Quinn Checks In- L.H. Thomson

The Kindle store’s description of Quinn Checks In was promising, and the fact that it appeared in the top 3 for a number of different categories suggested that it would be a good read. As the first book in a series, I had high hopes that the story would be deep, and would compel me to go on to read them all. I had also decided, after having thoroughly enjoyed Gone Girl, that I quite fancied reading another mystery book.

 

In spite of all these high hopes, I have to say that I was left generally disappointed by Quinn Checks In. I didn’t feel that there was anything that kept me wanting to turn the pages, other than the hope that the book would improve as I got further into it. I must say that I found Liam Quinn, the protagonist rather charming, both as a result of his self-deprecation and moments of humour. As a reader, I was also on his side, given the fact that he has clearly learned from his past mistakes, and wishes to set himself down the correct path this time, as well as his obvious don’t-mess-with-me character. However, I found other characters fairly hollow, given that there were so many of them that it was sometimes hard to keep track of who was who. As a result of this, and the fact that many of these characters were predictable stereotypes found in a crime novel, I struggled to keep interested and did skim read some parts of the book.

 

Additionally, while I did appreciate the backstory behind the novel, and the fact that it wasn’t difficult to keep up with this story, understanding the reasoning behind inter-character relationships and dynamics, I found that some elements of the narrative were a little too simplistic. For example, problems were always solved a little too conveniently, to the point at that they seemed unrealistic and, personally, I would expect crime/mystery narratives to have a little more verisimilitude. Having said this, Thomson does paint a rich picture of the setting of Philadelphia and puts it in context of the people that live in the city. This does mean that there is an effective backdrop for the narrative which means that, even if the narrative itself is unrealistic, at least its setting isn’t.

 

I also found the ending largely disappointing, no ‘real’ solution for the crime that had been followed for the rest of the narrative. Instead, there was more of a summary of what was to come. I feel a better solution would to have leave the narrative on a cliffhanger- at least, that would have probably encouraged me to read the next book in the series.

 

Having considered everything, I cannot say that I would recommend Quinn Checks In, certainly not to anyone who is expecting a high-quality read. Perhaps it would be a good light holiday read, and I must admit that I would consider reading another book in the series, simply out of curiousity to see if there is improvement, and not because I feel compelled to know more.

Douce Nuit- Mary Higgins Clark

The review is another French book this week, for two reasons: I could almost justify it as revision for my imminent French exams, and it had been on my bookshelf for almost 18 months so I thought I would give it a read.

I must admit, it was a little odd reading a book that is set so close to Christmas time in May, and when the weather has been incredibly warm recently, but it by no means distracted me from the story itself.

There is no denying Clark’s ability to create suspense, I finished the Douce Nuit in a couple of days, purely due to the fact that I wanted to know what would happen next, where the narrative would lead and what would happen to Brian.  However, I would say that this is more as a result of the plot, rather than a particular writing style, although, I should acknowledge that the book was originally published in English, so some stylistic elements may have been lost in translation.

I think the plot is incredibly charming, brilliantly capturing the impulsive and determined nature of a seven year old boy that is fiercely defensive of his family, as well as they sheer panic that would overwhelm his family in the case of his disappearance. I think the festive time setting of the book also added a little ‘something’ to the narrative, and is relevant and made reference to throughout the novel. It both intensifies the emotions, given the common belief that families should be together at Christmas, and, in some ways, lessens the emotions, given the belief in Christmas miracles.

There were enough characters in the narrative to make the scenario seem somewhat feasible despite the fact that, at points, I had to turn back a few pages to remind myself who was who, but there weren’t so many that some of their roles seemed empty or simply decorative. I did like this because it meant that the narrative was perfectly supported without becoming confusing or overcrowded. I particularly appreciated the presence of another child, Michael, in the narrative, as it meant that I got to experience the situation from another young point of view, which doesn’t often happen.

The narrative conclusion is happy and heartwarming, in the true style of a novel that is set at Christmas, and as would be expected in a situation as worrying as Catherine’s. However, I do appreciate a little complication in a narrative, and it did seem a little too convenient for my liking, but I don’t think I could expect much else from this genre of book.

All considered, I probably would recommend this book, but I would perhaps suggest that it is read over the Christmas period in order that the reader can get into a similar festive spirit as the characters would have been. I would actually be intrigued to read the book again in English in order that I could fully appreciate it stylistically as well as in terms of the plot.

 

 

 

 

La Liste de mes envies- Grégoire Delacourt

Given that I study French and that I will be spending the next academic year in France, I suppose it is only right that I read some french literature to review on here, plus it definitely counts as revision in the lead up to exams…doesn’t it?

 

It was actually a pleasant change to pick up a french book that I wouldn’t need to write an exam or essay on (oh…), and that wasn’t some sort of medieval geste or interwar political text, so I knew from the outset that I would enjoy La Liste de mes envies.

 

What struck me from the beginning was the simplicity of Delacourt’s writing. Not only is this incredibly useful for a reader whose second language is French, it also gives the impression that Jocelyne, the book’s protagonist is open and honest and that there will be no horrible surprises- not from her, at least! I felt for her straight away, when in the second sentence she claims she has always known that she has never been attractive, and this sense of self-deprecation continues throughout the text, but in a way that is not attention seeking or irritating.

