Saturday, 20 February 2010

Stir of Echoes - Richard Matheson

Well, I received this book yesterday from Amazon and I've already finished it - it's a small book, 211 pages but between reading it in the evening and this morning, it's all done!

Here is my review:


SYNOPSIS: Tom Wallace lived an ordinary life, until a chance event awakened psychic abilities he never knew he possessed. Now he's hearing the private thoughts of people around him - and learning shocking secrets he never wanted to know. But as Tom's existence becomes a waking nightmare, greater jolts are in store when he becomes the unwilling recipient of a compelling message from beyond the grave!

REVIEW (SPOILERS): Stir of Echoes was written by the New York Times bestselling author of What Dreams May Come True, in 1958. Forty years later, it was the inspiration behind the film of the same name, starring Kevin Bacon.

This book is set in LA, and depicts the life of Tom, Anne and Richard Wallace, living a blue collar lifestyle and renting a house in a neighbourhood full of friends. At a gathering, Tom is put under hypnosis for the entertainment of the guests and everything appears normal until he goes to bed at night, which is when he begins to channel the thoughts of others, and receive precognitive dreams. He is able to foresee events such as a train wreck, Anne's mother dying, and the sex of their unborn child. Unfortunately for him, he is also channeling the mind of a young woman, Helen Driscoll, who was the previous tenant of their house, and the sister in law of their landlord.

As the story goes on, Tom begins to believe that the landlord's story of Driscoll moving east is a lie. Convinced she is in fact dead, he seeks to channel her thoughts to discover what happened to her and who was responsible. But who killed Helen Driscoll, and why?

This book was quite an easy read, written largely in American 50's prose, which I found quite interesting - the majority of the books I've read of this period were British. Matheson delivers a good level of suspense, as well as the descriptions of how Tom Wallace and his wife are feeling with his new found skill. Personally, I felt the film held more suspense and shocks, but that could be because of the transition to cinemas rather than a criticism of Matheson's writing, and after all, there were possible certain social boundaries one could and could not cross when writing a book in the 1950's.

The end is quite a twist - you are led for several chapters to believe the identity of the person who potentially killed Driscoll, and the actual revelation comes as a surprise.

I would recommend this book to anyone who would like to read the story behind the film, although I do feel that viewers that were gripped by the building suspense may not get the same enjoyment out of the book as the did from the film. A well written book, but possibly not one I'd hurry to read again in the future.


A Thousand Splendid Suns - Khaled Hosseini

Well, following from my previous post about the books I had acquired (and I finally received my copy of A Stir of Echoes by Richard Matheson) I have finished A Thousand Splendid Suns.


SYNOPSIS: Mariam is only fifteen when she is sent to Kabul to marry Rasheed. Nearly two decades later, a friendship grows between Mariam and a local teenager, Laila, as strong as the ties between mother and daughter. When the Taliban take over, life becomes a desperate struggle against starvation, brutality and fear. Yet love can move a person to act in unexpected ways, and lead them to overcome the most daunting obstacles with a startling heroism.

REVIEW (THIS CONTAINS SPOILERS!): A Thousand Splendid Suns was the follow up to Khaled Hosseini's immensely popular The Kite Runner, released in 2007.

This book is written from the perspective of two women, Mariam and Laila. Mariam is from Herat, and is forced to marry Rasheed, a shop owner when her mother commits suicide and her father refuses to take her in. Moving miles away from the place she knows as home, she watches Laila, a bright young girl grow up with her best friend Tariq. After the Soviets take over Kabul, the city turns into a warzone and Laila's parents are killed in a rocket attack. Mariam and Rasheed take Laila in, nursing her back to health, but all Laila can think about is Tariq, her best friend and lover who had left Kabul a couple of weeks earlier, and of whom she made love to finally. Rasheed, eager to have a new, young bride, tells her that Tariq is dead, and decides that she should marry him. Laila, despondent and without hope, agrees, and shortly afterwards her daughter Aziza is born, the daughter of Tariq. However, the home life is not without problems, as Mariam is initially is angry at the younger girls presence. However, over time, the two women become confidants, agreeing to flee Rasheed and Kabul for pastures new. However, their attempt is thwarted, and upon arriving home they are savagely beaten by their husband and forced to live without food and water for three days. The women go through months of abusive and aggression at the hands of their husband, and after a while Laila becomes pregnant and gives birth to a son, Zalmai.

When the Taliban take over Kabul, the city is no longer recognisable from the one Laila grew up in. Women are forbidden to walk the streets without a man, and after Rasheed's shop is burnt to the ground, they are forced to sell their belongings and put Aziza in an orphanage. Rasheed's temper, however, is worse than ever, escalated in violence. Then, one day, Tariq turns up at the house, and Laila has a renewed hope. Zalmai, who is very much his fathers son, tells Rasheed of Tariq visiting Laila and he erupts in murderous rage, beating Mariam and Laila to the point of death. Unable to watch him kill Laila, Mariam grabs a shovel and kills her husband.

