave him alone, drawing him back into a dangerous game of cat and mouse that involves Dark’s extremely pregnant wife, Sibby.
Throughout the book are ‘cyberbridges’, code words to be plugged into the Level 26 website to unlock videos and sound clips. While some of them were really useful; like the ones that show just how creepy Sqweegel is, as well and interviews, and the threatening messages he leaves for Dark; there were far too many of them to be able to enjoy the book on the road (especially if, like me, you have an iPhone and therefore can’t watch the videos on your phone). However, in the next two books, there are a lot less and I think they’d be a lot more effective.
If you like CSI, or thrillers in general, this isn’t a bad beginning to a series. I’m now hoping the next two are even better when it comes to Dark’s pursuit of criminals.
After reading Gone Girl late last year, and not being able to get it out of my head, I thought I should travel backwards in Gillian Flynn’s writing, and read her first novel, Sharp Objects.
I’m bewildered as to why this didn’t get even half the publicity that Gone Girl did, because this is a truly horrifying (yet stellar) debut.
The story is told by Camille, a reporter for a small newspaper in Chicago, who is pressured by her editor into going back to the small town where she grew up, to cover a story about the murder of a young girl and the disappearance of another. Camille’s relationship with her family is fairly strained - she never knew her father, her mother remarried when she was a baby, her stepfather has always been cold towards her, and her 13-year-old half-sister is a tyrant.
When the second girl turns up missing, Camille teams up with a cop from out of town in order to figure out why these girls were targeted, and who is abducting, torturing and killing them.
This book is stunning in its simplicity - the typical small, locked community (the only outsiders are Camille and the cop); the horrifying details of torture; the early teenage rebellion of Camille’s sister Amma and her little gang; and the threat of Camille’s hideous past, including why she left town in the first place.
I refuse to give more plot points away (though there were so many twists and turns that you couldn’t be sure I gave away something important). For such a small novel, it packs in so many different subplots, and unravels so gradually, that I can’t in good conscience give any more than the brief introduction above. All I’ll say is if you enjoy a really chilling thriller, with all the horrors that includes, you will enjoy this novel.
Like any author, Ian McEwan has his fans, but I am afraid that I am not one of them. I tried both Atonement and Sweet Tooth on for size, and the thing I dislike the most is how he tries to narrate from a female first person. I fund both his heroines flat and uninteresting, simply through the way he wrote their voices.
Serena of Sweet Tooth is the typical privileged English girl - pretty, blonde, clever, eldest daughter. Her sister Lucy provides the contrast a little too sharply, giving us the sense that McEwan is disappointed in her, or that he wants his heroine to be perfect. This distinction, where Serena seems to have very few flaws, did nothing except annoy me through the novel, to the point where I was groaning every time some man or other noticed her.
I love all things crime, thriller and espionage, usually, so I felt that this whole book was a bit of a letdown, simply because there is very little that actually happens through it. True, there’s at least one covert mission, but apart from that, it deals with the everyday life of a low-level MI5 agent, and she leads a grim and uninviting existence. Most people read to get away from everyday life, but in this novel, you can’t escape from it, tinged sepia by the ’70s setting.
One thing I will say is that he does portray the two main men Serena encounters as fully fleshed out characters. Max, in particular, is an intriguing, loathable character, while Tom is the Serena to his Lucy, perfect in every way Max is not.
I still don’t think I could recommend this book, purely on the fact that it bored me about a third of the way through, and I found it a struggle to finish it, in spite of the clever narrative devices that McEwan employed towards the end. (There will be no spoilers here!)
I wasn’t really sure what to expect out of this book, but I’ve been feeling (for the past few years - pretty much ever since I became employed full-time) that I was in a creative rut, and I figured that I may as well give a New York Times bestselling book a chance.
I’m really glad that I did, because I feel mere words are insufficient to describe how this book has allayed my fears that I might be stuck like this forever.
Though she’s a former dancer and choreographer, Tharp allows for all walks of creative life, referring to dancers, musicians, writers and artists alike throughout her surprisingly slim book.
One part I found really interesting was her ‘Creative Autobiography’ - 33 questions about your own creative process - and some of the answers I came up with were real eye-openers. The questions range from your first artistic endeavour, through to your current morning routine, who your admire in your chosen field, and how you deal with criticism.
As a writer, I did tend to skim through the parts that related to dance, music and art, but even when I went back to read them (I really dislike leaving any words unread), I found I didn’t miss much except anecdotes.
The exercises that she gives at the end of each chapter are thought-provoking, and I will definitely be incorporating some of them in my path back to creative writing. She also gives a set of instructions on how to deal with a creative rut, practical and efficient, much like the rest of her book.
I’m not usually a big fan of ‘how to’ books, but I really am happy that I bought this book, because it encourages the reader to get into the habit of creating, even if they believe, at the beginning, that they aren’t creating anything of merit. She reminds us that part of luck is hard work, and that forming habits around practicing your artform can awaken creativity.
And now, to leave you with a quote from Mark Twain, which she uses to stress the importance of reading in the creative process: “The man who does not read has no advantage over the the man who cannot read.”
This novel was definitely not something I read for class - no weird and wacky sci-fi here, just an utterly lovely and moving story about a man caught between his feelings for two women in 1920s Wales.
Wilfred Price is a serious, well-to-do young undertaker. All his life, he has been surrounded by men - his mother passing away when he was born, and being sent off to apprentice as an undertaker under a very respectable gentleman. So, when he is invited to a picnic and is so enchanted with the yellow silk dress of a girl he’s known since childhood but does not love, and accidentally proposes to her, trouble begins brewing.
To make matters worse, while attending to the funeral of a man from a neighbouring town, he meets the man’s daughter and falls instantly, and hopelessly, in love with her.
At least twice during this book, I could feel myself welling up with emotion. Wendy Jones has portrayed her characters as so real that you can’t help but be drawn into their lives.
I would gladly recommend this book to anyone with a taste for romance, or for the quieter side of 1920s Britain (no flappers to be found here!). The charm is in its simplicity - a small town, with only so many people that there’s no chance of mixing up names.
For class, I have to read outside my comfort zone - science fiction and fantasy. I put out the call to my Facebook friends, and quite a few of them recommended this novel to me.
At roughly 240 pages, this seems like a very approachable sci-fi novel, but as soon as I cracked open the cover, it proved the old adage that “appearances can be deceiving”.
It also proved that not all sci-fi is created equal - I could like Ender’s Game and I thoroughly enjoyed The Illustrated Man, but Foundation eluded me. I think it was purely because the beginning was so long-winded and drawn out, and it felt like very little happened in the first three-quarters of the book. There was also an abundance of minor characters, who were then referred to later in the novel, when I’d forgotten who they were.
However, I did find the idea of a psychologist prophet throughout the ages intriguing, and it always amazes me when these books were written because, on the surface, they really could have been written yesterday (especially The Illustrated Man).
I’m not going to lie - I found this an absolute beast of a book (I’ve been having a lot of trouble with my book choices lately if you look at my Goodreads list), and I can’t say I’ll be reading Asimov again in a hurry.