More Than This by Patrick Ness

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More Than This has one of the most astonishing opening prologues I have ever read! A bold statement you may say, but it really bowled me over. In just a few pages Patrick Ness sets up the whole novel, introducing the reader to the main character as he is fighting for his life – a boy is drowning. Within those pages, although I knew nothing of the boy, not even his name, I felt connected with him and felt his struggle. The way in which the boy’s death is described (for indeed he does die) was intensely powerful and sad, it also leads the reader to think “Well, what’s next?”

 

Then the boy wakes up…

 

The novel then continues from this point, the boy wakes up in world that is known to him but completely deserted.

More Than This is a book of distinct parts; I am sad to say, that for me, not all parts of the book are as good as the first act. This is most likely because the first part of the book is as good as anything I’ve ever read. The first part of the book follows the boy in this new desolate world as he is looking for answers to where he is and why. This is interspersed with vivid flashbacks to key moments from the boy’s life prior to his death when he sleeps. The first part of the book builds and builds as the reader discovers more about what events led to the boy’s eventual drowning. Even though this part of the book is by far the best part, it is still worthwhile reading on.

I think that part of the reason that I felt that the second half of the book wasn’t quite as good was that as you go through the book some of the intrigue is lost. At the beginning there are so many unanswered questions, and the imagery painted within the words is astounding; some of this is lost as the novel plays out. Obviously I was expecting to have questions answered, but I was hoping that the world that was being created by the author would become more enriched. The second half of the story does have some very interesting ideas, and the more I think about the book, the more questions I have. However, part of why I felt slightly disappointed with the second half was because the main plot thread, for me, was not original enough. I felt I had already read/seen this key idea before. I won’t say where, and one place is actually quite obscure, as it may spoil the plot for other readers.

More Than This doesn’t just look at death, throughout the novel other very serious themes are explored. Ness does not shy away from a difficult topic and I was so pleased to read about such important issues in what is branded as a Young Adult novel. The book deals with these issues more frankly and with a greater conviction than most other novels.

Despite my (very) limited reservations, there were sparks of ingenuity throughout the whole novel. Certain paragraphs I read more than once as they were so striking – Ness writes with a clarity that is very rare. The end of the novel does seem to come a bit too quickly, as though rushed towards, but this is so often the case with novels that boast such grand ideas. More Than This could quite easily have been 50 pages longer and maybe more satisfying for it.

Overall I am very glad that I have read this book and not only would I recommend it to others but I will also look out for his other novels to read in the future.

Mr Mercedes by Stephen King

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Mr Mercedes is the second King novel I’ve read this year and the fourth in the last 12 months. Two of the other three novels have been re-reads (Under the Dome and Pet Semetary) and the other was Doctor Sleep (the sequel to The Shining). Whilst King is renowned for writing horror fiction, and these other three novels are based in the supernatural with horror elements (especially Pet Semetary), Mr Mercedes is a pure, hard-boiled crime thriller.

As crime thrillers go, Mr Mercedes has all the main elements that any seasoned reader would expect – the (ex) Detective, the Killer, the helpful sidekick(s), and although these characters are slightly cliché and fit into what a reader expects from a crime thriller, King delivers a tight plot with good character development to keep the reader going. I think that the clichéd characters are intentional, and certain ways in which they act and are described is overblown, taken to extremes. Bill Hodges, the ex-detective on the verge of suicide, is likably gritty and has a roughness required for the genre. Brady Hartsfield is a sociopathic killer with a childhood to match his monstrous nature, the reader is tested to sympathise with his character but you never quite get there. The sidekicks, Jerome and Holly, are both intelligent and suited perfectly to the situation they find themselves in. All of this is quite fun though. What sets Mr Mercedes apart from a lot of crime fiction, despite its standard format, is the writing. Stephen King writes a good plot, he writes good characters, he tells a story in a way to keep the reader hooked.

The opening scene to Mr Mercedes sets the novels up for its duration; it starts the book with a shock that is delivered to the reader to make an impact that is hard forgotten for the remainder of the story. The opening sequence lets the reader know how senseless our killer is, that they are not discriminatory but random. It instantly makes you think about the killers motives and who is the person that could carry out such a heinous crime. The way in which King makes you care for the victims in such a short amount of time is quite extraordinary, this emotional tie plunges the reader into the main plotline.