Laila begs Mariam to flee Kabul with her, her children and Tariq, but Mariam is without spirit. She says she cannot live a life on the run, and begs Laila to leave Kabul with her first love. They depart, and Mariam is arrested, tried and executed. The family marry, and move, but Laila is determined to return to Kabul after the Taliban fall, before visiting Herat, Mariam's place of birth. Here, she is given a box from Mariam's tutors son, with a letter from her father who is remorseful for sending her away, and begs for forgiveness, written before his death. The story ends with Laila, Tariq and the children returning to Kabul, where she becomes a teacher and is pregnant with her third child, never forgetting the love of Mariam.

This was an immensely harrowing read. The horrific acts that happen to Mariam and Laila are beyond comprehension, and it taught me a lot about the regimes of Afghanistan under the Soviets and Taliban, of which I was previously ignorant to. Both women suffered at the hands of their mother and absent father (Mariam) and their husband (Laila) with unspeakable behavior and anger. It was very hard to read some of the violence, but Hosseini wrote it well, without it being gratuitous.

It was a very engaging read from start to finish. I have to admit I wouldn't usually pick up a book of this kind, largely because of my ignorance to the Eastern world, but I am so glad I did as it has taught me a lot about the politics behind the times. The words were written beautifully, and the descriptions of the cities and rolling hills were very easy to imagine thanks to Hosseini. My only criticism of the book would be that there was a lot of despair - I think it could have been an equally good book without so much bad luck for Mariam in particular, sometimes it felt like she was a character just designed to be a portrayer of bad fortune. It is neither a hard, nor an easy read, and whilst the chapters are short, there is a lot of information and storytelling behind them. I honestly didn't see Tariq coming back into the story after Laila was informed of his death wrongly, and I was so glad he was brought back as she had a deep love for him that was so achingly described and believable. I felt that the death of Rasheed was deserved after his behaviour towards his wives, and I was glad that Mariam finally dispatched of him, albeit to her downfall - I was so sad that Mariam couldn't join Laila and Tariq in happiness.

I would really recommend this book to any fiction fan, especially those who wish to know more about Afghan politics during the 1980-2000 period, and also the way events such as 9/11 impacted upon cities within.


Tuesday, 16 February 2010

And onto the next...

...sorry for the double post today, but it's been a while =)

As I mentioned the other day, I ordered some books off Amazon/Green Met the other day, two of which I have received thus far; The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett and A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini. I am reading the latter for a book circle on The Book Club Forum and started it yesterday afternoon. I've already read up to Chapter 21; it's a very engaging (albeit harrowing) book and I am really enjoying it, and am looking forward to discussing it with my friends on BCF.

I also started writing another piece the other day. I have sent it out to a couple of people who said it was pretty good which made me feel better; I thought I had lost my writing mojo! So I'm going to attempt to make a start on another chapter today.

Hope you are all enjoying your reading =)

Missy B

One down in February!

OK, so one down, many more to go! I finally finished The Stranger Beside Me by Ann Rule, which was a bit of a mission as it was a big book!

Here is my review:

Yes, I did - ordered it from Green Met but hasn't arrived yet :wails: Hopefully it will come today.

I've just finished The Stranger Beside Me by Ann Rule (kindly recommended by Frankie) and this was my review.


Description: Ann Rule was a writer working on the biggest story of her life, tracking down a brutal mass-murderer. Little did she know that the young man who was her close friend was the savage slayer she was hunting. Ted Bundy was everyone's picture of a natural 'winner' - handsome, charming, brilliant in law school, successful with women, on the verge of a dazzling career. On January 24, 1989 Ted Bundy was executed for the murders of three young women; he subsequently confessed to taking the lives of a least thirty-five more young women, coast to coast. This is his story - the story of his magnetic power, his unholy compulsion, his demonic double life, and his string of helpless victims. It was written by a woman who thought she knew Ted Bundy, until she began to put all the evidence together, and the whole terrifying picture emerged...

REVIEW: The Stranger Beside Me is a work of non-fiction by acclaimed crime writer Ann Rule. Much of her work depicts real life crimes that she has been commisioned to research and write about. This book was massively different to her other works, as she actually knew the subject committing the crimes, the infamous Ted Bundy, who confessed to killing over 30 young women across 5 cities in America.

