I’m Travelling Alone – Samuel Bjork

I'm travelling aloneThe story: The body of a young girl is found, with the number 1 etched into her fingernail and a sign around her neck that reads ‘I’m travelling alone’. Baffled, the police turn to detective duo Holger Munch and Mia Kruger to stop the killer before any more girls are murdered. As the case progresses, things turn more personal, and with no solid leads, it soon becomes clear that more people will suffer before the perpetrator can be stopped.

My thoughts: Holger Munch and Mia Kruger are the archetypal troubled detectives, a version of which you can find in many other books in the genre, and they each come with their own set of personal issues and past mistakes to overcome over the course of the case.

Despite being slightly cliched, I thought Mia in particular was a really interesting character. We first meet her as a suicidal drug addict, and when she’s pulled into the case she struggles to cope. She’s clearly gone through a major trauma and is finding it difficult to reconnect to the person she once was. This not only affects her relationships with her team and superiors, it also affects the way that she works and her natural ability to read people and situations.

Mia’s personal story and recovery is interwoven with the main case, but in my opinion takes up too much page space. The same goes with the other key characters that we meet. I’d have preferred more of an emphasis on plot and less on backstory, especially as this is clearly intended to be the first in a series, so we have plenty of time to get to know the characters.

While the story was a little bit long winded in points and could have done with more focus, there were plenty of twists and turns and it kept me interested. The plot was complex and there are a few big red herrings. This helps to give a rich picture of events and police procedure, although some of the storylines did feel a little far-fetched.

Overall, I think there’s better Scandinavian crime fiction out there (Lars Kelper’s Joona Linna series is great). However, I did enjoy it and will be continuing with the series.

Red Rising – Pierce Brown

Red RisingThe story:
Set in the distant future, where the human race is divided by a rigid class system of colours, colonies of Red miners toil under the surface of Mars, harvesting natural elements that will terraform its surface and make it an inhabitable environment in the future. Sixteen year old Darrow is one of these Reds, born underground and raised to risk his life on a daily basis. Food is scarce and life expectancy is short. The rules are enforced by a strict hierarchical class system that’s preceded over by the Gold’s – supposedly superior to all other colours both physically and mentally. When Darrow discovers that his life is built on a lie, he’s given a dangerous mission to integrate himself into the very heart of Gold society.

My thoughts:
Darrow is sent to the Institute, where young Gold’s play deadly games to win power. It’s a trial by fire that is designed to push them to the limits and teach them how to wage war and become the leaders of tomorrow. Weakness isn’t tolerated and not everyone will make it through. Parallels could be drawn to the Hunger Games, but it’s a very different type of competition. The aim here is for power and ultimate victory – achieved through intellect and strategy and the ability to command their peers.

Darrow is a great character. He’s definitely not perfect – he’s reckless, angry and overly bold. He’s smart but he also shows that he can be ruthless and brutal. This means that he’s not always a particularly likeable character, but you still end up rooting for him all the same. Throughout the book he goes through some intense challenges, questioning his own identity, who to trust and what actions can be justified for the greater good. Continue reading

Top 5: A literary tour of Amsterdam

In the spirit of blogging more regularly, I’m going to try and start a new regular top five feature. To start off, I’m looking at the wonderful city of Amsterdam. Recently we went for a weekend break in the city and kept coming across interesting bookish-related things to see and do without even trying. Here are my top five:

  1. Book boxDe Pijp book exchange boxes

We were wandering through the De Pijp neighbourhood looking for somewhere to eat and came across three or four of these book exchange boxes. They’re spread around and you can borrow the books or leave one of your own for others to enjoy. They’re mainly in Dutch but I loved the spirit of sharing and community.