 

In fact, throughout the whole book I feel for her: her ex-alcoholic husband, her estranged children, her aging father, the fact that she witnessed her mother’s death- nothing seems to be going her way. This is why, as a reader, you can’t help but feel truly happy for her when she realises her lucky lottery win. In fact, you don’t even question the secrets she begins to keep from her husband because you feel that she deserves to have such secrets.

 

The lists of Jocelyne’s envies, or desires, after which the book is named, that Delacourt includes throughout the book are almost humorous because he keeps them so realistic, and really displays the kindness of Jocelyne’s character through what she wishes to do with her money. The lists, of course, include bigger buys such as designer clothes and shoes, but also less extravagant things such as getting a haircut. One list reveals that she wishes to choose someone at random to give 1 million euros, but the most striking is the last wish on one of the lists: to be told that she is beautiful. It is at this point that I felt true sympathy for Jocelyne because she wanted something that, even with all of this money, she could not get.

 

In fact, it seems that Delacourt’s aim, throughout is to remind the reader that having money shouldn’t change you, because it is not the answer to all of life’s problems. Jocelyne manages to remain humble throughout, even in spite of her incredibly popular blog and newfound fortune.

 

The most heartbreaking part of the book is that the men she loves cannot or do not reciprocate. Her father, as a result of his alzheimer’s, continues to forget who she is, which results in her pretending to be the nurse because the heartbreak of reminding him that she is her daughter is too much. Her husband, just after it seems that he has started a fresh, giving up drinking and taking her out for dinner, eventually betrays her and she is left heartbroken.

 

La Liste de mes envies is short, which keeps it accessible and the very short chapters, or rather, narrative splits, as they aren’t actually numbered or named mean that you can really engage with each part without forgetting what happened earlier on. It is almost as if they are bursts of Jocelyne’s inner thoughts and the reader is able to share them with her.

 

I would recommend this book to anyone because of the sheer beauty of Delacourt’s ability to create such a wonderful character, with whom I felt I could establish a real connection. The simplicity of his writing is beautiful, and by avoiding the complexity that can often be found in French syntax, the reader is able to focus properly on what is being said and what is happening, rather than the main attention occupied by unravelling tenses. My sole criticism of the book is that it was over too quickly, I feel as though I could have continued as a part of Jocelyne’s life for much longer and I will, without a doubt, come back to this book as a result of that.

 

Due to the book’s great success, it has been translated and is also available in English as The List of My Desires.

To Rise Again At A Decent Hour- Joshua Ferris

I know you should always abide by the old saying “never judge a book by its cover” but it really was the bright orange spine of this book that caught my attention when it was on the shelf in my local charity shop. When I pulled it out, the review quotations and its logo showing it was shortlisted for The Man Booker Prize 2014 convinced me that it was worth a read.

 

I must admit that it took me a little while to get into To Rise Again At A Decent Hour. I think I was partly put off by the length of the chapters- most of them are very long for a novel of this length and, as someone who hates leaving putting a book down mid-chapter, I found this slightly inconvenient if I was reading in the interstitial periods of my day. However, having said this, as the ‘identity forging’ started to develop I found that I couldn’t put the book down anyway, and actually used the length of the chapter as an excuse for myself to continue reading.

 

All of the reviews celebrating the humour of this book are definitely valid, I found myself smiling at various periods- not just Paul the character’s conversations with other characters, but also Paul the narrator’s comments directed at the reader- probably because I could identify with his stubbornness and skepticism, although I think most of us could! His emails demanding the removal of his website and other elements of the identity theft were also highly amusing.  As a reader, you can really share his frustration at the idea of having his identity stolen and sort of love the fact that other people doubt him because of what the ‘thief’ seems to be doing with it.

 

It was also interesting to read a novel in which the narrator is a dentist, simply because it is not an obvious choice of profession. It was much more interesting than one might assume. In fact, it almost adds to the novel’s humour because it makes you realise some of the thing your dentist might think about you and your teeth. It was also a great choice of profession for this type of narrative, which I am sure was no coincidence, given the sheer number of people that a dental surgeon would come into contact with, adding to the initial mystery of the identity theft.

 

However, I am unsure whether I appreciate the religious content of the identity theft. Now, it in no way preaches anything to the reader, and can actually be quite interesting to learn about at times. It just seems slightly odd and, while it does avoid the cliché of unauthorised purchases that are commonly in identity theft narratives, it is a little confusing. I think the idea of it was to suggest the idea that no one is ever so stuck in their beliefs that they can’t change them, but, at least to me, the real reason wasn’t ever really made clear.

 

I also felt that information about Paul and Connie’s relationship could have been further developed. I understand that it wasn’t the most important elements of the book, but I did feel as if i wanted to know more. Having said this, the slight nods to other parts of Paul’s life outside of his job, such as his baseball interest, did help to build him as a character, so perhaps that was what the mention of his relationship with Connie was supposed to be, too.

 

Overall, I did enjoy To Rise Again At A Decent Hour and have already recommended it to a friend who asked me if I knew any easy-to-read, light-hearted books. Whilst I felt that some parts of the narrative where merely brushed upon, I never felt as if I wanted to give up on the book, and I think it is Paul’s dry and, in some ways, naive humour that really kept me engaged. My advice to potential readers: the humour is worth the more odd elements.