On the whole, the remainder of the book is pretty fast paced with only a few minor lulls in the narrative. I thought that the parts of the book that concentrate on Brady Hartsfield were very interesting; King really tries to let the reader into his head and at least hear if not understand his thinking, no matter how depraved he is as an individual. I liked that there were parts of the book that push the reader towards sympathy for the killer but quickly retract; one way in which the reader is deliberately manipulated throughout the novel is that Brady is always referred to by his forename, yet Hodges always his surname. This does help avoid confusion (both characters have the same initials), but it also makes Brady seemingly closer to the reader.

All in all, I very much enjoyed Mr Mercedes, which I understand isn’t saying much as I am predisposed to love everything King writes. However, I also think that Mr Mercedes is a very good crime thriller, certainly up there with such authors as Mark Billingham and Dennis Lehane, maybe even Thomas Harris. I would certainly recommend this book to any crime fiction reader. For those readers put off King by his horror, maybe this is your opportunity to enjoy something this great storyteller has to offer.

 

Mr Mercedes is the first part of a trilogy, the second part, Finders Keepers, will be published in 2015

Mr Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan

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For June, book group decided to read Mr Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore, suggested by a member of the group after they had recently read it. We do not normally choose books that someone has just finished; however, this book seemed far too intriguing to miss out on. Plus we were sold when we discovered that within the book there is a secret society called the Fellowship of the Unbroken Spine (book group’s official name is Broken Spines). A book, about a book shop and books, for a book group – perfect!

Mr Penumbra owns a quite peculiar book shop on the west coast of the United States; the interior dimensions of the shop are described as like a regular book shop but flipped on one side so it becomes narrow and very tall. The shop itself has floor to ceiling shelves (about three storeys high) that are accessible by an old fashioned, and very tall, ladder. When Clay Jannon begins working the night shift as the shops only night clerk, he notices that the shop is made up of a couple of shelves of regular books that are for sale, and then a huge collection of older, seemingly one-off books that are available to ‘members’ only on loan. It is these beautifully bound rarities, along with the odd characters that borrow them, that pull the reader into the novel to start with. Clay not only tends the book shop but must also writes an account of every customer that comes in. He must describe every customer in detail, from what they are wearing and how they are acting, to what they borrowed/bought with their customer number. It is from this intriguing premise that the book unfolds.

Mr Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore is a novel for book lovers everywhere; it definitely appealed to my inner geek. Although this is a book about books, it is also about technology and the future of books. It is very much a 21st Century novel embracing the technological world that we live in today and having this offset against a very traditional industry. Throughout the novels entirety we are reminded that we live in a fast moving world and have the ability to discover worldwide knowledge in an instant. Even though I did enjoy this aspect of the novel, I did find that as the book went on I was getting a little tired of hearing how great and clever Google and the people whom work there are. Sloan provides us with an interesting and diverse description of the wonders of technology and particular Google, but after a while it felt like a bit of an advert. However, despite this I still found the book highly enjoyable.

What I particularly liked about Mr Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore were the characters. The main character Clay was very likable and narrates the story well, his Google girlfriend is also a fun character. But, Mr Penumbra and Clay’s housemate Mat really steal the show. Both of these characters are quirky and add a certain flamboyancy to the plot which cannot be matched by any other people in the book. Mr Penumbra, the elder statesman within the novel, is a man of secrets that also has more than a little spark left in him. He is quite elusive at first and the intrigue surrounding him is built up throughout the first part of the novel; his character then really shines through the centre of the book. Mat is an artist who works for ILM creating film props; his gradual construction of ‘Matropolis’ within the novel coupled with his striking personality made him really stand out from the crowd. I would happily read a novel about Mat.

Overall, I really enjoyed Mr Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore. It was fun to read, quite funny in places, and different. Fast paced and set in a technologically advanced world, the book shop of the title fits perfectly to remind the reader where we (the human race) have come from. Luckily all this technological advancement has not threatened the concept of a book or the transfer of knowledge through literature. The book is alive and well in the 21st Century and long may it remain…