Wednesday, January 17, 2018

A Dark Dividing by Sarah Rayne

Reread this after Chord of Evil and it’s just as chilling as I remembered it! If I remember correctly, this was the first Sarah Rayne book that I read.

A Dark Dividing is a dual narrative with a dual narrative nestled within. The present day follows journalist Harry as he investigates an up and coming artist named Simone Anderson, with flashbacks to Simone's childhood.. The narrative in the past consists diary excerpts from Charlotte, who’s pregnant with twins. The present day narrative is slightly more complicated as Harry, Melissa (Simone’s Mother), Simone (as a child) and Rox (crazy nurse) are all POV characters. As the story continues, it’s clear that two sets of conjoined twins lie at the heart of the story.

And of course, there’s a sinister house named Mortmain...

The story could be extremely confusing, but the writing and pacing are extremely well-done and I wasn’t confused at all. Admittedly, this is a reread but I didn’t feel confused at all. The multiple POVs and time-shifts worked well to increase the tension of the book and the plot was well-paced as well.

My favourite part of the book is the dark and creepy tone. I looked and someone on the blurb called it a psychological thriller but it feels a lot more like horror to me. There is a dark undertone that’s present right from the start and it gave me chills, even during the day.

A note about characters: the two ‘baddies’ of the book - the creepy girl that Simone hears (hopefully that’s not a big spoiler) and Rosie were really well-developed. In particular, Rosie’s descent from a slightly odd character into madness and obsession was very well-written and felt natural (as odd as that sounded). There was a darkness in Rosie that grew and grew and in a way, she was the dark dividing.

If you’re into dark, creepy novels with deftly written dual narratives that tie together, you’ve got to read this (and other Sarah Rayne books). It’s got me wanting to reread more, and I probably will borrow whatever I can find from the library. And now, the question is: when will I get to the library?

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Chord of Evil by Sarah Rayne

I requested this book because Sarah Rayne is one of the few horror writers that I enjoy (because I'm too much of a scaredy-cat to explore the horror genre). While I haven't read her works in a while - something that I should remedy soon - Chords of Evil has the same suspense and crescendoing dread that the other works have.

Chords of Evil is a story told in two time periods and through four points of view. It starts in the modern day, with Phineas Fox. His neighbour, Toby, asks for his help in finding his missing cousin Arabella. To be honest, the normalcy of the beginning threw me off, but the book after they find a mysterious painting, the book quickly shifts to Margot, who's a bit obsessed with her brother, and then back into the past to Giselle in Nazi-era Germany and then to one last character (not going to name her to avoid spoilers). As the different threads start to weave themselves together, the world of the story got darker and darker and I felt that familiar sense of dread creeping over me.

Sarah Rayne tends to be a master of the dual plot structure, but I'll admit that I was a bit confused initially. I'm not sure if it's just the ARC copy I received, but there was nothing to indicate a POV change, which meant that I ended up going back and rereading a couple of chapters because I got lost. To be fair, I did put the book down and I suppose that if I read the first few chapters in one sitting, this wouldn't have happened. But as the story progressed and I got a hang of who's who, the shifts in POV and time felt a lot smoother and instead of being confused, the tension increased with every change.

As for characters, I thought that Giselle and the other character in the past felt very well-rounded, while Phineas was a little more forgettable and Margot was just creepy. I also thought that Arabella verged on being just a bit too manic pixie dream girl-ish, but since she didn't really appear until the ending of the book, she ending up being more charming than anything.

To be honest, I don't think Chord of Evil is as good as some of her other books, like A Dark Dividing, Roots of Evil, Spider Light, or Ghost Song, which were the first few books of hers that I read - before this blog, or perhaps in its earliest days - and which I would dearly love to re-read again. But on the whole, it is a solid thriller and did a good job of creeping me out, even if the beginning was a bit rough.

Disclaimer: I got a free copy of this book from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for a free and honest review.

Monday, January 15, 2018

You May Also Like by Tom Vanderbilt

I borrowed this book thinking it was going to be about the algorithms that recommend things to us (like YouTube videos and Amazon products). While that was mentioned, the book is actually about taste - why do we like what we do?

You May Also Like looks at the idea of taste and like by looking at specific areas. There are 6 chapters and each focuses on a different area, namely food, online reviews and recommendations, music playlists, art, beer and cats. There is some overlap between the chapters, but I managed to find different takeaways from each chapter.

From chapter 1 on food, the ideas that we think we want more choice than we do, and that the act of choosing something inclines us to liking it.

Chapter 2 on feedback in the internet age (aka algorithms) that fake reviews has less details about things like room size and location and more superlatives, not to mention more personal pronouns.

Also, the difference between a professional and amateur review is that the professional talks about reasons to like or dislike something while amateurs talk about why they like or dislike something (obviously my reviews fall into the amateur category)

Going on to chapter 3, I found the idea that as we get used to something difficult, we mistake perceptual fluency for liking something. In other words, the more you're exposed to something, the more you learn to like it.

Chapter 4 is on art and it suggests that we tend to see what we expect to see, rather than what is there.

In Chapter 5, one of the ideas introduced is that we don't expect our tastes to change as much as they do.

Finally, in chapter 6, the book considers the conundrum that a good beer (or cat or any other thing) is one that best represents the standard. But the standard is made out of criteria that people think make a beer good. So what makes a good beer? And the cycle goes on and on.

Even though this book wasn't quite what I expected, I found that I enjoyed it very much. I've never really thought about why I like the things I do, although looking back, I can see that my tastes have changed, especially when it comes to food. It was pretty interesting to read and think about why and how taste is defined.

If you're interested in non-fiction and the study of human behaviour, you may find this interesting. Through a wide variety of subjects, the book manages to explore different aspects of taste and likability, both personal and general.

Friday, January 12, 2018

Magpie Murders by Anthony Horowitz

A friend recommended me this book and when I saw that it was a murder mystery by Anthony Horowitz, I had to pick it up. I really enjoyed the Alex Rider series and so I had really high hopes for this! (There aren’t any teenage spies in this though)

Magpie Murders is a murder mystery about a murder mystery. Susan Ryeland is the editor of Alan Conway, who writes the Atticus Pünd mysteries. She (and the reader) starts reading the book, but then she finds that the last chapter, the most important one where the murderer is revealed, is missing. Ordinarily, this wouldn’t be a problem but Alan Conway dies. Everyone thinks it’s a suicide by Susan disagrees and starts investigating (supposedly to find the missing chapters but really for the murder)

The Alan Pünd mystery, which is also titled Magpie Murders, hearkens back to the golden age of detective fiction with a foreign detective (who is German, not Belgium) investigating a mystery in an English town not far from Bath. The mystery starts with the death of the housekeeper and then ramps it up with the death of the unpopular rich guy of the place.

What I loved about this book is how much it celebrated the mystery. It sounds weird for a mystery to talk about the genre, but the meta mystery-within-a-mystery thing gave the book the perfect vehicle to celebrate all that is good about the genre. There are tons of references to various classics, and Agatha Christie’s grandson even has a cameo in the book!

Personally, I preferred the Atticus Pünd mystery compared to the Alan Conway mystery, but that’s because I have a soft spot for Agatha Christie and her contemporaries. I also appreciate how the first third of the book was the Atticus Pünd mystery followed by the Alan Conway mystery rather than alternating between the two. By putting most of the chapters together, I was able to lose myself in the story within the story rather than see it as a plot device.

In short, if you’re a mystery fan (and especially if you’re a golden age of mystery fan), you need to read this. The double mystery and all the references make this to be a really fun book.