  1. Rijksmuseum Research Library

The library in the Rijksmuseum is one of the best I’ve seen. The walls are lined with old books and there’s a beautiful spiral staircase leading up the levels, while large ornate windows flood the room with light. If it wasn’t for the people studying and the tourists peeking through the doors, it would feel like you’d stepped back in time. Continue reading

Let the Dead Speak – Jane Casey

Let the dead speakThe story:
When eighteen year old Chloe Emery returns to her house to find it covered in blood and her mother missing, and DS Maeve Kerrigan and the murder investigation squad are called to investigate. While investigating the various shady neighbours living on the street, all of whom seem to be hiding something, they uncover a complicated web of lies, deceit and deeply buried secrets.

My thoughts:
If you’ve read the previous books in the series, you’ll already be familiar with the main players. As always, the investigation, processes and team dynamics were totally believable. Maeve’s own relationship with Derwent and the rest of the team has also evolved from the earlier books in the series. She’s now a Detective Sergeant and an integral member of the team with a junior to manage. Continue reading

Hold Back the Stars – Katie Khan

hold-back-the-starsThe story:
Carys and Max are floating through space with only 90 minutes of air left in their tanks and no conceivable means of getting back to their ship. As the clock ticks down, the young couple grow try everything they can to make it back to safety, while in flashbacks we learn about the history of their relationship, how they ended up stranded in space and the earth they left behind and how they

My thoughts:
I really enjoyed this book. We really got to know Carys and Max as characters. They’re in an impossible situation and their reactions seem incredibly real and incredibly human. They swing between from optimistic, practical bursts of activity to hopeless despair as the minutes tick by. They bicker and argue, but also laugh and joke and hold each other together.

I was completely emotionally invested in whether or not they’d make it and for the last 25% of the book I was literally holding back sobs on the train on my way to work. I really didn’t like the ending though. It’s hard to discuss without spoilers, but I just thought it was a bit of a cop out and it made me angry! Continue reading

The Book of Strange New Things – Michael Faber

the-book-of-strange-new-thingsThe story:
Peter, a Christian missionary, is sent to spread the word and provide spiritual guidance to the native inhabitants of Oasis – a colony that’s been established on a planet light years away. He arrives in a new world that is the complete opposite of everything he’s imagined. At the same time, his wife Bea is left to face her own personal problems on an earth that is gradually falling apart.

My thoughts:
At the start of the book, Peter comes across as anxious, needy and reliant on Bea’s emotional support. Separated from Bea across an infinite chasm of time and space, and preoccupied with his mission and with building a new community with the Oasans, Peter cannot comprehend what she’s going through at home. He essentially abandons her in the time when she most needs him. As a character, he didn’t win me over.

The religious aspect of this book didn’t appeal to me at first, but as more of Peter’s past and the situation on Oasis are revealed it became more interesting. Rather than being the central focus of the book, people’s beliefs are used to expose their motivations, backgrounds and various character flaws. Continue reading

The Chemist – Stephanie Meyer

the-chemistStephanie Meyer’s first foray out of the supernatural/science fiction genre was always going to get mixed reviews, but I thought it was a good read and a decent thriller. It’s also worth saying that I listened to this as an audiobook – I always think thrillers work particularly well in this format and The Chemist was no exception.

The story:

An ex-government interrogator is living in hiding, in fear of her life, when her old employer draws her in for one last job that could mean the difference between life or death for thousands of people. But when it becomes clear that her target may not be who she thought he was, she has a decision to make. The situation escalates fast, the stakes are high and it’s not only her life that hangs in the balance.

My thoughts:

There’s nothing too deep about The Chemist – it’s just an easy, entertaining read. There’s a good amount of action – but also quite a lot of description for a thriller. This is all backed up by a decent back story and a bit of romance. It’s quite predictable, if you read thrillers regularly then you’ll be able to see the main story arcs coming together easily. I kept seeing plot twists where they weren’t any and expecting characters to be hiding secret agendas when they weren’t – things were actually just that easy to guess!

I wasn’t overly keen on the romance aspect. The love interest seemed way too nice and just didn’t seem to have much of a personality at all. I kept waiting for him to show hidden depths and double-cross her. Continue reading