Ann Rule met Ted Bundy whilst working on a crisis line in Seattle, and then became firm friends. As Rule points out at regular intervals in the earlier chapters, Bundy was not the kind of person she could ever imagine committing the crimes he did. Bundy was the voice behind the crisis line, saving lives on occasions, which is eerily ironic considering he was reported to have possibly killed over 100 women. This book flits between chapters of Rule's relationship with Bundy, his childhood and life prior to the killings, and the details surrounding the disappearances and discoveries of the deceased women. Eventually the two are tied in together with Rule talking about the communication she had with Bundy whilst in was in jail waiting to go on trial/sentenced and her mixed feelings about supporting an old friend.

I enjoyed reading this book, as I didn't know much about Bundy prior to seeking the book out. Ann Rule is very good at putting you in Bundy's world to the best of her ability and there is a lot of descriptions of the legal fights Bundy took on when he defended himself and subsequent pleas of retrials to avoid Death Row. It was interesing to read how an accomplished, intelligent and attractive young man was able to lead a perfectly "normal" life beyond his crimes and his interactions with every day people.

Ann Rule doesn't profess to be a psychiatrist or psychologist and doesn't make wild assumptions about the reasoning behind Bundy's mental state, although she does speculate as to why he was lead into a life or murdering towards the end of the book.

I would recommend this book for anybody wishing to studying murder, or indeed serial murder, or those that are interested in how someone seemingly normal can be anything but.


Friday, 12 February 2010

More purchases....

....whoops. I'm supposed to be saving money....!

I frequent a forum (BCF, in my links) that has a monthly reading "group" - as part of March's discussion, we are talking about A Thousand Splendid Suns by

Tuesday, 9 February 2010

Does anyone read several books at once?

Or is it just me? I have a tendancy to just pick up books, read half of them, then start another one, and another, and another. I'm the same with my writing - start a piece of work, then another, etc.

Anyway, on the advise of a member of the BCF, I picked up "The Stranger Beside Me" by Ann Rule from the library the other day. It is written from a first hand knowledge of Ted Bundy, the serial killer in the US of the 1970's as Ann Rule was a long standing friend of Bundy's. She was actually commissioned to write about the killings before she knew it was her old friend who was perpretrating them.

It's a good book, if, like me, you are into the background of crime. However, there isn't a lot of answers as to why Bundy did what he did, namely because Bundy was labelled as a serial killer out of sorts. Rather generically, serial killers usually have major trauma in their early life, whether it is abuse from an elder, poverty, physical trauma and so forth. The majority of them are either of lower intellectual capacity up to about average. Lastly, if you are to believe some of the profilers, they are also not particularly attractive and quite a few of them have problems meeting and sustaining relationships. Ted Bundy was none of the above. His only trauma was that he was illegitimate, but he grew up in a good, stable environment. He was vastly intelligent, with a high IQ (even though towards the period of his killings, whilst enrolled at University, he achieved low grades) and lastly, he was very attractive and was able to hold down a long term relationship with a girl who was besotted with him.

Whereas many profilers have a lot of reasons as to why various criminals behave the way they do, in Ted Bundy's case there was no real prior mishaps to suggest he would go on to pave the way as a killer. When the judge sentanced him to life imprisonment, he mentioned that Bundy had the capabilities to be a very well rounded individual, with a successful life path.

I saw an interview with Bundy on youtube when I was doing a study of pornography for a module, in which he blamed the distribution and access of pornography for why he did what he did. Personally I find this ridiculous, namely because in the 70's the access of material came largely from images depicted in magazines. In today's society we have it far more readily available - internet, magazines, dvds. The deprivation of some material goes without saying, but I suspect these genres were not as accessible to Bundy as he may suggest.

Anyhow, I'm nowhere near finishing the book, and these are just my jumbled thoughts based on other information I have on Bundy, so I hope this book proves a good read.

Happy Reading,

MissyB =)

Wednesday, 3 February 2010

I'm still plodding...

...through Angels and Demons. I read about 50 pages yesterday morning when Rob was soundly asleep and tried to have a read last night but was so exhausted I managed about a page and fell asleep -rollseyes-.

No more purchases although we did have a scout round some charity shops in the backstreets of Norwich yesterday - two antique bookstores nearby my house providing some time of perusing and I met with the owners who are really nice. I'd love to be able to a) work and b) work in a bookshop!

I've decided when I have a burst of energy (rarely at the moment!) I will make a spreadsheet of the books I've read over the x amount of years. Some I will invariably forget (especially those I read in my teens) but I have a bookshelf full of books I've not catalogued so I'll give it a go.

I should really make an effort to carry on writing my "novel" (which I hasten to add, is rubbish) but I just lack the concentration at the moment. I also have no idea where it would go and generally what the premise of the book is about - not good planning there!

Hope you are all enjoying your books!

MissyB x